So on my day off I went to a Human Rights Education conference at Melbourne Uni. Partly because I was interested to hear what people said, partly because I was stupid enough to volunteer to present a workshop, on engaging students in human rights. Daft, daft… fortunately I was only giving a 20 minute spot, and doubly fortunately I was presenting in the same 45 section as my Dip Ed history tutor, which was brilliant because he’s a top bloke and very encouraging.
Anyway, the day started off with two keynote speakers. They were in the Charles Pearson Theatre, which made me have serious flashbacks to first-year Classics lectures in that same place – I think I sat in about the same spot as back then – but it’s so small! Much smaller than I remembered, Anyway, the first speaker was Malcolm Fraser, whom I knew would be interesting after hearing him last year (and I got a text from my mother that evening to say she thought she’d seen me on the news, because for some reason Fraser speaking in Melbourne made the news in Adelaide…). He pretty much spoke on the same stuff as the lecture last year – went on a lot about David Hicks and the new anti-terror laws. Made the interesting point that when Pauline Hanson said we should turn the boats around in the 90s, she got howled down; when Howard actually did it, he got re-elected…. There were a couple of cringe moments, as he made comments talking about Australians where he clearly meant white people; I guess it’s pretty hard to completely change your mentality.
The second speaker was John von Doussa QC – Chancellor of Adelaide Uni, judge in the Supreme Court, and President of HREOC. He mostly spoke about HREOC’s work, which was fairly interesting. He was very careful to talk about “paid work”, when discussing the issue of family and work, but I was a bit uncomfortable with him referring to the burden of family responsibilities. Not a very nice way to describe your kids or elderly parents.
This whole thing once more made me think about the issue of whether our (Australian) conception of human rights is a peculiarly Western, maybe Christian (-influenced), idea. How can they be reconciled with other cultures and different ways of thinking about people? Someone asked a question about this later in the day, but it wasn’t answered universally, just for Australia – like if you want to live here, you can’t practise female genital mutilation (was the example used). But the speaker steered clear of whether it should be allowed even in the Horn of Africa… and I have absolutely no answers either,
The first session I went to was about the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. It was fairly interesting. Except for the one bloke who insisted on hijacking the discussion a number of times, dragging it off in unrelated and uninteresting (to teachers, the majority of the audience) directions. Anyway..
I wagged the second session, after morning tea (which was disappointing, but then I think they were on a tight budget). After all, it was my day off…
The third session was thinking about how the different stances of Charity, Human Rights, and Privilege can change our way of looking at the world. The difficult part was that when the speaker wanted us to think from the Privilege point of view, she actually wanted us to think from the non-privileged point of view, which was a bit difficult for well-educated mostly white folks – and also difficult because it wasn’t entirely clear how she wanted us to do it. She also said something I think I disagree with: that it is impossible simultaneously to combat injustice and hang on to privilege. I think that by ‘hanging on to privilege’ she means keep thinking that you deserve to be better than everyone else, but I think I still disagree. Has Bill Gates negated his privileged position by donating an enormous amount of money to combatting disease?
The there was lunch, which was heaps better than morning tea. Then there was the fourth session, which was mine, and I think it went OK,
The afternoon finished with Barry Jones, Julian Burnside, and Garry Foley (whom I heard at the HTAV conference last year, I think it was). I missed the first 15 minutes because I was catching up with John, my old tutor. The three of them were pretty interesting, though – it was definitely a good finale to the conference.
I’ve been thinking about class distinctions and their representations.
Actually, I started by thinking about war. How is this for degrees of separation?
— Reading Tomorrow, When the War began with my Yr9 class
— Doing war poetry at the end of this semester, to get them thinking about the realities
–Someone suggested watching something like Toy Soldiers, because it’s about a school taken over by terrorists.
— Sean Astin stars in it
— Sean Astin is also Sam Gamgee
— Thinking about explaining the relationship between Sam and Frodo, because I’m sure some would see it as at least hinting at homosexuality (“It’s me, Mr Frodo, your own Sam…”).
— Deciding I would say something like “It’s a sentimental, nostalgic take on the ideal relationship between a man and his closest servant” – which, thinking about it and then remembering Biggles, is often also attributed to an officer and his batman.
— “A MAN and his servant”?!?!
That’s when I realised that that phrase completely de-sexualises, and disempowers, the lower class. Quite a realisation.
As well, of course, I’m sure that it was mostly an upper-class idealisation; I wonder if the lower class visualisation would have had the two on a more equal footing?
I went to Hanging Rock today with about 80 Year 7 students and 6 other teachers. It was An Experience. I climbed the stoopid hill twice, and am therefore aware of how unfit I have become; however, I did actually make it.
On the buses, there were these girls singing along to some daft-sounding songs that I didn’t recognise; as you do, when you are 12 or 13. Then the radio magically played 4 Non-Blondes, “What’s Going On,” and I think they all thought I was very odd, as I sang along to this song they didn’t recognise… as you do when you remember when that song first came out and loved it from the beginning.
Don’t know whether I’ll actually get to teach this next semester or not, but I hope at some stage to offer an elective – at Year 10 I think – of film studies. The first term I would call “Help!! The world is about to end”, and do things like The Core, Armageddon, Mars Attacks, Terminator 3, and maybe Thirteen Days (James’ suggestion) as a real-life example. On the way home today I had the idea for the second term: “Thieves, Crims, and Downright Scoundrels”: Hudson Hawk, Thomas Crowne Affair (the original I think), The Italian Job (possibly the remake; not sure); maybe Maltese Falcon. It would be so much fun!!
I’ve just been at a VATE Beginning Teachers’ Conference, which was fantastic. Much too short, actually: you had to choose 2 sessions from 8, so personally I think they should have had it over 2 days (I almost wouldn’t have minded were it Friday and Saturday), so that you could do 4 or even 5 sessions. Anyway… I think I am a little more enthused about teaching English now. It’s been getting me down a bit. I realised a few things I should change that should both change student attitudes to me and the class and my attitudes to the whole teaching thing; hopefully this will be healthy. I also bought a book on teaching films and one on teaching poetry; I think these will be useful, because they are two things I’m really keen on. If only HTAV did the same, and I could get re-enthused about History. I might go and visit their offices, and see what material I can pick up there.