Saturday, December 27, 2014

It Hurts My Heart.

Recently I have had the privilege of teaching some year 10 students about the Holocaust.We used a range of sources including the personal stories collected by the United States Holocaust Museum.

One student described what we were learning with " it hurts my heart". My first thought was that she was being trite but she was genuine and the sentiment didn't deserve any condescension from me. Its perfectly valid to express an emotional reaction by describing it as an injury to one's soul.

I have an affection for the net-born concept of "feels" which describes a similar idea. There's a short history of the term at well worth reading, but to summarise ,"feels" are overwhelming empathic emotional reactions. It might be hard for Generation Xers to accept, but "feels" is not being used cynically to describe the manipulation of one's emotions. "Feels" is not a reference to schmaltz. To confess to "Feels" is to admit real emotion; to make oneself vulnerable to the ridicule of cynics.

In 2014 there have been a great many things which should have "hurt my heart" or "hit me right in the feels"; the bargaining in Australian politics over children in detention or the tragedy just before Christmas in Cairns for example. But brutally honestly, while those events have affected me, they have also seemed all too common elements of a nigh endless testament to our inhumanity and isolation from each other. To an extent they have washed over me. I wasn't overcome with emotion.

Partly my heart is occupied. I have two kids and there is a very bare minimum of two times a week lately that I have endured vividly imagining their deaths. Electricity, choking, traffic, tree branches; I'm not pretending it's a scientific list of risks. I have no idea if this rate of dire imaginings is"normal"- I'm sure some parents will feel I'm lucky to be so stress-free. Of course we worrying parents keep these thoughts to ourselves and as for any suggestion we shouldn't worry so much, such mastery over doubts and fears sounds peachy. Do you have a method other than intoxicants?

The youngest of my two kids is eight months, crawling and putting anything she can in her mouth which no doubt triggers sensible fears. Also I'm tired because of the eight monther's unimpressive sleeping patterns. When I'm tired, it's alternatively silly humour and free floating anxiety time for me. These are the plausible explanations of my morbid speculation.

Maybe though this is also how I deal with these terrible tragedies affecting other people's children. Maybe every news report about a murdered or abandoned baby that I don't have time to feel overcome with emotion about pops up again in some terrible fantasy about my own kids and whether I or their mother can really be trusted with their care. Maybe the reports of refugee children languishing in conditions worse than prisons watching their parents learn that Australia will never let them call its land home cause me to doubt that I can always keep my children free and safe . Maybe I learn from these stories that misfortune doesn't equal rescue; the rescuers are too scared and selfish to help. Woe to my kids if I ever slip the wrong side of safety.

When I worked with young people as a counsellor I developed an adage, "Everything is about ourselves." One homeless youth loved to talk to me for hours about some issue of political history. They were using the principle of consistency to explore who they were and what rights and responsibilities belonged to them. Regularly young victims of violence who would be sent to me only after they had repeated that violence on others would spout challenging rhetoric about how the victim asked for it. They wanted me to tell them whether they likewise had deserved the violence they had received.

It's terribly selfish for me in my privilege to hear about the real suffering of other children and react with anxiety for my own essentially safe kids. It's the same selfishness that means a young homeless kid wanting to talk about slavery in American History is really talking about their own plight, although we can be more forgiving of them. It's a selfishness that you might accuse concepts like "Feels" or the phrase "hurts my heart" of admitting to. They describe a terrible circumstance in terms of our pain in hearing of it.

But I think this selfishness is in recognition of a profound truth. There goes me; there in that other person's suffering is what is permissible to happen to me... or my children. I can't say it is wrong for me to be forgotten in a foreign prison but okay for it to happen to you, just as so many young people I've worked with can't say it's not okay to bully others until they can also stop taking responsibility for the bullying they have received. Like it or not we are making-sense-of-the-world machines and applying consistency is key to how we do this.

It is possible to make this selfishness a positive drive. We can commit to upholding agreements like the Refugee Convention precisely because it makes us feel safer and it protects all children, including our own. We can advocate for mental health support services, public housing or a disability insurance scheme because it alleviates our own anxiety about the way we might fall through the cracks, and again for our childrens' sake.

I want to admit with the astonishing honesty of "kids nowadays" that my heart has been hurt by the tragedies that have punctuated 2014. I enter 2015 not perfectly coping with the feels.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Sock Puppet Christmas Carol.

Every year since moving to our new house (this was the third) we have celebrated Christmas with a party and a play I author. They are always shambolic having had no real rehearsal before the day. For example this years main character progressively lost his puppets eyes; the only features distinguishing him from a sock in fact.

The play we did was an adaptation of Dickens' Christmas Carol. It is a much abridged version with certain philosophical and political changes. Death for example hasn't the sting of Dickens version and Scrooge is actually a big fan of Christmas. I struggled to identify what really could reform my Scrooge. See what you think of my solution.

The Ghosts were played by my partner (Christmas Present) and daughter (Christmas Past and Future both). The rest of the characters were done with sock puppets. This is why scenes are written with only two characters other than the ghosts on stage at a time (two hands =two sock puppets).


Scene 1.

A Sign is held up progressively revealing….
  • Do you believe in Christmas?
  • Do you really believe?
  • Really?
(Audience coaxed into responding to each sign)

 Scrooge (enters): At Chucky D’s we believe in Christmas.  That’s why we’re slashing the prices on all our toys for an ultimate sale the night before Christmas.              Come on down from dusk Christmas eve until dawn on Christmas day and our bargains will help you ‘believe in christmas’.

Assistant: Cut!
            You were marvelous, sir, marvelous.  This is our greatest campaign ever!

Scrooge: Right.  What about that hold out manager? The one refusing to open tonight.

Assistant: He’s still insisting that none of his staff want to work – they’d rather spend time with their families.

Scrooge: Right.  Fire that manager and promote someone else. Any of the other staff not volunteering to work Christmas night will be out of a job too.

Assistant: Great decision, sir, very strong but – umm – the manager is Bob Cratchitt.  He’s worked for this company since your father’s time.

Scrooge: Cratchitt, eh?  Exactly. He’s worked for this company forever.  A winner wouldn’t do that.  A winner would have worked for himself and moved on.  Fire him.  Do him a favour.  People like him like defeat.  They feel noble in it.   (yawns).  Now, leave me.  I’ve been working round the clock.  I’m going to grab a power nap before the sale starts. 

(Ghost of Christmas past appears)
Scrooge: Who are you?

Ghost CP: Tonight, Ebeneezer Scrooge you will be visited by three ghosts, who will show you the real spirit of Christmas.  I am the first, the ghost of Christmas past.

Scrooge: Hang on, I know what Christmas is about.  I sell toys and tinsel and candy.  Christmas is when you make lots of money.  That’s my Christmas.

Ghost: We shall see. How about we take a look at one of your Christmases from a long, long time ago.
(waves arms/spins to whisk him back to past).

Scene 2

Bob Cratchitt (younger) is carrying a present towards a young Scrooge and a Christmas tree.

BC: Master Scrooge, your parents asked me to place this under the tree for you.  They are very sorry but they won’t be here for Christmas.  They have too much work in town.

Scrooge(older): Hey, I know that guy.  He’s Bob Cratchitt.  I just fired him today.  Why is he so young?

Ghost: This is forty years ago.  Why, you’re only 9.

Scrooge (younger): Well if they’re not here I’m going to open my present now.  (tears at present) Oh, What? Its that fire truck I wanted.  No fair.

BC: What’s wrong then.  If you wanted it….

Scrooge (younger): You’ve got to put it together before you can play with it.  Jimmy at school got one and he said it was really hard.  His parents had to help him.

BC: I’ll help you if you’d like.

Scrooge (younger): Would you? Wow.

(The two put the truck together complimenting each other on their skill.  When it’s built, they play together happily).

Scrooge (Older): Man, did I love that truck.

Ghost: Was it just the truck that made you happy Ebeneezer?

Scrooge: Sure it was.  I think I called it Rosebud.

Ghost (to audience) : What do you think, everyone?  Was it just the truck that made him happy?

Scrooge: Bah, what do they know?  (Ghost disappears)…. Hey who was I talking to? Some crazy dream that was. (Goes back to sleep)

Scene 3.

Ghost of Christmas Present – Wake Up Ebeneezer

Scrooge – Who are you?

Ghost – I’m the Ghost of Christmas present.

Scrooge – Oh not this again. What old memories will you drag up?

Ghost – I wont be taking you anywhere to the past. However we can visit anywhere in the now. Why don’t we check in on that Christmas sale you’ve been promoting?

(Line of people outside chucky d’s)

Scrooge – Wow. Lining up already before the sale even starts. And they said I couldn’t do it. …. But I did. Hey this is Bob Cratchetts store right? So he buckled and opened after all.

Ghost – Oh no. They promoted his replacement. Bob Cratchetts Christmas is somewhere else.


Bob Cratchitt Hey Wally, Hows it going? Do you want a Christmas food parcel? We’ve got heaps.

Wally – Bob, I didn’t expect to see you hear today. Figured you’d be working at the big sale.

Bob – Not for me Wally, How about you? I heard you were working too?

Wally – Yup. Got me a job. Still money doesn’t quite stretch to cover Christmas. I’ll be paying off some presents till half way through next year I reckon. Not that I’m complaining. As that Chucky D’s ad says “I believe in Christmas”

Bob – Grr. That Ad. That Ad makes me so mad. Why all Scrooge cares about is making money and he doesn’t care how many people have to go broke to make it happen.

(Woah) Bob and Wally disappear. Replaced by Scrooge.

Scrooge – Oh I get this now. This is all some sort of corny morality show. You want me to feel guilty that that guy spent all his money at my stores. I’m not responsible for his decisions.

Ghost – You seemed ready to take responsibility for all those people lining up for your sale.

Scrooge – (not listening) I know your plan. Make the successful feel guilty for the losers.
Do you know where Id be if I believed any of this? I ‘d be handing out food parcels with
Bob Cratchitt. Instead I’m living in a mansion watching my money grow.

Ghost – Well then back to your piles of wealth. There will be one more ghost to visit you. The Ghost of Christmas future.  Perhaps they will change your mind.

Ghost of Christmas Present sits down.

Scene 4.

Scrooge (Alone) – Right. Where are you, Ghost of Christmas future? I’m ready for you.
Bring it. I know you’re game.

I’m not Scared!!

(Ghost of Christmas future appears.)

Scrooge - Are you them?

Ghost just points –

Scrooge – You have something to show me? What?

(Older Scrooge appears)

Scrooge – hey its me! I look good.

Older Scrooge – Today is my birthday. And thanks to modern medicine and all my money I am still going as healthy as a young man.
I’m really proud of this year what we’ve achieved. 12 Christmases in a year. 12 Christmas eve sales!
When I suggested that we increase the number of Christmas in a year some people said Bah Humbug but this year we proved that you can have a Christmas every month. And if anyone says Bah Humbug to me my answer to them is Ca ching! Ca Ching! Because profits are up, up, up.
Aagh… (Older Scrooge has heart attack) Oh a heart attack.

Scrooge – Is that supposed to scare me? That I’ll die one day in the future? Of course I will. Everyone dies but I’ll die rich and famous.
Hmmm Maybe I’ll start eating healthier but you haven’t convinced me to be some goody two shoes.
And what about Bob Cratchitt? Whats his future Christmas like?

(Ghost of Christmas Future points and Older Scrooge is replaced by Cratchitts nephews.)

Older Siblings – Mum and Dad want us to visit Uncle Bob in the Hospital for Christmas. They say it will probably be his last one. It’s not fair,  if we do that we’ll miss the big sale at Chucky D’s.
Uncle Bob is really boring anyway. He never gives us anything good. I mean one year he gave us poems. Seriously. Lets tell mum we’re not going.

Scrooge – Ha, that’s hilarious. Bob Cratchitt dies all alone on Christmas while I die rich and famous. What’s that tell you about who gets Christmas best? Eh?

Littlest kid – I want to go to see Uncle Bob. He’s nice and it would make mummy happy. I don’t want to go shopping instead.

Scrooge – That means nothing. He’s too young for my advertising. Wait till he grows up I’ll get him too . I will. I’ll get him too.

Zzzzz ( Scrooge goes back to sleep)

Scene 5.

(Scrooge is tossing and turning)

Scrooge: I’ll get him too. I will.

Littlest kid: I want to make mummy happy. Uncle Bob is nice.

Scrooge – Aaagh. What a terrible nightmare! I will get that little kid. Even after I’m dead my company will go on . My ads will get him and every other kid even after I’m dead. But…. I don’t want to get him.
I don’t want to change him at all. Why don’t I want to change him? Why?
I… I  want to be like him. I remember what really made me happy when I was a kid. It wasn’t the truck. I want to make people happy like that too. I’ve got to get to the shops.

(Scrooge runs to scene of people at the shops…).

Scrooge - Stop everyone. Go home. Stop shopping. This isn’t what Christmas is about. Christmas is about making people happy, your mums and dads and friends… and you don’t need presents to do it. You just need to spend time with them.
Kids, Kids…. You know best. Can you tell them? Tell them to Go home and enjoy Christmas.

Bob – Hey there buddy are you OK? Need a place to stay? Hey its you Mr. Scrooge.

Scrooge – Bob, Oh Bob. I’m so glad to see you. You’ve got your job back. Or wait you should be in charge of me. Teach me everything you know about the real spirit of Christmas.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Gamer is not the new black.

I just designed a game. Another game actually. It only needs two packs of cards to play. It's purpose is partly to teach maths enjoyably. It’s also combative and competitive and despite being equal in wins and losses against my partner I like to brag that I am the ultimate victor to our six year old daughter.

I also have shelves of toy soldiers. I've designed my own races to play in other war game systems with and I've even made my own spaghetti-western themed skirmish game. (At this point I suspect the geek level has reached a sufficient point that about two thirds of people have stopped reading.) I probably come up with about three or four rules systems a year although many are just simple experiments.

I have boxes of professionally made board games too. A bunch of local guys and me get together once in a blue moon to play those games. I don't always win but when I do my victory dance is the most spectacular.

But for all this I'm not "a gamer". Not that is if you accept the dominant definition of the term. A gamer is an identity which has become entirely defined as people who play computer games. Even more narrowly a gamer identity tends to orientate itself around playing a few major video game titles which are heavily marketed as AAA games. You rock  Minesweeper? You’re still not quite a “Gamer”.

AAA games are the major game studios big releases and they generally look as diverse as action block-busters in movies. In fact due to cross-overs between movies and games you could argue we are facing a profoundly consistent aesthetic – lots of shiny metal, cartoonish physiques, frenetic action and editing, and burning objects in rainy landscapes; in 2005 the head of Bethsheda games joked that “We also believe that everything is cooler on fire." Sometimes art just imitates art.

None of this is new however. In the past we have had the noir aesthetic swing into fashion affecting films and books (and in its later revival computer games as well). Once upon a time the Western was so dominant as to be inescapable in toys, films, books, and magazines. Nowadays it is more likely to be the superhero or the soldier. I imagine American First Nations are feeling a little relieved for the shift.

What frustrates me as a person who plays games but who isn’t quite “a gamer” isn’t particularly the aesthetic narrowness of what is being served up as “gamer culture”. There are some awesome exceptions and as I’ve mentioned these trends will come and go. Computer games probably have more creative diversity than television as a platfrom anyway. Likewise the sexism and sexualisation that tends to go with the narrow aesthetic is not my greatest concern either. Once again this is nothing we didn’t see with film noir or other heavily stylized genres; although the near nude suit of female armour in gaming may look like a new aesthetic low its actually classic fantasy fiction fare.

I’m happy to support critiques of these depictions (more critical consumers may lead to better products) but equally I don’t think we can change these kinds of aesthetic choices by fiat. That’s a dangerous path as censorship often has very little grasp of nuance. For example Pin up Betty Page’s fuller figure is celebrated by some women as an alternative to modern ideas of beauty. I think such a choice can be criticized but no-one can deny there’s a conversation to be had with decent arguments on both sides about the meaning of that image.

Probably the one area of stylistic art choices that I do get my rage on about is the world of comic books. The early Marvel comics I loved had a great range of artistic styles and a super character would only have a supermodel or body builders proportions if there was some sort of relevance to their powers. Then when I got older the art changed; almost every male character was given over the top muscles and virtually every female character had bazooka boobs with a micro waist. Rob Lieffeld’s art is probably some of the worst examples of this.

For a long time I gave up on Marvel in disgust. It may be that the pendulum is swinging back. The Runaways for example, now several years old is a return to diverse body shapes as well as an awesome read. A quick peruse over Marvel’s latest work suggest there are a range of softer touches in play across their major titles. Not everything has to have muscles popping out of muscles it seems anymore.

I mention all these aesthetic concerns because they’ve been getting a fair bit of airplay lately as part of an online debate about misogyny in video gaming. I want to put these concerns to one side to focus on an only slightly related issue. Also I am deliberately avoiding mentioning the hashtag that shall not be named. As that “movement” purports to be about journalistic ethics it can perhaps ignore this post about gamer culture.

What has gotten my goat lately about “gamer culture” is the idea that gamer – specifically meaning the consumers of video games and almost exclusively AAA games – is a viable political identity that others must respect. “Gamer” according to some pundits is like being gay or black and when Gamers are bullied then this is equal to something like racism or homophobia.

In the worst examples of this sort of Gamer pride any criticism at all of gamer culture is seen as bullying. This means anything that can be said about “gamers” has to be overwhelmingly positive or it is treated as hate speech. There is a call out for “gamers” to band together against these slurs and instead talk up their community.

I see this as the penultimate expression of political exhaustion. We are all cast as consumers in the modern public sphere. A Gamer is after all a type of customer. You become a gamer by shopping, consuming and promoting products. Sure the consumption of games can be both social and intellectual but so too can any consumption. A Gamer is just like a sports fan, a coffee-holic, or a cinephile. These are identities which can be a great basis to locate friends but once they get political tend to become spectacularly naff.

Under consumer culture only certain classes in society can take up political identities related to experiencing targetted oppression ie. identities of gender, race, physical ability or sexuality for example. This is similar to how we define refugee. A refugee is not generally technically someone fleeing one country for a better life in another. Legally they must have very narrow and specific reasons for their oppression. They must be being persecuted in the particular. But this misses the way in which consumer culture leaves us all deprived.

Just as for a refugee living in a war torn country is bad generally (even if you specifically have no reason to be targeted) many people feel generally alienated and disempowered in consumer cultures without a clear relationship between that feeling and a category of oppression. Even people who occupy clear categories of oppression while fully knowing how those oppressions are real still feel malaise unrelated to that oppression. Women hate their oppression based on gender but many doubt that eliminating that alone will bring them full humanity for example.

Frustrated by any meaningful way to collectivize this diffuse disempowerment and alienation of consumer culture we ironically take up consumer identities instead. As mentioned earlier the position of an oppressed identity is the only legitimized way to talk about oppression. Subsequently especially for people without access to other political identities it makes sense to occupy the available consumer positions society offers to express any unhappiness.

My strong suspicion is that these consumer identities will not satisfy. The oppression they talk about is largely manufactured or superficial. For example when someone ignorantly declares all Manga is that big eyed screaming school girl stuff ( really only a portion of shōjo manga) a die-hard Manga fan is not oppressed; they can go out and buy the same over-priced box sets as before. A political identity which distracts people with false claims of oppressions keeps their energy from their real problems.

Additionally to maintain a consumer identity like Gamer a person has to keep consuming and to justify doing so will often confuse consumption with a creative act. Games are particularly pernicious in this regard. The choices they give players within their worlds feel like creativity but with perhaps the exception of sandlot games like Minecraft there is mostly linear progression and by any comparison to real life in- game choices are profoundly narrow and forced. In the final analysis the impact of a gamers life is blunted, redirected down the mazes of someone else’s creation (exactly why no gaming character plays computer games in a game). This doesn’t matter so much if gaming is understood as recreation or even mental exercise. It is only when being a gamer is given a political meaning that the identity becomes poisonous.

I believe our unnamable malaise is the replacement of genuine creativity (including politics) with consumption in consumer society. Hence I feel when we embrace consumer identities like Gamer we actually immerse ourselves in more of what makes us unhappy. Then to articulate something of that dislocation we bury ourselves deeper into these identities. It’s a cycle only broken by personal collapse and as people fall out of it exhausted and unsatisfied more people are taken up into it.

I recognize I've made sweeping statements that might be wrong. Raver for example is an identity centered around music (and truly garish fashion) which developed something of a philosophy in the values of PLUR (Peace, Love, Unity and Respect). I never saw it having much impact beyond its own world though due to how easily it was preyed upon by businesses. Punk is a more viable political movement which could be argued also originates as a consumer identity although Punks’ strong DIY attitude may be the reason it escapes being purely consumptive.  Maybe gamer has some potential to morph into something more constructive. A part of this would be leaving the AAA games behind and supporting more indie ventures and ultimately self-made games.

Even then I don’t see Gamer as anything other than a dead end politically. Like all the other political identities which ultimately rely on consumption I think they cannot recreate the citizenry and full humanity we are missing. We can’t buy ourselves what we need. We have to figure out how to actively create a society we can flourish in instead.

Monday, October 6, 2014

“You cannot assume all students can read”:

An exploration of the issue of significantly low literacy among middle high school students.

Recently I completed my first practicum requirement for my Graduate Diploma of Education. While there I received feedback from my mentor that “You cannot assume all students can read.” 

Given the class I was teaching was year ten I was unnerved by this advice. With a class of twenty or more students I was not merely assuming, I was relying on my students’ fluency with spoken and written English. Such an assumption however is not justified;
“Australian surveys have indicated that 10 to 16 per cent of students are perceived by their teachers to have learning difficulties and have support needs, particularly in literacy, that go beyond those normally addressed by classroom teachers.” (LDA, 2014)

This essay hopes to explore a constructive response to students with significantly low literacy in middle high school. I am defining significantly low literacy as about six years below what is expected for a student’s educational level, so for a year nine student that would be a literacy level typical of middle primary at best.

Literacy is not a single easily grouped set of skills. The Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority takes a very broad definition;
“Literacy encompasses the knowledge and skills students need to access, understand, analyze and evaluate information, make meaning, express thoughts and emotions, present ideas and opinions, interact with others and participate in activities at school and in their lives beyond school.” (ACARA, 2013)

Significantly low literacy can therefore have different meanings. A student with autism may be more likely to struggle with comprehension but a near perfect level of reading accuracy (Brock, 2010). Another student may have no difficulty with comprehending what they need to write but struggle with actually producing written work (typical of a child with dyslexia). (SPELD, 2014)   

Definitions of literacy are also contested and political. Different measurements of literacy can emphasize (or overlook) oral as compared to written language or creativity and confidence compared with accuracy and retention. The motivation for teaching literacy may be pragmatically related to employment in one context and focused on developing emotional intelligence and self-reflection in another;
“For instance, ‘information literacy’ broadly refers to the ability to access and use a variety of information sources to solve an information need. Yet, it can also be defined as the development of a complex set of critical skills that allow people to express, explore, question, communicate and understand the flow of ideas among individuals and groups in quickly changing technological environments.”(UNESCO, 2005)

Yet for students these different skills and learning attitudes are not interchangeable. Hence by one standard a student may have high literacy while by another they may be struggling.
The explanations for significantly low literacy are equally varied.  A student who experienced significant absenteeism in their primary years or simply changed schools a number of times may have missed crucial stages in learning to read, particularly as different schools can teach literacy using different systems. Longitudinal research in the UK suggests “an absence of half a year between the ages of 7- and 11-years-of-age resulted in a reduction of 0.7 of a year and 1 year in reading and mathematics test scores respectively” (Carroll, 2010) That’s a dramatic amplification of effect.

It’s worth noting that a student who finds reading at their expected level difficult for a very long time may develop ways to compensate and cover for low literacy. If their school disruption is related to something that is stigmatized such as being in a number of foster placements then the student will have an added incentive to hide their low literacy.

Another possible explanation for significantly low literacy could be recent migration from a non-English speaking country. In some cases, where the reason for migration is to seek asylum, severe school disruption will probably overlap with the student’s unfamiliarity with English. Students in this situation can also make errors such as mis-gendering pronouns if their native tongue lacks such distinctions, errors which a native English speaker won’t often make even if their literacy is generally very poor, but which in this case is not indicative of a disability of any sort.

Autism Spectrum Disorders can, but also may not, coincide with a range of communication difficulties. The research into literacy issues for autistic children is fascinating in terms of theories of impairment to semantic memory (Brock, 2010). The predictive value of such research however is confounded by the wide spectrum of ability under the diagnosis of autism. A 2012 ABS report indicated that 5% of people with a diagnosis of autism who attended mainstream schools experienced no educational difficulties and less than half reported specific difficulties with communication. (ABS, 2012) It is best not to assume that every child with an autism diagnosis will have issues with literacy or the same issues.

Dyslexia literally means “trouble with words” specifically the written word. Students with dyslexia can be capable of comprehending language that is spoken to them, which they could not read themselves. Dyslexia Australia stresses that dyslexia is often concurrent with considerable creative and imaginative talent and this organisation prefers to call it a gift rather than a disability. The Australian Dyslexia Association Inc. (a separate body) also emphasizes that people with dyslexia are not generally poor learners but “different learners” (ADA, 2014) Reflecting this, while a proportion of students with autism will be eligible for an aid, dyslexia alone may not qualify a person for an aid in Victorian schools. The proportion of students with dyslexia in Victorian schools is difficult to assess given that dyslexia is subsumed under a broader category of learning difficulties in ABS statistics. This should be improved by the federally funded National Consistent Collection of Data (NCCD) launched in 2013 although there remains confusion at a school level as to whether to include mild cases of dyslexia when reporting disability. (CDA, 2014)

The majority of students with significantly low literacy should have these matters identified well before Year 10. Provided they are in the Victorian school system they will, face a mandatory testing of English, the English Online Interview (State of Victoria, 2014) in Prep. This can also be offered by schools in Grade 1 and 2. Schools only have to have students complete the test and enter the details online for a centralised diagnostic assessment of individuals or classes or schools. If students results show a disparity between their abilities and AusVELS standards the Reading Recovery program is available in many schools to assist. Unfortunately This program is no longer receiving targeted funding since 2011 due to Victorian government budget cuts resulting in its closure in some schools (Topfield, 2011).

The Department of Education provides psychologists who can provide some diagnostic testing for students with persistent literacy problems, not aided by Reading Recovery. Such testing requires a school referral and parental consent both of which are not always forthcoming.  The most exhaustive testing for Victorian students however will cost an additional $1200 of a student carers’ own money and is administered by Speld Victoria. (SPELD Vic, 2014) This puts it out of many families financial reach. Subsequently it is entirely possible that in year nine or ten a student with significantly low literacy may not have a fully supported explanation for their literacy level.

This is a shame because the adaptations required for a students low literacy are vastly different depending on the cause. If a student has dyslexia for example then making a provision for a take-home test to give them more time to read it may be sufficient, while an oral test would be even better. Those provisions are not equally appropriate for some one whose literacy is due to an intellectual disability or a historical neglect of their schooling.  The last of these would benefit from remedial classes while a child with an intellectual disability may require a completely different rubric.

Given that students with high absenteeism and those transferring to Victorian schools are even more likely not to be properly assessed, teachers, in a team with the schools welfare worker and any aids that work with the young person, need to develop their own awareness of their students’ literacy levels. Diagnostic assessment is crucial. Some students will attempt to avoid such assessment and will hide their inability if a class culture tolerates not handing in written work to the teacher. That has to be watched for.

Once the best possible assessment has been made of a students literacy then different interventions can be trialed. Online checklists for possible accommodations are an excellent resource to find solutions for students who have low literacy but fail to qualify for direct assistance. One is re-produced by the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Community Resource Centre (FAS-CRC, 2014) understandably because Fetal Alcohol Syndrome often produces an intellectual impairment too subtle to qualify a person for aide funding. This checklist includes simple suggestions like allowing a child to have copies of the class texts at home where a parent can support them or seating them closer to the teacher.

Lastly any attempt to address significantly low literacy needs to recognize that student engagement and hope are as relevant here as they are for teaching any subject. Students will usually require confidence that they will overcome their low literacy (including by adaptation) before they will try. Any understanding of the causes of a student’s low literacy is only an adjunct to a positive teaching relationship with that individual person.


Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) (2012) 4428.0 - Autism in Australia (2012) last updated 4 June 2014 viewed at on 16th June 2014
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), (January 2013), General Capabilities in the Australian Curriculum, viewed at on 16th June 2014

The Australian Dyslexia Association Inc. (ADA), (2014), Dyslexia in Australia, viewed at on 16th June 2014

Brock, J. (2010) Language comprehension in autism, viewed at on 16th June 2014

CDA, 2014, Children with Disability Australia Submission to the Senate Select Committee on School Funding Inquiry and report on the development and implementation of national school funding arrangements and school reform viewed at on 16th June 2014

FAS, 504 Accommodation Checklist, viewed at on 16th June 2014

H.C.M. (Tim) Carroll, (April 2010), The Effect of Pupil Absenteeism on Literacy and Numeracy in the Primary School, School Psychology International  vol. 31 no. 2 pp. 115-130

Learning Difficulties Australia (LDA) (2014), Learning Difficulties, Disabilities, and Dyslexia, viewed at on 16th June 2014

State of Victoria (Department of Education and Early Childhood Development), Last updated May 2014, English Online Interview, viewed at on 16th June 2014 Last Update: 14 May 2014 Last Update: 14 May 2014  Last Update: 14 May 2014

SPELD-SA, 2014, Frequently Asked Questions About Dyslexia, viewed at on 16th June 2014

SPELD Victoria Inc., 2014, Assessments, viewed at on 16th June 2014

Topsfield, J. (2011), Northern suburbs schools hit hard by Reading Recovery cuts, Sydney Morning Herald, November 26, 2011 

UNESCO, (2006) Education for All Global Monitoring Report, Chapter 6: Understandings Of Literacy, pp147-159

Friday, September 26, 2014

Aboriginal History and Culture in Australian Schools

This is an essay I completed for my Grad. Dip in Secondary Education. I'm including it here with an apology for its wordiness (oh academia why are you so obtuse?) because I think its issues need a good airing.

As a student teacher I have made it a priority to incorporate Aboriginal historical and cultural content into my classes. The rewards of doing so are not just better student engagement particularly from Aboriginal kids and their friends. We have also attained a better treatment of the subject at hand. Discussing traditional owners as stakeholders, the conflicts over Australian sovereignty including the massacres of the 1800s, the treatment of Aboriginal servicemen in WW2  and on many more occasions, our classes are real and honest and useful. To use a possibly unfashionable term, we have come closer to the truth of things by raising Aboriginal perspectives. 

As dull as official curriculum documents are I'm really glad they currently contain encouragement and protection for teachers who incorporate Aboriginal history and culture in their teaching. This essay will bring you up to speed on how we got here.

Australian curriculum development has a distinctly partisan political nature. Nowhere is this more evident than in the inclusion of Aboriginal perspectives in the development of a national curriculum. Progress has been made primarily under Labor governments and subsequently halted under Liberal governments, though not necessarily gone backwards. 
In the early years of the Rudd Labor Government, Australia was also represented at the Victorian level by the Bracks-Brumby Labor governments. This period of early 2000's was a time of acknowledging a significance to Aboriginal culture and its importance in education that in the previous Howard years was viewed as contentious. It created the opportunity to revisit the goals of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy published in 1989 by the Hawke Labor Government.

The only driver of policy change to emerge in the Howard Liberal years was The National Report on the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1991). This report made recommendations for increased Aboriginal involvement in teacher training. (Kelly, C., 2013) It may be that over time this led to a shift in graduate teacher attitudes which played a role in later pushes for change from within education faculties and bureaucracies. That push required a changed government to be in place to respond.

Under Rudd-Labor, the Victorian Essential Learning Standards were published in 2005. They proposed a three part approach to education in which subject knowledge along traditional disciplinary lines (ie. History or Mathematics), personal and social development, and interdisciplinary capacities such as critical thinking and creativity were each given equal priority. These ideas would later become expressed slightly differently by the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority (ACARA) and their publication in 2008 of the Melbourne Declaration. (Howes, D, 2012) (Ministerial Council on Education Training and Youth Affairs, 2008)

In the Melbourne Declaration, a statement by every Education minister in Australia at the time, we have nothing as detailed as the cross curriculum priorities to follow but we see their early seeds. Asian languages are given special mention, and sustainability is elsewhere described as a core value. Indigenous cultures are specifically mentioned with the objective that students will “recognise the value of Indigenous cultures and possess the knowledge, skills and understanding to contribute to, and benefit from, reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.” (Ministerial Council on Education Training and Youth Affairs, 2008)

Achieving this objective began poorly. In 2009 over two hundred Aboriginal leaders and academics wrote a letter to then Prime Minister Julia Gillard complaining that Aboriginal perspectives were inadequately represented in the draft national curriculum. (Ferrari, J. 2009) The letter noted that the draft curriculum “relegates Indigenous peoples and their knowledges to the category of historical artifacts in the History course” and that this and other aspects reflected “institutional racism.” (Statement on Inclusion, 2009) Cosigning the letter were “University of South Australia education professor Peter Buckskin, head of the Stronger Smarter Institute Chris Sarra, University of Technology Sydney law professor Larissa Behrendt, Canberra University education lecturer Kaye Price and president of the NSW Aboriginal Educational Consultative Group Cindy Berwick.” (Ferrari, J. 2009)

About this time other indirect drivers for curricular improvement emerged with the Closing the Gap funding in 2009 and the Review of Australian Directions in Indigenous Education completed in 2008. Both of these were primarily concerned with educational outcomes for Aboriginal students (ACARA, 2013). The connection between the inclusion of Aboriginal history, culture and perspectives into the curriculum and Aboriginal engagement with schooling is well established and provides one reason for this direction. When the National Report on Schooling in Australia reviews large numbers of raw data such as student retention rates this connection has a powerful significance. 

A more basic rationale for cross curricular inclusion of Aboriginal perspectives is simply national gratitude for the privilege of hosting the worlds oldest continuous culture with all the academic fruit that bears. Aboriginal science, for example their sophisticated land management and meteorological systems, is increasingly being recognised outside of Aboriginal communities for its understanding of the Australian context. Ray Norris, the Chief Research Scientist in the CSIRO Department of Astronomy & Space Science, is also a Professor with the Department of Indigenous Studies (Warawara) at Macquarie Uni who argues that Aboriginal traditional knowledge can often be the best demonstration of the empirical nature of science. For example while European science was denying the connection Aboriginal communities had observed and charted the relationship between phases of the moon and tides. (Norris R, 2014)

From a humanities (my own methods) perspective, understanding Aboriginal history, struggle and survival is critical for understanding Australia now. For one thing sovereignty in Australia is a contested matter and there are many sound legal challenges to our nations legitimacy. Aboriginal people never conceded sovereignty, nor was any war upon them declared by the British. Rather than a treaty or a surrender, Terra Nullius is the legal basis of our nation and it was declared a legal fiction in 1992. This might not affect teachers of other disciplines but it is a huge consideration for teaching humanities which must admit the lack of integrity in our legal system. It's a dilemma graduates of an Australian humanities curriculum need to understand.

There are other ways in which Aboriginal and British settler interactions in the past were formative of current Australia. The right to testify in court even if you didn't believe in an afterlife was won so that Aboriginal Australians could be witnesses. In fighting for that right arguments were made that a court had no legitimacy to try a person who couldn't testify within it. We have here the genesis of a liberal-democratic concept of the citizen – first being articulated in relation to Aboriginal people – that the law is justified only when it offers protection in return for obedience. It should be considered impossible to teach humanities without discussing historical cases like these somewhere betweens years eight to ten.

From September 2013 there has no longer been a Labor Federal government in power in Australia. There is some basis for hope regarding the continued inclusion of Aboriginal histories and cultures in a National curriculum. In December 2013 the Department of Education launched a commitment to develop a Reconciliation Action Plan to be completed by June 2014. The Plan has yet to be shared publicly but the preceding information contains positive statements. (Paul, L. 2013) There is also a yet to be shared Review of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) a strong developer of Aboriginal Inclusion in the National Curriculum. The Terms of Reference for the review however should if adhered to lead to an expansion of AIATSIS' role. (Department of Education, 2013)

On the other hand the Abbott government has shown itself to be fiercely proud of the Howard social agenda including the privileging of Australia's Anglo-Saxon and Christian heritage. Criticisms of the national curriculum by the new Education Minister Christopher Pyne while in opposition singled out cross curriculum priorities and Aboriginal histories and cultures in particular. In fact the cross curricular attention to Aboriginal science and the Aboriginal experience of settlement was described as an “overemphasis.” with a clear preference for more detail to be given to British traditions and a positive treatment of Australia's Anglo-Saxon heritage. The Howard era term, “the black – arm band view of history” by which progress on reconciliation was resisted was also revived. (Pyne, C., 2010). The appointment of Kevin Donnolly to a review of the National curriculum may foreshadow what changes will come. Donnolly has stated that ''The fact that the national curriculum stipulates that every subject must be interpreted through a prism involving indigenous, Asian and sustainability perspectives needs to be revisited,'' (Smith, A., 2014) and is a long standing advocate for an essentially whiter history curriculum. (Jabour, B, 2014)

The future of Aboriginal Histories and Cultures as a cross curricular priority may ultimately rest on a contest of political will. On the one side the Minister seems openly opposed and in that regard has the support of their party. On the other side a great many institutions such as ACARA, AIATSIS, Reconciliation Australia, and many others, having worked hard to achieve it's inclusion won't be content to let it disappear. Fortunately if reducing Aboriginal histories and cultures place in the curriculum will require adroit political management, the Abbott government is not evidencing that capability so far. Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures


ACARA, (2013), National Report on Schooling, Part 7: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education, Viewed on 04/08/2014 at

Department of Education (2013) Review of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) Viewed on 04/08/2014 at

Pyne, C., (2010) Transcript- Doorstop -1- March -2010 (Webpage) Posted on March 3, 2010, Viewed on 04/08/2014 at

Jabour, B, (2014) History wars: the men behind the national school curriculum review, The Guardian (Newspaper), Australian edition, January 10th viewed on 04/08/2014 at

Smith, A, (2014,) Aboriginal history ''crucial'' for national curriculum, says schools submission, Sydney Morning Herald (Newspaper), March 28 viewed on 04/08/2014 at

Paul, L., Secretary Dep. Of Education (2013) Statement of Comittment to Develop a Reconciliation Action Plan (letter) viewed on 04/08/2014 at
Ministerial Council on Education Training and Youth Affairs, (2008) Melbourne Declaration on the Educational Goals for Young Australians, December, Viewed on 04/08/2014 at

Norris, R., 2014, Aboriginal people – how to misunderstand their science, The Conversation, 21 April 2014, viewed at on 04/08/2014

Kelly, C., (2013), Reconstructing the Australian story: Learning and Teaching for Reconciliation
School of Education, College of Design & Social Context, RMIT

Statement on Inclusion (letter), 2009, viewed at on 04/08/2014

Ferrari J., (2009), Aboriginal leaders seek role in national curriculum
The Australian (Newspaper) October 26

Howes D, 2012, Ausvels: A Principled And Pragmatic Curriculum Framework, Primarily English, Volume 1, Number 2, pp 3-10 viewed on 04/08/2014 at

Friday, July 25, 2014

Teaching Technology

The following is an email I circulated around my Humanities class in the Graduate Diploma of Education (Secondary). It's been a very long time between blog posts and this course and a new baby is why. I wrote this email in response to a class in which the benefits of technology in education were massively overstated; QR codes for goodness sake, as if the insertion of a technological hurdle makes for investigative learning. 


As humanities teachers we should be aware that technology has underpinned huge social changes - the telescope, the printing press etc. These changes have not just been in terms of what is produceable - ie. the printed book - but in how they are produced, in the structure of work. Technology - the tools we use to do our jobs - will always shape our jobs and shape the economy around our jobs. Technology shapes how teaching (and optimistically education) is produced by teachers.

Increasingly our schools in Australia are reliant on technological products which have only one producer and lock schools into propriety systems. This is called vendor lock-in. Unlike an I-pad, a pencil is made by a million different companies and is usable with paper made by a million other different companies. There is very little (intrinsic) vendor lock in with pencil and paper.

The high rate of vendor-lock in our schools and wider society by tech companies is a direct consequence of a deliberate business model in which consumers or end users are the ultimate product. We are encouraged to see ourselves as masters of our environment and "creatives" but our work is saved in a format we can't understand and only retrievable with our owners continued support. We are no longer sold to like some historical free agency walking past a hypothetical shop front. We are obtained. 

The impact this has on our teaching is profound and subtle. Once upon a time an art course required students to gain a deep knowledge of their tools - where was pigment both currently and historically obtained, how was paint mixed. We can still benefit from this kind of history (as this piece on chalk shows) But without it we are only questionably in any kind of control of our art - or other disciplines.

The tech company business model discourages a deep appreciation of their tools.They want us drunk on the manufactured fantasy that we are all maestros and geniuses the moment we open their program. 

(Note: This is a long video but well worth watching to understand how we have been conned.)

Somehow the universality of their product only enhances our uniqueness! How convenient? Surely a program exists that will make us amazing and unique and interesting teachers too. Let us shop for it. It's harder to sustain that giddy thinking looking at the innards of your devices with confusion so they tend to focus us on the screen and the pretty colours.

The fantasy is also ruptured by any awareness that these new tools are produced in ways that contradict their supposed purpose- they are produced in ways that look like an extreme version of the sort of teaching they are supposed to banish. Below is a benign (and possibly sanitised) demonstration of the process of making I-pads; I'm not trying to turn anyone's guts with images of terrible working conditions. This is approved imagery. Yet still what are the educational philosophies involved in these tasks? Constructivism? Humanism? 

If forcing a class of Australian high school students to watch this video for its full 7 mins would be terrible teaching, what kind of teaching relies on people of a similar age to make these products all day? Is that an unfair question? Does it matter that unlike pen and paper many of these ICT educational tools have no local or ethical producers? I don't think you can use products made by slaves to meaningfully teach about the ethics of slavery. This may not be anything as extreme as that example, but surely as humanities teachers we can't ignore our tools means of production; their history.

In the context of these questions why is the use of Information and Communication Technologies one of the key aspects not only of our national curriculum but of the rubrics for our own courses' assessments? How is it that other criteria like addressing diverse learning styles fails to make it onto rubrics? And why is ICT simply using (consuming) technological products - not necessarily understanding or critiquing them?

This kind of questioning is not a luddites position. It can't be dismissed as technophobia. Too many serious tech writers and thinkers raise the same doubts. (Douglas Rushkoff below is a personal favourite. )

The answer is not no tech. Slate and chalk is a form of technology. Shoes and books are too. We are tool using creatures. The point is to make technology transparent, to engage critically with it, conscious that we are the generation that was sold the fantasy of purchasable creativity boosters. We need to slap ourselves out of that. Then we can dig deeper, pull our technology apart, meet their makers (not just their marketers) to ultimately encourage a relationship with our tools that isn't wittingly naive.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Pinocchio's Easter

When I was created
By the swathe of a carving knife.
my creator loved me so much
that the blue fairy gave me life

But once I could walk
I kicked my creator in the knee
I ran away laughing
So he came looking for me

He took on the Leviathan to find me
So how could he fall ill?
A tower of a Father
Broken by a chill

My rebellion broke then too
How could it not, in his weakness
When he had loved me most of all
in my worst insolence

He is my Father now twice over
I owe him twice my life
No less because he can
no longer grip a carving knife

For he is more than what he can do
As we are more than just his toys
From learning this I have become
A real live boy.


This poem has been my first post for a while. I am distracted by both a return to university to study to be a secondary school teacher and a return in another way. My partner and I are having our second child due this week. 

There are many post worthy topics in my head however. For example the recent Noah movie raised fascinating moral questions about humanities collective guilt towards the environment; Is collective guilt a useful notion? Is our human collective survival anything that might matter to you?

I also finally obtained and finished a William Stringfellow book "An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land" and it warrants a review. I'm going to try and finish Walter Winks "Unmasking the Powers: The invisible forces" next. Being a uni-student gives me access to all this.

Then there are some of the interesting issues raised in my course. Technology in education is a big one.

But don't expect much from me soon. With my first teaching rounds and my second baby I will be happily busy.  

Friday, February 14, 2014

Yes, this is the title: The Virtue in Stating the Obvious.

A writer doesn’t want to communicate the obvious. Readers experience such writing as a “point being laboured”, with all the painful and drawn out connotations of labouring and none of the positive associations from reclaimed feminist narratives of birth. Encountering the obvious in an essay is not sharing in the all-in-good-time emergence of an idea but rather having a band-aid being removed by nothing more than time. You just want to rip that sucker off.

This affects our discussion of a lot of problems in the world that might just have apparent causes. It encourages a style of analysis which is more sophisticated than necessary.  That style tends to muddy and confuse issues by attaching them to conflicts that are removed from what concerned us in the first place. I find that offensive because it takes something beautiful – a person’s concern about the world – and clouds its vision. It usually blunts the persons drive to act on their concern too.

This blog has previously championed naivety as a virtue of theology. Here I want to champion the same spirit as an intellectual virtue in the doing of history.  If you experience an outrage over something in the world then rather than substitute some larger concern for the immediate issue I propose staying with what initially bothered you. There will be allies and actions in that location that make more sense than in some broader dissociated cause.

Example 1. The Holocaust as political hand grenade.
We are disgusted by the Nazi Holocaust of WW2 in which approximately six million Jews were killed. Approximately five million non-Jewish victims were also targeted due to ethnicity, disability, sexuality or just refusal to publicly endorse the Nazi regime.

The T-4 program was actually a program of forced euthanasia
 for the mentally and physically disabled not cheaper health care.
Clearly nobody wants this tragedy to be the fruit of their philosophy and so it is often allocated to the other side in a range of debates. Creationists have described Nazism as an outworking of Darwinism. People against the state– in its control over guns or its perceived coziness with or opposition to religion or even bizarrely in its broadening of public health insurance – have linked these things to the Holocaust. 

Captain Obvious says however that the Holocaust is outrageous because it involved the unjustified mass murder of people for aspects like race, disability and sexuality or for dissenting from their government. These things can all be opposed far more directly than suggested by either Creationists or the Tea Party’s analysis.

You don’t have to support Biblicism. You don’t have to support the Republicans party. You don’t have to give a damn either way about God or guns or lower taxes. You can just get directly involved in anti-racist, disability rights, gay liberation and other civil rights movements. Heck why not just be involved in opposing genocide. Amnesty international will be happy to have you.

Example 2. The Abuse of Women
Sexism especially gets my goat as a father of a daughter and lover of a woman. That ranges from the belittling and objectifying of women found in “lingerie sports” all the way to the brutal murdering of women in supposed honour killings. It also includes the spiritual damage caused by teaching submission for women under men in many philosophies. It includes the narrowing of girl’s play by companies like Lego. I could go on.

The outrage I feel at this treatment of women is spontaneous rather than rational. Such treatment assaults what we know of women’s depth and worth either because we are women or we know them. That spontaneous insight and resultant fury is a huge temptation for other agendas to co-opt.

Atheist movements popularly attach our revulsion at sexism to their opposition to religion. They do this by focusing on those abuses of women that find some religious justification. To the sorrow of feminists in those religions they don’t have to look so hard.  Meanwhile some religious people identify the exploitation of women in the sex industry as a symptom of godlessness. Their work in rescuing people from sex-trafficking is inspiring but they ignore the sexism of their own spokespeople and in their own churches. They also make an unnecessary requirement of their own religion as part of the solution. 

Captain Obvious says you don’t have to either be an atheist or accept Jesus as the son of God to act on your initial insightful response to the abuse of women. You can simply engage with feminism, an entire movement which centres itself on the principle that women are of equal depth and worth to men. That was the principle that undergirded your outrage and its perfectly fine to stop your analysis there.

Just like with the simplistic assessment of the Holocaust this simplistic assessment of sexism doesn’t leave you with nothing to do. There’s a whole range of actions that can be taken directly on the abuse of women. Support the White Ribbon Campaign or a Reclaim the Night March. Challenge how power and authority is shared around you (and by you). Support women’s sport. Alliances around those actions might include people of religious faith and atheists but only those of both opposed to sexism.

On the other hand if you allow yourself to fall for a more sophisticated analysis – that the real problem is something larger than your initial concern – then you are likely to find yourself in alliances with at least some people who simply don’t care about sexism towards women.  Then your effort for your concern may be undone by those “allies”. Such betrayals are common; the prosecution of the Iraq War revealed that when gender issues are used disingenuously by others for their agendas then those issues will be the first to be traded away.

When our response to something like racism or sexism just stays with the topic of racism or sexism it can get denigrated as naive. Such denigration is often allowed to stand because there isn’t a lot to say against it. It’s hard to stand up for the apparent. This post has risked being boring in order to do so.  Sexism or genocide are not necessarily other than exactly that. Such crimes can be opposed directly.

If our analysis is too narrow we will discover that when opposing sexism and genocide we find a common foe for all; a common principle to injustice. This wont however need to be justified by sophisticated arguments. It will be apparent from experience. In fact the more arguments needed the less likely a common foe is real; the more likely it is an attempt to co-opt you.

Captain Obvious says our common foe will probably be something very unsophisticated; like the desire to hurt other people and the excuses to permit it. Let's hope we're naive enough not to try and make more of it.