Saturday, October 07, 2017

Has the dream of cheap computers + FOSS for the disadvantaged evaporated?

What Rangan Srikhanta, who formerly distributed OLPCs in Australia is doing now:
  • Not a cheap laptop
  • Not free and open source software
One Education

Their infinity computer sells for $380 + GST. What happened to the dream to make a laptop for kids for $100?

His initial plan was to make a modular computer that kids could put together and to have multiple OS: Linux / Android as well as Windows. But then Microsoft intervened....
"What happened to the modular infinity?"

"... the short story is that Microsoft put us in touch with manufacturers that could make the Infinity:Concept a reality"

"We are currently working to get both Android and Linux supported on the Infinity:One! Our aim is to provide your choice of operating system, and Windows 10 is just the beginning"
- FAQs
Promises, promises ...
"We’re not there yet, but we’re working towards it. The road to Infinity begins with the Infinity:One - join us on our mission to make the world a better place for children through technology."
- Concept page
Contrast what has happened with this 2015 interview of Rangan:
This week, the Australian 15-employee One Education will announce its new generation low-cost computer. A Lego-like modular PC-and-tablet in one that can be assembled by a four-year-old, updated as components reach their end of life, and repaired in the last their primary years

Its main components - screen, battery, keyboard, CPU, camera, Wi-Fi connection - are separate parts of the puzzle, with the main bits concealed under a soft silicon cover. A trade scheme will allow schools to swap parts as the technology evolves and students' needs change.

The XO-Infinity is only a prototype thus far.The first working model is due in August, the first shipment early next year.
- Meet Rangan Srikhanta, the former refugee who wants to change the world one laptop at a time
Update (Oct 9, 2017)
Received this mail from Tony Forster:
I see the Infinity one in a similar light as OLPC's XO Android tablet as a bid to 'stay in the game' while cheap tablets and phones undercut the OLPC business model.

The smartphone is the hardware that now best fits the OLPC concept:
"provide educational opportunities for the world's most isolated and poorest children by giving each child a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop"
I think that Sugar's bid to control the OS or Desktop failed and the best thing to do is work with the user's choice of OS, be it Linux, Android or Windows and provide good free open source educational software to run on these platforms.

Specifically I would like to see a drag and drop programming app for Android that is optimised for a small touch screen.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

a critique of Tyson Yunkaporta's cultural critique of western education

I've written a critique of Tyson Yunkaporta's cultural critique of western education, here. 6425 words.

Different authors have different opinions about what culture is, cultural change and how important culture is. I dismiss strong cultural relativism but argue there are deep reasons why culture is important.
Culture is the brain wiring that occurs in the first 5-7 years of a child's life. We forget how we learned that stuff, it just becomes part of us, part of our identity, more or less impossible to change. So, for example, a rural Aboriginal child will almost certainly grow up believing in the spirit world, whereas an urban white middle class child might well grow up being an atheist or agnostic. That early “brainwashing” can't be avoided in our current society and it's not going to go away any time soon.
Should indigenous culture be integrated into the school curriculum?

Tyson Yunkaporta's 8 indigenous ways are outlined:
  1. Holism: the Aboriginal learner concentrates on the overall picture before going into detail
  2. Visual: a concrete, holistic image serves as an anchor for the learner
  3. Community: for Aboriginal people the motivation for learning is inclusion in the community
  4. Symbols and Images: since learning styles are problematic reframe visual-spatial learning as symbolic learning, using both concrete and abstract imagery (it's not clear to me from Tyson's descriptions what this alleged reframing of problematic learning styles actually means – see later for a critique of learning styles)
  5. Non verbal: Kinesthenic, hands on, silence, imitation
  6. Land links: Aboriginal people have a deep connection to place
  7. Story sharing: Elders teach using stories, the lesson is contained in the narrative
  8. Non linear: the linear perspective of direct questioning, direct instruction is categorised as “western pedagogy”; contrast this with Aboriginal pedagogy where multiple processes occur continuously. But note that in the next paragraph Tyson says there are “excellent western non-linear frameworks available like De Bono's Lateral Thinking ” (p. 13)
Tyson does argue a common ground position, that in selecting the 8 Aboriginal pedagogies he has kept an eye out for “common ground” between Aboriginal and western ways

He sees positive synergies arising from interaction between cultures and rejects those who make negative comments about indigenous learners and their cultures.

My case against

I'll just list the headings of my points in response:
  1. Tyson's 8 processes of Aboriginal learning and reality.
  2. Traditional culture is a warrior culture
  3. There are negative (welfare dependency) as well as positive (open culture) indigenous cultures
  4. The complexity of the cultural interface defies attempts to simplify it. One effect of simplification is to promote a pressure to conform to a cultural stereotype
  5. There doesn't appear to be good evidence that different learning styles make a difference
  6. The cultural solution feeds into the ongoing Political Blame game
  7. The cultural solution is silent on what I believe ought to be the fundamental goals of the education system, the non universals
  8. Philosophy of harmony or philosophy of struggle?
I conclude with some historical context and my current position on the role of culture in the curriculum.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

the indigenous imitation game

"Man is a creature who makes pictures of himself and then comes to resemble the pictures”
- Iris Murdoch, Existentialists and Mystics, p. 75
“the magical power of replication, the image affected by what it is an image of, wherein the representation shares in or takes power from the represented”
- Francesca Merlin (1998), p. 150 quoting Michael Taussig (1993)
Most of us, white fellas, have images of the indigenous “problem”. Some of us even have images of the indigenous “solution”.

Ever since Whitlam, 45 years ago now, indigenous self determination has been on the table. The indigenous will determine their own future. Old style, immoral, coercive assimilation into white culture will be a shameful thing of the past.

Into this power vacuum step indigenous thought leaders who map out the requirements for self determination.

Is this real? Or is it more an imitation of an image of what aboriginality is meant to be. An attractive delusion for the guilt ridden white middle classes down south. (Please, please someone fix this problem, this terrible shame in our nation's history)

The reality is that aboriginal culture was never a unity but divided into more than 100 different tribes with differing language and cultures. Those different cultures are now positioned in a complex limbo somewhere in between their old partly forgotten, partly degraded traditions and western culture, the good, the bad and the ugly.
“Representations of Aboriginality as made most powerfully by others come to affect who and what Aborigines consider themselves to be. The imitative relation as lived out in Australia has rested on the assumption that Aboriginal cultural production continues to be autonomous from what previously sought to encompass or displace it. Further, the relation often requires from Aborigines demonstrations of the autonomy and long standing nature of what is seen of their cultural production.”
- Francesca Merlin (1998)
Caging the Rainbow by Francesca Merlin (1998)


mimesis: an attempt to imitate or reproduce reality

Imitation is inferior to the real thing. In imitation we select something from the coninuum of experience. We create boundaries that don't really exist.

Humans create texts, poetry. We have a strong urge to represent reality. Imitation may approach reality but is not quite real.

Plato distrusted art and poetry. Divine madness. It may persuade by rhetoric rather than truth. It is seductive.

mimesis₁: actual praxis (ethnomethodology), real life, day to day drama. Marx called this sensual human activity. What people in real life actually do.

This makes ethnomethodology a radical alternative to all other forms of research

mimesis₂: a created world, a world of text. This world works well on paper using abstractions from the real world. If it describes practice then that description is not really practice but a formalisation of practice. This is not an argument against abstraction as such. But abstraction should only be introduced when it has a clear empirical use and can be verified in actual human behaviour.

mimesis₃: a theorisation or reconfiguration of mimesis2 by academics or bureaucrats three steps remote from the actual praxis.

We hear complaints from teachers who often state that what they learn in university courses is of little use in their actual praxis; and that their praxis is little if at all captured is the theories that they encounter in their university courses. The same point applies to education department documents such as the new national curriculum, which is meant to act as a guideline for teaching practice. Teachers end up turning themselves into knots trying to make their more realistic programmes conform to the supposedly higher level theory.

Reference: The Mathematics of Mathematics: Thinking with the late, Spinozist Vygotsky by Wolff-Michael Roth (2017), p. 22 and pp. 30-32. The link goes to a pdf of Chapter one.
Wikipedia: mimesis

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Greens should just shut up and listen by Jacinta Price

When elders from the communities of Kununurra, Wyndham and Ceduna travelled to Canberra last week with a video revealing the appalling violence on their streets, they delivered a strong message. Those streets are war zones of drug and alcohol-fuelled assaults and child abuse — and they want it to stop.

The video, supported by West Australian mining businessman Andrew Forrest, proves the desperate need for the cashless debit card system that quarantines 80 per cent of welfare recipients’ payments to limit access to alcohol, drugs and gambling.

These elders are crying out for the lives of the children being assaulted and abused. In one of these communities, 187 children are victims of sexual abuse with 36 men facing 300 charges, and a further 124 are suspects.

I know all too well the deep frustrations these Australian citizens feel as they are desperate to save their people from the crisis being played out day after day in their communities. They have long fought for our political leaders to recognise the need to take the tough — sometimes unpopular but necessary — steps to make meaningful change that will save the lives of Aboriginal children, women and men.

So why do large numbers of our media and our political leaders (including some indigenous ones) fail to respond to such clear evidence of assault, child abuse and violence at the hands of our own people but are prepared to call for a royal commission when the perpetrator is a white person in uniform or when institutionalised racism is perceived to be at play?

A television report on the horrendous treatment of juvenile inmates at Darwin’s Don Dale Youth Detention Centre swiftly sparked a royal commission. Yet footage of an Aboriginal man stomping on an Aboriginal woman and various other vicious acts — which in my view are far more shocking than that of the Don Dale footage — draws criticism by the Greens that the video was simply propaganda for the cashless welfare card. This is not propaganda; it is proof.

We hear regularly that we should be listening to Aboriginal people on the ground to understand the complexities of the problems and to encourage us to find solutions for our horrific circumstances. Well, here is a video created by Aboriginal leaders in conjunction with the wider community, including the police and a mayor, pleading for the implementation of a practical measure to help curb the purchase of alcohol and drugs so the lives of the most marginalised Australians may be improved. No, it is not a magic bullet, but it is a start towards improving the lives of Australian citizens in crisis.

Forrest has been criticised for telling the world that he has been approached by minors willing to sell sex. A 14-year-old I know who roams Alice Springs streets at night regularly witnesses children selling themselves to “old” Aboriginal men for alcohol and cigarettes. We pass such information on to the police, who already know it is happening, yet the authorities responsible for these children tells us they have seen no evidence of it. Just as there was a conspiracy of silence to deny the reality of frontier violence, now there seems to be a conspiracy of silence on the left to deny what is happening openly in our streets.

The evidence of deep crisis has never been so blatant. This trauma is inflicted on our people by substance abuse and violence fuelled by a taxpayer-funded disposable income. However, if a rich white man throws his support behind a group of frustrated and desperate indigenous leaders living with this trauma their plea simply is dismissed as perverse by the politically correct without offering any effective alternative solutions.

The Greens call Forrest paternalistic, yet WA Greens senator Rachel Siewert has the audacity to tell indigenous people how we should think, what our problems are and what we should be doing about it. Siewert and her party chose not to meet the elders who came all the way to Canberra from their remote communities to communicate the real problems.

The Greens reaction is nothing more than the racism of low expectations and egocentric virtue-signalling of those toeing the line of an ideology that is further compounding the crisis. If the video shocked you, good. It should; and what should follow is an appropriate response that recognises the human right of Aboriginal women, children and men to live in safety, free of drug and alcohol-driven violence and sexual abuse. Sacrificing whole generations to violence and abuse does not help the fight against racism. It reinforces it.

Jacinta Nampijinpa Price is an Alice Springs councillor and a research associate at the Centre for Independent Studies.

Friday, July 07, 2017

maths facts speed and fidget spinners

Good article by Dan Willingham and great comments: On fidget spinners and speeded math practice

I teach Direct Instruction maths and timed maths facts practice and testing is a significant part of that program. Some kids are good at maths facts and complete their sheets easily in the time provided. Others are not good, I can see them counting on their fingers and they can't complete the sheet in time. Over time the pattern repeats. Those who are good breeze through; those who count on their fingers struggle and I don't see a lot of improvement happening despite all the practice we are doing. Does that give them maths anxiety? Possibly. It does give me teacher anxiety. I wonder how can I help them improve?

The main part of Dan's article covered an issue that I think is obvious. Speed in maths facts helps build conceptual understanding.

The comments discussed the issue that concerns me in more detail.

The first commment (Michael Persham) stresses that you have to be clear on the goal of maths facts practice. The goal is for the kids to memorise the facts, to achieve automatic recall.

So, those kids who count on their fingers are not working towards that goal. So, how can I get them to stop counting on their fingers and work towards the goal directly?

Well, I could talk to them about the goal of memorising facts and how counting on fingers works against that. I've never done that! Why? Because I wasn't really clear about the goal and in the back of my mind I was thinking it is better if they get some correct answers by a method that works for them.

Now I'm thinking it would be better to say to them give it a quick guess rather than count on fingers. I'm not suggesting they will all follow my advice - getting the right answer is a strongly, conditioned goal - but a few will give it a go. It's important then that they are not penalised for a quick guess, that it does not become part of their formal assessment.

The second comment (John Golden) suggests some particular strategies to improve maths facts recall. After handing out the worksheet:
  • ask the students to circle the ones they know by memory
  • ask students to identify 5 they want to know by memory but don't
  • give out the sheets like a word search, "find all the computations that sum to 8?"
The third comment (educationrealist) raises some broader issues which are important for my practice as well but I won't go into them now. One issue of concern which he/she raises is that some students never get good at maths facts but that doesn't mean they can't do other, more conceptual parts of maths well. I can see it is really important to identify those students so they don't get discouraged by their lack of ability in one small area of maths.

So, why will I buy a fidget spinner? Because a good teacher uses drama, one of the real secrets of teaching. And I'm also thinking they would make a great prize for those who improve a lot in their maths facts speed.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

the persistence of invisibility of really important aspects of indigenous reality

Summary and some thoughts about Ch 3 The Trouble with Culture of Peter Sutton's The Politics of Suffering (2009)

Where I can learn from this chapter is that Peter Sutton has a deeper and more sophisticated understanding of indigenous culture, its negatives as well as its positives, than most commentators. He also blows the whistle on the willful blindness of official government reports and some other commentators / authors, including some who are well intentioned and have done the hard yards. Nor do indigenous leaders escape from his critique although he treats them with respect. The invisibility of reality appears to operate at several levels and he goes some of the way to unmasking that.

I feel that Peter has become pessimistic about indigenous futures as a result of his life experiences but that his analysis is fundamentally correct and serves as an essential starting point for those committed to continuing to try to solve the problems that many have tried to solve without success.

Personally, I prefer pessimism that lives in the real world to the phony optimism of those who draw a veil over the truth. I prefer to face the dark side of life than to live in the false light of self deception. Can we accept the reality of the dark side and still remain optimistic and energetic about positive change for indigenous people? That is the challenge.

The radical historical shift in government approaches to dealing with indigenous affairs which occurred in the Whitlam years (1972-75) forms part of the backdrop to this analysis. As government policy became more humane, open hearted and liberal the actual on the ground situation for aboriginal people became worse. Welfare poison led to drug addiction, dysfunction and death. That is what Peter experienced and has driven him and other commentators to document, analyse and explain this seeming paradox.
“In my time with the Wik people up to 2001, out of a population of less than 1000, eight people known to me had died by their own hand, two of them women, six of them men. Five of them were young people. From the same community in the same period, thirteen people known to me had been victims of homicide, eight of them women, five of them men. Twelve others had committed homicide, nine of them men and three of them women. Most of these, also, were young people, and most of the homicides occurred in the home settlement of both assailant and victim. Of the eight spousal murders in this list, seven involved a man killing his female partner, only one a woman killing her husband. In almost all cases, assailants and victims were relatives whose families had been linked to each other for generations. They were my relative, too, in a non biological 'tribal' sense ...” (p. 2)
Remote communities are shattered. If you google Aurukun, Doomadgee, Koyanyama, Elcho Island or Wadeye and poke around you will see what I mean.

Those who have avoided foetal alcohol syndrome or arrested development through malnutrition still end up less educated (illiterate) and less socially mobile (emotionally immobile) than their grandparents who were raised on the mission. Paternalistic benevolence was more successful than self development.

Various authors, indigenous and non indigenous, have blown the whistle on this devastating reality. The cat is out of the bag but nevertheless still remains invisible to many at the official government level where policy is made.

After reviewing the evidence Peter asserts that the value and power of traditional indigenous culture as a recovery agent is over rated. He agrees with Noel Pearson that economic relations are a more effective method of driving change. (65)

For me, this is the main take away message. White people have to take indigenous culture on board – for reasons of respect and communication – but that needs to be done without romanticising or simply ignoring negative features of indigenous culture. Possibly, Martin Nakata's Cultural Interface approach provides a starting point for a solution here. Still not sure.

So, what are the problems with traditional indigenous culture which make it ineffective as a change agent? This is best summarised on page 85. I will inadequately summarise the summary.

There may be many aspect of our modern society that we dislike and we grumble about those. But we don't leave our modern society to go back to nature and live as a “noble savage” except in our green tinted glasses fantasy dreams. As we acquire real knowledge of the real conditions of traditional indigenous culture we learn about:
  • power stuctures which promote dependency
  • family loyalities, kinship stuctures, at the expense of the common good
  • traditional medicine blocking modern medicine
  • minimal hygiene / demand sharing / rejection of accumulation in keeping with a semi nomadic economy
  • violence as the preferred way of resolving conflict arising from a stateless society
  • fatalistic outlook, that tragedy is normal and the order of things is meant to be
As Peter points out the negative aspects of traditional indigenous culture have been exposed by many authors. He lists 12 such authors on page 72.

How then do we explain the silence, when in fact there isn't silence? The silence operates at many levels, some relatively benign, some well intentioned but blinkered, some self serving, malicious and incredibly harmful.

I loved and have been influenced by “Why Warriors Lie Down and Die” (2000). Richard Trudgen has spent many years in Arnhem Land learning from, working with and helping the Yolngu . He explains how communication between Yolngu and Balanda (whites) breaks down in three related areas (1) Language (2) World view (3) Culture and calls for more understanding and empathy about this. But his analysis is flawed in that he doesn't outline any negative aspects of Yolngu culture as part of the problem. For instance, demand pressure from relatives is a key reason why indigenous people might fail when placed in responsible positions of handling store goods or cash (refer Sutton, pp. 80-81)

We live in a modern society which provides us with a certain living standard, values and expectations. Those values include a duty of care to the vulnerable: infants, the elderly, the mentally handicapped. There is a general social acceptance that our failure with the "indigenous problem" is not acceptable. We are dealing with a hard problem, many have tried and failed, many suggestions have been tried and have worked with varying degrees of success. Programs are tried, they fail and then their failure is not analysed. But even in the rare instances when the analysis is done the problems are so embedded and chronic that their solution is not clear.

Some elements which contribute to the persistence silence include:
  • White guilt / spectre of the past where indigenous people were described as primitive / avoid blaming the victim
  • Euphemism in descriptive language of government reports
  • Tragedy tolerance of the insiders
  • Political correctness
Read Peter's book for more detail.

Is there a way forward without going backward to the bad old days?

Related: Notes:
I've ordered a copy of Caging the Rainbow by Francesca Merlan. Peter's comments about it on p. 69 suggested to me that it anticipated Martin Nakata's Cultural Interface analysis.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

dysfunctional community syndrome in remote Queensland

The situation has been like this for decades and no one knows how to fix it:

A typical cluster of violence types in such a dysfunctional community would be, male-on-male and female-on-female fighting, child abuse, alcohol violence, male suicide, pack rape, infant rape, rape of grandmothers, self mutilation, spouse assaults and homicide ...
Memmott et al., 2001, Violence in Indigenous Communities, p. 51
The remote community of Kowanyama has issued a desperate cry for help following a horrifying run of youth ­suicides.

A senior frontline staffer in the town has told how the community has descended into a deep sense of despair since the public tragedy in ­October when a car rammed into a house full of mourners, resulting in a 48-year-old woman being killed and 25 others injured.

The staffer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said there had been more than 20 suicides or attempts in Kowanyama, which has a population of about 1200, since the shocking event in ­October
- The Cairns Post, June 24, 2017
Update (June 28): Similar situation in the Kimberley region of West Australia.
In what will be one of the largest inquests in Australia in recent years, coroner Ros Fogliani will examine the suicides of 13 young Aboriginal people in the Kimberley region.

In his opening address, counsel assisting the coroner Philip Urquhart said five of the deaths involved children aged between 10 and 13.

They had all been exposed to alcohol abuse and domestic violence in the home, had poor school attendance and most had not sought help from mental health services.

There was evidence six of those who died had been sexually abused...

Over the next three months, the coroner will travel to Broome, Kununurra, Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing to hear evidence about what drove the young people to take their lives and what could have been done to prevent their actions.

She will also examine whether recommendations from a similar inquest 10 years ago had any impact.
- Indigenous suicide inquest told rate of deaths in WA's north has 'reached disturbing proportions'

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Teaching algebra using some visual and cultural features

Teaching algebra using some visual and cultural features

8 = 6 - 2(t - 3)

CM (indigenous helper who is studying to become a teacher) was having trouble solving this equation. So, I thought of a different way to teach it which incorporated some conventional elements with some new ideas. The conventional element was a seesaw. This was mentioned in the text but only in passing. The way to use the seesaw is that one side needs to balance the other side. As we move items around from one side of the equation to the other the seesaw is not allowed to become unbalanced in the process, both sides have to remain equal.

                               8                      6 - 2(t - 3)
CM's difficulty was figuring out which things to move to the other side first. So I suggested that the brackets represented a nest and the t stood for a turtle inside the nest. Since there was a 2 times outside the bracket that meant there were two nests. The nest was hard to get at so it was best to move those items outside the nest first. That meant move the 6 first. How do you get rid of +6? The opposite is -6. So subtract 6 from the right hand side (RHS). But that unbalances the seesaw, so you have to subtract 6 from the left hand side (LHS) too.

                                 8 - 6                 6 - 6 - 2(t - 3)

                                   2                    - 2(t - 3)

The turtle nest is multiplied by -2. To get inside the nest we have to deal with that issue next. How do we get rid of a multiplication by -2? By doing the opposite which is dividing by -2. But this will unbalance the seesaw so we have to divide both sides by -2.
                                 2 / -2                     - 2(t - 3)/ -2

                                 -1                         t - 3

Now at last we can get inside the turtle nest. Just finish up by adding 3 to both sides in order to get rid of the -3 on the right hand side.

                               -1 + 3                         t - 3+ 3

                                  2                             t

t = 2

Monday, May 01, 2017

direct instruction and indigenous education (version 5)

I've published an annotated contents page of my research outline at the learning evolves wiki. This has chewed up a lot of thought and time since I had hundreds of bits of paper with rough notes that had to be organised into something coherent. Well, sort of coherent. With this version I think I'm ready to look for a supervisor, to bounce ideas off, and it will provide a more focused guide to future reading / study.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Judith Curry on the current state of climate science

Hearing on Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications and the Scientific Method
29 March 2017

14pp pdf, quite inspirational IMO, read the whole thing

Science is an iterative process of multi hypothesis formation, collecting data and testing that data against the variety of hypotheses

Beware of dogmatic claims (alarmists, deniers), be sensitive to the uncertainty and complexity of the climate science issue

Explanation of the how and why we have got to a bad place in climate science (page 11, extract below)

There is a war on science - not from Trump but from within the science establishment itself (page 12, extract below)
How and why did we land between a rock and a hard place on the issue of climate science?

There are probably many contributing reasons, but the most fundamental and profound reason is arguably that both the problem and solution were vastly oversimplified back in the early 1990’s by the UNFCCC, who framed both the problem and the solution as irreducibly global in terms of human-caused global warming. This framing was locked in by a self-reinforcing consensus-seeking approach to the science and a ‘speaking consensus to power’ approach for decision making that pointed to a single course of policy action – radical emissions reductions.

The climate community has worked for more than two decades to establish a scientific consensus on human-caused climate change, prematurely elevating a hypothesis to a ruling theory. The IPCC’s consensus-seeking process and its links to the UNFCCC emissions reduction policies have had the unintended consequence of hyper-politicizing the science and introducing bias into both the science and related decision making processes. The result of this simplified framing of a wicked problem is that we lack the kinds of information to more broadly understand climate variability and societal vulnerabilities. The politicization of climate science has contaminated academic climate research and the institutions that support climate research, so that individual scientists and institutions have become activists and advocates for emissions reductions policies. Scientists with a perspective that is not consistent with the consensus are at best marginalized (difficult to obtain funding and get papers published by ‘gatekeeping’ journal editors) or at worst ostracized by labels of ‘denier’ or ‘heretic.’

Policymakers bear the responsibility of the mandate that they give to panels of scientific experts. In the case of climate change, the UNFCCC demanded of the IPCC too much precision where complexity, chaos, disagreement and the level current understanding resists such precision. Asking scientists to provide simple policy-ready answers for complex matters results in an impossible situation for scientists and misleading outcomes for policy makers. Unless policy makers want experts to confirm their preconceived bias, then expert panels should handle controversies and uncertainties by assessing what we know, what we don’t know, and where the major uncertainties lie....
War on Science
With the advent of the Trump administration, concerns about ‘war on science’ have become elevated, with a planned March for Science on 22 April 2017. Why are scientists marching? The scientists’ big concern is ‘silencing of facts’. This concern apparently derives from their desire to have their negotiated ‘facts’ – such as the IPCC consensus on climate change – dictate public policy. These scientists also fear funding cuts and challenges to the academic scientific community and the elite institutions that support it.

The ‘war on science’ that I am most concerned about is the war from within science – scientists and the organizations that support science who are playing power politics with their expertise and passing off their naïve notions of risk and political opinions as science. When the IPCC consensus is challenged or the authority of climate science in determining energy policy is questioned, these activist scientists and organizations call the questioners ‘deniers’ and claim ‘war on science.’ These activist scientists seem less concerned with the integrity of the scientific process than they are about their privileged position and influence in the public debate about climate and energy policy. They do not argue or debate the science – rather, they denigrate scientists who disagree with them. These activist scientists and organizations are perverting the political process and attempting to inoculate climate science from scrutiny – this is the real war on science.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Obama and Trump both lied

Barack Obama said he was going to do something about Assad's chemical weapons and he didn't.

Donald Trump said he wasn't going to do anything about Assad's chemical weapons and he did.

In this case, like the Syrian resistance, I prefer Trump's lies.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

ambiguity is deeply writ


What puzzles me most about Direct Instruction is that it is good practice but poor theory. Part of what I mean follows.

Zig Engelmann starts with the great idea that instruction should be tidied up and made very clear but then takes that too far into the claim that in general instruction can be made unambiguous, “I didn't realise how radical the single interpretation principle was ...” (Teaching Needy Kids in our Backward System, p. 3)

We can strive for clearer instruction, that is a worthy goal, but it is not possible to achieve unambiguous instruction.

For example, when teaching the subtraction sixty two minus fifty seven (62 – 57), the DI teacher asks the students “Can we subtract 7 from 2” and the students are taught to say “No”. They then go onto rearrange 62 into 50 + 12 so as to be able solve the problem. This is good teaching, but there are other ways to solve it as well. Two take seven equals -5. Sixty take fifty equals 10. Ten – five = 5.

My aim here is not to improve DI by making it more complicated. DI works, in part, because it simplifies things. I don't deny that. But the complexity and multiple pathways are written deep into the knowledge domain of mathematics. The claim of unambiguous instruction fails. We can subtract 7 from 2. The answer is not "No". Many more examples of such oversights in DI scripts can be cited.

This is not against DI as such (which in certain contexts works better than anything else in my experience) but against the over simplified arguments often presented by advocates of DI. The idea that data provides the ultimate scientific certainty is mistaken because it is impossible to separate out data from concepts developed internally in the mind. Ambiguity is written into educational theory as well as practice.

These observations are presented here as a stepping stone towards developing a better theory of why DI often works than the unsatisfactory theory (uncritical acceptance of JS Mill's Logic) developed by Zig Engelmann and Doug Carnine.

I speculate further that this seems to tie into a critique of JS Mill, initiated by John Dewey and further developed by Hilary Putnam. JS Mill thought that a perfected science of individual psychology would be able to deliver social laws to solve social problems. This reminds me of the Zig Engelmann cult, which promotes him as the one true educational visionary amongst a sea of deceivers:
"Like Copernicus, who proofs were rejected by the church for 300 years, Engelmann remains a scorned revolutionary, anathema or simply unknown to most people in the field"
- Barbash, p. 8
I can't go along with the way that Piaget, Bruner and Dewey are rubbished in this cult war. I think they have all made valuable contributions to educational theory. Some positives, some negatives, some ambiguities. There is not one true way.

These thoughts were crystallised in thinking about these comments from Hilary Putnam about empiricism:
“Empiricism … thinks that the general form of scientific data, indeed of all empirical data, can be known a priori – even if it doesn't say so in so many words! From Locke, Berkeley, and Hume down to Ernst Mach, empiricists held that all empirical data consists of “sensations”, conceived of as an unconceptualised given against which putative knowledge claims can be checked. Against this view William James had already insisted that while all perceptual experience has both conceptual and non conceptual aspects, the attempt to divide any experience which is a recognition of something into parts is futile: “Sensations and apperceptive idea fuse here so intimately [in a 'presented and recognised material object'] that you can no more tell where one begins and the other ends, than you can tell, in those cunning circular panoramas that have lately been exhibited, where the real foreground and the painted canvas join together” (quoted in Dewey's Ethics, p. 273). Dewey continued the line of thought that James had begun, insists that by creating new observation concepts we “institute” new data. Modern physics (and of course not only physics) has richly born him out. A scientist may speak of observing a proton colliding with a nucleus, or of observing a virus with the aid of an electron microscope, or of observing genes or black holes, and so forth. Neither the form of possible explanation nor the form of possible data can be fixed in advance, once and for all...

Among the classic empiricist thinkers, the most famous ones to call before John Dewey did for the application of scientific research to the problems of society were Mill and Comte. But Comte reverted to meritocracy. He visualised handling social problems over to savants, social scientific intellectuals, a move which falls under Dewey's criticism of the idea of a 'benevolent despot'.

It might seem that this same criticism cannot be voiced against Mill, who, as much as Dewey was to do, valued active participation in all aspects of the democratic process. But as far as the application of social scientific knowledge to social problems is concerned, what Mill called for was the development of a perfected science of individual psychology, from which he thought … we would be able to derive social laws (via the hoped for reduction of sociology to psychology) which could then be applied to particular social problems. This entire program, as most would concede today, is a misguided fantasy
- Ethics without Ontology, pp. 98-100
Further reading will be required to get the bottom of this: Barbash, Shepard. Clear Teaching: With Direct Instruction, Siegrried Engelmann Discovered a Better Way of Teaching (2012)
Dewey Logic
Dewey Ethics
Dewey The Quest for Certainty
Engelmann, Zig. Teaching Needy Kids in our Backward System: 42 Years of Trying (2007)
Engelmann, Zig and Carnine, Douglas. Could John Stuart Mill have saved our schools? (2011)
Jame, William. Radical Empiricism?
Mill JS A System of Logic
Putnam, Hilary. Ethics without Ontology
Quine Two Dogmas of Empiricism

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Origins of Modernity

Giordano Bruno (1548-1600, burnt alive by the Church) and Francis Bacon (1561-1626) put forward a clear program of domination or conquest of nature around about 1583-85, the time that Bruno visited England.
“The gods have given man intelligence and hands, and have made them in their image, endowing him with a capacity superior to other animals. This capacity consists not only in the power to work in accordance with nature and the usual course of things, but beyond that and outside her laws, to the end that by fashioning, or the power to fashion, other natures, other courses, other orders by means of his intelligence, with that freedom without which his resemblance to the deity would not exist, he might in the end make himself god of the earth … providence has decreed that man should be occupied in action by the hands and in contemplation by the intellect, but in such a way that he may not contemplate without action or work without contemplation …. when difficulties beset them or necessities reappeared … they sharpened their wits, invented industries and discovered arts … by force of necessity, from the depths of the human mind rose new and wonderful inventions.”
- Bruno, The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast
Albert Schweitzer points out that an optimistic view of a modern world where knowledge, standard of living and health could all be improved (as compared with passive acceptance of ignorance, poverty and ill health) met considerable opposition from historical forces. Plato's ethic is world negation., Plato and Aristotle accepted slavery and so did not envisage the liberation of Humanity as a whole. The Epicureans and Stoics preached resignation.

Bacon took the moral stance that real charity involved meeting peoples needs in the full Christian sense of brotherly love. He contrasted this with the tendency of the Greeks to quarrel about opinions.

After dabbling in politics, initially without much success, Bacon took the view that invention was more useful than politics because it is felt everywhere and lasts forever.

Invention required the use of both intellect and labour, the head and the hand. The “mechanical arts” became central to Bacon's vision, he wanted the concepts spread far and wide to a thousand hands and a thousand eyes.

Bacon persistently criticised the influence of Aristotle and Plato on contemporary thinking because their mode of thinking (dialectical argument) did not support the rapid development of the mechanical arts.

The Philosophy of Francis Bacon by Benjamin Farrington (1964), Ch 4, 5 and 6

Saturday, March 18, 2017

natural selection and Direct Instruction

Now for a pithy one liner which also happens to support Direct Instruction:
"Before there can be comprehension, there has to be competence without comprehension"
Dan Dennett, Intuition Pumps and other tools for thinking (2013), p. 105
Comprehension is a latecomer to the evolutionary process.
"Bacteria have all sorts of remarkable competences that they need not understand at all; their competences serve them well, but they themselves are clueless. Trees have competences whose exercise provides benefits to them, but they don't need to know why. The process of natural selection itself is famously competent, a generator of designs of outstanding ingenuity and efficacy, without a shred of comprehension.

Comprehension of the kind we human adults enjoy is a very recent phenomenon on the evolutionary scene, and it has to be composed of structures whose competence is accompanied by, enabled by, a minimal sort of semi-comprehension, or pseudo-comprehension - the kind of (hemi-semi-demi-) comprehension enjoyed by fish or worms. These structures are designed to behave appropriately most of the time, without having to know why their behaviour is appropriate."
- p. 105
Compare with my pithy one liner which critiques Direct Instruction:
"In Direct Instruction there is no script for those who depart from the script or who desire to write their own script"
- fork in the road options and Direct Instruction
You can't begin to write your own script until you have achieved at least a basic competence in whatever domain you are attempting to master.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

philosophers timeline


Pythagoras 560 BC - ?
Heraclitus 535 BC-475 BC
Zeno of Elea 490-430 BC
Democritus 460 BC-?
Socrates 469-399 BC
Euclid ? - 366 BC
Plato 429-347 BC
Aristotle 384 BC-322 BC
Epicurus 341-271 BC
Archimedes 287 – 212 BC
Chrysippus 280-206 BC
Cicero 106-43 BC
Ovid 43 BC-17 AD
Seneca 1-65
Plutarch 45-120
Lucretius early to mid 1st C


Thomas Aquinas 1225-1274
William of Occam 1285-1347


Nicolaus Copernicus 1473-1543
Michel de Montaigne 1533-1592
Giordano Bruno 1548-1600 (burnt alive by the Church)
Francis Bacon 1561-1626
Galileo Galilei 1564-1642
Johannes Kepler 1571-1630
Thomas Hobbes 1588-1679
Rene Descarte 1596-1650
Gerrard Winstanley 1609-1676
Blaise Pascal 1623-1662
Robert Boyle 1627-1691
Christiaan Huygens 1629-1695
Baruch Spinoza 1632-1677
John Locke 1632-1704
Robert Hooke 1635-1703


Isaac Newton 1642-1727
Gottfried Wilhelm Liebniz 1646-1716
Jonathan Swift 1667-1745
Christian Wolff 1679-1754
George Berkeley 1685-1753
Montesquieu 1689-1755
Voltaire 1694-1778
Carl Linnaeus 1701-1778
Thomas Bayes 1702-1761
David Hume 1711-1776
John Jacques Rousseau 1712-1778
Étienne Bonnot de Condillac 1714-1780
Claude Adrien Helvetius 1715-1771
Baron d'Holbach 1723-1789
Adam Smith 1723-1790
Immanuel Kant 1724-1804
Nicolas de Condorcet 1743-1794
Johann Gottfried Herder 1744-1803
Jeremy Bentham 1748-1832
Pierre-Simon Laplace 1749-1827
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 1749-1832
Joseph de Maistre 1753-1821
Henri de Saint-Simon 1760-1825
Johann Gottlieb Fichte 1762-1814
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel 1770-1831
Charles Fourier 1772-1837


Arthur Schopenhauer 1788-1860
Richard Jones 1790-1855
Charles Babbage 1791-1871
John Herschel 1792-1871
William Whewell 1794-1866
Auguste Comte 1798-1857
John Stuart Mill 1806-73
Charles Darwin 1809-1882
Soren Kiekegaard 1813-1855
Karl Marx 1818-1883
Friedrich Engels 1820-1895
Ernst Mach 1838-1916
Charles Peirce 1839-1914
William James 1842-1910
Frederick Nietzsche 1844-1900
Georg Cantor 1845-1918
Gottlob Frege 1848-1925
Henri Poincaré 1854-1912
Giuseppe Peano 1858-1932
Edmund Husserl 1859-1938
Henri Bergson 1859-1941
John Dewey 1859-1952
Rabindranath Tagore 1861-1941
Vladimir Lenin 1870-1924
Marcel Proust 1871-1922
Bertrand Russell 1872-1970
GE Moore 1873-1958
Albert Einstein 1879-1955
Moritz Schlick 1882-1936
Otto Neurath 1882-1945
Aldous Huxley 1894-1963
Ludwig Wittgenstein 1889-1951
Martin Heidegger 1889-1976
Hans Reichenbach 1891-1953
Rudolf Carnap 1891-1970
Mao Zedong 1893-1976
Lev Vygotsky 1896-1934
Gilbert Ryle 1900-1976
Herbert Feigl 1902-1988
Karl Popper 1902-1994
George Orwell 1903-1950
Gregory Bateson 1904-1980
BF Skinner 1904-1990
Jean-Paul Sartre 1905-1980
Raymond Aron 1905-1983
Carl Gustav Hempel 1905-1997
Kurt Godel 1906-1978
Nelson Goodman 1906-1998
Willard Van Ormon Quine 1908-2000
Isaiah Berlin 1909-1997
A. J. Ayer 1910-1989
Alan Turing 1912-1954
Wilfrid Sellers 1912-1989
Iris Murdoch 1919-1999
John Rawls 1921-2002
Imre Lakatos 1922-1974
Thomas Kuhn 1922-1996
Evald Ilyenkov 1924-1979
Paul Feyerabend 1924-1994
Michel Foucault 1926-1984
Hilary Putnam 1926-2016
Marvin Minsky 1927-2016
Seymour Papert 1928-2016
Bernard Williams 1929-2003
Allan Bloom 1930-1992
Richard Rorty 1931-2007
Marshall Berman 1940-2013


Noam Chomsky 1928-
Amartya Sen 1933-
Jerry Fodor 1935-
Ian Hacking 1936 -
Michael J Crowe 1936 -
Ronald Giere 1938 -
Bas van Fraasen 1941-
Larry Laudan 1941-
Paul Churchland 1942-
Daniel Dennett 1942-
Marcello Pera 1943-
Donald Gillies 1944 -
Douglas Hofstadter 1945-
Hartry Field 1946 -
Martha Nussbaum 1947-
Camille Paglia 1947-
Richard Yeo 1948-
Luc Ferry 1951-
Michele Moody-Adams 1956-
Laura Snyder 1964-

Possibly will be updated from time to time.

The genuine refutation

"The genuine refutation must penetrate the opponent's stronghold and meet him on his own ground; no advantage is gained by attacking him somewhere else and defeating him where he is not"
- GWF Hegel, Science of Logic: Subjective Logic or The Doctrine of the Notion
Both the critics and supporters of Direct Instruction do not refute from within the others respective strongholds. That is why this quote has been playing on my mind for sometime.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

fork in the road options and Direct Instruction

An attempt at a pithy critique of Direct Instruction:

In Direct Instruction there is no script for those who depart from the script or who desire to write their own script.

I'd rather be a Robert or a Lauren, than an Alice.
Alice in Wonderland

“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’ was his response. ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.”
- Lewis Carroll
The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
- Robert Frost

Saturday, January 21, 2017

the pitchfork solution to world inequality

Each year Oxfam delivers a report about how the inequality in the world is getting worse and how this needs to stop. This year, I was encouraged by a marginal note from Nick Hanauer, one of the Super Rich, who warns his fellow billionarie's that:
‘No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out.’
- the pitchforks are coming ... for us Plutocrats
Now, what did that Oxfam report say?
  • Since 2015, the richest 1% has owned more wealth than the rest of the planet.
  • Eight men now own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world.
  • Over the next 20 years, 500 people will hand over $2.1 trillion to their heirs – a sum larger than the GDP of India, a country of 1.3 billion people.
  • The incomes of the poorest 10% of people increased by less than $3 a year between 1988 and 2011, while the incomes of the richest 1% increased 182 times as much.
  • A FTSE-100 (Financial Times Stock Exchange 100) CEO earns as much in a year as 10,000 people in working in garment factories in Bangladesh.
  • In the US, new research by economist Thomas Piketty shows that over the last 30 years the growth in the incomes of the bottom 50% has been zero, whereas incomes of the top 1% have grown 300%.
  • In Vietnam, the country’s richest man earns more in a day than the poorest person earns in 10 years.
more details here

Oxfam report: AN ECONOMY FOR THE 1%
the strengths and weaknesses of capitalism
Land of the Free, Home of the Poor

Sunday, January 15, 2017

RAMR Deadly Maths: Adding Fractions

The RAMR cycle originates from Chris Matthews, an indigenous man who has a PhD in maths.

RAMR is a new model for teaching maths, or at least, new to me. I've appended a link to a video at the bottom where Tom Cooper from the YuMi Deadly Centre at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) explains the RAMR cycle. I adapted his talk to a lesson I developed about adding fractions. YuMi is a Torres Strait Islander word meaning "you and me" and Deadly is an aboriginal word meaning smart.

The RAMR acronym stands for Reality, Abstraction, Mathematics, Reflection as illustrated by this graphic:


Teach maths the way it is created or invented. Start with a problem. The problem I posed to the class was how do you add one half and two thirds.

The elements recommended in this Reality phase of the cycle are start with a real life problem, draw on local knowledge and construct kinesthenic activities.
PIZZA DIAGRAMS half and two-thirds

Present this problem as a real life exercise. John eats half a pizza. Jermain eats two thirds of a pizza. How much pizza have they eaten altogether?

Bring real pizza into the room and cut it up. It is a recommended part of the RAMR cycle that the teacher constructs such an activity, preferably kinaesthetic.

Prerequisites: The teacher needs to be aware of prerequisite knowledge required for the problem. In this case the denominator (bottom number) tells us how many equal parts the pizza is divided into. The numerator (top number) tells us how many part of each pizza are being eaten. This had been covered in a previous lesson.


Abstraction means moving from the real world (a pizza cut into various pieces) to a representation of that reality in words, pictures and / or symbols.

We have already begun this above by using the words, symbols and pictures for half and two-thirds. In practice the various phases of the RAMR cycle overlap as well as having some distinctiveness.

One aspect I need to improve on is that of adding in creativity by inviting students to create their own representations of fractions. I didn't do this in the class but later when running the session for trainee teachers it did energise the session with some imagination.

Can you develop your own representation of fractions?


In this phase of the cycle we stress the formal language and symbols of mathematics, practice the concepts a lot (most students need lots of practice) and connect to other maths ideas that have been taught earlier.

When asked how to add ½ plus 2/3 many students will add the numerators and denominators to get the answer 3/5ths. Explain why this is wrong. You don't add denominators because they don't represent something that ought to be added to solve this problem. Rather they represent how many pieces each pizza has been cut into.

The trick to solving this problem is to cut both pizzas in such a way that the parts are equal. This can be solved either
(a) visually or
(b) arithmetically by multiplying the denominators or
(c) by finding the lowest common number in the two times (2, 4, 6 ...) and three times tables (3, 6 …)

So, we divide both pizzas into 6 equal parts

Now we can add the fractions 3/6 + 4/6 = 7/6 = 1 and 1/6

The denominators are not added since they represent how many pieces the pizza was cut into. The numerators are added since they represent the parts of the pizza which are eaten.

Transforming ½ into 3/6

How do we get 6 from 2? Multiply by 3.

Now if we multiply the denominator by 3 we then have to multiply the numerator by 3. ½ x 3/3 = 3/6

This doesn't change the value of the fraction since 3/3 = 1 and multiplying by 1 doesn't change the value of the number. The technical name for this is compensation, the numerator 3 compensates for the denominator 3, etc. This technique is really valuable and can be used over and over again in the future, so it needs to be reinforced. Multiplying by 1 doesn't change the value of a number.

Repeat this process to transform 2/3 into 4/6 by multiplying by 2/2

More Prerequisites: (which were covered in earlier lessons) Equivalent fractions: ½ = 2/4 = 3/6 etc.

Improper fractions (7/6) and mixed numbers 1 and 1/6


The goals here are to:
  • set problems that apply the new idea back to reality
  • enable students to validate and justify their own knowledge
The concepts being covered can be extended at any point throughout the cycle. It doesn't have to be confined to the end.
Extension: Represent 7/6 or 1 and 1/6 on a clock? Answer: 70 minutes or 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Inverse: How else could the pizza have been divided b/w John and Jermain to get the same answer? ie. What other two numbers (fractions) would add up to 7/6 or 1 and 1/6?

Generalise: How could you add any two fractions? Looking for answer here about achieving a common denominator.

For the class I was teaching I found that they struggled to understand what was required for the inverse section but with prompting they got it. Overall, I was happy about the response to the challenge posed by the Reflection section.


Maths textbooks are notoriously dull. Direct Instruction as developed by Rhonda Farkota (link to her PhD thesis) is very useful. But how do we further develop maths curriculum in a rich way once the basics are established?

I found that the RAMR cycle challenged me as a teacher to develop my delivery further. There were some elements in the cycle which made me think hard before I could deliver them. I did find that students responded well to those elements of the cycle in which I harboured a hidden belief that they may not cope with. The cycle integrates real world, creative elements and traditional elements of maths in a manner which I found very satisfactory. I think it is a very good model.

Is this maths which incorporates indigenous culture or simply good maths teaching? Good question! I think both but mainly I lean to the latter view. But really good teaching adjusts itself to take the individual needs of all the current students in the class into account. This requires more analysis and thinking. LINKS
Tom Cooper explains the RAMR cycle here: Professor Tom Cooper - YuMi Deadly Maths

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Some books I am reading in 2017

Appiah, Kwame Anthony. Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2007)
Dennett, Daniel. Intuition Pumps and other Tools for Thinking (2013)
Dixon, Bob. Searching for Aboriginal Languages: Memoirs of a Field Worker (1984)
Engelmann, Siegfried and Carnine, Douglas. Could John Stuart Mill have saved our schools? (2011)
Farrington, Benjamin. The Philosophy of Francis Bacon (1964)
Hofstadter, Douglas R. Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern (1985)
Kenny, Robert. The Lamb Enters the Dreaming: Nathanael Pepper and the Ruptured World (2007)
McIntosh, Dennis. Beaten by a Blow (2008)
Minsky, Marvin. The Society of Mind (1985)
Osborne, Barry (Editor). Teaching Diversity and Democracy (2001)
Monk, Ray and Raphael, Frederic (editors). The Great Philosophers (2000)
Putnam, Hilary. Ethics without Ontology (2004)
Putnam, Hilary. Words and Life (1994)
Roughsey, Dick (Goobalathaldin). Moon and Rainbow: the autobiography of an aboriginal (1971)
Sarra Chris. Good Morning, Mr. Sarra: My life working for a stronger, smarter future for our children (2012)
Shapin, Steven and Schaffer, Simon. Leviathan and the Air Pump: Hobbes, Boyle and the Experimental Life (1985)
Van Fraassen, Bas. The Empirical Stance (2002)
Widdowson, Frances and Howard, Albert. Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry: The Deception Behind Indigenous Cultural Preservation (2008)
Willingham, Daniel T. Why Students don't like School: A cognitive scientist answers questions about how the mind works and what it means for the classroom (2009)

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Donald Trump's twitter feed

I guess one of my new goals in life is to try to understand Donald Trump's twitter feed.

I think this guy gets it: Staking Out The Far Edge and he predicts that President Trump will continue to twitter.
As to the tweeting of the Donald, there’s little chance that his style will become more “Presidential”. He used that style to defeat 16 Republican candidates for the nomination and to defeat Hillary Clinton. Yes, his tone may change, the Presidency has changed the tone of every man I’ve seen take on the job.

But the tweet is far too useful to Trump to ever give up. It is his direct connection to the American people, one which cannot be changed, misquoted, or slanted by the media whether favorably or unfavorably. In addition, he employs it as a most potent negotiating tool, using it to good advantage in a number of ways including staking out the far side of a discussion. So I expect little change in his use of Twitter.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Martin Nakata's Disciplining the Savages Savaging the Disciplines

My dissatisfaction with the discourse of culturalism stemmed largely from being certain about who I was (an Islander) and uncertain about why we were treated the way we were. Something about the re-writing of earlier racial discourses into a cultural discourse grated deep within my mind and soul. Why would I accept such a shift that said in effect 'Oops, sorry, we were wrong but we've rethought this and, here, we think this is a better explanation of you and your predicament' ...

In my undergraduate years, there was the possibility that my oppositional stance could have developed into a radically 'dumb' one and at many times sheer anger at our historical circumstances threatened my sanity and my study ...” (pp. 222-3)
What is required to make indigenous education better than it is now?

Martin Nakata describes and traces his alienation within the system. As a helper within schools the whites were only interested in his opinions if they were congruent with their own. Earlier, on as a secondary student, it all felt meaningless, he dropped out and took drugs, for a while. Later, at University, he was very successful, but could not articulate how he felt to others. At one point in this process other Islanders questioned whether he was still an Islander.

How should one respond to being marginalised and alienated by the dominant system?

MN's response was to study and more study to understand the knowledge base of the oppressor. What knowledge base could possess such arrogance as to intrude in every possible way into Islander lives with the casual assumption of superiority. Although overt racism has now been more or less replaced by culturalism (the glib shallowness of they are equal but different, let us respect that difference) but still the dominant culture can't see the world as an Islander sees the world. Ideas about Islanders are expressed by well meaning "experts" with little or no reference to the actual life experiences of Islanders. MNs goal is to comprehend this lack, to come to grips with it.

Moreover, he develops the theory of the Cultural Interface (which it needs to be explained is not a capitulation to culture) as a vantage point for all of us to understand these issues.

So, when I say the book is magnificent I mean that it has personal, political and educational significance which is complex but needs to be thought deeply about. It persuades me that a complex problem, which no one has solved so far, requires a complex solution. So this book has changed me.

The educational implications are that the complexity and curriculum reform (savaging the disciplines) both have to be embraced. Unfortunately, this goes against what normally works in schools, the KISS principle, Keep It Simple Stupid.

Fortunately, some have taken up the challenge: for example, see 8 ways, the YuMi Deadly Centre and ATSIMA. I'm not certain how much of this was started independently of MN but I suspect that he started something important, that his role in all of this has been significant.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Inside the mind of David Oldfield and friends

I thought Anthony Dillon went too easy on David Oldfield in his Quadrant article (First Contact's First Sin) by focusing on the clean up the rubbish issue (where he did have a point) and not mentioning a couple of other things that Oldfield said in the First Contact series.

In the last episode, at a Noel Pearson school in Coen, Oldfield said that aboriginal people were better off learning Japanese than their own language since an aboriginal language would never help them get a job.

At another point he described aboriginal culture as a Stone Age Culture. This latter statement has been approvingly aired in a comment from Bill Martin at the end of Anthony's article:
“As David Oldfield said during the “First Contact” program, it is a Stone Age culture that should be allowed to die out. Shock horror! – it was not edited out, presumably to illustrate Oldfield’s despicable racism.

Let those objecting to Oldfield’s sentiment answer this simple question: Emotional sentimentality notwithstanding, what practical use is Aboriginal culture in contemporary Australia or any other civilised society?

All it achieved over 45-50000 years is the mere survival of the species, as did all other living organisms. It is not necessary to list the primitive, often childish details of Aboriginal culture, nor the range of its detestable aspects to conclude that the endeavour to live by it in the 21st century is a diabolical folly. Consider further that the overwhelming majority of Australians identifying as Aborigines live their lives according to the norms of contemporary Australian culture, with only a modicum of acquaintance of indigenous culture. Why, then, condemn the tiny minority living in remote communities to their appalling misery? This last question is addressed to the Dodsons, Burneys, Mansells, at al, who live according to contemporary Australian standards while enjoying the rich benefits accruing to “champions” of a culture which they have abandoned a long time ago”
If you read the comment thread (only open to Quadrant subscribers) you will find plenty more of the same sentiments.

This reminds me that Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party is resurgent according to a Newspoll in October 2016, which recorded the following support figures: Queensland 10%; NSW 6%; Western Australia 6%; South Australia 4%; Victoria 3% (One Nation soars post-election, Newspoll shows)

For reasons such as these I had a think about my own attitude to aboriginal (and western) culture.

First up, with the help of Martin Nakata and Marcia Langton I compiled a list of adjectives / descriptors used to describe aboriginal and TSI culture over the past 230 years. I then grouped those descriptors into categories of my own making:

Dangerous: Savages, Barbarians, Cannibals
Backward: Primitive; Lost souls; Stone Age; Infantile; a People from the Past; Uncivilised; Childlike; Overgrown Children; Undeveloped; Low Intelligence; Inferior; Heathen
Admirable, sort of: Noble Savage; Exotic
Regrettable: Drunks; Dirty; Irresponsible; Dying race; Victims

Of course all these labels were dreamed by our “advanced” white, Colonial civilisation and often justified according to the “advanced” science of the times:
... the inferiority of the black races is due to the cessation of the growth of the brain at an earlier age than in the white races ...
- McDougall, 1903, quoted in Nakata, p. 76
But then the science has developed, changed and apart from Quadrant comment writers, One Nation supporters (a growing tribe) and genetic determinists most people now have a more humane perception: equal but different. Now we are enlightened, well some of us, since our culture is dynamic and changes as we learn more.

Well, is indigenous culture any different? Culture, including aboriginal and TSI culture continues to evolve. Once you attempt to set any culture in Stone as David Oldfield and his friends want to do (“Stone Age Culture”) then by freezing the culture of the Other you freeze your own mind, in a superior prejudicial state, in the process. All culture evolves, is dynamic, white, black and of course multicultural.

Historically Colonial whites did use their superior technology combined with their inferior morality to intrude in every way into black lives. So, in response, in order to survive, blacks have had to learn those aspects of white culture that enabled those whites to win the war. The obvious motivation to do this was to learn from the bastards who defeated them, as well as uniting with those whites who weren't or aren't bastards. Fight back. Learn English so as to defend the good aspects of ones own culture against those who have tried and are still trying to destroy it.
We had no education to check the scales, we knew no arithmetic, subtraction, addition. If we brought up 5 or 7 tons (of pearl shells) and the price was say 155 pounds per ton, we might get, ah 5 pound or 6 pound ... just pocket money
- Ganter 1994, quoted in Nakata, p. 161
There is also an internal problem in indigenous culture. Josephine Cashman, Jacinta Price and Marcia Langton amongst others have pointed out that there are elements within aboriginal culture that legitimise violence against women. In particular, this is a problem in remote communities. They are waging a campaign against this and meeting fierce resistance from the indigenous men (as well as elements of our "advanced" culture - legal system, police) who benefit from it.
Langton spoke of "a new version of Aboriginal culture that keeps a few elements of the older culture and adds a new set of dangerous elements", elements that expose women and children to assault yet forbid them from speaking out about it.

She believes legislators have "drunk the Kool Aid" and are too afraid to interfere with the "culture" of communities, a culture that now involves high levels of violence and abuse.

From this comes a "culture of silence" as explained by Cashman, which "allows criminals to gain power over communities and to establish unfettered access to children through fear, which perpetrates a misguided tolerance of criminal behaviour."

In situations where domestic incidents are reported, victims are called "dog and snitch" for collaborating with white authorities and those who report violence and rape often find that the police responses range from slow to non-existent, she said
- Being offended by Bill Leak's cartoon misses the point, says Marcia Langton
Note that Marcia Langton condemns this "new version of Aboriginal culture". This is what I mean by all culture evolves. Josephine Cashman, Jacinta Price and Marcia Langton don't renounce their aboriginal culture, they take great pride in it, rather they renounce those aspects that are not compatible with modernity. That is aboriginal and TSI culture, an evolving work in progress, full of significant internal contradictions, just like our western culture.

Breaking Down the Barriers to Sexual Violence Care, speech by Josephine Cashman
Langton, Marcia. Well, I Heard It on the Radio and I Saw It on the Television… pdf, 46pp (1993)
Nakata, Martin. Disciplining the Savages, Savaging the Disciplines (2007)

Monday, December 19, 2016

the desire to be normal

Some people, the outsiders, speak to us as though we are normal. More sadly, some amongst us think they are normal, or at least, act as though they are. Poor blighters.

This year, many times, I've felt the need to recount this story:
"But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 6)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Samantha Power righteously condemns the Russians et al

When I googled "Syria genocide" the main article I found which made sense to me is written by a right wing think tank: Nothing can be done in Syria? Not true

Every night we watch the newsreader read the news, augmented by social media horrific footage, about the latest Aleppo massacres. It is just the news, which report facts, and doesn't reflect on the policies which created those facts.

Somewhere in memory I recall that the west had apparently learnt a lesson from the Rwandan genocide and at a later date intervened in Kosovo:
The most important precedent supporting the legitimacy of unilateral humanitarian intervention was established by the events that transpired in Kosovo between March and June of 1999.1 NATO’s intervention in Kosovo has confirmed the doctrine of humanitarian intervention as legal custom. The Kosovo incident also gave expression to the moral consensus in the international community that severe tyranny should not be tolerated.
I remember that the first George Bush created a no fly zone in Iraq which saved the Kurds from massacre by Saddam Hussein

President Obama could have created a no fly zone many years ago in Syria but instead he created a power vacuum. Putin saw this as weakness and moved in.

Samantha Power, the American UN Ambassador who has published a few books about genocide has righteously pilloried Russia, Iran and Assad for their Aleppo massacres:
Ms Power began her speech by saying how those left are now saying their final goodbyes as a city was “being erased from history”.

“This is what is being done by Member States of the United Nations who are sitting around this horseshoe table today,” she said.

“This is what is being done to the people of eastern Aleppo, to fathers, and mothers, and sons, and daughters, brothers, and sisters like each of us here.”

She went on to say how Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is being backed by Russia and Iran who are using militia on the ground to cut off the city and then hiding this shame from the world.

“To the Assad regime, Russia, and Iran, your forces and proxies are carrying out these crimes,” the speech continued.

“Your barrel bombs and mortars and air strikes have allowed the militia in Aleppo to encircle tens of thousands of civilians in your ever-tightening noose. It is your noose.

“It should shame you. Instead, by all appearances, it is emboldening you. You are plotting your next assault. Are you truly incapable of shame?

“Is there literally nothing that can shame you? Is there no act of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under your skin, that just creeps you out a little bit? Is there nothing you will not lie about or justify?”
What she forgot to add is what she wrote in her book, "A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide:
Power observes that American policymakers have been consistently reluctant to condemn mass atrocities as genocide or take responsibility for leading an international military intervention. She argues that without significant pressure from the American public, policymakers avoid the term "genocide" altogether. Instead, they appeal to the priority of national interests or argue (without merit, she contends) that a U.S. response would be futile and accelerate violence as a justification for inaction

Sunday, November 20, 2016

why trump won

economic reality beats identity politics

The recognition that the economy hasn't recovered from the 2008 crisis and the Obamas / Clintons have protected Wall Street (no Banker gaoled; what new wealth there is has gone to the top 5%) has become a stronger social force than identity politics (you are female, black, Hispanic etc., we support you morally but not economically)

More detailed explanations here:
Break Up the Democratic Party
The Great Con: Political Correctness Has Marginalized the Working Class

update 4th December 2016:
Michael Moore picked it well before the election:
5 reasons why trump will win

update 14th December 2016:
If You Think This Is About Sexism and Racism, You’re Missing the Point by Eric Robert Morse
(the Michael Moore video within this article is very powerful, worth taking the time to watch IMHO)
As Moore puts it: “Donald Trump came to the Detroit Economic Club and stood there in front of Ford Motor executives and said ‘if you close these factories as you’re planning to do in Detroit and build them in Mexico, I’m going to put a 35% tariff on those cars when you send them back and nobody’s going to buy them.’ It was an amazing thing to see. No politician, Republican or Democrat, had ever said anything like that to these executives, and it was music to the ears of people in Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — the ‘Brexit’ states.”
update 15th December 2016:
Democrats, Trump, and the Ongoing, Dangerous Refusal to Learn the Lesson of Brexit by Glen Greenwald

The Trump victory provides us not just the opportunity but the necessity to dig deeper into what is really happening in America, not to mention the world since we have BrExit in England, the popularity of Pauline Hanson in Australia, etc. I found this Readers Review of a new book, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, enlightening:
There is a lot to take in here, even for someone that's seen this life up close in many of its many guises.

While ostensibly about the particular culture of the West Virginia Scots-Irish underclass, anyone that has seen white poverty in America's flyover states will recognize much of what is written about here. It is a life on the very edge of plausibility, without the sense of extra-family community that serves as a stabilizing agent in many first-generation immigrant communities or communities of color. Drugs, crime, jail time, abusive interactions without any knowledge of other forms of interaction, children growing up in a wild mix of stoned mother care, foster care, and care by temporary "boyfriends," and in general, an image of life on the edge of survival where even the heroes are distinctly flawed for lack of knowledge and experience of any other way of living.

This is a story that many of the "upwardly mobile middle class" in the coastal areas, often so quick to judge the lifestyles and politics of "those people" in middle America, has no clue about. I speak from experience as someone that grew up in the heartland but has spent years in often elite circles on either coast.

Two things struck me most about this book.

First, the unflinching yet not judgmental portrayal of the circumstances and of the people involved. It is difficult to write on this subject without either glossing over the ugliness and making warm and fuzzy appeals to idealism and human nature, Hollywood style, or without on the other hand descending into attempts at political persuasion and calls to activism. This book manages to paint the picture, in deeply moving ways, without committing either sin, to my eye.

Second, the author's growing realization, fully present by the end of the work, that while individuals do not have total control over the shapes of their lives, their choices do in fact matter—that even if one can't direct one's life like a film, one does always have the at least the input into life that comes from being free to make choices, every day, and in every situation.

It is this latter point, combined with the general readability and writing skill in evidence here, that earns five stars from me. Despite appearances, I found this to be an inspiring book. I came away feeling empowered and edified, and almost wishing I'd become a Marine in my younger days as the author decided to do—something I've never thought or felt before.

I hate to fall into self-analysis and virtue-signaling behavior in a public review, but in this case I feel compelled to say that the author really did leave with me a renewed motivation to make more of my life every day, to respect and consider the choices that confront me much more carefully, and to seize moments of opportunity with aplomb when they present themselves. Given that a Hillbilly like the author can find his way and make good choices despite the obstacles he's encountered, many readers will find themselves stripped bare and exposed—undeniably ungrateful and just a bit self-absorbed for not making more of the hand we've been dealt every day.

I'm a big fan of edifying reads, and though given the subject matter one might imagine this book to be anything but, in fact this book left me significantly better than it found me in many ways. It also did much to renew my awareness of the differences that define us in this country, and of the many distinct kinds of suffering and heroism that exist.

Well worth your time.
update 21st December:
Both of these articles re-iterated the point that the fundamental reason for Trump's victory was economic.

J.D. Vance, the False Prophet of Blue America
This one argues that Hillbilly Elegy stresses the individual attitudes required to escape poverty too much, that it becomes a morality play. It's too hard to pull yourself up by the bootstraps if you don't have boots.

To Understand 2016’s Politics, Look at the Winners and Losers of Globalization: An interview with economist Branko Milanovic
The elephant chart shows that globalisation has not benefited the middle classes in the developed nations:
The biggest gains, (Milanovic) found, have gone to the very richest in the richest countries—the kinds of people that are overwhelmingly found in places like London or US coastal cities—as well as the “emerging global middle class,” people with much less wealth who are predominantly located in China. Both of these groups saw their real incomes skyrocket from their previous levels, though Chinese people on overage are still only one fourth as wealthy as Americans. The world’s poorest people didn’t do nearly as well, but they saw some improvements.

And the losers have been working people in rich countries. A large portion of the lower middle class in Western Europe and the US saw essentially no income gains since the Reagan administration, while almost everybody else in the world, including elites in their own countries, moved forward. Milanovic presented his data for these findings in the now famous “Elephant chart.” The graph, which looks like the outline of an elephant, shows how much incomes have increased for people at different levels of wealth. The dip between the elephant’s back and its trunk shows the comparatively small gains that working people in rich countries have seen