Insights & Art

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Category: Past Assessments.

The Neo Romantic Revival: The Anti-Modernity Movement

“What brought about the re-enchantment of the British landscape during the interwar period?” 

“To me England is the country, and the country is England”
                                                                          – Stanley Baldwin, 1924

Paradoxically at the start of the 20th century, Britain which had become so economically and militarily powerful due to the industrial revolution, was beginning to view capitalism as antithetical to the British national character. Instead, the rural British landscape became re-imagined as a source of magic and healing during the interwar period, serving as the juxtaposition to the corrosive city (Wiener, 2004). Slowly the British pastorals became more than just symbols of tranquillity and (re)engagement with the land became seen as a necessity to maintain a healthy national community (Hutton, 1999). Though nature worship and pantheism as a movement had happened previously in Europe, it is important to note that this reincarnation of romanticism was uniquely situated in a context where Britain’s dominance was starting to fade (Hayward, 2017). The interwar period was a time where the nation began to question the essence of ‘Britishness’ and its answer was found by embracing a mythic past which was distinctively rooted in the landscape.

As with every movement and counter movement, the context plays an influential role in shaping the public discourse and this was the situation for the neo-romantic surge in the early 20th century. The two decades which existed between the Great Wars were a time where the British public conscious became to radically change as the country’s global supremacy faded away. Horrified at the consequences of war in a technological age of machine guns, artillery and tanks; part of the shift towards pantheism can be understood as extensions of the anti-war sentiment (Hayward, 2017). The enormous casualty rates combined with the extended duration of World War I (WWI) served as ammunition against modernisation. The lasting images of which included artillery-ridden landscapes and trenches; both unsightly examples of humanity’s arrogance and disregard for the environment.

Likewise this cultural desire to return to an agrarian society was also stimulated by a mistrust of capitalism. The United Kingdom general strike of 1926 and the Wall Street crash of 1929, reflected a turbulent economic atmosphere (Hayward, 2017), and the once stellar British economy which had served as the backbone of the Empire was crumbling. This reaction against capitalism sparked the rise of leftist and socialist political communities in Britain. And very soon the ‘corrupt’ bourgeois became associated with the urban landscape, whilst the humble and traditional farmer stood as their ideological opposite.

The capitalistic systems of the great cities were portrayed as impersonal and its inhabitants were seen as victims of this detached passivity, characteristics which were believed to be corrosive to a united sense of nationhood (Trentmann, 1994). In comparison, the return towards the land and the re-establishment of the insular farming community offered a chance for people to rekindle more connected relationships (Hutton, 1999). Since the rural served as the contrast to the city, it was believed that only by ‘re-embracing’ husbandry and other similar egalitarian pursuits rooted in nature, could one overcome their ‘brainwashing’.

This view originated from the belief that modernisation was not a continuation of human history, but rather a disruption, something wholly foreign or ‘unnatural’ (Finlay, 1970). Thus cities became to be associated with a sense of impermanence, as if the core foundation of Britain underlying all the ever-changing aspects, was its connection to the land. In comparison to the frantic movement of urban centres, the stability of rural communities seemed timeless (Wiener, 2004).

By the turn of the 20th century, modernity had spread and been adopted by many western nations so that industrialisation was no longer synonymous with Britain’s name. Thus Britain attempted to uniquely define itself through other methods and saw its landscape as a safe haven of an unbroken British tradition. Underpinning this transformation was a complete re-imagination of the natural landscape and what society perceived as antiquity. Alfred Watkin’s ‘discovery’ of ley lines across the British landscape was a finding which stirred up a lot of public interest in lands untouched by modernisation (Newnhawn, 2000). Whilst, Watkin’s theory was proven false in the decades later (Williamson & Bellamy, 1983), his true influence stemmed from allowing the British audience to invest in the rural as a new source of their identity: One which gave them an opportunity to associate themselves with the ancient Anglo-Saxons who had roamed the land before (Sterenberg, 2013).

Inspired by Watkin’s findings many different groups and organisations arose in the 20th century, all with the purpose of reconnecting their audiences with a ‘great lost British tradition.’ The Kindred of the Kibbo Kift and the Order of the Woodcraft Chivalry were such organisations. Both tried to reintroduced pantheism into the public discourse, linking the worship of British nature with British patriotism. A lot of these organisations with pagan undertones believed that Christianity; the dominant religious force (albeit slowly fading) could co-exist within the same paradigm with pantheistic beliefs; and both could be used for good.

The Kibbo Kift’s grand chant included “I believe in the nameless God who is Space-Time-Matter: And in myself… as actual organic part of that one Great Nameless God,” heavily alluding towards a pagan interpretation of the creation story (Hargrave, 1925). Likewise Ernest Westlake, founder of The Order of the Woodcraft Chivalry attempted to revive the ‘Lammas’, an ancient Pagan festival, on the edge of his property at Sandy Balls. During a ceremony in 1921, after a sacred fire was lit within the middle of the event, Westlake declared “Beloved Pan, and all ye other gods who haunt this place,” (Edgell, 1993).  For both of these groups, the return to paganism was not perceived as the abandonment of society, but instead as a deeper embrace of what it meant to be British and more importantly human. Fundamental to both the Kibbo Kift and Woodcraft Chivalry was a fear that modernisation had severed humanity’s relationship with nature: And for the first time Britain existed outside the realm of the natural world; a position which would inevitably lead to its demise (Trentmann, 1994).

This integration of British paganism and pantheism into the wider fabric of society was seen once again in the actions of vicar W.H. Seddon, who in 1885 installed a statute of Pan outside his church tower. Seddon was also key in establishing a local pagan festival which involved townsfolk dancing from the edge of the Church to the forest (Hutton, 1999). Whilst Seddon’s actions predated the British interwar period, it is important to note that Seddon’s actions were never criticised by the public and this procession lasted until 1950. This action and its support are reflective of the public mood at the time, pantheist activities were almost seen as cultural attempts to reconnect with the past, instead of a sacrilegious act.

Despite the clear associations with paganism and the worship of the British countryside, both the Kibbo Kift and the Woodcraft Chivalry denied being pantheistic in nature (Hutton, 1999). Westlake himself believed that such ‘differences’ were reconcilable with a Christian cultural framework stating that “One must be a good pagan before one could be a good Christian,” (Edgell, 1993). Core to his argument was that after the resurrection, Jesus had dissolved into nature and thus making the natural world divine through its merging (Hutton, 1999). Whilst Westlake’s beliefs greatly deviated from the Christian norms, the fact that it held gravity meant that he was tapping into a shifting cultural consensus on nature and how society should relate to it.

Another common complaint was that the industrial economy had sapped the creativity and agency of humans, who were simply cogs into the wider machine. Education was also seen as a contributing factor to the degeneration of the 20th-century individual, as over-specialisation lead to a narrowing of experiences and skills (Trentmann, 1994). A core principle of many organisations which protested against the rationalisation of life was that society had become too slanted towards an Apollo-esque view of reality (Hayward, 2017). As counterculture organisations, nature orientated groups attempted to re-balance society by embracing a Dionysian mindset; one which discarded scientific empiricism (Hayward, 2017).

The Ramblers expressed this adoption of irrationality through their walking exercises, where members would walk in the open rural environment until completely exhausted (Trentmann, 1994). This was a symbolic act of a person regaining their autonomy which they believed their insular and impersonal working conditions had eroded (Trentmann, 1994). Key to these ‘return to nature’ movement was the undoing of psychological damages caused by modernisation. Returning an individual to a ‘pure state of wholesomeness’ was another reoccurring theme to the anti-modernity movement. And whilst what constituted ‘purity’ was never explicitly stated, engaging with the land was a good step in the right direction (Wiener, 2004).

When it came to re-imagining the significance of the British landscape, there are two approaches; politicians and public figures could ride the growing wave of anti-modernist thinking and pay homage to the legacy of the country town (Trentmann, 1994). The other stream of thought was to actively promote an agrarian lifestyle, by abandoning the cities and rejecting capitalistic forms of work (Wiener, 2004). Important neo-romantic figures such as Rolf Gardiner and Lord Lymington were the vanguard of the second movement and both approached the magical powers of the land in a new manner (Trentmann, 1994).

It was widely accepted that individuals and communities who were disconnected from the countryside would suffer emotional problems (Hutton, 1999). However, Lord Lymington popularised the idea that the infusion of technology and machinery into agriculture, through fertiliser and tractors, would have physical ramifications for the nation (Trentmann, 1994). The soil was reinterpreted in a paganistic way and the Earth itself was seen as the source of all natural sources of power, something which humankind discarded under the intoxicating influences of modernisation. Husbandry was actively promoted as an antidote to what Lymington called the “poisoning of British blood” as physically touching the soil allowed one to transfer the organic natural energy from the soil to themselves (Trentmann, 1994). This pseudo-scientific argument did not generate any strong support from the scientific community. Yet its power rested in that there was already a strong apprehension towards modernisation and Lymington’s words were simply a manifestation of such feelings.

Whilst husbandry and traditional agriculture were acknowledged to be less efficient, this was applauded by many neo-romantics. As advocates against the over-rationalisation of society, they would have seen the prioritising of quality over quantity in food production as a step away from consumerism and towards the Elizabethan farming model of old (Trentmann, 1994).

The re-enchantment of the British countryside extended beyond just the physical aspect. William Morris, a famous leader of the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, also wanted to counter the utilitarian nature of modernisation through embracing the irrational. As mentioned above, one extension of this involved the return to husbandry; another method was found in the ‘Morris dance’ (Trentmann. 1994). Echoing sentiments core to The Ramblers, Morris believed that physical movement was one way to cast off this oppressive rationality which had spread as a consequence of rationalisation (Finlay, 1970).

The Morris Dance which was heavily inspired by the British rural folk dances was seen as a method for one to get in contact with a culture rooted in antiquity and the land. Likewise, the Morris dance required a lot of participation for it to be properly executed; this was seen as another antidote to the individualism. Morris and the other neo-romantics argued that dancing allowed one to tap into the Dionysian spirit of life and such culturally symbolic movements could ‘transcend the artificial separation between the mind and body’ (Trentmann, 1994). Whilst the exact definition of what ‘artificial separation’ these thinkers had in mind is clouded in a mist of pseudo-scientific explanations. It harkens back to the desire to become ‘whole’ again, and a belief that modernity had stripped the individual of this.

Folklorist saw the reacceptance of folk dance as fulfilling the basic elements of living a good life; one which was built upon good food, traditional forms of dance and rhythmic breathing (Trentmann, 1994). In fact, the influence of the Morris dance was so widespread that in the 1930s, it was elevated to the status of therapeutic Weltanschauung; and recognised as a cure for the sickness of modernity (Trentman, 1994).

As with a lot of other supernatural movements and beliefs, underlying the love of nature and the romanticisation of the past were real social and political agendas. In a time where globalisation blurred the lines between the once rigid definitions of culture, this retreat back into the rural landscapes as something which was unquestionably ‘British’ is an understandable one. The neo-romantic movement attempted to provide their own answers to the question of what constituted the ‘British identity’ in such a turbulent time for the nation. The Boy Scouts and the Kibbo Kift believed that the enduring symbol of Britain rested in the values and cultures which existed pre-modernity; thus their emphasis on nature can also be interpreted as a right-wing revival of British national identity (Hayward, 2017).

Similarly, the re-imagining of ‘Mother Earth’ and the significance of nature can also be seen through a feminist lens. Whilst figures like Gardiner and Williams used neo-romanticism as a vehicle to express their disillusionment with modernity, female thinkers like Dion Fortune and Margaret Alice Murray also appropriated the movement. As precursors to the feminist movement which would gain widespread cultural acceptance in the 1960s, both women criticised the overwhelming influence of Christianity and the patriarchy within their context (Hayward, 2017).

Fortune’s major criticism of Christianity was that it lacked a female deity; she famously stated that “A religion without a goddess is halfway to atheism,” (Graf, 2007). Fortune believed that the return to pantheism would lead to the Aquarian age, where Isis would stand as an equal to Jehovah (Graf, 2007). Similarly, Murray believed that before Christianity spread to pagan Britain, the ancient societies were built upon matriarchy and mothers would pass secretive knowledge about the Earth to their daughters (Hayward, 2017). Like modernity, she saw the patriarchal values of the late 18th century and early 19th century Britain as a corruption of what the ancients valued. For both thinkers, the return to the rural British landscape symbolised more than just a rejection of industry, it offered a chance to subvert a Christian male-dominated society (Hayward, 2017).

As the future of Britain became more heavily dependent upon their modern industry, ironically the symbol of the countryside simultaneously grew in importance; serving as the nation’s last remaining ‘link’ to their mythic past (Sterenberg, 2013). The interwar period fostered the necessary conditions for a neo-romantic movement to thrive. The falling economy, crumbling Empire and the fresh memories regarding WWI were all persuasive reasons to reject modernity. Arguably the nostalgia for the old traditions and values only emerged because industrialisation had made it fundamentally impossible for Britain to ever return to such a state. The British countryside became a symbol of purity, the ideological opposite of the urban city landscape, and the land became re-imagined as a source of magical powers.

This desire to reconnect with the land was expressed culturally, economically and religiously at one stage or another during the interwar period. Whether this was through propagating the healing powers of the soil, advocating communal dance as a therapy to individualism or the fusion of pantheistic gods and rituals into the public discourse: Organisations such as the Woodcraft Chivalry and the Kibbo Kift tapped into this desire to re-engage with the land in a supernatural way, whilst providing their interpretations regarding which direction British identity should take in the 20th century.

The Yellow Wallpaper Anaylsis

The Yellow Wallpaper

This piece was a literary analysis of the first two pages of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, published in 1892.

This piece of fiction from The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman contains aspects of the mystery and horror genre. Narrated in first person, the writing style allows the audience into the most intimate areas of the persona’s mind. Deliberately using language which is disjointed and jumbled, Gilman paints a picture of someone who is trapped within an old house and a one sided marriage. As the passage progresses, the menacing nature of the house is brought to the forefront of the story, particularly seen in the persona’s reaction to the yellow wallpaper.

The passage starts with an informal and a conversational tone, it is clear that the persona either sees the audience as non-threatening or is unaware of their presence. The abundance of rhetorical question implies that the persona is in conversation with the audience; “Else, why should it be let so cheaply?” and “… Why have [it] stood so long untenanted?” The diction used in this passage is deliberately casual, with no words added which might challenge the reading capabilities of the average person. Bubbly quotes like “The most beautiful place!… It makes me think of English places that you read about…” builds the relationship between the audience and the housewife as they are hearing the innermost personal thoughts of the housewife and thus empathise with her.

The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?

– Jeremy Bentham

The conversational tone is reflected in the general sentence structure of the piece. The constant thought interruptions from the hyphens and short sentences break the glossy flow of logic and delivery which is to be expected from most fiction. Instead Gilman’s breaking of the traditional paragraph structure mimics the bumpy rhythm of a face to face conversation. This unusual structure is a visual metaphor alluding to the confused state of the mind of the persona; as sentences seem to be sporadic thoughts instead of contributing to a linear narrative plot progression.

This unexpected transition from the innocent recordings of an annoyed housewife to a tale much darker in tone is accentuated in the disarming and personable nature of Gilman’s writing at the beginning. Humour especially is used to endear her to the audience, “So I take phosphates or phosphites – whichever it is…” her clumsiness allows the audiences to relate to her situation of powerlessness. Likewise the persona is able to subtly chip away at the authority of the husband through the repetition of exaggerated ‘resignations to his advice’; “Personally, I believe that work… would do me good. But what is one to do?” These small moments of sarcasm are used to defang John, but also paints him as a stiff and joyless individual. During a moment where she is convinced this house has a “ghostliness” to it, “[John] said [what] I felt was a draught, and shut the window.” The humourous tone in addition to the light hearted subject matter of relocating to a new holiday house portrays the persona as someone who is preserving against small inconveniences. This changes in the final sentences of the passage, the morbid and sickly descriptions of the room heralds the unexpected emergence of the Gothic in a domestic environment.

Apart from using humour in order to convey the persona’s dissatisfaction with her husband, Gilman uses the hyphen to represent her two sided thoughts about him. On one hand, John is her husband and social expectations combined with John’s delicate care for her is appreciated; on the other hand being stuck in the top floor of this building evokes comparisons to Rapunzel. Out of a total of fourteen hyphens in Gilman’s passage, eight of them are used when discussing the topic of John and his dominating influence in her life. By intertwining John’s name with a physical break in writing, the persona conveys how ‘disruptive’ his presence is, but also hints at the possibility that she is suppressing a secondary opinion of her husband. Similarly John is mentioned in a lot of short sentence; “John is practical in the extreme.” And “I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes.” These short sentences echo a tone of finality as if John’s character can simply be summed up by a single word or adjective.

Throughout the passage, John is portrayed as the stark contrast of his wife, whereas she likes to indulge in fascinations of the mind, John is (cruelly) scientific and “scoffs openly at any talk of [such] things.” Gilmore’s linguistic choices reflecst the division between the couple; John and his wife are never spoken about as a single unit. The closest the audience gets to this is in the word “marriage” to describe their relationship (it appears once). Yet this word lacks the warmth that “family” or “lovers” carry, it’s simply used to signify their type of relationship and not the feelings attached with it. There are also no inclusive pronouns in this passage, instead the audience is constantly reminded that John and “I” are two different parties with two separate outlooks on life, “John laughs at me…” and “John says the very worst thing I can do is…”

This passage from The Yellow Wallpaper is very personal as the story is not filtered through the lens of an omnipresent narrator. Instead the audience is receiving her thoughts directly; thus firmly placing us on her ‘side’ regardless of her biases. It is only near the end of the passage, when this jumbled mess of thoughts is combined with the darker descriptions of the wallpaper that elements of horror and mental instability steep out from what seemed to be an ordinary tale of family tension.

Whilst the very start of the passage foreshadows the mysterious and Gothic nature of this house; “There is something strange about the house – I can feel it.” And “… I would say a haunted house…” The final lines of this passage are drastically different and really dispel away the tone of innocence from her previous ‘trivial’ ramblings. There is a very noticeable contrast between the room the persona wants with “… roses all over the window…” compared to the wallpaper which is “… repellent, almost revolting.” The words chosen to describe the room depict it as almost a living flesh wound on the building; “… a smoulder unclean yellow [wallpaper]…” and “It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others.” This sense of the room being alive is also reflected in the personification of the ‘artistically sinful’ wallpaper that “… suddenly commit suicide.” The connotations of the words “sin” and “suicide” convey that the room is not just uncomfortable to look at but that there is something inherently evil or malicious about its nature.

The literary techniques used in this passage from The Yellow Wallpaper are effectively in accomplishing the goals it sets out to meet. The use of first person, simple and familiar diction combined with the plight of a mistreated wife charms the audience into allying themselves with the persona. However, only near the end of this passage, do the audience start to peer behind the veil of banter and good faith. The combination of imagery and personification presents the room as an animate object with its own frightening agency causes the audience to suspect the terror hidden within this building, but also the possible seeds of mental instability within the persona.

 

The Integration of Science and the Supernatural in the 19th Century

 

“Every age, and not just the modern age, has felt the need to make its religious beliefs comport somehow with the best scientific and philosophical learning of its day.”

– Thomas Laquer (2006)

Karl Marx famously stated that urbanisation rescued people from the “idiocy of rural life”, this quote alludes to the widely held belief that as technology progresses, it immediately results in the embrace of scientific rationality. Part of the reason why this is such a popular belief stems from the desire of 21st century historians to perceive themselves as technologically advance and thus dismissing any possible connections with the ‘primitive’.

The ‘Long Nineteenth Century’ (1789-1914) as coined by Eric Hobsbawm, was a period where modernity’s arrival was hailed by a mass of new inventions, but also a time where science managed to seeped into the psyche of the public and did no just exist in the minds of intellectuals. The abundance of scientific breakthroughs created an environment where people were beginning to challenge ingrained beliefs: Science and the supernatural were two competing parties trying to establish their influence in the battlefield of academia. Ironically, despite their competitive nature towards each other, both parties were often reactionary to the rising beliefs in the ‘opposition’s’ field of knowledge. Whilst possibly difficult to grasp in today’s context where popular culture portrays science and the supernatural as polar opposites; many technological inventions were seen as methods to tap into the supernatural. The 19th century within the western world was a time where science and the supernatural became intertwined and arguably reliant upon each other.

The new inventions which owed their existence to the industrial revolution and progress within the realms of science were (paradoxically) used by spiritualist as evidence of a world beyond the material. William Henry Harrison, the founder-editor of the Spiritualist proposed that thermometers and ultra-red illumination could be used to measure the spiritual activity in séances. In 1875, Harrison advocated the use of photographs as evidence; “We spiritualist would then be able to go to the scientific world and say… these flames can now be photographed… by the process which is laid before you”. The consistent desire to be validated as a legitimate in the eyes of already established fields, reflects how deeply 19th century spiritualism wanted to be accepted by science as a valid inquiry of the world.

Machines which were capable of recording sounds, capturing photos or typing were perceived as eerie by a majority of the 19th century audience, with such functions transgressing over the line of the supernatural. This equipment evoked the uncanny valley because it blurred what was once rigid lines between the animate and inanimate. Thomas Edison himself saw these new technologies as ways to tap into the occult since the machines seemed to be alive or extensions of the human conscious. Interestingly, new technologies were seen as steps towards a Utopian future and there was a growing movement which attempted to harness the power of spirits as an inexhaustible source of energy. Just as the steam engine had completely transformed the western world and created capitalism as a byproduct; controlling these supernatural forces were simply a new step in the evolution of mankind and its technological wonders . It can be argued these avenues of the supernatural were only opened up with the introduction of new technologies on the market. Due to humanity’s obsession to identify the supernatural in everyday life, it is not surprising that slowly such machinery came to embody some paranormal characteristics.

The practice of ‘typtology’ which developed quickly in the 19th century was heavily influenced by the invention of the electrical telegraph: Coincidentally the ‘Hydesville rappings’ only occurred four years after the first successful telegraph connection between Washington and Baltimore was established. In fact, often spiritualists were described as simple relays along a communication system with spirits, such imagery obviously pays homage towards the invention and popularisation of long distance communication. Likewise the many references to spiritualist as ‘celestial’ telegraphs evoke the image of a supernatural current transitioning between the medium and the occult in a similar fashion to electricity. This wording may have been deliberate to make their philosophies more understandable to the average laymen, however it does also reflect how many spiritualist often adopt the vocabulary and products of their scientific ‘rivals’.

The spiritualist community also quickly embraced the type writer as a new method of interacting with the occult. Whilst the 21st century audience may see this machine as a tool to inscribe words onto a piece of paper, two centuries ago it signalled the unnatural severing of the author from the physical act of writing. This distinction between authors and (type) writers was due to the fact that a finalised text did not carry the characteristics of an individual’s handwriting. Thus typewriters were eventually seen as people who were tapping into the thoughts of the author or simply possessed by the machine itself. Slowly this idea of possession began to develop supernatural connotations and this is reflected in how the noun ‘typewriter’ was used in the 19th century. Madame Blavatsky, the founder of Theosophy was often referred to as a ‘human typewriter’ due to her ability to channel the supernatural when writing and explaining her beliefs. Blavatsky dismissed claims of plagiarism by stating that all her writing had been done in a state of trance, and thus her body was simply a tool for channeling invisible forces. Likewise, mediums who used spiritual rappings and table tipping were often called typters, which roughly translates to ‘I strike’ in Greek. It is from this origin that the words ‘typist’ and ‘typing’ developed. The act of tapping found in the Morse code and typewriting were seen as physical and technological ways to invite spiritual possession by severing the ‘natural’ connection between the eye and writing.

Interestingly, as psychology became more of a respected field of knowledge, slowly it was able to strip away the supernatural associations of automatic writing. Both F. W. H Myer and Edmun Gurney were intensely motivated in proving that mediums who would produce writing or quotes during a trance, were simply tapping in their subconscious past, in a Freudian manner. Interestingly, both men attempted to discredit automatic writing because they believed the notion of an eternal spirit and afterlife was threatened by the popularisation of medium possession, which proposed a more fluid image of identity. New scientific inventions allowed spiritualist the opportunity to appropriate new tools into their repertoire, but evolving fields of science was also eventually responsible for stripping away the occult associations of type writing.

The commercialisation of electricity and its incorporation into all levels of society played a fundamental role in changing how the supernatural developed in the 19th century to today’s understanding of the paranormal. This was most famously reflected in the novel of Frankenstein, as electricity was regarded as the most basic and fundamental component of life. Shelley, inspired by her husband’s fascination with mesmerism, captured the growing public’s unease and fascination concerning the manipulating of electricity to create life and to interact with the dead. Mesmerism, which quickly became embedded into the consciousness of the public discourse and imagination was built upon many new scientific discoveries. It could be argued that the technological advances of the 19th century were not only a contributing factor to mesmerism’s doctrines, but rather it created a context where a belief system which frequently mixed technology and pseudoscience could thrive.

Mesmerism stood as a direct challenged to the traditional pillars of the medical community, proposing that the building of rapport and the interactions of two minds was able to overcome illness. This was in opposition to the general direction of the scientific community in the 19th century, which had turned towards an increasingly materialistic outlook on life. A notion which would only become more ingrained with the publication of On the Origin of Species. Franz Anton Mesmer a frequent user of magnets and electricity, attributed his medical successes to his ability to form an electrical conduit between himself and his patient. Even when the notion of electricity as the ‘essence of life’ was challenged by the emerging scientific discoveries, the mesmer community simply embraced ‘od’ or ‘odyle’ forces; a form of transparent magnetic fluid (Noakes, 2012). The key point isn’t whether or not 19th century spiritualism used these terms and descriptions in a ‘scientifically’ accurate way. But rather, by absorbing this scientific jargon into their terminology, it reflected a desire to legitimise their dogma in the eyes of their ‘rivals’, but also a wish to drop the connotations of irrationality which had long been a stigma on the occult. Mesmerism’s challenge to science during the nineteenth century is one of many attempts by supernatural ideologies to gain ground in the battle for how one perceived the world. Interestingly enough, mesmers relied and embraced new technologies so much, that they frequently accused scientist of being blind and dismissive to new avenues of thought, and readily referred to themselves as the ‘true scientist’.

Practitioners of mesmerism also regularly incorporated phrenology into their consultations with their patients. The belief that the brain was an organ with different areas which would trigger a certain response when touched was directly linked to the imagery of a machine. More tellingly is that the brain was often referred to as a ‘galvanic battery’ during the 19th century, and altered states of reality was believed to occur if too much blood (a metaphor for electric) was sent to the head. The rise of supernatural arts that was heavily intertwined with the latest scientific research shows that technological progress does not automatically equal to a decrease in superstition. This is because unlike religion or science, which carries with it a structured view of the universe, magic and technology are simply tools which make no such grandiose claims.

The rise of photography within the 19th century was not just influenced by the growing movement of spiritualism, but arguably its rising popularity was indebted to its supernatural associations. Much like the typewriter, a camera blurred the line between life and death, seemingly without a conscious, yet able to do things (such as recording sound or images) which previously only humans could perform. Spiritual photography worked under the assumption that the person in front of the camera was able to ‘mediumise’ the equipment in order to capture the unseen supernatural forces around them. As the theories and arguments for Darwinism and positivism seeped into the public conscious, this produced a yearning for the assurance of an afterlife. Spiritualist responded to this sentiment, and regularly attacked science as being harshly dismissive of personal spiritual experiences, all the while using tools of science to argue their position. This shift towards a supernatural which was more focused within the individual’s personal experience, can also be viewed as a response to the rise in technology capable of recording evidence. Thus, possibly this trend towards ‘smaller’ and more ‘personal’ interactions with the paranormal might have been a natural shift to legitimise the supernatural in the face of increasing demands of evidence.

Whilst it may seem like the relationship between the ‘spiritual photographer’ and the subject is unfair; since one is actively exchanging falsely created goods for money. Often, both parties were active participants in this lie; William Stainton Moses, a famous paranormal investigator commented that people regularly mistook a “broom as their dearly departed”. Similarly, even after William Hope, a famous spiritual photographer was proven to be a fraud, he still continued working as a photographer and a medium; as he was financially and publicly supported by his loyal fans. Science and emerging technologies were not so much the counter to ‘irrational’ ideas, but instead, simply gave 19th century citizens the opportunity to validate their attachments to the supernatural through modern methods.

Thomas Edison (a firm believer in the supernatural) famously remarked that death, “the final frontier”, was being opened out through the invention and commericalisation of new technologies. Likewise the industrial revolution gave Britain (and the rest of the western sphere) an opportunity to close the frontier between the east and west. Thus producing the great paradox of colonisation, whilst Anglo-Saxon culture was elevated to the most dominant position, it was not left ‘untarnished’ and was also transformed by its contact with foreign cultures. This absorption of eastern occultism was reflected in popular literature, with Dracula standing as a symbol of an ancient eastern evil unleashed upon the civilised (and unprepared) Anglo-Saxon societies. Similarly, Indian marijuana was used by the fictional protagonist John Silence in order to tap into the supernatural vibrations of his surroundings. This signified a shift in the perception of the supernatural; the west began to see itself as a piece in the global search for the paranormal and thus adopted other beliefs and rituals.

As science began to chip away at the vast distances and times between nations; linking once distance lands with the west, this resulted in the questioning of previously ‘unquestionable’ beliefs. Inspired by her understanding of eastern spirituality, Madame Blavatsky the founder of Theosophy, challenged the moral and religious authority of the Church as she claimed that she alone held the Truth, given to her through the Great White Brotherhood. Blavatsky’s willingness to challenge such an established pillar on conventionally accepted doctrines shows how technology and the freedom of movement provided citizens a chance to escape ‘pre-destined’ roles; making identity a more fluid conception. The supernatural greatly benefited the growing globalisation of the world through technologies like the railway and the telephone. It allowed the supernatural in the west to absorb and adopt a lot of foreign beliefs and practices, enlarging the circumference of what one perceived as the occult and also offering a refreshing breath of creativity into this field.

Modern historians have largely ignored the supernatural in their construction of history, anachronistically deeming it as primitive and incompatible with a ‘Whigsian’ approach to history. Much like the academics in the Renaissance, there is a sense of discomfort, in relation to just how deeply entrenched the supernatural was during a time of supposed ‘modernisation’. The view that the supernatural (something which dealt completely with emotions and personal experiences) and technology (something built on measured science and rationality) were polar opposites is an overly simplistic view which fails to look at how the supernatural still continues to absorb new technologies into its realms. It is because 19th century spiritualism shared so much in common with established sciences, that it was often hard for practitioners of either field to proper investigate and properly distinguish between each other.

Emma Hardringe Britten, a famous Victorian spiritualist, stated that spiritual science was merely the next step in the intellectual ‘progress of the human race’, echoing a sentiment which a majority of supernatural practitioners would have agreed with. Though, ironically, it is telling that her quote obviously alludes to both evolutionary theory and the survival of the fittest; the cutting edge of scientific thought. By describing the rise of her discipline in relation to the static older sciences, Britten is unconsciously exposing how deeply intertwined the destinies of scientific advancement and the supernatural was in the long 19th century.

 

… Science will continue to be colonized by spiritualists and other religious groups seeking to assert what they know, intuitively and spiritually, to be true, for in spiritualist perceptions, truth and science are inextricably linked

– Jennifer E. Porter (2005)

A Feminist Interpretation of Islam

mosque

As western nations become more multicultural, there has been a growing debate of how the west should juggle its existing values with the ideals held by Muslims, particularly ones coming from the Middle East and Africa. The Caged Virgin: A Muslim Woman’s Cry for Reason by Ayaan Hirsi Ali fiercely criticises Islam for its inability and unwillingness to adapt to modern (western) values, but also for its treatment and attitudes towards their women.

Ali who labels herself a feminist and an advocate for the freedom of speech, portrays Islam as an ideology which is unwilling and unable to change to its attachment towards its scriptures and the figure of Mohammad. In the chapter The Virgin’s Cage, Ali argues that the Qur’an’s insistence upon women and their sexual purity is a pillar of the systemic oppression which has prevented the sexual liberation of Muslim women. Ali draws a connection between quotes in the Qur’an like “Those who guard their private parts… will inherit al-Firdaus.” (23:5-11) and practices such as marrying off a (female) rape victim to her rapist in order to maintain the family’s honour by insisting she lost her virginity with her husband (p. 20). Interestingly, the book fails to mention how many passages regarding virginity are directed at both sexes, and what she seems to be criticising is merely the patriarchal values in nations which also has embraced Islam. For Ali, it seems Islam as a faith is not only responsible for its dogma but how different societies attempt to implement it; the two aspects of faith and culture are indistinguishable.

This obsession with virginity and purity has, in Ali’s view, created a polarising culture of shame and one of honour. Ali comments about practices such as Muslim women spreading rumours about their peers to taint their name due to the stigma of premarital sex (p. 20). Quotes in the Qur’an like “… that [women] should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments.” (24:30-1), inherently portrays female sexuality as something dangerous and alluring, whilst never fully criticising men for displaying their beauty and body to the same extent. Ali considers this desire to curtail female beauty not only as sexist but contributing to a culture where women are the recipient of all blame and sexual responsibility, whilst Muslim men are rarely taught that they are also responsible for their actions (p. 21). Ali further argues that this lack of understanding between the sexes combined with the oppression of female sexual agency in everyday life is responsible for the over representation of “Muslim men in prisons and Muslim women in shelters” (p. 18).

Furthermore, Ali believes this focus upon female virginity is an accomplice in the cycle of entrenched poverty and instability which traps many Muslim families. The groom must penetrate the hymen of his wife to consummate the marriage, producing bloodied bed sheets for all to see. Ali adopts a feminist point of view on this act, seeing the importance of this ritual as a possible justification for rape. She writes “a Muslim marriage begins … [with] an act of force. It is in this atmosphere of mistrust that the next generation of children is born and brought up” (p. 24). Whilst I believe Ali to be justified in her reaction to this practice, I do find it unfair that she associates this tradition only with Islam as there are many Pacific-Islander cultures with similar rituals.

Since Islam has not undergone anything resembling the western Enlightenment period, many Muslim communities have not been able to fully separate law and Islam; also known as Sharia. Ali constantly warns that it is crucial that the Islamic world produces a thinker like Voltaire in order to challenge the repressive system of thoughts which places religion and tradition over human rights and science. In the chapter A Need for Self Reflection Within Islam, Ali discusses the cultural pedestal that Mohammad and the Qur’an is placed upon in a lot of Muslim communities. This prevents even the most liberal Muslims from reforming the doctrines into something more moderate and reflective of 21st century western beliefs. Ali believes the inability for these communities to distinguish between the Qur’an and law is the many reason why gender inequality is so ingrained within the Islamic communities and why the Islamic world lags in not just human rights, but economically and creatively (p. 152).

In the same chapter, Ali writes that “… Critical appreciation will have to come from within [Islam]” (p. 153). However, for Ali, there seems to be an expectation of the west to paternalistically lead the Muslim communities towards modernity. The Caged Virgin states many times that it is under the banner of misguided multiculturalism that the west refuses to challenge practices like female genital mutilation found in Muslim households. Ali berates these western liberals who supposedly champion ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘equality’ as selfish and obsessed with their image. By removing the incentive for Muslims to assimilate and by allowing Muslims to import their culture unchecked (for the sake of diversity), these liberals have commended the most vulnerable; the Muslim women, to a life under the patriarchy (pg 40-41).

Ali advocates for the adoption of affirmative/ preventative action when it comes to her fight against Islamic practices, especially female genital mutilation. Insisting that families migrating from ‘high risk’ areas, where this practice is still common, should have their daughters checked annually for signs of mutilation (p. 122). This position clearly puts Ali as a defender of the female body against unwarranted harm and her stance against female mutilation is understandable. Whilst I believe Ali has the best intentions and I think that such a policy can help (thankfully) reduce the continuation of these practices in the west, it unfortunately presents the entire Islamic global community as barbaric. By associating this issue with Islam, Ali also unfairly criticises many nations like Indonesia and Iran, where this practice is generally unheard of.

A running motif through her book is that Islam needs to mirror how the western nations treat Christianity; something of personal devotion which does not extend into secular and public life. For Ali, it seems that Islam needs to be almost entirely rewritten and reinterpreted for it to move away from its current manifestation; one which empowers the male and alienates the female. This idea that Islam is unsalvageable appears to even permeate her language, where she seems to use the word the word ‘Muslim’ to describe someone from a certain cultural heritage instead of someone who is an adherent to Islam.

This is stated most strikingly in the quote “[An] analysis of Islam and many Islamic dogmas… Would give Muslims a chance to end individual oppression and… [for] men, women and homosexuals [to be] treated as equals” (Ali, p. 135). In the eyes of Ali, she sees a direct connection between the teachings of the faith and the physical consequences within the Islamic world. The Caged Virgin presents Islam as the root of most, if not all of the issues of the Muslim community; since the Qur’an is held as the highest pinnacle of knowledge. This unchallenged respect for the text has stifled the ability for Muslims to be self-critical about their society, Ali cities the obstacles she has faced as evidence of this.

The biggest strength about Ali’s book; The Caged Virgin is also its biggest flaw paradoxically. Ali’s book paints a very simplistic picture concerning the entire Muslim population. However, her unwillingness to differentiate between Muslim societies such as Indonesia and Saudi Arabia does hurt the validity of her points as it seems a majority of her issues concern patriarchal values found within Africa and the Middle East. However, at the same time, by not distinguishing between Muslims, she boldly demands that all Muslims critically analyse the human rights issues which seem to more frequently appear within their communities.

Continuing this criticism, one instance where I believed Ali failed to accurately distinguish between Islam and culture, is when she talks about marriage in the chapter What Went Wrong? Ali describes the expectations of Muslim women to only marry within the ‘clan’, reflective of their insular upbringing (p. 50). However, the Qur’an is quite liberal on divorce and explicitly describes marriage as a willing contract between two willing participants, whilst actually giving women some economic and social benefits. In sura 65, the Qur’an states that “when you [Muslims] divorce women, … Do not turn them out of their [husbands’] houses.” Thus what Ali is describing seems to be more reflective of the bastardisation of Islamic beliefs rather than something sexist stemming from the Qur’an.

Saliem Fakir (2007, p. 333) in a rebuttal to Ali’s book argues that Ali’s inability to distinguish between “archaic patriarchal traditions… and Islam… is the biggest weakness in her thesis.” Ann Snitow (2006) further criticises Ali’s broad generalisations by stating that Ali is “so worried about imposing sameness on ‘the other’ that she misses cross cultural similarities” (p. 107).

Whilst I do agree that Ali does unfairly question the entire Muslim population with her words, I do think Fakir is also over simplistic in his assertion that the holy texts have no relationship to some of the sexist practices in Muslim communities. Quotes in the Hadith such as “I looked into Hell and found that the majority of its dwellers were women.” can be powerful justifications of certain beliefs. Ultimately, this is what Ali is fighting against, the manipulation of Islam to justify the ingrained prejudices within patriarchal societies. I believe The Caged Virgin was a legitimately an honest attempt to combat the issues women face in some Islamic nations and it does call out many appalling practices. But with its simplistic depictions, it begs the question how thin the line is between critical analyse and Islamophobia within The Caged Virgin.

The Thinglyness of Thingly Things

japan

What do you make of Heidegger’s way of reading artworks, equipment and things in relationship with each other in “The Origin of the Work of Art”? 

Martin Heidegger’s The Origin of the Work of Art attempts to explore the metaphysical aspect behind ‘things’ and their ‘thinglyness’. In particular, his essays focus upon the difference between ‘equipment’ and ‘art’, the uses of these differences and the consequences. By exploring the thinglyness within both equipment and art, Heidegger touches upon many important and reoccurring concepts such as Aletheia, existentiality and the rift between ‘Earth’ and ‘World’. Heidegger wishes for us to move away from the traditional western view of the subject/object dynamic, with the object having agency and the subject purely being a recipient of that will. Instead Heidegger argues for the being of all things, and all human experience involves the ‘sacrifice’ of the subject which willingly gives itself up to the object/human in order to create a new reality. Thus Heidegger’s views on things, equipment and art attempt to move away from these ingrained notions into his realm of metaphysics.

It is important to look past the physical material or earthliness of art or equipment and to understand what Heidegger perceived to be the core thinglyness of all things. Heidegger says one of the most difficult tasks is to simply “let beings be” and “let things be things”, because humans have constructed the world and their language in such a way that a book is not just a ‘thing’ instead there are many different associations and connotations which cloud the thinglyness from the view of humans. A book fosters up images of pages, font and book covers, yet it can fail to highlight the true thinglyness of a book; an instrument to communicate from the author to the reader; a physical instrument which if read can ‘melt’ away the physical world and teleport the author into the pages (Groden, Kreiswirth & Szeman). I think this speaks to the core of Heidegger’s philosophy which resonated around the core of simplicity and how these distractions chip away from the fundamental desires and goals of being. These distractions serve to cover up what is ‘nearest’ in our lives such as death, love and art whilst emphasising what is most ‘remote’, superficial relationships and attempting to foster social acknowledgement. These veilings of what is closest to the human ‘Being’ will lead us astray and cause humans to focus upon matters which are not important instead of striving for Aletheia or the desire to be great.

For equipment, Heidegger saw it as formed matter, something derived of the earth which was shaped by an external agency. Aristotle’s analogy of the wax stamp is another way to understand Heidegger’s thoughts on the creation of equipment: The wax stamp is comprised of two different ‘parties’ the wax and the stamp which shaped it; yet when understanding the wax stamp, it is impossible to fully separate the ‘form’ and the ‘matter’; the object and the subject. The most important aspect of equipment is the purpose which lies behind it; it is this linear objective which separates equipment from the realm of art. Understanding something holistically is a reoccurring theme within Heidegger and a key reason why he believes that science can never simply reach any truth within the realm of human understanding. The separation and the over-analysis of something conceals its thinglyness in pursuit of ‘more accurate information’. For Heidegger whose philosophy has elements of Romantic thought, understanding light as wave lengths completely destroys the other real effects and associations with light such as warmth, safety and the divine. Heidegger’s quote “the thingness of the thing remains concealed, forgotten. The nature of the thing never comes to light, that is, it never gets a hearing” reflects his belief that science simply rewords what is already ‘known’ and does not impart new knowledge. As a romantic and an admirer of eastern philosophy which moves away from the intense desire to categorise and rationalise within western philosophy, I appreciate Heidegger’s attempts to create a philosophy which is much more interconnected with the physical human experience. I often find myself asking whether western philosophy is motivated for the sake of information or if it is truly trying to uncover a ‘Truth’ to better human society.

Equipment’s main objective is to try to unlock what Heidegger calls the existentiality within things in order to create works of art. Existentiality refers to the glimpsing and unlocking of one’s potential and moving from the ‘actuality’ to the ‘possible’. Whilst this Heideggerian concept is often used to label people who never challenge the status-quo and simply ‘exist’, without deeper considerations for the philosophy of life. In many ways the unlocking of nature’s beauty from a ‘thing’ to a work of art also falls in line with this concept or ascending into something greater. The beauty behind an axe is found in its ability to shape the natural environment in order to create art, whilst art’s beauty shines its radiance or ability to transport an individual into another ‘World’. One may notice how this Heideggerian belief on equipment and its uses mirrors natural law, which rewarded the unlocking and shaping of the natural world in order to forward civilisation.

This stance upon equipment and purpose is noticeably different to how Heidegger perceives art; Heidegger is especially strong in his love and respect for art and its ability to unconceal the ‘Truth’. Whilst equipment prides itself on being ‘non-distracting’ and being formed in a way where the matter or its ‘earthly thinglyness’ doesn’t get noticed or get in the way of an objective: Art is the total opposite as the artist attempts to bring attention to every choice and decision made in the crafting of the artwork; whether this is a musical note, a paint stroke or the chiselling of a statute. In this sense, the art is the real catalyst and creative origin whilst the artist and the equipment are simply the conduits to Aletheia; “like a passage which destroys itself in the progress”.

In order to understand great works of art, it is necessary to decipher two Heideggerian terms; ‘World’ and ‘Earth’, which in true Heidggerian fashion sounds like synonyms yet represents something completely different. The ‘World’ is a fictional reality which one is transported to when they are engaging with high art, for an example, entering an ancient temple may sever one’s connection to the outside physical as they are moved to another realm where the gods dwell. The ‘Earth’ however is the physical ground upon which this temple or piece of art is built, yet the unlike the ‘World’ is in a constant sense of unveiling, the ‘Earth’ attempts to conceal itself, never fully letting a human comprehend it completely. For a painting or a vase, the ‘Earth’ comprises of the physicality of the thing, from the brushstrokes to the grainy texture and colours respectively. Yet the concealing of high art is why certain films, paintings and poems compromise of many meanings and that it may take many viewings before one can come to an understanding; and even then it may not be complete.

By immersing the audience in the greatness of their craft, an artist creates a rift between World and Earth, and the tension is which allows audience to glance at the ‘Truth’. It is important to note that equipment doesn’t have this worldly element to it, nor does it inspire great feelings since equipment is simply there to make achieving an objective easier. However, equipment and art share a mutual relationship, since art can only be formed with the assistance of equipment and equipment only has value in creating. Interesting, artworks are much more depended upon the ‘World’ which surrounds the thing; thus is an ancient statute is removed from their native ‘World’ which they naturally inhabit, their ability to bring viewers into their ‘World’ is severely reduced. Once again, equipment does not have this aspect to its thinglyness, instead, equipment remains linear regardless of the situation and is only not ‘useful’ if it is outclassed by other equipment.

I find Heidegger’s metaphysics fascinating because there is such a cyclical element to it and I see the joining of artworks and equipment to be in a sense a hermeneutic circle where one can only understood by exploring the other concepts in a circular notion. Continuing this metaphor of the hermeneutic circle, Heidegger also sees ‘Truth’ through a similar lens, ‘Truth’ or Aletheia is circular. By unconcealing certain information, another element gets shrouded in darkness and thus Heidegger entertains a relativisitic conception of Truth which is subject to a person’s context, instead of something which is self-evident and unchallengeable. Heidegger perceives great art as one of the few ways to uncover the Truth, and this is only possible when the audience or viewer concentrates deeply without outside distraction. Heidegger’s analysis of the Van Gogh’s painting A Pair of Shoes paints a vivid picture of the thinglyness of the shoes, “From the dark opening of the worn insides of the shoes the toilsome tread of the worker stares forth.” It is important to distinguish that Heidegger insists art is a window to Truth and not to what is ‘true’. Using Van Gogh’s shoes for an example, the painting’s objective is not to accurately depict the physical aesthetics of a peasant shoe, instead the brush strokes, colour and lighting all create a picture of suffering and scarcity which is the thinglyness of the shoes; the true soul of the object. Interesting that whilst Heidegger argues that equipment (shoes) will never be able to create the tension between the World and Earth which is necessary to inspire and communicate the Truth: Heidegger picks an artwork depicting a pair of shoes (equipment) to highlight the power of art to create Aletheia, ironically highlighting only through a work of art can a pair of worn out shoes transcend their physical equipment uses and create a World for the audience to merge into.

At the core of Martin Heidegger’s The Origin of the Work of Art is his attempt to distinguish and identify the differences in the thinglyness of things. For Heidegger, acknowledging the physical differences between artworks and equipment was not enough; only through understanding the differences in objective and purpose did one understand equipment and artwork. Heidegger’s admiration of high art and its transformative power is evident through his essay; whilst equipment is not placed upon such a privileged status, it is still essential in the creation of art. Art’s ability to open a World is essential in Aletheia; the uncovering of Truth. In many cases, it is through this unveiling of Truth that humans are able to see the irony between ‘remoteness and nearness’ and how many beings attempt to escape from ‘confronting’ topics like death, life and purpose. For Heidegger, very few things are more important than art which has the ability to peel back this façade of social normativity which humans have imposed upon their surroundings. As stated above, art can only be created through equipment and it is equipment; the unsung heroes, which are responsible for creating the environment or situation for the art to come forth from. Equipment rarely draws attention to itself and unlike art, the less noticeable it is, the more effective it is at being equipment. This hermeneutic circle stands at the core of Heidegger’s metaphysical analysis of the thinglyness of both parties; connecting artworks and equipment in a never ending dance, as never ending partners.

The Division in Australian Identity

This is going to be one of two essays that I will publish about Australian history and diplomacy in the years after British colonisation. This essay will not be as detailed as the following post, since it was a practice draft written by me for tomorrow’s one hour examination. Regardless, I will publish this because I want to memorise, which typing will allow, but also because I think it touches on enough topics which are different from my massive 3000 word essay on Australia, that it deserves a separate post.

Note, this is written completely in AUSTRALIAN English, so expect a very spelling differences, plus there are no references at all, since this was drafted for examination conditions.

Thank you for reading,
Down Under

“To what extent has the history of Australia’s defensive foreign policy since World War II reflected its European values in contrast to its Asian geography. Discuss this in the time period from 1970s to the present day.”

As a colonised nation located in the Asian sphere, Australia has long struggled with its identity. It has and still simultaneously looks at Great Britain as its cultural home whilst acknowledging Asia as its geographical home. Australia’s stance after the withdraw of Britain’s military and economic presence has been one of lukewarm friendship with Asia. This is reflected in its foreign policies towards Vietnam and Indonesia from the 1970s onward.

Australia’s entrance into the Vietnam War in 1962 was an obvious case of the nation’s apprehension towards the communist country. For the government, this was more than just a war of two hostile nations but rather a clash of identity and ideology. It was important to understand that Australia was spurred towards this armed conflict because of the decades of fear it had promoted and consumed in regards to the ‘near north’. The yellow fear had simply been transformed from the swarm of Chinese gold miners to the militaristic Japanese to the ‘red peril’. In many ways Australia’s decision to halt the domino effect could be seen as a further continuation of White Australia Policy.

Australia’s decision to fight in Vietnam also highlights another pivotal pillar of the Australian psyche; the need to find a paternal figure. Menzies’ act of courting and supporting American’s intervention in Vietnam was also reflected in Deakin’s attempts to woo the Great White Fleet in 1908. This act was similarly replicated by Gillard’s decision to establish a permanent American military base in Darwin due to continued military escalation in the South China sea. The constant reliance on western displays of power and solidarity to counter the rising might of Asian strength is indicative of Australia’s loyalties and inherent bias. It is telling that The Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty (ANZUS) is seen as the pillar of Australia foreign policy, despite America continually shunning such their obligations in this relationship.Tellingly, both Keating and Whitlam, two of Australia’s more ‘pro-Asian’ prime ministers were unwilling to criticise or downplay the significance of ANZUS. Even if it could have potentially lead to a better relationship with some Asian states who were uncomfortable with the reach of America on Australia’s decision making.

Since the 1970s, there has been an attempt through politics, to alter Australia’s psyche to that of the ‘good neighbour’. This is reflected inWhitlam’s recognition of China, the exponential increase in Japanese trade and their softer foreign policies against Indonesia. Whilst Australia is unquestionably a western nation with western values, it has attempted to distance itself from its colonial past. This is reflected in Australia’s support for Papua New Guinea’s independence in 1975. Awkwardly this hand of independence was also extended to the Karkar Islands by Whitlam, to which they formally declined. This highlights how this topic of Asian independence has been turned into a political statement to benefit Australia’s image. Australian leaders have generally issued public comments of support for Asian independence in the post colonial era as a sign that they have moved away from their imperial roots. Historian Curran points out that Whitlam used this symbol of New Guinea casting off its imperial chains to galvanise Australia to do the same.

Australia’s relationship with Indonesia is a great example of Australia’s tension with its western values and Asian geography. Despite significant differences between Australia and Indonesia, politically, socially and religiously: Australia’s approach to Indonesia has generally being one of appeasement and anxiety. This relationship stems from the fear of Indonesian aggression, particularly since it is located so close to Australia’s borders. In order to maintain the status of the good neighbour, Whitlam turned a blind eye to Indonesia’s annexation of West Papua New Guinea and East Timor. This position of political pragmatism was adopted despite the abundance of human rights violations and condemnations from the United Nations. Interestingly, Whitlam was in favour of establishing economic sanctions of South Africa because of its Apartheid laws, highlighting the hypocrisy of his ‘progressive ideals’. Awkwardly however, it was the Fraser government which was left to deal with Whitlam’s approach to Indonesian hostility. Under intense scrutiny of the public and other western nations, Fraser came out and denounced Indonesia’s blatant violation of human rights in West Papua New Guinea; eventually falling inline with a lot of other western countries.

Despite these attempts at appeasement, Australia has yet to be fully acknowledged as an Asian nation. Keating’s comments of transforming Australia from the “odd man looking out to the odd man looking in” subconsciously highlights Australia’s sense of cultural displacement. Likewise Suharto’s rejection of Australia’s entrance into the East Asian Economic Caucus (EAEC) is very telling of Australia’s image in the eyes of other ethnically Asian nations. This is especially symbolic as the EAEC was created specifically to counter the inclusion of western powers into the Asian-Pacific Economics Cooperation (APEC). Suharto denied Australia this opportunity since he believed that Australia’s values were just too western. This ironically resulted in Keating publicly attacking Suharto, actions which were deemed unprofessional and problematic through the lens of Confucian values.

The Vietnam War combined with Australia’s treatment of Indonesia reflects the uneasy transition of a proud British nation to one with ‘Asian history’. Ultimately when given a chance to stand with the west or embrace the role of the good neighbour. Australia, under Howard’s leadership, choose to intervene and lead a United Nations expedition force into East Timor after Indonesia’s tactical withdraw. Likewise Australia’s western allegiance was also repeated when it choose to join America and the United Kingdoms in the invasion of Iraq, evoking ANZUS after 9/11. These two actions were performed despite fully understanding the repercussions it could possibly hold for Australia. Unsurprisingly, Indonesia’s frustrations at American and the Portuguese were now transferred onto Australia and the two nations have entered a period of a lukewarm relationship.

Howard’s slogan of ‘Asia first, but not Asia only’ is indicative of Australia’s split identity. There has been a real attempt to forge a sense of Asian identity after the collapse of the British Empire, this move has been inspired by economic necessity but it also touches back on Australia’s reliance upon greater powers. However, at the heart of Australian identity there lingers a powerful tension between its allegiance to its colonial and western past and a desire to fully immerse itself into the Asian community.

MythBusters: Learning Styles

“If there’s something strange in you neighborhood
Who you gonna call? (mythbusters)
If there’s something weird
And it don’t look good
Who you gonna call? (mythbusters).”

What the Research says about Learning Styles?

Background:

For the purposes of this assignment, we have chosen to suggest an approach for a school in the Western suburbs of Sydney, with an ethnically and linguistically diverse student body. Being engaged in professional development, the school has noticed the discourse of learning styles in professional spheres and wants to investigate before adopting it as school practice. The following is a paper evaluating the research on learning styles, and suggests an approach for the school to take.

Introduction:

The term “learning styles” is the constructed concept that “individuals differ in regard to what mode of instruction or study that is most effective for them”. Over the last fifty years, the myth of ‘Learning Styles’ has become one of the most popular aspects of educational theory, with it gaining traction amongst the wider academic circles. Pashler et al., states this education theory is very alluring because it presents an easy solution to the paradox of teaching inherently different students within a mass production system. However the popularity of this myth ventures into the field of pseudo-science as its catchy narrative is overwhelmingly unsupported by the current research. Furthermore Pashler et al. states that with the constant active promotion from vendors offering different tests, assessment devices and online technologies, it has allowed educational institutions to easily identify students learning styles, and adapt their instructional approaches accordingly.

It cannot be denied that it is important to recognise that students are diverse and learn differently, whether it is culturally, linguistically or cognitively. The concept of learning styles may seem like a credible approach to cater for this diversity, however there has been limited evidence supporting it. There is some evidence of neural correlation with a preferred learning preference, for example Kraemer, Rosenberg & Thompson-Schill (2008) had the first set of data that showed a neural correlation with a stated style preference, which suggested that those who are associated with the verbal style have a tendency to convert pictorial information into linguistic representations. However, in the majority of the research on learning styles, students who used their preferred learning styles did not fare significantly better than students who were prevented from using their preferred style. It is therefore important that educators are aware that learning styles are not reliable predictors of the most appropriate learning style for any given student.

Alternatively, Huebner suggests the use of “differentiated instruction to effectively address all students’ learning needs”. It cannot be denied that students come from complex backgrounds with a diversity of language, ability and prior knowledge in any given area. They will also have a preference with the way that they learn and retain information. However, evidence suggests that implementing differentiated instruction, rather than teaching to a single style or ability, proves to be the most effective when addressing diverse student learning needs. Instead of grouping students into learning styles, understanding how to promote student engagement and motivation, assessing student readiness and having effective classroom management procedures can enrich the student learning process. Huebner further affirms this statement by stating it is important to understand that with differentiated instruction, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ model, instead it builds upon the prior knowledge, interests and abilities that students bring to the classroom.

The Myth of Learning Styles

Massa and Meyer’s study was very effective at highlighting the wide divide between what is the popular narrative and what is academically supported. Altogether Massa and Meyer performed three separate experiments to test whether or not ‘visual learners’ and ‘verbal learners’ excelled when multimedia instruction was given in their respective fields, in a total of 51 cases, 49 showed little or no evidence, for learning styles, with some even showing evidence against.

When Massa and Meyer’s first experiment involving 52 participants showed no evidence to support the learning styles education system, they attempted the exact same experiment in a different context. In the first experiment, the mean age was 18 years old with all the participants coming from the Psychology pool at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In experiment two it, the participants were non-college educated adults, with 15 out of the 61 having high school as their highest level of education. However despite the shift in demographics, the results to experiment two were very similar, with no significant increases in academic scoring in 14 of the 15 experiments.

Out of the 51 cases, 52.94% (27/51) of the time, the results showed a minute leaning towards the expected direction (visual learners getting slightly better results on visual instruction), whilst 47.05% (24/51) the results headed towards the opposite direction. These scores highlight how inconsistent this educational theory is and that there was close to an equal chance of a person either benefiting or not benefitting from learning styles classrooms.

Instead it was found that adding images to aid any form of instruction was a benefit to both ‘visual’ and ‘verbal’ learners, further discrediting the notion that people can be cleanly categorized into either element. This has been validated by studies such as Mayer and Moreno (2002) and Austin (2009) who found multimedia which incorporated animation and narration were consistently shown to be the most effective when it came to student’s retention of knowledge and academic scores.

The Argument for Learning Styles

One of the most significant reasons that the learning style theory gained momentum was due to educators realising that each child is different in the way that they learn and process knowledge. In their book “The Importance of Learning Styles,” Sims and Sims assert that learning opportunities need to be designed with the strengths and weakness of the child in mind. This is an argument which stands true to this day, even though the nuances of the words ‘strengths and weaknesses’ have evolved since then. In Sims and Sims’ time, the goal of learning styles assessment was to “make distinctions that lead to meaningful differences”. This was carried out through theories such as the Experiential Learning Theory presented by Kolb and the Learning Styles model proposed by Grasha-Reichmann. Both of these researchers were making nascent responses to the dilemma which arose from the acknowledgement of individual differences, or perhaps preferences, for perceiving and processing information. Since then, research on differentiated instruction by ability level and all forms of expression have developed these ideas.

The preconceived notions of some researchers have inhibited the critical analysis of data leading some to believe that what was measured was an indicator of different learning styles. Sprenger states that differentiation strategies such as tweaking the content or making instructional changes, need to be implemented after analysing the student’s “learning profile” or style of learning (2008, p.xvi). For qualitative researchers such as Sprenger (2008), who work with small scale case studies or take part in action research in their own classrooms, the idea that a child’s behaviour can indicate the child’s cognitive processes would have been almost self evident as it would have been observable evidence.

Massa and Mayer (2006), although critical of the learning style theory, acknowledges that in their study a correlation between cognitive style measures and processing measures were found where an individual’s professed learning style (visual or verbal) matched with how heavily they relied on help represented through the two styles. However, these findings are few and far between. Given the dominance of the learning styles discourse, it is very possible that researchers and participants alike were unwittingly primed to form these conclusions.

Conclusion

The basic idea of cognitive styles, that different individuals process certain types of information differently, has appeared in many forms and has been part of many theories in various avenues of psychological research. Despite this widespread interest, however, a precise description of what constitutes a cognitive style, both from a behavioral and from a biological perspective, remains elusive.

Although many schools are still inclined to adopt the concept of learning styles into their pedagogy, we would advise not to use it as a basis for teacher practice due to the lack of evidence for it. An overwhelming proportion of the evidence is based on ‘preferences’ instead of an assessment of cognition, or contain flawed and insufficient methodology. Furthermore, numerous studies have shown that in fact, what can be described as ‘learning styles’ has no significant impact on achievement.

Given these findings, we encourage the school to adopt the approach of differentiation, where pedagogy is designed to treat students as individuals based on their ability, prior knowledge, literacy and appropriate forms of engagement and management.

This was written by Gi Eun Lee, Kasturi Murugavel, Erica Sung and myself; SC. Thank you for being an amazing team, even if it was for a short period of time.

Praxis: An Ingrained Habit

 

“Elaborate upon the relationship between research and practice in education.”

“Action research as a critical social science… As a way of understanding the interplay of theory and practice.”

  • Wilfred Carr and Stephen Kemmis

As information and data becomes more easily available, the institution of education has experienced a considerable shift in its approach towards the discipline of teaching. It could be argued that in today’s climate, statistics and facts have been fetishized and have too much influence, dehumanising an occupation which is predicated and built upon human relationships. ‘Praxis’ is a counter-movement to this rising trend of placing data and quantitative data on a pedestal, as it also stresses the importance of personal experience, pedagogical knowledge and being contextually aware of the environment before implementing teaching practices. As every school, classroom and student is inherently different, it is important to foster a healthy sense of scepticism in order to use research to its fullest extents.

The rise of Neo-Liberalism has drastically altered societies’ and government’s approach to public institutions and services (Wilkins, 2006). Under the influence of this growing school of thought in the 80s, 90s and 2000s, educational decision-making has been increasingly underpinned by economic rationale more than social values (Welch, 2016). However, this focus upon statistics has its foundations in the 18th century with the rise of the French Enlightenment which looked towards science and ‘empirical evidence’ as the answer to all questions; natural or social. Goldacre’s essay titled ‘Building Evidence into Education’ (2013) symbolises Australia’s shift towards this ‘empirical’ and ‘factually sound’ education system, where quantitative data is unquestioned as the only source of ‘truth’. As a medical doctor, Goldacre’s desire to increase the amount of randomised testing in the subject highlights his lack of experience within the classroom; as students are simply not chemical reactions.

This elevation of research and statistics as universal markers of truth in contrast to personal experience, which is often seen as limited and context-specific, was evident in the forum posting of week two, where the concept of critically questioning research was foreign to many of my peers. Lee’s (2016) forum post highlights this passive mentality of blind acceptance, “I tend to straight away read the aims, findings and the conclusion as I rely [on] the researchers to be correct and [I] don’t question their reliability.” Likewise, it was very surreal to have to dismantle the ‘Learning Styles Myth’ with my EDUF4044 group; a piece of pseudo-science which had been so ingrained into ‘popular education theory’ yet was supported by flawed research. It was uncomfortable having to waddle through a theory which was underpinned with conflicting pieces of evidence, further highlighting how dependent I was on research to simply provide me an answer and how I needed to be more critical.

There has been a cultural divide between the researchers and the actual practitioners; I personally experienced this sense of mistrust at both of my practicum schools, with many experienced teachers telling me that theory was purely just abstract knowledge with no practical merit. A big reason for this tension between the two parties is that quantitative research often championed in Evidence Based Policy, tends to portray itself as universally relevant and an unquestionable authority on ‘truth’. But only by removing the empirical filter of objectivity which is often associated with quantitative data, teachers can instead explore the deep structures of privilege which significantly impact the learning abilities of students. A ‘fundamental’ interpretation of the text leaves no room for interpretation and thus approaches the classroom like a complicated mathematic problem, devoid of emotion and without accounting for teacher experience. Teachers are not simply the transmitters of knowledge or educational policies; teachers must use their agency in order to tailor their teaching in a way which is still pragmatically functional. By trying to understand the reasoning behind data instead of blindly applying it, teachers can develop better praxis, using scepticism to comb out research and advice which is inapplicable to their field.

In order to counter this fetishisation or empirical data, action research has been a growing pillar of good praxis. Zeni (1998) calls action research as an effective way to mesh the two perceived worlds of research and practice, advocating for the personal testing of theory and research. Action research places emphasis upon individual experiences and interactions whilst ‘demystifying’ the theortical. Action research also calls for the creation of a ‘communicative place’ shared by all teachers to collectively learn from their peers and their own personal insights and research. Such an environment would effectively combine the best of research and practices. By having multiple teachers implement a certain tactic, this can produce a more accurate indication of whether the research is beneficial or not.

Whilst research and practice are often portrayed as two different categories, usually on the opposite sides of the spectrum, a good teacher dedicated to their craft stands within the intersecting circles of the two venn diagrams. Without research to guide a teacher’s decision, their classrooms would be informed by urban myths, however without physical experience, the research merely stays as hypothetical knowledge. Understanding the inherent links between research and practice, teachers must constantly self-analyse and only from that will they be able to refine their craft, keeping what works and discarding what doesn’t.

Tripp’s (1996) framework of teacher self-analysis also effectively bridges the perceived and real gap between research and practice; requiring teachers to accumulate research to find a ‘critical moment’ that represent something more ‘significant’ than normal. If it is a critical moment, then the teacher will come up with a number of solutions to address the problem. After the brain storm they will then design different steps which will be implemented with the effects studied accordingly. This constant cycle of reflection will help uncover the limitations which may not have been mentioned within research. It will also highlight that whilst research may often exude an air of complete objectivity, every classroom is inherently different and the results will vary accordingly.

However, despite the current climate of education being one which romanticises statistics and numerical data, it is important teachers do not slide in the opposite direction and overestimate the importance of their personal views. This can have a negative effect as teachers may not seek to improve their teaching practice, seeing research and new teaching methods as mere deviations from their routine. Low (2016) writes that whilst it is important to distinguish that research is not universally applicable, neither is personal experience.

As someone who strongly believes that Australia’s education system is heading towards the wrong direction with the focus on standardised testing, I often advocated for the need for teachers to foster student creativity; which will be the most valuable commodity in the ‘human capital’ economy. One statistic which encapsulated this need to ‘modernise’ the standard classroom was Randolph’s (2007) finding that “students on average spend approximately 50% of the instruction time being distracted and only 1% of the school day actively responding.” At the start of my second practicum experience, my goal was to implement teaching and learning strategies which would allow students to contribute and participate in ‘embodied learning’. However, many of the students at my second practicum were disruptive and my hardest challenge was getting them to listen to me instead of breaking out into conversation. I had to drastically alter my teaching strategies; incorporating lessons and activities which would advocate individual work so the students could learn how to work independently. This experience really made me question the universal validity of research and the consequences of blindly accepting research. Whilst Randolph’s research does highlight a fundamental flaws still plaguing Australia’s education system, I personally feel like his results were based in affluent socio-economic environments, speaking as someone who came from a private school. Contextualising Randolph’s research was an important part of developing my praxis as it allowed me to refine my teaching approach to something more suited for the environment. This sentiment was echoed in a lot of my peer’s week one forum post, with many stating that their classrooms would have suffered if they have just blindly implemented educational strategies without second thought.

The word praxis stems from the idea of embodied learning or theory which is actively implemented, and this is only possible with when a teacher is able to balance and incorporate both research and practice into their classroom. Whilst there has tended to be a shift toward viewing empirical data as most form of reliable evidence, an informed teacher must constantly self-reflect to see if such research can be applicable within their context. Only when the veil of ‘objectivity’ is lifted from research will teachers can begin to experiment with their teaching methods accordingly. It also gives them an opportunity to analyse data from a social-historical view and develop better understanding of the reasons for such findings. However it is also important that teachers do not completely abandon research for the reasons stated above and purely rely upon personal experience, because those experiences can also be generalisation within a certain context. Teachers who see and act like research and practice are separate categories with no intrinsic relation are the ones which are most likely to fall into stagnation, unwilling and unable to shape the research to fit their environment. Research and practice are inherently linked in a cyclical dance and a severe tilt towards either direction will have negative consequences for one’s pedagogy and students.

Professional Teaching Relationship with the Community

“My classroom is my castle, and the sovereigns of other fiefdoms are not welcome.”
– Palmer, 1998.

Teaching is one of the most privatised public professions and this isolation has a lot of negatives effects on this occupation and how teaching relates to the wider public at hand. In Australia, one of the pillars of teaching culture is individualism, the ability for the teacher to make choices in their classroom without the collective scrutiny of the staffroom or their peers. Not only are many teachers disconnected from the wider community such as parents and carers, often many teachers teach without the support of their colleagues though this isolation has been interpreted as ‘academic freedom’. Yet many teachers recognise the importance of interacting with the wider community to support their students. The teaching profession must better integrate itself into the wider community, not only because it results in better academic benefits, but because teachers also stand to benefit from this transparency.

Whilst the saying “it takes a village to raise a child” does hold merit, teaching is a profession where often the teacher is the only adult in the room. Unlike many other professions where teamwork is an essential part of success, it is possible for a teacher to shun cooperation and yet be an ‘effective’ teacher in the classroom. However, this creates many issues, by not embracing the wider community; consisting of other staff members and parents/care takers, teachers are isolating and further ‘mystifying’ the occupation.

In my first practicum, I experienced firsthand the consequences of teachers allowing their pride to stand in the way of collaboration. The teachers of the English staffroom had to hold a lunch meeting to decide whether or not they should share notes and handouts with each other. Not only did this disadvantage the students, resulting in classes being given an uneven amount of help, it also meant that teachers could not improve their craft due to a lack of constructive criticism. The lack of teamwork added another variable which contributed to whether or not students were successful. Socio-economic status is already such a big factor in academic success and by not providing an equal opportunity for all students at learn at the same quality, this further entrenches the possibility of success. When teachers are not willing to question the teaching practices of their colleagues due to an unspoken rule to just absentmindedly respect their peers, this leads to the privatisation of the craft. Without the ‘supervision’ of other teachers, this leads to a profession which is very divided since ‘universal’ academic standards cannot be established.

By isolating the teaching profession from the wider communities, teachers are harming themselves by unconsciously hurting the development of the occupation. When the profession is removed from the wider community, what rises to take its place is stereotypes and uneducated guesses. The privatisation of teaching has resulted in many unrealistic and unfavourable depictions of teachers in western popular culture and also a lack of influence within the political spheres.

Whilst a lot of teachers lament the fetishisation of statistics and the focus upon data as an over simplistic measurement of quality teaching. How else will the general public be able to evaluate the profession when teachers have not been the most vocal about what they do in the classroom? A big reason for the shift towards statistics is because the public has an outdated perception of education, that creativity isn’t as important as regurgitation or that written texts are still the ONLY important text in the English curriculum. Whilst, part of this blame falls upon the general populace for not keeping up to date with such an important public institution. Teachers must also shoulder the burden, for creating an ‘us versus them mentality’ and failing to educate the wider community about the shifting demands of 21st century education. John Holt summarised his concerns with the shift towards neo-liberal, economically driven education in the quote “The more we concentrate in trying to teach all the content, the less our students tend to learn.”

In the 2015 PISA tests, which are used to measure a national standard level of education, 9.1% of 15-year-olds Australians failed to achieve the basic levels of reading, maths and science literacy. The more Australia begins to slide down the international education hierarchy, the more the public begins to latch onto an ‘easy fix’ solution. This has generated the wave behind the shift towards neo-liberal education and the focus upon standardised testing and statistics by the wider community. And these changes to the general mindset has had negative impacts upon Australian education but it also has further cemented the negative perceptions of teachers in this nation. One of the most common criticisms of modern day university courses is that it is too focused upon the theoretical and academic aspects and thus when new teachers are finally placed in the workplace, they are insufficiently prepared to deal with the emotional burdens.

Thus the isolation of the teaching profession creates a vicious cycle; the public reacts by insisting that teaching returns back to something which can be easily measurable. Instead of embracing more ‘intangible’ skills which are necessary for a modern economy built on human capital, thus teachers are cornered to teach an outdated syllabus. For most teachers, this change is demoralising, as statistics dehumanises the complex and emotionally charged task that we’re required to perform. For many students, teachers are the most stable adults in their lives and their professionalism and attention may inspire or motivate; intangibles which cannot be measured. Yet these relationships become undervalued and instead classrooms have become more competitive as standardised testing ingrains regurgitation but at the price of creativity or passion. And when education becomes standardised to only reflect and emphasise white middle class values, then questions have to be asked whether education is fighting or creating inequality.

However, on the bright side, this rift between teachers and the wider community can be reversed, and I was fortunately enough to see the teaching staff, at my second placement, actively go out of their way to bond with the parents. Whether or not the teachers were aware they were following the Proficient Professional Teaching Standards (PPTS), a lot of the positive forms of communication between the two parties fell in line with these guidelines. Dot point 7.4 of the PPTS states that a ‘lead’ teacher will “take an active role in establishing community networks and provide external learning opportunities.”

Due to the high levels of refugee and English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D) families at my second placement, the school provided weekly English lessons which were headed by a learning support teacher and a teacher who was bilingual in English and Arabic. Many parents were thankful for these opportunities to learn and this further allowed them to become more connected and active in the schooling life. These English classes would also provide opportunities for parents to get a translation on permission notes that get sent home and also a chance for parents who are not that familiar with the Australian education system to get some firsthand experience. Dot point 7.3 of the PPTS summarises the positive actions and attitudes displayed by this school in its goal of engaging with the wider community: “Build opportunities that engage parents in their child’s learning and the priorities of the school.” A lot of the miscommunication and uncomfortableness in parent-teacher relationships are marked by the factor that the welfare of a student is a very emotionally charged topic and because both parties involuntarily enter this relationship. Yet by providing these chances for parents to become more involved, the school is transforming from a simple educational institution to a trusted pillar of the Middle Eastern/ Islamic community.

In general, studies have drawn a link between increased parental involvement in schools and increased academic success; however questions must be asked whether this is ‘correlation and not causation’. Increased involvement may be because the parents are fluent in English or that one parent stays at home because they are middle class, all signs of social-economic and cultural capital. Those who argue that parent, teacher relationships are important state so based on two premises. The first premise is called the Pygmalion effect, where positive views of a student’s background and family members directly translates to better and more enthusiastic interactions with said student. Hughes, Gleeson and Zhang found that teacher’s perceptions of students accounted for 6.9% of variance in the academic rating of students. Likewise this is supported by Domagala-Zysk’s study  which found that 73% of students who are experiencing academic success, believed their teachers trusted them outside the classroom environment. Likewise, teachers were significantly more likely to rate a student’s social skills as positive or engaging if they perceived their own relationship to the student’s family in an optimistic light. Thus if it is a teacher’s job to help student’s succeed academically, the profession needs to shed the idea that it can ONLY help students within the classroom, instead more focus must be placed upon networking with the community.

Secondly, by unifying the school and the home environments, the student will be more exposed to positive views about schooling and learning. The reinforcing of these positive attitudes to school will not only give the student more incentive to succeed but also make it a lot easier to tackle issues which might transcend both the home and school environment. For an example, on issues of drug abuse, bullying and sexual health, the involvement of the parents and the wider community shows the importance of these topics but also relays to the students that this is an issue which occurs outside the safety of a school. My high school was very active in trying to establish a channel of communication between the parents and the teachers with many situations and opportunities for for meetings. On Saturdays mornings, my peers and I would complete in school sport together against other schools, allowing parents a chance to interact with teachers outside a ‘tense’ academic environment; like parent-teacher nights. This is a good way to build chemistry between the two parties since many parents feel that teachers only contact them with negative information about their child and rarely to compliment or to motivate. Dot point 7.1 of the PPTS states that ‘lead teachers’ will “model exemplary ethical behaviour when dealing with students, colleagues and the community” It is this desire to engage the parents and caretakers, to go beyond the ‘call of duty’, which separates a good teacher in the classroom from one whose influences will ripple across the community.

Because teaching is a very emotionally charged profession, it is important to collect evidence to become reveal the weaknesses in one’s abilities, but also as an insurance blanket to protect rookie teachers. Dot point 5.5 of the PPTS details the importance of amassing information not only to relay to the parents but so teachers can better understand how to improve their craft: “Monitor, evaluate and revise reporting accountability in the school to meet the needs of students/ parents.” In order to rationally explain why you assigned a student a certain mark, it is important that teachers, particularly rookie teachers, assemble model responses which demonstrate the difference between an A, B, C and D mark. These scaffolded examples will make parent-teacher nights a lot smoother as teachers will be readily able to highlight their thinking behind a certain mark with a physical reference at hand. This preparation shows that you’re merely following a rationale structure when marking, and that any poor or low marks you’ve assigned are not because of bias. And this sense of professionalism is something which rookie teachers need to embody in order to protect themselves against questions of ability from parents and students alike.

Furthering emphasising this point of protecting one self, I also think it would be helpful if teachers collected assessments off students, this is getting easier and easier in an increasingly technological world, since a lot of the assessments are now submitted electronically. However, even for writing in-class examinations, I think it would be wise to maintain either a physical or electronic copy. If a school wide system is implemented, the documenting of student work can become a routine. For an example, when it is time to hand back assessments, write the feedback on a separate card and then go through the questions about the assessments with the class. When the class is done reflecting on their efforts and they understand how or why they scored well or poorly, collect back the assessments but let them keep the feedback card. This a written example of what the strengths and weaknesses of the class are, but also allows teachers a chance to reflect on how they need to improve their teaching: For an example, what were the specific topics most students tended to forget and why? Did they understand the literacy requirements of the discipline? As the education system becomes more and more academic and there is greater focus upon students excelling at their studies, teachers must collect this data in order to open the channels of communication with parents about their child’s grades. Dot point 6.3 of the PPTS requires teachers to do more than just teach in the classroom, they must be constantly trying to improve their craft and devising new methods to further engage the students and their parents. Yet this is a tall task if the teacher does not have any data to reflect back upon, and without such information, the teacher’s opinions of how to improve usually don’t move past the stage of speculation.

It is time for the teaching profession to drop the belief that teachers ONLY work within classroom. In an increasingly digital world, technology has opened many new doors of communication which do not require a lot of time or energy. It is up to the teachers to reach out to the wider community in order to educate them about what and how exactly the teaching profession has changed within the 21st century. Not only does interacting with the parents and carers have been shown to have a positive academic and social effect upon the students (the primary concern of any teacher), it can also dispel the misconceptions which plague the teaching profession. By being more vocal, perhaps teachers can accumulate more social and political capital needed to shift education away from standardised testing and towards ‘intangible’ values like creativity and technological literacy. Teaching has always been a ‘public service’ and it is time that the occupation truly embraces this title.

“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”
– John Dewey

Analysis of Julius Caesar and The Prince

caesar

Read, analyse, and annotate one Julius Caesar and The Prince. This should include: A rich literary analysis, drawing on relevant scholarship. Also include detailed examination of how the text relates to the NSW English Advanced syllabus.

750 words.

Julius Caesar and The Prince are two texts which will be studied in tandem in the English Advanced course, under the comparative study of text and context unit. Both texts explore common themes of leadership, morality and deception versus public perception. A key point in the comparative study of text and context units requires students to examine “how the social, cultural and historical context influences texts” and how different environments will create texts with different meanings.

Teachers should reinforce how texts and their environment are always locked in a circular dance, both parties serving as a reflection of each other. Both Machiavelli and Shakespeare lived and published their works during the Renaissance, a time where Christianity, once above public criticism and debate, was having its dogma questioned. This lead to a shift in the relationship between mankind and God, humans were now more responsible for their actions and worldly events. Resulting in increased debates about leadership and pragmatic mortality in the political arena, as reflected in this module.

Whilst the events which follow Caesar’s assassination, such as the appearance of his ghost, the eventual double suicide of Cassius and Brutus and the burning of Rome at the hands of mob mentality, shows that Shakespeare was heavily in favour for the rule of the monarchy. Shakespeare clearly does not approve of Caesar, often portraying him as a tyrant, too blind by his own arrogance and glory to maintain beneficial relationships with his senators, comically highlighted in his constant use of third person when referring to himself “Then fall, Caesar.” Thus it always feels like his eventual demise has been predetermined by destiny, Octavius in contrast is presented as a suitable candidate to rule Rome because of his heritage and his intelligent persona. Octavius’ interaction with Antony during the war foreshadows his eventual rise to power as Rome’s first true emperor;

ANTONY 
Octavius, lead your battle softly on

Upon the left hand of the even field.
OCTAVIUS
Upon the right hand, I; keep thou the left.
ANTONY
Why do you cross me in this exigent?

Brutus’ speech justifying his reasons to become involved in the coup highlights the tyrannical nature of Caesar and how the danger he poses to the foundations of the Roman Republic. The metaphor of Julius Caesar as a “serpent’s egg” is only a small part of Brutus’ speech but it highlights the rich literary analysis one can draw from this Shakespearean play. Throughout the play, Caesar is often described in anthropomorphic terms, ranging from a serpent, a “wolf” who preys on “sheep” (Romans), a lion feasting on the Romans and finally a falcon. This constantly allusion to the savage defines Caesar as a threat whose power will break free from any human restrictions or control. Similarly the egg serves as an accurate symbolism, foreshadowing Caesar’s potential greatness, yet also hinting that since he has not been crowned, he is also at his weakest state. Caesar’s vulnerability almost makes Brutus’ coup against him a moral obligation due the consequences of Caesar rising to the position of emperor and overthrowing the Republic.

Interestingly enough, the aggression and power represented in the anthropomorphism is something which is deemed attractive in The Prince. “The lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.” The juxtaposition further shows how these two texts approach the idea of ruling, for Machiavelli, unfiltered power was a useful tool which would allow a ruler to enact their influence upon society without worrying about the repercussions. In Shakespeare’s view, Caesar’s unchecked ego combined with his inability to work harmoniously with his peers deems his as a poor leader and thus in an act of atonement, Caesar is assassinated.

Another interesting divergence between Julius Caesar and The Prince is where the two authors stand on the importance of physicality. Machiavelli does not mention much on a ruler’s physic believing this intellect to be a more valuable trait “Outwitting opponents with their cunning”. However Shakespeare’s play constantly references Caesar’s body as a way to attack his legitimacy. Whilst Cassius attempts to “wrough Brutus’ honourable mettle” he questions Caesar’s legitimacy “upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed/ That he is grown so great?” this sentence hints at Caesar’s blood thirsty appetite, hinting that Caesar’s political growth has been sustained by the consumption of his opponents. Likewise this rhetorical question conjures images of supernatural growth and further reinforces Caesar’s savagery and animal instincts. Similarly Caesar’s inability to swim after the Tiber and his infertility all serve as marks against his rule, for Shakespeare, a leader often had to embody the values of a warrior, something which Machiavelli disagrees with.