Australia’s gone to the dogs. Part 4.

Australia has gone to the dogs. The nation is one of the world’s major drivers of climate change and is decimating its native wildlife and ecology, and is thus becoming an international pariah. The current government controls its gullible population with marketing spin, and education levels continue to decline. A tiny fraction of the population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and natural disasters arrive one after the other. But all Australians seem to care about are their dogs. Dogs are everywhere – in parks, beaches and cafes, and even public transport and libraries. This country has gone to the dogs.

Literacy dogs

Children can now read to dogs. Reluctant or weak readers can now attend sessions at local libraries and read to therapy dogs. Organisers claim it encourages reluctant readers to develop the vital habit of reading and thus improve their literacy skills.

Surely that’s a good thing. Yes, but is it necessary?

First of all, dogs can’t read. Secondly, reading to dogs won’t solve Australia’s literacy problems. Australia has some of the lowest literacy (and numeracy) levels in the developed world, and solving this problem requires a joint effort from society, governments and parents, not from dogs.

Parents must:

Read to their children.

More actively support reading and study in every year of schooling.

Spend less of their own free time glued to their devices while at home.

Buy and read books themselves.

Stop attacking teachers.

Stop buying their children smart phones, and stop paying for their data.

Society must value school teachers and academia, and governments must adequately fund all levels of education as well as increasing teachers’ salaries. Otherwise, the following scenario is likely to develop:

One reluctant reader enjoys reading to a therapy dog. The child insists on reading to a dog, even at school where most reading occurs. The student is allowed to bring a dog into every class. That student is not the only reluctant reader. Soon, school classrooms are overrun with therapy dogs. Teachers are then forced to integrate dogs into their curriculum after attending at-cost ‘literacy dog’ training sessions in their free time. Multiple dogs cause chaos in classrooms and in the playground, and at the end of the day, who will be forced to clean up the mess?

Even some university students, at one of the more prominent universities in Sydney, are able to pat a dog upon entering an exam hall – to help calm their nerves. The country’s best and brightest can’t handle the stress of doing an exam. More proof that this country has gone soft. More proof that this country has gone to the dogs.

Image: 2PhotoPots

Are your parents alive?

Are your parents alive? he asked.

That’s an odd question, I thought, especially from someone I’d just met.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Mother and father?”

“Yes.”

He smiled.

I was confused. Was it culture or concern which prompted this question? I’d certainly never asked it or been asked it while growing up in suburban Australia. Most Australians would assume that other people of a certain age would have two living parents. It’s not definite, but likely. When I was asked this question for the first time while travelling through Africa, I was also of an age when strangers or new-found friends could naturally assume that both of my parents were alive. However, during my numerous visits to southern and eastern Africa, Latin America and South East Asia, I was asked the same question many times.

Why?

Why did strangers want to know if my parents were alive?

I tried to analyse the tone of the question. This is hard to do in a second language, and I conversed primarily in Spanish or Portuguese in Latin America. Tone is also difficult to decipher while speaking English to non-native speakers. Nonetheless, I tried, and I never felt like anyone was prying or being invasive. No one was rude, or impertinent. I didn’t detect any hidden meaning to the question, and definitely no inkling of dark humour or a bizarre joke. What stood out most was a straightforward tone designed to glean information – whether my parents were alive, yes or no.

While the question was very common, it also failed to present as a distinct social custom. It didn’t belong to a particular country, state, province or tribe – I heard it everywhere. There was no sense of gravity or depth to the question. It also wasn’t the first question I was asked, but it arrived fairly early in the conversation with people I was meeting for the first time.

At least it was easier to ask than other questions which always found their way into conversations while I was travelling the world solo, such as:

Why aren’t you married?

Why don’t you have children?

Having confirmed to myself that the question served simply to extract information, I then began to wonder what people would do with this information. I always said yes, and the conversation usually moved on. Often we discussed the age of my parents, where they lived, their occupation and other ‘GTKY’ (get-to-know-you) questions. If I’d said no to the first question or the clarifying question, would the conversation have followed a different path?

What about yours?

A long time passed before I felt confident enough to reciprocate. That’s when I started to understand one of the reasons for the question. In Africa, and other parts of the world, most people replied ‘no’. Rarely did adults from these countries have two living parents. And there is a simple reason for this: life is precarious. In developing countries, life is more fragile than it is for (most) Australians and citizens of the developed world. Life expectancy is lower in Africa, South East Asia and Latin America and death usually visits families sooner than it might in other parts of the world.

Threats to life are far more common and present in these countries. Poverty, natural disasters, violence, famine, political corruption, war, tribal conflict, poor hygiene and sanitation, the climate crisis, transport accidents and so many other causes of suffering are a more salient reality for people living in these parts of the world.

As a result, threats such as terrorism don’t strike fear into the hearts of people in some parts of the world in the same way that they do in places like Australia. A politician need only utter, or imply, the word terrorism in a country like Australia and they can justify a raft of excessively strict laws or policies on immigration or policing. In developing countries, terrorism is just another threat among many. Friends in Mexico even joked that a terrorist attack on their soil wouldn’t be met with the same reaction, because locals would think that the sound of explosives was just another Saints day festival at the local church, and another excuse to celebrate. Some Mexicans went so far as to suggest that if Mexicans heard the explosions of a terrorist attack, they would rush into the street with food, alcohol and a stereo, ready to party. That said, Mexicans also sadly acknowledged that they don’t need foreign terrorists to destroy their country, they have drug traffickers. Terrorism is still a threat. It is just one of many.

What is an orphan?

An orphan is a child without parents. In my upbringing, that meant no mother or father. However, I learned that in Brunei an orphan is a child without a father, even if the mother is alive. I deduced that children were awarded this classification because the father is still seen as the bread winner, and for this reason some ‘orphaned’ children in Brunei receive a small amount of financial assistance from the government. Of course, state support or welfare is very rare in developing countries, so life is much harder for children when their parents pass away.

Life is uncertain. COVID-19 has reminded everyone in the developed world that life is precious and can be taken away from any of us at any time, but this is something people in places like Africa, South East Asia and Latin America have always known. The fragility of life and the need to cherish it is a realisation I made on many occasions during my travels, especially when I was asked if my parents were living.

My backpacking days finished many years ago, many years before COVID-19. Fortunately, and with great pleasure, I can still answer yes when people ask:

Are your parents alive?

Don’t ban the mullet.

A private secondary school in Sydney recently banned the mullet haircut. The controversial move provoked news articles and comments throughout Australia, most of which failed to address the effect on one group in particular – teachers. Waverley College became the latest private school to ban its students from sporting the iconic hairstyle because it was deemed inappropriate, and this move will simply create more stress for teachers.

What’s a mullet?

The mullet is ‘long at the back and short at the sides’ and is also described as ‘business at the front, party out the back’. It is a distinct hairstyle that was hugely popular in the 1980s and is trending once more. Boys at the exclusive school in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, as well as other private schools throughout the country, are following the fashion of the day as well as emulating their footballing heroes who have sparked a resurgence in the hairstyle.

How will teachers suffer?

Rules have to be enforced, and teachers have to enforce them.

How are rules enforced?

Teachers usually give students a verbal warning. Many teenagers ignore these. Teachers then give a written warning. Students often ignore these. Already, a situation of conflict has been established between the student and the teacher.

Teachers then contact the parents, to ask for their assistance in enforcing the school rues. In the past, most parents supported schools and teachers in the management of a child’s behaviour and school work, but not these days. Many parents not only fail to support teachers but always side with their children, some even go as far as verbally, socially or physically attacking teachers.

Remember, parents know their sons have mullets. Parents also know the school rules, but sent their sons to school with a haircut that the school deems inappropriate. Parents also sign up to the rules of the school when they enrol their children, and are fully aware that strict adherence to grooming and uniform standards is a tradition these schools inherited from the British public school system.

Teachers are not likely to find much support from parents. If parents fail to support the school, the onus for removing the mullet thus falls entirely upon the teacher.

It’s not a mullet

When is a mullet not a mullet?

When the student tries to argue their way out of a haircut. Students are likely to argue that their hairstyle is actually called something else and on that technicality, they cannot be forced to cut their hair. They will find proof on instagram, from a barber or another source to prove their particular hairstyle is not a mullet, and thus they cannot be forced to cut it off. Private schools are breeding grounds for lawyers and politicians.

Teachers will have to listen to this argument, before preparing lessons, before marking exams and assessments, before writing exams, before attending meetings, before writing reports, before counselling students, before protecting students from cyberbullying, before teaching students road safety, before keeping students off drugs and alcohol, before doing playground duty, before coaching a sports team…

Furthermore, the school will be forced to write a definition of a mullet. Teachers will be forced to draft legal-style documents outlining precisely what constitutes a mullet and how it differs from other hairstyles. This all takes time.

All of this while solving the literacy crisis in Australia.

All of this while solving the numeracy crisis in Australia.

Come back when you’ve cut your hair

Another disciplinary technique is to suspend the student until the hair is returned to an acceptable style. Many teenagers would see this as a reward rather than a punishment. Parents won’t be happy, because they’ll have to supervise the child at home, and because they’re not getting what they paid for. Teachers also suffer. Teachers will still have to modify and send work home to that student, as well as providing feedback and ensuring the student does not suffer academically. Thus, even though the student knowingly breaks the rules, and the parents knew their child was breaking the rules, the teacher is still expected to ensure the student learns as much as they would have if they had not been suspended.

Human rights abuse

Students will argue that it is a violation of their human rights. This is not a joke. Modern-day school students invoke their human rights in response to the most minor incidents at schools, and it is not fanciful to predict that a boy at Waverley College will argue that cutting off his mullet is a violation of his human rights.

In the past, teachers could have told the boy he was being ridiculous, and to stop complaining and accept the consequences of his actions. But not anymore. Accusations of human rights violations, even regarding a haircut, must be taken seriously. This means more time, more meetings, more paperwork and more scrutiny for teachers. Meanwhile, the boy retains his mullet.

Teachers will be forced to refer to the definition of a mullett, which they drafted, in order to protect themselves from the very real consequences of being accused of violating a child’s human rights.

Many would argue that fashion is the biggest loser every time someone sports a mullett, but when that mullett is worn by a school student, teachers are the biggest losers.

If you’ve read this far, you might hink this is ridiculous, that this is exaggerated, that this would never happen. It does. This is what teachers are forced to tolerate on a daily basis in Australian schools. Creating another rule in response to a fashion trend is simply dumping more work on overworked and underpaid teachers.

Throughout this entire process, the private school is protecting its image, the parents are protecting their children, and the students are protecting their hairstyle. Who is protecting the teachers?

Image:www.nypost.com