What Unconscious Privilege Really Means (And The Dangers Of Making Assumptions) With Adele Bates - Part 2

What Unconscious Privilege Really Means (And The Dangers Of Making Assumptions) With Adele Bates - Part 2

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Can coming from a position of privilege actually cause you to make unconscious assumptions about the pupils that you teach?

In this School Behaviour Secrets episode, we continue our interview with SEMH and behaviour specialist Adele Bates. Together, we discuss what unconscious privilege really means and how it can change how we interact with pupils.

Important links:

Get Adele's book, "Miss I don't give a s**t!"

Adele Bates's website

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Show notes / transcription

Adele Bates  0:00  

And this one's radical folks, I want you to hold on to your hats. Simon, you were talking about empathy, and how when we are empathetic, we're also doing it from our own viewpoint. So one of the positive things we can do instead of that is to ask people who have a different life experience to us. It's to listen to them, and it's to believe them. And it can be really, really hard. Because sometimes what they say will be, you're not welcoming me into your space, and that can be hard to hear, and it can make us feel really poo.

Simon Currigan  0:33  

Hi there, Simon Currigan here and welcome to this week's episode of school behaviour secrets. This podcast is the educational equivalent of latex trousers. Were aimed at a niche audience. Sometimes we reveal more than we intended to  and however dirty we get, we're guaranteed to wipe clean. I'd like to say a big welcome to my co host on the show today. Emma Shackleton. Hi, Emma. 

Emma Shackleton  1:35  

Hi, Simon.

Simon Currigan  1:36  

Just before we get any further into the show, or the topic of latex trousers, I just wondered if you'd be okay, if I asked you a question?

Emma Shackleton  1:44  

Well, if I wasn't, I think I might have brought it up by now.

Simon Currigan  1:47  

Perfect. What's the biggest thing you've ever changed your mind on?

Emma Shackleton  1:52  

Oh Crikey. That's a hard question. I can't really think of anything much apart from maybe clothing purchases that I've made. I don't know who else can identify with this. But sometimes I'll try on an item in the shop, convince myself that I love it and it looks great. And then get it home, try it on at home and think What on earth was I thinking? But I am pretty good at returning stuff, though. So it's no big deal. Anyway, why do you want to know what's the link with this week's episode?

Simon Currigan  2:22  

Well, this week, we're sharing the second half of my conversation with Adele Bates about unconscious privilege. And in this part of the interview, she shares some great strategies and mindset shifts to make about how we understand our children's needs and challenges and how best we can support them in school.

Emma Shackleton  2:42  

Okay, that makes sense. And I'm really excited to hear the second half of that interview. But if you haven't listened to the first half yet, by the way, I do recommend that you go back and listen to that first. So the strategies that Simon and Adele discuss sit in a context and make sense. If you need to quickly jump back. The first part of this interview is episode 117. And one last thing before we go any further, if you enjoy the show today, don't forget to give us a review and rating on Apple podcasts. Every review tells Apple to recommend the podcast to other listeners, so that they find the show and start getting the help that they need to support the children in their classrooms too.

Simon Currigan  3:25  

It really does make a difference to us. And to everyone new who hears the podcast for the first time.

Emma Shackleton  3:31  

And remember, if you've only just found the school behaviour secrets podcast, you can go back and listen to any of previous episodes in the back catalogue anytime you want to. They're all there for the taking. And now here's the second half of Simon's conversation with Adele Bates.

Adele Bates  3:48  

So I prefer to, in general, read books by women. And I have to watch myself sometimes because I can go a long time without reading a book by a man. And that's fine. I mean, it's my preference. It's not the end of the world. But what it does, if I'm only getting that information from the perspective of half of the world, then you can kind of see how my vision of the world is not going to be fulsome. And if I were, I don't know, a person with a a non teaching job, maybe that doesn't matter. But I feel that as an educator, it's my responsibility to constantly be feeding myself with other people's perspectives, because not all the pupils in front of me will be like me. And so practical tip number one is go and look at your places of influence, including your friends. I mean, I'm not saying audit them and call them but I'm just saying, you know, how many trans friends do you have? And how often do you have an opinion about trans people's lives? And I think that's a particularly poignant example because unfortunately, our government and our media have used them as the scapegoat. In the moment you will see throughout history, there's often a minority that used for example, the Jews at the moment it's the trans I know from having an Eastern European partner that Britain has been particularly unfavourable to Eastern Europeans as well. And in society as we talk as we vote, as we make decisions, as we make decisions of how we're going to teach how we're going to do that lesson plan, which texts we're going to use, if we only have a very narrow view of the world, we are only going to be able to create it in our vision. So run, Skip, go do that. Now look at where your influence is coming from. 

And it's fascinating. I mean, I started when I first did this exercise, and it was I think it's pronounced Patel, the educator who wrote the anti racist educator. And the first time I did this, I realised, I didn't really have any influence from anybody disabled in my social media posts, or the books that I read or anything like that. So I made a conscious effort to do that. And I think that this is where it gets a bit tricky, because sometimes when we're in a place of privilege, we can think, well, those people need to come and tell me, but don't forget that nine times out of 10, those people who are in the minority representative group, it might not be safe for them to share. And there might be other barriers to them sharing. And we can get onto this in a very, very practical way in that I know that as a speaker. And we can see this across many industries, that people in minority represented groups are expected to be paid less, I have been asked several times to speak for free, for example, at an education conference, in which I respond, how much is your main Male Speaker being paid. And then they come back and go, Oh, yeah, we suddenly we've got this money for you to actually pay you for your job and add an intersection of any other protected characteristic on there, and you'll find the same thing. So for example, it comes to international disability month. And suddenly, a lot of disabled public figures will be asked to come and tell their story, and they won't be offered a fee. And so what we're doing though, is we're reaffirming, just by doing that. So in a way, it's like we're trying to represent we're trying to be, you know, like, oh, look, we are listening to their stories. But what we're doing is we're kind of pointing them out, because it's coming, tell us your story, which involves them doing a lot of emotional labour to bring up maybe traumatic things, and we don't value you enough to pay you. And yet the person hosting it, the organisation running it will be paid to do it. So you can start to see how these things come through why we have systemic discrimination and prejudice across our system. So that's the first practical thing to get round it is to get your circle of influence in different areas that you've you know, you've never thought of before. If you need some ideas, follow me on Twitter, I make a concerted effort to be following as many walks of life as I can. And knowing I will always have blind spots. Always.

Simon Currigan  7:41  

What we can't do here is just trust the algorithm. Can we fit social media because they're just going to throw us more of the same? Not more of what's different. 

Adele Bates  7:49  


Simon Currigan  7:49  

So you're training Twitter's algorithm actually to throw up a diversity of people? 

Adele Bates  7:53  

Yes. And it's not working. Because I've worked out that Twitter knows that I'm not straight. Weird, really weird. But I saw a couple of adverts for some films. And they had two women like as a romantic leads, like, I know statistically how few a lesbian and bi pant storylines. There are in films, I was like, wow, wow, this is amazing. And then I realised No, it's the algorithm. Twitter knows I'm not straight, which is scary.

Simon Currigan  8:17  

It can infer so much because we do some advertising on Facebook. And they had something ridiculous, like 20/ 25,000 data points, and they're just working out by what you're clicking on what you like, or what you look out for more than 10 seconds, all of that is being monitored. And they're just inferring these things about you as accurately as if you told them.

Adele Bates  8:34  

Yeah, if you type in astronaut into a search engine, my preferred search engine is a cosier, which adds trees as you go, FYI. But if you type in an astronaut, because you need a picture of an astronaut for your lesson, guess what that astronaut looks like?

Simon Currigan  8:48  

Something like me? 

Adele Bates  8:49  

Yeah. And I, you know, I want to be clear, there's nothing wrong with how Simon looks. It's just that if every astronaut we put up looks like Simon, then only the people who look like Simon are going to aspire to that. And I worked with a school once be in inner city, London, and they had 96%, Bengali cohort, British Bengali pupils. And they said to me that the reason they hired me was I've got issues with behaviour because the kids don't have any aspirations. That was how it was presented to me. So I did a bit of research. And I looked at the staff out of about 100 staff, there was not one member of staff who looked like the majority of the pupils there was not one British Asian member of staff in that school. So when you then talk to me about aspirations, we know that if we have role models, we are more likely to aspire to those role models. And yet that school didn't have any.

Simon Currigan  9:42  

You make an important point here as well for school leaders, aren't you about hiring policies because you can reach a point where the staff all look a certain way and then that staff becomes a place that's kind of someone who doesn't look like the staff or have the same experiences to the staff would feel welcome applying to...

Adele Bates  9:59  


Simon Currigan  10:00  

...because they're part of the outside of the group, they're not sort of within that group.

Adele Bates  10:04  

Absolutely. And there's something that I heard about, which I think actually is really quite clever, you know, the colours of a cappuccino. 

Simon Currigan  10:11  


Adele Bates  10:12  

Sometimes that's the pattern that we've got in staff in schools, as in, they might include brown and black people of colour in maybe the cleaners or maybe the maybe some teaching assistants. But basically, the further you go up, the whiter it gets the same as the cappuccino.

Simon Currigan  10:30  

And I would argue more male. 

Adele Bates  10:32  


Simon Currigan  10:33  

...despite men, certainly in primary being far outnumbered by women.

Adele Bates  10:37  

Absolutely. And also, I mean, this is an area I'm particularly sensitive to, but we do now have a huge amount of Eastern European children in our schools, or they're maybe second generation by now some of them and yet you so very rarely find and Eastern European teacher, you find Eastern European cleaners, and catering staff, which you know, absolutely vital roles in a school. And it's the same captain of effect. I suppose what I'm saying here is yes, it's about race. And essentially, it's about privilege, because you've brought up a gender as well. And I think the the gender thing is very clear, isn't it? 75% of our profession are female, and yet the leaders are, do you know that percentage?

Simon Currigan  11:16  

I remember, on my PGCE, I was the only man a primary key stage one. Yeah.

Adele Bates  11:22  

So there's your bonus one. Now the second one that I was going to come to, of what we can do to shift this, and this one's radical folks, I want you to hold on to your hats. Simon, you were talking about empathy, and how when we are empathetic, we're also doing it from our own viewpoint. So one of the positive things we can do instead of that is to ask people who have a different life experience to us, it's to listen to them. And it's to believe them. And it can be really, really hard. Because sometimes what they say will be, you're not welcoming me into your space. And that can be hard to hear. And it can make us feel really poo. And it can make us feel like we would rather just go no, everything's fine, because we have an equality day, or an inclusion assembly or whatever it is. So when I was the lead on equality and diversity in a school that I trained with Amnesty International, they've got an incredible teacher training programme around human rights and that it covers a lot of the stuff we're talking about. So I was leading lots of assemblies, on feminism, on LGBT awareness, on disability awareness, you know, all the isms. And the head girl at the time, she came up to me and she was Muslim. And she said, Miss, do you think you could do an assembly on Islamophobia? And I said, Yeah, great. Yep, let's do that. I said, I will need help with that. Because that's not my lived experience. I don't know what it's like to experience Islamophobia. And I don't know huge amounts about Islam. I said, I will need help, but I will make it happen. And then I had to put this past... I was always getting in trouble with the head teacher in the school. I was getting called into the office for things I would say in assembly. I just thought this would be the same as all the others. Yeah, I didn't, I didn't feminism I didn't LGBT. I did spill tea, all the rest. So I went to the, I think it was the head of PSHE. I had to put, you know, just to kind of tick the box through. And he said, I'm not sure if we're allowed to do that. I was like, What are you talking about? I said, my thought was maybe we could get an Imam in because obviously they would have more experience and be the voice of expertise. Because I think this is another tip is that I mean, kind of like Simon's done today. Simon hasn't sat here and talked about privilege. He's invited someone else in who has a slightly different experience of it. And that was that was my feeling with this, you know, it'd be better to get an Imam talking about Islam than me. And I wasn't allowed to invite an Imam into the school. Because it could have been seen, I was told as converting our pupils to Islam. So there's the first thing this was in the south of England, we had the prevention strategy. Few years ago, it was a cross country. Yeah. So basically, you had this staff, senior leadership team, white British, who because I'd said the word Imam, got nervous, and so closed, instead of having these conversations, like it baffled me, this was not a Christian school or a Catholic school on paper. And yet we've had visiting priests and fathers or whatever they're called, but we weren't allowed to bring them up. And then I had to fight to get this assembly on Islam and Islamophobia in a way that I hadn't had to fight for the others. And it went to the head and the head wasn't comfortable. So in the end, I went to a woman in the local authority, who was essentially doing the same job as me, but across the whole, the whole local authority. She was the head of equality and diversity for that area for that county. And she said to me, yeah, you know, you're right. We need to be doing this. Your schools getting nervous, your schools getting nervous of the media of the parents and carers, you know, the backlash and everything. But that's not the reason not to do it because if you're doing it for disabled kids, if you're doing it for LGBT It's and more to the point, if we shy away from it, it becomes another blind spot. It's the book we're not reading. It's the story we're not hearing. So actually, arguably, we need to do it more. So luckily, I ended up I had to invite her in for a meeting with the head teacher, and some other SLT people for basically her to say exactly what I'd say. Now, just kind of bearing all of this in mind, this is on top of normal teacher workload, now, I will do this kind of thing, because it's my thing that I live, eat and breathe, and ultimately, why I set out of mainstream, because these things are so important to me. But your average teacher is not going to do this and won't have the capacity to do this all the time to do this or anything. So you can start to see that the privilege is there, because the school has been made by white people who are not Muslim, then when the different characteristic wants to come in, it has to work harder than if it was a white issue, you know, like a white British, more Christian based, let's say, issue anyway. So we had this meeting, and it turns out Adele's allowed to do her assembly. I mean, that took two months. Whereas the feminism assembly, I think we've done it in two weeks, you know. So what I did then is I decided to create a working group of kids. And I just put it out and I said, we are going to be discussing Islam and being a Muslim at this school, anybody can come any pupil was invited. And we had majority Muslim kids come and a couple of numbers of kids who bless them, they wanted to learn. So they came.

It was me like looking at yourself in the audience. Adele? 

Yeah, exactly. So I sat with this group of kids. And I was really conscious again, that I was the adult in the room asking the questions. And yeah, I was not the expert in the room. And so I tried as much as I could to just give questions that would just kind of just, you know, start a conversation. And I really, really consciously was trying, like Adele, don't say anything, don't give your opinion, just give them their space, you know, without me for want of a better phrase whiteyfying it.  Oh, yes. But then that's like this, no, let them have an experience. So one of the people who came to that meeting was the head girl who brought it all up in the first place. And she was at the top end of the school age wise. And she said to me, Miss, I'm 16 years old. And this is the first time I've been invited to talk about this half of my identity at school the first time, and they were talking about how they felt during PE, some of the PE teachers didn't understand the reasons or the guidelines that they need to do around wearing the hijab, for example, they talked about how some teachers don't pronounce some of their names correctly. They talked and bless them, but some of them are really good kids. And they were looking to me like am I going to tell them off because they were essentially, you know, criticising the staff. This is why I'm saying this is why these conversations sometimes don't happen. Because you hear stuff, you know, I mean, no one said anything bad about me, but maybe they didn't dare because I was in the room. But one of the things that came out of it was that this school that had lots of different facilities and sports clubs and arts clubs, and you know, loads of things going on in the school, it's a really vibrant school with a lot of different opportunities for kids going on, didn't have a room to pray in for these kids. Now, to me, that's pretty simple. We know that people often who follow Islam have a praying routine or ritual. And yet none of us had thought of that, because none of the teachers were Muslim. So of course, we wouldn't think about it. It was our blind spot. And I remember sitting there at that dinner time, I'm just feeling so embarrassed. I think I went mad, because I was like, I'm the head of equality and diversity. Why didn't I think of that? And I was beating myself up. I was like, Why didn't I think about that so obvious? And I thought, well, of course I wouldn't. Because it's not my lived experience. And this is key, you can't know every single one of your pupils lived experiences. But. This is why this second point is so important. What I did do was set up a forum in which I asked the question, I listened. And then I dared to believe. And the practical thing that came from that was, you know what, it took me a week to rustle up a prayer room, it was easy. I went to this wonderful hlta woman who's in charge of wellbeing, and I said, Do you realise this? And she went, Oh, my God Adele and sorted it out. She was like, of course, of course, you know, and we were all you know, most of the staff were like that. It isn't that we were purposely not providing these facilities for these certain students. And you know, we're talking about Islam and Muslim now. You can insert in whatever. But it's not that we're purposely doing it. But what you can see is because of our privilege, because the fact that the school system is not in this country, made with a Muslim religion, as its route or as experience, we're going to have blind spots. And that's okay, as long as we look for them and deal with them when they come up, and we don't pretend they're not there. So within a week, we had a prayer room.

I think that's really powerful because what you're saying is We don't know what We don't know. And that's fine, because you can't know everything. But actually what you're talking about is I'm going to use the word you love systematically, surveying and talking to kids to find out the things you don't know, their experiences, what they need, what they don't need, and then doing something about it in a way that makes them feel included and empowered. Is that correct? Yeah,

Yes, yes, exactly. And just as you're talking, I was wondering, like, we have a loo stop listeners. And I had the Pocahontas song in my head. And I just realised why now, because she says, you'll find things you never knew you never knew. And that's what you're talking about. Through asking and listening, believing you find the things that you never knew you didn't know.

Simon Currigan  20:44  

I'm not a big fan of quoting Donald Rumsfeld. But he is unknown, unknown speech that seems to go on forever. But it is the same thing as they, it's how we, as school leaders and teachers address that knowledge gap. Yes.

Adele Bates  20:56  

And I think there's something very personal that we have to address in this as well, finding out things that we didn't know we didn't know, is uncomfortable. And as school leaders, it's very, very tempting, or even as classroom teachers, it's very, very tempting to think, but we're the expert in the room. And we should just know, and we should just get on with it. And there's some kind of insecurity, I think sometimes, and that is what shows us away from having the difficult conversations. And I mean, I teach this and train on this topic a lot, particularly when it links to behaviour. So inclusion, bias, bad behaviour. And I gave, I facilitated a workshop for a school all around inclusion. And at the end of the day, someone came up to me and said, Okay, love what you're saying, yeah, yeah, you didn't mention people with mental health issues. And that's a hidden disability. And of course, I felt awful, because I've missed some people out and I'd spent the whole day going, don't miss anybody out. And this, I think, is what's really, really challenging is that's gonna keep happening, that's gonna keep happening to me. And if I really want to make the difference that I do in this area, I have to keep putting my neck out. And going, you know, somebody might even reply to this podcast go, Adele, that was all very well, nice. You didn't mention or think about these people, or these kids in the classroom. And it feels really, really rubbish when you're called out. And that's the work, that is the bit that needs to be discussed. And I think that we need a certain strength of self awareness in order to be able to do that. And throughout my book, I interview various experts in the field, depending on the topic of the chapter. And I talked about the fact that the overriding theme throughout it all we have people talking about kids and care, we have people talking about wellbeing, we have people talking about how to work as a team for all, you know, all linked behaviour. But the main theme is, we need to dare to have that self awareness first. And what worries me about the British education system is that that is not naturally built into our framework. And so I often think about therapists, like the therapists who work in special schools, at SEMH schools, they have to have a supervisor, their profession, to be a therapist, you have to have a supervisor, therapist, like that's just their profession. And yet the TA, who is working with the exact same kid, for the majority of the week, unless you're lucky, unless you happen to be in a school that's done this, there is nothing to say that that TA needs any supervision, or any support. That makes no sense to me. 

Simon Currigan  23:29  

I've been in exactly the same position. I've worked in SEMH settings where I've been told theres supervision there if you need it, but ad hoc, and when you ask for it, everyone's busy and not because they're bad people. 

Adele Bates  23:39  

No, no, not at all. 

Simon Currigan  23:40  

But because everyone's just being barraged with work all the time. 

Adele Bates  23:44  


Simon Currigan  23:44  

And I think that's a really powerful way to bring the interview to a close, you've given us lots of insights, but also practical strategies. And I think the benefits when we start to use these kinds of approaches..

Adele Bates  23:57  

oh, let me give you a quick example. 

OK go on. Yeah, sounds good. That's about a success story?

This is so good. And it's so small. It's literally so small. I was teaching a year nine class,mainstream, poetry. So already, you're like, Okay, you're not in poetry. They were a middle set, whatever that happens to mean. And I noticed that about a third of the class had an additional language other than English, which is pretty impressive for the place it was. And so what I decided to do to introduce poetry, I had examples of poems all over the classroom. And I made sure that there was at least two poems in every language that every one of my kids could speak. And there was this one girl who I mean, if you spoke to her, she sounded British, but her parents were Portuguese, and she was also black. And she was really really, really shy. And so far, I think I've been with them about a term and a half is about halfway through the year. And so far, she's been really shy. She hadn't really interacted in my classroom, but she didn't you know, the classic middle kid who does what they need to do but nothing else and that lesson. And then if I haven't really said anything I just have these poems all about and perhaps have a couple of questions on the board. They were investigating themselves. And she, oh is incredible. So but she just said, "Miss!" in this huge voice that I never heard before she said "This one's in Portuguese".

Yeah I know, I put it there. And it just brought this whole other side of her into my room. And you'll hear about this a lot. When people have a characteristic they feel they can't take to work, or in our case for the kids, they can't bring into the classroom, the energy, the emotional energy they are using to hide that is wasted energy. They could be using that to learn about apostrophes. And so after that lesson, this girl just totally opened up. She was doing the group work, she was putting her hand up and asking questions, all because I'd thought to put a poem in her language on the table. It was as simple as that.

Simon Currigan  25:58  

Brilliant. Adele, thank you for being on the podcast,

Adele Bates  26:01  

You are very welcome. Can I share where people can find out more about me before we go? 

Simon Currigan  26:06  


Adele Bates  26:07  

 Great. So yeah, if you want to know more about this,  the work I do on it, there's the chapter in the book around inclusion is a good place to start in 'Miss I don't give a shit'. And also I lead on an online space for behaviour leads in schools. It's a mastermind in which we get together every half term. And we own pick practices and strategies around behaviour and inclusion across schools. It's a good space that you were saying earlier assignment that that as leaders, sometimes we're not supported to make these decisions. And so what we end up doing is the easy thing, you know, we're not supported to look at what's really going on with a behaviour who are really are these kids in front of us, and what do they need. So if you want to get that kind of support ongoing as well, you can come and play with me go and find it on my website, which is AdeleBates education.co.uk,

Simon Currigan  26:59  

I will drop a direct link to that in the show notes. 

Adele Bates  27:02  

Thank you. 

Simon Currigan  27:03  

And I think it's true. Actually, we need more than training nowadays from the community as well, we need the opportunity to talk to each other and compare practices. This has been absolutely fascinating. I've really enjoyed this interview. And I just want to say a big thank you for being on the show.

Adele Bates  27:15  

Thank you so much, I could have gone on for another two hours. That would be when I'd make my third appearance. Simon,

Simon Currigan  27:21  

I'll book you in for episode 150.

Emma Shackleton  27:24  

So the whole of the interview was really thought provoking and really made me think about the needs of our kids in a completely different way. And hopefully in a way that can help me to help them better.

Simon Currigan  27:35  

I've put a direct link to Adele's website book in the episode description as well, for anyone who wants to learn more.

Emma Shackleton  27:41  

And if you work with kids whose behaviour is difficult in the classroom, and you're finding it tricky to understand what's driving that behaviour, or their needs, we've got a download that can help. It's called the SEND handbook. And it will help you link behaviours that you're seeing in class with possible underlying causes such as autism, trauma, and ADHD.

Simon Currigan  28:04  

The idea here isn't for us to try and make a diagnosis as teaching professionals because we're not qualified to do that. But if we can link the behaviours we're seeing in the classroom to possible underlying causes more quickly, it means we can get the right agencies and help evolve quickly and get early intervention strategies in place. 

Emma Shackleton  28:23  

Yeah, and the handbook also includes fact sheets about ACEs and a whole range of underlying conditions that could be driving your pupils behaviour, conditions such as FASD, PDA, ODD and others. The handbook is completely free to download. So go over to our website www.beaconschoolsupport.co.uk. click on Free Resources near the top and we'll also put a link in the episode description.

Simon Currigan  28:52  

And remember to subscribe to the podcast it's the best way of making sure you never miss another episode, all you have to do is open up your podcast app and hit the subscribe button. Subscribing will make you feel as happy as a three year old Peppa Pig fanatic who's just discovered their first muddy puddle in the real world go out there and splash.

Emma Shackleton  29:13  

They're probably so happy because they don't have to do the washing afterwards. Anyways, thank you for listening today. Hope you have a great week and we're looking forward to seeing you on the next episode of school behaviour secrets. Bye for now.

Simon Currigan  29:28  


(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)