Kylie Sturgess (Podblack) Interview – Prominent People Project

Posted by on February 22, 2011 in Thoughts | 1 comment

This is the sixth in a series of interviews with  people who are prominent in the worlds of atheism, science, skepticism and rational thought.

This interview is with Kylie Sturgess (aka Podblack) who was one of the co-hosts of the Global Atheist Convention in March last year in Melbourne. While we met only briefly at the Convention dinner, we now keep in contact via Twitter and Facebook. This interview was conducted via email in February 2011.

MSP: Tell us a little bit about yourself, for those who may not know who you are. What are you doing at the moment?

KS: I’m a writer, researcher and podcaster for the Token Skeptic podcast and I’m fairly active in what might be called the skeptical and atheist communities (I consider them different things, although there’s some overlap). For about eleven years, I was a teacher of English, Media (film) and Philosophy and Ethics, and I’ve lectured on teaching critical thinking, feminism, new media and anomalistic beliefs worldwide. I’ve presented at the Amazing Meeting Las Vegas, Dragon*Con (US), QED Con (UK) and was a Master of Ceremonies for the Global Atheist Convention (one of the greatest personal challenges and best times I’ve had!).

My recently completed thesis looks at the measurement of paranormal beliefs and my work features in The Australian Book of AtheismThe Open Laboratory Best Of Science Blogs 2008 and The Young Australian Skeptics Blog Anthology. I’m a co-author of the paper ‘The structure of superstitious action – A further analysis of fresh evidence‘, in the journalPersonality and Individual Differences (Science Direct) and work with a great team as a member of the James Randi Educational Foundation’s (JREF) education advisory panel.

I also write for the Curiouser and Curiouser online column for CSICOP, and contributed to Daniel Loxton’s Skeptic.com manifesto ‘What Do I Do Next?: Leading Skeptics Discuss 105 Practical Ways to Promote Science and Advance Skepticism’.

At the moment I write resources for the Philosophy and Ethics course in my state in various capacities, volunteer at Perth’s SciTech and work on completing my Graduate Diploma in Psychology, in between travelling the world!

MSP: You used to work as a Religious Educator in schools. How did you manage to teach religion as an atheist? Was there a special approach that you had to take to ensure you delivered the information in an unbiased way?

KS: Like many teachers, I’ve worked with supportive teams whose main goal is to provide educational experiences in a fair and overarching manner. My experiences teaching religious education have promoted comparative religious studies and I’m comfortable with that. I think the only issue I ever had in terms of sorting out an issue was via a few students who were firmly convinced that their proclaimed status as atheists needed to involve a reference to the Large Hadron Collider and whose appeals to authority depended upon content from the novels of Dan Brown (they were very young students).

MSP: In your opinion, what is the importance of public education in the pursuit of a secular society?

KS: As a student who was educated in the public and private school system, I think it’s only fair that education should focus on providing skills and opportunities that are applicable to all. If families wish to engage in religion, it’s a decision for the family in regards to what suitable churches and places of worship are available (hopefully ones that are inclusive and forward-thinking) and public schools should provide an acknowledgement and discussion about different faiths of the world but not push one particular view over another.

MSP: The School Chaplaincy Program has been in the news a lot lately, what are your opinions on the whole program?

KS: I sincerely hope that the opportunity for feedback questionnaire that has been provided will allow for the Australian public to make an improvement over what currently exists and that the government acts upon said feedback! (Make sure you have your say! – MSP)

MSP: A lot of people have been giving Julia Gillard a hard time for being our first female, and openly atheist Prime Minister, especially among the atheist community. What do you think of her? Do you think that the hype of being atheist places unrealistic expectations on her?

KS: I always hoped that one’s faith (or lack of it) wouldn’t ever be relevant in politics, but I guess that’s a big ask even in modern day society. I vote on the basis of what policies and platform a party on the whole presents, not on the basis of what their personal beliefs might (or might not) be.

MSP: You were one of the hosts at the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne last year. What was the highlight of that convention for you? Who was the one person you met that stuck in your memory?

KS: Just being asked at all was an absolute surprise and continual source of pride – very grateful to the Atheist Foundation of Australia and especially President David Nicholls,  who let me be a part of such a fantastic experience. It’d be tough to come up with just one highlight, but I’m still very grateful to my friends who helped me stay grounded throughout (and hung out with me during the tea-breaks!).I was overwhelmed by how many great presenters there were, like the Women’s Panel (do check out the No Chicks, No Excuses site!) and the various headliners that everyone knows of and enjoyed. I’d probably have to say one particular highlight was sharing the stage with Stuart Bechman, the former president of Atheist Alliance and co-MC – he was a tremendous person to work with, especially since it was the first time for both of us talking to so many people!

MSP: What is your one favourite issue at the moment that you are particularly passionate about?
KS: At the moment I’m focusing on writing up my notes from the recent QEDCon, held in Manchester, and the many ideas that have been discussed about activism, science communication, empathy and understanding when investigating the paranormal in the wider community.

I’d like there to be more consultation with educators and the field of science communication by skeptics, especially when there’s the occasional assumption that ‘everyone who has gone to school knows how education works’ or when some seem to overlook the importance of pedagogy / evaluating the impact of projects and outreach. Such as contacting and talking to curriculum creators and finding out from the teachers and science communicators themselves what is already implemented and working in schools and outreach – rather than trying to ‘reinvent the wheel’ or believing that it’s simple to change a system from the outside, or even criticising educational initatives vainly and after any changes could be made, based on flawed assumptions about the system. Just being a member of a few groups or being a vocal enthusiast about critical thinking education doesn’t mean you’re the same as someone schooled in Education or has experienced working within the currently-developing system. There are certainly people who are working within who could use some support that is directed towards common goals.

It’s one thing to think that you have a product that does good and makes a difference to kids and teenagers, and even adults and their views about science – quite another to have hard data that shows that it indeed has medium to long-term ramifications. In ordinary circumstances in nearly everyone’s workplace, we wouldn’t accept supporting a project on the basis that it ‘makes us feel good and think “doing anything is better than nothing”, so I don’t know why it should be accepted in other cases. It’d be great if there were more open lines of communication based on a genuine effort to work towards common goals and I can already see that happening amongst some, which is fantastic.

Check out Kylie’s blog podblack.com. Thank you so much Kylie for taking the time to answer these questions.

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1 Comment

  1. great interview! thanks!

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