Teaching in the Shadows of Social Injustice

Teachers in Brazil, protesting their poor working conditions and paltry wages for undertaking one of the most essential jobs in the world today-educating future generations-were brutally attacked by security forces as they protested for better pay and working conditions. While their rally was hijacked by anarchists and other groups fed up with the gross inequalities which have characterized Brazil for decades; the teachers’ protests are receiving more attention because Brazil is to host two of the world’s most watched and attended sporting spectacles: The FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic games in 2016.
Sport in itself is an essential part of the social and psychological dynamic of human societies, and has been for thousands of years. The kinds of sporting activities which have evolved through to today are for the most part based on fair competition with the sole purpose of excelling in and accomplishing extraordinary human achievements whilst showing courage, determination and perseverance in a particular field. These core values of competitive sport make any game or competition such an exciting spectator event and fuels local, national and international fervor to the point that one’s life-style, social status and reputation may be determined by the sport they follow and the club brand to which they hold allegiance. Football, Cricket, the NBA, the NFL, Tennis, Baseball, Rugby Union & League, as well as Swimming, Sailing and Skiing are featured among the top elite sports in the world. The respective affiliations and clubs which host these sports are for the most part multi-billion dollar a year industries and are legitimized through their own hierarchical structures and law governing bodies each in some way linked to the corporate world of advanced capitalism. And herein lays the rub for ordinary folk.
What justification can there be for paying anyone in excess of $400,000 per week when the global average wage per week is around $600 per week; if you are lucky enough not to be born in any of the developing countries of the world? While top footballers like Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo offer us scintillating performances as skilled footballers; from a social justice and equality stance there is no justification for the kind of money they earn as professionals. Therefore, it is totally acceptable for teachers in Brazil or anywhere else for that matter, who may only earn as little as $1600 per month to protest, given their profession is essential, while footballers’ jobs, and myriad other sporting professionals’ jobs are non-essential.
Brazil has come to accept the gross social and economic inequalities in its country as the norm. This is wrong. The people’s right to protest is an inalienable right, especially as they are paying out billions of dollars on their country’s credit card to host two of the world’s most prestigious sporting spectacles. While the World Cup and the 31st Olympiad will bring a lot of kudos and cash to pay off the debt accumulated by the country in the short term, the long term goal of providing decent housing, decent jobs, decent wages and alleviating poverty fades away.
Nelson Mandela reminds us that the globalization of professional sport means, as it so often does, “that the rich and powerful now have new means to further enrich and empower themselves at the cost of the poorer and weaker, and that we have a right and a responsibility to protest in the name of universal freedom”.

Hope and Despair in Africa

One of the most encouraging stories to emerge out of the secret and sinister world associated with the global pharmaceutical industry this week is a report that a pharmacological company in the United Kingdom is to market the world’s first malaria vaccine. GlaxoSmithKline is seeking regulatory approval for the world’s first malaria vaccine after preliminary findings from its drug trials suggest that its drug significantly reduced the number of malaria cases in Sub-Saharan Africa. The company has a murky past though. In July 2012, the pharmaceutical giant pleaded guilty to criminal charges and agreed to a $3 billion settlement of the largest health-care fraud case in United States history, and the largest payment by a drug company in the US. The settlement was related to the company’s illegal promotion of prescription drugs, its failure to report safety data, bribing doctors, and promoting medicines for uses for which they were not licensed (Wikipedia, 2013). Let’s pray this significant hope for the future of infants, children and the peoples on the African continent is not sullied with the same misfortunes.
I have traveled extensively throughout West Africa and on occasion have been ill and required hospital treatment. The health care systems I encountered and experienced were served for the most part by caring and compassionate medical personnel, who had to make do with outdated equipment, a lack of State of the Art equipment, and dwindling supplies of the drugs necessary to stave of illness and the effects of serious infections and afflictions like malaria. So, this is great news for Africa, in particular for its most vulnerable and poorest, who suffer beyond measure from neglect and exploitation by those in whose hands is concentrated all the wealth and power of the continent.
According to reports the drug which GlaxoSmithKline want to introduce was found to have reduced the number of malaria cases in children by almost half. While it did not eradicate the disease, this is a significant step towards that goal for those countries in Sub-Saharan Africa where many millions of cases fill their hospital wards. However, as has been pointed out many times, the ability of the mosquito to outwit the drug corporations is renowned, and there are some strains of malaria which remain drug resistant. Nevertheless, with the support of the non-profit Path for Malaria Vaccine Initiative, supported through the philanthropy of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, it is hoped that the World Health Organization will approve and recommend the use of the drug. The downside to this good news is that it may not be until 2015 that we see the drug introduced to the most vulnerable communities in the malaria infected countries of Africa. But it does give hope.
Then again hope can quickly turn to despair as on the same day we learn that on a continent where the majority of people live in poverty and earn less than $1.25 a day there are 55 billionaires. 20 members of this group are from Nigeria where the average wage falls below $1:00 a day.
The 55 African billionaires have a combined wealth of $143.88 billion dollars. Such statistics suggest another kind of illness for which there’s no known vaccine: Greed. The World Bank estimates that there are over 400 million people living in poverty in Africa. In West Africa the average yearly income for each person is $309. This compares with an average yearly income for each person in Sub-Saharan Africa of $470. The region’s economic growth has averaged only 2.5 percent during the past three years while its population has been growing by 2.2 percent a year. Moreover, over 55 percent of West Africans life on less than $1 a day; life expectancy at birth is only 46 years; secondary school enrollment is at 20 percent; forty-two percent of adults are illiterate; and malnutrition affects 29 percent of children under the age of five (The World Bank, 2013). What the use of a fine house if you don’t have a just, fair and tolerable planet to build it on? (Thoreau, 2013)

The World Bank. (2013, April 12). West Africa: Facts and Figures. Retrieved October 8/10/2013, 2013, from The World Bank: http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/NEWS/0,,contentMDK:20179737~pagePK:34370~piPK:42768~theSitePK:4607,00.html
Thoreau, H. (2013, October 8). Family Letters. Retrieved October 8, 2013, from goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/materialism
Wikipedia. (2013, October 2). GlaxoSmithKline. Retrieved October 8, 2013, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GlaxoSmithKline

The Mad Men and their 21st Century Skills mantra

One of my favourite USA produced TV soap melodramas is Mad Men. It’s a fun, but tacky fast paced series set in the 1960s, about the Freudian manipulation of the consumer market place by Madison Avenue advertising executives. They actually coined the term Mad Men for themselves. No self-deception there-just the irony of their in your face honesty of how deceptive their practices were to sell stuff that most people didn’t want or need to lead fulfilled lives. Many decades later not a lot has changed. The Mad Men are still with us in a new disguise similar to iRobot, selling electronic stuff that we don’t need while trying to prop up an ailing almost dead world economy.
However, there is one significant difference in the pernicious strategy of today’s Mad Men-the use of technology and the marketing of it as an essential aspect of 21st century living. The Mad Men of the corporate IT world would have us believe that we cannot live without gadgetry, mobile devices and the like. They would further suggest that information technologies, along with online activities, social networking and educational technologies have spawned a new kind of human being: homo-digitalis. These new creatures of humanity often referred to as digital natives, because of their unique ability to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time, have developed remarkable skills akin to the symbiotic relationship which is presumed to exist between Kyle XY and Spiderman. I attended a conference once, where one of the Mad Men claimed that through the use of electronic gadgetry, mobile devices, online activities and social networking interaction, the human brain of homo-digitalis was ‘rewiring’ itself to keep up with the incredible frenetic speed of evolutionary changes that these creatures are presumed to be undergoing. But there is no truth or scientific evidence in such a claim-it is simply a marketing ploy to encourage fear ridden parents and educators that they need to keep up with the madness in electronic gadgetry, otherwise their children or students will become part of the great unconnected, unplugged underclasses of the future-inept in everything IT skill except the old 20th century social skills of civility, politeness, humility, compassion, empathy, honesty and genuine concerns for other people.
More recently some remarkable empirical evidence has emerged suggesting that the rapid tsunamic development of homo-digitalis is not permanent, and like the fate of Dolly the sheep, could result in premature aging, and the onset of short-term memory loss and the debilitating psycho-cognitive disease dementia-electronicus.
Whilst driving my car yesterday, I thought the driver in the vehicle ahead of me was drunk, so I immediately went into defensive driving mode, overtook her and noted that she was texting on her mobile phone. Later that day, while walking along the corridor of a College I was visiting, a student fell down the stairs while he was texting. In my class the following day, a student said she couldn’t hear my lecture. I suggested she take the headphones out of her ears and concentrate a bit more as this would help. While these are isolated cases, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence which suggests that multi-tasking is a myth. The only rewiring of the brain which is going to take place in the near future is when one is hooked up to a life-support system, after suffering a near fatal accident of some kind while multi-tasking with a 21st century interactive mobile device.
The partnership for 21st century skills argue that their unified, collective vision for learning known as the Framework for 21st Century Learning is a prerequisite for students to be able to prosper in the interconnected world of the 21st century. They identify critical thinking, collaboration, communication and problem solving among the key 21st century skills which must be embedded into school and higher education curricula. They further argue that “students are more engaged in the learning process and graduate better prepared to thrive in today’s global economy” (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2009).
Notwithstanding the current global youth unemployment rate of around 12.7% or 74 million young people; it seems naïve to suggest that thriving is an option for anyone between the ages of 15-24 who is out of work in the 21st century. While the Framework for 21st Century Learning covers some of the essential cognitive development of an individual and how they should be using digital tools in their lives, it doesn’t consider how to be resourceful and adaptable when you cannot get a job after 12 years of schooling, and after graduating with a degree from a College or University. None of the most up-to-date gadgetry and technology in the world is going to feed you if you cannot work and earn a living.
Those of us educated in the 20th century could argue out a case that this very same skill set now rebranded as 21st century skills was to be found in the curricula of our respective eras. For example, a constructivist approach to teaching and learning formed an essential part of my experience as a learner in the 1960s. Furthermore, we could go back to antiquity and find subjects like logic, rhetoric, mathematics, philosophy and science essential subjects and disciplines which ensured that critical thinking, problem solving, communication and collaboration were required of an educated person. Socrates would certainly defer to this assertion.
So what’s the difference in the early years of the 21st century? Why the constant, repetitive almost ad nauseam reference to 21st century skills by the Mad Men? The answer is simple: technology. The multi-billion dollar corporate IT industry along with the Partnership for 21st century skills has the global reform of education in its sight-in fact it has well and truly begun.
Embedded in their all encompassing curriculum model is the concept of multiple literacies. This is a highly questionable term which probably doesn’t exist in its own right. It is more about developing a skill set or competencies to use a machine or device rather than a specific psycho-cognitive process such as to be found in the foundations of literacy-reading, writing, listening, speaking and numeracy. It is a mis-leading term which covers anything from politically correct understandings of the ‘other’ to business as practiced through the ruthlessness of 21st century advanced capitalism.
The idealism is in this model mirrors other more comprehensive curriculum models like the International Baccalaureate’s PYP, MYP and Diploma program. However the comparison stops there, because the curricula of the IBO have no corporate IT agenda and encourage a critical appraisal of their own learning culture along with its content. The kind of curriculum model proposed by the IT corporate world and their 21st Century partners doesn’t allow for this, and is based on conformity and compliance to a corporate global model of teaching and learning and deference to its compulsory inclusion of technological gadgetry. These include but are not limited to mobile learning, online learning, blended learning, social media, like twitter, Facebook, yammer, and so on, various multi-media platforms like padlet, OneNote, iPads, and the plethora of other educational technologies which are competing for a place in the world’s burgeoning IT educational sector.
The jury is still out on the extent to which any kind of educational technologies are producing brighter, more adaptable, more flexible, compassionate, caring, multi-skilled graduates from primary, middle and high schools, colleges and universities, who will contribute to more peaceful, just and socially cohesive societies.
Notwithstanding this fact, the Mad Men peddle the myth that digital and mobile learning will create the iRobot equivalent of Nietzsche’s Übermensch, and without the inclusion of branded educational technologies in teaching and learning all educational institutions are failing themselves and their students.
This is clear in the ITL research group’s recent report on innovative teaching and learning (2011) 95% of the report condemns schools and learning institutions for not using the latest products and gadgetry, there is no informed, clear critical research on how their products perform or affect learners cognitively or how they define the methodological and pedagogical processes in a constructive way. It is one thing to argue for every child having an iPad to reduce heavy back packs with lots of books, and quite another to pursue the argument that IT will increase knowledge gains for learners.
Traditional classroom style learning with its essential socialization and communicative processes along with the lecture theater are also targets of the corporate IT sector and some educators too.The CEO of AISH (Academy for International School Heads) Bambi Betts recently argued that it is ‘game over’ for education as we know it today through the flooding of the educational sector with MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). Her carefully chosen description of these courses as ‘disruptive innovations” in mainstream education highlights the willfulness of forceful change being imposed on teachers, students, parents and some administrators who question the efficacy and legitimacy of MOOCs and other kinds of educational technologies. The assumption that formal learning is an option which can take place anywhere and at any time is false and based on erroneous understandings about how we learn, why we learn, what we need to learn and how we measure and evaluate successful teaching and learning. An avatar lecturer or a video clip of a lesson hardly qualifies as innovate in terms of teaching and learning, but may well be disruptive to genuine critical enquiry, the acquisition of knowledge, and becoming a life long learner.
Teaching and learning is a highly sociable process. It is built on a fundamental axiom of clear inter-personal communication. Moreover, schooling and tertiary studies is a highly controlled social process as well as an intellectual one. We require those who graduate from our high schools and universities to be civil to others and to have good manners and treat people respectfully and contribute to the development of a more peaceful, just, fair and equitable world. Working in the isolated vacuum of virtual realities where “I am my screen” and “I do not have to compete to share my thoughts and ideas” does not contribute to positive social learning outcomes at all. I’m all for rethinking education and embracing technology and 21st century skills (whatever they are or will become); but the core principles at the heart of any future developmental plans in education should embrace sound pedagogy and how students learn, not what they like using and doing best.

Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2009). P21 Framework Definitions. Washington D.C: Partnership for 21st Century Skills.

Intentionality & Integrity in International Diplomacy and Higher Education

What do the former NBA basketballer Dennis Rodman and recently published anti-intellectual Dale Stephens have in common? Both have recently gained popularity in the media. Rodman recently visited North Korea with several players from the Harlem Globetrotters. Resplendent in dark sunglasses and several metal rings hanging loosely from his nose and ears, Rodman proclaimed on a cable network which was beamed throughout the world that himself and ‘the dear leader’ Kim Jong Un were the best of friends. While Dale Stephens, claims he left school at 12 years of age and says that a University or College degree is irrelevant today.

Rodman qualified his new friendship with Kim Jung Un by saying he had put aside the bad things ‘the dear leader’ had done, and simply embraced him as a friend would – foibles and all – even if those eccentricities included a repressed desire to destroy South Korea and its main ally the United States of America, of which Rodman is a citizen. His visit and remarks took me back some forty years ago, when the American actress Jane Fonda went to North Vietnam at the height of the war her country was embroiled in with the North. Among her most regrettable moments she claimed was when she was “duped” into sitting on a North Vietnam anti-aircraft gun after having denounced her country’s political and military leaders as ‘war criminals’ and the soldiers fighting the war as “liars” who had never been subjected to torture. In fairness to Fonda, she has over the years expressed regret at her actions and comments. Will Rodman and Google CEO Eric Schmidt regret their visits to North Korea before or after ‘the dear leader’ provokes a nuclear conflagration on the Korean peninsula? It’s too soon to tell, but the burning question for both these citizens of the United States of America, whose country is technically still at war with North Korea – why go there? What did they gain from it? What did the people of North Korea and the United States of America gain from the visit? What did the world gain from it?

Both Rodman and Schmidt, along with ‘the dear leader’ gained media publicity and a degree more of the celebrity status to which they have become accustomed. Pictures of the tall Rodman in sunglasses toasting the short stature of ‘the dear leader’  over a sumptuous dinner, while more than three quarters of the North Korean population go hungry, suggested not a genuine friendship based on acceptance, trust, dignity, mutual love and respect, but one of usury, manipulation and opportunism. One, a fading NBA star out on the hustings to resurrect his dying celebrity status, and another of  a vertically challenged person whose boyhood fantasy was either to play in the NBA or conquer the world-clearly neither of which he has or (Insha’Allah) ever will achieve.

Perhaps Dennis Rodman and Eric Schmidt meant well, but then so many others before them have meant well too- Rudolph Hess meant well when he flew to England at the height of WW ll to negotiate a peace with the allies. Stalin meant well when he exiled Trotsky and subsequently engineered the latter’s death. Chairman Mao meant well when he began the Cultural Revolution which in turn caused the deaths of more than 30 million of his Chinese comrades. George W. Bush and Tony Blair meant well when they unilaterally invaded the sovereign state of Iraq. And there are still those to this day – however misguided they may be -who believe Hitler meant well too. Intentionality is an essential part of any action. Good intentionality will only produce good results. It is difficult to identify in Rodman and Schmidt’s actions any intentionality in terms of alleviating human suffering, or contributing to a greater good in a country where potential basketball players and IT engineers suffer from rickets and other bones diseases caused through malnourishment, hunger and basic deprivation of even rudimentary health care. Both men had choices as high profile media personalities. Why not a trip to China’s restless Sichuan province or Lhasa in Tibet and highlight the genocidal atrocities being carried out daily by the army, secret police and gendarmes of the People’s Republic of China, or to Zimbabwe where the black and white people suffer ongoing political and social repression while Robert Mugabe in the late stages of senility bleeds all the riches from his country and spends tens of thousands of pounds on a sumptuous, extravagant birthday party for himself. But, as Rodman celebrates his new life-long friend, and Schmidt manages to get permission to turn a ‘Google’ satellite upon the impoverished and failed state of North Korea after they had recently launched their own satellite, and conducted a massive underground nuclear test, the western media revels in the achievements of two audacious self-serving individuals.

Dale J Stephens is also self-serving in his intentionality. He campaigns upon a belief that a College or University education is an outdated and unnecessary credential in an age of post-modern and advanced capitalism. Stephen’s carries a similar message to the great philosopher and intellectual Ivan Illich, that society needs less schooling rather than more schooling. Stephen’s online ‘UnCollege manifesto’, similar to the Marxist manifestos encourages subversion and undermining of the current institutionalised approach to education. However, unlike Illich who did benefit from an extensive education which included fluency in ten languages and degrees in Theology and Philosophy, Stephens offers a simple kind of fantasy path to consumer enlightenment where a beaming Bill Gates surrounded by a brilliant white light will welcome all college dropouts to entrepreneur nirvana.  His mantra is disturbingly like the new age idea that one can think their way into a successful job, career and happy life. He writes “If you want educational freedom badly, and are willing to take a few leaps of faith, change is possible. You really can lead the life you want, learning along the way. You can have it all – the only things you’ll have to give up are the societal assumptions and expectations that serve as your comfort zone. Step outside that zone and you’ll be on your path to success” (Stephens, 2011). There’s no substance here except the great capitalist mantra that “you can learn from life and change the world” (Stephens, 2011) while someone else takes what little money you have from you. Unlike Stephens, Illich was a vociferous social critic and offered alternatives to the West’s institutionalised, material ridden consumerist culture. Stephen’s on the other hand is riding on the back of a corrupt entrepreneurial culture where success is gauged by how much money you can make with or without a formal education. Bill Gates delights in telling his audiences he was a college dropout. Stephens does the same. Moreover it is not entirely true that Stephens forfeited a formal education. He did attend Hendrix College in Arkansas for a while and was later granted a Thiel Fellowship in which the recipient forgoes College or University for two years to focus on “their passions” Furthermore, most internship and Fellowships are considered aspects or parts of formal education. What Stephens’ offers is a lie-that one can think their way to success, and that study, hard work and a well gained credential from a College or University is useless in the 21st century. He writes “no matter if you are a college student, high school student, unschooler, home schooler, and/or lifelong learner you can completely redefine higher education. You can learn from life and change the world” (Stephens, 2011).  Stephens complains that a formal education “rewards conformity, rather than independence, competition rather than collaboration, regurgitation rather than learning, and theory rather than application” (Wikipedia, 2013). This is a misrepresentation and gross distortion of higher education from someone who never experienced it, and like Bill Gates dropped out and then attacked it for his own commercial gain. Higher education may well reward conformity through learning higher level thinking skills-such skills are necessary and essential to plough through the kind of sophistry being peddled by Stephens and his cabal of hackademics.  A College/University education does encourage independence and competition; after all if one cannot hold their ground in a competitive and sophisticated legal argument they won’t make a good lawyer. Similarly, if an undergraduate doesn’t learn the art of rhetoric and critical thinking they won’t recognise the manipulation and usury in commercial competition and entrepreneurship, and if they don’t learn theory they’ll never be able to apply frameworks of thinking into their personal and professional lives. A College or University education does not guarantee a job, but it does guarantee a defensive logic against the propaganda being promoted by the ‘UnCollege manifesto’ and the stunts and antics of Rodman and Schmidt. Stephens is no Ivan Illich, Rodman is no Kofi Annan and Schmidt lacks the wisdom, knowledge and training of Dag Hammarskjold. A College or University education could be as T.S Eliot wrote:

“The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to GOD.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Bring us farther from GOD and nearer to the Dust” (Eliot, 1963)

Or depending on an enquirer’s intentionality there could be no limit to what may be discovered through a formal higher education. It could make the earth a more sustainable,  just, habitable and harmonious planet in which to live.

References:

Eliot, T. (1963). Collected Poems. London: Faber and Faber Ltd.

Stephens, D. (2011). the UnCollege manifesto: your guide to academic deviance replacing college with self-directed learning. USA: Creative Commons Attribution.

Wikipedia. (2013, February 10). Dale J Stephens. Retrieved March 4, 2013, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dale_J._Stephens

Twitter & Ted on the road to know-where?

In the opening chapter of his insightful and well researched book The Net Delusion: The Dark side of internet freedom, Evgeny Morozov recalls the hype and misinformation surrounding the role of Twitter following the Iranian presidential elections and the subsequent June 2009 political protests on the streets of Tehran.  Many writers and bloggers hailed Twitter as the future of political revolution and change throughout the world. He cites how some went so far as to proclaim Twitter was achieving what the United Nations and the European Union have been unable to do-bring about regime change in Iran. The obsession and infatuation with the social media platform led a former deputy national security advisor who worked during the difficult and painful years of the G.W.Bush administration, to launch a public campaign to nominate Twitter for the Nobel Peace Prize. (Morozov, 2011)

Four years on and there’s been no Twitter led or inspired regime change in Iran. In fact throughout the Middle East and North Africa, any claims that Twitter has been at the forefront of revolutions, public protests and political change are by and large inaccurate, misleading and mis-represent the capacity of any social media to bring about political and social reform in any part of the world.  Current events in Syria, Tunisia, Egypt and Iran suggest that the violence, suffering and misery brought about through modern warfare weaponry plays a much for decisive and destructive role in bringing about or ushering in political change.  Furthermore, it’s naive to think and argue that the citizenry of any country will be sufficiently empowered through any kind of internet, social media platform or Google inspired creed to bring about social reform and political change anywhere.

The recent visit by Google CEO Eric Schmidt to North Korea gained little for its people who for the most part starve and have no access to any kind of social media let alone internet freedoms, apart from allowing the West some limited voyeuristic views of the North Korea via Google maps. Moreover the constant vilification of the Chinese for their lack of internet and social media freedoms belies a much darker secret in the West- we are all monitored too -there’s no freedoms when it comes to electronic media.  Every website, tweet, chat, email, or online search for whatever reason leaves a footprint for any keen amateur or professional electronic tracker. All social media claim the right to whatever you say, upload or publish via their platforms.  Yet those who sign up for social media access would never allow anyone to walk into their homes, apartments or dwellings and help themselves to information and memorabilia about  their personal and private lives. When the internet was first conceived and social media began to emerge as derigure for 21st century communications we knew we were creating the future, but we didn’t realize what kind of future we were creating.

Twitter allows users to communicate with one another using 140 characters or less on virtually any topic anyone chooses and deemed appropriate by the service operators.  The social media claims up to 500 million users, but there’s no way to verify they are all genuine account holders, and similar to Facebook, up to 30% could be fake or non-user accounts.  Nonetheless, it’s popular and aside from the social buzz and instant celebrity status which may be derived from its use, it has been taken up by corporations and educational institutions as a way to communicate and share ideas. For example, a report in the Australian news spreadsheet-The Age-suggests that Australian teachers use Twitter to engage in education related topics, like reforms, focus and leadership.  (MacGibbon & Tarica, 2012). And in the January, 2013 issue of IB World, the official magazine of the International Baccalaureate Organization, a teacher from the New International School of Thailand claimed that Twitter is a great resource “for real time news in a time of crisis”, while another group of educators engaged with the IBO’s Primary Years Programme claimed that Twitter helped them to get “their ideas together” (IB World, 2013). Leaving aside the obvious question over whether or not any communication platform would be available in a time of crisis these are unsubstantiated claims and pertain more to personal opinion. But, it’s worthwhile to consider the type and quality of information which may be shared in 140 characters or less in any situation especially when educators claim its usefulness as a cutting edge communicative platform. According to Twitter in 2012 its three most famous tweets came from President Barrack Obama, the pop singer, Justin Beiber and an NFL football player. Not a mention of a tweet from the Arab world, North Africa or Iran. Furthermore the tweets of the famous three consisted of only a few words. For president Obama it was simply four more years, Justin Beiber told the world he was sick, and an NFL player complained about the NFL lockout.  Yet did anyone think they were important messages? About 1.2 million twitter users did.

There’s no doubt that Twitter is beguiling, but its usefulness as an agent of social change and transformation and its ability to convey and spread ideas of any substance is highly questionable. While it may well be advantageous to educators to tweet to one another “learning by doing is fabulous” it’s quite another to read the works of John Dewey, the early 19th century American Philosopher, Psychologist and educational reformer, to really understand what he meant when he developed the concept, and how such a notion would work in the 21st century when educational technology is engaged in so much of the doing. Social media is dumbing us down. It plays into a social and political worldview which prefers passive acceptance over critical analysis of the status quo. It doesn’t allow one to question, analyse and respond rationally and critically.

TED talks, like Twitter is another media platform which engages in the spreading of information via an electronic medium-the internet. Under the slogan of ideas worth spreading, a TED talk lasts around 18 minutes. Audience members must pay a significant amount of money to participate as passive recipients of whatever is being said, and they clap and nod approvingly at various points throughout the presentations. An invitation to present via TED talk is exclusive, somewhat elitist and not open to the public. Are their ideas worth spreading? Not really, because the speakers are unable to deliver a well prepared and thoughtful argument within 18 minutes. Moreover if Bill Gates and Charles Leadbeater are any example, then they are simply spreading ignorance. They are for the most part opinionated thoughts expressed without recourse to any kind of evidence or clear reasoning. It’s difficult to conceive of Heidegger, Kant, Freud, Greer, Butler, Spinoza, Midgley and Sartre to name a few, expressing their arguments and ideas in under 18 minutes. TED talks are the multi-media equivalent of a bar room chat after a two hour professional development session.

We live in an age where we are flooded with information.  Myth and fact, knowledge and understanding, reason and belief are merging into one another, and becoming unrecognizable. Meanwhile the skills to wade through it all with good sense and purpose are languishing and becoming inaccessible in an educational sector under siege through the corporatization of teaching and learning, and subordinated to a distorted, chaotic and often irrational technological utopian vision of the future.

References:

IB World. (2013). Ways Social Media Work For You. IB World , 18-19.

MacGibbon, A., & Tarica, E. (2012, November 12). The Age: Teachers unlock tweet smell of success. Retrieved February 7, 2013, from The Age.com.au: http://www.theage.com.au

Morozov, E. (2011). The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom. New York: Public Affairs PBS.

The Secret Child Soldiers of the West

Whatever happened to the internet’s virtual avatar Joseph Kony?  The 2012 multi-media internet campaign created and promoted by the group Invisible Children described itself as a movement seeking to end the conflict in Uganda and told the story of a former child soldier called Jacob.  The campaign caught the attention of people from all walks of life, but the media specifically focused on the righteous indignation and outrage expressed by celebrities (surprised?) and high profile community representatives.  The real life Joseph Kony is alive and well of course, still waging war with the help of child soldiers, mainly in the heart of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The former Catholic altar boy, who claims Divinity as well as being God’s spokesperson here on earth, has been fighting to install a government in Uganda based on the Bible’s Ten Commandments.  But that hasn’t happened, so for the time being Kony is still at large with his child soldiers while being wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC). When his child soldiers are not fighting, they are usually high on drugs, and play violent video games. Reports suggest their life is tough and very dangerous. They are used to carry out highly dangerous tasks as message bearers and spies. Moreover, reports suggest that they are often used for sexual gratification by older soldiers.

There are several reasons why children are used as soldiers. Firstly, they are more docile and impressionable and easier to train. Secondly, during their training they have to kill and maim others. They do this willingly or have often been raised in violent circumstances or simply get a thrill out of the kill. Sometimes they are under the influence of narcotics. Finally, traumatised and fearing for their lives, they have gained a sense of belonging in a community whose only goal is to kill and maim others.

Adam Lanza was a child soldier. But he was a virtual child soldier. Before going on his killing spree at Sandy Hook Elementary school, it is reported that Lanza spent hours playing a violent online video game- Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.  Since it was launched and made public this shockingly violent interactive multi-media program erroneously called a game, has grossed over $ 1Billion in sales. In its first 24 hours of release it managed sales in excess of $500 million dollars. So what’s this game all about? Essentially it is described as a First Shooter Video Game. That means the player has an assault weapon on their screen and they shoot as many people dead as he/she can. The so called kills are accompanied with explicit graphic detail of exploding heads and body parts, along with screaming obscenities. The enemies are of course of African, Latin American or European origin-so negative cultural stereotypes abound in the so called game.  The Examiner.com website released some astounding statistics about the game and it is worthwhile quoting here in full:

For about 3 weeks, Call of Duty Black Ops 2 has been in the hands of players. The numbers are booming and players have killed the world’s population of 7 billion people about two and a half times over, being totalled around 18 billion kills. Players have been playing for about 19,000 virtual years. Nearly 375 billion shots have been fired.

Of the 18 billion kills, 1.5 billion have been head shots, averaging out to eight percent of all fallen losing their head. Over 106 million gamers have been stabbed in the back…Call of Duty players have destroyed over 319 million cars. (Lake, A, 2012)

Family friendly stores like Toysrus sell the game alongside their cuddly toys and baby care items. While respectable, conservative online retailers like Amazon.com also market the game as one of their top selling items. It is estimated that over 11 million accounts have been set up to play the game, and among those 11 million accounts a high percentage of the players are in the 12-15 year old age group. Furthermore, online reviews suggest that children as young as 8 years old play the game. Here’s what some of the children have to say about the game:

Kid, 11; love it. it is on for ages 11 and up.

Kid, 12 years old

What the review fails to realize is that you can turn off the blood and cursing. The game is violent. Basically the games goal is to kill as much as possible. I mean I hear worse words at school.

Teen, 14 years old

This game might look bad in the review but you don’t really concentrate on an enemy once they’re already dead.

Kid 10 years old

Black Ops is good for 10 and older in my opinion. When you first go to the main menu, a message will pop up asking if you want to enable graphic content. If you do not want your kids to see blood, gore, or hear very bad language press no. Now the blood and gore will disappear and very dirty words such as f*** will be censored. The game should be fine under these settings. However, these settings do not apply in multiplayer and online. Only let your kids play with friends online because players can have very inappropriate conversations. Also, words such as da*n, he*l, and a**hole are used in the single player campaign and it can be too violent for younger viewers. Hope this helps!!!

Kid 11 years old

First of all. There is no specific “language filter.”  But there is a content reducer. It takes out F-Words, blood, and gore. If you play the game with the content filter, it is just like a rated T game i think. If you play without the filter, it is really profane. It has a lot; and I mean a lot of blood and language without it. It tells a really complicated story but it makes sense at the end. I guess it can be “educational” by showing all of these different places and etc… that had to do with the Cold war and such but its my opinion. The controls are very easy to pick up on. If you have played MW2, the controls are the exact same. In conclusion, it is a great game. If you are a fan of the series or not, you will like it

Kid 12 years old:

This is the best Call of Duty I have played, and not as violent as Modern Warfare 2. The violence is not very bad except for a scene where you shove glass down a man’s mouth and then punch him in the face. I got it the day it came out for my PS3. Get the game.

Kid 11 years old:

Can someone tell my parents in a comment that this game is just fine? They think that just because i play it i am going to go outside and shoot someone. That’s crazy. (Common Sense Media, 2011)

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is one of a series of graphically horrific, sadistic and violent interactive multi-media manipulative experiences, and while marketed as a game for older teenagers and adults they  specifically target the innocence of children as potential users.  Users engage in simulated war like activities in which avatar like enemies, more often than not racist stereotypes, have to be killed in extremis in order for the online user to score points or win. The most worrying aspect of these kinds of online interactive controlling programs is that children are being manipulated and conditioned into negative psychological thinking, disturbing behavioural patterns and aggressive attitudes.  For example that certain races are the enemy or that killing is an integral part of life’s experiences, or that being at war is a natural state of existence. This is subtle but effective social conditioning and programming at its worst. It is highly manipulative propaganda too, with the message that killing people is fine if you have a clear mission in mind and feel compelled to do so. In one particular interactive program Modern Warfare 2 a scene is set up in an airport, and the user infiltrates a terrorist group earning their trust. The objective is to kill every civilian in the airport then get out. The graphic visuals include unarmed people in an airport running for their lives while being shot down in cold blood.
According to the American Psychological Association, violent video games increase children’s aggression. They become conditioned to react in a strong negative way, rather than responding in a discerning way.  For example they could attack something, or be mean to another person for no particular reason other than gaining personal pleasure.  Also research suggests that there’s an increased frequency of violent responses from children who engage with these interactive multi-media programs. A more disturbing aspect to these programs too is that like the child soldiers in Uganda and the DRC these interactive programs do not teach moral accountability or responsibility or the importance of an ethical worldview. The children who engage with them are rewarded for creating suffering and maiming and killing, and according to some psychologists, they inturn adopt aggressive postures, language and attitudes as normal coping mechanism in everyday life.  There’s also well researched evidence which suggests that engaging with explicitly graphic violent multi-media programs correlates with children and young people being less caring, kind and helpful towards each other and others, and that should they become addicted to these interactive media, like their child-soldier counterparts in Africa, they need to undergo a significant period of deprogramming to return to a relatively normal state of being in which they are able to engage with more healthy and positive ways of relating to their peers and significant other people in their lives.
The media, parents, care-givers, schools and other social institutions which take on responsibility for the disseminating of knowledge and information, and the education and welfare of children seem conflicted. On the one hand they argue for creating a nurturing community of children and youths, who as  learners and civil citizens will embrace positive healthy personal and social values that will create functional and sustainable communities. Yet, they shift blame away from themselves for the actions of those in their communities who have been programmed and conditioned through interactive multi-media platforms, to enjoy creating death and mayhem through killing others.

It’s time for us to recognize and act on the truism that corporate culture appropriates the innocence of children, just like Joseph Kony. It is about time that groups like Invisble Children, along with other Child Safety Organisations  and the Education profession, recognize and understand how compliant, obedient children at home and at school , when left alone or with their peers, are vulnerable to the manipulation and powerful conditioning of violent, interactive multi-media platforms which masquerade as games and entertainment.

There’s a powerful argument which asserts that the real teachers of our children are not in our schools, universities, colleges, churches, or other supportive social institutions. They reside in the boardrooms and advertising agencies of the corporate world; with its hidden agenda of offering a violent and aggressive consumer culture to children.

What are disappearing are trustful, supportive and productive bonds between adults and children. These are being replaced by a culture of suspicion, and a social consciousness endorsed through mis-trust and negative interactive multi-media platforms where everyone is a potential enemy. A nihilist social discourse is replacing the once positive hopeful social narrative  that regardless of our culture, religious and political beliefs or indivdiual life styles, humanity in general is able to work towards peaceful co-existence.

References:

Common Sense Media. (2011, March 9). All teen and kid reviews for Call of Duty: Black Ops. Retrieved January 10, 2013, from Common Sense Media: http://www.commonsensemedia.org/game-reviews/call-of-duty-black-ops/user-reviews/kids

Lake, A. (2012, December 2). Call of Duty Black Ops 2 statistics and figures. Retrieved January 10, 2013, from examiner.com: http://www.examiner.com/article/call-of-duty-black-ops-2-statistics-and-figures

The Uncomfortable Truth about Violence, Entertainment and Violent Crime in Society.

Three weeks after the United States of America was overwhelmed with grief at the murderous rage of a 20 year old man who went on killing spree ending the lives of 26 people, including 20 children in addition to his own mother and then himself, the violent, horrific film Texas Chainsaw 3D, featuring an antagonist called Leatherface, who wears a mask made of human skin has topped the US box office making over $20 million in its first weekend release. The film is released by Lionsgate Pictures, and is directed by John Luessenhop and written by Debra Sullivan and Adam Marcus. I only mention these details because people ought to know who the purveyors of violent entertainment are. It is the 7th film in a series which portrays extreme, sadistic violence perpetrated by one human being on another.

The original movie, released in the 1970s, was refused a certificate by the British Board of Film Classification. They felt its themes of sadistic terror, extreme violence and aberrations of bizarre human behaviour unsuitable as a form of entertainment. The BBFC certainly showed a balanced duty of care for the moral well being of its society and local communities in protecting people from gratuitous, sadistic and sickening violence which masquerades as entertainment under the so-called Horror genre.  In sharp contrast the United States Supreme court ruled in 2011 that individual States did not have the right to regulate the sale of graphically violent video games to children, arguing that governments do not have the power to “restrict the ideas to which children are exposed”. Initially I was puzzled by this ruling because in in Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15, 93 S. Ct. 2607, 37 L. Ed. 2d 419 (1973), the Supreme Court concluded that a work is obscene and can be regulated if it appeals to a viewer’s prurient interest; portrays sexual conduct in a patently offensive way; and lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. The Court further ruled that interpretations of this definition may vary across the United States and that communities may apply their own local standards to determine obscenity. ( Encyclopedia of American Law, 2008) However, the above ruling was one based on sexual behaviour not on gratuitous violent behaviour, although it can be argued that a causal link exists between the kind of violence portrayed in Texas Chainsaw 3D and sexual violence perpetrated against others. Art it seems does imitate life.  It reflects a society’s accepted standards and values and what it holds and deems sacrosanct for the well being of its members. While it might appear that in the United States of America, despite its alarming statistics of sexual violence against women, men and children, prurient, aberrant and explicit sexual behaviour is less acceptable than sadistic violent behaviour, neither is acceptable in a civil society.

Social institutions, whether they are courts of law, educational institutions, or film classification boards act as control mechanisms in our societies.  The principle being that they regulate the kind of information which makes for a functional, as opposed to a dysfunctional society. Schools are examples where the kind of information along with the flow of information are carefully regulated, and for very good reasons.  Their inclusion and exclusion of information reflects the kinds of values a society embraces and the vision it has for its future.  For example, there is much debate and argument on the standard and quality of movies, novels and stories which should or should not be included in a liberal arts program.

A film like Texas Chainsaw 3D lacks any kind of intrinsic social value and if none of the films had  ever been made we would not have suffered any great  social or cultural loss. However, the series of films have been made, along with thousands of other excessively violent films, video and online games. And communities and societies have suffered great losses. Research into the effects of violent films, television programs and video games on young children suggests that they can develop more aggressive behaviours in their teenage and late adolescent years. Jack Kornfield’s (1994) alarming statistic that our children “see on average eighteen thousand murders and violent acts on TV before they finish high school” is  astounding and alarming. He writes further “On this earth as I write today, more than forty wars and violent revolutions are killing thousands of men, women and children. We have had 115 wars since World War 2 and there are only 165 countries in the world. Not a good track record for the human species. Yet what are we to do?” (Kornfield, 1994, p.25)

It’s an urgent question. What are we to do? Wait until another deeply disturbed person-a product of a particular culture and society-goes on another murderous rampage?

It seems to me that our societies have become so dysfunctional at a bureaucratic level that urgent discussions on returning to values which uphold the dignity and respect of human life have all but been lost. In trusting the branches of governments to look after our moral, social and political affairs we have given up any sense of personal moral and social responsibility. I am reminded of Adolf Eichmann’s defence when charged with crimes against humanity. He argued that he was not responsible in any way for the deaths of millions of Jews during World War 2. His job was one of a loyal government civil servant who had to manage moving masses of people from one country to another or from one town or city to another. Any consequences, immoral or otherwise which derived from his duty statement as an employee of the State were irrelevant to him and he argued that he was innocent of the crimes against humanity and not responsible for the deaths of any concentration camp prisoners.

The World in general, and the United States in particular did some soul searching after the Sandy Hook massacre-opinions were expressed, theories abounded and reasons were sought and offered as to why a young man would kill so many so violently. The killer’s disturbed mental health was a key argument put forward, and perhaps this was the case.  Or is it more to do with the collective mental health of a Nation or any Nation for that matter,  which seeks a high degree of gratification through various forms of violent and horrifying entertainment?

References

Encyclopedia of American Law. (2008, March 3). Philosophical Arguments for Censorship. Retrieved January 7, 2013, from West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2.: http://legal-dictionary.Philosophical+arguments+for+censorship

Kornfield, J.  A Path with Heart, Bantam Books, New York, 1994

Questions arising from the Process of Schooling and Societal Violence

On Tuesday 2nd October 2006, a 32 year old man held hostage a group of young students between the ages of 6 and 13 at a small rural Amish school in Pennsylvania, and later executed 3 girls and critically wounded several others. Earlier in the same year, September 26th a 25 year old man embarked on a shooting spree at Dawson College in Montreal killing a young woman and injuring up to 19 other persons. According to police sources, the man enjoyed playing a computer generated simulation game which re-enacted the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado. On April 16th 2007, a disaffected student when on a shooting rampage at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg Virginia killing 32 students and wounding many more. Today, every person in the world is reeling in shock and disbelief at the willful murder of 20 children between the ages of six and seven, and 7 adults in Newtown, Connecticut. Innocent children and caring adults denied their lives by a young man who didn’t want one. Other similar incidents have occurred across the United States and in other parts of the world over the last 15 years:

October 1997: Sixteen year old boy stabs mother then shoots dead two students at a school in Mississippi and injures several others.

December 1997: Fourteen year old boy kills three students in Kentucky.

March 1998: Two boys 11 and 13 kill four girls and a teacher in Arkansas.

April 1998: Fourteen year old boy shoots dead a teacher and wounds two students in Pennsylvania

May 1998: Fifteen year old shoots dead two students in school cafeteria in Oregon

May 1998: Fifteen year old boy shoots himself in the head after taking a girl hostage.

June 1998: Two adults hurt in shooting by teenage student at high school in Virginia

April 1999: Two teenagers shoot dead 12 students and a teacher before killing themselves at Columbine high school in Colorado

May 1999: Student injures six pupils in shoot-out in Georgia

November 1999: Thirteen year old girl shot dead by a class mate in New Mexico

February 2000: Six year old girl shot dead by a classmate in Michigan

March 2001: Student opens fire at a school in California killing two students.

April 2003: Teenager shoots dead head-teacher at a Pennsylvania school then kills himself.

May 2004: Four people injured in a school shooting in Maryland

March 2005: Minnesota school boy kills nine then kills himself

November 2005: Student in Tennessee shots dead an assistant principal and wounds two other administrators.

September 2006: Gunman in Colorado shoots and fatally wounds a teenage school girl the kills himself; two days later a teenager kills the head teacher of a school in Cazenovia, Wisconsin

February 2008: 14 year old boy shoots dead a fellow student in Oxnard California because he was  Gay.

On Friday 26th April 2002, a 19-year-old German youth returned to his school in Erfurt, Germany, from where he had been expelled a few weeks earlier. He killed 13 teachers and two students before killing himself. In May of 1998, an 18-year-old High School senior, Jeremy Stroemeyer, from Orange County in Los Angeles, California, lured a 7-year-old African American girl into a toilet block, in a Nevada Casino, in the early hours of the morning. He sexually assaulted and strangled her, while his friend and classmate peered over the cubicle and did nothing to intervene. I knew Jeremy. He had been an 11th grade student in my literature class while I was on an assignment at an international school in Singapore. He was popular, well liked by his peers and the adults who worked in the school. He seemed to be amiable, perhaps a little earnest in his need for approval, but nothing out of the ordinary with regards to angst and adolescent development. He left the school at the end of the semester, and returned to the United States, and began his senior year in the fall of 1997. After his arrest and arraignment for murder, those of us who knew him – his peers and teachers – were in a state of shock; our perceptions of Jeremy had been deceived by this horrendous act of cruelty. “Why did he do it”? One of his friends asked in disbelief. “I had him stay over in my house many time, I just don’t believe it”, one of my students exclaimed with incredulity.  I attempted to explain with difficulty the shock of accepting that someone we had come to know, and perceived as a ‘good’ person, could have committed such a heinous act. We were in denial because Jeremy had been one of us. This crime caused me to reflect more deeply on the purpose of schooling, if after 12 years, a person proceeds to graduate lacking in values of compassion, tolerance, cooperation, love and understanding?

The German Psychoanalyst, Alice Miller, argues that sources of rage, hatred and anger in adolescents and adults can always be traced to violence, both physical and psychological, inflicted upon the young and very young, in the name of child-rearing, schooling and socialization processes. [Miller, 1990]. She argues that the last 200 years of socialization practices have infested generations of people all over the world with a “poisonous pedagogy”. Once a physically brutal and violent way to raise children, today it has become a psychological terror campaign, whereby the young are manipulated out of childhood, into a world of adult guilt and betrayal.

The conscious use of humiliation (whose function is to satisfy the parents’ needs) destroys the child’s self confidence, making him or her insecure and inhibited…For the purposes of self protection, it is only the adult’s friendly manner that remains in the child’s memory, accompanied by a predictable submissiveness on the part of the “little transgressor” and the loss of his capacity for spontaneous feeling…the results of this struggle against strong emotion are so disastrous because the suppression begins in infancy, i.e. before the child’s self has had a chance to develop…significantly, cause and effect are confused here and what is attacked as a cause is something that the pedagogues have themselves brought about. This is the case not only in pedagogy, but in psychiatry and criminology as well. Once “wickedness has been produced in a child by suppressing vitality, any measure taken to stamp it out is justified” [Miller, 1990, pp. 21-31].

There is sufficient evidence to suggest that people who are mistreated in their formative years will act out similar behaviors as adults. Likewise, the more subtle forms of childrearing, which involve psychological manipulation, which we are all products of, have a profound effect on our behavior as adults. More often than not this is expressed in benign forms, such as the way we brush our teeth, or arrange our clothes in the closet, or eat at a table or hold our bodies, to more neurotic behaviors like showering many times a day, checking that doors are locked repetitively, to even more disturbing behaviors such as agoraphobia, or the numerous conditions under the broad diagnostic term, schizophrenia, which need intervention by qualified practitioners.

Schools act as surrogate parents, reinforcing disciplines, or exercising new forms of power and control over children. Miller quotes the following example “In school, discipline precedes the actual teaching. There is no sounder pedagogical axiom than the one that children must first be trained before they can be taught. There can be discipline without instruction…but no instruction without discipline” [Miller, 1990, p. 31]

Issues with regard to human behavior and how to modify and encourage its various manifestations contribute to some of the most contentious debates in education. Indeed, discipline in all its various guises has been labeled as ‘normative practices’ (Rousmaniere, Dehli and de Coninck-Smith, 1997). Are we living in a more enlightened age when it comes to matters relating to understanding human behavior and implementing procedures for behavior modification? Discipline and punishment is about controlling minds and bodies and affecting human behavior. The social sciences stand as a testament to human endeavors to understand the way people behave, and there is ongoing argument and debate about the benefits of a systematized imposition of order on the human condition. Alice Miller’s training and practice as a psychoanalyst has enabled her to hear firsthand accounts of child-rearing practices, which in most instances can only be recognized as acts of cruelty, and of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. She argues that “The conviction that parents are always right and that every act of cruelty, whether conscious or unconscious, is an expression of their love is so deeply rooted in human beings, because it is based on the process of internalization that takes place during the first few months of life…” [Miller, 1990, p.5] She further asserts one of the more obvious empirical conclusions one can draw from human nature, and that is if a child is nurtured with unconditional love and understanding, and without physical violence or emotional blackmail, then they in turn will practice the same kind of behaviors as fully grown human beings. Nelson Mandela describes this basic human experience in detail in recalling a sadistic and brutal Commander of Robben Island prison, where he was held for 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment. Mandela writes:

Badenhorst had perhaps been the most callous and barbaric                                  Commanding officer we had had on Robben Island. But that  day in the office, he had revealed that there was another side that had been obscured but that still existed. It was a useful reminder that all men, even the most seemingly cold-blooded, have a core of decency, and if there hearts are touched, they are capable of changing. Ultimately, Badenhorst was not evil; his inhumanity had been foisted upon him by an inhuman system. He behaved like a brute because he was rewarded for brutish behavior. (Mandela, 1994)

This is not a new idea and tends to be reflected in spiritual beliefs across cultures, which encourage love, tolerance, compassion and the value of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

Miller’s more serious assertion, and one we as educators ought to take heed of, is that more often than not methods of child-rearing, including discipline and moral regulation in schooling, are carried out in such a manner so that a child is not aware of what is being done to him or her. Miller addresses several complex, yet important questions throughout her text: “How were our parents brought up? How were they permitted-even forced-to treat us? How could we, as young children, have become aware of this? How could we have treated our own children differently? Can this vicious circle ever be broken? And finally is our guilt any less if we shut our eyes to the situation?” (Miller, 1990, p.9) She cites some classic examples from texts dating back to the 16th century to back up her claims. The following passage by J.Sulzer, written in 1748 serves as an illustration:

If wickedness and willfulness are not driven out, it is impossible to

give a child a good education. The moment these flaws appear in a child

it is high time to resist this evil so that it does not become ingrained through

habit, and the children do not become thoroughly depraved…if parents are

fortunate enough to drive out willfulness from the every beginning by means

of scolding and the rod, they will have obedient, docile and good children…

as soon as a child develops awareness, it is essential to demonstrate to

them by word and deed that they must submit to the will of the parents…”

(Miller, 1990, p.13)

Miler asserts that it is generally accepted that children forget a lot of their early childhood, but the serious consequences from the trauma of harsh treatment will live on and manifest itself from mild neurosis as an adult, to the more bizarre manifestations of complex psychopathologies. There are no harmless pedagogies she argues, because even when an adult is sure they are considering the best interests of the child, their true motives are:

  • The unconscious need to pass on to others the humiliation one has undergone oneself.
  • The need to find an outlet for repressed affect.
  • The need to possess and have at one’s disposal a vital object to  manipulate.
  • Self-defense: i.e., the need to idealize one’s childhood and one’s parents by dogmatically applying the parents’ pedagogical principles  to one’s own children.
  • Fear of freedom.
  • Fear of the reappearance of what one has repressed, which one re-encounters in one’s child and must try to stamp out, having killed it in oneself earlier.
  • Revenge for the pain one has suffered. (Miller, 1990)

Miller is not an advocate of anarchy in child rearing, on the contrary, she argues strongly for tolerance, compassion, awareness, respect and the importance of leading children to awareness and self-knowledge.

She chooses three case studies to support her arguments. Firstly, Christiane F, an adolescent drug addict, who was the victim of child abuse, sexual, physical and emotional. Secondly, the childhood of Adolf Hitler is analyzed in detailed and thirdly the formative years of Jurgen Bartsch, a child killer, is scrutinized. Each case is studied meticulously and Miller’s claim that the upbringing of the respondents affected their behavior as adolescents and adults is convincing. Her analysis of the suffering of Sylvia Plath as an example of a child reassuring the parent in a role reversal of child-rearing practice ends the book on a poignant note. While adults are able to reproach their God, Miller says, “Children are not allowed to reproach their gods-their parents and teachers”. (Miller, 1990)

The regular explosions of violence in schools throughout the world can also be attributed to a poisonous pedagogy- an approach to socialization practices through teaching and learning- which has become separated from important spiritual and psychological characteristics of human development. Moreover, no matter how innovative a curriculum nor how prestigious a school is held by its local community, until we as teachers, administrators and teacher trainers come to understand the subtleties of our own psycho-social development, and the nuance with which it interacts on a conscious and unconscious level in our lives as educators, then the psycho-dynamic of power relationships, played out daily in the process of schooling, will continue to cause inexplicable aberrations of behavior, and explosions of murderous rage by those who have become lost to themselves in the process of schooling.

This view is supported by Gatto, who argues convincingly that schools, rather than educate, create severe social and psychological pathologies that are irreversible, because they are symptomatic of a wider and deeper cultural malaise. Schools he asserts are the problem not the solution [Gatto, 1992]. Illich identified a similar argument over 30 years ago [Illich, 1962] According to both educators; schools are not about educating our children. Schools create confusion and reinforce notions of inequality through justifying a particular economic code. They create emotional and intellectual dependency, together with an indifference to everything. They instill a conditional self esteem into children which says, “you’re only as good as your report card” and through their competitive values and collective surveillance codes [everybody is alerted to be watching everyone else] impart to all children and young people that any kind of privacy equals subversive behavior, and a private life is a negative value and leads to anti-social behavior [Gatto 1992]. Like Illich, Gatto argues that we need less schooling not more.

It is evident that we need to renew the idea of schooling through curriculum reforms. Overburdened and irrelevant curricula, selective knowledge and regulated behaviors are creating toxic environments in schools. They are fertile grounds for cultivating murderous rage and violence of a kind, which schools deny, could ever happen, and for which the wider community seeks to find a scapegoat and shift blame. We are confronted with this scenario in a chilling report on the profiles of the young men responsible for the Columbine massacre:

“Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris seem to have been shrouded in presumptions of innocence. After professing their love for Hitler, declaring their hatred of Blacks, Asians and Latinos on a public website no less, down loading instructions for making bombs, accumulating the ingredients, assembling them under the protectively indifferent gaze (or perhaps with the assistance) of parents and neighbors, stockpiling guns and ammunition, procuring hand grenades and flak jackets, threatening the lives of class mates, killing thirteen and themselves, wounding numerous others and destroying their school building –still the community can’t believe it really happened “here”. Still their teachers and classmates continue to protest that they were good kids, good students, solid citizens.” (Williams, 1999, cited in Giroux, 2000)

This is a sad and tragic example of two young men blending into a system, seemingly subordinated to its history and traditions, and complacent with its own definition of success. It is also about the serious ramifications for boards of studies, curricula designers, schools, and indeed all educationalists, who adhere unflinchingly to a theory of limited intelligence; one comprising of affective, cognitive and psychomotor domains with predetermined limited powers of ability, function and performance.  In such a model of human potentiality, the body becomes a docile vessel for an imposed curriculum. Children are the passive respondents in a controlled learning process. Schooling is something ‘done’ to them, rather than an experience of cooperation, and active participation. In the process of schooling, we forget that human beings are more than the sum of their parts.

Schools should be places for positive learning experiences. We should gain insights and knowledge about ourselves, so as we grow and develop we can enjoy the knowledge and wisdom gathered along the way. How can this take place?  It could begin with the recognition of one another’s uniqueness, and progress with the inclusion of usas the living embodiment of the curriculum in day-to-day school life. Pablo Casals expresses this suggestion with sensitivity and insight:

“Every second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe; a moment that     never was before and never will be again. And what do we teach our children in school? We teach them that two and two are four and that Paris is the capital of France. We should say to them, “Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In the millions of years that have passed, there has never been another child like you.” (Casals, 1970)

The American educator David Purpel breaks down the layers of meaning in the debates, discussions and arguments about educational reform, to reveal our human vulnerability and fear to bringing about serious change in education. He argues that human beings have to work towards goodness. It is not innate. Our capacity for self-deception can lead us into all sorts of trouble as a species. If education is for the betterment of humanity why, Purpel asks, are we facing catastrophic consequences through the human development of our planet? Purpel argues convincingly that our mechanistic metaphor of the universe enables us to deceive ourselves into believing we can conquer and subdue all of nature [including human nature] with little if any consequences.

“We as educators have for the most part been able (willingly) to separate

our concern for education from our discussion of our most serious and profound

matters. What is the meaning of life? How do we relate as a family, nation people?

What is a just and fair way of distributing rights and responsibilities? How do we

make appropriate moral choices?” (Purpel, 1989, p.5)

Notwithstanding the extraordinary efforts made by most students and teachers, questions always remain: What difference do we really make in society? How are we contributing to positive social transformation? If we look through the lens of compartmentalization we can see that some domains of human effort are a testament to what we are able achieve. Aspects of the arts, sports, sciences, humanities, and religion, to name a few, shed light on our capacity for goodness, compassion, tolerance, understanding, love and cooperation. But, if we adjust our lens we see the whole picture. A landscape ruined through war, conflict, greed, deforestation, conflict and savage competition.

Purpel argues that there are no simple solutions to the crisis facing humanity. He points out that opportunists are seizing the moment to push their own social and political agenda in educational reform. In particular he argues that a vacuum left by the rejection of any sound moral and spiritual understanding is leading the way for Rightist groups, together with conservative politicians, to set the agenda for changes in the process of schooling. These changes, insofar as they have any impact are superficial and deal more with textual authority/power/control issues, rather than seriously analyze the assumptions, which underpin our educational aims and objectives. Only a critical inquiry, founded upon an incisive analysis of these assumptions will enable us to reform our schools.

Purpel shows us the inherent contradictions in post modern educative values:

    Transformative Values   Institutionalized Values
Community Individual
Worth Achievement
Equality Competition
Compassion Sentimentality
Democracy Authority/Power/Coercion/Control
Humility Arrogance
Commitment Alienation/Displacement/Complacency
Faith Reason
Professional   Responsibility Self Deception

(Purpel, 1989 pp.31-61)

His analysis of the dichotomy produced through the inherent contradiction in values promoted and institutionalized in schools, and those made manifest through actions and behaviors, is perceptive, insightful and instructive about the consequences of our actions as teachers and administrators.  He argues that such contradictions create confusion and frustrations for all involved in the process of schooling. We end up applying simple solutions, to complex problems. It is easier to discuss curriculum reform, electives, student behavior, codes of conduct, assessment procedures, exam results, sporting prowess, student and staff morale and building maintenance, rather than address the core issues confronting people daily like, unemployment, environmental degradation, spiritual impoverishment, war, famine, and poverty to name a few. When we deny reality we legitimate a false consciousness, which leads us into self-deception and the delusion that we really are masters of our own destiny.

The tragedies of Connecticut, Blackburg Virginia, Columbine and Erfurt; to single out a few suggest we pay a high price for such folly. Yet, schools are sites of potentiality, and our future can be quite different from the past if we embrace knowledge inclusiveness, founded upon sound ethical and spiritual principles. I am not advocating a dogmatic or doctrinal approach here; rather the multiple spiritual traditions of humanity have a lot to offer us, and could be the way forward in addressing the myriad problems humanity is facing today. The abandonment of spiritually and morally based philosophies, for those of the humanist tradition, have created a crisis of meaning in people’s lives. We need a broad moral, spiritual and educational framework as ” a point of departure that focuses on principles, priorities and orientation” [Purpel, 1989, p 156].

Human history is barely of a ten thousand year duration, and the

concept of justice, love, and compassion is perhaps four thousand

years old. The fact that those ideas have been developed and affirmed

is in itself miraculous and the related fact that we have not nearly accomplished

other commitments is not at all surprising. If it took millions of years to go

from stone to energy (as in the example of coal) what would be a reasonable

expectation for a people to go from animal-like to God-like? [Purpel, 1989, p.165]

Inclusive school curriculums, which will promote, support, and develop the emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions of a person’s life. Healthy people transform an unhealthy society. An inclusive school curriculum will value:

  • the production of one’s own knowledge over textbook knowledge.
  • the inclusion of autobiography over depersonalized  ‘objective’ histories.
  • ecological and ecumenical world-views over authoritarian and dogmatic discourses
  • thinking about the assumptions, which underlie thinking processes, over memorization and rote learning
  • reflection and rumination in learning over simple recall of information and data
  • the value of intuition as an integral part of rational processes
  • eclecticism over linear thinking
  • spirituality, mystery, cosmology and the spirituality of science over scientism
  • an acknowledgement of gender ambiguity over stereotypes
  • the inclusion of race and ethnic differences over nationalism and global culture
  • the development of interpersonal skills over institutionalized roles
  • the development of a defensive logic over the art of reasoning, to help youngsters face and deal with fear, prejudice, bigotry, racism and social injustice
  • love, tolerance, compassion and cooperation over competitiveness  (Slattery, 1995)

For the most part these subject-matters and themes are under-represented or excluded from the a 21st century school curriculum

Knowing through systems of information, data and knowledge like information technology, computer science, general sciences, social sciences, mathematics, humanities and the arts is acquired knowledge. But the journey of the individual learner is different. There is the revelation of an inner knowledge, an intuitive awareness if you like of the world and ones place in it. One feels this more than knows it, and I think it is part of the ever-increasing understanding of what it is to learn. The linking themes in all of this are autobiography, learning, understanding and knowing. This merging of two experiences of knowledge enables one to understand how separated and fragmented learning cultivates ignorance. “Where is the life we have lost in living?” Eliot writes, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” [Eliot, T.S. 1971].

References:

Apple, M.W & Beyer, L.E. (eds) The Curriculum: Problems, Politics and Possibilities, State University of New York  Press, New York, 1998, pp.6-7

Casals, P. ‘n.d.’, ‘Quotation’, ‘Great Musicians on Sound, Spirit and Heart’  <http://www.spiritsound.com/musiker.htm  (accessed 27/7/2002)

Dewey, J. Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education  The Free Press, New York, 1916, pp.6-8

Eliot, T.S. Collected Poems: 1909 – 1962, Faber & Faber, Great Britain, 1974

Gatto, J.T.  Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling,

New Society Publishers, USA, 1992

Giroux, H.A.  Stealing Innocence: Youth, Corporate Power and the Politics of

Culture, Palgrave,  New York, 2000, p.7

Illich, I.  Deschooling Society, Penguin Books, Great Britain, 1971

Mandela, N.  Long Walk To Freedom, Macdonald Purnell (Pty) Ltd. Randberg,  South Africa, 1994, p. 594

Miller, A . For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelties in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1990

Purpel, D    The Moral & Spiritual Crisis in Education: A Curriculum for Justice and Compassion in Education, Bergin & Garvey, New York, 1989

Rousmaniere, Dehli & de Coninck-Smith, (ed) Discipline, Moral Regulatio and Schooling: A Social History   Garland Publishing, Inc, New York  1997, p.3

Slattery, P. Curriculum Development in the Post-Modern Era, Garland Publishing, New York, 1995

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Bill Gates must Eradicate Malaria and not Education.

The multi-billionaire, lobbyist, IT corporate founder of the Microsoft conglomerate and philanthropist Bill Gates is highly opinionated on subjects ranging from HIV-AIDS, to what schools and universities should be doing in providing an educative foundation for the lives of those privileged to be able to gain entry to schools and universities in the United States of America. It is not uncommon for the rich and powerful-once having acquired their status-to pontificate to the rest of us on what’s wrong with our world and society, and to tell us how we should rectify these problems while at the same time telling us how we should be living our lives. There are many examples of this-especially in the United States of America-Donald Trump attempts to impose his myopic world view of business and entrepreneurship on the whole planet yet despises differences within his own country. Oprah Winfry struggled through a tough abusive childhood to find herself able to promote the use of some not so well founded self-help theories on a global population desperate for affirmation of their innate goodness as human beings along with those in desperate need of professional help-it was the latter who often were mis-lead or misinterpreted her good intentions through some of the pseudo-therapist she had on her shows-we all remember one of the off shoots of her talk-show, that Dr. Phil character and his neo-conservative behavourist views on how to solve both personal and intrapersonal problems . And there’s the creativity guru, Ken Robinson who re-discovered his own creativity after years of traditional teaching and learning in the Arts and Drama sectors of education, and has since taken up a crusade against educators throughout the world arguing that they kill creativity in their students, forgetting that most of them were reading and using the ideas of Edward de Bono long before they had ever heard of Ken Robinson. Yes, it’s always possible to critique the world when one is sitting atop of the pile. Although Shakespeare, that great logical, linear dramatist and writer did put it more eloquently “But ’tis a common proof that lowliness is young ambition’s ladder, whereto the climber upward turns his face, but when he once attains the upmost round, he then unto the ladder turns his back, looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees by which he did ascend” (Shakespeare, 1599).

In one of his regular TED talk appearances (those virtual ipod telecasts where people invent new language like ‘framed or tipping point’, or where they regularly turn nouns into inaccurate verb forms and then teachers have to re-teach basic grammar to their students) Bill Gates combines two very disparate topics-seeking a cure for Malaria and curing all the ills of 21st century education (Gates, 2009). The first part of the talk is informative even though Gates isn’t a medical doctor-although one is able to fudge their way through such topics dropping certain terms and phrases into the talk-but he does rely on statistics of mortality to buttress his argument, and releasing non-malaria carrying mosquitoes into the audience is a nice touch and is well received by those present. There’s no doubt that it is money well spent and his philanthropic work in fighting Malaria is a much needed boost for the poorest of countries struggling with this deadly disease and unable to cope through a lack of international investment and corrupt governance.

For a man who unashamedly admits he dropped out of College-almost as a challenge to the whole educational edifice-he has very strongly worded opinions on education and how he thinks it should progress in the 21st century: Testing, IT as preferred delivery methodology, and breaking the National Teacher’s Union’s powerbase in protecting the rights of educators in his country.

Yet, it has been found over and over again that testing alone is not the mark of an educated person. It is simply a means to an end. It provides lots of statistics for people like Gates to ruminate over and ohooh and ahhhh and identify trends and make decisions without considering the impact of their decisions on an individual’s life in any school classroom and to education in general. We do not create and inspire life-long learning simply through testing. Moreover Gate’s visit to one school in the US,  where he recounts how the teacher was literally running around the room in an effort to keep kids attentive is praised as inspirational-and a model all teachers should aspire to-in reality and how it is described  sounds like the teacher concerned was on amphetamines and more importantly the extent the teacher was able to transmit knowledge is simply ignored and not addressed. And this is often the case with those outside of the teaching profession who choose to critique education for their personal gain and social standing on the wider national and global stage. They simply lack the basic knowledge to understand how a human being learns.

Gates quoted some alarming statistics from within the United States of America-30% of youth drop out of US high schools before graduation, and 50% of minority students drop out too (he didn’t define this term so we were not clear what he meant and TED talks for the most part deny the audience questions, as if their speakers are talking ex-cathedra like some secular Pope)He claims that students from low-income households in the US only have two choices when they leave high school-jail or a college degree. I found such rhetoric while totally inaccurate, misleading and sensationalist. At one point I thought I had mistakenly tuned into Fox News and the Bill O’Reilly factor, but when I checked my iPad (yes I admit to now being a member of the cult) I was still listening to a TED talk. So I waited to see where he would lay the blame for this profoundly disturbing nihilist view of his country’s lower income youth population and the social and economic inconsistencies in its educational sector.  Is the cause of falling educational standards to be found in the very nature of the advanced capitalist corporate based economy the United States of America uses to prop up its ailing democracy? No. Could it be the gross inequalities created for generations by its totally bankrupt economy? No. Could it be to do with its increasingly  absurd popular culture and its obsession over celebrity status and fictionalised lifestyles as portrayed through  film, television and reality TV programs which for the most part its population are fixated with in their spare time? No. Could it be an obsession with fantasy, plastic surgery, Botox injections, Joan Rivers and fast food? No. Could it be that terrorists from another part of the world have bypassed all the homeland security measures and infiltrated the country and planted some kind of mind numbing anti-learning compound in the water supply of the whole country? No. Then what could be the problem? Teachers! That’s right, there just aren’t enough great teachers teaching American kids how to learn. According to Gates most are doing a terrible job-that’s right! He used test based results (from where we do not know) to generalise that for the most part teachers throughout the United States of America are failing in their professional duties. Moreover their Union protects them too much and their contracts do not allow for sufficient monitoring of how they carry out their professional duties. In a crude analogy to a factory production line he argued that unfettered access to any classroom should be the right of school administrators- suggesting that he has no basic understanding how schools and Colleges operate, how they promote teaching effectiveness and how teachers, while being specialists in their respective disciplines are also the bridges bewteen competing curricula inititiaves, student learning, student social and personal crisies, and parents and guardians demanding a say in the whole educative process. Furthermore, in a sweeping generalisation and equally dubious claim he asserts that teachers who gain a Master’s degree as part of their commitment to life-long learning and professional development do not make any difference in the classroom from teachers who chose not to undertake a Master’s degree. These assertions are being shouted from the highest hilltops by a man who unashamedly proclaims to the youth of the world how he dropped out of College. What makes a difference is that amorphous term the ‘great teacher’ His solution is more testing and more ‘great teachers’

Firstly, education and life-long learning are not about test results. While summative assessments and testing provide some measure of a student’s success they do not provide the whole measure. One needs to look beyond the classroom into the lives and families of the students who have been mis-represented by Gates in his overall assessment of education in the US. The corporate culture from which he has done very well is largely to blame for the gross inequalities in his society’s families, and its education system. Charter schools were set up to counter the failing public school system and while they are for the most part successful it is more to do with the fact they are held to be more accountable for students achievement and teachers work very hard together to achieve student success. It could be the same in public schools, but for the many social issues teachers must confront daily in their classrooms.  Instead of going to a well known very successful charter school to confirm his  bias, Bill Gates ought to  go into some of his country’s poorest school districts  and see what kind of great teachers there are struggling against the social justices and inequalities and corrupt local officials while trying to provide an education to the youth of his country.  He could start in Shannon County school district, South Dakota, and then move on to the North Forest Independent School District in Houston, Texas. Or instead of investing a million dollars into edX spend 10 million in some of these poorest schools-inspire and motivate teachers and students don’t undermine them through profoundly naïve and unfounded assertions about the state of education today. Secondly, as a Master’s degree holder I say to someone who dropped out of College- do not underestimate the value of a Masters’ Degree-it becomes an area of specialization which builds on the initial foundations of knowledge gained in an undergraduate program and is of enormous benefit to any teacher who wishes to be an excellent role model for life-long learning to their students. It is through such a commitment to study and learning that we are able to inspire youth to pursue an education.  Thirdly, you cannot create ‘great teachers’ through allocating money for merit pay or lessing their access to job security and benefits. Great teachers emerge from a system whihc provides them with more than adequate resources, good benefits, appropriate training opportunties, professional development opportunties-including studying for a Master’s degree and a PhD.  and small class sizes whereby one person; i.e the teacher, can constructively engage with each student on a professional and inter-personal level; rather than rushing around a room like an eltie athelete trying to maintian a large class’s attention.

Bill Gates emerged from a different world. He gave up his opportunity to experience what a College based education is like and how it creates, promotes and inspires a learner.  He chose the savage competition of the corporate sector with its fierce, highly competitive values and its arrogant disregard for the notion of an educational sector critically appraising its own system and the system from which it is derived, along with an individual’s opportunity for their emotional, spiritual and intellectual growth within that system. The irony and conundrum today for Bill Gates and others  is that Microsoft Inc; Apple Inc; and the various other purveyors of IT gadgetry live in a bubble. They are the 21st century bubble boys and are far, far removed from the reality of teaching and learning today. They create the   IT distracters which are being  integrated into formal learning environments without any conscious awareness of their effects on student learning and student success.  The IT sector and its representatives are not only attempting to usurp the educational sector and eat up fought after funding for educational programs to sell their products; but are seeking to lay the blame for falling educational standards at the very feet of those who have been coerced into embracing educational technologies and edutainment –the teachers.  In this particular TED talk Gates comes across as arrogant, uniformed and as an anti-intellectual; someone who wants to destroy education; rather than a serious committed philanthropist who is working collaboratively for educational reform. With such an attitude and unconscious awareness of his dislike for formal learning he is better advised to focus on eradicating malaria rather than inadvertently eradicating education.

 

Gates, B. (2009, February). Bill Gates on mosquitoes, malaria and education. Longbeach, California, USA.

Shakespeare, W. (1599). Julius Casear. Stratford-upon Avon: William Shakepeare.

iGnorance in the pursuit of a 21st century education.

In his seminal work on education, John Dewey wrote that “Were all teachers to realize that the quality of mental process, not the production of correct answers, is the measure of educative growth something hardly less than a revolution in teaching would be worked.” (Dewey, 1916). What did Dewey mean? Essentially he is calling us to nurture and develop the essential cognitive processes a developing human being requires so they have the requisite skills to be able to participate as literate members of their respective societies.   These are not developed at the expense of other essential skills found in our social and emotional lives; on the contrary our essential cognitive development includes key areas of psychosocial and emotional development too.  For example Piaget posited 4 key stages of development each interdependent of the other and arrived via the individual’s readiness to move beyond their own accomplished period of development. For instance during the sensorimotor stage (Birth to 2 years old) an infant builds and integrates understanding of himself or herself and reality (and how things work) through interactions with the environment. This isn’t achieved devoid of social or emotional engagement, but is interdependent and developed through it. Nor is this achieved through staring at a flat 2 dimensional screen; an infant learns  to differentiate between themselves and other 3D objects. Learning takes place via assimilation (the organization of information and absorbing it into existing schema) and accommodation (when an object cannot be assimilated and the schemata have to be modified to include the object). At the preoperational stage (ages 2 to 4) the child is not yet able to conceptualize abstractly and needs concrete physical situations. Objects are classified in simple ways, especially by important features. At the concrete operational stage (ages 7 to 11) physical experience accumulates, and is increased. The child begins to think abstractly and conceptualize, creating logical structures that explain his or her physical experiences. Finally, formal operations (beginning at ages 11 to 15) through cognition reaches its final form. By this stage, the person no longer requires concrete objects to make rational judgements. He or she is capable of deductive and hypothetical reasoning. His or her ability for abstract thinking is very similar to an adult (Ginsberg & Opper, 1987). Aside from Piaget there are many other theories on how we learn: Skinner, Howard Gardener, Montessori, Rudolph Steiner and so on , all argue for a balanced and socially interactive approach to teaching and learning in which key skills about inter/intrapersonal relationships are nurtured and developed too-in other words the educative process isn’t a single flat line leading to an eventual university degree, it’s a highly socialised process, with many diversions and detours in which we work towards ensuring that our children become well adjusted, balanced and happy human beings who make a positive contribution to their own lives and the lives of others. And it is this view of teaching and learning which is being eclipsed by the iNsane rush to digitalise every aspect of teaching pedagogy today. In defence of educational technology however,  it has achieved some practical innovations in teaching and learning. One in particular comes to mind and it is the flat classroom project. This multi-award winning  approach to linking teachers and students globally is an example of integrating useful aspect of technology into the field of education not the other way around.  And there are others too-I examine for an international awarding body which scans test papers and essay and enables examiners to download these into a program to be marked. This replaced a costly paper based system which couriered examination materials all over the world. There’s also the digitalised text books and the 3D imagery which brings alive subjects like Geography, History, Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics and Physics to name a few; and in the junior years there’s  a plethora of material available ( if one thinks like some major publishing houses that placing a developing child in front of a screen is an ideal way to learn). Recently, I was privileged to sit in on a Grade 1  numeracy blended lesson in which some educational technology was used to reinforce the concept of 1 digit numerals. The teacher finished the lesson by placing on her hand a glove puppet in the form of a shark. Much to the delight and giggles of her students the shark gobbled up all the numerals each child had, not before they counted them out loud. I couldn’t help but wonder how the students would have responded to a cold, unfeeling screen with a shark eating the numbers courtesy of Microsoft or Apple Inc. or one of the many major publishing houses eager for a slice of the big buck money pie available through developing digitalised learning resources. The point is there is so much glamour and hype associated with iTechnolgy along with iGnorance about how we learn which is driving the technology agenda in teaching and learning today, without any moral or ethical consideration about the affects and effects on children and young people as they learn. There are three critical factors for healthy physical and psychological development in a child which will never be duplicated through any kind of educational technology. They are movement, touch and inter/intrapersonal connection to other human beings. What will future generations of administrators, teachers and learners do when all the apples have fallen from the iTree?

Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and Education. New York: Macmillan.

Ginsberg, H., & Opper, S. (1987). Piaget’s Theory of Intellectual Development-Thrid Edition. New York: Prentice Hall.