Friday, October 28, 2005

Joining dots

It is one of those consequences of the Western approach to "stuff" that after millenia of working out how much fun it is to split things up, chop em into little "disciplined" pieces and categorise, label, identify and code anything that can be that there is this now very strong sense that "dot joining" is important work. Maybe it's one of those huge cosmic correction things. Doing too much of one thing inevitably leads to a huge press to reverse it. One hopes that the fascination with global money and its deployment to make more global money in any way possible will go the way of the categorisers. But here we are not quite talking geological time scales but not far off them. Science fiction has much to answer for in providing templates and models for maddies to try and produce. How else does one explain that decisions to provide money to the needy by a particular government has to be OK'd by pension fund managers in the US (OK. I skipped a few dots) But it is this kind of dot joining wse need more of. On the other hand, the well rehearsed joined dots around schooling, i.e. in shorthand, schooling is good for the young is in drastic need of unjoining. Describing schooling as a colleague of mine once did as organised child abuse seems closer to the mark than all the nonsense that is currently claimed for this period in a young person's life. Maybe there is an entropy balance here. You can only unjoin as many dots as you join. A kind of joined dot bank where the balance is assiduously maintained. Go join some for me.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

On the virtues of loopiness

Intellectually I am drawn to the loopy, the "enfant terribles" of the academic world. I figure that folk who keep repeating, reinforcing particular epsitemologies, ontologies are, more or less, intellecutal sycophants. We enjoy an enormously privileged position in being paid to think and also to contribute to the well-being of the citizens of this country/planet. Being an intellecutal "yes person" does not cut it. It seems to me that merely echoing others, acquiescing to the status quo mindsets is, effectively, squandering public monies. If we can't convey to our students the importance of skepticism, curiosity and even bloody-minded resistance to status quo ideas then we don't deserve the monies the public provide us. I hope there is no need to rehearse what status quo thinking has delivered to the youth of this and other countries. What to me is curious is what holds, what are palpably silly ideas, together. For example, the nonsense around literacies that "rages" in the public media in Australia at present. Pathetic neo-liberal nonsense versus precious old left nonsense while the kids of this country are ignored. Well, not exactly ignored, both camps claim to represent the youth and as far as I can tell the youth are saying, to both, "huh?" (which is a polite translation of what is actually being said). There are multiple nonsenses, many of which come from a well meaning bunch of elderly folk making decisions on behalf of the young. Mostly the oldies get it wrong but hey, they were well intentioned. I have often suggested that if you started from square one, ground zero, it would be impossible to invent the stupid, unfair, absurd, inefficient, stiffling education system we currently enjoy and what is worse we export this nonsense to countries who can ill afford such wasteful "luxuries". We live in what is argued to be an "evidence-based" world. Anyone care to offer any evidence that the current system does much other than impress on the young that they are stupid, dumb, can't cut it? Where is the evidence that "the system" actually prepares the young for the contemporary world? Much huff and puff, zip evidence. There is much to be said for systems that encourage and nurture idiosyncracy, loopies, people who will think way outside the tiny little square that claims to capture all of human wisdom. It would be ok to have a uniform system if we lived in a 1950's world where much was predictable, linear, not much different from the year before. But we don't. We need a system that supports people to think, to challenge, to be rewarded for being loopies (well argued loopies). In a dangerously unpredictable world, educational certainty is a handicap we can well do without. A system whose sole purpose would be to produce eccentrics would do more to secure the future of humanity on the planet than the deadeningly dull certainty and conformity of the educational here and now.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The public private debate and Australian schools

There has been a lot of debate and lining up of the usual sides in relation to the funding that now flows to many private schools in Australia (how many polo fields do you really need?). Despite the ideological convenience of doing over public education and favouring the well to do as well as the not so well to do (a large number of private schools are not well funded) I would suggest that the actual driver is to rid the Commonwealth of what is a very expensive funding item, i.e. schooling. If "the public" can be weaned off public schools by whatever means then government is in a position to wind back support for schooling generally (what is left of public and all private), shift the burden, user pays as we have seen in universities. Nor is this to suggest that this is about dry economics, although that continues to play a poisonous role in Australian public policy, it is likely out of a genuine long term fear of not being able to fund the retiring boomer generation and beyond. Simply, that there will be more old folk putting their hand up for government support than young folk paying enough taxes to fund them. The cost of schooling to the Commonwealth is a sizeable chunk of each annual budget. Any savings from this are clearly going to be significant. So the tactic now, feed private, starve public and do it to speed the process. It is a serious issue but putting at risk the future of this country by starving public schooling of much deserved funds makes as much sense as hoarding one's reserves of wheat instead of planting for the next season. Yes. History will judge the public policy makers hashly.