The breakdown of family

The nuclear family is the core unit of society in those new nations carved out by European migrants in territories over the seas previously occupied by indigenous tribes. The latter, like the traditional societies of Asia and Europe (or parts thereof), were composed of kin family units.

These migrants would, in the main, have left established nations in Europe or sundry kingdoms or principalities, for religious, economic or official policy reasons (eg. Britain’s cultural cleansing of those deemed to be criminal, or otherwise undesirable).

The nation, as a territory-related people, is a socio-political construct (or artificially created entity), arising in Europe no more than five centuries ago. Presumably reflecting the schisms within Christianity, tribes of a coherent people, bonded by a shared religious belief, history, territory, language, other cultural traditions, and consanguinity demarcated the defining boundaries (both geographical and tribo-cultural) to ensure separation from non-congruent or competing tribes.

Purely as an aside, at its height, European colonialism extended the reality of nationhood outside Europe by establishing national borders. These boundaries created new nations, irrespective of pre-existing kingdoms or ethnic enclaves, often dividing peoples, just to achieve a balance of power between the European nations. The resultant tribal wars (eg. between India and Pakistan) may, however, have offered economic opportunities to the neo-colonisers of the modern day.

Migrating multitudes mixed people from source countries in the new territories in a manner not evidenced before. Without extended family support, necessary self-sufficiency developed. The subsequent eventual development of ethno-religious conglomerates probably resulted in loosely-knit communities.

However, the American scholar Francis Fukuyama has recently written about the great disruption to US society. Could one wonder whether the killing of the indigenes and the despoliation of their cultures has left some kind of debilitating residue in the national ethos? Be rational, obey the law, and look after your self-interest: these were apparently posited as a guide to a life expressing personal initiative in a land of opportunity.

Whatever the relevance of the above, Fukuyama’s analysis is shadowed by a casual but extended observation of Australian society.

In Australia, where individualism is somewhat leavened by state welfare, the author’s experiences and acute observations over six decades lead him to the following conclusions. The family unit, the fulcrum of society, and the vehicle for the transmission of the youth of the nation to their future, has been fractured. In the absence, or a substantive denial of available extended family, a breakdown of marriage or cohabitation of duration leaves children in a parlous situation. There is no kin back-up available in the main.

Since up to 40% of marriages are reportedly at risk, and since many, many fathers are allegedly denied continuing close relationships, as dictated by nature, with their children, what happens to the psychological needs of the children in broken families? Only recently has there been any admission that the children are adversely affected. Earlier claims that there is no evidence of damage did not seem credible, when one considers nature.

Yet, only the career needs of mothers, and their success in balancing motherhood and work, fill the media reports. The extended periods spent in professional care by babies and little children, the denial of their right to nestle at length in the arms of the mothers and, when older, to ask a million questions about all those interesting things out there, and to talk about all that, is never the subject of interest in the media. Why not?

Fortunately, in low-employment districts, the children are seen to be receiving the entitlements designed by nature.

Then, there is a perceivable diminution of mutual respect, the reported denial by many youngsters of personal responsibility to contribute to the operation of the family unit, the audible spoilt child in the shops, a reported increase in the number of single mothers, and the seemingly escalating exploitation of welfare (especially the disability pension) by able-bodied people.

Fukuyama identifies in his analytical book ‘The Great Disruption’ other evidence of social alienation (but in the USA). He instances mealtimes, now lacking the ‘structured rituals’ of yesteryear, when families ate together, with parents thereby enabled to offer information and counsel to their offspring and, reciprocally, for the latter to talk about matters of relevance to them. This reinforces the bonds of the family. Fukuyama also instances the risks of blending separated part-families, and the deleterious effects of broken homes on school learning.

Essentially, he highlights the imbalance between the wants of adults and the needs of children. Who speaks for the latter?

How could advanced, highly developed nations offering high culture, highly skilled professionals and artisans, and humanistic and ecological-minded people, allow the breakdown of family as described? Who is responsible for strengthening the family unit, and thus ensuring the society as we need it?

Is the ethos of individualism the sole cause of such societal alienation? Or, was there something in the rain? Without strongly-bonded family units, can society survive?

 

The trauma of birth and its aftermath

Does any human being ever remember the stress of birth? During my boyhood, whenever I had a severe headache, believed to have been caused by glare, I would feel a strong pressure on both temples. Although I never spoke of this experience, I suspected that somehow I was recalling my passage through a birth canal. I soon grew out of those discomforting episodes.

What a terrible shock it must be for a baby to be pushed out of its comfort zone into the terrible glare of light, and the horrifying sounds of voices, and then being handled. Only after being swaddled and held against the mother could the baby retrieve the mother’s comforting heartbeat and soothing voice. In modern times, the baby is then swathed and placed amongst other babies, some of whom would be giving voice to their discomfort, their need to be held, and (possibly) a terrible hunger.

The world must be a horrible place to enter, and in such a terrifying manner. How long does it take a baby to become adjusted to the new surroundings? How aware is the baby, broadly, of the pattern of movement of the surrounding space? Is it their frequent and extended sleep which enables the baby to adjust to the new environment, but subconsciously?

Does the soul of the baby have a role to play in this early phase of Earthly existence? Would there be any past-life memories (however vague and fleeting) awaiting exposure? Could a baby display any ongoing anger, possibly because of the manner of its death in its immediate past life?

Would a baby, in the stage of infancy, be aware of any skills or abilities carried forward from the previous life; and which would blossom any time after about age 3? I refer to the high skills displayed by a few little children which do not evidently have a genetic source. Such skills are: playing musical instruments, gymnastic ability, mathematical calculations, and such like, at a level requiring an extended period of development, and displayed after years of Earthly life.

Then, there are those little children who remember accurately their immediate past lives, some even before age 3. The displays of such high skills and reliable memories have been well documented. This is an undeniable facet of our reality.

So, how complex could a baby be? Is the recovery of past skills and memories akin to a flower re-opening (at daybreak)? That is, could any flower of scarce skills be closed down (to a bud) at Earthly death in one life, to be re-opened in the next?

Does such recovery of skills (physical and mental) and memories require, where this is warranted, up to 3 years of development of the infant’s brain? Strangely, most (if not all) adults cannot remember any experience in their lives before about age 3.

I wonder – what are babies and infants doing as they observe and observe – even as they give us great joy, juxtaposed with sleepless nights and some (or much) worry? Indeed, they are a great and wonderful mystery, with each birth a miracle.

Observing little children with joy

Little children are little people. They will grow up to be big people. In transit (as teenagers), some will become ‘know-alls’, based (presumably) on their belief they had suddenly acquired many rights and great understanding of the human condition. Some of those who attend university will claim to have solutions to everything they see wrong in society. Why not indeed?

Little children will progress (as they grow older) from asking “What’s that?” to “How does it work?” to “Why is it so?” They can’t help their enquiring minds. Some will proceed through adulthood enquiring, wondering, speculating; even prognosticating.

The adult-to-be can often be visible as the child progresses from being an observing baby (aren’t they all!) to an enquiring child.. Each such child is, of course, a complex product of Nature (essentially their genetic inheritance) and nurture (their experiences as they grow up). But, what of any memory (much of it concealed, but not completely buried) of a past life? (Professional sceptics may deny anything they do not like, but reality will prevail.) I have intimations of a past life which resonates (possibly) in my soul.

One uniformly-displayed attribute of little children intrigues me. Each child will point with a forefinger at whatever is interesting. Is this an inherited shared characteristic?
Yet, there is so much variability in their presentation of the ubiquitous startle reflex. Some will freeze; others will cry. Is this a variation of the fight-or-flee instinct? This instinct is shared with animals. Fighting or fleeing is not a realistic option for little children when a threat (real or imagined) is experienced. To freeze (to be still and quiet) seems to be the preferred option by both young and old, and both humans and animals. Crying may reflect a hopeless fear.

It has been said that anxiety is the prevailing emotional condition of all motile forms of life; and that such a state reflects the uncertainly of much of existence. Little children do display uncertainty when they expect, or are exposed to, change in their circumstances. They may subconsciously remember the terrible shock of being born.

What interests me is the variability in personality observed in little children. Of course, if often isolated, or lacking in displayed love, or brought up institutionalised (eg. long child-care hours, up to 8 hours per day each day, between age 3 and 5), any child can withdraw emotionally, or become subliminally angry. I write from personal observation here; research evidence confirms.

However, in normal circumstances, there seems to be an innate basal layer of a personality in each child. Seeking to explain an inborn proclivity would be fraught with difficulty. That is because I believe that past-life experiences are cumulative. I do know that a relaxed, co-operative child can house a concealed fighter who, in the Australian lexicon, ‘takes no shit’ from anyone. Another child in the same family can be recalcitrant or even infallible in presentation, while otherwise acculturated. Another member of that family may sail through life, cheerfully indifferent to others. Again, I write from close observation.

By and large, little children are a delight; especially if supported by a loving family. Those I see with their mothers are the most out-going, responding with a smile, or even a wide grin, to anyone who shows a clear interest in them. I have tested that response over many years, benefiting from the reciprocation of a personal interest.

The most interesting people in life are the little people.

Observing babies with joy

Every baby, at birth, is a miracle. Fully formed, ready to go – but not quite! Baby birds sit in their nests and squawk – perhaps only when they sight mum returning with food. These nesters will eventually fly away from their perch. Ground-hugging baby birds, like the plover, will practice flapping their flight-wings while standing on the ground. I once watched with interest a young plover falling onto its back repeatedly while flapping its wings. Eventually, it flew.

Baby animals, immediately after birth, get on to their feet with some effort. When they get their joints in synchrony, they move around, but close to mum. I once saw (on tv) a baby elephant walk over confidently to observe more closely a few birds fossicking on the ground. Soon, however, its mama wandered over and gathered her baby back.

What is fascinating to observe is a young animal make friends with a young one of another species. There are so many such examples. A giraffe and a sheep do, however, seem a strange friendship. I once saw (on tv) 3 different young animals moving together as companions. I also saw (on the internet) 3 cheetahs approached by a tiny baby deer while they were resting. It then nuzzled up to one of the big cats. Eventually, the cheetahs got up and walked away!

I have always felt, perhaps quite unfairly, that animals are better ‘people’ than human beings. Surely, it is only hunger which leads carnivores to attack other animals. Since hunger may be the prevailing condition, carnivores may create an incorrect impression as perennial hunters. Apart from some power-seeking or mischief-making, is co-operation not the modus operandi for the rest of the animal kingdom?

Human babies seem to be the only exception in the kingdom of fauna as needing a lot of time to become motile. They do remain on their backs for a long time. What are they thinking as they observe all? When placed on their bellies, after a few weeks they will lift their head to check out their surroundings. This seems to be the first action intimating purpose.

A little later, when lying on their backs, they will suddenly sit up straight but without any use of their limbs. We adults can’t do that, unless we have developed our core abdominal muscles through exercise. How do babies suddenly display muscle strength?

When my baby daughter was only a few weeks old, I sat her up with cushions on 3 sides, next to a window, in order to take photos of her. She was calm while listening to me. Then, in walked my wife, whose voice and words conveyed so much love. The baby became very excited, and tried to move towards her mother, with such joy on her face.

It was an incredible experience – especially for a product of a ‘stiff upper lip’ Asian culture. In that culture, after a babyhood of being cuddled and spoilt, there was thereafter neither words nor touch to demonstrate the close family bond. The compensation is that the extended family is always there, and could be relied upon.

Through that early bonding, each of our babies grew up into adulthood with confidence; so I believe.

Tolerance of failure

‘Tolerance of failure’ behind declining results

Following my previous posts on matters educational, especially in a competitive global milieu, here are extracts from an article which brings out the issues. The contents of this article are consistent with previous news reports on Australia’s ranking on a global scale.

These who make counter-arguments claiming that Australian students are better ‘rounded’ than their counterparts overseas or their Asian-Australian cohorts, because the typical Aussie is more involved in sport, appear incredible. Equally questionable are claims in the local media that regular tests and exams are stressful. Could normal life be expected to be stress-free?

The article is by Pallavi Singhal in the Sydney Morning Herald of 29 Sept. 2017.

“The co-ordinator of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has linked Australia’s steady decline in all three test areas of maths, reading and science to the country’s “tolerance of failure” in schools.

Andreas Schleicher, head of the OECD’s education directorate, said “It is perhaps too easy to do well in Australia” and that the country tends to accept that “some students will come out less well.”

“We asked students what makes you successful in maths, and many students in Australia said that it’s about talent, but if you asked students in China or Singapore the same question, you had the vast majority saying, ‘I can be succeed if I try very hard and my teachers support me’,” Mr. Schleicher said.

“In other countries, there is a belief that the education system is just not sorting them but that it can make a difference. There would be a much greater tendency for teachers to redouble their efforts for students who are struggling.”

The latest PISA results from last year showed that Australian 15-year olds are declining in both absolute terms and relative to their international peers. … …

“Australia used to be very good at the high end of the skill level but there’s been a gradual slide over the last 15 years,” said Mr. Schleicher. He said that the countries performing best “pay more attention to how they develop and retain the best teachers”. … …

“Australia needs to make teaching intellectually more attractive and provide better support and opportunities for the profession. … … “

Comment (based on nearly 70 years’ residence in Australia as an adult): The ‘near enough is good enough’ attitude held by many in the formerly closed and protective Australia is no more. Multiculturalism and globalisation require better planning and performance for survival.

 

Periodic tests or continuous tracking?

“Focusing solely on academic achievement as measured by final results reveals little about how much a student has actually learnt during the year. Tracking academic progress, on the other hand, paints a much clearer picture.” Peter Goss and Jordana Hunter (Sydney Morning Herald)

“Academic achievement is influenced by many factors, including prior achievement and socio-economic background. By contrast, academic progress, while not perfect, provides a better indication of how much students have actually learnt.”

“Our focus should be on the academic progress we want students to make, rather than the final mark.”

“Great teachers use high-quality student assessments to identify where each student is starting from. They teach based on what students are ready to learn next. They monitor progress over time and adjust their teaching strategies along the way. This approach needs to become systematic, including being embedded in teacher training courses.

Growing numbers of schools analyse student progress over time to identify and fix problems individual teachers might miss. A few schools are increasingly clear-eyed about their challenge and target two years of learning in one. They know exactly where each student is at, and track progress relentlessly to stay on target.”

“Tracking academic progress is vital. It tells teachers and schools when their approach is working. Recognising and celebrating great progress helps sustain motivation.”

(These are extracts from the SMH article.)

Comment: Successful continuous tracking should remove the fear of tests. To avoid misleading our youth about their viability in a globalised community, teachers would surely want to ensure that school leavers have achieved the requisite level of competencies. Hence the need for nationwide tests.

Why is periodic testing in schools being decried? Obviously, students, teachers, and policy makers in the education system would have a spotlight shone on them. Effective effort should be a basal requirement for all participants in the education process.

Thus, a casual assessment of entrants to a kinder class would identify the approach to be taken. Those who complain loudly about this may need to be asked “Is kinder a parent-free playground?”

Those who complain about the periodic testing of competence at various points during school will want to ensure that continuous tracking occurs in their school, and that the competence levels to be achieved each year have been met.