Friday, July 23, 2010

On learning, good teaching (and admin law)

So yesterday I had a glorious day, in which I rose at five so I could fly to Sydney to attend a forum on admin law. Being in Canberra, I was lucky enough to have one of those little planes with a propellor, so we were low enough to see the scenery. You should try it some time, it's super pretty.

Likewise super (though not generally quite as pretty) were the conference delegates and speakers. It was like the admin law equivalent of a sixties supergroup (including in age, I have to say), but with some members who've died and been replaced by young(er) acolytes. The gender balance altered dramatically by age - the oldest were almost all men, recently retired judges and such like, next bracket was slightly more highly represented by men, but lots of present judges and other influential, important types were women too. In the youngest bracket (which was not 'young' as such but probably between 30 and 45) nearly all were women. I'll call this the 'not yet judges' section for the lawyers and the 'not yet departmental secretaries' section for the bureaucrats. I suspect I was the only non-lawyer there (except for the catering staff), so I can have a sub-section to myself. You can all decide on a title for that, but it might be something like 'not ever going to be a judge or a departmental secretary' section.

You know, for most of my life there have been many, many categories for people. Such things as 'artist', 'part-time cook, part-time student', 'journalist', 'bookseller', 'tram conductor', 'annoying idiot' and so on. I am unsure of my views on how my life now has only two categories 'lawyer' and 'not-lawyer'. Anyway, none of this is to do with learning stuff, is it?

So, as you'd expect with the Monsters of Admin Law as represented at the forum, the discussion was quite technical and complicated. If I had attended before May 2010 it would have sounded like 'blah blah blah, Jason, blah blah, blah'. Except each 'blah' probably had about 37 syllables.

However, thanks to the teaching of the law faculty the ANU, I now know my natural justice from my natural icecream, and most of it made sense. I am informed by some of my 'not yet departmental secretary' colleagues that some of it didn't quite make sense to them either, so I can attribute that to either extreme cleverness or extremely poor communication from some of the speakers, I think.

Before yesterday I wasn't at all confident of what I had learned during the course. I think I wrote an abominably bad essay, the kind of essay you write when you are not confident and can't clearly see links between concepts, examples and principles of what it is you are trying to learn. Yesterday, though, it all started to come together. The principles and the reality just clicked. I suddenly saw how the tools of the law, the attitudes of different parts of government, the needs of individuals, the role of the courts and political pressures come together, and how it is that you can start to analyse the information and make choices instead of just reacting to immediate problems to be solved. Because the thing about the good teaching is that it makes available all the information that you need and provides you with tools, but it leaves you to get on with it. And now I can.

One of the best sessions yesterday was about immigration and administration law. It was attended by Jason Kioa, his solicitor and barrister from the case and also by the present Secretary of the Immigration Department. It was the best illustration I have ever seen of how government directly acts on people, and how people do no ever stop being affected by it. I wish every decsion-maker in any government ever had been there. And that was great teaching as well.


Roger Parkinson said...

That sounds like a very satisfying conference. I've noticed that it is often really good to get out among peers (are they peers? More or less, I think) and see how you measure up. I guess it is not as much fun if it had shown you up, but it didn't (and even if it had you'd have learned something, eh?)

Penthe said...

They are not so much my peers as the stars in the sky, if I am the lowly worm with no eyes.

It was an occasion for keeping they ears open and the mouth shut and very satisfying indeed.