So Much I Don’t Know
These past few months I’ve been teaching again for the first time in three years, and loving it. I have always enjoyed teaching, but a three-year research contract meant not doing any for a while. The course I’ve been teaching in is a first-year communication course. I love first years.
Two things struck me: first, how few people knew anything about the historical and political issues that I raised in classes (and not just because there was a high number of international students); and second, how little I knew about the issues.
In selecting exercises for class, I can see little point in doing analysis just for the sake of learning to do analysis. If you can learn something about the world you live in along with learning the analytical skills required, all the better. Learning should be about a rounded education, not just training, and too often I think it is tempting only to look at things that we think the students will find entertaining in the hope of getting good teaching evaluations.
With the coal seam gas issue, I had a pretty good idea of how it worked but needed to find a simple explanation of the extraction process so that everyone had some idea of what it was and the texts would make sense, a task accomplished without too much difficulty. This was just before the state election and we were analysing the arguments for and against coal seem gas mining for their rhetorical structure, rather than buying into whether it was right or wrong, as practice for the upcoming piece of assessment.
The last week of classes coincided with National Reconciliation Week. As explained on the website, the week starts with the anniversary of the 1967 referendum recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) peoples in the national census and concludes with the anniversary of the Mabo High Court decision recognising the special relationship that ATSI peoples have and had to the land and that it existed prior to colonisation. While I knew of each of these important events, I didn’t realise that they bookended National Reconciliation Week.
Part of the theory for the last week of classes was Michel de Certeau’s notions of strategy and tactics. In very simplified form, strategies are the preserve of powerful interests and work to maintain their power. Tactics, on the other hand, are fleeting acts of resistance. Tactics are often temporary, their use can be readily challenged, and the ground gained is often lost again. Hanging out in a shopping centre during summer to take advantage of the airconditioning without buying anything is a tactical use of space that is intended by more powerful interests to be used for their commercial gain. You will probably get away with this tactical use of a powerful corporation’s space without being challenged—unless you happen to be young and in the company of friends. Photocopying your bum on the work photocopier and tweeting it using the boss’s wifi would also be tactical use of the property of the powerful, who could then respond with the strategies of workplace disciplinary practices. Of course, placing the photocopier in a crowded area and controlling staff use of internet resources are also strategies.
Most of the examples of strategies and tactics evoke these small and everyday practices that are of little permanent consequence. But it struck me in preparing for the class that the history of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy is a beautiful example of tactics and strategies at a broader level and one where the political consequences and implications were much clearer. It seemed especially pertinent given that the Council had sent police in to move on the Brisbane Sovereign Embassy in Musgrave Park earlier in the month. For some of those of us that lived through the Joh era, the eviction brought back fears that 30 years of hard work to repair relations between indigenous residents and police were about to unravel.
What disturbed me as a teacher was that, although I remembered most of the events happening at the time (or, in the case of the referendum, remembered being told about it by my family), I had to look up the details and rely on Wikipedia and other sources to prepare for class. True, I could have started earlier on class prep, but as any teacher knows, the specifics of tutorials are often left until the last few days so that you can tie teaching materials to the lecture and current events. I hadn’t thought far enough ahead to realise that the final week coincided with National Reconciliation Week, or that de Certeau could use more attention in tutorials than the other theories dealt with that week which were dealt with in more detail in the lecture.
Indigenous issues were probably also more prominent for me because some time ago I agreed to do a paper as part of a church study group that I’m part of. Participants in the group are encouraged to do a ten-minute paper on one of a list of topics, either important Christians, other religions, or social issues. I have decided I want to do mine on the Northern Territory Intervention. The topic still has to be approved as it wasn’t one of the social issues on the list.
While doing my thesis I felt I was pretty much on top of welfare issues but decided at the time to keep it general, partly because I had to limit the scope of the research and partly because I did not have the expertise to comment on welfare in relation to indigenous Australians. I still don’t. But increasingly I am feeling that there are basic human rights issues at stake here that I should, as an Australian citizen, be both fully aware of and care about. So, I’m intending, hoping, to do something to remedy my own lack of education and hopefully I’ll be able to help some other people learn something they didn’t know either along the way.
So, at the Lifeline Bookfest yesterday I stocked up on some reading material:
I don’t know if this is really the best place to start, but it is a place to start for someone who really has little time for additional research on top of my normal academic commitments. If you have any comments on what I have here, or any suggestions for things I really must read to get my head around it, especially from an indigenous perspective, please let me know in the comment section below.