Letters to Eureka Street

Too young to love

As a teacher and parent, while I appreciate the willingness of Frs Gleeson and Hamilton (Eureka Street, March 2004) to address thorny issues in Australian education, I suggest respectfully that the views of both writers are a little Panglossian.

The recent ‘SHine SA’ (sic) sex education program, (anything but lustrous!), introduced for ‘trial’ in some state schools, is self purportedly ‘values neutral’, an ideological stance proudly espoused by many of its 1970s-bound proponents. This program contains an undiscerned Petronian array of activities and attitudes that assume the very relativism and subjectivism rightly repudiated in Fr Gleeson’s citing of Max Charlesworth and is at odds with his own firm affirmation of objective moral values.

Moreover, Fr Hamilton would know that adolescents, despite appearances  to the contrary, seek—indeed, often demand—the setting of clear, strong limits. As an experienced Indian Jesuit educator often remarked: ‘Even in the Garden of Eden, there was an angel with a flaming sword’, and as Dante recognised: ‘The strongest guard is placed at the gateway to nothing’.

There is a very real parental and pedagogical time and place for a ‘humble language’ of ‘prohibition’. Conversation, of course, should not end there, but a Spockian denial of a role for various, apt forms of nay-saying would deprive ‘ordinary people’, especially parents and teachers, of a necessary means of relating to the young in their care. It would also paint an unhelpfully roseate picture of adolescents, and worse, expect of our young a self-direction and ‘wisdom’ beyond most of them, especially in what might aptly be regarded as a hyper-sexualised and commercialised culture.

John Kelly
Tranmere, SA

Hidden casualties

In ‘Encountering the Homeless’ (Eureka Street, March 2004), your correspondent neatly highlights the service delivery and policy challenges of this difficult area.

The proffered solution, however, to urge government to adopt more innovative policies, is short on content and excludes any personal encounter. It is precisely the nature of homelessness that makes political responses so difficult. Such suggestions are in danger of returning discussion of homelessness to a purely economic forum, to simply equate it with a lack of housing fixable by strategies such as rent assistance.

There are some positive policy approaches such as the formation of Housing Associations enabling capital to be directed into housing for people on low incomes. Such initiatives are a long awaited response to the continuing decline in public housing. Proposals to change Centrelink’s rules for identifying people also have the potential to assist homeless people who often do not carry sufficient identification.

Such measures require the commitment of dedicated people prepared to show some leadership and get on with it. But the increasing presence of young people (46 per cent of homeless people are now under 24) should provoke a deeper critique of the values by which we choose to live. Make no mistake: our society’s emphasis and spending on security and border protection issues, backed by free market ideologies, has more effect on the provision of money to public housing than a hundred letters or articles to any magazine. This is an electorally popular strategy and Mark Latham has yet to offer a significantly different policy with respect to Community Services.

In the meantime the more prepared we  are to listen to the stories of homeless people, as told by them, the more likely we are to reassess our priorities as a community and nation.

David Holdcroft sj
Parkville, VIC

Priorities please

Which is more important—a new history of philosophy in Australia (James Franklin’s) or the reissue of a 22-year-old biography of Archbishop Mannix (Michael Gilchrist’s)? I’d vote for philosophy in this test but obviously the Editor and I disagree on that—she gives her choice about six times as much space as mine. She determines priorities, of course; that’s what editors do. What they should also do is make quality of the writing a criterion for publication, too.

On that basis, I find that Stephen Holt (‘The Irish Legacy’, Eureka Street, May 2004) hardly deserved that generous space, his review being so dispiritingly lightweight. While acknowledging that he is dealing with a ‘revised and expanded edition’, he gives no clue about the extent or significance of that expansion.
Even more puzzling, he makes no mention of the other books on Mannix which have been published, curiously not even mentioning Santamaria’s, though he certainly deals with Santamaria himself, as a friend and confidant of the archbishop.

It is deeply troubling that Holt can urbanely write, ‘Mannix’s countless media “grabs” form his [i.e. Gilchrist’s] principal source’: I doubt that many other historians would be so uncritical, especially after James Griffin has argued that there is a good deal of important material which has, so far, been only poorly exploited. And that raises the greatest—and the most serious—lacuna in Holt’s review. How can anyone consider Mannix without referring to Griffin’s superb entry on him in the Australian Dictionary of Biography (Volume 10)? In his review of that volume in the Bulletin, Edmund Campion characterised it as ‘revisionist history’ and with good reason: it probed, it challenged and it enlightened. Holt, seeming to lack those capacities, should reflect upon their importance, and so should the Editor of Eureka Street.

John Carmody
Roseville, NSW



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