chapter  11
12 Pages

Has Everybody Seen a Swan? Stories from the Internationalised Classroom

BySHEILA TRAHAR

One night in November 2007 I sat in a lecture theatre listening to a colleague talk to Master of Education (M.Ed.) students about quantitative methodological approaches to educational research. In introducing Karl Popper and his theory of falsification, she used the well-known example of white swans. We may claim that all swans are white but we need to see only one black swan in order to refute or ‘falsify’ that claim. Quite appropriately in a lecture theatre of more than 100 students, from almost as many countries, she asked whether everybody had seen a swan. Giggles reverberated around the room. ‘Why is she asking such a question?’ ‘Surely everyone knows what a swan is and has seen one?’ But swans are not seen in all parts of the world – there are no swans in parts of sub-Saharan Africa for example. Yet more chuckles broke out when she revealed that some swans are black and native to Australia. Being married to an Australian and having lived and travelled there many times, it was no surprise to hear her speak of black swans, yet there were those in the room who had never heard of black swans, let alone seen one.