Friday, December 28, 2012

Marxism and the Philosophy of Science by Helena Sheehan (introduction)

Marxism and the Philosophy of Science by Helena Sheehan

On page 10 (introduction) Helena outlines 5 different types of errors in interpreting the history of Marxism (I've rephrased it a bit since I found her words initially not clear)

1) unproblematic straight line correctness

2) it would have been an unproblematic straight line except for the Stalin "cult of the personality" problem

3) Certain heretical critics (eg. Lukacs) provide a reinterpretation of Marxism which is then accepted uncritically

4) Selected Marxist texts are given forced "readings" and then other interpretations are dismissed as "historicist". An Althusserian once said to the author, "There is no such thing as history; there are only books on shelves", which left her speechless.

5) The whole of Marxism is dismissed as the "illusion of the epoch" (reference to a book by HB Acton)

On page 12, in contrast, she outlines her approach to the history of Marxism:

1) It's essential to delve into the "difficult matters" and "the self inflicted tragedies of the communist movement" ... she disagrees totally with "the premises underlying the tradition of sacrificing truth to 'partisanship', in the name of which so many crimes against science and against humanity have been committed"

2) Even without Stalin the history of Marxism would not be an unproblematic straight line (obvious)

3) She disagrees with the tendency of those who draw a sharp line b/w "creative" Marxists - Marx, Lukacs, Korsch and Gramsci - on one side and "dogmatic" Marxists - Engels, Lenin, Stalin - on the other side. Good and bad philosophers can be found on both sides of this divide. She likes Gramsci and Caudwell.

4) She is an unrepentant historicist - we cannot separate human thought from the context of human thinking without thoroughly distorting what it is. She adds in a footnote that such interpretations are not in opposition to structural, logical or systematic explanations.

[ on page 16 she elaborates further on her historical perspective: "Most philosophers today are utterly oblivious to the fact that philosophy or science is historical, except in the most trivial and superficial sense. Even when they do look at the history of philosophy or science they do so in such a thoroughly ahistorical and noncontextual way, that anybody could virtually have said anything at any time. In philosophy, the ideas of Plato, Aristotle, Descarte, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Carnap and Quine are treated as discrete and interchangeable units, virtually independent of time and place ..."]

5) Rather than an "illusion of the epoch" she believes that however problematic Marxism remains (quoting Sartre) the unsurpassed philosophy of our time because of such features as its comprehensiveness, coherence and orientation towards science.

My thoughts: There may be more than 5 ways to misunderstand the history of marxism. I don't know enough to say whether her judgements about Gramsci and Caudwell as "the good guys" are correct or whether she is even looking in the right places to find answers. However, I do very much like her general framing of how to approach the history of marxism:
- the need to look into the dark places, to assess negatives as well as positives
- those who make errors may also have redeeming features; those who are mainly correct have probably also made important mistakes; we need to avoid the tendency of making black and white evaluations; nevertheless, categories such as correct and incorrect, friend and enemy are still valid categories in history and politics
- there is something about marxism (not yet identified here) that makes it worth pursuing as a key method of thinking to both understanding history and solving current world problems; to confuse errors, even very significant errors, with a fundamentally flawed philosophy would be an even bigger mistake

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Kevin Wheldall: very nearly all of our children can learn to read

The three-tier model will turn children into proficient readers
by Kevin Wheldall From: The Australian December 22, 2012 12:00AM

IF all children are to learn to read to a good level of proficiency in their first few years of schooling, we need a clear plan to ensure that no child falls through the net.

Such a plan must be both effective and cost-effective. It has become increasingly accepted in recent years that a three-tier, phased model of reading instruction, known as Response to Intervention (RtI), is the best means of achieving this.

The RtI model is predicated upon a first tier of exemplary initial instruction in reading for all students during their first year of schooling (kindergarten in NSW). This first tier of instruction should essentially comprise the best scientific evidence-based instruction.

To the layman this sounds obvious, but in many Australian schools a less effective implicit model of reading instruction has held sway for the past few decades. Much of this approach is highly desirable as a bedrock upon which to build, and it may even be enough for a minority of children, but most will need direct, explicit and systematic instruction in the five pillars of teaching reading: phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

What is often lacking in initial reading instruction, in particular, is effective, specific instruction in what is known as synthetic phonics; how to relate letters to sounds and to blend letter sounds into words.

Even when afforded such exemplary instruction, there will always be some children who take longer than others to catch on. It is important to identify these low-progress readers as early as possible so that they do not fall too far behind their peers as their difficulties compound.

Children who do not learn to read in the first few years of schooling are typically destined to a school career of educational failure, because reading underpins almost all subsequent learning. A safe strategy is to target students who fall into the bottom 25 per cent of the population for remedial reading intervention, as soon as their difficulties become apparent. Students' progress should be checked regularly, in order to provide intervention for those who need it from the beginning of Year 1, at the very latest.

The RtI model recommends that struggling readers, the low-progress readers who comprise the bottom 25 per cent, should be offered more intensive Tier-2 intervention in small groups of three to four students. Again the instruction provided to these students should be based on what the scientific research evidence has shown to be most effective: essentially the same five big ideas of reading instruction but more intensive and more individualised.

In small groups, teachers are able to be more responsive to the idiosyncratic needs of the students with whom they are working. Small group instruction can be just as effective as one-to-one instruction for children without severe reading difficulties.

Even with a solid Tier-2 small-group reading program in place, there will still be a very small number of students who "fail to thrive", perhaps about 3-5 per cent of all Year 1 students. These are the students for whom we should reserve Tier 3 one-to-one intensive reading instruction, preferably with a specialist reading teacher with a sound background in special education. The same five big ideas are still critical.

What is different, of course, is the intensity of instruction. Having successfully taught the vast majority of Year 1 students the basics of learning to read by Tier 1 and, where necessary, Tier 2 small-group teaching, it is a far more manageable proposition to provide these few remaining students with the individual reading support that they will need, for as long as they need it.

With this three-tier model in place, predicated upon scientific evidence-based reading instruction, almost all, if not all, children will become proficient readers. Of course, the RtI model does not stop at the end of Year 1; it is important to monitor reading progress closely for all students, especially for the first three years of schooling. But by employing these procedures rigorously and teaching scientifically, it is not too much to expect very nearly all of our children to learn to read.

Kevin Wheldall is chairman of MultiLit Pty Ltd and director of the MultiLit Research Unit.

  • MultiLit = Making Up Lost Time In Literacy
  • MUSEC = Macquarie University Special Education Centre

Some selected follow up links from MultiLit and MUSEC sites:

Media Publicity in 2012: Links to various hard hitting media articles on the perverse failure of our institutions to implement needed reforms, for example:

Welcome to MUSEC: Special Education research opportunities
MUSEC Briefings: a community service to inform educators and other professionals about the evidence base for a variety of educational practices, some of which may be regarded as controversial
Research Publications: Links to books, academic journal articles, instructional materials, conference papers (copies of most available on request from MultiLit Pty Ltd)

Monday, December 24, 2012

some current reading by our politicians

Some of the reading our politicians claim to be doing over the holidays is interesting:

A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power

During the three years (1993-1996) Samantha Power spent covering the grisly events in Bosnia and Srebrenica, she became increasingly frustrated with how little the United States was willing to do to counteract the genocide occurring there. After much research, she discovered a pattern: "The United States had never in its history intervened to stop genocide and had in fact rarely even made a point of condemning it as it occurred," ... Debunking the notion that U.S. leaders were unaware of the horrors as they were occurring against Armenians, Jews, Cambodians, Iraqi Kurds, Rwandan Tutsis, and Bosnians during the past century, Power discusses how much was known and when, and argues that much human suffering could have been alleviated through a greater effort by the U.S. She does not claim that the U.S. alone could have prevented such horrors, but does make a convincing case that even a modest effort would have had significant impact. Based on declassified information, private papers, and interviews with more than 300 American policymakers, Power makes it clear that a lack of political will was the most significant factor for this failure to intervene. Some courageous U.S. leaders did work to combat and call attention to ethnic cleansing as it occurred, but the vast majority of politicians and diplomats ignored the issue, as did the American public, leading Power to note that "no U.S. president has ever suffered politically for his indifference to its occurrence. It is thus no coincidence that genocide rages on."

The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Carro

The Passage of Power follows Lyndon Johnson through both the most frustrating and the most triumphant periods of his career — 1958 to 1964. It is a time that would see him trade the extraordinary power he had created for himself as Senate Majority Leader for what became the wretched powerlessness of a Vice President in an administration that disdained and distrusted him. Yet it was, as well, the time in which the presidency, the goal he had always pursued, would be thrust upon him in the moment it took an assassin’s bullet to reach its mark. For the first time, we see the Kennedy assassination through Lyndon Johnson’s eyes. We watch Johnson step into the presidency, inheriting a staff fiercely loyal to his slain predecessor; a Congress determined to retain its power over the executive branch; and a nation in shock and mourning. We see how within weeks — grasping the reins of the presidency with supreme mastery — he propels through Congress essential legislation that at the time of Kennedy’s death seemed hopelessly logjammed and seizes on a dormant Kennedy program to create the revolutionary War on Poverty. Caro makes clear how the political genius with which Johnson had ruled the Senate now enabled him to make the presidency wholly his own. This was without doubt Johnson’s finest hour, before his aspirations and accomplishments were overshadowed and eroded by the trap of Vietnam

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Goodwin makes the case for Lincoln's political genius by examining his relationships with three men he selected for his cabinet, all of whom were opponents for the Republican nomination in 1860: William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates. These men, all accomplished, nationally known, and presidential, originally disdained Lincoln for his backwoods upbringing and lack of experience, and were shocked and humiliated at losing to this relatively obscure Illinois lawyer. Yet Lincoln not only convinced them to join his administration--Seward as secretary of state, Chase as secretary of the treasury, and Bates as attorney general--he ultimately gained their admiration and respect as well. How he soothed egos, turned rivals into allies, and dealt with many challenges to his leadership, all for the sake of the greater good, is largely what Goodwin's fine book is about. Had he not possessed the wisdom and confidence to select and work with the best people, she argues, he could not have led the nation through one of its darkest periods.

The Signal and the Noise: Why Most Predictions Fail but Some Don't by Nate Silver

People love statistics. Statistics, however, do not always love them back. The Signal and the Noise, Nate Silver's brilliant and elegant tour of the modern science-slash-art of forecasting, shows what happens when Big Data meets human nature. Baseball, weather forecasting, earthquake prediction, economics, and polling: In all of these areas, Silver finds predictions gone bad thanks to biases, vested interests, and overconfidence. But he also shows where sophisticated forecasters have gotten it right (and occasionally been ignored to boot). In today's metrics-saturated world, Silver's book is a timely and readable reminder that statistics are only as good as the people who wield them

The above are a few of the non fiction titles extracted from an article by Troy Bramston in today's Australian: Summer Reading Speaks Volumes

Of the above the one I'd be most likely to buy would be Joe Hockey's choice, The Signal and the Noise

Sunday, December 23, 2012

why have our governments ignored expert advice on reading for a decade?

An Open Letter to all Federal and State Ministers of Education

In a recent article in the Australian (“Bell tolls for classroom reform”, 12/12/12), Geoff Masters, Chief Executive of the Australian Council for Educational Research is reported as being extremely disappointed (as any Australian would be) at seeing Australia ranked 27th in the PIRLS international survey of children’s reading abilities, and quotes him as urging that we should be looking at such questions as “How well are we teaching reading? How well are we preparing teachers to teach reading?”

These are not new questions.

In March 2004, The Australian published an open letter addressed to Dr Brendan Nelson, then Minister for Education, Science and Training, signed by 26 senior people in the fields of psychology, education, speech pathology, audiology, and linguistics, expressing concerns with literacy levels in Australian children and especially concerns with the way in which reading was typically being taught in Australian schools. The letter asked the Minister to commission a review of the approaches to reading instruction adopted in Australian schools.

The Minister did so, instituting towards the end of 2004 a National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy in Australia and particularly asking the Committee conducting this inquiry to report on the current state of teacher education and the extent to which it prepares teachers adequately for reading instruction. This Committee submitted its report in December 2005. This Report and associated summaries of it has since been removed from the Federal Government’s web site, but the material can still be read at the website of the Australian Council for Educational Research: see Teaching Reading: Report and Recommendations

The Report made 20 recommendations. Several of these focussed on improving the preparation of student teachers for being able to teach children how to read, since the Committee had found clear evidence that this was currently inadequate. The Report was favourably received by the Minister, and also by various national bodies concerned with children’s reading difficulties, such as Learning Difficulties Australia. But none of the Report’s 20 recommendations was ever acted upon. (In January 2006 Dr Nelson assumed a new portfolio, so there was a new Minister for Education from that date; she did respond to the Report, but not by acting on any of its recommendations.)

In June 2009 the Hon Bill Shorten, then Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services, set up a Dyslexia Working Party to write a report for him proposing a national agenda for action to assist people with dyslexia (difficulties in reading). This report was submitted to him on January 10 2010. It can be obtained from Helping people with dyslexia: a national action agenda

The report made 19 recommendations for actions to deal with dyslexia in the Australian population. One of these was that in all teacher-training courses teachers should be made fully familiar with the research on how children learn to read, why some children find it so difficult, and how such difficulties can best be treated.

In September 2012 the Dyslexia Working Party received a Federal Government response to its report, over the signatures of the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth and the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers. This response indicated that the Government proposed to take no action on any of the Working Party’s 19 recommendations.

So Federal Governments have known about this problem for nearly a decade, and have received advice from two independent committees of investigation about how to deal with the problem. This advice has been ignored.

And so the results from PIRLS showing that so many Australian children are now very poor readers, though certainly disappointing, are not surprising to anyone who examines what happens in schools, and compares it to what research has clearly shown to be effective in promoting successful reading development. The 2005 National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy (NITL) pointed to, and urged us to follow, the direction towards evidence-based practice taken recently in both Great Britain and the USA following national reports compiled by eminent experts in reading development. However, little productive change has eventuated at the policy level, much less at the classroom level. Indeed if the recommendations of the NITL were adopted, wholesale retraining of teachers would be necessary to provide them with the understanding of literacy not presented to them in their own teacher training.

We have significant problems in education from the beginning stages, in that we do not teach reading well. We do not use approaches known to be effective in initial reading instruction. As a nation, we do not routinely screen students entering school for underdeveloped pre-reading skills critical for facilitating learning to read, nor do we monitor student progress in learning to read in a manner that allows for successful early intervention with students failing to progress. We do not redress our early system failure during the middle primary years. In the secondary years, we have a significant group of disillusioned students who have lost contact with the curriculum because of these earlier issues. We tend to focus attention and resources upon compensatory educational options instead of emphasising the resolution of our earlier mistakes. The sequence of initial failure-shame-frustration-disengagement-dropout is predictable and ongoing. Currently, it is being addressed piecemeal, as if they were separate problems.

We need a vast shake-up at all levels of teacher training. By turning our gaze to educational practices supported by empirical research we can make optimum use of our resources to complete the task with effectiveness and efficiency.

We, as a group of concerned reading scientists, clinicians and educators, urge your immediate attention to what has become a national disgrace.

Dr Caroline Bowen, Macquarie University and University of KwaZulu-Natal
Associate Professor Lesley Bretherton, Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne
Associate Professor Mark Carter, Macquarie University Special Education Centre
Professor Anne Castles, Dept. of Cognitive Science, Macquarie University
Alison Clarke, Speech Pathologist, Melbourne
Emeritus Professor Max Coltheart, AM, Dept. of Cognitive Science, Macquarie University
Associate Professor Elizabeth Conlon, School of Applied Psychology, Griffith University
Professor Linda Cupples, Dept. of Linguistics, Macquarie University
Dr Molly de Lemos, Psychologist, Melbourne
Dr Janet Fletcher, School of Psychology, University of Western Australia
Dr Lorraine Hammond, School of Education, Edith Cowan University
Dr Kerry Hempenstall, Discipline of Psychology, RMIT
Associate Professor Virginia Holmes, Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne
Dr Coral Kemp, Macquarie University Special Education Centre
Dr Saskia Kohnen, Dept. of Cognitive Science, Macquarie University
Dr Suze Leitão, School of Psychology and Speech Pathology, Curtin University
Dr Wayne Levick, Learning Disorders Clinic, John Hunter Children’s Hospital, Newcastle
Dr Alison Madelaine, Macquarie University Special Education Centre
Associate Professor Frances Martin, School of Psychology, University of Newcastle
Dr Rebecca Mathews, The Australian Psychological Society
Dr Meredith McKague, Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne
Yvonne Meyer, Committee Member, National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy
Mandy Nayton, Educational and Developmental Psychologist and President AUSPELD
Dr Roslyn Neilson, Speech Pathologist, Language, Speech & Literacy Services
Associate Professor Kristen Pammer, Research School of Psychology, The Australian National University
Professor Chris Pratt, Australian College of Applied Psychology
Professor Margot Prior, AO, Dept. of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne
Dr Meree Reynolds, Macquarie University Special Education Centre
Dr Tanya Serry, Dept. of Human Communication Sciences, La Trobe University
Dr Karen Smith-Lock, ARC Centre of Excellence for Cognition and its Disorders, Macquarie University
David Stokes, The Australian Psychological Society
Dr Hua-Chen Wang, Dept. of Cognitive Science, Macquarie University
Emeritus Professor Kevin Wheldall, AM, Macquarie University Special Education Centre
Dr Robyn Wheldall, Macquarie University Special Education Centre
Associate Professor Cori Williams, School of Psychology and Speech Pathology, Curtin University
Dr Craig Wright, Psychologist, Understanding Minds and Griffith University
- source

Bess Price: an amazing woman

Who's that talking to Bess?
ON Monday, two US consulate officials flew from Melbourne to Alice Springs to see Warlpiri woman and newly elected Northern Territory MP Bess Nungarrayi Price.

For a while they talked Northern Territory politics, not that unusual a topic given Ms Price has long dealt with US officials and met US President Barack Obama in Darwin last year. The conversation soon took a surprising turn when they said they wanted to nominate her to become the first Australian woman to receive the US International Women's Courage Award.

Ms Price, a firebrand campaigner for change in Aboriginal communities, was floored. Here were two US State Department officials saying to a Warlpiri woman born and raised in a humpy, "We think you are an amazing woman".
- Woman of courage: US lines up Bess Price for award

the tall man (movie)

The 2011 movie about the death of Cameron Doomadgee in police custody on Palm Island was shown on the new NITV channel recently. I haven't read the (award winning) book.

I was persuaded by the movie that Chris Hurley killed Doomadgee and that a cover up was orchestrated and the whole of Queensland Police force voted loudly to support that cover up.

The picture is of Cameron's sister, Elizabeth, who is one of several outspoken and articulate family members featured in the film.

An interesting aspect was that Chris Hurley had worked for many years in a variety of indigenous communities and clearly had done good things in those communities. The only explanation I could think of was that over many years the pressure of working with dysfunction grew on him and eventually he snapped.

The issue of aboriginal community dysfunction, through alcohol abuse, is also covered in the movie. Doomadgee was drunk when he initially swore at Hurley. The indigenous witness, Roy Bramwell, was drunk and his testimony was unreliable.

Cameron’s lawyer Andrew Boe spoke of entering another world unlike any other he had encountered once he arrived on Palm Island and encountered the conditions in which indigenous people lived. In that sense it is a story of double corruption. The other corruption was the failure to deal with the conditions where it became "normal" for aboriginal people to be drunk in the middle of the day.

Good review: Doco raises troubling questions about Palm Island death-in-custody