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.

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.

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