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Island 28 - Isle of the Lotus-Eater Infestation (from Muse of the Long-Haul)

Island 28 - Isle of the Lotus-Eater Infestation (from Muse of the Long-Haul)

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Published by Ian Irvine (Hobson)
This sample chapter from Muse of the Long-Haul: Thirty-One Isles of the Creative Imagination by Ian Irvine (Hobson) addresses the colonization of higher education by contemporary Social Darwinist principles by looking at the beliefs of a key player in the founding of the Australian Federation in the early 20th century. The sample also addresses the myth of the Lotus-Eaters from The Odyssey as well as a section of the Irish tale The Voyage of Muldoon (Imram Mael Duin). The role of creative arts education in communities and societies is being explored and the author concludes that neo-Liberal and over-Bureaucratized ('compliance cultures') educational models are destructive to the experiences of students and teachers, and ultimately help erode the cultural infrastructure of a society.
This sample chapter from Muse of the Long-Haul: Thirty-One Isles of the Creative Imagination by Ian Irvine (Hobson) addresses the colonization of higher education by contemporary Social Darwinist principles by looking at the beliefs of a key player in the founding of the Australian Federation in the early 20th century. The sample also addresses the myth of the Lotus-Eaters from The Odyssey as well as a section of the Irish tale The Voyage of Muldoon (Imram Mael Duin). The role of creative arts education in communities and societies is being explored and the author concludes that neo-Liberal and over-Bureaucratized ('compliance cultures') educational models are destructive to the experiences of students and teachers, and ultimately help erode the cultural infrastructure of a society.

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Published by: Ian Irvine (Hobson) on Jun 12, 2013
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10/30/2013

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Island Twenty-Eight: Isleof the Lotus-EaterInfestation
(Extract from:
 
Muse of the Long Haul Thirty-One Isles of the Creative Imagination 
)
Copyright
, Dr Ian Irvine, 2013 all rights reserved. All short extracts from the texts discussed are
acknowledged and used under fair usage related to ‘review’ and theoretical ‘critique’
contained ininternational copyright law.
 
Cover image
:
‘Odysseus Saving his Men from the Lotus Eaters’, 18
th
century engraving, artist unknown.This image is in the public domain. Image 2, 3, 4 & 5
: ‘
Bendigo TAFE
(Historic building - site of the OldSchool of Mines),
‘Alfred Deakin’
,
The Shamrock Hotel
and the
5c Alfred Deakin
(stamp) are in the public domain.
Publisher
: Mercurius Press, Australia, 2013. NB: This piece is published at Scribd as part of a series drawnfrom the soon to be print published non-fiction book on experiential poetics entitled:
 Muse of the Long Haul:Thirty-One Isles of the Creative Imagination.
 
 
Island Twenty-Eight
 – 
The Isle of Neo-Liberal Literature
In the middle of March 1898 Bendigo’s famous Shamrock Hotel hosted an important congress
 by the Australian Natives Association (ANA). Delegates came from far and wide to debate theissue of Federation
 – 
that is the unification of the Australian col
onies into one ‘nation’
withenhanced independence from Great Britain.The crucial turning point in the Victorian campaign for Federation
 — 
and consequently for the entire continent wide campaign
 — 
came on the evening of the 15
th
of March. Toucher, theVictorian president, addressed the congregation early in the evening, firing up those assembledwith visions of a new nation. As the night wore on and the delegates became drunk on alcoholand patriotic zeal, a historic declaration began to take form regarding the political future of thecontinent.
1
The former mayor of Bendigo, T.J. Connelly, an ardent Federalist in his day, waswarmly remembered. Likewise, one
of Bendigo’s celebrated poets, William Gay, who had died
three months earlier.Late in the evening, with the lavish Second Empire architecture of the Shamrock framing proceedings, one of the giants of 19
th
century Victorian politics
 — 
and as it turned out post-federation Australian politics
 — 
took to the podium.His remarkable speech, rousing and articulate, has been heralded by historians as adefining moment in the founding of Australia.
For the past twelve or so years I’ve worked 300 meters
or so down the road from the Shamrock Hotel at theBendigo TAFE
 — 
a major birth site of public tertiaryeducation in Central Victoria. Bendigo people areunderstandably proud of their public higher educationalinstitutions (i.e. Bendigo TAFE and La Trobe University(Bendigo)) since in one form or another they have provided opportunity for regional Victorians for wellover a century. They have also been profound bulwarksagainst regional disadvantage.Late in 2010, as the early State election resultsshowed support eroding
for John Brumby’s Labor 
government, I found myself in the weirdest of places. For the first time in my life I was activelyhoping for the defeat of a sitting local Labor member. That member was Jacinta Allen, former minister responsible for VET education and a rising star in the party (touted even now as a futureleader). Premier Brumby, ironically also a former Bendigo federal member for Labor, had poured what looked like hundreds of thousands of dollars into glossy, full page ads in localnewspapers as well as expensive television ads in order 
to shore up Allen’s support in the
increasingly marginal seat of Bendigo East. It represented, as it turned out, a squandering of scarce financial resources that could have been better spent in the outer suburbs of Melbourne.As news came through over the next day or two that the Brumby government had beendefeated I remember having mixed feelings about the fact that Allen had somehow survived inBendigo East.In speaking with friends as well as local progressives involved in the higher education
1
 
See Frank Cusack’s
description, pp 201-204 in
 Bendigo: A History
.
 
sector we all felt the same sense of puzzlement concerning how Allen as the Minister of Vocational Education and Training (VET) prior to 2010, had come to engineer education policiesspecifically designed to disempower large numbers of mature adults seeking retraining. In theheady days after the defeat of the arrogant and profoundly authoritarian Kennett Liberalgovernment in the early 2000s I remember celebrating her election as the local member. After allshe seemed eminently progressive and had
studied politics, sociology and women’s studies
(among other social science subjects) at La Trobe University (Bendigo) in the mid-1990s. Howdid a young person full of passion and progressive ideals sell out so thoroughly to the freemarket neoliberal ideology that has worked consistently to entrench class divisions in nations allaround the world?Fees for some students went up twenty fold in one year as government support for studyin many TAFE level courses was withdrawn. On the ground, teachers, coordinators and adminstaff had to break the bad news to often vulnerable people desperate for retraining (also for opportunity). These people
 — 
many with aging, useless qualifications or qualifications irrelevantto their vocational future
 — 
were forced to: a) take on large debts (or pay large
‘up
-
front’
fees); or  b) seek out profit maximising private providers, many with a history of cutting corners tomaximise shareholder profits; or c) forsake retraining altogether due to cost or lack of realopportunity
. Token ‘eligibility exemptions’
did little to soften the overall consequences for vulnerable minorities of this new approach to VET education.The general privatisation agenda (taken even further by the newly elected State Liberalgovernment) was used by managers in both TAFES and private providers to slash face to faceteaching hours (even as fees for many students climbed
to American ‘free market’ levels) and cut
 back on a range of student support services. At the same time
‘compliance’ burdens on
theincreasingly casualised teaching workforce increased markedly. From the perspective of 
‘creative arts’
education such trends amounted to a
deliberate process of ‘creativityextermination’, since
it is well known internationally that arts education does not thrive wheneconomic considerations are primary. So it has proved to be for the creative arts and Humanitiesin Central Victoria, with many young people now leaving the region to pursue these courseselsewhere.Many of my fellow teachers have lost their jobs over the past couple of years (and notonly in creative arts courses) and for me personally being a teacher and coordinator has been a profoundly stressful experience. We are increasingly expected to put money making, cost cuttingand compliance above knowledge transmission to students in need of opportunity. For me the biggest symbol of the world-view of the new approach to public education occurred when
Bendigo TAFE got rid of its ‘bookshop’ in 2012.
A major educational institution without a bookshop, think about that.Victoria under the Brumby and Baillieu/Napthine governments has become anexperiment in systematised ignorance.Early one morning in mid-January 2011
 — 
in the middle of a difficult enrolment period due tolarge student fee increases
 — 
I woke puzzled after a strange dream. I discussed the dream withSue and then quickly scrawled a summary in my diary:Dream 19
th
JanuarySue, Caleb [my seven year old son] and I enter a garage-rumpus room connected to

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