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Successful Applicant takes up NZCFS teaching post at Shandan Bailie School

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Brendan (left) and Jim Kenny with Shandan restaurateur
Brendan (left) and Jim Kenny with Shandan restaurateur

Brendan (Ben) Corbett is the new English teacher appointed to teach at Shandan Bailie School in Gansu Province. The advert stated that the applicant should be adventurous and interested in the challenges that the location demands as well as being able to respond to the opportunities that the school gives. NZCFS has had a long-term association with Shandan and also helps in developing small rural development projects at the school.

Brendan’s qualifications and his reply to a request for an short article on his background and qualifications is so full of inspiring details and funny references, that anything further from your reporter seems superfluous.

The following, therefore, is Ben’s answer to this request and will surely interest (and amuse) all who read it…

“An Irish Catholic upbringing with a grandfather who ‘spoke nothing but treason every time he opened his mouth’ (recollections of Fr Lennihan, our parish priest) ensured I had an early introduction to critical thinking. I joined the PYM (Progressive Youth Movement. Editor’s Note: The youth wing of the NZ Communist party) when I was 15 and was politicised through the tail end of the US/Vietnam War.  The thoughts of Mao featured early on at high school.  In retribution for building a towering shrine of math text books, with a copy of the Thoughts of Mao sitting at the top, half the class was thrashed in the manner of the times.  Hilarious.

I continued my involvement with the CP and the occasional NZCFS function up to the late 70’s.  I had met Tom and Cath Newnham by that stage and my political education received another wonderful influence. I first met Tom in a paddock in Alexander Cres in Otara trying to establish a horticultural unit for Hilary College. That influence was pretty powerful as it turned out. I have spent the best part of the rest of my life exploring and developing the idea of co-operative work/study and living.  Tom and Cath had become life-long friends and Cath’s sausage rolls were a ritual at every visit.  I did a Horticultural Diploma at Massey in 1977 and ended up back in Auckland working in the Ponsonby Work Trust Co-op. It was part of a nationwide initiative to deal creatively on a community level with the new scourge of unemployment.

I did a nationwide tour of co-ops in 1978, married Kahoa in Palmerston North, got a job on a co-operative market garden in Otaki (Common Property), developed renal failure, started producing our 4 children, spent the next 10 years in various states of ill health in and out of hospital, began a building apprenticeship with Fletcher Construction, helped stop a racist rugby match in Hamilton, spent a year in hospital on dialysis, received a transplanted kidney from one of my brothers, became obsessed with my new rude level of good health, helped form a group of transplant-industry patients and people, incorporated ourselves as the New Zealand Transplant Games Association, used our good health and athletic ability to promote organ donation, competed in the 2002 World Games and won Gold in the Slalom Kayak division, disgusted with what our kids were enduring at primary school I decided to do a Education Degree, graduated in 2000, worked in South Auckland school, began at Onehunga High School in 2002 and drove initiatives to develop thinkers and learners. Some of these were partly successful.

The one initiative that was wildly successful (and became a Department of Education model) was the Building and Construction School.  Trade training struck a chord with politicians and, happily, students and teachers.

With no framework to develop this program we drew on the experience of Rewi in Shandan and it proved a very easy and effective model to adapt into a NZ school structure. It has been a fairly intense ride so I am back building and recharging my batteries.  My recent visit to Shandan and the wider activity of the NZCFS have got me excited and the chance to get back there is inspiring.”

Ben will take up his position at Shandan Bailie School as the new English teacher in August and has already met Jim Kenny, the outgoing teacher he is replacing.

Teri France, July 2013