Ask me no questions

One of the first things I do in my new classes each year is ask them if they trust me. If they believe me. They are lovely, polite kids, and they usually say yes. And I tell them not to. I tell them to question me. I tell them I can be wrong, misguided, or foolish.

I tell them that if I say something that doesn’t sound right to them they should call me on it. That if they’re not convinced by what I say they should ask for proof. And seek proof – or proof to the contrary – for themselves. The best classes happen when I am forced to reconsider some dogmatic statement. When someone proves something can be done that I said was impossible. Or when someone comes up with evidence that shows I am wrong. I love that. And I reward it.

I’ve known teachers who weren’t up for that. Who consider themselves autocratic, godlike figures who hold truth and wisdom in their own hands. Who take a challenge to their words as a sword to their heart, and must crush dissent with chilling ferocity, simply to protect themselves and their power.

But with everything that is happening in politics today – both in Australia and abroad – I have come to realise that there is nothing more important that I can teach my students than to question. To ask for proof. And to dissect that proof meticulously.

The people who will hold the line against evil, who will challenge accepted “wisdom”, and who will ultimately change the world, are the people who ask questions. The questions that no-one else is asking. The questions that we are told are unacceptable. The questions that other people don’t want to hear.

Those are the questions that need to be asked most of all. Those are the questions that will save lives. That will hold the line of compassion, of reason, and of justice.

If you have students, teach them to challenge you. If you have children, make sure they know that no-one – not even you – is inviolate. That no-one is perfect. That asking questions can be a difficult, even dangerous road at times, but that there is nothing more important for our growth – for our survival – than this.

I’ve worried about how to respond to what’s happening in the world, but it has become ever clearer that it is our immense gullibility that is the greatest threat. My work year starts today, and this has to be at the forefront of everything I do. The truth may be out there, but we won’t find it without asking a lot of tough questions.

Ask me no questions, and you will believe all my lies.



On love, loss, and the warmth of words

2016 was a year of love, of loss, and of fear. For me there was the sheer joy of discovering kindred spirits, and the devastation of seeing the brightest of lights snuffed out – both very public, and deeply private. It ended with elation, but also despair.

The summer holidays tend to be an emotionally complex time for me. I need time to recharge, but I miss the intense people contact that my work brings me. I would happily trade a long summer break for a longer but less frenetic school year, but that’s a whole different story. I hate Christmas – a hangover from too many Christmas traumas growing up. And I don’t thrive without a lot of people around me. I am the extreme end of the extrovert scale. The quiet end of the summer holidays can be a struggle, unless I manage it carefully, and I am often too tired to do so.

So I wound up a little feral. A touch self-destructive. And very difficult to live with. I was reading the news a little obsessively – not a life enhancing move at the best of times, and these are far from the best of times. I was not seeing enough people or getting enough exercise, having injured myself with a few over-enthusiastic attempts to ramp up my exercise routine.

At times like this I have to consciously seek out ways to lift myself up, or I become quite impossible. So I stopped reading so much news, and started focusing on the positives in my life. I stopped thinking so much about the fraught relationships in my life and started focusing on the people who know me through and through, and who love and support me even at my most foul. I even made a montage of the faces that mean the most to me, and set it as the home screen on my phone, so that every time I pick up my phone I see the people who make me who I am, and who pick me up when I stumble.

I love to read but had run out of the kind of uplifting, easy books I need at a time like this, so I trawled a bookshop looking for things to feed my soul. When I saw a new William McInnes book, “Full Bore,” I dived on it, then hesitated briefly because the blurb described it as “ramblings on sport, pop culture and life”, and my relationship with Aussie sport can best be described as distant, verging on cold. But his writing has reliably lifted me from the depths before, so I took a punt (hah! A sporting metaphor! Perhaps I’m not a total loss as an Aussie.) and took it home with me.

And, you know what? Sport did make an appearance, but this is not a book about sport. It’s not about pop culture. It’s about people, and love, and connections. It meanders through life having random conversations with shop assistants, passersby, neighbours, and friends, and weaving them all into a soft and loving tapestry of kindness and warmth that wraps around you and reconnects you with the world. Above all it’s about love. It’s the book equivalent of a big hug. I’ve never met William McInnes, more’s the pity, but he writes directly to my heart.

It’s about taking the time to look people in the eyes and hear their stories. It’s about reaching out to strangers in the night, and neighbours in distress. It’s about treading lightly, even with big feet, but not being afraid to walk in. Everybody has a story, and everybody has a heart. Sometimes we forget to really see the people around us.