Kylie Sturgess (Podblack) Interview – Prominent People Project
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.
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 Atheism, The 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!
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).
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 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?
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.