The Stupid Country

Destroy the JointI was fortunate enough to attend a literacy forum yesterday at which Jane Caro was the keynote speaker. I’ve long admired her from afar (mostly through my TV as she appeared on The Gruen Transfer and through the recently released Destroy the Joint: Why Women have to Change the World book she steered to great success).

Caro is, as I was discussing with my colleague at morning tea, the kind of woman I’d love to grow up to be. That is, incisively intelligent, pragmatic, and cutting a firm but fair line between warm and fuzzy and necessarily angry (an extreme too many of us are at either end of, rather than combining the two for best effect). Oh, and she’s funny. Just when we were deep into theory, Caro lightened the mood and drove her point home with some brilliantly timed humour.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Caro was there to discuss literacy and, in a wide-ranging speech, managed to blow our metaphorical socks off. I’m still grappling with getting my ahead around much of it, but here were my favourite parts and takeaways:

  • ‘a life live literately leads to a well-stocked mind’ (this may be Caro’s quote or someone else’s, but either way I like it)
  • equity and wellbeing are key to ensuring literacy. Put another way, before children can perform well in school, they need to feel a sense of wellbeing
  • our current system sees children as ‘vases you stuff with information’; the one who regurgitates it best wins. Caro advocates subversion rather than compliance will see people succeed in the long run
  • a ‘user pays’ society is more aptly expressed as ‘youse pays’
  • literacy acts as the ‘keys to the kingdom’ in an increasingly information-led society
  • Australia is the third-lowest funder of public schools (only Chile and Belgium are behind—and Chile’s working to change that now)
  • we’ve created a ‘publicly funded arms race’ whereby private schools must do ever-increasing peacocking to attract desirable parents and students. It doesn’t equate to better education
  • it’s important to know the business you’re in. Her message to the largely librarian audience was that they weren’t in the business of loaning books, but one of providing ideas, imagination, information, learning, and inspiration. She also showed us this brilliant, brilliant ad by The Guardian, a newspaper that understands it’s not in the business of selling newspapers, but instead providing the whole story, information, analysis, and more.

The Stupid CountryThat list doesn’t do her eloquence and inspiration justice, and I’d recommend seeking her out to hear her speak on this topic and, frankly, any other. I’m not sure how soon that will come about again for me, but I am inspired to pick up a bunch of her books and devour them, stat.

That includes the aforementioned Destroy the Joint: Why Women have to Change the World and fresh-off-the-printing-press The Stupid Country: How Australia is Dismantling Public Education. Two light reads they won’t be, but invaluable ones that strike the right balance between outraged and incisively witty they will be, I’m sure.

Just a Girl

Jane Caro’s amazing Just a Girl captures the fear and confusion, Queen Elizabeth 1 must have felt growing up as a teen in an environment where nobody could be trusted and beheadings were commonplace.

Just a Girl is historical fiction that tells a true story with elegance and sensitivity. It’s a novel for young adults detailing Elizabeth’s life up to the time she became queen.

Even though there is so much death and sadness surrounding the young Elizabeth, Just a Girl is an optimistic read. Elizabeth doesn’t give up hope that things will get better and she learns to handle the complexities and treachery of the world around her. She faces the circumstances of her birth and her life with courage and understanding.

From the moment her father, Henry V111 executes her mother, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth is forced into competition with her sibling Mary and later, Edward for their father’s love. She is also in competition with them for the throne of England.

Even if you’re not a lover of history, you’ll be captivated by Elizabeth’s story. Without her intelligence and wisdom beyond her years, Elizabeth would not have survived the plots to get rid of her and the insecurities and treachery of her own siblings.

In the gilded corridors of the royal palace, enemies she couldn’t see – as well as those bound to her by blood – plotted to destroy her.

I loved the title of this book – its layers of meaning. Elizabeth has already lived a lifetime, even though she is ‘just a girl’. She also has to endure prejudice and opposition to her goal never to marry, simply because she is ‘just a girl’.

Author, Jane Caro has deftly crafted Elizabeth’s character. Elizabeth’s voice is authentic to the time in which she lived, and so believable that it draws the reader in, making you feel as if you really knew this young royal.

It was also fascinating to see other well known characters come to life on the pages of this book, and to be introduced in such detail to the era in which they lived.

Just a Girl is rich in language and setting, and full of historical detail that is both surprising and intriguing. Although the story is based on actual events that the reader may know the outcome of, there is still page turning tension to keep you hooked till the last page.

This book could be enjoyed by both teen and adult readers. Just a Girl is published by UQP