Sunday, 14 January 2018

Comics can boost your brain

Can comic books make you smarter? It seems too good to be true, but as graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang explains, they've come a long, long way. Imagine this: in the early days of comics, a caption would read: "Superman punches Lex Luthor," and it would be accompanied by a drawing of—drumroll!—Superman punching Lex Luthor. Basic, right? "That contributed to this idea that comics were meant for the mentally deficient. If you weren't smart enough to understand those words, then you could at least read the picture," says Luen Yang. Since then, graphic novelists have shaken things up, and the relationship between the words and pictures is more complex, with narrative responsibility going back and forth and occasionally shooting off into ambiguity. So why does Luen Yang think modern comics have a place in every classroom? Because our brains are not computers: "The human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor," as social psychologist Jonathan Haidt wrote. We depend on narratives to help make sense of our world—whether that's algebra, history, or chemistry. Educational comics are turning out to be powerful tools that help kids learn at their own pace. Gene Luen Yang's most recent book is Paths Portals.
From: the Big Think Blog and the Inks Comic Journal on Twitter

Thursday, 11 January 2018


The new Facebook Page for Learning with Literature is now available.

ALSO: My Australian Classics Children's Literature units can be found on the Queensland University AusLit site for FREE
See link below

Tuesday, 9 January 2018


Colin Theile's  KLONTARF and THE SEA CAVES
Below is a link to my new unit

Previously these were 2 separate literature units for these classic Colin Thiele tales but now I've bundled them up and reduced the price to a mere $2.00 (WTF!) This bundle has reading activities, writing ideas and graphic organisers for these two classic Australian children's classics. (The 13th title in my classic Australian children's fiction catalogue) also check out my best selling Storm Boy unit from the same author.(Both books are available to purchase from Amazon, Good Reads and similar sites)

HOORAY 145000 views. (We will launch the new Facebook site this week)

Monday, 8 January 2018

American schools falling apart

Story from Mother Jones

This week, as the “bomb cyclone” ravaged cities along the East Coast, schools across the northeastern and southern United States were forced to shut down due to inclement weather and freezing temperatures. But Baltimore schools remained open during the first half of the week despite broken heating systems that caused some classroom temperatures to dip below 40 degrees. And although schools closed on Thursday and Friday, the debate over who’s responsible for the inadequate heating and water systems in the city’s aging school buildings—and how to fix the underlying problem—rages on.  

The plight of Baltimore students first reached national consciousness on Wednesday, when a video of students discussing the conditions with former NFL linebacker turned elementary school teacher Aaron Maybin went viral. “What’s the day been like for you today?” Maybin asked. “Cold!” the kids, some in jackets and hoodies, shouted together. Parents and teachers shared images of kids bundled in coats and thermostats on social media. 

On Wednesday, after the district closed four schools and dismissed two others early, Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises said in a Facebook video that 60 school buildings—a third of the district—reported problems that included broken boilers and water pipes. The decision to close schools, though, wasn’t made lightly. Santelises noted in the video that in the district, where nearly 87 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced lunch, administrators were forced to try to find a balance between the students’ need for food and safety with an impossibly cold learning environment. 

It didn’t take long for local politicians to start sparring over the issue: On Thursday, when Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford tweeted that if his kids were in Baltimore’s schools, he would be at the superintendent’s office “seeking answers,” former NAACP president Ben Jealous, a Democratic candidate for Maryland governor, shot back, replying that “all Maryland kids” are Rutherford’s kids. “Will we see you at the Superintendent’s office seeking answers for your kids?” he tweeted. Jealous wrote later on Facebook that Rutherford didn’t show up, adding: “Had he, I would have told him our administrators and teachers are not to blame and that it’s time we fully fund our schools.” 

In a statement to CNN, Santelises expressed frustration with the lack of funding for school infrastructure.

“[T]oo many of our buildings have outdated heating systems, poor insulation, and aging pipes as a result of years of inadequate funding for maintenance and facilities improvements,” she said. In an op-ed for Teen Vogue, Kimberly Mooney, a teacher in Baltimore, also argued that the schools’ faltering pipes were just one example of the minimal financial support from the state to resolve Baltimore’s “crumbling infrastructure.” 

In 2012, a report commissioned by Baltimore City Public Schools found that 69 percent of the district’s campuses were in “very poor condition,” and it would take an estimated $2.5 billion to bring buildings up to adequate standards. The Baltimore Sun reported on Thursday that the city’s schools have had to return $66 million in state funding to fix heating systems and make building repairs after they delayed projects for too long or the projects became too costly. Lawmakers called for changes to how money was awarded for projects,  and Maryland’s Gov. Larry Hogan said he was “outraged at the failures in Baltimore City” and blasted officials’ “ineptness and mismanagement” regarding the funding.   

The debate in Baltimore reflects longstanding infrastructure woes schools face throughout the country. Beyond roads and highways, these 100,000 public schools—many of which are housed by aging buildings in desperate need of repairs and modernization—make up the second largest infrastructure system in the United States. Yet the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) concluded in its annual report card last year that more than half of the nation’s public schools needed investments just to bring the building conditions to “good.” High-quality school facilities have been linked to better academic achievement for students, fewer suspensions, and better staff retention. 

The problem has been brewing for decades. The Government Accountability Office concluded in 1995 that America’s schools needed a collective $112 billion to “repair or upgrade their facilities to good condition.” That number has ballooned to an estimated $145 billion per year, including an additional $46 billion each year on construction and maintenance to bring facilities up to modern standards, according to a 2016 “State of Our Schools” report.

Currently, the federal government spends little on improving school infrastructure, leaving the bulk of the financing to come from the state and local governments. In fact, local taxpayer dollars account for, on average, only 45 percent of funding toward maintenance and operations. But budgets are tight: After the 2008 recession, most states reduced school funding, putting pressure on local districts to make up the difference. In 2015, 29 states still had less overall state funding than they did in the 2008 school year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, even as student enrollment grew.

Meanwhile, the capital funds, which are used to renovate and build new schools and to shore up technological infrastructure, dropped 31 percent from 2008 to 2015. The ASCE 2017 report card noted that the constricted budgets have led to “accelerating deterioration of heating, cooling, and lighting systems.”  And much of the capital construction investment on school facilities—82 percent—comes down to how much school districts can raise from taxpayers, the 2016 “State of Our Schools” joint report noted. “Because the large majority of capital construction is funded by local taxpayers, the ability of school districts to pay for major renewals or new construction is tied to the wealth of their community, perpetuating inequity in school facility conditions,” the authors wrote.  

One 2006 study found that projects at schools in wealthier areas spent three times more capital funds than projects in schools in poorer areas—where infrastructure investment is needed the most. In the 2012-2013 school year, 60 percent of schools with some of the poorest student populations, where more than 75 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch, needed repairs. That’s 12 percentage points higher than those in wealthier communities, according to theNational Education Center for Statistics. 

It’s unclear whether President Donald Trump, with his long–promised $1 trillion infrastructure plan, will keep his pledge to “rebuild our roads, bridges, tunnels, highways, airports, schools, and hospitals.” Last January, Senate Democrats introduced their own 10-year infrastructure proposal that included $75 billion toward shoring up schools, and it’s been lying dormant in Congress ever since. For now, some citizens are taking action—a college student’s GoFundMe campaign to provide space heaters and jackets for the Baltimore students far exceeded its $20,000 goal.  

Saturday, 6 January 2018

From Finland with Love....

When the Finnish education expert Pasi Sahlberg went on a speaking tour around Australia last spring, he says he was left “heartbroken” by stories of young children cracking under the pressure of “stringent academic expectations”.

“I heard some teachers telling how children are experiencing stress-related crying, vomiting and sleeplessness over the high-stakes standardised tests,” Sahlberg tells Guardian Australia. “Play is being squeezed out of Australian schools as politicians force more stringent academic expectations upon younger and younger children.”

The former director general of the Finnish education system – and the author of Finnish Lessons 2.0: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? – Sahlberg is considered a leading expert on an education system that has become a byword for excellence.

A central pillar of early education in Finland is the late start to schooling. Children receive no formal instruction until they are seven, and the focus in daycare centres is not formal education per se but creative play and the health and wellbeing of the student.

The emphasis on play is not trivial but a form of developmental learning. Research has demonstrated that play in the early stages of development can engage children in the process of learning and studies in New Zealand have found that by age 11 there was no difference in reading ability between students who began formal literacy instruction at age five or age seven.

Australian students start formal schooling earlier and spend longer in the classroom than most of their peers in developed nations. That’s one reason the federal government’s proposal to introduce a mandatory phonics check for year 1 students in Australia has failed to win Sahlberg over.

“I think what the government in Australia could do instead is before thinking about these sorts of things is to make sure every child has enough time to play before they come to school,” Sahlberg says. “Australia has one of the highest required compulsory instruction times for children in the entire world ... that’s time that kids, including very young kids, are required to be in a formal instruction rather than playing and doing their own thing.”

Naplan and the role of testing

In 2012, the then prime minister, Julia Gillard, announced that she wanted Australia to be “back in top five schooling nations in the world” for reading, science and mathematics by 2025.

Her yardstick was Pisa, which has frustrated academics and enthralled politicians in equal measure. 

The current education minister, Simon Birmingham, has been less overtly driven by rankings, but he is still deeply aware of them. When the latest Pisa results were released in 2016, he said the results “continued to paint a worrying trend” about education standards in Australia

It’s evidence, Sahlberg says, of a system that is too focused on results and that places teachers under “too much control”. He suggests Australia should look to New Zealand as a guide, where the new government has sought to improve flagging education standards by axing league tables, paring back testing and handing teachers more autonomy.

“One way to think about it is maybe, you have all these good things – funding, your economy, good teachers – but you’re not improving. Maybe the problem is that things are tied up in a system that is not able to be flexible enough for teachers. 

“Maybe there is not enough trust in Australia in good teachers.” 

Part of the problem, Sahlberg believes, is Naplan, often criticised by teachers as a way of putting students into league tables and an inaccurate reflection of educational improvement. This year’s Naplan results found that, a decade since testing began, the average reading and numeracy skills of Australian primary school students has improved only marginally, while writing skills went backwards.

Sahlberg doesn’t have a problem with standardised testing – he believes every country needs a way to measure student progress – but the problem is the way the test is conducted and the use of the data as a sort of school shopping guide for parents on the My School websiteIn his valedictory speech, Piccoli listed Alan Jones, Miranda Devine, Mark Latham and Ray Hadley as 'enemies'.

“As I see it, when a standardised test like Naplan becomes high-stakes, it’s likely to change the purpose of the schools and what the teachers do in schools,” he says. “I’ve met thousands of teachers in Australia and, whenever I start a conversation about Naplan, people go bananas. They say the whole purpose of what teachers do is to make sure everybody gets good Naplan results.

“The problem is that wherever standardised tests are running the show it narrows the curriculum and it kind of changes the whole role and meaning of going to school from general useful learning into doing well in two or three subjects. And it often makes teaching and learning very boring when the purpose is to figure out the right answer to a test.”

He says there is “nothing wrong with the test itself”, but Australia could “probably do with less standardised testing” and Naplan could be changed to a sample-based rather than census test. 

The gap in equity 

In the northern winter of 2014 Piccoli, then the NSW education minister, was touring a school outside Helsinki when he was told that a news photographer was waiting outside.

With the head of Finland’s education department and the school’s principal, he peeked outside. Sure enough, there she was, standing on the school’s driveway in jeans and a light parka in minus 18C.

The photographer had been sent from London with a reporter by the Sydney Daily Telegraph, intent on getting a shot of Piccoli. He left the school via a back entrance and left the photographer waiting in the cold.

The newspaper had been critical of the cost of Piccoli’s trip, and he had a history of criticising New Corp, but the stake-out was part of a wider campaign.

Piccoli was a National party MP but his early support for Gillard’s Gonski funding arrangements and public criticism of Christopher Pyne’s attempts as federal education minister to introduce independent public schools made him a target for the conservative right. In his valedictory speech in the NSW parliament he listed Alan Jones, Miranda Devine, Mark Latham and Ray Hadley as “enemies”.

Piccoli has since returned to Finland for inspiration as the head of the Gonski Institute. 

He is adamant that he didn’t bring Sahlberg to Australia “just because he’s from Finland” but it is no coincidence that he has looked there, rather than to another famously high-performing nation such as Singapore.

In 2016 Piccoli invited Sahlberg on a tour of severely disadvantaged schools in NSW, all part of the state’s Connected Communities, which pumped extra funding into schools in places such as Walgett and Moree and gave teachers greater autonomy in an effort to lift standards

So far the program has had mixed results but both men want to use the Gonski Institute to dig further into how to address the equity gap in Australia’s education system. 

“The key thing is that gap in equity between low socioeconomic status and high,” Piccoli says. “Part of that is demographics, but I want to know what we can do to bridge that gap. It’s more pronounced here than in other countries, so why? It’s one thing to say SES is a strong predictor, but it doesn’t tell you what to do about it.”

For Sahlberg, coming from a country in which there is no private funding of schools, at least some of the reasons for Australia’s inequity seem obvious. But he says visiting some of the rural communities inspired him to want to grapple with the unique questions raised by Australia’s geography and demographics. 

“My visits in the rural parts of NSW really made me think: what could we do more?” he says. “What kind of policy and thinking is required ... to rethink and redesign education policies, and certainly funding, to make sure everybody will benefit?”

Turnbull and Dutton attack African youth

Recent racist attacks made on Sudanese youth by our Prime Minister, his glove puppets Hunt and MacKenzie and Minister Dutton ( On New Year's Day no less) have been roundly attacked by the community but continue to receive oxygen from the Murdoch Press in particular but also sadly from Fairfax and the ABC ( Which has recently been conned on air by a ‘Sudanese’ Liberal Party plant. Journalists apparently don't do any background in any more!) there is youth crime ( of all shades of color) and record numbers of police in Victoria are dealing with it . This is a blatant attempt to attack the Andrews government in an election year. This comment piece from the Canberra Times is quite good. I like that he starts it with John Howard……

Stoking national insecurity: African gangs just the latest ruse

When John Howard suggested in 1988 that he might slow the pace of immigration from Asia, so as to avoid taking in more people than the population was comfortable with, he was well aware he would be criticised within the political class, even, or perhaps particularly in those days, by commentators at The Australian.

But he was shocked by the extent to which critics, even in his own party, thought he had appealed to a national racism in a way that invited questions about his moral fitness to govern. No amount of grovelling to Asian constituencies afterwards ever completely satisfied them that his motives had been pure or that he now understood himself to have been wrong.

There was nothing accidental about what he said. Nor was it anything more than his actual belief at the time. Howard had ample reason to know his statement would be welcomed in many quarters and thought his statement would win him votes, even if it disappointed others. Thirty years on, there is no shortage of politicians willing to pander to the crowd.

There's a long history of Australian hostility to immigrants, particularly immigrants of the latest wave, in that case (during the 1980s) Indo-Chinese. We talk of ourselves as a very successful multicultural nation but, mostly, we are looking back to what we were doing decades ago, not what we are doing now.

More than 200 years ago, poms were complaining that the Irish were failing to assimilate. Progressively right-thinking (white) Australians have resented the entry of northern Europeans, southern Europeans (additionally suspect for being Catholic), Jews, Greeks, Turks and Lebanese. That these were all, more or less, white, and that Australia had a long period of a white Australia policy, did not necessarily reduce the antipathy to the newest wave, even if it was more readily categorised as xenophobic rather than frankly racist. It has almost invariably been alleged that the latest wave of immigrants simply don't fit in, and are responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime.

All the more so when the arrivals were Asian (or now, as in the case of Sudanese, Somali and Zimbabwean settlers, African), because their otherness was immediately apparent. Indo-Chinese were quickly, as earlier arrivals had been, accused of living in ghettos and failing to engage with the wider community, and of being involved in crime, particularly drugs and stand-over tactics, apparently previously unknown in Australia. Australian was undergoing marked economic change, including job insecurity, and some were inclined to blame immigration or to worry that the browning of the country was damaging our sense of ourselves.

Such fears were later exploited by Pauline Hanson mark I, to Howard's disadvantage, and at further cost to his reputation. With extra panic about the threat of terrorism and Islam, they are running again with arrivals from around the Hindu Kush and refugees from Africa. The problems such people have in fitting in are aggravated by the decreased investment in government integration programs, as well as the effects of exaggerating and manipulating concerns about national security. The creation of a sense of siege, requiring an ever more intrusive and coercive state, led by bureaucrats who use the language of fear to build up their empires and their budgets, is supervised by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton. That ASIO and the federal police – each of which, in its own way, has tried to separate itself from the blame and fearmongering – now answer to him and, in the name of better coordination and effectiveness, will now be under pressure to sing from his hymn sheet is perhaps the greatest bulwark of national insecurity.

Perhaps Howard's mistake, in dog whistling his concerns about how many aliens of different skin colour should be allowed in, was his failure to frame his argument as one 

It seems it is OK to say what you like as long as you say you are daring to go past a stifling and appalling political correctness straitjacket. This is said to be inhibiting plain talk and sensible discussion of all of the nation's social problems. Especially if it involves ethnic groups. Smug lefties are, apparently, trying to keep it a secret that some of the latest ethnic groups arriving in Australia have trouble integrating or assimilating.

This week saw the triumph, for the moment at least, of a News Corp campaign to fight an alleged "political correctness" that was said to be preventing Victoria Police from admitting that Melbourne was suffering a reign of terror from South Sudanese gangs. Police, it was said, were busy trying to play down the problem or, so much as they admitted it, to deny that the activities of some Sudanese youths in concert was a "gang" problem, like the problems of motorcycle gangs, organised drug crime or corporate tax evasion. (The mere fact of having something in common with other perpetrators does not necessarily make a gang, or convert illegal behaviour into the realm of organised crime.)

Police hesitance about using the word "gang" or stressing the offenders' ethnicity was said to go against their inclinations. But they were, it was said, hamstrung by the wicked Victorian Labor government, which was refusing to face the problem and deal firmly with it. Dealing firmly with it, of course, means more law enforcement, heavier penalties and more people in jail.

Probably not by coincidence, senior Liberals, state and federal, were soon on the bandwagon, insisting that Melburnians could not sleep safely in their beds at night, or go out to a restaurant, for fear of being assailed by these gangsters, luckily very identifiable in any crowd. It was, it was said, both a symptom and a cause of the state government's having lost control of crime and an example of how the blight of "political correctness" was inhibiting proper management of any number of political, economic and social problems.

Some were inclined to worry that the browning of the country was damaging our sense of ourselves.

The Home Affairs Minister, making life unpleasant in concentration camps and during deportations, Dutton, was forthright on the issue. He told a radio program – choreographed, by total coincidence, by strident Australian columnist and former Liberal minder Chris Kenny – that Victorians were bemused by the African gang violence and "the political correctness that's taken hold; you look at some of the joke sentences that are being handed down.

"There's no deterrents there at the moment and the state government's wrapped the police force up in this politically correct conversation, which I think they're trying to break out of and they're trying to do the right thing, but I think the state government's really been caught flat-footed ...

"... when the police are given direction from the Premier and from the state government down there, which is really a go-soft message, it's unacceptable.

"I think the Victorian public are really outraged by some of the goings-on. I mean, people don't see this in NSW and Queensland. The reality is people are scared to go out at restaurants of a night-time because they're followed home by these gangs, home invasions and cars are stolen. We just need to call it for what it is. Of course it's African gang violence. It's not the whole community."

Most Sudanese refugees integrated with the community, he said. "But obviously we're looking at those at the moment who don't, and I've been very clear about this. If people want to come here, particularly if they're coming out of a war-torn area or an area of desperate poverty, Australia is an opportunity for them that will never come their way again.

"We have a generous welfare system and health system and education, housing, all the rest of it, but this is a two-way street and if people aren't prepared to integrate, if they aren't prepared to send their kids to school, if they have 10 and 12-year-old kids wandering the street at night committing these offences, then frankly they don't belong in Australian society ...

"I think the public is sick of the political correctness and the sensitised versions of statements and people soft-peddling on this stuff. You need to be honest, and if the truth is inconvenient here for the Victorian government, well so be it."

Malcom Turnbull was keen to be seen to be likewise concerned, if not to mention anything to do with race. "We are very concerned at the growing gang violence and lawlessness in Victoria and in particular in Melbourne. This is a failure of the Andrews Labor government.

"Victoria Police is a huge organisation. Much larger than the federal police. It needs the direction, it's got the capacity to do the job but what is lacking is the political leadership and the determination on the part of Premier Andrews to ensure that the great policemen and women of Victoria have the leadership, the direction and the confidence of the government to get on with the job and tackle this gang problem on the streets of Melbourne."

Standing beside him, Health Minister Greg Hunt was not so shy about ethnicity. "Gang crime in Victoria is clearly out of control. We know that African gang crime in some areas in particular is clearly out of control and the failure is not the police, but the Premier.

"The Victorian government has dropped the ball on allowing the police to take a strong, clear role. The solution is very clear: it's [Liberal opposition leader] Matthew Guy's plan and that is tough on drug crime, tough on gang crime, call it out for what it is, and tough sentencing laws and giving the Victorian police the resources they need to do the job."

I am reminded of two things whenever I hear such phrases. One is of a forthright editorial in The Canberra Times in 1947, warning that the intake of refugee Jews was proceeding at a pace beyond what the community could or would tolerate, and that ordinary Australians ran the risk of being reduced to economic servitude by Jews.

"Where black markets and illegalities flourish, the experience is that Jewish refugees are plentifully in evidence," it said. "Australians, particularly-ex-servicemen, are finding themselves elbowed away by the money power which the refugee class exercises, and Australians find themselves exploited by all manner of snide business tricks which have been introduced to this country.

"Moreover, the historically proven experience that Jews are incapable of governing others and unwilling themselves to be governed is being repeated in the lack of Australian sentiment by this class of immigrant. The overwhelming feeling of the Australian people today is that much more discrimination should be shown in the selection of this class of immigrant, and that their number should be strictly controlled in relation to other classes and nationalities of new arrivals."

No political correctness there. But no more virtuous as a result.

I am also reminded of Indigenous Australians, who, judged only by their incarceration rates, must contain within their population a subset of people many times more criminal than the dreaded Sudanese gangs. Yet it is rare, except in Western Australia or the Northern Territory, to have politicians (let alone prime ministers and senior federal ministers) pontificate about them as a law-and-order problem, to announce that one is going to be tough on their forms of crime, call their crime for what it is (whatever that is) or have tougher sentencing as a way of bringing the miscreants to heel.

This is probably not because the ministers or politicians are suffocated by political correctness in relation to Indigenous Australians. It is probably not from innate politeness. Nor unwillingness to call things out for what they are or (as in the case of Mal Brough with the Northern Territory intervention) what he believed them to be. It is because most politicians are well aware that get-tough policies have failed, that jail rates (even under our lily-livered liberal judges) are an international embarrassment and national disgrace, and that mere abuse and grandstanding is highly counterproductive.

So why would such formulas work with other groups facing manifest disadvantage, discrimination and cultural and other problems in quickly fitting in and merging with other parts of the population?

I don't suggest Dutton is anything less than sincere in his beliefs about how being tough on crime, and being resistant to political correctness, are the right approach. But they are beliefs unsupported by much in the way of evidence.

It should be remembered that Dutton was a police officer, and it is primarily from his experience in the Queensland Police Service that his convictions about the right way to deal with crime come. Queensland police, now or in the past, have hardly shown themselves to be expert on the subject.

One gets used to a type of cop who thinks that the world would be a better place if we had more discipline, longer jail sentences, tougher judges, more police and more police powers, and, sometimes, the restoration of the gallows, the whip and national service. There have been times when Queensland police have been given everything they wanted, by eager state governments, some of which made compliant police their personal playthings.

What cannot be said is that the technique reduced crime, whether among the underclasses, the well-heeled smarties who also seemed to have the government on a leash, or even among police themselves. The only thing Victorians have gained from the week's frenzy has been a feel for the unfitness of some politicians for power.

Jack Waterford is a former editor of The Canberra Times.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Catholic school shame

Recently parishioners at St Pats Cathedral started taking ribbons down from the the fence at the front and side of the building. An outraged Ballarat populous immediately put the ribbons back, bigger and brighter. 
This story from ABC Ballarat tells a harrowing story of abuse in Catholic schools in Ballarat until recently.

Violent and sexually 'defective': What the royal commission taught us about the Christian Brothers

ABC Ballarat By Charlotte King

It's a lonely walk up the gravel pathway beside Ballarat cemetery's Roman Catholic section.

Monuments dating back to the goldfields era perch above the plots of the faithful.

A marble inscription above a congregation of nuns stands tall: "In Your Charity Pray for the Souls of the Sisters of Mercy".

One after another, the city's Catholic institutes are memorialised in stone, the faded names of priests and brothers buried together under an oblong wall of basalt.

A little further up the hill is a small stretch of identical white Celtic crosses — the final resting place of the city's Christian Brothers.

The white monuments are embedded with the names of about 20 of their dead. The last to be buried, in 1987, was Brother Gerald Leo Fitzgerald.

Brother Fitzgerald's victims were exclusively boys, with an average age of eight years old.

For more than a decade the Irish-born immigrant had his pick of his Grade 3 classroom at the St Alipius Boys School in Ballarat East.

"As students, everyone was very aware what was going on, but it was just accepted," said Elroy, a former student now in his 50s who would prefer not to use his real name.

"I just thought this was the way life was."

He said when he told his parents, they went down to see the school's headmaster.

"[He] said 'Look, you've got nothing to worry about, Fitzy's just a nature-loving kind of guy. That's the reason he's getting your son to pull his pants down and do breathing exercises."

Devout Catholics, they took the brother's word.

"By all accounts, and on the basis of instruction from our clients over the years, [Fitzgerald] was an extremely violent teacher," Elroy's Melbourne-based solicitor Vivian Waller said.

"And that violence tended to make children more compliant when it came to the allegations of sexual abuse."

Brothers 'took no action to prevent assaults'

Thirty years on from his death, Dr Waller has launched action in the Supreme Court against the Christian Brothers over allegations they were negligent in allowing Brother Fitzgerald continued access to children.

The argument will rest on evidence unearthed from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse confirming the Christian Brothers leadership was well aware of the brother's propensity to assault children, but took no action to prevent it.

In a 1950 letter from Brother Fitzgerald's provincial — the regional head of the religious order — he was admonished for his repeat offending.

"I feel it my duty to censure you as strongly as possible for the following matters that have been brought to my notice," the brother in charge wrote.

"In defiance of the command given you by the [Brother] Consultor, you continued to have dealings with the boys … you have allowed one or more boys to enter your room, and you have kissed a boy."

But the letter finished without consequence: "I trust that the retreat has brought home to you your irregular and irreligious conduct, and that it will not be necessary to take further action."

In 2013 the Catholic Church's own insurance arm wrote to the Christian Brothers to reveal they would not be financially backing claims involving Brother Fitzgerald.

The letter stated complaints about his behaviour reached "the ultimate Christian Brothers hierarchy in Dublin", and that despite consideration, disciplinary matters "[appear] not to have progressed".

"It was knowledge that appears to have been held by the upper echelons of that organisation," Dr Waller said.

"It is knowledge that they should have acted on to remove a predatory brother from teaching responsibilities.

"But in fact it was the reverse, and that's just heartbreaking if you actually stop and think about the suffering caused to those boys and their families."

School had prolific paedophiles on staff

Brother Fitzgerald was not alone.

In one of the most enduring and extraordinary examples of institutional abuse, the small St Alipius Boys School where he taught in the early 1970s had some of Victoria's most prolific paedophiles on staff.

His colleagues, former Brother Edward Dowlan (now Ted Bales) and the school's principal Brother Robert Best are ageing in prison for sexual crimes committed against school children, as is the school's former chaplain, the notorious Gerald Ridsdale

Another former brother is due to face court in Melbourne charged with fresh historic offences in February.

Chairman of the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the handling of institutional child abuse, Georgie Crozier, remarked at hearings in 2013 that "it appears the only person who was working at the school at that time who did not offend against children was the sole female lay teacher".

Elroy's first day is seared in his memory.

"There were storms. It was a very dark day, and these brothers were just striding around in these long black robes and shouting at kids."

Later were the science lessons, where Brother Fitzgerald would line the boys up in a circle with a hand-wound high-voltage generator.

"We'd all have to hold hands and he'd get this electrical generator on us and it'd go round the whole circle.

He'd probably call it a trust thing. If anyone let go, you'd get a hell of a shock."

Elroy's face is filled with anger.

"That's how I've felt going through my whole life — violence is going to happen to me if I do the wrong thing, step one little foot out of line. We were absolutely in fear."

Questions about why abuse occurred go unanswered

The answer to how or why this was a conceivable reality lies squarely with the Christian Brothers order itself.

But despite forensic questioning at the royal commission's hearings, that question has not been conclusively resolved.

In 2016, the counsel assisting the inquiry, Stephen Free, publicly interrogated Brother Paul Nangle, the superior of the Ballarat Christian Brothers community at the height of the worst abuse in the 1970s.

"Brother Nangle, you now know that during your period as superior of this community, there was abuse being committed of a sexual nature, quite audaciously, within the community, that is, within the dormitory, and also at the St Alipius School and at the St Patrick's School, and it seems on your evidence, you were ignorant that it was going on," Mr Free said.

"What is your explanation?" he was asked. "Why do you think it occurred?"

Brother Nangle's response was somewhat enigmatic.

"A response to that would have many facets," the brother told the commission.

"I think possibly the psychosexual formation of brothers in the spirituality of our congregation may have been deficient, defective."

In his own time, Brother Nangle said, he was taught that the body was at least partially evil and needed to be constrained.

"We were formed in the notion that the world, as we called it, was at least potentially evil and as a result we were secluded from it, we were separated from it."

As a religious superior in the 1970s, he said he took for granted "that my brothers were all motivated by a desire for spiritual perfection … at that time in my mind it would have been totally inconceivable to me that a religious brother could have behaved in such a deplorable manner."

With exasperating denial, he concluded: "I trusted them to behave responsibly."

Internal report painted picture of power and control

In all, the brothers operated six schools across the Ballarat diocese, but 61 per cent of abuse claims have related to St Alipius.

The sex abuse royal commission

In the late 1990s the order commissioned one of its brothers to conduct a study into the prevalence of child abuse within the religious institute.

Tendered as an exhibit to the royal commission, it contains some stark admissions that were not as forthcoming in the hearings themselves.

In a chapter titled The Nature of Child Abuse, the internal report's author painted a frightening picture of power and control.

"We ran our schools; we made the rules; we expected people to obey. Everything was on our terms … We ran a closed system which was not subject to formal public scrutiny.

"This is particularly significant, because the consequent dynamic resembles in principle that of a potentially incestuous family."

The author continued: "Some individual brothers abused their position of trust by exerting power over children in forms of emotional, physical and sexual abuse."

Novices were recruited to the order as teenage boys, naive to the future before them.

"There was a truly disturbed attitude to sexuality and intimacy in the church," wrote Graham English in a submission to the royal commission; he became a brother in 1960 at the tender age of 15.

"From the moment we entered … we were forbidden from having a 'particular friend'. They were afraid of homosexuality I am sure, but this was not explained.

"The effect of this fear of particular friends was that we were forbidden from having any real friends.

"We had no teaching about intimacy or friendship, nor any encouragement to have real conversations with anyone."

Abusive brother never taken away from children

The recruits were all drilled with the notion of perseverance.

Mr English's novice master told him, "When you die if it is [a] brother … in the coffin, you will have been a success. If it is Graham English, you will have been a failure."

A brother to the end, Gerald Leo Fitzgerald did not fail in his task of perseverance; he was buried with other men of the cloth.

The last of several hundred Christian Brothers to migrate from Ireland to Ballarat, he died an old man in his college community, in the 69th year of his religious life.

As he has lain buried, officers for the royal commission have drawn up charts and tables of his abuse.

Years, locations and patterns are listed alongside the average age of his victims.

Brother Fitzgerald worked for St Vincent de Paul's orphanage as a probationary officer at the Children's Court.

For 20 years he was charged with supervising young people accused or convicted of committing crimes.

For a further 13 years he taught primary school boys, and then lived out his days on the campus of St Patrick's College.

At no point, over his decades of perpetrating crimes against children, was he constrained from contact with them.

Lives of brothers remain a mystery

Twenty-two per cent of Christian Brothers across Australia have been alleged sexual predators since 1950, according to the royal commission.

Exposing a national shame


Of the almost 2,000 identified alleged perpetrators in the Catholic system, 32 per cent — the highest percentage — were religious brothers.

And yet their lives remain a relative mystery.

Repeated attempts by the ABC for interviews with Christian Brothers across the country, by way of phone calls, emails, letters and doorknocks, have been ignored or denied.

One of the first detectives to properly investigate a Christian brother in Victoria was Blair Smith, whose work in the early 1990s led to the conviction of Edward Dowlan.

As part of his role he executed a warrant at the Christian Brothers headquarters in Parkville, where he requested the file on Dowlan.

He was told, "There's no file. We don't keep files."

The former detective was mystified.

"You've got to have something," he said.

"We've got nothing," a brother told him. "We don't keep files on our Christian brothers."

Detective Smith said he returned to his office flabbergasted.

"[It's] just run like a Mafia organisation," he said. "Any other organisation, you'd have to have a file, on a teacher, or anyone else."

Decision may have been made 'not to record matters'

It may have been deliberate.

Senior counsel Gail Furness noted this in her opening address in the royal commission's case study into the Catholic Church in early 2017.

Ms Furness told the hearing that sexual misconduct against children in Western Australian institutions had been mentioned in visitation reports and provincial council minutes from 1919, but that from 1959 those concerns were no longer put down on paper.

The lawyers for the Christian Brothers told the royal commission, "There may well have been some decision made in the late 1950s not to record these matters."

The commissioners later concluded the Christian Brothers "completely failed … to protect the most vulnerable children in their care", and that senior brothers, including Paul Nangle, had deliberately misled police in more recent statements about their knowledge of abuse.

Since 2007, the order has retreated from providing direct education.

Edmund Rice Education Australia, the legal successor, still operates 50 schools across the country.

Taking the fight as far as he can

Elroy never went to the royal commission because he did not want his name on the public record.

For other reasons, involving his own family, he has waited 40 years to confront the Christian Brothers over their negligence.

Fighting for justice

It has only made him more determined.

"If I'm going to take this fight on with them, I want to take it as far as I can," he said.

"This goes beyond redress. I want the end of the Christian Brothers as an identity and a risk.

"This evil corporation needs to be delisted, all over the world. No children or vulnerable people are safe while this corrupt and filthy organisation exists.

"It's what's right and wrong and black and white.

"They were the ones that taught us confession. Go in and repent your sins, and face up to what you've done wrong and god will forgive you, and yet they are doing exactly the opposite."

He has written streams of poetry to come to terms with his abuse.

In one, the Christian Brothers are referred to as a group of unnatural predators.

You're worse than the wolves, and I'll tell you why/ Wolves don't stand on a high moral ground

They form a pack to protect their children/ Wolves do not show affection for their prey

But you did/ Wolves lead the vulnerable away, and you did/ And the wolves howled my name.

Despite it all, he said he felt for the "good people of the cloth, for the ones who really tried and went in there for the right reasons and did the right thing".