From Little Things Big Things Grow
I’ve been AFK for a while, preparing for what turned out to be an incredible experience.
I spent most of last week staying at a teacher ‘in-service’ in Melbourne. The term ‘in-service’ is misleading; in fact what I experienced over those three days has tilted my world on its axis. There’s still so much for me to process and research that it’s a little overwhelming.
The focus of the three days was storytelling. Specifically, the stories of our Aboriginal people, past and present. Without going into all the educational specifics, a school-based program is about to commence, one which it’s hoped will improve the educational outcomes for Koori students. It’s a bold and innovative step using iPad technology, organised and supported by the same people who ran last week’s course.
I should preface my story by saying that most of the ‘professional development’ I’ve undertaken over the years has been mildly interesting at best, and mind-numbingly boring at worst. This one was the most profoundly engaging, entertaining, emotionally affecting, mind expanding, thought-provoking and intense three days I’ve ever spent. I’m genuinely grateful to have been able to participate.
I was enthralled, outraged, uplifted and led… to question much of what I’ve been taught (or not taught) and believed. This journey was facilitated by a group of extraordinary people who were never confrontational or strident. They gently and honestly told their life stories by speaking, by singing, and by demonstrating their various skills.
Being an IT geek I naturally enjoyed all the technical aspects that I learned from some very talented people; a professional photographer, award winning documentary filmmakers, and musicians…but I loved their stories just as much; the stories of their lives as Indigenous people, that shaped their talents and their paths in life.
Rather than retell their stories here, I’ll be posting some more about Archie Roach andLou Bennett later. It was an incredible treat to have them sitting and chatting and performing in a small room for our group of about thirty people.
I have to say that it was the presentation on the final day that really affected me the most. Brilliantly pitched (and kudos to him for getting it just right for a room of mainly middle-class whiteys) by the well known Aboriginal political activist Gary Foley, I was in turns outraged and nostalgic. Much of the ‘history’ he was retelling was one I vividly remember; the protest movements of the late 60s and early 70s; his from an Aboriginal perspective, and not the much trendier anti-war protests much favoured by teenage wannabe hippies like me.
I could happily listen to Gary Foley speak for days. He’s mellowed a bit over the years, but his razor sharp wit and humour is mesmerising. His opinions about politicians, corrupt police, fraudulent scholars and lying colonialists are delivered with machine-gun speed and precision.
Imagine the surprise in the room when he revealed that in 1971 over the course of an evening and a couple of cartons of beer, that he and a mate designed the Aboriginal flag! And that in 1938 a group of Australian Aboriginal activists were the first people in the world to register a protest against Kristallnacht, one of many terrible acts perpetrated by the Nazis against the Jews.
I honestly don’t remember ever being taught anything about Aboriginal identities or history at school, and sadly that’s still often the case. The lies and omissions that comprise what generations of kids have had fed to them as ‘Australian History’ is appalling. Worse, it’s galling to realise that I’ve been too apathetic or too smug to even ask questions, dig deeper, or challenge media stereotypes and misrepresentations.
The workshop was conceived and run by two people who travel the world building relationships with Indigenous peoples. Along with other specialist trainers, their hope is to engage the disengaged students by enabling them to tell their stories and their community’s stories with the aid of digital technology. They have an enviable record of success in an area where every other ‘program’ has failed.
Rachel Edwardson an Inuit director/producer and educator from Barrow, Alaska whose passion is to see young Indigenous people reconnecting with their language and heritage.
David Vadiveloo is an AFI nominated director, producer, educator and human rights lawyer who’s also received the Australian Human Rights Award for his lifetime commitment to human rights. They are ‘Community Prophets’.
Rachel and David are passionate yet realistic. Their people skills are extraordinary, and their quiet determination is inspiring. They’re both truly beautiful souls.
Until now their work has been mostly community based; living in remote areas for months at a time and working with the schools, students and their families.
They’ve done a brave thing by agreeing to become involved with the mainstream urban and rural school system and the various levels of bureaucracy, because most Aboriginal educational initiatives have low success rates. By involving and educating individual teachers in the way they’re currently doing, the hope is that the combination of informed teacher personal commitment and appealing state-of-the-art technology will engage Indigenous students in ways that will improve their school attendance and educational outcomes.
Of course, that’s all ‘eduspeak’ and part of the dialogue we are all expected to adhere to. There will be data collected, and that data will be analysed by university academics far removed from the lives of these kids. Damn data drives everything in this current educational climate, and sadly, along the way some humanity and heart - and risk taking - has been lost.
I hope this program is a resounding success, and I know I’ll be putting my heart and soul into making sure that I don’t lose sight of all I’ve learned… and am yet to find out.