Conservative politics in Ancient Sparta

27 Dec

Facing external pressures and internal revolts, Sparta turned inward to adopt a conservative political system that affected every aspect of Spartan life When we look at Spartan society and politics…

Source: Conservative politics in Ancient Sparta

Conservative politics in Ancient Sparta

14 Dec


Facing external pressures and internal revolts, Sparta turned inward to adopt a conservative political system that affected every aspect of Spartan life

When we look at Spartan society and politics, we see a system which was extremely conservative. To define what is meant by conservative, Roger  Scruton believed that for conservatives, the value of individual liberty was not absolute but was secondary to the authority of established government (Scruton, 1980), But we should also see a conservative political system as an attempt to preserve a way of life and institutions in the face of change.

In Sparta fears of external threats and internal unrest was at the heart of the ‘great rhetras’ of Lycurgus in the late 7th century B.C. But the main concern was that of a declining population and the inability of the state to meet these threats.  The importance of this declining population is seen in the start of Xenophon’s discussion of the constitution and the importance of women to undertake physical exercise so that they would produce vigorous and healthy children (Const. Lac. 1.4).

To ensure Sparta could maintain a strong standing army, it was the role of men to become soldiers and it was the role of women to produce healthy males that would become soldiers. Plutarch (Lyc 15) tells us that Lycurgus considered children to belong not exclusively to their fathers, but jointly to the city. To produce healthy children, polygamy was not only sanctioned by the state but husbands had no say in the child’s education. As Sarah Pomeroy (Pomeroy, p38).noted that in Sparta, the authoritarian patriarchy took over the husband’s exclusive rights to his own wife as well as denied his rights as a father.

A common theme which comes out of Xenophon’s writings on the Spartan constitution of Lycurgus is a fear of change. Even for Xenophon, writing 250 years after Lycurgus, the fear of a changing world is prevalent for Xenophon (Const. Lac. 14.2) laments that the Spartans in his own time were no longer content to live modest lives but preferred to ‘expose themselves to the corrupting influences of flattery as governors of dependent states.

An example of this fear of change in Sparta is the banning of all gold and silver coinage as told to us by Plutarch (Lyc, 9), who claims that Lycurgus wanted to remove inequalities and contrasts in Spartan society and instead used iron as the new currency. But H Michell believes that the ban against gold and silver could have originated much later in 404 B.C with the Spartan victory over Athens (Michell, p44) rather than the time of Lycurgus.

We know from Xenophon that Spartan citizens, excluding the perioikoi, were not only banned from engaging in business but that in the days of Lycurgus, it was illegal to live outside of Sparta. Xenophon (Const. Lac. 14.4) believes that the reason for this was to ‘keep the citizens from being demoralized by contact with foreigners’. Plutarch (Lyc.28) expands on this that foreigners bring in ideas with them and therefore there was the need to protect Sparta from harmful practices by ‘unhealthy immigrants’. This fear of outside influences corrupting Spartan’s escalated into xenophobia.

Extreme change in Spartan politics and society was guarded against through the political power of the council of elders or gerousia, an elected body of twenty eight men over sixty years old. We know from Plutarch that the gerousia was to act as a balance against both the tyranny of the kings and democracy. Although elected, Finley suggests that dominant families in Sparta controlled the appointments to the council in favour of their own members (Finley, p32). Although the assembly of Spartans voted on proposals, only the two kings and the council of elders could place and could veto decisions by the assembly.

Inside Sparta, we also see a society being held together against these forces of change through virtues of obedience and discipline that were to be instilled through training and embedded in the citizen’s character (Plut, Lyc. 13). From the age of 7, young males were taken away for compulsory state run training, the Agoge. The system was clearly approved by Xenophon (Const. Lac. 2.14)as he tells us that the system produces more ‘obedient, more respectful and more strictly temperate’ men. Xenophon believed that the decline of Spartan virtues following the Spartan victory over Athens would lead to Sparta’s decline.

But discipline and obedience were more than just admirable virtues as they were essential to being a Spartan citizen, an equal or homonoi. Those that did not obey the rules were considered cowards to be shunned from society. We know from Plutarch (Lyc 15) that Lycurgus ‘placed a certain civil disability for those that did not marry’ which meant that they were publicly shamed. But more harsh treatment awaited those considered to be cowards or to have led a ‘disgraceful life’ as they faced beatings and social exclusion.

Conformity to Spartan virtues and obedience was one of the primary goals of the Spartan education system. Discipline was enforced through regular beatings by older boys, Wardens and even older males in society. The use of older men, the erastai, to accompany teenage boys was used to educate young males in Spartan virtues. Enforcing the laws was the office of the Ephors, which Xenophon (Const. Lac. 8.4) tells us that the Ephors had wide powers in which they could issue fines. Even a king as Agis was not above the laws and was fined for refusing to eat at the public mess and attending the sacrifices.

The historian Xenophon lamented the decline of Spartan virtues and believed that shutting Sparta off from change and enforcing traditional values on her citizens was the key to Spartan military success. But Sparta was to pay a high price for avoiding change at the battle of Leucta against Thebes in 371 B.C.


Finley, M.I ‘Economy and Society in Ancient Greece’ published by Chatoo and Windus, London, 1981

Michell, H ‘The Iron Money of Sparta’ Phoenix, Volume 1, Spring 1947 pp42-44. Accessed: 05-12-2016 08:30 UTC

Plutarch ‘On Sparta’ translated by Richard A Talbert, Published by Penguin Group, 1988

Pomeroy, Sarah. B ‘Spartan Women’ published by Oxford University Press, 2002

Scruton, Roger ‘The Meaning of Conservatism’ published by Penguin Books, 1980

Xenophon ‘The Constitution of the Lacaedomanians

Duty of Care for Teachers

17 Nov

As teachers and schools are being held more accountable for the quality of education, they are also being held more accountable for providing a safe environment for students. In Australia, the Occupational Health and Safety Act states the role of the department of Education to provide an environment that is free from risks and hazards.

The moment that students enter the school gates on to school grounds, the school and the department of education has a duty of care to ensure that students will not be injured.

For teachers this means that we have a duty to

* Take reasonable care of the health and safety of themselves and others at the workplace

* cooperate with the employer to comply with OH@S legislation

* report any unsafe conditions which come to their attention

Because teachers work with and around students, OH@S has established a ‘duty of care’ in which teachers are required to take reasonable measures to protect students against risks of injury. For example, if your the teacher on playground duty you have a duty of care for the supervision of those students. If your in a classroom with your students, you have a duty of care to provide a safe environment and take reasonable steps to prevent injury.

As teachers we need to consider safety and what could possibly go wrong or ther risks. To help us make a risk assessment we would need to consider

* The number of students in your care

* The age of the students

* The activity taking place

* The environment where the activity will be taking place

Of course if teachers are working with special needs students, there will be alot more to consider. Teachers may require further assistance from other teachers or special needs staff.

The ‘Duty of Care’ also establishes that teachers must take steps to protect students against injury in circumstances which could be ‘reasonably foreseen’. Now this is where it gets tricky. For teachers we have to think of circumstances where it is possible for a student to be injured. One classic example is when students leave their bags outside the classroom and the handles of the bag are hanging loose from the bag which could be a trip hazard for any student walking or running.

Now as we know accidents do happen. Duty of care is not to ensure that their is no injury but that teachers and the school have taken reasonable steps to prevent injury.

Here is another scenario. You have just started school at 8.10am and you see a student climbing up in a tree. Now you know that they could get hurt. What do you do? A duty of care is established on your part when you see the students in potential harm. So you need to act either by supervising the students yourself or calling for another teacher on playground supervision to watch the students.

Under the Duty of Care, teachers personally cannot be sued or held liable in a court but it is the school or the department of education that takes responsibility under ‘vicarious liability’ in which the school accepts liability on behalf of teachers. However a teacher can be held personally responsible if they are found to have acted negligently if

  • an action which could reasonably have been expected to contribute, directly or indirectly, to causing harm to a pupil;
  • a failure to take action to prevent reasonably foreseeable harm to a pupil.

So what does this mean for teachers in their daily duties? It means that teachers or staff must be on duty half an hour before school starts and thirty minutes after school ends while students are stilll on school grounds.

It means being aware of the school supervision plan which is usually compiled with the consultation with teachers and parents. The plan should be based on a comprehensive assessment of risk, taking into account factors relevant to the school such as: the age, number and nature of students; the finishing time of classes; the layout and terrain of the school grounds, including split sites; proximity of play areas to busy roads; fixed playground equipment; climatic conditions; the activity being undertaken; emergency situations; potential hazards; transport arrangements; as well as the duties and workload of individual teachers.

Teachers have a responsibility to report any incidents and hazards to the principal. When going on excursions or outside the school grounds, teachers should check with principals if they need a risk assessment register for potential hazards to be aware of.




Further information

NSW Department of Education Professional responsibilities of teachers

NSW Teachers Federation


Engaging beyond the classroom

16 Nov

Today’s communities are faced with problems as domestic violence, broken families, drugs and alcohol, bullying and violence. All of these problems can impact student’s learning. But they are problems which require solutions beyond the classroom. This paper will look at how and why schools like Bourke High School need to engage with the local community to meet the needs of their students.

The town of Bourke in North-West NSW could be like any town in outback Australia. The decline of the rural sector and the loss of jobs has resulted in low incomes, high rates of unemployment and poverty. The Bourke Aboriginal community suffers extreme disadvantage due to the isolation of the town and the shortages of adequate health resources and overcrowded housing. The town is plagued by a high crime rate with problems as gambling, drugs and alcohol and violence. In February 2013, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Bourke has the highest rate of crime in NSW and tops the list as more dangerous to live than any other country in the world.

How these social and economic problems impact on students is evident in Bourke High School where high rates of absenteeism are the result of poverty, hunger and a lack of positive role models. These problems are compounded by the lack of a curriculum which students can identify with their Aboriginal heritage and the need for a curriculum which is culturally and socially appropriate (Vivian and Schnierer 2010). But the situation in Bourke is not unique. It has been found that more than 80 per cent of indigenous students achieved minimum national standards with very little improvement in literacy rates since 2008.

In addressing these problems, cooperation between government departments and the local community have been little more than token gestures. Limited cooperation between the various government departments has led to a waste of resources and conflicting decisions as each department receives funding to address the same problem. It is now recognized that one single agency alone cannot resolve these problems but requires the collaboration between schools, parents, the local community and other government and non-government organizations.

In May 2012, the NSW government announced its new strategy ‘connected communities’ where education and training would be linked to other related services as health, welfare, early childhood education and care, and vocational education and training. Schools would act as ‘community hubs’ where health, education, parenting support and anti-gambling measures would all be coordinated from the school grounds. In small communities as Bourke, schools are an important part of the community because they are a large employer and they have the ability to reach deep into the community more than any other institution.

That schools should be the focus of delivering services to the community is elaborated on in the ‘Full Service School’ which Joy Dryfoos defines as a school that has been transformed into a neighborhood hub and that is open all the time to children and their families (Dryfoos, 2005). In the full service community school, a range of support services are provided by community agencies on school grounds. The full service school is more than providing services to the community but is about working together toward improving the outcomes for all school students.

For example, Bourke Public School has developed strong connections with the Bourke Aboriginal Service and Community Health that comes to the school and provides free medical assistance to students requiring help with health issues. Schools as Bourke public school benefit from the support services provided on school grounds as students are absent less from school because of medical reasons. It is one example of a ‘whole student’ approach where schools are not only addressing the education needs of students, but helping to address the health and welfare needs of students.

But as Joy Dryfoos acknowledges that there is no universal approach or ‘one size fits all’ approach that is recommended to schools. In the NSW connected communities strategy, schools provide services to the community that is ‘place driven’ or tailored in their design and delivery to the needs of each school and its local community. For example in 2010 the NSW Ombudsman report into the delivery of services in Bourke identified vulnerable children are disengaging from education in Bourke (NSW Ombudsman report ‘Inquiry into service provision to the Bourke and Brewarrina communities, 2010).

Preventing absenteeism from schools requires resources and funding for which small and remote communities as Bourke does not have. While Bourke depends heavily on government funding, the school attempts to reach out to the community for support. For example, Bourke High School receives support from the Clontarf Foundation which exists to improve the education, employment and life skills of young Aboriginal men. Bourke High School offers free advertising to local businesses as SPAR supermarket in return for sponsorship of the school breakfast and lunch program. Without breakfast, students feel lethargic and can lead to difficulty concentrating and behavior difficulties at school.

The full service school is more than providing services to the community from school grounds but is a partnership between schools, families and the community work together to create better programs and address issues affecting students. Joyce Epstein recognizes that when parents, teachers, students and others view one another as partners in education, a caring community forms around students who are at the center of community partnerships. In a partnership, teachers and administrators create more family like schools and develop a positive image of schools as a caring place (Epstein, 1995).

One partnership that is working to address the problem of absenteeism from school is the involvement of NSW Police working with the Aboriginal Student Liaison Officer and the Home School Liaison Officer that make home visits to students to follow up on student attendance (Bourke High School Newsletter Term 3, Week 4 2013). But addressing a problem as absenteeism from school that leads to crime requires the involvement of the local community in school planning and decisions.

In Bourke High School, high absenteeism rates were a result of lack of indigenous perspectives in the curriculum. Students will not engage in the learning if they do not find it meaningful and relevant to their lives. Teachers need to have teaching strategies that involve real life or authentic learning experiences. For example, teachers can invite the local community as Aboriginal elders into the classroom to talk about a topic from an Aboriginal perspective.

Also absent from Bourke High School is active community involvement in the school. Community involvement in the school allows the community to have a ‘voice’ in school decisions particularly in the school curriculum. In Aboriginal communities where there is already deep mistrust of government agencies resulting from government policies in the past, involving the local community as Aboriginal Elders in school decisions and planning as the curriculum allows both teachers and students to explore Aboriginal history and culture through life stories and provide cultural affirmation and pride for Aboriginal Students (NSW Board of Studies, 2008)

But the most important partners in a child’s education are the parents and carers.  Parents want their children to succeed at school and they want to be involved in all aspects of their child’s development (Epstein). Traditionally parent and carer involvement in the school has been limited to parent and citizen (P&C) meetings or limited to participation in the canteen.  As Joyce Epstein points out, the type of school, family and community partnership programs can determine if parents become involved in their child’s education. If school’s reach out then parents will become partners in their child’s education.

For schools like Bourke High School, collaboration with parents is important for helping teachers with students learning. For example Parents can help their children develop literacy skills by reading to students or help teachers with issues as behavior problems. Unfortunately Bourke High School demonstrates limited parent involvement in the school except for special events. Although the school invites parent involvement through its online newsletter and Aboriginal Elder involvement through a local garden, there is more work to be done by the school to involve the community and address issues as absenteeism.

In conclusion, schools need to take an active role in the community in helping to address its needs. Problems as absenteeism and crime will continue to plague the community unless the school becomes more involved with the community than merely fund raising and special events. If schools are going to engage students, then they need to look beyond the classroom and evaluate school practices as curriculum design and planning. But engaging with the local community should not be a one-way approach but needs to be a partnership between school and the community.

The role of the law in Education

16 Nov

We dont often think of it but the law underpins everything that a teacher does in and outside the classroom. Laws are the basis of policies, procedures and guidelines as the code of conduct.

For example, In NSW the Education Act of 1990 sets out basic principles of teaching. The Education Act sets out that it is compulsory for a child of school age to attend school.

But more importantly, the Education Act of 1990 sets out values that are at the heart of teaching. This includes helping every child to achieve their full potential, providing a high standard of education and encouraging diversity and innovation within schools.

So when we think about how we teach and what we teach, it is not just some fancy or idealistic notions of education, but has the basis in law. Policies of inclusion of all students in the classroom, differentiating instruction for all students, training and collaboration with parents and the community all have their basis in state laws.

Again using the Education Act of 1990 provides that teaching promotes an understanding of Aboriginal history and all culture by all children. If we look at the NSW Year 7-10 syllabus or the new Australian national curriculum for any subject, it is mandatory for teachers to embed Aboriginal perspectives in the curriculum.

While the Education Act of 1990 sets out basic principles of education, laws as the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 and the Disability Discrimination Act set out that students cannot be discriminated against on the grounds of disability, gender, age, transgender, race or ethnic background. Under the Disability Discrimination Act, it is illegal for any person, business or authority to discriminate on the basis of a person’s disability. The legislation ensures that people with a disability have the same opportunities to access employment, education, transport, accomodation and buildings as other members of the community who do not have a disability.

Teachers need to understand what their obligations and responsibilities are before the law. The Teaching Act of 1980 governs the employment, termination and discipline of teachers. In employing and retaining teachers, the act sets out that the protection of children is to be the paramount consideration. For example, under the Child Protection (Working with Children) act it is compulsory for teachers to obtain a working with children clearance check and it is an offence not to hold this clearance. A teacher whom fails a working with children clearance check is barred from working as a teacher and will have their employment terminated.

While all teachers must report if they have been found guilty or accused of a serious crime, teachers are mandatory reporters of children who are at risk of harm. Under the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) act of 1998, teachers have a duty to report if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that a child or young person “is at risk of significant harm if current concerns exist for the safety, welfare or wellbeing of the child or young person because of the presence, to a significant extent, of … basic physical or psychological needs are not being met … physical or sexual abuse or ill-treatment … serious psychological harm.

The law becomes much more serious for teachers when it comes to the protection of children from harm. The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000 sets out that schools have a responsibility to provide a safe environment for both their staff and for the students. From the OH@S Act comes a ‘Duty of Care’ for teachers to take reasonable measures to protect students against harm.

For teachers we have a duty to protect students from risks that could also be reasonably foreseen. For example if a teacher is heading to a class and sees a student climbing up a tree, the teacher has a duty of care to ensure that the student does not harm themselves. While teachers are safe from legal prosecution because schools take legal responsibility for their teaching staff (vicarious liability), individual teachers can still be held responsibile in a court of law if they are found to have acted negligently.

Knowing and understanding the law not only protects our students, but helps teachers to understand their own roles and responsibilities towards students in and outside the classroom.


NSW Department of Education Professional responsibilities of teachers…/handbook_ch5.doc

Mandatory reporting

The Disability Discrimination Act


The Last Empress of China

25 Dec


Have you ever watched a movie or historical drama and ever wondered what happened to those characters? Or have you ever wondered is that what really happened?

One of the best movies i have ever seen is the 1987 film ‘‘The Last Emperor’ directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. The movie is the story of the Last Emperor of China, Aisin-Goro Pu Yi. 

Since the release of the movie, much has been written of Aisin-Gioro Pu-Yi, the Last Emperor of China. Pu-Yi became Emperor of China in 1908 at the age of three and lost his crown in the 1911 Revolution. Despite the Revolution, Pu-Yi was allowed to stay inside the Forbidden City, treated as an emperor by his various army of eunuch’s, courtiers and officials.  But Pu Yi was an emperor in name only.

I cannot help but wonder what ever happened to Pu Yi’s wife, the Empress Wan-Jung better known to the world as ‘Elizabeth’. The story of the Last Empress of China is just as tragic as that of her husband.

In the movie the ‘Last Emperor’, Wan Rong enters Pu-Yi’s life when in 1922 she was chosen to marry Pu-Yi. We know that Pu-Yi selected Wan-Jung from a collection of photographs placed before him. But what do we know about Wan-Rong? Pu Yi tells us that his original choice for Empress was overridden by the High consorts and he was persuaded to choose Wan Rong, also known as Wan Jung and Mu Hung. Pu Yi tells us that she was from a rich family, beautiful and the same age as Pu Yi.

But who was Wan Rong? Gobulo Wan Rong (“Beautiful Countenance”) was from one of Manchuria’s most prominent, richest families. Her father was Rong Yuan, the Minister of Domestic Affairs of the Qing Government and head of one of Manchuria’s most prominent, richest families.

We also know that Wan Rong’s mother was Xin Yu Heng Aisin-giorro, herself descended from the Qianlong Emperor (1735-1796). We know that as a child, Wan Rong had a tutor Chen Tseng-shou who would also be a life long friend. We also know that Wan Rong was highly educated at an American missionary school in Tianjin by the American tutor Isabel Ingram, where she had been given the Christian name of “Elizabeth.

The marriage beween Wan Rong and Pu Yi was not one of love but of necessity. Having come of age, Pu Yi was asked to choose a wife. Given a book of photographs of the eligible young women from wealthy chinese families, Pu Yi originally choose a young woman, Wen Hsiu as his wife. However objections to this choice by the imperial consorts forced Pu Yi to choose another. The second chice was that of Wan Rong. But Pu Yi was allowed to choose Wen Hsiu as his secondary consort or second wife.

The marriage of Wan Rong to Pu Yi seems to have gotten off to a rocky start when Pu Yi showed very little interest in Wan Rong on their wedding night and went to his own chambers. Pu Yi’s own attitude to his wedding was that ‘While all the hustle and busle went on around me one question kept running through my mind: ‘I have an empress and a consort; Im married. But how are things any different from before?’

pu yi and wan rong

With this mindset, Pu Yi showed very little interest in his new wife on their wedding night and returned to his own chambers. When i think about Wan Rong and Pu Yi, they seem to be more like brother and sister, or two friends. Pictures show Wan Rong and Pu Yi together happily. But were they ever happy as a married couple?

But Pu-Yi did not only have his wife Wan Rong to look after but also a secondary consort, Wen Hsiu.  How did the Empress Wan Rong feel about having to share with a second wife? Did Wan Rong and Wen Hsiu get along? According to Pu Yi there seems to have been a rivalry develop between Wan Rong and Wen Hsiu.


Pu Yi seems to have resented the money spent and the competition between the Empress and Wen Hsui. Pu Yi complained that Wan Jung knew even more ways of ‘wasting money on useless objects than I did’. Pu Yi also complained of the competition between Wan Jung and Wen Hsiu where if one had something, the other also had to have one. When the secondary consort Wen Hsiu asked for a divorce in 1931, Pu Yi admitted that ‘It appeared on the surface that Wen Hsiu was forced out by the ’empress’ Wan Rong. While this was not the whole truth it was certainly one of the reasonse for Wen Hsiu’s departure’.

After 1924 and their eviction from the Forbidden City, Pu Yi seems to have his mind soley on restoration to his throne. As he admitted that ‘I did not know what love was, and where husband and wife were equal in other marriages, to me wife and concubine were both the slave and tools of their master’.

The restoration of Pu Yi as the Emperor of the Puppet state of Manchukuo or Manchuria under Japanese control did little to improve the fortunes of either  Pu Yi or Wan Rong. Obsessed with becoming emperor again, Pu Yi became the wiling puppet of the Japanese, who held their own ambitions in China. The Japanese manipulated Pu Yi into believing that his life was in danger and that Pu Yi was in desperate need of Japanese protection. Little did Pu Yi realise that the Japanese had carefully set up incidents to scare Pu Yi towards Japan rather than British or American assistance.

Becoming emperor again in Manchukuo did little to improve their marriage. After Wen Hsui divorced Pu Yi in 1931, Pu Yi says that he felt a revulsion for Wan Rong, hardly ever talking to her or paying her any attention. As Pu Yi writes ‘So she never told me her of her feelings, her hopes and her sorrows’. Pu Yi knew that she had become addicted to opium and ‘behaved in a way that i could not tolerate’. What did Pu Yi mean by this?

According to the Manchu princess and japanese spy Yoshiko Kawashima (Better known to as history as ‘Eastern Jewel’), Wan Rong hated Manchuria where she suffered from the extreme climate and was subject to bad dreams and poor health.

Neglecting Wan Rong, Pu Yi married the 16 year old school girl Tan Yuling or ‘Jade Years’ in 1937 taking her as a secondary consort to replace Wen Hsiu. But what is interesting is that Pu Yi called Tan Yu-ling a punishment for Wan Jung. But Pu Yi did not see the new secondary consort as a wife but as necessary like an essential piece of palance furniture. As Pu Yi writes ‘She too was a wife in name only, and i kept her in the palace as i might have kept a bird until her death in 1942’. But it was also believed by Hiro Saga, Pu-Yi’s sister in law, that Pu Yi had a pageboy lover, a male concubine. Rumours of Pu-yi’s bisexuality plagued Pu-Yi for his whole life.

Addicted to opium, Wan Rong’s behaviour became bizarre. According to Edward Behr, Wan Rong’s opium addiction from july 1938 to july 1939 was 740 ounces of opium. Wan Rong never appeared at birthday or New Year parties and relations with Pu Yi had ceased while her own father stopped visiting her in Manchukuo because of what she had become. There is a story of a dinner party where Wan Rong ate a western style meal ravenously that was embarrasing to all that were there.

Pu Yi tells us that Wan Rong came to believe in luck and if she encountered anything unlucky she would blink or spit. Pu Yi says that Wan Rong made it such a habit to blink or spit that it was if she were ‘suffering from some mental illness’.

But there were also rumours that Wan Rong had an affair with her driver. After his second trip to Tokyo, Pu Yi was advised that his empress was pregnant by his driver, Li Tich-yu who gained opium for Wan Rong and smoked with her. Pu Yi gave him orders to leave town. When Wan Rong gave birth to a baby girl, it is believed that the Japanese doctor killed the baby with an injection. Edward Behr believes that from this moment Wan Rong lived in a constant opium daze.

Why did Wan Rong stay? Pu Yi wondered this himself in that the experiences of Wan Rong, ‘who had been neglected for so long would be incomprehensible to a modern Chinese girl’ and wondered what if Wan Jung would have divorced him. Pu Yi believes that where Wen Hsiu believed that ordinary family life was more important than wealth and power, that Wan Jung attached great significance to her position as empress and was prepared to be a wife in name only for the sake of it”.

Another contemporary of Wan Rong, the Manchu Princess ‘Eastern Jewel’ or Yoshiko Kawashima, wrote that she was proud to be the number one wife to China’s true emperor but was a victim of politics and her own snobbery as well as betrayal from the Japanese.


So what happened to the Last Empress of China, Wan Rong? Pu Yi wrote that when he left Manchokuo after the Japanese surrender her opium addiction was very serious. Wan Rong fled with her sister in law, Hiro Saga where they both fell into the hands of Chinese communist forces in Talitzou, Manchukuo. Wan Rong and Hiro Saga were moved to a prison in Yanji, Jilin.

Edward Behr recounts the story of what happened in prison. Suffering from opium withdrawals, Wan Rong begged for opium or halucinated as if she was back in the forbidden city. In Prison, Wan Rong became a curiosity for the local people who came to see the ‘Last Empress of China’. Unconscious in her cell, laying in a pool of urine and her own vomit, Wan Rong was helped by Hiro Saga who washed the dying empress until Hiro Saga and her daughter were moved leaving Wan Rong alone.

What did Pu-Yi think about her death? The last time Pu Yi saw Wan Rong appears to have been in Manchuria before he was to fly to Japan. As the aircraft was too small, he chose only Pu Cheih, his two brothers in law, three nephews and a doctor to go with him. Why wouldnt he have brought Wan Rong? Pu Yi seems to have been more preoccupied with saving his own life than any concern for his wife or anyone else.

It is believed that Pu-Yi did not learn of the death of his Empress Wan Rong until 1951 when Pu Yi was still imprisoned.  In his own words, Pu Yi tells us that ‘When our ways parted after the Japanese surrender her opium addiction was very serious and she was extremely weak; she died the following year in Kirin’. But what is interesting is Pu Yi’s words:

“I had married a total of four wives, or to use the terms employed them, one empress, one consort, and two minor consorts. But in fact they were not real wives, and they were only there for show. Although I treated them differently they were all my victims…….If her fate was not determined at her birth, her end was inevitable from the moment she married me”.

After a short period, Wan Rong died in prison reportedly from a combination of malnutrition and opium withdrawal in June 1946, at the age of 40. Wan Rong was buried in an unmarked grave at the prison. 

In October 2006, Empress Wan Rong’s younger brother, Gobulo Runqi (1912-2007), had a tomb built for Wan Rong at the Western Qing Tombs. Although the tomb did not contain the body of the Empress Wan Rong, the tomb did contain the personal hand mirror of Empress Wan Rong.

western qing tombs

The pictures used in this website is courtesy of the following websites: 

I acknowledge that pictures on this website are courtesy of metrosonus –

Suggested Reading

Behr, Edward ‘The Last Emperor’

Irons, Neville John ‘The Last Emperor’

Johnston, Reginald ‘Twilight in the Forbidden City’

Pu-Yi, Aisin-Gioro ‘From Emperor to Citizen: The Autobiography of Aisin-Gioro Pu-Yi’


Empress Wan Rong – The Last Empress Consort of the Qing Dynasty in China’,

Integrated Curriculum Design

15 Nov

When we think about Curriculum we think about traditional syllabus and subjects.

But a curriculum is the whole big picture of the learning experience – the total of all that is learnt in schools. The Curriculum is not only the subjects and topics to be learnt, it also the planned outcomes or aims / objectives, it is the structure and range of practical learning activities and assessment or evaluation procedures.

So when we think about Curriculum Design, we have to think about the whole learning process – not just the subjects and content to be learnt.

When we talk about an Integrated Curriculum, it is the idea of a unity between forms of knowledge and their disciplines.

Traditional curriculum design is very much subject centred where we have our subjects as Maths, English, Science. Then we may have the humanities subjects as History, Geography, Politics. Then the Languages, the arts subjects as Music, Drama, Art. Then at the lower end we may have the technical arts as Woodwork and Metalwork. Each one of these areas has its own assessment criteria, practical activities, aims or objectives, assessment types.

We often find however that subjects do overlap each other in certain areas as content or concepts. For example, Science shares many aspects in common with Chemistry and Biology. While History shares many aspects in common with politics and some aspects with Geography. Because there is so much content and concepts to cover in only a 50 minute lesson, it makes sense to group areas together to try to share the concepts so that students can get greater time and different fields to understand those concepts.

For example, History deals with not only the past but concepts as democracy, freedom, civil rights. A History teacher needs more that 50 minutes three times a week to try to cover not only the content but to try to explore these indepth concepts. Teaching the historical context does not help students to fully understand these concepts. If students are not fully grasping the concepts, are they understanding the subject and its historical context?

So what can we do about this?

Many education departments have introduced the idea of an ‘Integrated Curriculum’ where forms of knowledge and their respective disciplines are united together.

The benefits of Integrated Curriculums include not only looking at concepts for an indepth understanding, but of also providing a meaningful learning experience for students through using real life examples. By uniting knowleddge, teachers can help students to make connections among disciplines through solving real life problems together. By making education not only relevant but engaging, it keeps students interested in the learning process.

Some teachers have tried various forms of integrated curriculum where teachers from different subjects have worked together on a single probject. For example if looking at the Pyramids of Egypt, a group of maths students might come in and do the measurements of what a Pyramid might look like in size and structure. While another group of history students might contribute by providing evidence of how the Pyramids were built. Another group of science or geology students might contribute with an understanding of the materials and their strengths used to build it. While geography students may contribute through talking about the weather and conditions of Egypt.

However this has been criticised as it is not an integrated curriculum experience as subjects still retain their traditional subject area and its not an on-going learning experience. Another criticism is that while it is great for teachers to work together, different philosophies of teaching and what is to be learnt may lead to confusion among students if the teachers do not fully co-operate on planning the learning and its experiences.

In Australia, the state governments have introduced various forms of ‘Integrated Curriculum’ designs where areas as the Humanities of History, Geography and Politics are grouped together, while the Sciences of Chemistry and Biology are grouped together, the Arts etc.
In NSW we have the HSIE or Human Society in its Environment, while in Queensland there is the SOSE or Studies of Society and Environment.

However critics argue that it is not an Integrated Curriculum Design but a Multidisciplinary Curriculum Design where subjects remain independent of each other and not integrated at all. For example, Tony Dowden labels curriculum integration as a generic term for all forms of curricula that others have labelled or called integrated. So where curriculum design remains subject centred would be little more than curriculum integration as opposed to integrated curriculums.

Other Critics of these types of ‘integrated curriculum’ believe that the traditional subject centred design is not learner centred as there is nothing to make teachers or subjects collaborate together to make learning experiences more meaningful.

On the other side of the argument, critics complain that the focus of the subjects is not on content but on the concepts. Attempts to integrate and merge subjects was met with harsh criticism when in 2007, the Prime Minister John Howard was critical of the SOSE Curriculum in Victoria for dumbing down the content and Victoria restored a NSW type curriculum shortly after.

Other possibilities?

Franzie Loepp suggests other models of integrated curriculum.

One model is the Interdisciplinary model where schools group traditional subjects into blocks of time. A number of teachers would be given a group of students and teach the group of students in a topic. The problem here is that subjects still retain their independence and unless teachers collaborate, team teaching may result in misunderstandings and different teaching philosophies colliding.

We still have to remember that in an integrated curriculum model that learning experiences, assessment must meet the state or national based outcomes, aims and objectives.

What is also important is that there is no division of subject areas.

A second possibility is that of a problem based model where students work together to solve a real life problem. Franzie Loepp believes that in this type of model, that ideally teachers would place technology at the core of the curriculum. Students would not look at just one aspect but use the real life problem to look at all aspects of the problem.

The advantages of using the Problem Based model is that it offers great potential for looking at and using relevant and highly engaging problems. For example, Climate Change where students would work together to look at all aspects as changes in weather, reduction or increase of temperature or rainfall. However a disadvantage could be that it may not meet state frameworks or national standards in a particular grade level.

Another possibility is a theme based curriculum where students identify with a given discipline or theme. A theme can be for example life in the Australian outback or understanding a culture where students look at all aspects of the culture. Some advantages of using a theme based model include that it is easier to connect the curriculum with national standards and state frameworks. Another advantage is that it is easier for students to make connections among objectives from various disciplines.

However one of the problems of a theme based is that there could be a tendency for a theme to have little relationship with a specific discipline and lead to irrelevant learning.

Whatever choice we decide that is best for our students, we have to make sure that we see curriculum design, topics, assessment, learning choices as a whole process where every component depends on another component.

But viewers can read the blog on Wiggins and Mctighe’s ‘Understanding by Design’ for further information.

Differentiation – What is it? How does it work?

14 Nov

What is differentiation?

Many people believe that differentiation is simply that teachers need to recognise that students learn in different ways and that teachers need to provide different learning instructions to help students to learn.

However differentiation is recognising that classrooms are heterogenous or that classrooms have students of mixed abilities. For example, we will have students that have English as a second language or speak more than one dialect in their First or home languages. We may have students with special needs or students with learning difficulties. But we might also have gifted or talented students who may become easily bored with the learning materials. Carol Tomlinson advises us to not see students as a group but as individuals. It is to the individuals that we have to teach it to.

We must accept that every student in our classroom is an individual and we need to tailor instruction for the learning needs of every student. Students as individuals have varying background knowledge, readiness, language, preferences in learning – ie some students are visual and some may be oral students. Differentiation does not mean we have to ‘dumb down’ the curriculum or the learning. Quite the opposite. Differentiation means that teachers have to provide learning experiences that have high expectations for our students.

So what is Differentiation? Differentiation is when we provide a learning experience that is engaging, motivating and challenging for every student. Differentiated instruction is an approach to teaching and learning so that students have multiple options for taking in information and making sense of ideas.

If we were to teach a lesson about democracy, students would not just read about democracy in a text book. Teachers could use direct teaching to explain the concepts of democracy. We could watch a video on democracy. We could visit a town hall or we could invite a politician to visit the school to talk about democracy. In the classroom we could have class discussions or we could have role plays where ideals of democracy were discussed and debated. We could use computers in the classroom where students could use webspaces or visit democracy sites and answer questions on democracy.

There is no single method to differentiation. At the heart of differentiation is the belief that teaching approaches should vary and be adapted to individual and diverse students. But differentiation is also maximising each students growth and individual success. We need to recognise that each student is on a different level and assist students in their learning.

Differentiation could be using visuals or other teaching tools as computers. It could also be allowing more time for students to copy off the board. It could be talking slower for those students who may have hearing problems. It could be adjusting the classroom seating to allow students with eye problems to sit closer to the board. It could be repeating words or providing thesarus or dictionaries for ESL students. It could be adjusting worksheets for students with learning difficulties or providing challenging materials for gifted students.

What can we diffentiate?

Content or Presentation – how it is taught. We need to allow the students to access the content and understand the concepts, generalisations, principles, attitudes and skills. Teachers must focus on the broad based understanding of concepts, principles and skills that students should learn than the minute details.

Process – How it is done – Use flexible groupings where grouping is not fixed and where learners interact and work together as they develop knowledge of new content. Use flexible groupings so that students may be grouped with students of different learning abilities and perspectives.

Teachers can use whole class introductory discussion followed by small group or pair work. Use classroom management strategies as flexible or permanent seating. If your going to use group work, you need to work out what desk or seating you want for groups to sit in.

Products – How do Students demonstrate knowledge?

Initial and on-going assessment of student readiness and growth is very important and needs to be made an important part of planning so it tells teachers how to better provide instruction and what scaffolds we need to put in place. Assessments may be formal or informal. Types of assessment can include interviews, surveys, performance assessments as role plays.

We need to remember that assessment, learning strategies need to align with the outcomes.

Allow students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding in a variety of ways. Allow for varying means of expression, alternative assessment and varying levels of difficulty and scoring.

Build on students prior knowledge and understandings. Try to incorporate different views and perspectives of the world. If students see their cultures and views demonstrated they will feel a sense of belonging and that their identity is valued.

Engaging and motivating students is essential. Do not use the same tasks but vary them. Provide a balance between teacher-assigned and student-selected tasks and allow students choices in their learning. Provide real life activities and scenarios – authentic learning experiences that allow the students to engage in the learning than just observing. Let students see the practical application of what they are learning. Students learn best when they are doing.

Many may believe that differentiation is difficult and unrewarding. But when we think about it, having students of mixed abilities can be very rewarding. The thought that we are helping another student to learn and enter adulthood one day, that we can and have played an important part in their lives can be very rewarding.

But there are other benefits. Differentiation provides ways for all students to feel affirmed, challenged and succesful. It also allows for students to develop their social skills through interaction with teachers and other students. If we want our students to be good citizens, it is important that our classrooms model democracy where students have choices in the learning.

Most important of all, differentiation allows for our students to be succesful and competent learners ready one day to leave school and enter the world confident in their own abilities and skills.

Understanding by Design

14 Nov

Understanding By Design – Grant Wiggins and McTighe

How should teachers plan lessons? Wiggins and Mctighe suggest to teachers that to plan lessons effectively, we should plan our lessons backwards in three steps:

The First step is to Identify the Desired Results

The Second Step is to Determine the Acceptable Evidence

The Third Step is to Plan leaning experiences and instruction

Why plan backwards? When we plan lessons we need to plan learning experiencs that align with the outcomes or what we want students to achieve and assessment. Often planning is done where we include learning experiences that really have no relevance to what we want our students to know. Colin Marsh believes that if design is done backwards, it is more purposeful. In using backward design, we first decide what the task is that we want to be accomplished and then we work out how to get there.

Teachers are designers of curriculum and learning experiences. However, Wiggins and Mctighe believe that when we are planning lessons that we must think like assessors.

Many plan lessons by looking at the content first and then planning the lesson, trying to make the outcomes match the learning content, which leaves assessment as an after thought – not as a critical and important part of planning lessons. Assessment – both formative and summative – is an important part of the learning. Assessment should be about students demonstrating mastery or undestanding of what you need for them to learn.

Planning lessons should not be random, where we just choose learning experiences without seeing just how they fit into the learning. Students will be more engaged in the learning if they understand what the learning is meant to achieve. The content, the learning experiences and activities all should be to achieve a goal in learning.

Some critics of the backwards design believe that it places too much emphasis on outcomes and insufficient emphasis on selecting learning experiences. Other critics of the backwards design argue that many of its concepts are not new but derive from the works of Tyler and Bloom.

For example in the Objectives Model of curriculum development, Tyler believed design should be based on the 4 central questions – What educational purposes should the school seek to attain, What educational experiences can be provided that they are likely to attain, How can these educational experiences be effectively Organised and How can we determine if purposes are being allowed?

Dick and Carrey believe that we should see planning lessons as a system or a process where every component as learning, planning, assessment, outcomes – all are crucial parts of a system to create successful learning. When one of those parts does not make sense or is missing, then the whole system or process is weak and incomplete.

If we see curriculum design as a system, then we need to
– Identify an Instruction goal
– Conduct an analysis of our instruction
– Identify entry behaviours and characteristics
– Write performance objectives
– Developing criterion
– Developing on Instructional Strategy
– Develop and Select Instructions
– Design and conduct formative evaluation
– Revise instruction
– Conduct summative evaluation

By planning backwards, it encourages teachers to see that all of the components of the system or process align.

So where do we start?

We start planning by asking what are the outcomes that we want our students to achieve? What is worthy and requiring of understanding? What are the big ideas, the enduring concepts and theories that we want our students to learn and be able to carry over to other areas of learning.

The outcomes can also be based on what national or state standards and guidelines there are that must be achieved.

Teachers should be asking questions as to what extent does the results represent the big ideas of the discipline. Is the unit framed around enduring understandings and essential questions? It also asks teachers to what extent the potential to engage students.

In the second step Determine acceptable evidence, we must ask ourselves what kinds of evidence do we need to show that students have reached an understanding of the subject?

We have to remember that assessment needs to work alongside of the outcomes and the learning. Assessment must allow students to show that they have accessed the big idea and key concepts of the topic, not only the content.

There are 6 facets of understanding that shape assessment design – Explain, Interpet, Apply, Perspective, Empathy and Self Knowledge.

What assessment types would you use? Summative or Formative? It is important to remember that assessment must allow students to demonstrate that they have understood the big idea. Are there performance based assessments that you could use? Would you use authentic assessments as real life situations?

If you are differentiating assessment for Special Needs, ESL, or learning difficulties or even gifted students, are there assessment types other than standard tests in which student can demonstrate the learning? Could students use computer programs to demonstrate learning?

In the Third step we finally reach the planning of learning experiences and instruction. To effectively plan the lesson we have to ask what learning experiences and teaching promote understanding, interest and excellence?

What knowledge, facts, concepts, principles help students to understand the big ideas? What activities should we use that will provide students with the needed knowledge and skills? What materials and sources should we use? Are all of these in line with the design of the lesson and meet the outcomes?

When we plan lessons we have to remember that we cannot just pour information into our students. They have learn by doing and create meaning from their own experiences – constructivist learning as advocated by Piaget and Dewey. These learning experiences must allow students to access the big ideas, the key concepts and theories of the subject.

For example, what group activities would we use? As social constructivists believe that learning is a social activity, collaborative tasks as group work are an important part of the learning process. But in planning these group activities, we have to remember that the must not be random activities but purposeful that focus on the big ideas of the topic.

By using backwards design, it forces us to ask ourselves – does my lesson and overall planning make sense?

Why is Education Contentious?

14 Nov

Why Education is contentious?

Kieran Egan wrote an article ‘Why Education is so difficult and contentious’ in which he believed that our modern day education systems are founded on three key pillars – socialisation, Plato’s Academic ideal and Rousseau’s developmental theory.

But Kieran Egan believes that each of these three pillars – socialisation, Plato’s academic ideal and Rousseau’s developmental theory – are all ‘competing voices’ in education that not only contradict or compete against each other but also have conflicting ideals within themselves.

What does Egan believe by this?

The first idea – socialisation. We send our students to school in the hope that they will not only interact with other students but in doing so learn social morals or values, ways to behave socially so that when they leave school our students will be aware of what it is to be a good citizen, interacting socially correct with their peers.

But Egan believes that this idea of socialisation is all good and well for when people were hunter-gatherers and we depended on each other for survival and to act as part of a team. Schools by their nature are about conformity rather than about the individual. The wearing of a school uniform, the morning roll call, class times, where students fit in according to age and ability all aim to create a sense of belonging on one hand but a great deal of conformity.

However while we expect our students to socialise and learn the moral values of society, we also want our students to be individuals. We want our students to be thinking for themselves. We want them to not follow the crowd, but to be critical thinkers that know the difference between right and wrong.

In a democratic society, we want our students to uphold the values of individual freedom. We dont want our students to follow blindly the socially accepted ideals or norms that are morally wrong. But what do we do when we have an education system that demands conformity? Egan argues that socialisation requires acceptance of beliefs, values and norms that the disciplined academic mind sees as stereotypes and prejudices. Whlle we want our students to conform to social values, this conformity can lead to dangerous accepting of stereotypes and norms that are evident in facist or socialist dictatorships.

And this brings us to Plato’s Academic ideal where send our students to learn everything that they can about the world. We want our students to be intelligent and to learn the things that we expect that they should know, that will prepare them for life after school that will lead to either further education or good employment.

The problem is – whet exactly should our students be learning? As Egan points out that our libraries are full of books and knowledge but what exactly is it important to learn?

As adults, we can remember ourselves being in school and thinking that most of what we learnt was completely unnecessary. Who hasnt sat their and thought what was the point of Algebra or some history lesson about a person who was dead many hundereds of yeears ago that has absolutely no practical use in today’s workplaces?

Today’s employers, parents, community groups, government departments are all stakeholders or interested parties in our students education. Each of these stakeholders has a ‘voice’ in what education should be teaching our students. But as Egan points out, these ‘voices’ are often competing and conflicting against each other.

And what of practical use of knowledge in the real world? If we cannot see how knowledge, facts and theories are useful in everyday life, then why would students see them as important or relevant? Knowledge just does not exist in a book or in the teacher’s head – for students to understand the knowledge, the job of the teacher is to bring that knowledge alive, to show students how that knowledge is practical or can be used in the real world.

In our classrooms today we have the usual subjects of Maths, English, Science. To the lesser degree we have the humanities as History, Geography, and the arts as creative arts, drama and music and technical working as wood work and metal work. To satisfy the demands of employers, subjects as Maths and English are the dominant subject areas over all others. Ken Robinson noted that this focus on the dominant subject often leaves out the other subject areas so that students, no matter what they may be good at, often give up what they are interested in so that they will be good at the areas that will get them a job when they quit.

Information or knowledge is great but completely useless if it has no practical use in the real world. So why bother teaching it? If it put us to sleep when we were students, imagine what it is doing to our students today?

The third ideal of education is that of Jean Jacques Rousseau and the idea of development. Rousseau believed that children’s learning occurs in developmental stages and that therefore we have to alter our teaching techniques to the child’s learning. So rather than blaming the child for not learning, we have to look at how our own teaching styles are not catering for that child’s development stages.

Rousseau’s developmental theory should have led to a revolution in learning. We should have seen a change in education that moved from a subject-centred education to that of a child or student centred education. But this revolution has failed to occur in education. Why?

Since Rousseau’s ideas, we have had great educational thinkers as Jean Piaget, John Dewey, Lev Vygotsky and Maria Montessori but education has still not changed. Kieran Education believes that education has not changed because we are still debating the purpose of education.

Egan believes that when we began to see education in terms of either knowledge or the mind, we began to think of education as belonging to one or the other and so education became a war between those who were child centred and those who were subject centred.

Until these deep fault lines in thinking of education are resolved, then education will continue to be contentious.