The nature of humans and humans in nature

George Anders, in his 2017 book You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Education, says:  

“Curiosity, creativity, and empathy aren’t unruly traits that must be reined in to ensure success. Just the opposite. The human touch has never been more essential in the workplace than it is today.” 

In the faculty of Human Society and Its Environment (HSIE), we firmly believe in fostering the growth of student’s so-called ‘soft skills’ – their empathy, socio-emotional intelligence, and problem-solving capabilities. It is with this intention in mind that we seek to engage students in a range of immersive learning experiences that grow their capacity to engage as civil-minded individuals who understand the complexity and interconnectedness of the human experience.  

In this vein, Year 11 and 12 Legal Studies students participated in a unique immersive visit to the Downing Centre Local and District Courts in Term 3, hosted by the Rule of Law Institute. Here, students watched live cases as they unfolded, viewing several bail, committal, and sentencing hearings as well as a range of ADVO applications. In these cases, students witnessed first-hand the operation of the courts – observing everything from the cross-examination of the accused to the chastising of ill-prepared counsel by frustrated magistrates. In addition to their observation of courtroom drama, the students also spent time with District Court Judge, Kara Shead SC, discussing the emotional and ethical complexity of her more than 20 years’ experience as a Crown prosecutor and public defender, including her role as public defender for Glen McNamara. Year 11 student, Emma King, stated “meeting Justice Shead gave us valuable insights into both the criminal law system, inspiring some of us to contemplate studying law beyond the HSC.” Several students reported that their experience of the day convinced them of their dreams to reach the bar.  

Building students’ capacity to analyse the interconnectedness of people, places and their physical environment was HSIE’s recent Year 8 fieldwork trip to Manly Dam. Throughout the day Year 8 students worked in teams to assess water turbidity and pH at various sites in the Manly Dam catchment area, comparing their findings to examine the impact of landscape and urban development on waterway pollution. Students were fortunate to participate in a water species and microinvertebrate catch in Manly Dam Creek to examine the health of the waterway by considering the prevalence of indicator species, including stonefly nymphs, Smooth Sydney Crayfish, Spiny Crayfish, freshwater prawns, water spiders and tadpoles. Students ended the day by developing field sketches and competed in teams to design the most effective water filtration system – with Mr O’Connell and Ms Hurst observing some budding engineers! Year 8 student Jensen Mazza stated: “It was a fabulous day outdoors learning about the importance of preserving our water supply and the environment.”