Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Bring back the cane: revisiting patriarchy

The head of the government's curriculum review, Kevin Donnelly, said yesterday that corporal punishment in schools was an effective way of disciplining children. The conversation continued, leading to the implication that Donnelly is not averse to reintroducing corporal punishment into Australian schools.

Australia is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Australia therefore has obligations to protect children from violence or abuse, by their parents or anyone caring for them (article 19); and discipline in schools should respect children's human dignity (article 28). There is no overarching statute however that implements the provisions of this Convention and regulation of schools and criminal laws that may apply, are left to the states.

A number of news outlets have conveniently summarised the legal framework on corporal punishment in schools - see eg Crikey's explainer. There seem to be examples in both West Australia and Queensland where corporal punishment is integral to some schools' program - including in one reported case, the requirement for parents to accept corrective punishment as a condition of enrolling their child.

For a government appointee ostensibly holding expertise in education and charged with advising government on matters of education, these comments and their implication are concerning. This is so despite Minister Pyne's rejection of the idea. What these views really tell us about the state of play in Australia at the moment is the resurgence of patriarchal views and patriarchal control. These views are apparent, for example, in the government's discourse around 'lifting and leaning'. Donnelly's views play into this discourse.

I'm interested in this post to explore the way in which this patriarchal attitude underpins support for corporal punishment in schools, and the lack of logic in Donnelly's ideas.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Unsettled Great South Land? 'Um' indeed


Australia: settled? Unsettled?
The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, in a speech concerning foreign investment is reported as having said 
I guess our country owes its existence to a form of foreign investment by the British government in the then unsettled or, um, scarcely settled, Great South Land.
Similarly, this week New Matilda reported on Rolf Harris' racism, noting his 2008 comments that
The attitude is that in their [ie Aboriginal peoples'] original way of life they would really wreck the surrounding countryside that they lived in and they would leave all the garbage and they would go walkabout to the next place.
Without addressing the implications of the Prime Minister's equating English acquisition of Australian territory with the benign sounding 'foreign investment', the allegation of a 'scarcely settled' land deserves correction. Like Rolf Harris' statement, it represents a misunderstanding of the nature of connection, occupation and use of land by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. While I cannot speak for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, I believe that I can point out the obvious mistake in these outdated notions.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Steps to generate (digitally enhanced) change in legal education

Information exchange the old way*
My last two posts have featured a developing argument in favour of designing legal education within a 'digital context'. Initially I argued that the degree requires a shift from the silos of disciplinary categories to a more contextual approach to teaching and learning law. I then suggested that the imperatives of contemporary (and future) digital technologies and their integration into the fabric of our lives demanded a re-imagining of law and legal education within a digital context. Others have articulated this in different ways. See for example Paul Maharg; the IT Countrey Justice; Kris Greaves; and Richard Grant and Marc Lauritsen in the US context.

So far these are justifications for changing what we do but without much direction in how we might go about it. I'm cognisant of the reality for many academics that a lot of change is just hard work. However I believe that it is our job, our responsibility to keep abreast of change, to evaluate, to experiment and to lead. In this post I suggest a few steps that each of us can surely take to kick off a more wide-ranging change within the discipline.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Legal education in a digital context

Technology of the past? Or for the future?*


In my last post, I reflected on the future of legal education. I focussed on the importance of learning law in broader contexts and one of those contexts I called digital literacy. It was this idea that attracted the most attention on Twitter, and one that I am starting to work with in our own curriculum.

While I am not an expert in digital technologies, I am interested in thinking progressively about the law and justice, and consequently about legal education. Others are expert in digital pedagogies, e-publishing, legal informatics, information visualisation, altmetrics, coding, e-discovery, intellectual property, e-commerce, e-research and the future of legal practice. I seek to draw together these spheres of thought to develop a coherent discipline-specific and overarching rationale for digital literacies to inform the law curriculum.

In this post I will develop the idea of digital literacy in the law curriculum. I will explain what I think it might mean as a broader context for the study of law: as a lens through which to develop knowledge, skills and attributes central to the discipline.

Friday, 6 June 2014

The future of legal education

Are lawyers prepared for the future?*

At the 2014 Australasian Law Teachers' Association conference, I will be participating in a plenary panel discussing 'Creating a Better Future for Legal Education'. In this post I outline some of my thoughts on this topic, in the hope that readers might share their own views and challenge my own.

My focus here will be on where I would like legal education to go in the next 10 years, and what changes legal academics need to make now to achieve that vision. In short, in my view legal education must challenge the existing silos of doctrinal specialisation and embrace the broader context of the law. This aligns with calls to break down barriers between university disciplines themselves, to deal with the 'big problems'.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Educating the legal profession about gender


'The woman lawyer will bring justice to her profession'*

The recently released NARS Report is the latest in a long list of studies of the pervasive sexism in the legal profession. It makes a number of excellent and practical recommendations to facilitate women's engagement in legal practice and consequently their retention and advancement.

There are various arguments for the retention and advancement of women practitioners - from gender equality, to sustainability of the profession, to the administration of justice. Despite this, and the decades of recommendations on equality, the legal profession remains as sexist as ever.

This period of mounting awareness of sexism as a problem has coincided with what Thornton regards as a prevalence of the corporatized law school. This has accompanied the scaling back of the critical project as a feature of legal education, including gender perspectives in law. At the same time in higher education more broadly, women's studies as a discipline have been wound back.

In light of what seems to be an urgent issue for the profession, is it now time for legal education to integrate gender into the curriculum?

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Government largess & wealth

I saw somewhere online today a criticism that the majority of Australians receive government benefits. This was presented as a means of criticising those who do as 'leaners', pointing out that a minority of Australians are 'lifters'. Interestingly, the comment aggregated those on government 'benefits' and those who received their income from government jobs (ie public servants).

I suspect that by government benefits, the author meant both welfare as well as tax concessions. The argument, presumably, is one for smaller government and the promotion of do-it-yourself wealth. This kind of discourse tends to categorise those on 'benefits' as lazy and the public service as a bloated and unnecessary workforce.

In this post I point out why this is a lazy dichotomy that supports not an economic view but an ideological one. While I have written before about the subtext of 'lifters and leaners', here I use the very interesting and seminal work of Charles Reich from 1964, The New Property.