Sydney Ideas

by Ruth Hayhoe

Four days at the University of Sydney, Australia, in early May, 2019, gave me cause to reflect on parallels with University of Toronto. Founded in 1850, the same year that Kings College took the name University of Toronto, there is a striking Gothic style quadrangle, and residential colleges such as St Johns, Wesley, Sancta Sophia and St Pauls on the Oxford model dot the campus, with architecture reflecting the different historical periods of the university’s development. I was invited by Dr. Yeow-Tong Chia, who completed his doctorate at OISE in 2011 and is now a senior lecturer in Sydney’s School of Education and Social Work. As in Canada, there is a recognition, made explicit at the beginning of every formal event, that we are all guests on the land of the original inhabitants, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation in the case of Sydney.

The first event was a seminar open to the public that focused on Student Movements in China, beginning with the famous May 4th Movement of 1919 exactly one century ago. About 180 people, including faculty, students and members of the public, gathered in a large theatre and Dr. Fabio Lanza of the University of Arizona gave a keynote, followed by comments from Dr Tim Cheek of UBC , Dr Wanning Sun of the University of Technology Sydney and myself, and then lively participation from many members of the audience. The occasion is captured in a podcast.

A masterclass for doctoral students drew a group of 11 from Sydney’s Education and Social Work School and Centre for Chinese Studies, also two students from nearby MacQuarie University. The theses were at all stages of development from proposal to preparation for defence and each student had ten minutes. Yeow-Tong wanted them to experience the “thesis group” model he had benefitted from at OISE and it was great to see students offering insightful suggestions to each other, as well as getting input from myself and Dr. Julia Pan, who accompanied me on this trip.

On our third day we experienced what is called here a “Huddle” on the topic of Education and Nationalism. There is a rising concern about the resurgence of right-wing nationalism in many parts of the world and how education should address this. Yeow-Tong is committed to developing a proposal for an edited book that will involve scholars from various disciplines of the social science. The Huddle was a one day event, with 12 participants from Sydney’s School of Education and Social Work, Departments of Chinese Studies, Sociology and Political Science as well as the University of New South Wales and National Chung Cheng University in Taiwan. Each participant prepared a short position paper which was circulated in advance, then was given eight minutes to present their views. After each presentation there was vigorous discussion and debate. At the end of an intense day, we came to the conclusion that the core concepts to be developed in the proposal should be education, identity and the problematization of the nation state. The demanding task of   drawing together the ideas that were shared over this long day of deliberation now rests with Yeow-Tong.

There were striking insights from several of the participants. Dr. Anthony Welch noted how the League of Nations after WW1 and UNESCO after WW2 had striven to encourage a world order in which identities were not purely national, yet recent developments show that the persistence of a commitment to a global democratic order cannot be taken for granted. Dr. Remy Low, who focuses his research on religion and secularism, made the point that secularism has been assumed to be a neutral and progressive space, yet it can also be seen as an ideology used to govern religious differences. Another young scholar originally from Singapore, Jiayong Neoh, has just completed her PhD and been appointed lecturer in Sydney’s School of Education and Social work. She commented on the tension between ideas of citizenship that emphasize moral behaviour and responsibility as against those that focus on rights and preparation for an active political role. Her position paper ends as follows:

With the aspiration to prepare citizens who are capable of resolving problems and negotiating differences in the context of dynamic interactions and flows of ideas among countries, how can citizenship education address the richness of local contexts, while recognizing commonalities, shared values and aspirations in developing an intelligent citizenry?

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