Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Marcia Langton Boyer lectures


Marcia Langton is presenting the Boyer lectures this year.

She raises the issue of the new indigenous (small) middle class, which was unthinkable in the past. The mining industry has been one catalyst of these changes, gradually abandoning their initially racist attitudes, etc.

She says by 2040, 50% of the population in the north of Australia will be indigenous while the percentage in the south will remain at 2 to 3%. (58% of remote aboriginals are under the age of 25).

Monday, November 26, 2012

Direct Instruction success at Coen

On the weekend, The Australian published a discouraging article titled "Noel Pearson's Cape schools lose funding", which informed us that:
A senior federal government source said Direct Instruction had been championed and imported into the Cape school with the "very clear and strong assumption that results will be automatically improved".

"This has shown to be wrong and raises questions about the deployment of that method in these schools," the source said.
Noel Pearson hasn't wasted any time in replying today with "Spin doctors turn Cape success story into failure"

He points out that Direct Instruction has achieved outstanding results in Coen:
Buried in Saturday's story of alleged Cape York failure was this reference to NAPLAN results: "The only school to show dramatic improvement in the past five years is at Coen, a school of only about 50 students, where 100 per cent of students met the minimum standard in 10 out of the 15 areas."

In our alternative universe this is the Olympic equivalent of winning a qualifying place in a heat. Not time to play the Australian anthem yet, but jeez, all the kids meeting the minimum standard across 10 of 15 categories in Years 3, 5 and 7 is surely something approaching a heroic feat.

No other Queensland indigenous school comes near Coen's results (and frankly, nor do many mainstream schools). Schools in Cherbourg, Palm Island, Kowanyama, Weipa, Bamaga and Yarrabah all failed to achieve 100 per cent in any category. Only Mapoon (in one out of 15 categories) and Bloomfield (in two out of 15 categories) achieved 100 per cent national minimum standards.

Frankly, I do not know any indigenous school in the country whose NAPLAN results are comparable to Coen's. Coen will no doubt ebb and flow, but in the next few years it will reach or be within 90 per cent of national minimum standards across all 15 categories.

I know the issues associated with NAPLAN testing and reporting but the spin doctoring by opponents of the Cape York Academy that has turned such exciting progress into a miserable story of failure is an injustice to the kids and parents and teachers. Depressingly, those shopping the academy's NAPLAN results to media outlets include a former senior bureaucrat in indigenous education.

In our alternative universe, if you were minister for education, genuine about indigenous education solutions, you would be interested in Coen and see past the spin and keep this thought in mind: from little things, big thing grow. Then you would find the time go and see for yourself.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

the betrayal of Papunya by Russell Skelton

The betrayal was the major lapse in oversight that occurred at Papunya - and a host of other communities - like a ghastly genetic flaw. Until the emergency intervention, self management, as Elliot McAdam has so pertinently noted, came down to leaving a bag of money at the front gate with the disclaimer attached: your community, your problem; you fix it
King Brown Country: The Betrayal of Papunya
Sit down money (welfare) plus drugs plus the kinship system together is a recipe for disaster. This has been well documented by other authors: Noel Pearson: Up From the Mission, Peter Sutton: The Politics of Suffering

Russell Skelton's book does present a compelling case for the failure of the so called "self determination" policies initiated by Gough Whitlam.

If any young or old idealist was thinking of going remote to work in indigenous communities to "make a difference" then, after reading this book, they would think again. There is no point going there to make a difference if all the cards are stacked in such a way that you won't make a difference. If it's too hard to make a difference then most will decide not to take the first step. That is why a clear analysis of the problems developed into a comprehensive plan is important.

That is why Noel Pearson is so important. He has thought through all the issues comprehensively and has gone a long way to putting in place a range of policies which do have a fighting chance of making a difference.

Some reviewers regard this book as unbalanced. See this review by Dr Lawrence Bamblett. Yet no one is seriously challenging the amazing information within it. It's a matter of interpretation. Should we try to remain positive or optimistic rather than face some awful facts? Or the real question is: How do we remain positive and optimistic once we become aware of these awful facts? This is why you should read this book.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

how many of your teachers made you think?

Critical thinking critical to teaching by Damon Young

This article examines teaching from a philosophical perspective. Read the whole thing.

A teacher: "I don't want to think"
Gilbert Ryle, in The Concept of Mind, distinguished between 'knowing that' and 'knowing how'. The first is factual or abstract knowledge. The second is a skilled disposition. For example, one can know that Hume was an empiricist and sceptic, simply by reading a sentence in a first-year textbook. This is very different to knowing how to think empirically and sceptically.

And to develop this disposition, it is not enough to memorise rules about fallacies and syllogisms. "We learn how by practice, schooled indeed by criticism and example," writes Ryle, "but often quite unaided by any lessons in the theory." One must actually read, think, formulate arguments, listen, reply, and so on. It is an achievement developed within a very specific community, and requires as much collaboration as conflict.

A secondary teacher who does not "want to think" will not provide these conditions. Students might know that Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49BC, that mitochondrial DNA is maternal, and that Socrates spoke negatively of the life without examination. But they will not know how to think about these; how to do historiography, biology or philosophy.

And because the teacher is not an exemplar - perhaps the most powerful way to communicate intellectual virtues - the students might never recognise that they missed out. They might graduate without having witnessed critical thinking in teachers or one another. And then the onus is on TAFE, university or the workplace to provide the conditions - sadly, not always a certainty.
At one stage in my life I thought that by promoting philosophical thinking amongst teachers then the quality might improve. Eventually I realised that if government allows input into the profession from those with rather low TER scores, some of whom chose teaching because other "more attractive" career doors in business, engineering law and medicine have closed, then the prospect of philosophy turning things around became incredibly low.

In turn this becomes part of a good argument for scripted lessons, since most teachers as well as not having the time also don't have the inclination or ability to research a subject domain thoroughly and then develop their own high quality curriculum.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

alison anderson: "the combination of noble intentions and utter ignorance"

More from Northern Territory Indigenous Advancement Minister Alison Anderson

"I look at the men of Yirrkala and ask why they will not drive the 20km to Nhulunbuy to earn excellent money in the mine and the processing plant there."

"It is the kind of question the rest of Australia has been asking for years, as it tries to connect the dots, tries to understand why a long-running mining boom can exist literally next door to a culture of entitlement and welfare dependency."

She criticised those who expected the government to "do everything for them", saying the world was looking on and "wondering if we are children". Ms Anderson said that in her travels to remote communities she would be arguing "with adults who refuse to grow up".

"In the rest of Australia, people pick up the rubbish in their yards. They fix their own blocked toilets," Ms Anderson said.

"When they turn on their TVs and see remote communities covered in litter, and able-bodied men complaining about lack of maintenance of the houses they live in, they wonder why. They wonder why indigenous people in these communities won't do these things themselves."
In Australia, 3 per cent of the population are indigenous. In the NT that rises to 30 per cent. It does not just rise; it explodes and creates a whole new society, one this nation is still coming to terms with. The state with the next highest proportion of indigenous people is Tasmania, with just 4.7 per cent.

We are different. What does it mean to be indigenous here? Many things, of course, but some of the raw averages are interesting. It means we are young. For every non-indigenous child in the Territory there are 4.5 non-indigenous adults aged 20 to 59. To put that another way, more than four adults to look after each child.

However, for an indigenous child there are only 1.5 indigenous adults. In other words, there are far fewer adults to care for our children, to protect and inspire them, to feed and look out for them. Where are the missing adults? There is no way to put this gently: they are dead.

This is like the reverse of the old story of the Pied Piper, where the children were taken away. Here it is the adults who have gone, in places such as Lajamanu where 29 per cent of people are younger than nine years old. Something has spirited away many of the parents, the uncles and the aunties.
We are also remote. In all Australia 24 per cent of indigenous people live in remote or very remote areas. In the Territory that proportion is 81 per cent.

When I speak of remoteness, I mean not just remote from Darwin or Alice Springs but remote from each other. There are 527 homelands and outstations funded by my department. In many ways, this is a wonderful thing, and this government is committed to homelands and outstations. However, the extent of our remoteness is unusual, not just at the national level but internationally.

In service delivery, remoteness makes everything harder. Take transport, with road cuts during the wet season and expensive public transport. A return trip from Katherine to Lajamanu costs $320 and runs just twice a week. There will never be enough money to change this, not here or anywhere else in the world.

That is something we ignore, but we ignore it at our peril. Again and again. I see programs that do not factor in the true cost of remoteness, the travelling time needed to reach communities and the cost of planes to access them during the wet.
Ms Anderson also attacked the commonwealth's reliance on "bright and shiny and run like clockwork" NGOs that "fill in all the paperwork perfectly".

"They're good at lobbying and writing submissions. I don't mock that but I do suggest they're not so good at providing services, because they don't understand the communities ," she said. "Like so many non-indigenous advisers over the years . . . they're cursed by the combination of noble intentions and utter ignorance."
My people must grow up: Alison Anderson
My dream: a real future of our own making

alcohol and aboriginal communities revisited

It's confusing when elected indigenous parliamentarians in the Northern Territory call for a relaxation of alcohol controls while at the same time claiming they understand the issues because many of their close family have died through alcohol abuse. In this case I think Russell Skelton and Noel Pearson have thought it through more clearly. The top down alcohol restrictions should stay in place.

Indigenous MPs call for choice on grog by Amos Aikman
Traditional Tiwi man and the conservative Country Liberal Party member for Arafura, Francis Xavier Maralampuwi, said he was "saddened and embarrassed" by seeing Tiwi people drunk on the streets of Darwin.

"Tiwi people are telling me they should be able to drink full-strength beer in their own community, controlled by their own people," Mr Maralampuwi said.

"Tiwi people are sick and tired of being told what to do by Labor, and Tiwi people are telling me that Labor is treating them like second-rate citizens.

"If you talk about closing the gap, does that mean that whites can drink heavy and blacks cannot?" ...

High-profile aboriginal woman and the CLP's new member for Stuart, Bess Price, said Aboriginal people understood first-hand the problems alcohol could bring, and that existing measures had not worked.

"We are here today and we still have not done anything about the drinkers out there - and these drinkers are our families," Ms Price said.

"We bury people. My four brothers died in a town camp because they drank every day, day in, day out."

She said Aboriginal people had been "bashing our heads against the wall", talking to government experts who thought they knew better.

"They have been there for one day, and they think they know us and they can walk away with just one answer from a person might be visiting that community that day. That is what makes people think they have the answer," Ms Price said.

"No, you do not, because any Aboriginal person you pull up, wherever, will give you whatever answer you want to hear, so you can away, feeling you have been consulted." ...

Ms Anderson predicted that, given the choice, "about 99.9 per cent" of communities would say no to more grog.

"But on this side of the House, we are giving that choice to people," Ms Anderson said.
Junking of NT booze policies spells disaster by Russell Skelton
TRIUMPHALISM is the enemy of good government, especially a newly elected one driven by an irrational compulsion to replace all the policy furniture - even when it is new.

Take the Country Liberals government of Terry Mills. Within weeks of him assuming power in the Northern Territory, hubris appears to have got the better of the Chief Minister and his team, most of whom have never seen the inside of a cabinet room. Considered change is to be welcomed when it leads to significant improvements in public policy. When driven by impetuosity the results can be chaotic, ill-considered and potentially disastrous. Such is the decision to junk the banned drinkers register targeting 2300 problem drunks.

A related decision, framed in disingenuous human rights speak, to hold a plebiscite in Aboriginal communities to reconsider grog bans already voted for also makes little sense. Not surprisingly, both policies have come under intense criticism and in the case of lifting grog bans outright rejection.

The Mills government has been a shambles with ministers sending mixed policy signals over bilingual education, pursuing individual agendas and vendettas. Most revealing is the failure to come up with a coherent and credible policy on the most pressing public health issue: excessive drinking.
Blown by fickle winds of Aboriginal policy by Noel Pearson
How can we close the gap on indigenous disadvantage if successive governments just chop and change policies arbitrarily, without proper reference to evidence and history? Given that closing the gap is a generational challenge, we must maintain a commitment to the right social and development policies for a number of decades. The right policies must survive changes of government and, by this definition, must transcend the ideological whims of political parties...

Getting policies right is like hammering an anvil. Reform policy is the convergence of the right analysis, the right strategy and the right implementation. It is a constant work in progress, where the insights and gains are hard won.

During the recent months of debate over alcohol policies I have heard politicians talking how alcohol management plans have driven people out of communities into urban areas. But then I recall the controversy 20 years ago when the mayor of Cairns organised a bus to take itinerants back to their home communities in Cape York, 10 years before alcohol restrictions. Yes, there is an itinerants' problem but reopening the problems back in the communities is not the solution. I hear politicians talking about how alcohol restrictions have resulted in a breakout in the use of cannabis. But the cannabis epidemics in remote communities were well established for more than two decades, long preceding alcohol restrictions.

But this is what happens if you let folklore and anti-intellectual rejection of proper policy analysis drive policy
related: alcohol in aboriginal communities

Friday, November 02, 2012

Zig Engelmann recommends

I wrote to Zig Engelmann earlier this year after my observations of Direct Instruction at Djarragun College.

The Direct Instruction teacher manuals are fairly expensive (details here if you click through) and I was hoping that Zig would put some free samples on line so that the true extent of the scripting in DI would be readily available to anyone interested in checking it out. I had learnt at Djarragun that the teacher's instructions manuals (the script) played an absolutely central role in the whole process.

Here is an extract from Zig's reply. Although he didn't agree to my idea of publishing a sample on line he did point me towards 2 articles and a video that explain the principles of Direct Instruction in some detail. These are good links for those who want to understand the theory and practice of DI:
It’s true that teachers and administrators don’t understand the details of the program and the basis for much of what we do in designing programs. Zigsite has several works that go into detail, provide examples of the wrong way and right way, and explain the process that we follow in developing programs. The most detailed work is Rubric for Identifying Authentic Direct Instruction Programs. A shorter paper focuses on the key notion of presenting examples that lead to one and only one generalization: “The Curriculum Is the Cause of Failure.”

I wouldn’t recommend the book Theory of Instruction by Carnine and me, because the reader probably would have serious problems following it. However, one of the addresses on Zigsite.com hits the high points of theory as it relates to constructing sets of examples that lead to one and only one possible interpretation. The video is: Theory of Direct Instruction.