Thursday, September 13, 2012

Was I ever away?

I seem to have the jetlag under control now, except I am still waking up before my alarm every morning.  It's not too bad but I have to admit, it's starting to catch up with me.  I have already decided that I will be in bed at 8.30pm tonight.  I may take my laptop and Season 4 of "Fringe" with me, but I'll be there.

This week has been a pretty busy one and sometimes it feels like I never even went on leave. 

Occupying much of my time this week is the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Yes, it's definitely a mouthful, so everyone's been calling COSP or CRPD.  I wasn't involved much last year, but this time I've been fortunate to oversee - and attend - our side-events and hear representatives from other countries (Governments as well as civil society groups) talk about how we might improve systems and services to enrich the lives and livelihoods of people living with disabilities.  Australia also delivered its national statement yesterday - you can read it here.  We really are doing some impressive things on the domestic front, and we are equally active internationally - helping people of all ages in so many countries, and especially in the Asia Pacific. 

The theme of this year's Conference is about making the UN Convention work for women and children.  Out of all the things I've heard and learned so far, one thing that really stuck with me came out of the event we ran with UNICEF yesterday, on the subject of inclusive education.  The panel talked about the need to accommodate students with physical impairments in the classroom (making room for wheelchairs, adjusting classroom tools for students who need learning aids etc). But then the discussion turned to the topic of accommodating students ith intellectual disabilities.  One of our panellists (the Dean of Education at Syracuse University) said that he fundamentally disagreed with the notion of suggesting that a student has an intellectual disability at all.  He said that we have no way of knowing how another person's brain does - or doesn't - work, or what they're really thinking, or what their potential might be.  So how can we say for sure that a student is intellectually impaired, when perhaps they just haven't been given the opportunity to demonstrate what they can do? 

The panel and audience generally accepted that not all students learn as quickly as their peers, or they might need concepts explained to them in a different way, but he said that's the teacher's job to make sense of these things - to work out the lay of the land in their classroom.  He said it was the teacher's job to advocate for his/her students and help them realise their own potential while the students are in their care.  Quite a powerful profession, don't you think? 

Now Dr. Biklen wasn't suggesting for a second that this is easy, and everyone in the audience seemed to know that he was talking about an ideal world, where money was no object and teachers had the time and resources to devote personal attention to each and every child in their care.  But looking past all that, what I think Dr. Biklen was driving at was that teachers need to start assuming responsibility for the intellectual nourishment of their students.  It seemed to me he expects teachers to really step up to the plate (professionally and personally) and think outside the box when they have to.  I dunno, I just thought that was a really powerful reminder of how important teachers are, and the truly life-changing role they can play in a student's life.  So yeah, that struck a chord.  But I'm rambling, I know.  Hmm.  Can we move on to less serious stuff now?

Once the wrap-up from yesterday's side events was done, I went to NoLita and helped out at a wine tasting event being hosted by some of my colleagues.  The wine tasting was held at a gorgeous, hole-in-the-wall Australian bar called Eight Mile Creek.  They have Coopers beers, kids - not to mention a gorgeous little outdoor deck/beer garden area in which to enjoy them.  Eureka!  Now that I know this bar is there, I think it might become a bit of a favourite.  It's not close to where I live, but I feel it will be worth the commute.  Plus they are right next door to some of the yummiest Italian food in the city.  How could I refuse, right?!

The bar put on some great catering last night and we were able to introduce our international colleagues to kangaroo.  For many, this was the first time they'd ever tasted roo meat.  The first platter of skewers were apparently a bit tough, but the second plate was more tender and, by all accounts, tasty.  I was talking to our friends from Norway and Chile about kangaroo and it turns out that the TV series "Skippy" actually screened in those countries way back in the day.  I never knew that, it was classic!  No wonder it takes a bit of arm-twisting to get foreigners to eat roo.  They've been conditioned to believe that our little marsupials are fluffy crime-fighters and beloved family members, not something you cook medium-rare and slather with BBQ sauce.  Fortunately our Norweigan and Chilean chums were able to ignore the fact they were eating Skippy, and they declared the roo to be delish.  Most excellent result!

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