Why I think Christmas as a Religious Festival is still important in the West.

Among the multi anti-religious discourses of the last 20 years none has been as vocal as the atheist lobby with spokespersons as diverse as the late Christopher Hitchens, the somewhat discredited anti-theologian and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, along with many purveyors of advanced capitalism who through the propaganda of advertising seduce consumers with the creed that more of anything will make one feel better and that greed is good. The more you buy and spend at Christmas time-the happier and merrier you’ll be!

American atheists have spent an undisclosed sum of money erecting a bill board in Times Square which  reads “Keep the Merry!” next to a picture of Santa Claus, and “Dump the Myth!” next to a picture of the crucified Jesus Christ.  It’s an odd paradox the atheists have created for themselves because despite Hollywood’s attempt to find the real Santa Claus and create the fable of Kris Kringle and the original Santa Claus there’s no historical evidence that such a figure has ever existed in human history. Moreover, there’s little merriment in the atheist message which attacks, not only the faith and religious belief of over a billion people on the planet, but also the historical evidence which supports the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. The subtext of their billboard is one of fear and hate. Fear that their own disbelief may be found wanting-after all if one has faith in the certainty that God doesn’t exist why spend ten of thousands of dollars trying to convince others of that conviction -what’s the point? Hatred of difference too is the subtext in their billboard; “if we don’t believe in Jesus Christ, no-one else should”

Leaving aside two thousand years of disputed doctrinal and theological argument (yes I know it’s not an easy thing to do!) there’s sufficient historical evidence that Jesus was a holy man who lived and died, and that he proved unpopular with the establishment because he attempted to lead people to a greater awareness and understanding of themselves. Most historical scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed and that he was born between 7 and 2 BC and that he died around 30-35 AD. These scholars also agree that he was baptized by John and that the Governor of Galilee, Pontius Pilate assented to his death. The references to Jesus by the 1st century Roman Historians Josephus and Tacitus are considered authentic too.

Despite my scholarly research into Santa Claus I could not find any historical evidence that he ever existed except along with the tooth fairy, goblins, wizards, demons, vampires and elves and other imaginings of J.K.Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, Hans Christian Anderson, along with various atheist groups and the like. It seems to me the atheists are conflicted both in their beliefs and historical understanding of human history.

It is the institutionalization of religion which has undermined its very purpose-to give meaning to an individual’s life through shared communal belief and understanding; and nearly all of the bloody religious internecine struggles throughout human history have been about enforcing one belief over another. Nothing has really changed today and that is why the Christmas message of hope is so urgent. The birth of Jesus as my favorite Christmas carol, ‘Oh Holy Night’ reminds me, enables the soul to find its way. By that I mean it reassures my intuitive nature that we are not alone, alienated or lost in a world devoid of meaning as some would have us believe.

Christmas reminds me of a man who gave us some very clear directions on how to be better human beings and how to care for and understand one another. “I am the Way, the truth and the life” Jesus said; the idea being that he modeled a way of life based on care, forgiveness, compassion, love, tolerance and understanding of difference. He challenged human corruption and complacency.  Through living each of the values he espoused we find our way, our truth and our life. Similarly, “seek first the kingdom of God and all things will be added to you”. The message is similar to the Buddha, nothing outside of ourselves will give us meaning, we must look inside ourselves, prioritize what’s important based on his message, and there we will find God. Jesus’ message was about human consciousness and states and levels of awareness we can grow into as human beings. We can create a better life for ourselves and others by listening to our hearts and minds and touching that intuitive part of ourselves which “lets our light shine before all humanity and so they may see our good works”. There’s nothing in the myths of atheism or the mass produced fantasies of popular fiction and Hollywood that offer a more compelling alternative. Have a blessed and happy Christmas.

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].


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























In Defense of Humor in an Age of Blame, Revenge and Scapegoating

Fawlty Towers, the British sitcom, which aired in the United Kingdom and its former dominions between 1975-1979 provides an insight into the psyche of British Humor. Fawlty Towers is essentially class driven, culturally misogynistic and racist as it projects a kind of put-down-humor on the other. Yet its humorous content has been (and still is) enjoyed all over the world. One particular episode comes to mind The Germans; in this episode a slightly crazed (more than usual) Fawlty has a restaurant full of German tourists whom he won’t let forget who started and won WW II. To the British and those of her allies who fought Germany between 1939 and 1945 it is hilarious in its portrayal of a deep-seated bigoted man caught up in the social veneer of class and cultural snobbery. Fawlty’s mad antics are captured in the way he pokes fun at German hurt and offense at defeat and British gloating of victory in WW II. But to a significant number of Germans it was deeply offense and humiliating. The overall suicide rate in the two Germanys between 1975-1979 conservatively was probably around 17  % per 100,000 people, yet we would be hard pressed to find a causal link between those suicides and that particular episode of Fawlty Towers.

Similarly, Mind Your Language, another late 1970s  British sitcom sought to portray the pranks and tricks of foreign language students in the United Kingdom;  once again subject content was of a racist nature and stereotyping and apportioning blame were key themes in the program. Yet, both these programs provided an outlet for people to laugh at themselves and they provided a jolly good belly laugh for large majorities of the population in the United Kingdom and in countries to which the programs were syndicated. However, those whose cultural identities and nationalities were lampooned and humiliated in Mind Your Language were often deeply offended, and the show was eventually chopped by a London Weekend Television executive who found it in appalling bad taste. Yet, once again it would be a totally erroneous claim to attempt to equate the ever-increasing suicide rate in the late 1970s among minorities in England to that particular TV series, even though the rate was growing at around 2% of the national average.

In a report through the Mail online, it is claimed that Middle-class people use humor to try to demonstrate their superiority. In research conducted through the University of Edinburgh it was found that the upper and middle classes enjoyed what was termed more “sophisticated humor” than the working classes. It was claimed that the middle class were less likely to enjoy the humor of Bernard Manning and Jim Davidson, but would embrace Paul Merton. (Cohen, 2010).

One can argue that there are degrees of humor, and  some humor is tasteful while another form is not. The late British comedian Benny Hill, and Paul Merton are situated at different points on the humor continuum in British daily life.  Yet these are often subjective points of view based on cultural and ethical norms; but overall humor is  a vehicle in which we are able to laugh at ourselves, our cultures, societies and things we consider sacrosanct in an effort not to take life too seriously. This is particularly important today, given that we are led to believe through the ever increasingly monopolized and controlled media conglomerates, that life is very serious (fiscal cliffs, terrorism, climate change , global warming etc.) and must be taken seriously! Humor is a welcome antidote to such a pessimistic and manipulating view of life. It is also subject to and limited by cultural norms and understandings too-often one may find it difficult to understand why something is funny or humorous in one culture and not another, or humor in one culture or context may be deeply offensive in another-knowing where to draw the line is a difficult call in our globalized techno-crazed driven world. Remember Borat!

A significant number of people throughout the world laughed along with Australian DJs Mel Grieg and Michael Christian after it was revealed they had called the King Edward VII hospital in London enquiring on the well being of the Duchess of Cambridge. It wasn’t so much the intent-that is enquiring about the Duchess’s health- but the audacity of the joke, and the way the two presenters mimicked the accents of a privileged aristocracy that the world laughed at; along with an additional side effect- a mimic of corgi’s barking in the background-it was an example of the kind of larrikin humor Australians-like it or not- are known for, and enjoyed by many people around the world. Also, it was an under-handed way of sending a jibe about the social and cultural differences between the two countries-as Clive Dunn, the late British comedy actor would have retorted- “They don’t like it up ‘em! “

And they didn’t. The King Edward VII hospital “deeply regretted” the incident, while at the same time condemning the joke as a “foolish prank that we all deplore” (BBC, 2012) . Although they went on to report that information given out was already in the public domain. Fearing some kind of repercussion the radio station in Sydney, 2Day FM also went into PR frenzy mode and issued ‘damage control’ statements about the harmless nature of the joke and wishing the Duchess well in her continuing confinement. The hospital also claimed that the two nurses involved in the hoax call were simply carrying out their duty and were not subject to any disciplinary measures.

A few days later the world was shocked to learn that one of the nurses who spoke to the DJs took her own life not long after the incident became public knowledge. Following on from her death there has been a frenzy of public outrage over the prank, as well as significant fall out for the DJs, 2Day FM and its corporate sponsors, along with official complaints at the highest levels between London and Sydney; Scotland Yard has contacted the Australian Federal police.

Notwithstanding one’s opinion of the joke and the subsequent fallout, the key question is to what extent are DJs Mel Grieg and Michael Christian responsible for the suicide of Jacinta Saldanha? Can a casual link be established between the two incidents?

Suicide and the in-depth personal issues which surround those prone to suicide are extremely complex.  There’s no definitive profile of a person who attempts suicide, although professionals attempt to draw up a list. Schimelpfening (2012) outlines certain conditions/situations that are associated with an increased risk of suicide:

  • death or terminal illness of a relative or friend
  • divorce, separation or relationship disintegration
  • loss of health (real or imaginary)
  • loss of job, home, money, status, self-esteem or personal security
  • alcohol or drug abuse
  • depression

In addition, there are certain times when people may be more prone to suicidal feelings, such as:

  • holidays and anniversaries
  • the first week after discharge from a hospital
  • when treatment with an antidepressant first begins
  • just before and after diagnosis of a major illness
  • just before and during disciplinary proceedings (Schimelpfening, 2012)

Receiving a prank phone call, or embarressing the Royal family, or lacking a sense of humor, or being shy, or being perceived as not doing your job, or professional ineptitude are not on the above list  however mitigating these personal circumstances might be in the case of Jacinta Saldanha, and even if they were they would signify a much deeper problem on a personal and psychological level. Lord Glenarthur, the Chairman of Edward VII hospital said that “the immediate consequence of these premeditated and ill-considered actions was the humiliation of two dedicated and caring nurses…the long term consequences has been reported around the world and is, frankly tragic beyond words.” (BBC, 2012) Yes, they are tragic, but linking the two together-the joke and the suicide is extremely disingenuous from a social, cultural and psychological perspective.

All humor runs the risk of humiliation of one sort or another; it’s at the core of the genre of comedy and satire.  Also, People kill themselves for reasons of which we will never know. I lost a brother to suicide some 20 years ago. Years of soul searching after his death revealed little understanding as to why, but more of an understanding of how complex the human character is and that while people may tell us who they are through their actions-we never really know them in their essence or essential being. Since Ms. Saldanha’s death public outrage has grown both in Australia and the United Kingdom and the noise in the technosphere is akin to  Dickens’ character Madam defarge and her supporters screaming ‘off with their heads!’ while sitting,  gloating beneath the blood soaked guillotine . It seems we live unhappy lives in unhappy times, where exacting revenge, apportioning blame or finding a scapegoat, sometimes under the guise of retrospective justice, takes precedence over rational and reasoned social discourse while maintaining a Shakespearean sense of comedy in the face of tragedy. No one knows why Jacinta Saldanha ended her life. Mel Grieg and Michael Christian are not responsible for her death no matter how ill conceived their joke.

BBC. (2012, December 9). Kate hoax call: Scotland Yard contacts Australian police. Retrieved December 2012, 2012, from BBC News: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20656911

Cohen, T. (2010, April 8). Mail online Science and Technology. Retrieved December 9, 2012, from Mail Online: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1264203/Middle-class-preference-sophisticated-comedy-veiled-snobbery.html

Schimelpfening, N. (2012, October 30). Suicide Risk Factors and Warning Signs. Retrieved December 9, 2012, from About.com-Depression: http://depression.about.com/od/suicideprevent/a/warning_signs.htm

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.

Unbundling the Lies in the Branding of Education

In a recent article a BBC writer Tom Chatfield, posed the question ‘Can schools survive in the age of the web?’  It’s a naive question insofar as it isn’t a matter of survival it’s more about any institution’s willingness to transform itself from an organisation which lays claim to being a conveyor of official knowledge to an establishment which acts as a conduit for learning and understanding in an age of competing ideologies and powerful vested interest groups.

Education in the general sense has always been contentious. Questions about what we are taught and how we are taught have been (and still are) at the forefront of teaching and learning.  Paulo Friere’s Critical Pedagogy and Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society  are two approaches to teaching and learning which challenge us to critically appraise our knowledge and information societies and cultures and the processes through which they enable us to learn and have free unfettered access to knowledge and information.

The 2011 movie Detachment, portrays the aimless and depressing life of a substitute teacher who seems to drift from one  teaching post to another, aware to a degree of the cycle of success and failure within traditional forms of education, yet seemingly incapable of doing anything about it-the film is a kind of nihilist response to Peter Weir’s 1989 film Dead Poet’s Society. One of the key terms used in Detachment is ubiquitous assimilation; the idea that if we are flooded with constant, repetitive information and knowledge on a subject we will eventually accept it without any kind of critical appraisal.  Chatfield’s article embodies this term in its understanding of the debate or lack thereof about the assimilation of education into the corporate sector in general and the technology sector in particular.

His analysis of the impact that technology is having on education is limited to its capacity to deliver educational programmes, not in its ability to help people learn.  His examination of the issues is padded with examples and opinions but no depth in the argument. For instance the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are reported to have invested a million dollars into edX, claimed to be the world’s largest online learning initiative. Udacity has over 160,000 students in its online courses. The Khan Academy delivers online learning to tens of millions of autodidacts, and Ted talks have billions of views. (Chatfield, 2012). He continues citing Wikipedia, and the arguments put forward by Clay Shirky and others that contemporary education is being disrupted by “a new story rearranging people’s sense of the possible.” (Chatfield, 2012). Attractive claims to make, but we could easily say that tens of millions of women throughout the world read The Women’s Weekly or Vogue, but where’s the evidence that the status of women throughout the world has been improved through reading these glossy covered gossip sheets?

What is not revealed or highlighted in the gushing positive support for this disruption is the lack of credible researched evidence that we are learning better and that what we are learning is creating better societies and a better world.  I have seen the work of Sugata Mitra and understand the aims and objectives of the One Laptop per Child Organisation. Yes, they are innovative, but only up to a point. Neither example provide us with any evidence that children who have access to knowledge and information via a laptop or a screen embedded in a concrete block in a New  Delhi slum are learning and retaining knowledge. Leaving aside the ethics of Mitra’s approach to educational research and the claims which have emanated from it, it is disingenuous to assert that initial intrigue and interest in a piece of new technology to the uninitiated is going to enable them to gain access to a place in their respective highly competitive and class driven literate societies, let alone teach themselves any kind of curriculum. Moreover,  further claims which have arisen from Mitra’s “experiments” are as equally insidious. Chatfield cites an MIT review which asserted that “if kids in Ethiopia learn to read without school, what does that say about kids in New York City who do not learn even with school?” (Chatfield, 2012). The answer to that question is of a sociological nature not an educative one. It’s about the quality of life afforded to certain classes and cultures of city kids in New York, not what kinds of resources they lack (which is many) or have access to in their day-to-day lives.

Furthermore the spectacular claims being made about autodidactic (self-taught) learning and educational technologies are a part of the bundle of lies being propagated by the Corporate IT sector in promoting their products. Microsoft and Apple Inc. are at the forefront of the push to technologize education at the expense of understanding the specialisation of how we learn.  For example, the audacious claim that children in rural Ethiopia were able to move from rudimentary literacy skills in a second language to being able to hack the operating system indicates the failure of that project from both an ethical and pedagogical perspective, and undermines any credibility in the autodidactic argument..

Education has always been an uncomfortable place to inhabit-its very essence is to question and to debate what is of benefit to itself and to future generations of learners. With regard to technologies, mobile learning devices and access to online information there just isn’t the evidence that the quality of learning, the building on our current extensive bodies of knowledge, and the quality of life on the planet is going to substantially improve in the near future, no matter how many laptops, iPads, iPhones or other mobile learning devices are distributed to the poor and disenfranchised, or what MOOCs offer; especially when there’s anecdotal evidence  along with research which suggests that online learning and the use of technology in teaching and learning to the privileged  hasn’t significantly improved their educational success.

Chatfield, T. (2012). Can Schools Survive in the Age of the Web? London: BBC World Service.