Voices from the living past

“I think that a mother owes this to her children: to keep in contact with the rest of the world.”

This is the comment of a woman university student that was aired on Australian television in January 1961. My father shared the re-released recording from the ABC program A Woman’s Place. Questions include: Do the two lives of working and caring for children go together? Should women get the same money for doing the same job? Do you expect to find prejudice against the career woman? Could a woman be head of a large organisation?

The answers of the students vary — it wouldn’t be good television if everyone agreed — but their realisation of the challenge of “two lives” is evident. (One thing that has changed, at least to my ears, is the Australian accent, itelf a topic on RetroFocus with responses to Do Australian have a bad accent? in 1961 and 2019).

In another snippet of 1960s television from ABC’s RetroFocus, Australian passersby respond to a (male) university professor’s claim that housewives lead a dull life. One woman replies: “I don’t think it is dull at all … [They] invariably enjoy their game of tennis, bowls or golf.” More than one man suggests there’s a bit of “fun and games on the side.” In response to the question, “Never considered going to work?” an elderly woman replies, “Good heavens no!”

A few years after this aired, when my university was new, an article entitled ‘The Mums of Macquarie’ appeared in The Australian Women’s Weekly on 19 July, 1967. The article read:

More than 150 married women have gone back to study at the new Macquarie University … taking up courses that had been interrupted by family life … There has been many a resignation from neighboring tennis groups and lunch clubs, a Girl Guide captain has abandoned knots and hikes and returned to books, and it is not uncommon to see women with grocery shopping on one arm balancing a basket of books and papers on the other.

The magazine included this image of children at a lecture:

One of my favourite book bloggers, Whispering Gums, recently posted her reflections as a 1970s feminist, and commented about attending Macquarie University:

I chose to go to a new, progressive university (Macquarie) … in my experience women were treated well, there. It had no baggage of “traditions” that the older male-dominated universities had, and its academics seemed invested in creating something new. I think that made a difference. Macquarie’s motto is Chaucer’s “and gladly teche” (from the lines “gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche”). I always thought it a bit strange that the motto focused on “teaching” more than “learning” but now I think it’s inspired, because it reminds the academics that “teaching” is where it all starts.

Whispering Gums finishes her post in a way that is apt here, by quoting Germaine Greer: things have changed, but not enough.

For a bit more on the history of learning and teaching at Macquarie, I recommend listening to this audio recording by my colleague Karina Luzia (the transcript is available here).

I have already blogged about the article Vanessa Fredericks and I co-authored, Tracing the feminist contribution of HERD over 40 years. We highlighted a Burns, Scott and Cooney (1993) article called Higher education of single and married mothers, also focussed on Macquarie students. They wrote:

As university teachers, we are well aware that many of [our] students are single and married mothers, who face the particular problem of integrating study demands with family responsibilities and often, with the demands of paid work as well. The present study was triggered by the experience of the first author in teaching a third year unit, in the course of which I became aware of the life crises being endured by two single mothers, one a sole Parent Pensioner, the other self-employed. As well as financial and child care difficulties, both had health problems, one had an adolescent son in trouble with the police, the other had major responsibility for a seriously ill parent, and both were in litigation with apparently vindictive ex-husbands. Students other than mothers do not usually suffer from this kind of constellation of problems (p. 189).

You can read the full article (open source) here, but for the purposes of tracing the voices of university student mothers, I will highlight the voice of one participant:

Well I have three children. I felt I owed it to them whilst attending college to still give them the same amount of attention and support in both their sport and education areas and maintaining the home. And I was very determined I would never be late for an assignment. And I never was, not one day late. But it was a great strain. I got by on four hours sleep at night some nights. For a long period there five hours was a luxury. I never started to study until the children had had some quality time, which meant I wouldn’t open a book to rewrite lecture notes (and I always wrote every lecture again when I got home, so I’d understand it) so it was probably ten o’clock at night when I started, sometimes midnight … I got very tired. Quite cranky, actually.

For the voices of contemporary student parents, I recommend the work of Marie-Pierre Moreau in which students discuss a lack of time and money, and the challenges of balancing family, study and housekeeping. Tired and cranky. That’s something that hasn’t changed!

So long 2021

Thank goodness we have reached the end of 2021! I am taking a longer break than usual and looking forward to no Zoom meetings for a month.

The greatest accomplishment of the year was getting through 105+ days of lockdown and simultaneous schooling and working from home. The week that school returned on campus, I tweeted: I cannot overstate how much better my working week has been with my children back at school. I have managed complex tasks requiring concentration and uninterrupted thinking. Still catching up but the seven things on my list marked urgent are almost finished.

Despite the interruptions, there is much collective work to be proud of and I am fortunate to be part of an accomplished team (pictured below on Zoom). We made a fun video to celebrate the highlights of the year. These included: a Beginning to Teach professional development program, Spotlight on Practice interviews, iLearn (learning management system) drop-in clinic, Bite-sized Learning and Teaching podcast, supporting 23000 online exam sittings in second semester, and facilitating Zoom for Teaching workshops.

I am also proud of: the work of the Teaching and Leadership community of practice (I presented these slides summarising the CoP at the Council of Australasian University Leaders in Learning and Teaching (CAULLT) conference), co-leading the Contemporary Approaches to University Teaching MOOC with Marina Harvey, and publishing an autoethnographic journal article on parenting and promotion in Life Writing.

Outside of work, the pandemic made the world feel small. Walking in our local area helped.

A special shout-out to my father who facilitated weekly Zoom lessons for his grandchildren, individually crafted according to their interests: time, water, chess, The Great Depression, maps, left-handedness, food, money, computers, building a house, book publishing, inventions, family history, electricity, and colonisation among other topics.

Finally, no yearly wrap up would be complete without sharing some of my favourite books of the year: Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom (a novel about a Ghanian American PhD candidate’s family), Alice Pung’s One Hundred Days (a novel about a pregnant teenage Korean Australian detained by her mother), Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (fictionalised account of gay Vietnamese American son writing to his mother), Sara Foster’s The Hush (dystopian fertility fiction), Lisa Fuller’s Ghost Bird (an Australian Aboriginal YA mystery novel by award winning Wuilli Wuilli author), and Svetlana Alexievich’s The Unwomanly Face of War (oral history of Russian women in WW2).

So long 2021!

Edited to add: in my rush to farewell 2021, I forgot to share the news that the Slow Academic will have a new look next year thank you to the talented Fidel Fernando. I commissioned him to redesign the blog after the success of his artworks for the Over a Cuppa reflection series this year. Sadly he is leaving my team for a great opportunity at another university, but said farewell with this lovely image:

Tending to reflection

This is the 16th post in Over a Cuppa, a series which prompts you to reflect on learning and teaching during the time it takes to make and drink a cuppa. Cross-posted from Teche, original artwork by Fidel Fernando.

What a year! As it closes, I hope you have the opportunity for a reflective break in whatever form most nourishes you. I will be spending time with friends and family, visiting the beach, gardening, cooking, reading and ruminating. Thinking of the sensory immersion of the upcoming holidays – especially the beach – I can already feel my shoulders loosening.

While relaxing, I will be idly considering questions such as: What have been the most memorable experiences of 2021? What have I learnt? How have I spent my time and energy this year? Is this how I want to continue using these finite and precious resources? What am I  grateful for this year? What am I proud of accomplishing?  What would I like to do differently in the new year?

This is a different type of reflection from the learning and teaching prompts I have written about in previous posts. The aim of these posts has been to ask questions (what are your teaching intentions? What are your memories of learning? What makes your teaching shine?), build a reflection toolkit of readings and resources (lenses for reflection, go to resourcescircular reflection), and share ideas that develop reflective practice: put on your teaching cloak, make your learning visible to students, and use your senses.

I believe reflection during the holidays still fits within what Harvey, Coulson and McMaugh (2016) call the “ecology of reflection” which they describe as the “situational, contextual and complex … setting … for reflective practice.” They write: “Ecology is used in its broadest sense of an holistic, interconnected system such as those used in human ecology, social ecology and systems theory … which examine the bidirectional interrelationship between humans and environments.”

Hence the prompt for this post: tend your reflection garden. By this, I mean focus your reflective skills towards yourself. If you are fortunate enough to have a break, what activities will allow you to renew your energy? How can you recharge in order to continue the work of caring and connecting with students and guiding their learning? What keeps you in balance?

This will be the final post in Over a Cuppa, at least for now. In the process of writing these posts, I have read (or reread) several books, including Schön’s (1983) The Reflective Practitioner; hook’s (1994) Teaching to Transgress; Brookfield’s (2017) Becoming a critically reflective teacher; Carter’s (2020) Academic Identity and the Place of Stories, and, most recently, Ashwin et al’s (2020) Reflective Teaching in Higher Education. For each post, my colleague Fidel Fernando created an original digital artwork. Sadly (for us), he is leaving Macquarie University for an exciting opportunity at the University of Technology, Sydney.

There is still more reading and thinking to do about reflection, but this will take different forms. Over a cuppa will be replaced with a new series on the ABCs of pedagogy, designed to give teachers the language to describe their practice. This may be for the purposes of reflection, but can also encompass scholarship, career progression and recognition.

Harvey, M., Coulson, D., & McMaugh, A. (2016). Towards a theory of the Ecology of Reflection: Reflective practice for experiential learning in higher education. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 13(2). https://doi.org/10.14453/jutlp.v13i2.2