Monday, October 09, 2006

Snippets 9 October 06

Congratulations to Dave Lee on his 100th post on ee learning. Dave also has an interesting post reflecting on some of the lessons from the Learning Circuits Big Question experience. In another reflective post, this one on Learning Circuits itself, Peter Isackson raises the question:

Using the very example of this blog, doesn't the "everybody blogging" (or everybody wikiing) principle inevitably result in what I'm tempted to call "learning labyrinths" in which focus can only be provided by individual participants or learners? What I mean is that there's little hope for community focus, which in turn means that even tentative conclusions about what is discovered, learned, validated, etc. is either the result of a peremptory use of authority (wherever it may be situated) or the vaguely perceived subjective impression of which way the wind is blowing for the majority.

I think that there is an issue here in that any discussion requires some form of moderation to pull issues together and represent them to participants. This holds from the Delphi method through to the standard meeting. And someone has to find the time to do this.

I am always interested in the question of who uses the on-line environment, how and why. Here I noticed a post from Brent Schenkler reporting data that in the US two thirds of on-line gamers are female.

In a post on his Lightbulb blog, Noric Dilanchian reviews a new book by Thomas Barlow that attempts to debunk some of the myths about Australia's failure to innovate and commercialise. The book sounds interesting, although it also sounds from the review that it it lacks a certain degree of rigour. While new, Lightbulb already has some very good content for those interested in commercialisation and innovation.

In my last post I mentioned that David Maister had put up an interesting post on creating better educational institutions. I hesitated about commenting partly because of time but also and more importantly because of our (on this blog) previous discussion on the differences between the Australian and US systems. I have now posted a comment trying to outline a simple analytical structure that might provide a framework for at least analysing the problem.

This links to another question, the current Australian curriculum discussion. Here Neil had an interesting post reporting on Minister Bishop's views on English teaching that set me thinking.

I find myself in a funny position here. Tracking back in time, I certainly objected to the way in which sets of cultural nostrums that I personally objected to had been imposed on the school system. I also thought that the new curricula were too crowded and lacked rigour. So I began the culture wars of which approaches to english and history form part very much on what we might call the Howard side.

But the way in which the debate has evolved makes me very uncomfortable because it has set up an internal personal conflict across a range of my beliefs. Let me take a few examples:
  • I support a Federal system of government in part because it allows for difference and experimentation. So I become very uncomfortable indeed at the attempt to impose a uniformity just because uniformity, a so-called national standard, is perceived of itself to be a good thing. This has to be argued.
  • There is too little focus in the debate on the purpose of education. In the words of a title of a book given to me by my old head at school - he was always trying to get boys to think more widely - "Knowledge for What?". A debate on course content (should the English course include analysis of visual media, comparisons between different types of media?) is valid but needs to be related to purpose. For example, do we in fact need two courses?
  • There is too much focus in the debate on values and a degree of confusion about just what this means. Just as I objected to the imposition of political correctness by the thought police of the soft-headed left, I object equally strongly to to the same action by the equally soft headed right. Values are inextricably entwined with education (what we teach, how we teach it does raise value questions), but we need to disentangle the various elements to have a sensible discussion.

I haven't written on some of this directly because of a lack of clarity in my own thinking, although it does affect the the way I have been discussing other things.

I see little point on this blog in simply expressing an opinion in opposition to another opinion. Mind you, this can be fun. But to the degree that I want to make a broader contribution, I see part of my role as I have defined it as deconstructing arguments so that their elements can be discussed. I also like to set things into context. So I will let the debate run, nibbling at the edges until I feel that I do understand the issues.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the thoughtful response to my Julie Bishop post, which I have just added to. I have also responded to your post here in my blog this morning. I was initially dubious about the new senior English syllabus and still feel it is over-ambitious, but I do not object to what it is doing. The "soft headed right", as you call them, are only too hard-headed and hard-nosed and dogmatic, unfortunately. All that talk at the "Quadrant" do and in the usual columns (Akerman et al) about having been "on the side of history" reminded me most uncomfortably of Stalinists in the 1950s! Let's hope some balanced views prevail; we are not getting them from Canberra these days though.

Jim Belshaw said...

Neil, I saw and liked the added comment. I called both the right and left "soft headed" because they had/have lost the ability to think about alternative views, to subject their own views to analysis. Both right and left have been prepared to be equally hard headed and dogmatic when it comes to imposing their views on others. That said, the stalinist analogy is not a bad one, right down to the cultural gulags created for those holding opposing views.

On Canberra, because a lot of the thinking and writing that I am trying to do at the moment focuses on culture, cultural change and the transmission of ideas, I am tending to take a longer view of things.

In the battle of ideas, the most effective path is to keep chipping away,trying to clear the undergrowth. I don't like the phrase neo-conservative because it is yet another American construct that does not really fit within Australia.

I know a number of those involved with say H R Nicholls or IPA such as Des Moore (at Treasury)or Alan Moran (once my boss for a brief period). I think that they did an important job themselves in clearing away some old fashioned undergrowth. In similar vein, John Howard has succesfully articulated views of major Australian groups that had been marginalised. But there is a balance issue here, as well as a need to articulate the Australian way.

I find it absolutely fascinating - and I think that this is also where blogging comes in because of the way in which it facilitates links - that the change process has created a new alienated group that is now linking.

I have yet to define a name for this group.

Generally older and spanning the conventional divides of right and left, the key features of this group in my mind are that its members are uncomfortable with the way in which existing structures have evolved and no longer feel that they belong in the parties they once might have supported. Like David, they feel alienated from the way social structures have evolved.

Regardless of starting position, they have internalised many of the previous debates (the role of women, sexuality,recognition for indigenous people) and put them aside. I am not saying that there are not important issues and differences here, simply that core common ground is accepted.

The new group is not single issue, is uncomfortable with those who are. Its members believe in manners and civilised debate. While supporting individual opportunity and responsibility including the responsibility to take action against injustice, members generally believe that society has a responsibility to protect the weak and vulnerable. So they believe in collective action tempered by recognition of

Have i captured your position, Neil? What would you add?

Anonymous said...

I imagine you have read Malcolm Fraser's "Common Ground" and understand why John Howard and company now hate him... I certainly find plenty of common ground in Fraser's book. I have referred to "The Monthly" magazine religiously every time one comes out too. Do you read it? And there is such a lot of good stuff on the ABC too...

I like to think of us as "Elders" who remember the way things really were, something we are not currently encouraged to do. For example, we are not meant to remember how the Iraq War began, are we?

But I have a whole blog to sound off in, so I'll leave yours alone for now.

Anonymous said...

I'm back! ;-) Just occurs to me "Elders" may be wrong; some of the supportive comments I have had lately, and similar views I have read in other blogs, come from people aged 19 to 25! That can only be good.

Jim Belshaw said...

Neil, I haven't read Malcolm Fraser's book nor the monthly. On the first, I actually have a prejudice against the man based on my experiences as a senior public servant while he was PM. But he has grown enormously in stature in my mind since he ceased to be PM. At another time I will tell some stories from that earlier period.

On the 19-25 year olds, I think that you are right. But I have a real frustration here at the moment simply because circumstances have made my present personal contact base unrepresentative. I just don't know enough people from enough ages, enough groups and enough geographic areas to be as confident as I once would have been about what Australians think.

Australians are not and never have been a single uniform lot. But I have an enormous faith in the capacity of the ordinary Australian, however personaly prejudiced, to ultimately cut through the crap and come back to balance.

I think that part of the role of us "elders", to use your term, is to bridge the gap between present and past, to help people understand where they come from. This is a much longer focus than the question of entry to the Iraq war.

Traditionally, we do part of this through yarns. I was at a dinner a week or so ago for my mother in law's birthday. I started telling my daughters' young cousins some stories from the hoop snake through fruit stealing to hide and seek and scout stories. They stayed quiet for the whole meal.

When I look at my daughters, their friends, their younger cousins, I really become very positive.

I mentioned Clare's decision to join the march against the war very early on.

I spoke of my daughters' discussion about problems in the two schools, although I could not say too much because I did not want to provide too many identifiers. However, that discussion dealt with problems of authority, tradition, management, leadership and the transmission of ideas at a high level of sophistication.

I also posted the letter from the 10 year old - in fact a cousin - over running in the playground.

My daughters do not listen to a lot of news,eldest likes SBS which has become our main TV news, preferring FM radio, the Simpsons, Australian Idol,Desperate Housewives etc. They both love the Chasers. They think most of the news and commentary programs are boring crap (my word). But in listening to or watching the news they have the capacity to cut through all the visuals and sound grabs to catch the core issue. Their judgements can be very harsh because they ask why.

I have to cook tea. I am obviously proud of my own daughters. But they are not unique.