A Republican rout?

Back in 1994, the US Republican party managed to rout the Democrats in the midterm elections. According to the Wikipedia article on the subject, the Republicans picked up 54 seats in the House of Representatives, and 8 Senate seats of the 35 contested. It was a famous political victory.

Now fast forward to the present. The Republicans have controlled the House of Representatives ever since 1994.

If the current polls are to be believed, the Democrats are about to re-take the House of Representatives for the first time since 1994, and maybe even the Senate (The Senate was tied 50-50 in 2000, with Al Gore being able to break the tie if need be for the Democrats). My belief is that, barring any more October surprises, the Democrats may completely rout their political opponents in both houses of congress.

Back in 1994, only 44.8% of voters voted for the Democrats, while 51.5% of voters voted for the Republicans. If the polls are to be believed, only 35% of voters will vote Republican this time around. The last time Republicans were reduced to around one-third of the popular vote was in the congressional elections of 1974, where anti-Nixon sentiment led to a 49 seat increase to the Democrats (who ended up with a massive two-thirds majority in the House).

So back in 1974 the Democrats gained 49 seats, while in 1994 the Republicans gained 54 seats. To repeat their 1974 victory, the Democrats would have to win 90 seats. Anything is possible, but I think that gaining 90 seats would be very unlikely. Nevertheless I would like to predict that this midterm election will result not just in a swing to the Democrats, and not just a Democrat-controlled House, but also be considered in the same league as 1974 and 1994 in being a "turning point".

From the One Salient Overlord Department

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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Year 12 not for everybody

Craig Emerson, a Federal Labor backbencher, has recently called to make year 12 compulsary for students.

In summary, it's a bad idea with a good premise.

Emerson has obviously realised that there is a direct relationship between a person's completion of year 12 and their overall standard of living as they get older. Obviously, a person who has a year 12 certificate is more likely to find work, more likely to be paid a higher wage, and more likely to find or keep employment during economic downturns (they have more alternatives to find work). The Master Builders Association (MBA) of the ACT has backed Emerson's call, arguing that year 12 makes "more mature builders". John Howard, however, has rejected such a call.

Yet while the analysis that Emerson and the MBA have given is sound, I think it would be a big mistake to make year 12 compulsary.

As a teacher, I am constantly butting heads with students who are itching to leave school and get out into the big wide world. Most of these students are in year 10, and I have to say that their desire to leave school is almost always justified.

It's hard trying to teach students about the subtleties of the Whitlam dismissal, or about the ways Shakespeare uses language to convey meaning when the students in question just can't read or write properly. It's also hard to spend about two-thirds of my time trying to shut the class up, prevent certain students from killing each other and destroying chairs and desks. Trying to teach such a class is hard work.

These sorts of students are not meant for the wonderful world of year 12. They cannot stand the thought of sitting down and reading and studying, and of contemplating different philosophies and ways of doing things. For such students to be forced to complete another two years of schooling - two years of essentially frustration and lost opportunities - would be a terrible outcome.

Of course, I would welcome any change in education policy which would eventually lead to a situation in which students eagerly desired to enter senior school and were motivated to do the work required.

And I think it would be great, for example, if two-thirds of school leavers completed a university degree as well - I just don't think that making such tertiary study compulsary will work.

There's another thing to deal with as well - emotional maturity. When you're between the ages of 15 and 18, you're still developing your emotional maturity and your ability to control yourself. While many students can do this, many can't, and those who can't have their entire educational experience affected by their own hormones and emotional development. What such students need is not another two years of school, but a job.

Money is a great motivator. One badly behaved year 10 student I have told me that he has a part-time job. I asked him if his employer ever got sick of his antics or misbehaviour. No, said the student, because he never acted up when on the job. He knew that if he acted up on the job then he would be in danger of losing his cashflow. Acting up at school - where no such consequence exists - is much easier.

Of course, when these students get older they will develop their emotional maturity (generally speaking - some never will!). I have made sure that I tell these students that when they get older and into their early-mid twenties then they should seriously consider going to TAFE and completing their year 12 studies. I have also encouraged them to seek mature-age entry into university if they think they can do it.

But what of the big picture? What should governments do?

As a person who has studied at University and who has spent many years teaching in High Schools around New South Wales. I can say without doubt that the most important educational institutions around this country (and the world) are Primary schools.

If by the time a student enters year 7 and still cannot read or write, then their potential educational achievement is very low. Illiterate 12 year olds will, bar serious intervention work, remain illiterate throughout high school and will have their future employment choices severely restricted.

So why is it that students can get through primary school and remain illiterate? I have the greatest respect for Primary school teachers and the work they do - and though it may be tempting to put blame upon teacher training, I do not think that the vast problem of illiteracy has something to do with "bad teachers" and "trendy teaching methods".

Teacher unions have for years been arguing that reduced class sizes result in greater educational outcomes amongst students. This is true in a broad sense, but I have taught classes of 35 students whose behaviour and hard work were exemplary, and classes of 9 students who were next to impossible to teach.

If there's going to be any increase in the amount of teachers, then the best place to put them is into Primary schools. The younger a student is, the more important is the direct input of the educator. As a student gets older, they become progressively more responsible for their own educational results. This is why primary teachers have expertise in childhood education and understanding of the dynamics of educational psychology, and why High School teachers need to be more specialised in their field of study.

If illiteracy (which is the major cause of lower educational outcomes in high school) is to be addressed, then there needs to be a government that diverts money and resources to decrease the student/teacher ratio in Primary schools. Since direct intervention is required in primary schooling, smaller classes will allow more one-to-one time between teacher and student - while at the same time making it easier for the teacher to control the class and allowing more time available for educating.

Money should be provided to allow one-to-one tutoring of primary students as well. As someone who has worked as a tutor I can see the benefit that one-to-one education can have upon a student's overall performance. Many parents have the money to do this themselves - but those children who need it the most have parents who cannot afford it.

I can say this now with confidence - if students enter year 7 with improved literacy and numeracy rates, then their high school experience will be much improved as well. Moreover, the increase in capable students will also lead to an increase in senior school performance - more people will choose to go to year 12.

From the Department of Edumacation

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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Spiritual Reserve Bank to continue pumping blessings into stagnant church life

Warning that Christians around America may fall victim to sin, the head of the Spiritual Reserve Bank (SRB), Mr. Bernie Lovespan, has convinced his fellow board members to continue pumping blessings into the nation's faithful.

"At this present moment in time, events around the world and within America are causing many to lose their focus and their faith”, Lovespan said “Statistics indicate that the bitterness index is up 5%, while the charity average has been falling steadily for the last quarter.”

Lovespan has convinced his colleagues that the SRB needed to increase the supply of blessings if sin is to be controlled.

“A balanced spiritual life needs the effects of sin to be contained. The SRB, at this point, feels that an increase in the blessing supply is justified if parity is maintained.”

Not all the faithful are supportive of the measures though. Rev. Matthew Black, of St Flaggelations church in Flint, Michigan, believes that the effects of sin are better controlled by the restriction of blessings.

“By increasing the blessing supply, the SRB is creating long-term problems for America's Christians”, Black said “They are creating a spiritual bubble that will pop and devastate those caught up in it.”

“Ironically, by increasing the blessing supply, they actually increase sin over the long term.”

Others, however, see the SRB's move as heaven-sent.

Pastor Alistair Awesome of the Abundant Life and Happiness Always church in Austin, Texas, believes that Lovespan has made the right choice.

“People need to see a reward for their faith”, Awe said “Faith that has no rewards, no tangible and measurable positive outcome, is no faith at all.”

“Without blessings, unrewarded faith produces sin. There is no question about it. By pumping more blessings into the nation's spiritual life, sin will be removed.”

Dr. Bradley Wilk, Professor of Theolomy at the Massachusetts Institute of Divinity, is one of the few Econologians to challenge the SRB's loose blessing policy.

“Lovespan's tenure at the SRB has seen the country's spiritual indicators steadily decline. Although it is true that a small percentage of people have been blessed abundantly, the overall blessings per capita has remained stagnant for some five years. And all this while the SRB has been increasingly supply injudiciously.”

A “Sin hawk”, Wilk warns that an oversupply of blessings will result in future hardship.

“Essentially we're taking the blessings of the future and experiencing them now.” Wilk argues. “Are we prepared to be blessed now and let our kids experience suffering later on? That's the question that Lovespan should be considering.”

Pastor Awesome, however, had this to say at the church's prosperity seminar last night:

“You deserve to be blessed. No good deed goes unrewarded. Our nation is one of the greatest in the world, and it is due to the amount of blessings that are pumped into us”

“If we run out, all we need to do is create more. The possibilities are endless”

From the Department of Attempted Humour

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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Service Sector Contracts

According to the Australian Industry Group and the Commonwealth bank, the service sector has probably begun to contract.

According to Wikipedia, the services sector represents a whopping 68% of Australia's GDP.

So, if 68% of the economy is shrinking, then the other 32% needs to be working very hard to prevent an economic downturn. Fortunately, resources and the stockmarket are doing well, but they can't be expected to keep things ticking over while the service sector goes into decline.

How much do I blame Howard for this? The bubble-inducing and vote-catching policies that have warped the natural functions of the marketplace in the Housing industry are probably one thing I would point out. With the housing bubble slowly deflating, and with interest rates rising, people are less likely to buy their Lattes on credit card.


Jesus Camp

For those who don't know, Jesus Camp is a documentary film about a Charismatic Christian camp held for school-aged children. Apparently the camp involves some level of mind control and controversial manipulation techniques. I haven't seen it yet, but Michael Spencer has, and he says the following:

Jesus Camp portrays a specialty in much of conservative fundamentalism, Pentecostalism and increasingly, evangelicalism: the mental abuse of children in the name of religion. It’s heinous, ugly, deplorable and deserves to be called out in whatever way possible.

I’ve fought my entire ministry against this kind of mindset and these knds of methods. I almost lost my job over refusing to allow a “Hell House” program at OBI. I’ve confronted speakers over manipulative tactics dozens of times. In every case, I’ve been looked at like I was from the Planet Butthead.

Influencing our children in the faith is a Biblical command and a great privilege. It’s also an ethical matter. Children aren’t to be brainwashed, emotionally arm-twisted, manipulated, frightened or bribed. Yet all of these things are done every day in “children’s ministry” and youth ministry as well. And all is justified with a lot of yammering that covers up the agenda of brainwashing and manipulation.

If this makes some Pentecostals evangelicals look like they are abusing their children religiously, then good, because they are and they need to stop.

It’s the parents and ministers of these kids who need to be held accountable for what is said and done to their children. Educating, influencing, teaching, helping, involving….all great and good things. Frightening. Pressuring. Lying. Emotionally manipulating. Messing with the mind. Rewarding those who “surrender.” All very bad things.

I hope Jesus Camp wins an Oscar. Why are we afraid of the truth?

Makes me want to see it...



New poll.

Brought humour section up to date.

More selected articles added.

3.125% Black African Slave

Yep - that's me. I was at my parent's place yesterday in Bundanoon and Dad gave me some interesting genealogical information about some of my ancestors - the most notable being that one of my great-great-great grandfathers was actually a freed slave from the Island of Mauritius who moved to Australia in the early 19th century. He got married to a white woman and the rest is family history.

I feel slightly like Peter Griffin from Family Guy, who finds out one of his ancestors was a black slave as well. I'm not going to spend all my reparation money on re-doing the loungeroom though...

I think it also means that I am descended from "Creoles". It would also explain my olive skin.

Other interesting tidbits about my family history include three convicts (which must solidify my pedigree as "Aussie"), as well as various publicans, peasant farmers and assorted blue collar workers.