On learning music and teaching law

I come from a maternal line of teachers. My mother teaches music, and her sister teaches drama. Their mother ran her own little school back in the day, with their aunty. Another sister ran yoga and dog-training classes. If there was one thing I swore never to do, not even a little bit, not even piano lessons on the side for pocket money, it was teaching. Even now, five years after I took my first class, it’s an open secret. How’s the teaching going? Mum will ask. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone. I LOVE it.

Teaching is one of the few professions that has been relatively open to women who want to establish and maintain an independent working life. Staff rooms are not free of office politics – no work environment is free of office politics – work environments have humans within. But it is nowhere near as threatening to enter a school and earn a living as it is to confront the rampantly sexist horrors that await women in construction, mining, engineering, and (still) medicine, science and law. Not to mention the corporate cowboys in finance, insurance and IT.

That social structures and the men who perpetuate their flawed values have actively limited our life choices is still apparent today. Minimalisation of the worth and value of working with children (and the elderly, the sick, people with disabilities and other women) is one of those breathtakingly ignorant features of the western tradition. It is much over-looked that while we hold forth as the pinnacle of human achievement, we have in fact only succeeded at producing a generation of the fattest, saddest, most sugar-addicted beings in the history of humankind. If that sounds far-fetched, consider the fastest-rising diagnoses in the wealthiest countries: obesity, depression and diabetes. It is our strange privilege – to deploy the trappings of “civilisation” to disconnect from life’s fundamentals. This disconnection shields and buffers and cotton-wools the middle classes from the howling suffering of humanity. It is so all-pervasive that many of us only notice it when we breed a new human of our own. Suddenly the utter disregard for women and children is front and centre, every waking hour (which is most hours, for some new parents). How to push a pram AND a supermarket trolley? Why do tradies only turn up when you have to be somewhere else? What do you THINK I did all day? HAS A BABY DIED OF HUNGER OR DISEASE HERE? DO YOU KNOW WHY NOT?

Anyway. The latest pedagogy repositions teaching. It is now located and defined as teaching, learning and engagement (not necessarily in that order). Makes sense: students must be engaged to learn, and teachers must engage students before teaching and learning can take place. Turns out that teaching is a lot like parenting, and simultaneously teaching and parenting – among a group larger than an adult or two, to make the obvious point – is a tried and true pedagogy. Been around a while. For the sum of human existence and beyond. Back up in the trees, down in the swamp, parents showing children, elders leading. Not new, nothing innovative, just a return to the deepest of deep-rooted practices: listening, learning, laughing, living.

No, I am not advocating a trip down Aquarius lane. In a roundabout and easily distracted by the realities of most of the world’s pain while sitting in the comfort of my suburban home way, I am trying to get to this. My mother teaches music. I am belatedly, eternally grateful that this is her chosen profession. I teach law. We are both mother-teachers. This delivers dividends, in commonalities that far outweigh the surface differences in our chosen fields.

It dawned on me slowly, as I took on two and then three and four classes. Then unit co-ordinator of this course, or running summer school for that. Each additional responsibility brought that which most teachers loathe – the designing of assessments, the accountability measures to the institution, the endless administration. I developed pedagogy around remembering names; and more on compulsory attendance. I developed a pathological hatred of medical certificates; and a gentle, almost fond, tone for explaining to eighteen year old law students that they are adults, and smart ones, who have worked hard to get where they are … and are therefore expected to work on successful life/study strategies. I am not your mother, the sub text screams, as I smile and nod reassurely (subtext: Ingrid is right. You are smart. It is up to you).

What was slowly dawning was an understanding that I had spent a lifetime in the company of a woman who holds a sophisticated universal theory on the place of music in human history. And that I was spending much of my intellectual energy working on exactly that, in the field of law. Neither of these are new enterprises, but as with much teaching and learning agenda, we humans are doomed to re-learn or repeat, like history itself says it will doom us to do. Music resonates through the body and the heart, and through the ages. Law resonates through the head and the heart, and the body politic. If the heart thing strikes you as incongruent, spend a day in a court room. If any social structure showcases everything that is wrong with our civilisation so-called, it is the cold pomposity of this environment. The power of men to judge others while holding back any emotion as the most despicable, most heart breaking and traumatising events are recounted and relived in the public domain – it is a terrible thing. It is barely an improvement on public hangings – the single redeeming feature is that Australian courts at least do not, directly, have the power to take a human life.

While I am nothing if not a complete ignoramus on all things Foucaultian, I think the resonance from head to heart to social body is the music that pumps in our blood, and law that regulates its beat. The great reunification of parenting and teaching, of music and law, of a life’s calling that is a living wage, may never have fallen into place if my mother had not been that special kind of teacher who not only loves what she does but is gripped by a passion to share it with all. Her teaching style is inclusive and generous but not altruistically – for it is her greatest life satisfaction too, this privilege to enhance a fellow human’s love and knowledge of music. Same thing, I hear her in my mind’s ear, as I type that AND between love and knowledge. Same thing, for more knowledge of music is more love of music, and it is here that the law and music education paths diverge.

My own love of studying law has as mixed a provenance as anyone’s interest in anything. My dad is an Anglophile, I am an Anglophobe. His old-school liberalism prompts me to shriek in frustration. They’re letting you down, dad! How can you stay loyal to an idea (here, liberalism) when its adherents are people who bastardise and corrupt everything you actually do and they say they do while doing the opposite? Push back! Tell em to get back to first principles, or go back to school! He won’t, of course.

My Anglophobia is, as far as I will argue, grounded in fact. The English are dangerous. Like the church they took with them across the globe, everything the English touch turns to gold for the English and death by English hands for all but the most dedicated of collaborators. Why anyone would join collaborator ranks for the dubious outcome of never being more than a curiosity, and never attaining full membership no matter what, has always left me cold and unconvinced. I always thought Al-Fayed senior, the Arab who bought Harrods, was the ultimate exemplar of how that particular dynamic plays out. He’s so rich he takes over the iconic jewel in the English retail crown, just purchases this piece of prestige. His son squires the fallen princess about town. Al-Fayed paid the same price as families across empire have always paid. It is an old, old story; the first born son, the sacrificial lamb. Everything old is new again, nothing is new under the sun (hello vanity, hello Ecclesiastes, and hello to my maternal grandma, who loved that chapter and verse).

But back to my dad: Our shared yearning is for a social order which actually reflects the noble pursuits and principles that “the” law (our legal tradiiton) claims to uphold. There is nothing wrong with subscribing to the principle that all are equal before the law and no-one is above it. There is everything wrong with complacent declarations that this is indeed the case, that it is a factual claim that can be validly made about England and the common law countries the English so violently corralled under their jurisdiction.

I have written elsewhere of my immeasuarable discomfort with the notion of a common law – or, as the English and their accolytes call it, the common law. It has an inherent problem that is overlooked in the same way the great claims for “civilisation” made by the west overlook its barbaric disconnection from life, mother earth, humanity, and all that sustains us. Similarly, the “common” law is elitist. It is inaccessible to most. It is overlaid with multiple interpretations and rules, manifest across continents in different permutations, continents which to this day suffer the searing, tearing chasms wrought by the English and their maps and pencils, Englishmen drawing lines with their unspeakable disregard for others’ traditions around land, law and property. And all the while here is the common law proclaiming its central consistency and practical evolutionary capacity, while both being and appearing to be inconstant and inconsistent, rigid and inflexible, and perpetuating injustice, to all but the privileged few. The common law, on even cursory inspection, is not common to all.

Nothing and no-one and can be all things to all people. Simultaneously, all humanity are one, a common species is what unites us. It does not matter whether a fellow human has so profound a disability that they can not speak our language, or skin so black they disappear, to white eyes, up to the whites of black eyes at night. We recognise people, as individual humans, even as we dismiss or overlook or talk down to or ignore them. It is in those acts of dismissal and ignorance that we confirm our recognition.

All humans gather into groups and say to one another ‘what are the rules?’ Across all of time and space, from one end of history to the other and across the planet, every human society, every culture, or clan or tribe or language group, has nominated law makers and law enforcers, identified law breakers, and thus law itself. It is this that law shares (has in common!) with music. Law brings order, and it does, in the formal sense. But so does music, for what is a birth, death or marriage, any ritual designed to give thanks for our continuing survival, without music? Is there a society or culture or clan or tribe or language group known to human kind that has not organised itself around rules and rituals, leaders who lead, in law and in song? I can not imagine such a peoples, or if I could, I can not imagine them surviving for long.


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