Oliver's poetry cheered, raises critical issues

Kerri Carr

How can we benefit as a society when we have people more invested in creating division than creating thinkers, performance poet Steven Oliver asked at Federation’s 20th Aboriginal Members Conference.

“Politicians will argue heatedly and passionately about their flavour of righteousness, and I think and wish they’d show the same concern for my people’s suicide rates, incarceration rates, child removal rates, deaths in custody, life expectancy and the continuing denial of human rights including land rights, sacred sites and self-determination,” he said.

“Where is the concern?

“Then I realised, they don’t want people to be concerned — they want to tell people what to think.

“People are getting so worked up about free speech they don’t even realise they are giving up free thought,” he said.

“Their ability to think for themselves has been snatched by this false fear of the other. Instead of people forming opinions, they’re forming hate groups. Instead of thinking about it, they’re thinking they have to be angry about it ... How is it that we have reached a place where people are just believing what they are being told, how somewhere along the line we have stopped concerning ourselves with making a nation of thinkers?”

“I get it that sometimes we don’t want to think about things; life is too hectic. It’s easy to see why we don’t want to think any more, why we just want to be fed information. So, what happens to a world fed information and not knowledge? What do we risk becoming when we settle for another’s truth instead of our own? I’m worried we’ll find out sooner than later,” he said.

“Thankfully, I believe that teachers have the power to change that.”

“Teach them to question everything that life throws at them while they still want to decide instead of just being told,” he said.

“I know it’s a scary thought to have a room full of young people question everything presented to them but constant questioning … is what makes us find a way to a solution.”

Steven Oliver’s poetry raises issues such as Aboriginal incarceration levels, reduced life-expectancy, substance abuse and suicide rates. He is also an actor, writer and associate producer on the ABC sketch show Black Comedy.

Conference workshops

Federation campaigns and professional issues were covered in a variety of workshop offerings.

Teachers interested in union activism were clued-up on how they can participate in Federation campaigns and encourage others to join them in workshops covering: Gonski campaigning; Leadership and your role as Federation activist; Stop TAFE Cuts — What’s the next phase for TAFE?; and Blogging, tweeting and curating for teacher activists.

One workshop gave advice on asserting professional authority in determining workload.

In a session for school leaders and aspiring school leaders, participants were given advice about dealing with challenging situations, with the importance of procedural fairness emphasised. Teachers were also advised about the support Federation can offer.

Workshops specific to beginning teachers and teachers of students with disability dealt with issues concerning their work.

Other workshops addressed the Performance and Development Framework, women’s workplace rights and creating safer schools for LGBTIQ students, families and teachers. In the afternoon, participants were treated to NESA-accredited workshops regarding resources at their disposal from Taronga Zoo and Cool Australia.

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