Friday, December 24, 2010

cj has moved

I've begun to colonise a small piece of digital bit space. All of my scribbling, notes and crazy stuff will appear there from now on. And, I have gently eased myself into another blog.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Taleb the scribbler

With a wee bit more time on my hands now, or that is what I keep telling myself, I have been chewing on the fun scribbles of one Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I think that iconoclasts who write in an entertaining manner are folk who tickle my intellectual fancies more often than not. A good book to me is one that provokes new ideas, disturbs what I thought were settled ideas (yes, I do have a few) and also is a tad playful. Taleb's two books Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan both qualify on these grounds. Taleb is wonderfully skeptical and delightfully curious in his exploration of ideas which touch on much of what count as important in education, the academy and other interesting and important bits of social space.

I came across an excellent review of The Black Swan. Well worth a read.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Researching the self and the (in)significance of trends

I was checking to see if an interview that I did for a local issue had appeared yet. In my searching, I stumbled over a small piece I wrote for CPSR in 1997. At the time, I recall having a bit of fun doing the scribbles. But that was written or at least published (an odd term these days when most everything is published) ten years ago. I was pondering the cultural and educational imperialism of the US. It seemed to fit with my lived experience at the time. And now with the flood of AJAX software (I recall reading that AJAX was simply Java script that worked!) that imperialism is a little less certain. Sure the US is still the centre of the Internet universe but the "all to all" of social media makes national boundaries almost quaint. I don't want to get all romantic about the longer term play out of "all to all" networking but there is now a small but fairly insightful (IMHO) group of folk who figure that all of this is really Gutenberg 2. In 1997 I got it kinda wrong. I am puzzling the prospect of a global community which shifts to an "all to all" communication system and the impact that will have on virtually all of the social institutions we have built upon the one to many, broadcast logic of the past century. My favourite piece on this was written a good while back (1994) by Jay Weston. I figure it is one of those not seeing the forest for the trees moments. Lots of good folk all out their busily worrying about "applying" various bits of "social software" to their educational practice and somehow unable to zoom out to see the larger shifts that are happening. Popular culture (music a movies) might be the current sites of interest but I think it is now only a matter of time before we see similar kinds of disruptions around various bits of formal education.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Peeling onions

Roger Shank recently picked a couple of video clips from The Onion, a sometimes useful source of satire about most things human. For those afficionados of curriculum debates I'd recommend: Are Our Children Learning Enough About Whales? For those with interests in international comparisons this piece may appeal.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Moments that matter

I am reading the draft of a proposal for research from a long standing colleague, a Principal who has been working with KPS curriculum for a good number of years. Like the other Principals and teachers who work in this space they are simply wonderful teachers, leaders and thinkers and from whom I have learned so much these past years. The piece I am reading was mapping some of the early experiences this Principal had which has prompted her to more formally study this approach to schooling.

She asked one of the teachers about what stood out to her in doing this work. She quoted her thus:

“Knowledge they’ve (students) retained, by listening to language they’re using during tasks, talk and play (when they’re playing with their mines).”

“Lower achievers taking on leadership roles because they are more of the experts than my academic kids”

The last statement put a large smile on my face.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Revisiting a curriculum of questions

I was scribbling a note to an internal Faculty blog and trying to make a case for thinking about curriculum in terms of questions. I gestured back to the piece I scribbled about that a few years back and in doing so had to use Google's blogsearch to find it. But, as is the way of the web, I stumbled over a long piece by Bill Ayers which while writing about Peter McLaren's work made this lovely observation:

The most important lesson I learned in the earliest days of my teaching came from the Freedom Schools in Mississippi in the early 1960s. These schools were premised on the idea that while the black people of Mississippi had been denied many things—decent facilities, forward-looking curriculum, fully trained teachers—the fundamental injury was the denial of the right to think for themselves about the circumstances of their lives, how they got to where they were, and how things might be changed. The curriculum for these schools was a curriculum of questions, of inquiry and dialogue, a curriculum of posing problems: why are we, students and teachers, in the Freedom Movement? What do we want to change? This is an example of critical pedagogy at its best. It invites people to engage, to participate, to transform their lives, and to change their world.

Which, to me, begs the question, what, with our right answer obsessed curriculum are we denying the young of this country? From Ayers point of view quite a lot.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Schools R Us

It's Saturday and one should be doing other stuff but I stumbled over a post of Roger Schank's and when I stopped falling about laughing all the noisy babble by the self-appointed critics of Oz schooling more or less fell into the category he outlines here: Trying to get people’s arms around the real problem in education is not that easy. The reason is you. You all went to school so you are quite sure that what is taught in school is what should be taught in school -- only we should teach it better. Australia currently suffers from a bunch of old folk who want to reproduce their experience of schooling across the country's schools. I'm not going to link to them... it will only encourage them to write more inanities. I often think that much of the history of education can be captured by the notion of well intentioned old folk making idiotic decisions on behalf of the young. The basis of all of their commentary are the results of international tests. They always justify their pet fads on the basis of the performance of Oz kids with the performance of other kids via these international tests. To me, the first question to ask is what do these tests tell us? I know what is being claimed for them but what do they actually tell us. No one wants to go there. It is all too easy to simply cite the evidence. For my part, these tests need to be tested. What do they actually achieve other than indicate to us who is good at taking tests. If this was a serious educational goal then why do we need to inflict so many of them on children. To accept that this kind of testing is actually doing something to improve the capacity of the young to deal with the complexities of living on this planet requires considerable quantities of mind altering substances. To suggest that countries who achieve highly on these tests are somehow better than countries that don't is laughable. And what is being promoted as the solution to improve scores? Schank has a view that resonates with the back to school as I knew it noisies in Oz: This country needs to come to grips with the fact that the high school curriculum reflects a notion of how nineteenth century scholars thought about how to produce more scholars like themselves. There may be a place for a few folk like this, but entire age cohorts? If you, like me or my daughter, think that the emperor has been wandering around naked for the past half century of so then you'll enjoy more of Schank's scribblings.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Reassembling the social

I must confess to having neglected the Dear Bruno for far too long. The book has been out a while but I had been too busy patrolling the diameter of my ever shrinking life (thanks Arti) to pay it sufficient attention. I am, for those who don't know of my interest in what is generally called actor-network theory, something of a devotee of Latour's scribblings. The man has a wonderful sense of humour, fun and a delightful capacity to puncture much of the pomposity that passes as social science (I did put on a string of garlic when I typed those last two words). "Be prepared to cast off agency, structure, psyche, time, and space along with along with every other philosophical and anthropological category, no matter how deeply rooted in common sense they may appear to be" pp. 24-25.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Medici effect

Any book with the subtitle: what elephants and epidemics can teach us about innovation is at least worth a scan. Leaving aside the usual hype that goes with a lot of business publications (yeah, I read stuff from the dark side), this 200 page little jolter is worth a peek for folk who puzzle about the I word (I is fer innovation), although to be fair, Johansson writes more in terms of break throughs than innovation. One of the intriguing observations about break throughs was just how much hard work is involved. Often such things are popularly presented as "Ah ha" moments while sitting in or imbibing fluids. Johansson reports that Mike Oldfield (remember Tubular Bells?) did 2,300 recordings before he got what he wanted, and that Edison did 50,000 experiments to develop the storage fuel cell (p.107). Johansson's thesis is that the break through stuff comes at the intersection of two, often quite disparate fields and gives a good number of well told accounts of this phenomenon. I must confess that this book probably encouraged (or even justifies!) my weird tastes in reading and pursuing ideas that don't even remotely look educational. It also offers yet another telling crit. of what goes on in the name of curriculum in most formal educational systems as being quite daft. Put simply, if we play the Medici game with this book and curriculum, schools (at all levels) come out as places of incrementalism and conformity. As Johansson argues, incrementalism has its place but its not the place you want to be if you want to do anything that either stirs or feeds you passions. If nothing, the book is a great source of "off the wall" PD ideas for jaded educational consultants or tired university lecturers looking for a new riff for their stuff. To help, Johansson offers a kind of framework for the break through phenomenon and includes some interesting counter intuitive ideas. In my humble opinion, it would be such a neat way to think about curriculum, kids and turning schools into sites that did interesting, even useful knowledge production (yeah cheap plug for the KPS stuff.... ). The other thing that struck me was the importance for the intangible stuff around all of this, passion (and I love this gem from Arti's recent scribble: I have always felt that grappling without lust is unethical), energy, persistence, faith in self and ideas and all those other qualities the school system is so good at squashing in kids. There is a lot more to say, the book resonated with a very large number of memes that are important to me and I think might rank up there with the current top 100 of selfish memes busily looking for compliant hosts.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The rise and rise of the quants

It was in James Boyle's keynote at Beyond Broadcast 2006 that I guess the term behavioural economics was first raised for me. Apologies for y'all for which it is old hat. Then Christopher Lyden's Open Source podcast on Economics Reimagined helped the penny to drop, if indeed it has. Lyden's chat with a number of behavioural economists opened my eyes widely. David Leonhart's piece in the NY Times refers to them as intellectual imperialists. It is apt. What is behavioural economics? Quoting Lyden: Economics used to be about markets and predictions: tax rates, interest rates, fiscal policy, monetary policy. In short, about money. But with the advent of behavioral economics, economists began to realize that markets are simply aggregations of human choices, and that to understand these choices — imperfect, often irrational or counterintuitive — is to act as a psychologist. For this insight the economist Amost Tversky and the psychologist Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize together in 2002. If economics is not necessarily just about money, then, but about human behavior, it can be applied to any number of other fields. In the Times article, brand-new economist Emily Oster applied her talent to the field of AIDS research to solve a problem that epidemiologists couldn’t. Oster is one of many, a generation of economists looking for new fields to conquer. Put very bluntly, given buckets of data, not collected for a specific research purpose, i.e. an experiment, and given ever growing computer power, the opportunity to fashion interesting questions of social importance and to use existing data to examine them gives you, very crudely, behavioural economics. One of the folk in the Lyden conversation was interested in the question, why poor kids do poorly at schools. Now folk with interests in this area will be aware of the little war that has been raging in Australia about this. Very simply, them who say it is all about school effects and them who say that socioeconomic background is very important. Enter player three from left field with none of the history but access to a lot of data and the economic routines to explore/examine and tease out patterns. To me, this is an interesting shift for those folk who dabble in the broad church we call research in education. Anyone for economics 101?