We humans need to be more than ‘clever apes’

Credit:Illustration: Andrew Dyson

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We humans need to be more than ‘clever apes’

As a retired teacher, I well remember my sadness and disappointment when many of my brightest and best literature students decided not to choose the subject in their final year. That they preferred the safer option of mainstream English was not their fault. The system encouraged them to see VCE not so much as an education but as a means to an end. Their year 12 mark is, after all, a pathway to a prestigious university course, potentially followed by a lucrative career.

Like Dr Emily Frawley – ‘‘Year 12s leaving literature on shelf’’’ (The Age, 23/11) – I learnt a great deal from my students, whose insights into great literature often led to stimulating discussion and independent, high-end thinking, not always accurately assessed in a two-hour exam. I enjoyed my year 12 English classes too, but that subject does lend itself to coaching so that students often enter the exam room with highly polished answers in their armoury, not necessarily proof of their ability to think for themselves.

Moreover, like philosophy, great literature contains much of the wisdom of our civilisation, often in the comparatively accessible form of stories, poetry and plays. In the Greek myth, Prometheus was punished by the gods for stealing fire from Olympus and giving it to humans. The gods feared that such technology would be dangerous in the hands of clever apes, lacking in moral judgment.
If we as a human race are to meet the challenge of handling increasingly dangerous technology, if we are to be more than clever apes, we need the humanities. If Australia is going to be an intelligent country, rather than merely a clever or a lucky one, we need independent, critical and creative thinkers who cut their teeth on some of the big questions asked in great literature.
Janet Strachan, Docklands

Appreciating literature, but with a sense of fun

I was bemused by comments from the former chief assessor of VCE literature, Terry Hayes (Letters, 24/11), who so effortlessly discovered flaws in the latest literature study design. He says he has ‘‘watched a highly motivated student, who enjoys reading and talking about literary texts, become anxious and stressed while dealing with the new demands of accessing and understanding huge dollops of literary theory better suited to study by first year English students’’.

My experience is that literary theory is designed to guide students towards other viewpoints in order to assist with shaping their own positions. I teach literature in an all-boys, private school in the south-eastern suburbs, and make certain any class comes with an appreciation of literature’s purposes as well as an emphasis on fun. This year we bucked the trend again with a year 12 class of 26 students.

World-wide, inquests abound over the decline in both English and literature, with maths, physics, economics and subjects that will assist with money-making numbering among the suspects. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has already reacted by slashing fees for in-demand courses at the expense of the humanities.
Ian McKail, Cheltenham

A course better suited to university students

Terry Hayes is right in his criticisms of the study design for VCE literature. As much as the course designers might dispute it, the emphasis they have placed on critical theories leads most students to try to master abstruse, often desiccated, perspectives on texts before they have even developed their own interpretations. This is the opposite of what senior school literary study should be about, namely the close engagement of the students with vibrant texts.

Unfortunately this is a symptom of the course designers’ delusions of grandeur. Instead of tailoring a course for senior secondary students, they seem to think they are dealing with honours candidates at university who already have an extensive experience of literary texts. Is there any wonder our year 12 kids are voting with their feet?
Mike Smith, Croydon


Going back to the future

Victoria used to have a dual secondary education system – ie, high and technical schools. The latter provided a high quality choice to those whose talents and interests were in trades and technical vocations and it equipped them to undertake apprenticeships or progress to institutes of technology. For some inexplicable reason, the 1980s Labor government abolished technical schools and condemned all students to a text book-based education. A generation of young people received an inappropriate education.

The introduction of the VCAL (Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning) was an admission that a single type of secondary education had been a failure. It has provided an appropriate choice for those who choose a technical education and training. Now, as part of the budget, it is to be abolished and merged with the VCE (The Age, 24/11). When will they ever learn?
Ian Bennett, Jan Juc

Towards a fairer system

The Victorian government should be commended for its pilot scheme to provide sick and carers’ leave for casual workers (The Age, 24/11). However, the plight of insecure workers is a national problem. Casualisation is increasingly common, and disproportionately hits younger people and those without education or qualifications. While some people may believe that it is cheaper for the employer, the pandemic has shown that is is exceptionally expensive for the taxpayer.

A national solution is needed and that can only happen through changes to our industrial laws that outlaw casual and insecure work except in the most specific and constrained circumstances. The federal government should also look at measures to increase union membership. Mooted changes to IR laws thus far will only exacerbate a system that gives more power and profit to employers and weakens workers’ rights and entitlements. We need a fair and level playing field that will restore the balance between employers and employees.
Robyn Edwards, Chelsea

A masterful solution

I do like Tim Pallas’ scheme to borrow $260 million for a ‘‘jobs mentoring’’ program for the unemployed (The Age, 25/11). It has the potential to operate in perpetuity. For, as the mentored unemployed find work, their mentors will become unemployed. Then more mentors can be recruited into the government’s Jobs Victoria agency to help the now unemployed, former mentors. A cure for all your troubles.
Peter Fenwick, East Melbourne

Cost of petrol and diesel

My husband and I both own an electric car and can see the value in the Victorian government introducing a tax for the maintenance and building of roads. Most people we know who own electric vehicles charge them from solar panels or green energy.

Now for a more level playing field. Internal combustion engines contribute 18per cent to our carbon footprint, which in turn increases the rapidity and adverse effects of climate change. This will increase bushfire heat, longevity and range. It will cause worse droughts and more devastating flooding. These costs could be calculated and a mere 18per cent of the costs could, and should, be added to petrol and diesel sales.
Meg Reeves, Wangaratta

EVs and coal and gas

Do those who believe that electric vehicles deserve concessions for environmental reasons realise that most of the energy used and dissipated by them comes from coal and will continue to do so for many years? Or that producing the minerals used to make their batteries and motors causes vast environmental degradation?

Or that increased numbers of EVs will inevitably increase the demand for grid-based power to charge them which will eventually make more thermal power stations necessary? EVs are mostly powered by fossil fuel. It just happens to be coal (or gas) rather than petrol, and generation is comfortably out of sight for the user.
Morris Odell, Toorak

Just a confused mess

Many people appear confused about road usage charges. Fuel excise is a federal tax. It is just one of many taxes that form consolidated revenue. Fuel excise is not spent on roads.

The proposed electric vehicle tax is a state tax. My car has 50per cent less fuel excise charge than the proposed EV charge. Major roads are federally funded, while minor roads are state funded. The proposed EV charge is distance based, but what if most of my travel is in another state? It is reasonable to expect that EVs experience a cost for roads, but the proposal is a confused mess – just as road funding is a confused mess.
Chris Thompson, Mont Albert North

Urgent SOS from the PM?

Was the Prime Minister calling for help? His mask, bearing the national flag, was upside down, a recognised sign of distress. National flags should not be used for such a signal. Indeed, they should not be used for face masks at all. Please Scott Morrison, wear a plain mask.
Carol Andrews, Fitzroy North

Stop messing with super

I refer to Shane Wright’s useful analysis about ‘‘retirees not spending’’ (The Age, 21/11). Sadly, he does not mention a key driver of retirees being cautious about spending their superannuations’ hard-won balances. It is the uncertainty of government policy.

Since Paul Keating put the current regime in place, successive governments have not been able to avoid ‘‘tweaks’’ of the system, thereby creating uncertainty for retirement investors. Malcolm Turnbull was the latest bad example of this. Either leave the policy alone and allow people to invest with certainty or give them fair warning – say, five years – before changes are made.
Geoff Harry, Brighton

High cost of ‘convenience’

Five delivery riders have died in three months (Comment, 25/11) and their employers bear no responsibility because they are classed as independent contractors. Many vulnerable migrants are forced to work as delivery drivers because they have been excluded from federal government support during the pandemic. They are paid on average $10.42 an hour after costs by overseas platforms.

I am sure there would be a clarion cry from the public if it were our young people dying on the roads at the same rate. These young men have families who are mourning their loss. In some instances, their deaths represent a total loss of income for their families. The federal government must ensure there is legislation that protects these workers. And consumers must question the fact that overseas platforms are taking 30per cent of the profit from our local restaurants for a meal, with the potential of costing someone their life to deliver it.
Caitriona Prendergast, Black Rock

Lessons in road etiquette

Yes, this is a terrible loss of life. However, there needs to be better training for delivery riders as well as legislative changes. In the CBD, often they cycle through red lights, across pedestrians crossings and on pavements, do not use lights at night and do not look behind them when they are pulling out. They need to be taught road rules and etiquette. This could be done by their employers or by way of a government subsidy. But it could well save lives. I cycle every day in the city, although not in the past few months, so have seen this behaviour first hand.
Colin Hood, Carlton North

Commuters, mask up…

Taking the step back to public transport is a big one now. Commuters need to feel okay about riding together. Metro Trains and the Victorian government can help by making SMS the only permitted phone option on trains. Who has taken off their mask and is getting bad vibes from everyone in the carriage? The guy making a 20-minute call. This is stressful for other commuters.
Annie Bolitho, Preston

…and visitors, tidy up

Melburnians, thank you for leaving all that rubbish on the beaches and other parts of Torquay over the weekend. It gave the local residents something to do for a few hours in cleaning up the mess. That is something we did not miss during the lockdown.
Cheryl Westlau, Torquay

Be good, little Victorians

Re the opening of the Queensland border: Does anyone else feel like a child in school who has been sent to the naughty corner, patted on the head and told that if you behave yourself, you can come out on Monday?
Margaret Haggett, Cheltenham

Let him pay his own way

I am outraged. Mathias Cormann leaves Parliament on a generous pension but seeks a job in Europe paying about $377,000, tax-free, and the Australian taxpayer picks up the tab for flying him to and around Europe in an RAAF jet for a couple of weeks. It is this sort of ‘‘snout in the trough’’ behaviour that destroys any trust or confidence that one might have in the current government.
John Thompson, Seymour

Finger in many pies

Nero may well have preferred golf, Mike Preeston (Letters, 24/11). But it seems clear that Donald Trump is no stranger to the fiddle.
Rob Warren, Ivanhoe

Face reality of defeat

With the third count of votes taking place in Georgia, Donald Trump should give some thought to the expression: ‘‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’’
Keith Lawson, Melbourne

Only minority support

Amid the almost universal rejoicing over the fall of the Chaplinesque, Washington, would-be dictator, one important detail seems to have escaped the attention of most. Since only about two-thirds of eligible voters cast their ballots, it could be truthfully stated that neither candidate obtained a clear majority, and that both the winner and the loser represent a minority of the total electorate. A sobering thought.
Dino Bressan, Ivanhoe


Credit:Ilustration: Matt Golding


‘‘Agent Orange’’ has been fired for the last time. Now we await the first signs the world will be a better place.
John Hennessy, Glen Iris

How ironic that a goose has pardoned a turkey.
Frank Stipic, Mentone

Will the turkey in chief pardon himself?
Tony Kane, Maldon


000 – Licensed to Spend, supported by Mask On, Mask Off.
Michael Cowan, Wheelers Hill

The spending will not be paid for by manna from heaven but, ultimately, by every Victorian.
Bill Holmes, Kew

Why the fuss? The government is just spending in one go what it, and previous ones, should have spent over the past 10 years.
Alan Duncan, Frankston South

Michael O’Brien, the last time the Liberals had a mega project was when Kennett closed 350 schools.
John Johnson, Richmond

It would be fairer to put a tax on the sale of new ‘‘other vehicles’’ to encourage the use of electric cars.
Ann Shephard, North Fitzroy


The only real plan the government has for compulsory super is to scrap it.
Annie Wilson, Inverloch

Maybe the RAAF flight is the only one you can light up a cigar on.
Philip West, Jan Juc

Can I get a free myki to go to job interviews? If l get a job, l promise not to accept a Commonwealth pension.
James Lane, Hampton East

Thank you, Ita Buttrose, for defending our ABC. I only hope ScoMo takes note.
Lisa Bishop, Macleod

Welcome back, Paul Keating, de facto opposition leader.
Dick Davies, North Warrandyte

Re the alleged war crimes. Linda Reynolds says there’s been a ‘‘failure of leadership at multiple levels’’. Surely that includes a series of prime ministers.
Ian Cooper, California Gully

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