Master of Arts in Educational Technology (OMET) Pepperdine University  
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Heroes and Martyrs?
  Learning Adventure #4

Is Ned Kelly a hero?

I have been guilty of sitting in a theatre cheering for the outlaws like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. What endears us to these Bonnie and Clyde type characters? Why are we so willing to forgive them their sins? Are they misunderstood heroes simply looking for a way out of an impoverished oppressed childhood or are they criminals and villains? This question, “Is Ned Kelly a hero? Is not as easy as I first thought when looking at Learning Adventure #4. At first glance, I immediately said, “No, not a hero.” Before I entered this program, I would have stopped right there and that would have been the end of the discussion. But now, I am compelled to take a closer look at why some people might consider him a hero. I don’t think it is a matter of innocence, as some claim, but more of victimization. Were Ned, his family, and the Irish Catholics underclass victims of an unjust colonial regime? According to his 8,300-word manifesto, he was innocent and justified that others were to blame for him turning into an outlaw. Is Ned to be remembered as merely a cop killer and bank robber or was his death sacrificial, in order to further civil rights for Australians? His mother said that Ned told her death is not the worst thing there is, living without meaning is. So did killing and robbing, for what he thought was a just cause, meaningful? I just finished reading his Jerilderie Letter. He tries desperately to build a case of his innocence. But it falls short of winning me to his side.

Ned Kelly was no Robin Hood. He wasn’t a mythical character robbing from the rich, giving to the poor. He was a real man, killing and robbing real people. Many people have suffered worse ills that Ned and didn’t resort to criminal acts or vigilantism. Ned Kelly is no hero of mine.

Were the Chicago Seven martyrs?

In my opinion, which has changed since the summer of love, the Chicago Seven were insurrectionists rather than martyrs. This group of men planned anti-war protests in August 1968 at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and demonstrated resistance against civil authority. When most people think of a martyr as one who suffers (usually severe suffering) for the sake of a principle, belief or cause. Were these men martyrs to the cause of social justice? Did they, like a martyr, bear witness of a truth? Yes, they were unfairly arrested and unjustly stood trial as conspirators, but does that make them true martyrs? Seven policemen were also arrested and stood trial. With the exception of one protester and one policeman, all were ultimately acquitted. So are the police martyrs? They too were standing up for something they believed in.

The theology of martyrdom proposes that martyrs cannot be helpless victims of happenstance. It is fairly easy to look back on an event that is now forty years old and come to a blanketed conclusion. However, at the time, to many us, especially the youth, the Chicago Seven did seem more like martyrs than criminals. These rebels, with a cause, were inspiring young people, through groups like the Students for a Democratic Society, to be daring and to get involved in their government. It was an exciting, revolutionary, and frightening period in our history. Vietnam protests were taking place across the nation. Hippies and Yippies were calling attention to a wrongful war. What could have been a small peaceful demonstration turned into a violent chaotic rampage of over 10,000 protesters. Martyrdom usually compels others through suffering. In this case these martyrs compelled others but not as they had wanted. The Chicago riots were partially to blame for the Democratic Party losing its bid for the presidency and resulting in Richard Nixon’s election.

How do the two questions differ as experiences? Why?

Processing these two questions varied, for me personally, as new and recollective learning experiences. The first question, regarding Ned Kelly, was a combined learning experience of diligent objective research and honest curiosity. I had never heard of this man before, so I would consider this a new [learning] experience for me. Ned Kelly hails from a different continent and another era than myself. I could not relate or identify at all to this Australian folk hero. As for the second question, regarding the Chicago Seven, I could definitely relate. It was a familiar or recollective [learning] experience; in fact, it opened a floodgate of memories. I recall the incident well, and it happened during my generation and in my country so therefore I looked at this question with a subjective viewpoint, an experience that I could definitely associate with.

What are the implications of this learning adventure given the continuous concern over using the Web as a credible source of information?

One of the best things that can happen when accurate learning occurs is that we can learn from history and not repeat it. If we are fed false or misleading information, severe implications could transpire. If we only gathered biased information and used that to form an opinion of an incident

Did any "less official" sites offer better information than more "official sites?"

I found that the less formal the site, the more personal and deeper the information flowed. That doesn’t mean the less official sites were less accurate either. Most of the 24 plus informal searches coincided with the more official or fact-driven web sites.

Why do you think I presented the two questions in the order I chose?

It would have to come down to a matter of relevance. The importance of the matter at hand is the true question to be defined. Obviously, the sequence of questions had anything to do with historical relevance, distance or the time period in which each event took place. It would have to boil down to the learning relevancy of what order the questions where asked. For me, the searches concerning Ned Kelly were more fact-based, more objective and less biased than the searches regarding the Chicago Seven. I approached the first question with more openness of mind than the second question. I have noticed something interesting during this learning adventure, that as time goes by, legends and folk heroes have a way of changing over time, much like evolution. The more time between the event and the present, the more acceptable the heroes and their actions seem to be.