The ‘motherhood penalty’

Wonder of wonders! A mere male (Matt Wade) wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald of 11 Feb. 2018 about the gender inequality of earnings of the majority of women “who are faced with the lion’s share of childcare responsibilities” (National Bureau of Economic Research). However, the Bureau also stated “Even with ‘perfectly equal pay for equal work’ there would still be large gender inequality in earnings as equal work is not an option for the majority of women …”

Wade also wrote ‘Another reason the motherhood penalty is so entrenched is the enduring potency of the “male bread winner” model, where fathers are the primary breadwinners and mothers the secondary earners or full-time carers. That pattern has been surprisingly resilient.’ He quotes an academic thus. “We are becoming more traditional in our views around childcare and the role of mothers … Australians are still quite conservative in those kinds of views.”

Surprise! Surprise! Unless focused on her career, or in need of more money, would not a mother want/need to be in touch with the baby she produced (almost all by herself)? Would not her baby want/need to be in touch with her as much as possible, as Nature has deemed? Until a child enters childcare facilities at (say) 4 years of age, would not the child want to be near mum (possibly accompanied by then by a sibling or two)?

f motherhood imposes a penalty, why bother to produce a child? No one else (apart from the partner) is involved in such a decision; certainly not the taxpayer.

What seems to have been deficient in writings about parenting, motherhood, and relative responsibilities in the care of children – over many years in Australia – is concern about the psychological needs of babies and children with (full-time) working mothers, and in split or blended families. If there has been objective writing on the needs of little children, why are they not flagged in the media?

Talk of the ‘penalty’ of motherhood is fatuous. Or, is this the new feminism, even as espoused by a mere male?


The El Dorado of welfare

When the Soviet regime allowed some of its Jewish citizens to join close relatives in Israel, 85% of those allowed to leave were (according to Israel’s Prime Minister in the early 1980s) deflected to the El Dorado of the USA (and to less-attractive nations such as Australia). This is the power of economic opportunity.

In recent decades, beardless Middle Eastern men and niqab-free women paid large sums of money to ‘snake-heads’ to deliver them to the (no reciprocity of payment required) welfare regime of the El Dorado of Australia.

The extent of support for welfare (and attempts to widen its scope in Australia) is most impressive. While ‘other people’s money’ is a natural drawcard, what motivates those who recommend (even demand) widening and deepening welfare eligibility for others? Paying students to study maths at school is the latest thought-bubble of a poobah in education policy.

And, until recently, there was a strident demand from a sector of the community that Australia should take in more economic migrants claiming asylum – without regard to the UN Convention defining a refugee. Is it not curious that their wish to offer charity is circumscribed by the availability of taxpayer money?

A concealed form of welfare takes the form of tax subsidies to the well-off. The most interesting one is described as ‘wealth creation’ by Conservative politicians. The most flagrant form is through ‘negative gearing’ of investments in property. Costs – actual or staged – are deductible against income from any source; a most generous unintended gift by other taxpayers, who have to make up the deficit in government revenue, and who are unable to reduce their tax burden honestly.

Interestingly, an article by Jessica Irvine in the Sydney Morning Herald of 9 Feb. 2018, about a report by the Grattan Institute on Australia’s compulsory contribution by workers, suggests increasing rent assistance to vulnerable retirees.

What was the objective in establishing the ‘superannuation guarantee charge’? Was it not intended to progressively replace the age pension, which is now popularly regarded as a right, and which is a very heavy budgetary burden?

Aftercare for children

Is this what child bearing and caring is about? ‘Aftercare’ is also such an innocuous word. After-what care? After-school, of course. Children in aftercare would presumably spend all day in an institutionalised environment. Why? Because mothers are at work. Strangely, the government seems to want mothers to go to work. Why? Isn’t mothering the most valuable job in society?

How does a child feel about being educated and minded hour after hour outside the home? A 3-week old baby brought to childcare in a basket may not – never – know the difference between growing up in the care of the mother and growing up in an institutionalised setting. Children growing up in the comfort-surround of their mothers will know, both experientially and subconsciously, the difference between a mother’s hug and other equally-caring hugs.

When I was responsible for federal government policy in migrant hostels – there were 13 such hostels then – I noticed that motherly childcare workers, with no university degrees, provided both care and mothering to such a high level that little children from Chile, Poland, and Vietnam were attempting to talk to one another while in the childcare room.
Absolutely fantastic! I used to point out that these children, guided and loved by our childcare workers, represented the future of a multi-ethnic Australia. These children did not, however, spend all day in childcare.

In the recent past, much has been written in the media about the rights of women, and an acceptance of marriage break-up as reflecting the needs and rights of adults. There does not seem to be much emphasis on the psychological needs of children in split families.

I note that Francis Fukuyama had written in depth about the societal deterioration in the USA associated with marriage collapse of considerable magnitude.

Who is responsible for the future of society, when the family is not valued for its contribution to stability in the community, and the psychological needs of children, especially the very young ones, are seemingly ignored?

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?


Are all cultures reflective of a religion?

The brutal slicing out of the clitoris – we know what it is, where it is, and what it can do – of girls and young women has been claimed to reflect a cultural tradition. Was this practice derived from a major accepted religion?

The marrying off of a daughter as soon as she reaches puberty, reportedly to a much older man, has been claimed to reflect another cultural tradition. Which religion recommends or endorses this practice involving child-brides?

In another culture, a woman’s feet are bound, thus keeping them small and not particularly reliable for walking. (I have seen such women travelling by rickshaw in British Malaya.) Which religion endorses this cultural practice?

In an old culture, a widow is reportedly induced to throw herself onto her husband’s funeral pyre by her relatives. Which religion’s doctrine requires this practice?

In Australia, I have seen a figure walk down a street covered from head to feet in what I think of as a walking tent. The gender of the occupant of the ‘tent’ was not clearly discernible. I have read in our media that some such persons have sought the right to drive a car along extremely busy streets, in spite of the probability that lateral vision may be compromised by the face covering. Which religion requires this practice of covering the whole body?

A focus by a religious sect on the ‘netherlands’ of women has resulted, in a secular nation, in a doctrine banning contraception and abortion. Is this cultural stance reflected in the doctrines of other sects of this religion?

In another nation, one’s caste (defined by one’s occupation) allegedly over-rides class. This means that, while one may be able to rise up the class structure, all the descendants of any one caste are traditionally required to be defined and treated as members of that caste. Is this cultural tradition supported by any version of Hinduism?

A culture defines the way things are done, by how they live, by members of a community. These ways do change, just as the underpinning values change through the generations. Immigrants know how cultures evolve in the nations they left behind, even as they seek to retain the cultures they brought with them.

The leaders of an ethno-cultural community may claim the primacy of their cultural practices in a multicultural nation, by seeking the legitimacy hopefully available within their religion. Regrettably, religion’s foundation (or core) beliefs may not sanctify all the diverse cultural practices of its followers.

What society is then left with are not only competitive religious sects and religions, but also ego-related competitive cultural practices. How then about adopting this principle – horses for courses?

This would mean that, in suburban Australia, where there is no risk of a storm involving a horizontal wall of sand many feet high cutting its way through (I have experienced such a storm well away from human settlements), there is really no need to cover one’s hair, face and body as if one is living in a desert.

We do not need child-brides, and such other ‘traditional’ cultures transplanted into this emerging cosmopolitan polity. In time we will rid ourselves of religious edicts imposed by historical controllers of humanity.

Revised cultural traditions will also enable a swifter tribo-cultural integration into (urban) Australia.

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.


Delaying learning through fads in education

Teaching a young child (say, 3 to 5 years old) or adults learning a new language has been successful through the phonics method. I learned my mother tongue, Tamil, as a 4-year old, and English as my second language from age 7 in British Malaya, through phonics. As an adult, I taught Indian shopkeepers in Singapore necessary English through phonics. Before that, I taught Chinese high school students basic English through phonics.

hen the pronunciation varied from the norm, all of us accepted the variations through memory. Yes, bough/ bought/rough/cough, row/row, and similar temporarily confusing sounds were memorised as idiosyncrasies in a slightly confusing foreign language. That the letter ‘a’ has a variety of sounds was no problem to me or to those I taught.

My wife and I taught our 3-year olds to read without difficulty in distinguishing between ‘sight’ words and ‘memory’ words. There are not that many ‘memory’ words in the English language of common usage. One can learn these without recourse to semantically unclear and confusing jargon phrases. I once read a short paper by a professor in education whose phrases were so abstract that a barrage of anvils was needed to be attached to them to obtain any operational meaning.

Then, when I found that my granddaughter could not read, even near the end of her second year at school (Year 1), I admit to having been disgusted. She had been taught by the whole-of-word method for 2 years, and could not work out the word ‘kingfisher’. I put her on the right track to reading, learning and enjoying books in two 20-minute sessions. How could a school hold back any child because of a sacred fad?

This bright child had been held back by a fad – which had been inflicted on little children for about 25 years, with the teachers bound by the edicts of their trade union, academics in education, and a certain arrogance by some teachers, when the right of teachers to decide how our children are taught had never, to my knowledge, been challenged. This arrogance did lead to a claim by some teachers that they should be free to decide what is taught. What arrogance! How would they know about the nature and needs of the society into which our children grow; and how our youth are enabled to fit into this future society?

We live in a global and competitive environment. Our children need to be as educated and as prepared for the real world as will be children from other nations, and who will be fluent in English. I do not detect that emphasis on excellence which is required to equip our youth for the real world, although a few educators and some politicians do their best.