I am confused. Very confused. I cannot help my daughters in their studies.
I first found this problem while they were at school.
Maths was different. So were English and Art. And other subjects. A core problem was that the frames - the intellectual structures - used to define the subjects had changed. So what I knew was meaningless so far as my daughters were concerned unless I could relate it to the frames. And I could not because I did not know them.
Now I have a new problem. And this relates to university studies.
Eldest asked me to look at her essay in development studies. I think that it is okay, certainly better in some ways than I could have written at her age. Yet it is also - at least as I see it - deficient.
During the week I talked to one of my colleagues who is doing development studies at Sydney. The unit she is doing at the moment appears full of values, poorly taught, with little intellectual rigour. Helen's course at the University of New South Wales is better measured simply by the degree to which it can engage her in an intellectual sense. Yet I struggle with both.
I did development economics, not development studies. But my studies were informed by my study of history and prehistory. Later there was my work as a professional economist and public servant where I was directly concerned with development issues.
When I did development economics the core question was to how to raise standards of living. Without this, nothing else had meaning. There were whole schools of thought discussing this issue. Today the position appears very different with a focus on social issues. Raising standards of living appears a sideline issue.
So when I read Helen's essay tonight, I did not know what to say. The essay focused on the import substitution school in development. There was some good stuff in it. But there was limited recognition of the historical debate in economics that has raged around this topic, little about the conceptual underpinnings developed in the past, nor (for that matter) much about the actual experiences of countries including Australia that have gone the import substitution path . Essentially we had an essay that addressed an economics topic without, in some ways, reference to economics.
Helen wanted me to give an assessment as to how well she might do. Depending on the structure of the course, the content, and the attitudes of examiners, her potential mark would appear to range all the way from very high to a bare pass. I suspect that were I to write on the same topic in the same course I might well fail, because my arguments would be just too far outside what appears to be the accepted frame.
There is a bigger issue in all this, one that links to my musings on the history of Australian and New Zealand thought. What are the current intellectual structures? How did they develop?
I can follow this in public administration, for example, because I have been in contact with the system, have studied it and written about it. So I can trace changes over time.
But when I come up against something like development studies I cannot. There is an apparent discontinuity. All very confusing.