Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sunday and was woken at 6 am by two little excited bodies followed by their mother bearing a tray of espresso and breakfast. I’d like to say that this is the normal way one wakes up in the morning ( only kidding C!) but this morning the children were excited as they love presents, and wanted to open the ones they had bought me for my b’day. Yep, you guessed it, here I am, another year older and only somewhat wiser…a bit disappointing, thought I’d be a fountain (or is that font?) of wisdom and worldly experience by this age. Nevertheless, I still feel like a teenager, make that twenty something...would you believe 30 something? Probably not if you were to see what I see when I look in the mirror each morning….just joking.

Anyway, the years are rolling on but life is good, the children are happy and developing at the rate of knots and C is settled and happy. What more could I/we want? Not much it seems.

I do, however, have a list of resolutions for my 42nd year on this earth. I’ll share a few:

I’m sure there are a few more thoughts I could out down but I won’t bore you with them all. Suffice to say that this coming year has all the hallmarks of being a bonza!


Friday, October 19, 2007

Lil D sitting on the car, and the two children. Lil C is holding Monty who seems to think Lil D is an object of interest!


Lil C in the back courtyard.


Wandering around the garden this morning, I took a few photos. The Boganvilia is particularly lovely, two different flowers on the one plant. At the moment it is blooming, providing a wonderful canopy of colour.

The last one is of the frame we have put up over the pond and as you can see, the ivy is already taking off across it. Hopefully it will soon cover the whole frame, providing some shadow for the ponds inhabitants during the hottest part of the day.


Every morning, these two workers come along sweeping the street. They wander down the road, the older one of the two, an always smiling and cheerful man in his sixties, sings as he works. When I come out of the house in the morning and see the old man, he always greets me with a big smile and a good morning, before slowly making his way down the street, collecting his sweepings in a large white bag.

I was leaning on the upstairs balcony this morning and turned to C, "Only in Indonesia" I said as we listened to him sing in a lovely voice an old Javanese song. Once again we are reminded of the gentle spirit of the Javanese, and the way in which they view the world around them.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

My teaching

I find myself in a somewhat contemplative mood this morning, thinking about what I do and why and so on. So, I thought I'd share a few ideas.

Teaching is a serious business. It means we hold in our hands for a few hours every week the lives of a number of students. We can affect them, change them, and make them feel good/bad or worse. We hold a great responsibility, and once that classroom door is closed, it’s all in the way we walk into that room and face the group. Am I prepared, have I taken into account what happened yesterday, and where we are heading? Are the students happy, is there anyone who looks a bit down today, are they displaying enthusiasm or bored weariness, and so on. I always aim to I walk out of classroom feeling good, and hopefully leaving my students feeling the same way.

A classroom should be a dynamic environment where students can interact with each other and yet still remain focused on their work. By the setting of clear parameters and ensuring that these are followed, a teacher can relax and get on with the job of facilitating. I don’t see myself as being overly demanding and always try to ensure that I get to speak to every student in every lesson however briefly, even a nod and a ‘good work’ or ‘try this’ is enough at times. I want to make them feel that what they are doing is important, that it’s not just rote work that has to be done but instead has its uses and a goal.

I still have a lot to learn, I find that at times I finish a lesson and think I could have done that differently, or next time I should try x etc. When you see their eyes glaze over, and yet, try as you might, nothing seems to shift it, then reflection is important. It could be the time of day, the subject material, the mood of the class, or it could be simply my fault for not getting them enthused or at least interested in what they are trying to do. It is times like this that one has to sit back and contemplate what went wrong and how it could be fixed for next time.

The good thing is that it is not difficult to try new things, to experiment in ones teaching practice, to develop ideas and see them through. Through classroom practice, one can try and indeed fail at times at doing something but the students have a capacity to forgive and let you move on. I am always seeking new ways of handing over the learning to my students, not easy at times, given that one has to plan ahead to ensure there are enough materials to give them something to work with, but it can be done.

I do know that I can and do change due to both internal and external pressures. For instance, a few years ago a student complained to me, “you never play games” and I smiled and said, “Well, that’s because I don’t do games”. At the time I thought well, yes, that’s me, I don’t play games in class like other teachers, I prefer to get the kids to discuss and explore ideas, and games are time wasting and so on and so on. This was a common belief I guess, held by teachers of serious literature and English. But once tried, you never look back. The kids enjoy them, I enjoy them, and you actually get to accomplish something. No, I’m certainly no game master compared to a few teachers I know who are brilliant in introducing a game and making it a great learning experience. But its fun.

My teaching is developing, and always will. I am constantly reading up on subjects that I feel I need to know more about. Hardly a week goes by without some article or two. I am interested in the many different aspects of teaching, and like to follow up on what others are doing. Given the length of time in teaching now I have been involved in a few different curriculums (NSW, WA, VCE, IB), and understand that education is an ever evolving process.

I have noticed in the Australian media that there is now a growing call from the ‘old guard’ to call for a return to whatever it is they think was and is the right way to educate. Personally, I think it would be counter productive to return to some of the old ways, for instance treating certain works of literature as ‘High Art’ and ignoring the rest, constructing a canon of works and then a prescribed way in which to read and interpret them. There is a significant place for the canon of literature in ones classroom, but there is also a significant place for the more contemporary writers and their works. Further, to return to a world where students are merely receptacles of content, without being given the right to pick and choose, to address and critique, and to develop and practice modes of inquiry and to truly enjoy the process of discovery and learning, is a huge step backwards.

Some find comfort in the prescriptive, whereas I believe a plan should be fluid, allowing for student’s motivations and interests. Students can achieve without the teacher having to stand up front and hand feed them everything, given the right circumstances, instruction, materials etc. Further, planning should be continuous and evolving allowing for dynamic and vital learning experiences. However, there is certainly a time and place for clear and precise lectures, where the content is required as explicit knowledge derived specifically for the student to contemplate and understand and, hopefully, assimilate for future use.

Learning experiences should enable students to observe and practise the actual processes, products, skills and values which are expected of them. Further, they should connect with students’ existing knowledge, skills and values while extending and challenging their current ways of thinking and acting. Also, as a reflective educator, I would take note of how an assessment could be adjusted, taking into account what and how well the assessment demonstrated a students learning.

The above questions are not naturally occurring questions, instead one has to sit down and think things through, try to understand what has happened and why. It is through both explicit and implicit understandings and observations that a teacher further develops him/her self.

I hope to keep adding, changing and developing my ideas each time I step into a class and face that crowd of faces with their myriad of needs, wants and interests.

This is what teaching is all about.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Blog Action Day

I am reminded by Jakartass that " Blog Action Day on October 15th is about bloggers around the world coming together around a common theme. This year, the theme is the environment. The best way to participate is to post on your blog something that relates to the environment. Your post can be about anything to do with the environment. So you could write a post which is off topic for your blog OR relate the environment back to your topic in some way".

I'm thinking, J, I'm thinking!

Maybe the joys of watching my fish every morning as I start the day with a coffee thus giving rise to an appreciation of nature, or how about thinking how much better Surabaya would be if all those pesky motorbikes were suddenly transformed into pedal power.

No, on second thoughts I think this is a touch too trite.

I could talk about the Surabaya River (Kali Surabaya) and how its approximately 80% dead due to the toxic waste dumped into it every day. The man in charge of the environmental protection group responsible for the river told me that the fines for companies were of such minuscule sums that it was far cheaper to dump than treat and pay any fine that came along. If memory serves me correctly, a fine was usually around 4 or 5 million rupiah (US400-500 dollars) while the cost of treating the effluent would run into the tens of thousands. The environmental group has almost no funding yet they selflessly spend every day talking to people trying to raise their environmental awareness.

I could also spend some time talking about Baluran National Park which I mentioned in an earlier post and the brave and tireless efforts of a small group of people who manage and care for it with a passion that is humbling.

There is also the statistic given at a quiz night I attended some time ago that asked how many football fields of forest is cut down in Indonesia every hour. Thats right, not day, or week or month but every hour. The amount was astounding, I believe no one got the answer right.

Have a guess. Pick one. 3. 30. 300.

The answer is 300. This translates to 51 square kilometers every day. The only other country to beat Indonesia is Brazil which cuts down 3.1 million hectares per year. However, since the amount of forest in Indonesia is smaller than that of Brazil,
Indonesia loses 2% per year while Brazil loses 0.6% per year.

The government knows there is a problem and recently announced that on November 28th 2007 there will be a mass planting of 78 million trees. This move is to coincide with the UN climate change summit being held in Bali in December as part of the billion tree campaign global initiative. (My thanks to Joshua Hill for the information). The estimated cost is approximately 51 million US dollars, with the trees being planted in 1000 lots at 78 designated sites. The government has also organised for the care of the trees for 7 years from time of planting.

Btw, one last stat of deforestation for you to think about. Every second of every day 1 football field is cut down. This accounts for 20% of the earths greenhouse gasses.


November 24 Election Day!

We rec’d this:

“The Howard Government passed new laws closing the electoral roll at 8pm on the very day the election writs are officially issued. This is October the 17th, this coming Wednesday. If you haven't been on the roll before, and don't have your details to the AEC by then, you will not be able to vote! If you need to change your address, you have only three business days after the writs are issued to do it – at 8pm on Monday, October 22nd, the rolls close for any changes.

Tens of thousands of people enrolled or changed their details in the week after the election was called in 2004 so they could have their say – something that they'll be unable to do in the upcoming election.

If you care about exercising your democratic right, please check you are enrolled to vote here: https://oevf.aec.gov.au/ . If you find that you have been removed, please collect a form from a post office, your local AEC office, or download one from here if you're from WA. Other states are available here.

Please forward this message to everyone! It is particularly important to check your enrollment if you've moved house or changed your name, but all sorts of people have had their name removed from the rolls for no particular reason – it could have been as simple as the AEC having a letter addressed to you returned to them.

Please don't risk it – take a moment to check, and have your say on Election Day.”

Thought this was important, as expats we sometimes forget that our vote is just as important as those back home.

I spent this morning reading the newspapers online to see what the pundits had to say about this election. Seems Rudd has to win 16 seats to get in. While the population at large are a tad wary of Rudd given his me-tooisms every time Howard makes a statement, and given Rudd has made himself a very small target thus denying the voting public any real policies, we will have to wait and see if he will step up to the mark for the next six weeks. Rudd has made some strategic mistakes, such as pressuring Peter Garrett to support the woodchipping mill in Tasmania. This has not gone down well with many, and it remains to be seen if this will affect the election.

It was also interesting to read comments sent into the SMH who bemoan the fact that it is a six week campaign, a number of them would rather head for the poll booths tomorrow and get it over with. While I sympathise with them, this is the final chance for the voters to see just what it is Rudd has to offer and I do want see just where he believes we should be heading.

This is a crucial time for Australia. Howard has created a country in his own image that leaves a lot to be desired. It is time for a breath of fresh air and a change in how Australia perceives itself and the world around it. Whether Rudd is the man to do so is anyone’s guess, however, at this stage I’m willing to gamble on him. At the moment, Labor has a 14 point lead on the Coalition, a figure that has many believing Rudd will roll it in. However, one columnist thought Labor was almost out of breath while the Coalition still has time to ramp up the war machine and lob a few grenades at Rudd.

Another believes that the Coalition are just about finished noting that the recent Sun-Herald/Taverner poll has the public believing that the Coalition is no longer an acceptable choice even though its has delivered strong economic management: “The challenges for the Coalition identified by the poll are confronting. Across every age group and sector there is disenchantment at best, fury at worst”. She goes on to say: “Relying on economic credentials might no longer cut it for Mr Howard. The old border security and terrorism bogy makes people yawn. And the promise of a Peter Costello government warms few hearts”. That is one thing I do find puzzling about Costello. He knows he has won few hearts and minds while in government, yet he persists with his ambition to lead the country. I just can't see it happening for him on his own merits. Howard has (surprisingly) agreed to step aside sometime in the course of his prime ministership if he wins again. This would surely be the only way Costello could gain the mantle.

It would appear that Howard has his back to the wall, and many are wondering what he will do to try stop the slide. One columnist may have the answer arguing that with the polls so low for the Coalition, Howard has only one strategy that may win him back his office: “…he [Howard] can be relying only on a negative program to drive voters away from Labor. To move that many voters, he will need a blitzkrieg of negativity”. He further argues that “if this dependency on a negative campaign is the pattern he intends to follow then it will be a long grinding six-week campaign of attrition”. If Howard does indeed spend the next six weeks attacking the Labor party rather than offering something real and tangible for the voters to believe in, then he will most probably wander away into the political wilderness, rejected by all and sundry as yesterdays man.

Rudd has stated that one of his key campaign issues will be education where “he wanted to be the prime minister that would build the "best education and training system in the world".” If he delivers on this, without the waffling we have seen from so many over the years, then this is one area that could change the face of Australian education. To have all the states delivering their own curriculum is nonsensical. Having taught the English curriculum from 3 different states, and while noting each has their strengths and weaknesses, it doesn’t make much sense to have students from different states having to jump through different hoops. Australia needs to have a cohesive educational system that operates across all states. Why not choose the best each has to offer and amalgamate them, providing students across Australia with vital and rich learning experiences that are common in their design. A word of caution though, Rudd styles himself as an “economic conservative” which could (and most probably does) mean that the hoped for changes in conditions for teachers are still a long way off.

Wherever you are reading this, spare a thought for your average Aussie. For the next six weeks they are going to be subjected to the ‘mother of all campaigns’, and it isn’t going to be an easy ride for anyone.

As for me? I know where I am going to be most evenings: in front of the comp reading the daily analysis of the campaign!


Friday, October 12, 2007

Time to relax

Relaxing around the house is nice, very nice. I haven’t done much these past few days except play with the kids, read books and potter around on the computer. The other day we made a trip into town to visit TP, one of the biggest and oldest malls in Surabaya. It’s huge, and while interesting, is also quite tiring walking all the way around. However, we came prepared and brought the stroller with us for when Lil D got tired of walking. Even Lil C took a turn! Lunch in the food court, and time spent in a big toy shop where C and I came very close to buying an electric car for the children. It was in the shape of an open four wheel drive, forward and reverse, even a remote control for parents to control it if the child can’t steer it well enough. We thought about it but instead decided to buy Lil C a bigger bicycle instead as her current one is too small for her. We would rather see her cycling around the area than driving a little car. But it would have been cute!

Last night the children were tired and went to bed easily, C also fell asleep so I sat up and watched “The Bourne Ultimatum”, a good flick! Enjoyed it. At times it was a bit laborious in its plot, but overall, time well spent.

Today I’m going to take the kids to the cinema to watch “Happily Never After”. At the moment Lil D is asleep and Lil C is playing. C is working on an assignment and the house is quiet so thought I would take these few moments to tap out a few lines.

It’s the month of Ramadan, and the traffic is pretty crazy on the roads. Going into town was an experience, as drivers and motorcyclists seem to make more mistakes and take more risks than at any other time. Must be the hunger induced haze that clouds peoples judgment.

Next day: didn’t get to finish the post, so back again.

Took Lil C and Lil D to the cinema. Interesting movie (“Happily Never After”). It seemed at times to be aimed way higher than the indicated audience, a bit like Shrek or Antz but not as good or clever. The characters were not nearly as endearing as Shrek et al, and the plot seemed to use the same jokes over and over. Not a good effort overall, the children came away somewhat unimpressed as the story was difficult at times to follow, and the wise cracking characters just didn’t get through to them. Pity as it had promise.

Have started watching a series on HBO about a fellow married with 3 wives. An interesting topic given it has caused some misgiving in the Indonesian community. Not the show, the issue. A well known cleric announced sometime ago that he taken a second wife and it caused a furore in the media. Articles and letters poured in, most condemning him for his actions, though some did leap to his defence.

On October 5, the Jakarta Post commented in its editorial on the same issue, noting that “on Wednesday the Constitutional Court ruled against businessman Muhammad Insa, who wanted an easing of the restrictions on polygamy in the Marriage Law”. The law seeks to protect women by acknowledging their basic rights including “the consent of the first wife and that the first wife cannot have children or is unable to fulfill her "wifely duties"”.

The editorial argues that the law is ignored in a lot of cases, and “many will still accuse the state of violating a God-given right; and with weak law enforcement, marriages ignoring the rights of women will likely continue”. Yet the editorial seems to be sympathetic to the issue in that is says that the Koran allows men to take more wives and given that the Koran bans divorce, if a man is not getting satisfaction at home, what else can he do? Interesting hypothesis, but flawed in that it ignores the same question for women.

The series on HBO “Big Love” tries to make the polygamous relationship of Bill Baxter with his 3 wives a seemingly normal situation yet does pay attention to the disapproval of the society they live in. They keep a very low profile and do not tell anyone of what and who they are. In last nights episode Baxter was offered a position on an elite businessman’s board but in the end turned it down knowing that if word got out he had three wives he would be vilified. This point was rammed home with the man who invited Baxter to join making it very clear what he thought of those who practiced polygamy.

The religious fundamentalist commune from which Baxter and two of his wives come from are portrayed very unsympathetically. They come across as rednecks, with strong associative elements of the hillbillies in “Deliverance”. The leader of the clan, the prophet, at the age of 76 is going to marry a young teenager as soon as she turns 16. Another man in his 70’s gets into trouble with the prophet. He has three elderly wives and the prophet tells them to pack their things as they were going to be reassigned as wives to other men. When Baxter tells them not to accept this decision, one woman says with some anguish that they dare not disobey the prophet.

It is not a comfortable show to watch at times. It asks the viewer to accept the decisions the characters have made and seeks to portray them as just your normal average mums and dad trying to live normal lives. However, it does have its quirkiness and the script is well written. This combined with some strong performances by the cast raises it above what could have been a series going for shock and little else. I found a very good review on the show here.

Now if they were to make an Indonesian show of the same subject, I do wonder how the same people would be characterised!


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