Erica has devoted her life to advancing the quality of life for all through education.
“Good education is a fundamental part of a fulfilling life.
“I don’t have children. If I had children maybe I’d put my energy into them; but I put it into what I care about most, which is giving everybody, particularly Indigenous people, equal access to education.
“Education allows people to discover what they want to do for themselves. It allows them to change their minds, to understand that error is not a sign of failure and is just part of the process of learning and developing.”
Education, for Erica, means making connections and healing the rift between areas of knowledge rigidified in academic silos. Education means drawing on the reservoir of human understanding, inspiring new life and new opportunities for all.
I was the Founding Secretary of the SA History Teachers Association and a member of the Social Studies Teachers Association encouraging the cross disciplinary approach connecting economics, social, historical, geographical, political elements to increase understanding of the foundations of contemporary society. Contributed to Social Studies text books in the early 1960s.
Teaching in the UK, Sept 1966 – June 1967, visiting schools in USA 1967, made me aware of the need to connect across disciplines in the humanities and sciences after reading ‘The Two Cultures’. Dangers in separation were made clear by the Cold War. Back in Adelaide, Deputy Principal, Mitcham Girls Technical High School and completing a major in English at the University of Adelaide to add to my Hons degree in History, I decided to change direction.
Encouraged to go to the Flinders University, to pursue an MA in English Literature, from 1970 I taught part time at Brighton Boys Technical High School where the separation of Technical Studies from the study of literature and social studies was apparent in attitudes. This was the beginning of my conviction that ‘subjects as silos’ decreased the avenues needed to develop the quality of community-based connections across a country.
In 1975 the single-sex boys school became the co-educational Mawson High School as a result of the end of the binary – academic or vocational – secondary school structure that had existed from the beginning of secondary public schools. Connecting the academic and the vocational was one of the important possible developments in these comprehensive schools. They were the result of the Freedom and Authority Memorandum of the Director-General of Education, Dr A.W. Jones. Principals could develop curricula appropriate for local needs. For the first time, public schools now had a second Deputy Principal, one for Curriculum. Integrated programs could be taken up by progressive schools.
In 1981 I became the Deputy Principal, Curriculum, to Brian D. Hannaford B.Sc, AM, FACE, who, since 1975 had been changing the academic Marion High School into a comprehensive school offering effective programs for all who attended for the full five years. He understood the dangers of subjects as silos, encouraged connections of different kinds, even establishing a multi-disciplinary resource centre as well as outdoor education and English-Second Language centres, a computing centre as well as the traditional library/resources centre to complement, enhance and counter the narrowing focus of mainstream study. The school had 30 different nationalities. In 1984/85 it was chosen by the Federal government as a ‘lighthouse’ school for South Australia. As early as 1986 schools were aware of the impact of ‘the green house’ gases and environment increased in importance in secondary as well as primary schools.
in 1990 I was elected as a representative of the graduates to Flinders University Council. In 1996 I would be asked to join the university’s Academic Senate and served there until 2002. Efforts were being made to connect across the sciences and the arts through the philosophy of science. From 1998 I had been working with U3A groups – University of the Third Age – on connections between poetry and science.
In 2000, the Australian Council of the Deans of Education had put forward a charter. ‘New Learning: A Charter for Australian Education. It emphasised the increasing necessity for interdisciplinary engagement. And schools increased the process of picking up cross-curricular connections. Awareness of insufficient graduates in the areas of the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics encouraged – in this acronym driven madness – a focus on STEM.
The Federal Coalition government showed little interest in the information increasingly available about global warming. Members of the government, including the Minister for Science, were not prepared to accept the advice of those who had been studying climate. The story of The Carbon Club, by Marian Wilkinson, published by Allen & Unwin, 2020, tells the story of the collaboration between carbon-producing corporations in Australia and the USA to undermine any progress in decreasing our focus on carbon – coal, gas and oil. Read the opening of it before the Kyoto Conference in 1997. It is a most depressing story of ‘How a network of climate sceptics, politicians and business leaders fought to control Australia’s climate policy’. The Howard government was in office from 1996 – 2006.
The carbon lobby had its impact on the following Labor governments. First Kevin Rudd’s government, then the one led by Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, covering the period from 2007 – 2012/2013. There was a decrease in emissions in this period.
In 2008, I felt the time was right to bring back the connections between the humanities and the sciences. In 2010, Robyn Williams, the long time presenter of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio National’s Science Show, launched it at the State Library of South Australia. The quality of our emotional response is central if we, in real – sort-of-real – democracies, are to vote for a future that takes into account the impact of global warming. Challenging the Divide: Approaches to Science and Poetry had the support of internationally renowned scientists. I wanted it to help in education to encourage the quality of emotional and intellectual connections in those citizens, the voters, decide future directions.
In 2013 Australians chose a Prime Minister who claimed, as the institute of Public Affairs did, that ‘climate change is crap’. The IPA, with very wealthy donors, had invited sceptics to support that view. The IPA was formed in 1943 and like an American Enterprise organisation, wanted government to favour business at all cost. We have had Coalition governments since then. And the coal and gas lobby still influences Federal government decisions.
In educational terms, the situation was made worse after 2015 by the review of the national curriculum for Australian pre-tertiary schools which rejected the cross-curricular, interdisciplinary approaches considered essential in 2000. For me , it has been as if there has been a deliberate effort to undermine the very thing we need to face the global warming future. Australia’s current Prime Minister since 2019, once brought a lump of coal into the House of Representative and told us not to be afraid of it.
Geoff Boyce understands that, for me, change has to come with knowledge. The acronym STEAM – if we must have these dangerous oversimplications – brings the Arts – the humanities, literature, philosophy, music, visual arts into the story. These blogs are my efforts to encourage connections in the minds and hearts of those voting, at different times, for the future of the nations. How we vote will determine the future for our children who do not have the right to vote. I offer the best information from the knowledgeable and courageous people, opposing these profit-first corporations and governments, about the many inter-connected aspects of our lives and the planet.