Episode 1 Transcript
Welcome to the first episode of We Teach Well’s World Lit podcast. We are your hosts, Carolyn and Judy. Judy, do you want to say hi in there?
from, We Teach Well, and we’re excited to share this first episode of our podcast, where we’ll be talking about our mission, why we wanted to do this, and how we see it increasing educational equality, partly through decolonizing literature.We have, for a long time wanted teachers everywhere, to get the sort of knowledge and tools that they need to successfully teach literature. There’s nothing worse than going into a classroom when you’re not confident that you understand the texts that you’re going to teach.
If teachers are not confident, they’re going to get stressed. And we can see that happening everywhere.
What we want to do is look at how you can break down the cultural and socio-economic boundaries that prevent educators, teachers everywhere, from teaching content they are unfamiliar with. The podcast is an essential part of our commitment to breaking the cycle of colonization and cultural imperialism. We are inviting writers, educators and academics from around the world, to share their knowledge on how to effectively and inclusively teach their stories. Judy, do you want to throw anything in there?
I just, I guess, that in this virtual age that we’re certainly, you know, experiencing at the moment, it’s probably appropriate that we’re looking at exploring the virtual world. You know, the world is so much more open to us. We have far more access nowadays in this technological age. And so I think it’s time yeah, that we actually did something like this. So yeah, I’m really excited about it.
Yeah, I mentioned to you the other day, I was going through our Google Drive and came across a folder that we had put together, now I’m thinking this could have been 15 years ago
When we talked about doing a text, a reference book, not a textbook, but a reference book for teachers, to teach texts from other places. But now we’ve got this incredible opportunity to do a much better job and actually get the voices, I get really excited about this.
I do too
I need to find a Russian teacher. I mean, I really so much want to find a Russian person who can talk about Chekhov, you know I love Chekhov. But also, of course, Dostoyevski. I remember, talking to this guy, he was an accountant. And we were just talking about some stuff. But during that, I found out that his mum, that they were Russian, and that his mum used to live in the same block of apartments as Dostoyevski.
I know. And it’s just like, I need to find his name. There are insights that they would have,
It’s like walking in the footsteps of these authors. It’s the next best thing. I mean, we can’t go back in time, we don’t have a TARDIS. We can’t talk to some of these classical authors ourselves. But we can certainly talk to people who understand the context of what they wrote.
And that’s really, really exciting.
Because I mean, we can watch all the spy movies and documentaries about the Cold War and about the way things were in Russia, but we can’t know it.
No, and we can’t know it from an actual person’s perspective. You know, you tend to get the official line or even an Americanized or westernized version of that you. You don’t get the authentic voices, ofimportant actual people. And that’s really important
It is. We can read about the rules. You know, we can read about the political,
Yeah, it’s the conventions. You know, those things that are not codified, but that you just know, if you lived in that place, at that time, or even around that time. I was talking to one of our guests in a couple of weeks, Angela Tutty is talking about New Zealand literature. And we were joking about the idea that, you know, unless you’ve lived in New Zealand, unless you’re part of it, you don’t know why they call thongs, jandals.
Its not written down anywhere, there’s no law about it. But you just know it. And that’s what you need. When we try to share these worlds with students, I think, and to get students right into it and fired up, you need to have got some of these understandings some of these stories, so that you can share them with the students, and they can then have better engagement with the text, I think.
I know, and as English teachers, we do that, or we attempt to do that to the best of our ability, but, you know, as much research as you can do, and trying to place yourself, you know, in the position of these people, you just can’t do it, as well, as people who have placed themselves in that position who are there who are authentically living this. And I think that’s what’s so important, in this age of cultural appropriation, let’s not do that. Let’s actually get to the bottom line of it, and speak to people who have been there who have done that,
That idea of cultural appropriation, and I mean, for me, as you know, that is a big issue. for me having been born, my parents are Scottish and as being born as a white child in India, and just after the Raj, but still, at a time where Britain held, you know, has affected the way Indians and Indian texts are interpreted. And then living in Singapore as a primary school student, and doing my primary education there, and not being aware of racism, or cultural appropriation or any of those things until much later. And, I remember it so clearly, on the way to Australia, because we migrated, we came on a boat, just in case people were wondering, wasn’t very big boat, but it was a boat. So we’ve gone from Singapore, we went to Thailand to Bangkok for a couple of weeks, or a few days, escapes me. And then we flew to Kolkata, we were supposed to only be in Kolkata, for a week or so. And then we were going to see the Taj Mahal, and everything before going to Mumbai, or Bombay, I think it was still called at the time, to get the ship, to Australia. And I became aware when I was quite young about the differences in life for, children from different countries. And I couldn’t work out why my life had been so different. What had happened for those children in India who I saw as we walked down the street. And why, they had fewer opportunities than what I had. I didn’t think that was fair. But I was young at the time. And it was before I understood about cultural appropriation and colonisation, that my desire, perhaps to build a school and take all the children off the street, was perhaps not an appropriate response. But now I mean, in the last couple of years, having the chance to be in India and to teach there and in Abu Dhabi and Singapore. I was surprised to find that they call them English literature, they call the subjects English literature. But there are Indian texts and Russian texts and Irish texts and all of these others. It just seems to me to be a bit rude.
Very, very rude.
Yeah. And I became aware, and this is terrifying. But Dr. Larissa McLean Davies from Melbourne Graduate School of Education was talking about, she’s a English literature and language specialist. And she was talking about why teachers in Australia seem reluctant to teach Australian texts,
The cultural cringe maybe?
She says that’s definitely there. But the other thing she said was that, some teachers, apparently say that they find the racism or the violence difficult to teach. And I thought well yes that’s okay. But they can still teach ’12 Angry Men,’ ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ I do wonder whether it’s easier for us to teach somebody else’s dark stories.
Exactly than to explore our own.
But that’s too close to home.
That’s right. It’s okay to say, ‘Oh, they do that, but we don’t do that.’ But then when you read things like ‘Deadly Unna’ and other texts, you realize that we did actually. And worse in many, in many cases.
The other thing Larissa was talking about, she introduced the idea of the ‘Macaulay Minute,’ and I’ve never heard of it. Have you
Heard of it? No.
Yeah. Well, Macaulay was one of the British government’s supervisor people, in India in the 1800s. About 1840s, as they were setting up,education stuff in India. Some money had been made available to help with getting Sanskrit and Arabic literature. And McCauley wrote what is certainly not a minute. He wrote this thing that was sent back, had about 13, or 30, or something parts to it. But there are a couple that were, I’m not I mean, I can’t tell you what they were, because it makes me feel sick just to say the words. But his view was, that that would be a terrible waste of money. Because from what he had seen, the languages were so primitive, they couldn’t imagine that anything beautiful could be said in either of those languages.
That is so disgusting, isn’t it?
And, and he went on to say that it was obvious that one shelf of British literature was worth more than all the Sanskrit and Arabic literature combined.
Unknown Speaker 12:42
It’s just appalling. And then, he went on to say that we needed …..
It sounds a bit like Matthew Arnold actually.
Well, maybe, yeah. But it will…..
You know, English literature contains all that is most appropriate for a person to read to learn how to behave appropriately in
Yeah. And he and Macauley actually said that. He said, we want to make them more English.
Oh, yes. One of the greatest homogenizing tools ever is literature and
English language, yeah.
Well, English language literature, yes. But you know, but making literature all about only English literature. Yeah, is definitely one of the worst hegemonic tools that that is available and has been used.
And this is, this is what I think is really important. English language is an important language, people in all countries use it,
But it should never be used at the cost of the people’s own language. No, and
No, and certainly not at the cost of their culture.
And that’s what English language teaching was. And in places like India, and even here, you know, I shouldn’t say even here, I just here in the different orphanages and different places that indigenous children were educated, it was done to make them more English.
It’s interesting, talking to one of the other episodes we’ve got coming up, with Gwee Sui Li, who’s a poet and teacher in Singapore, and he talks about the four languages. Singapore is a really interesting country, so far as that goes, there are four languages, three mother tongues, so that’s Mandarin, Malay and Tamil. And English is the language of instruction and financing. You know, governance.
Yes. Most professional.
Yeah. And every student learns to speak English. But they’ve done it a bit better, I think. Because they accept the three cultures. It is multilingual. It is a multilingual country. And, English is used for where it is useful. But it’s not considered a mother tongue, which is important. But English as a language has been used as a hegemonic tool for way, way long time. And I just find that unconscionable.
Yes, although it’s funny, I, I wouldn’t mind actually doing it in reverse. I, I do think that English translations of other cultures, texts, sort of has that same hegemonic aspect, you know, in at least broadening people’s minds and opening them up to the, you know, the lived experiences of other people’s and other cultures, which is the only thing really, that is going to stop and stamp out racism.
Yeah, but it depends on who the translators are, this is important. If you’ve got a Chekhov play, or a Solzhenitsyn’s, you know, ‘One Day in the Life’ who is it that translates that to English? Is it an English person? Who has learned to speak Russian? Or is it a Russian? Who has learned to speak English? Because those are two very different things.
That’s true. And I mean, I think an English person who has learned to speak Russian might cut or change, without understanding, some of those cultural aspects. And that would actually dilute the importance, or passion of the author. And that’s just untenable.
Well, yeah. And I mean, that’s the thing, isn’t it? I mean, both of us are, you know, fairly passionate feminists. But, when I became a teacher, there was no internet. Well, there might have been, but it wasn’t anything that we knew about. But for all our literature studies, because you graduated before, you know, the internet became sort of as available as it is now. And we were dependent, didn’t you?
No, I’m a very late developer, remember…
Yeah, so am I..
I only went to university, you know, at a very late age. So, that was late 1990s, early, early 2000s. It was up and running certainly, isn’t what it was, you know, isn’t wasn’t as it is today. No, no?
Yeah, no, yeah. I was thinking, yeah, but no, no, I didn’t, I can’t remember when I, there was some access in the early 2000s. But it wasn’t really until I went away that I became aware, it wasn’t until I had students who were having conniptions because they couldn’t last a day without Facebook. And, I didn’t even know what Facebook was. And that was 2007. But when I went through, again, I was a late teacher, but I did my dip ed in 91. And we were still, it was books that we had to get our knowledge from. And most of those books were written by….
Middle aged white men.
Yeah. Educated, in what was an incredibly privileged position. And maybe, I mean, even if they traveled to places, I mean, both you and I loved traveling, and going to these places, but visiting them it’s not enough to learn those things. It’s just not enough. So anyway,
So that’s what that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing. And partly because we think it’s just going to be really, really good fun. And partly because we love talking about literature. We’re both a bit geeky. And the idea of being able to find out from people of different cultures, how to read their stories, and then how to bring those stories to students.
Yes, and to bring them to life, the only way you really bring them to life is to have that deep inculcation into, you know, the, culture and what was thought about and what was, what was eaten and, and breathed in, in the air in that particular time and/or context.
Yeah, because I have this sort of mountain of colonial guilt attached to me, and being very Scottish, and therefore I’m not fond of the English, anyway, the other people whose literature I love is the Irish. And, so we’ve got a wonderful teacher called john Ryan, who’s from Dublin, and who talks to us about the history, the stuff behind Irish literature. So that’s great, because I love Irish literature.
The playwrights are so incredible, and their poetry. I’m not saying that English literature is not good.
Please don’t, to a Shakespeare specialist, please do not.
No, And I also, am a Shakespeare lover too. So. And I do and I love Jane Austen. And I love the Brontes, and I love a lot of British literature. English literature.
Yes, we just don’t believe that that is all there is. No, there’s a whole world out there. And people need to explore that. I think sometimes you can get so set in your ways or, you know, we can pigeonhole students into a certain style of texts, or even a certain way of experiencing and reading those texts. And I think it’s really important that our job as teachers, particularly teachers of English, is to broaden students minds, not pigeonhole them.
This, this is exciting for me, it’s one way I think that we can definitely do that is to introduce teachers to the context so that they can know it and love it and teach it to their students.
Yeah. And when we started, We Teach Well, the people we wanted to serve were teachers. Because we had become aware of how difficult teachers jobs had become, I don’t know about when you started, but when I started, you got time to research, there was time to go and do some work into unpacking the texts for your students.
There certainly is no time now. There’s a whole lot of administration paraphernalia that you need to, you know, get your head around,
And, and a teacher’s job, for people outside teaching, a teacher’s job has become more about filling in paperwork and reporting, than it is on actually teaching and broadening the minds of the students sitting in front of you.
And what a way to lose passion. Right. Unless you’re actually, you know, passionate about what you teach, and because you’ve, you’ve delved into it in so much detail, then you’re going to be teaching very passionlessly and, you know, that just isn’t ideal. That that goes against the grain of everything that, we stand for and everything in fact that we, inaugurated this ‘We Teach Well’ for.
Yeah. Because, we have children, you have more than I do…
That’s an understatement. Yes.
I mean, I can remember, times when my kids were bored, and I’m thinking how can you be bored in English? It should be the most fun you have in a day.
Well, yes, it is for me.
It was for me too.
Well, it’s just that I got excited about, I loved what I was doing. I remember saying to somebody, when you teach English, you actually teach everything.
Yeah. Well, that’s exactly right. Which is, possibly why, well, in my very, very biased opinion, that the most passionate teachers out there are English teachers. Because they, they’re not pigeon holed into teaching just one little thing, we can teach the history and the art and,
And the philosophy and the psychology
And, I mean, you’re a history teacher as well. So you’ve done some study in history. I did a double English method at Melbourne Uni, the only people who would let me do that. I’m pretty sure that everything I know about history, I got from reading literature,
That’s just it, if you are taught very good English literature, and let’s use the horid term again, but if you are taught literature, then you actually glean historical knowledge, artistic knowledge, philosophical knowledge, sort of almost imperceptibly, you know, without knowing it, it just comes, comes through the skin, a bit….
A bit like Ozmosis.
I really feel for a lot of English teachers and, I think the figures I was told, were that 40% of English teachers, same with maths, were never trained in it. They didn’t study English.
How can you possibly teach English without the knowledge? I mean, I know that you can be self taught, but you have to have a grounding. Certainly.
Yep. And I mean, any chance I get, when I hear people talking about how important literacy and numeracy is and all the rest of it, and I’d like them to have a look at if that is true. If governments really were concerned about literacy and numeracy, they would ensure that English and Maths teachers were not seen as generalist, but were seen as specialists.
Exactly. It’s downplaying the roles of both of those types of teachers. But they’re just too important.
Absolutely. I mean, I’ve had, you’ve probably heard it as well, people say, ‘Oh, you can speak it, you can teach it.
That idea of, you know, we want to offer manual arts, home economics, and IT and drama. And…and…and
Which we should, it is very important.
Absolutely. But they have to have teachers who know what they doing, they have to have specialist teachers. You certainly don’t want to leave me in charge of a class where there are electrical tools.
That’s a scary, scary position.
So you need to have people trained, but because English and math are compulsory, you need to fill up the classes with teachers who trained in a number of anything, not either English or maths.
It’s so stressful to think about that sort of thing. It’s so distressing, because, I mean, mathematics is a language, to be honest, just as English is. And I certainly wouldn’t put myself out there to teach maths I, I would have no idea how to do that appropriately or passionately, or, you know, even effectively, or any other way to be honest. So, yeah, I do, I agree with you wholeheartedly. I think English has got to be promoted, English and Maths have got to be promoted as skills and specifications in their own right. And if we can’t do that, I mean, economically, if, you know, we have to sort of have generalist teachers teach it, then, you know, I think they need some support.
Yeah. And and look, maybe economically, we think of putting more money. You know, rather than putting money into conducting a ridiculous standardized test, or, you know, putting it into the latest new idea, that’s gonna fix everything, just pay for teachers. Pay teachers to teach Put the money in getting people who know what they’re doing in front of classes. And I think your results will improve a lot,
Dramatically. Yes, I agree.
But, we are not policy makers, though it certainly hasn’t stopped us from thinking about it or saying what we think, but…
Nor should it…
Nor should it. This is why we’re starting this podcast, and I’m actually finding it a lot more fun than I thought, I wasn’t that I didn’t think it’d be fun, it was that I thought it might be a bit hard.
Yes, but it’s…
But its more like good fun than it is hard work, I think
It is, it is more like fun than it is work.
We’re heading into an interesting year. And if anyone out there, we would certainly like you to stay with us and follow us along. But if any of you know, English teachers in other countries, or academics or writers in other countries who can talk about their literature, please send them our way, we’d love to have them as guests on the show.
I actually have got the podcast already cleared on iTunes and Spotify.
Yes, I saw that. That’s, that’s very exciting. Yeah,
It is exciting but we’ll also have it available on our website, www.weteachwell.com is where you will find us. Any ideas or thoughts that you want to share? We’d love to hear them.
I think you have said it all, actually. I’m very excited about this. My, I guess my only point is I miss out on a lot of this. But I shall learn vicariously through you.
How do you mean you miss out on on
In the podcasts?
You’re going to hear them? You will be coming in to do some of them too.
Yes, yes. It’s just that interactivity. That’s right. I think it’s absolutely fascinating the things that you’ve been talking about, with, you know, the authors and teachers we’ve spoken to so far. And, I find it absolutely exciting and interesting, and I hope everyone else does, too.
Yes, I do hope so too. I do I do. We can I just say I need to, there’s a couple of people we need to mention here. Yep. And the first one was Nikki, who worked with us last year, Nikki De Leon.
Yes, yes. Thank you Nikki, for your work.
And then there was the delightful Georgia Eason, and Georgia created the artwork. And, and Mai, the third, and she’s a journalism student. And she has been writing all the scripts and stuff for me. Things that I would like to do, but because there’s other things I need to do, I haven’t had the chance, and she has done a huge amount of work. These three, three girls are part of the Monash Arts Intern program. (WIL Arts)
We have been intensely lucky, haven’t we?
We have, yeah.
Our Swinburne boys as well, you know, have done remarkable work in getting us ready. to launch the program..
And drawing up, a roadmap and getting all the information that we needed and making sure the website was working. Those four guys from Swinburne were terrific.
Yep. And, you know, I think this is exactly what ‘We Teach Well,’ is all about too, this helping everybody. It’s not as if we are, you know, conduits of all knowledge and we’re deigning to give you some, it’s ‘help us,’ you know, us and help everybody else. It’s, it’s all really wonderful. And collegial. I love that.
Yeah, me too. And I mean, we’re not in the classroom anymore. But it’s kind of nice. working with the interns. Because you feel like you’re still helping a young person. Get more skills and, and that’s something you never lose when you’re a teacher, I think.
No, I mean, that’s that’s the reason we become teachers, isn’t it?
Yeah, pretty much. Yep. And we’ve been very fortunate. We’ve had some terrific kids. I shouldn’t call them kids. These are.
You should not. These are adults.
Yeah. And incredibly smart and capable young people, who we could not have done with, you know, we would not be up to this point were it not for them?
They’ve been stunning.
Technology for two old broads like us. Yes. Yes. Slightly. daunting.
Yep. No, they’ve been, you know, social media, they’ve taken care of social media, which is fantastic, because I’m not very good at it.
No, me neither.
So yeah, I just want to thank them. Thank those guys because they’ve done great work.
And thank you to anyone out there who’s actually listening to this, because that makes me excited as well.
And please share it with everyone, you know, who might be interested. We’re just beginning and we’re looking forward to building it slowly but surely. So anyone who you think could benefit, we would love you to share it.
Yes, definitely share, share, share, share, share, share.
The next one will be in two weeks time.
Yes, our second broadcast..
So there’ll be two in February and then all going well, there should be two a month from then on.
So who are you speaking to? In podcast two Carolyn?
In podcast two, it is likely I’m speaking to Gwee Sui Li from Singapore?
And then to Angela, from New Zealand, and then to the wonderful John Ryan, in Ireland. And I think that’s the order for the next three.
Marvelous. And of course, these people that you’re speaking to are talking about elements of their culture? the customs? They’re talking about literature from their areas?
Yeah. And what lies behind the text. The last question I asked the guest is, if you could recommend three texts that best define your culture? What would they be?
marvelous question. Although, gosh, I’m sure there are so many.
Yeah. And so lots more books to read, which is going to be really cool.
Thank you very much for people who have joined us for this very first show. We hope that you will come back again next fortnight when we will be speaking to Gwee Sui Li from Singapore. Gwee is a poet and teaches at tertiary levels. For more information about We Teach Well, you can visit our website at www.weteachwell.com. If you have any questions or would like to send any of your suggestions for the literature you’d like to learn about, contact us at [email protected] Any books that I mentioned, any resources that are mentioned in the podcast will be included with the transcript and the show notes. And that’s us. We are your hosts Carolyn and Judy and we are saying goodbye until our next episode.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
The Monash Interns have been part of the Monash Work Integrated Learning (WIL) program.
- Nikki De Leon
- Georgia Eason
- Mai Gutman
Enquiries can be emailed to: Rebecca, WIL Placement Coordinator ; [email protected]
The Swinburne Interns were part of the student partnerships program. They were:
- Dean Thorn
- Yasi Saparamadu
- Mitchell Fielder
- Luke Dilabio
Information on how to host a team can be sent to: [email protected]