Posts Tagged power

Apathy and politics: Omar Musa @MWF

In this week’s episode of Q&A (from the Melbourne Writer’s Festival) there was some interesting discussion about young people and apathy in politics.

I was especially glad to head from Omar Musa, an award winning Australian slam poet who my students recently brought to my attention.  An extract from the episode transcript follows; the full episode can currently be viewed on the ABC website (

OMAR MUSA: I can’t speak for previous generations but when I talk for my generation, I see a lot of selfishness. I see a lot of materialism. I see a lot of superficiality and I think that’s something that we should all be – as artists we should all speak up against. I mean I think people have enjoyed such a good standard of living for so long in Australia, that – all right there’s – from the way I see it, there’s two different types of apathetic people in Australia. There are those who are apathetic because they feel that the government is not properly representing them and that they have no alternative choice and then there are those who are apathetic because they feel so entitled to this prosperity that we have that they can’t feel any sense of compassion to those who are vulnerable and, you know, I think that’s something we need to interrogate as a society, you know. I just see that there are problems in this society. I mean I’m proud to be Australian but, you know, as someone who is patriotic, I feel that it’s my responsibility to criticise and to ask these sort of questions about our past. Why is a dog whistle – always, you know, it invariably works in Australian politics. I mean a pugilistic wing nut like, you know, Tony Abbott almost won the last election by using the dog whistle when most people don’t even like the guy, you know. And so why is it that that sort of stuff works.

TONY JONES: In that same poem, My Generation, you talk about witnessing Prime Ministers slain, hush coups in the halls of parliament house. I mean does that sort of taint your view of politics, when you see something like that happen?

OMAR MUSA: Yeah, definitely. I mean it’s got to a point where it feels like it’s a choice between the devil and deep blue sea, you know. You’ve got this pugilistic knob head on one side and then you’ve got this sort of gutless wonder on the other and so I understand that – the young lady that asked the first question, I understand that feeling of apathy but I guess it’s times like this when it’s more necessary than ever to speak up and to question these sort of things.

These sentiments were followed by some very stirring words by Afghani activist and writer of A Woman Among Warlords Malalai Joya including the insistance that

The silence of the good people is worse than the action of the bad people.

I wonder what role I will play in the grand scheme of de-apathising the ‘youth of today’, including my own generation?  Surely the answer must lie in art, like Omar’s poetry, and in active protest, like Malalai’s…not just in retweeting exclamations of outrage and sharing witty remarks about news articles on Facebook?  Not that I’d be without those things mind you 😉

At the end of the day, will hip hop save our lives?

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This tweet caught my eye today:

It caught my eye because I have been musing on this observation made by Jan, a high school Principal on Twitter last week:

We work within a system. Of course there are systemic priorities. That is the reality of any workplace IMHO.

I wanted to flag this because I think both of these tweets are right, but this is a problematic standpoint as ‘working within a system’ and ‘being insubordinate’ are tricky agendas to keep in balance.

There has been much promotion recently amongst NSW DET leaders of adopting a ‘Tight-Loose-Tight’ model of working in schools.  It’s a model I support, and I think it provides a really terrific framework for teachers and school leaders (and system bureaucrats) to work on common ground without constantly arguing about, say, NAPLAN.  By accepting policy and product requirements we can get on with developing the ‘Loose’ area – the bit where we actually teach in the classroom using different and divergent strategies that are relevant and engaging and meet the needs of our personal teaching style, our individual students and our local school context.

However, recently I have definitely felt that critical comments made by teachers about ‘the system’ are being taken personally by leaders who are higher up the chain and see this as either a personal attack or an undermining of their innovative work in planning their school.  A few weeks ago I wondered if the answer is that we need a more realistic paradigm for collaborating with the people who ultimately are our ‘boss’.  But to tell you the truth, I find that idea quite dispiriting. I hate having to mind my p’s and q’s…it’s why I decided NOT to go into politics!

I don’t have much to say about this today, but perhaps you do?

How can we show our leaders the love (and our commitment to common goals) while maintaining a healthy level of insubordination?

NB: I’m talking very NSWDET here, but I’ve found a similar conundrum working with people on development of the National Curriculum…it’s tough to authentically engage in developing something so prescribed-from-above when your gut reaction is to kick against the pricks. Conversely, it’s tough to promote engagement with the resulting best-case-scenario product to people that I in turn lead when they want to fight against it too!

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