Damn this acronym-driven schooling

Brought about by the ABC’s RN

‘Life Matters’ March 26th 2019

Using “Rosie’s Walk’ the children’s book

to introduce STEM.

I think I’m going mad. In fact I’m steaming mad.

‘Life Matters’ has a girl in front of a blackboard.

They are being clever. Behind her, in algebra,

we see ideas in equations. It’s mathematics.

She has this lovely smiling face, is having fun.

They have given her a flourishing moustache.

Her hair crowns her head as his crowned his.

Projecting decades ahead they are dreaming.

One day, if she stays with that STEM side

has nothing to do with these fine instruments,

technology belonging, with HASS, on the other side

she might give the world a new way of seeing.

Teachers are introducing little children to STEM.

Researchers must have this children’s story to do it.

Such clever people. They see her as an Einstein.

Why won’t they include his love of Lina, his violin?

                                                                                 Erica Jolly


A review of the Australian National Curriculum in 2015

undermined the cross-disciplinary developments connecting

across the ‘two cultures’ divide so the humanities, the arts,

the social sciences were separated from the sciences,

technology, engineering and mathematics as if they

have no connection with each other. So HASS is

separate from STEM. That makes for ignorance on both sides.

Arrogance on one side and defensiveness on the other.

Check the website for the ABC RN Life Matters.

Could this be true?

“I’m the engineer, you’re only the pilot?”

It is so good to have the Australian teacher, Yasodai Selvakumaran, recognised among the top ten in the world as a teacher in this Global World Teacher Prize. Her focus on the humanities is vital in a nation where the 2015 Australian National Curriculum review reinforced a divide between STEM and HASS. I hope that, at Rooty Hill High School NSW, with its inclusive multi-cultural philosophy, no such divide is allowed to permeate the attitudes of staff and students.

The human consequences of such an intellectual separation – and deliberate disconnection – have unhappily been made clear if the mention, on the ABC Radio National’s Saturday Extra story of March 23rd 2019, about the Boeing 737 Max 8 is true. Did Boeing engineers feel they knew everything about this plane? Did they feel those who flew this plane were only pilots? Did they feel they were lesser beings when pilots have the lives of so many in their care? Could that possibly be true? If there is evidence that such a contemptuous attitude towards pilots existed/exists at Boeing, what then? Could such an attitude have had a role in the tragic results in these two plane crashes?  Listen to the interview.

Boeing and the FAA face increased scrutiny

Yasodai has a role in professional development and it looks like it is going to grow. I hope her insistence on the significance of the humanities means that there is a STEAM approach in her school. Sciences, Technology, Engineering, THE ARTS including the humanities, and Mathematics. That unnecessary 2015 curriculum review, required by the Federal Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, ensured these cultures – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Indian, Chinese [put together as Asian] – were left on the Humanities, Arts, Social Sciences [HASS] side of the ‘cultural divide’. So, officially, these cultures’ contributions to science, technology, engineering and maths [STEM] have no place in the divisive way Australia’s curriculum content is now set up. The result, in effect, has been the sidelining, even in universities, of the humanities just when teachers in Australia had begun to make the interdisciplinary STEAM engagements across what has been called the ‘two cultures’ divide. I congratulate her. The recognition of Yasodai as one of the top 10 teachers in the world should send a message to all Australian educators who want to perpetuate the STEM/HASS divide that denigrates humanity.

“It’s Snowing Underwater”

Science through poetry

How wonderful to see these intersections happening. Dr Sam Illingworth of Manchester Metropolitan University has written a poem, “It’s Snowing Underwater”, about research undertaken at the University of Sydney by the EarthByte Group in the School of Geosciences and he has sent it to them. Professor Dietmar Muller has sent it to me, knowing I value all STEAM connections. Are Schools of Education helping potential teachers to make these connections? I hope teachers are connecting with the sciences. I hope teachers of English are recognising the value of connecting with writing about the sciences in prose, poetry and in plays. And I hope the science teachers connect with the humanities. We need to get rid of the ‘two cultures’ divide.

.We need to understand the processes going on in the sea, on land and in the atmosphere in this very uncertain 21st century, That understanding must reach the voters in each democracy. Otherwise, we’ll continue the destructive path we are treading now. In Australia the separation of STEM from HASS has denied us a curriculum encouraging the capacity to learn through a poet’s response to research. Dr Sam Illingworth, is Senior Lecturer in Science Communication, Manchester Metropolitan University. Go to the Poetry of Science blog.



In this instance, the poem connects with research by the EarthByte team at the University of Sydney that is identifying how marine flakes – called ‘marine snow’ – are cooling the planet and how much they save the planet from warming even more. Professor Muller is the Director, ARC Basin Genesis, EarthByte Group.

Read the associated news story here


And here is another piece written up here, which focused on some other aspects of the story:


It’s Snowing Underwater

March 15, 2019 by Samuel Illingworth

Beneath the shimmering surface of the sea

Lie tiny specks of hope,

Inconsequential fragments of life

That work tirelessly to remove

The years of smut and grease

Regurgitated by higher organisms.

Locked in the loving embrace of these

Forgettable and singular plant cells

This industrial detritus falls like snow,

Giant flecks of white that drift through

The aquatic depths of night

To settle on the floor as a blanket of sludge.

The countless pressures of ages past

Are unleashed with unconcealed contempt,

Contorting each and every snowflake

Into layers of chalk and stone –

Buried secrets that rise above the shore

To be reclaimed by a hissing, envious sea.

Ungrateful and oblivious

We pour our lukewarm bile into these waters;

Those tiny specks of hope buried deep

Beneath our blizzard of filth.

The Compassionate Mind

In the Adelaide Town Hall, Professor Elizabeth Blackburn, Australia’s first woman, Nobel Prize winner said: “Make sure your mentors have human qualities that support you.” She went on: “There are many smart people in science but check that you work with those who have humanity.” September 14th 2013.
She insists we have been training more people not educating them.
We must refuse to accept the individualism that denies the need for humanity.

Remember Margaret Thatcher? Didn’t she say, There’s no such thing as society.”? No such thing as humankind? No such thing as community? No such thing as the public good? Now we know the danger of that. And the devastation of the Australian equivalent is “I’m all right, Jack.” Isn’t it responsible in large part for our refusal to face global warming?

That kind of individualism is being shown to stunt the mind. It is connected with what Hugh Stretton called “The Cult of Selfishness”. In Australia Fair, published by UNSW Press, 2005, reprinted 2006, Hugh Stretton made clear how both major parties have undermined community. Still, we know now the brain is flexible and can go on learning. That means it can un-learn attitudes and approaches doing us damage in evolutionary terms.

Australia’s public broadcaster, ABC Radio National, on Life Matters, presented this information. Note the connections between the sciences and humanities.

Monday 4 March 2019 9:06AM (view full episode)

When most people think of compassion, they think it’s something only to be practised by the heroes and martyrs among us, or they think it’s something reserved for special occasions.

But Paul Gilbert, a world-renowned expert on the topic, says compassion is actually one of only three essential emotional drivers built into our evolution.

Not only that, but new Australian research by Dr James Kirby, who directs the Compassionate Mind Research Group at the University of Queensland, shows that practising compassion has been scientifically proven to make us happier.

It not only makes us happier. It must make us more thoughtful about the impact of our actions.

Martin Rees says we need ‘enough feel for science. Go back to “Thank you Martin Rees”

Image: Do you feel like you have time to be compassionate to yourself and others?

When we recognise the centrality of felt connections and the destructive future impact of selfish actions, we need to work/vote to oppose the greedy, self-centred, who use their positions to increase their power and wealth at our expense. This focus on ‘self’ is the enemy of community. It is central to the individualism of those powerful multi-national companies as well as individuals who, for example, wilfully cheat their national taxation offices. This shows contempt for the reason democracies need revenue to care about children, people, fairness, natural resources, environment, health, education, social justice, shared commitment, considering future generations.

At the level of university research, this is a wake-up call. The compassionate mind. At last in research we are connecting quality in thought and feeling. How long will it take? How much damage is likely to be done in the meantime by the power-hungry driven by their insistence on ‘self’? They may not care they are stunting their brains. Evolution is relatively slow.

Remember Elizabeth Blackburn’s warning in 2013.