The Rufus, Melodie and Julia Show

Julia Gillard and I

“This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” – Winston Churchill

The carnival that has been the “initial intensive” is over. We are now essentially as trained as we will be for our first day of school (though there are still some pieces of assessment to complete). The last few days turned into a bit of a circus, as classes mixed with end of intensive events: the biggest of which was last night’s DEEWR function with Julia Gillard (the deputy Prime Minister).

Amongst all the fun and games that come with these kind of big-deal events for Teach for Australia have come some amazing pieces of inspirational oration. All three spoke last night, though it’s not necessarily their speeches last night that I’ll reference here.

Rufus Black

With a name like Rufus Black, and working as the Master of Ormond College (which has a fantastically old dining hall) in conjunction with a hint of a British accent- it seems that the Hogwarts references are inevitable. But when the chairman of Teach for Australia’s board speaks, you want to listen.

Rev. Black’s speech at our welcoming dinner has absolutely set the tone for the entire intensive experience: but more than that, has been an ongoing reference point throughout the entire time. While his story is certainly not mine to tell, the incredible roads he’s travelled and the obstacles he has overcome to eventually study my all-time dream course: ethics and theology at Oxford via a Rhodes scholarship – and the direct way he could relate that back to the belief and the commitment of his schoolteachers has almost haunted each of the associates.

Melodie Potts Rosevear

While Rev. Black’s subtle accent does wonders for the English language flowing from his lips: our CEO and fearless (I’m quite sure literally) leader delivers beautiful words despite having to overcome the obstacle of a (not especially subtle) South Carolina accent. Melodie has however, been an incredibly inspirational person for each of us. Melodie introduced us to the most beautiful concept to describe the noble cause we have signed up for -that freedom is the right to live a life that one has reason to value (from Amartya Sen).

Perhaps even more stirring though has been Melodie’s absolute determination that the state of educational disadvantage in Australia is not only unacceptable, but that it is a problem to which there are solutions. Regardless of whether you agree with her methods (and if you do disagree – you’re wrong :)), her stubborn pursuit of change in an area that hasn’t seen a lot of change in a long time comes out in almost any conversation.

Julia Gillard

Politicians are infamous the world over for being sneaky, slimy, self-aggrandizing and stuck up. But in our brief interactions with the Deputy PM, I was very pleasantly surprised. Julia dropped in yesterday to meet the associates, and to get a feel for how the experience had been (naturally with reporters in tow), before speaking at the function later last night. I think that the consensus across the room was that we heard someone speaking from a place of deep conviction: especially as she told of speaking with Teach for America alumni and Washington DC school chancellor Michelle Rhee. From the transcript:

She told of a discussion she had with a principal of a school in Washington which had been shown through testing to have fallen radically behind educational benchmarks and well behind the results being achieved in schools teaching similar children.

When she asked the principal for his analysis of what he thought should be done to lift standards, he initially struggled to offer a view and simply maintained that really everything was fine.

Finally, somewhat frustrated, Michelle Rhee said to him, ‘would you send your grandchild to this school?’

To which he replied ‘Well, if that’s the standard.’

….

It’s a great question. Would you send your child, your grandchild, your brother or sister, your niece or nephew to this school?

That’s the standard I want to be the Australian standard.

Teach for Australia aims at that standard and, in doing so, creates opportunities for change.

(full transcript at DEEWR Site here)

Speeches are of themselves, essentially meaningless. But when, as I’m going to go so far as to say for Rufus, Melodie and Julia, they are backed with compelling actions a speech instead becomes a powerful rallying call – and I am sure that I have become more determined to commit my professional life to confronting educational disadvantage because of the words of these three.