Sunday, March 31, 2013

indigenous welfare reform will continue in Queensland

As reported a couple of days ago Queensland's Campbell Newman government, through the Indigenous Affairs Minister Glen Elmes, was planning to withdraw its share of the funding from the indigenous Family Responsibility Commission (FRC).

The role of the FRC is to help achieve these goals for indigenous people:
  • Send your kids to school 
  • Protect your children from abuse and neglect 
  • Obey the law 
  • Look after your house
After widespread protests from people such as Jenny Macklin, Noel Pearson and Tony Abbott this decision has now been reversed and so the funding will now go ahead.

Noel Pearson has pointed out that the two core indigenous nose on the face issues facing the two new governments in the Top End (Country Liberal in the Northern Territory and Liberal National Party in Queensland) are alcohol abuse and welfare dependency. (Noel Pearson's Cape York trial 'changing lives')

The Liberal brand in those Top End state governments is wavering on these issues whilst Federal Labour (through Jenny Macklin), at this point in time, is being far more consistent.

These moves indicate how fragile indigenous reform remains. Noel Pearson has said that we are half way up climbing a difficult mountain and suddenly against compelling evidence a "cowboy" Glen Elmes arrives on the scene and attempts to pull the plug.


Is the money being well spent and what are the alternatives? There was an implied suggestion from Queensland Indigenous Affairs Minister Glen Elmes that the goals of the FRC such as improved school attendance could be achieved at less monetary cost.

Glen Elmes:
" ... in places like Cherbourg and Mornington Island, they are getting kids to school in other ways that don't cost as much"
- Noel Pearson's Cape York trial 'changing lives'
(the alternative policies of Chris Sarra probably lie behind this assertion)


I'd like to see the yet to be publicly released independent evaluation report of the Cape York Welfare Reform trial that has been referred to by both sides of this latest argument about funding. Watch this space: Cape York Welfare Reform

Here are some pointers about the contents of the current report from a report in The Australian:
An independent evaluation report into the trial, obtained by The Australian, says individuals and families are beginning to gain respite from daily living problems and people feel that life is "on the way up". It finds that, since the trial began in July 2008, the Cape York communities of Aurukun, Coen, Hopevale and Mossman Gorge in far north Queensland have experienced improved school attendance, care and protection of children, and community safety.

It says people in the four communities are taking on greater personal responsibility and raising expectations, "particularly in areas such as sending kids to school, caring for children and families and their needs, and accessing supported self-help measures to deal with problems". After only three years of the trial, the report says there has been a "level of progress that has rarely been evident in previous reform programs in Queensland's remote indigenous communities".
- Noel Pearson's Cape York trial 'changing lives'
For further perspectives from Noel Pearson see this recent ABC interview: Noel Pearson confused by Minister's 'pre-emptive strike' (7 minutes)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

bad news from Cape York

There was a report in today's Australian (Campbell Newman axes Noel Pearson's funding) that the Campbell Newman government in Queensland is planning to withdraw their share of the funding (it is jointly funded by Federal and State governments) from Noel Pearson's Cape York Direct Instruction education programme and Family Responsibilities Commission which supports that programme. The four communities involved are Aurukun, Hopevale, Mossman Gorge and Coen.

There is a pattern involved here which I have seen before. An innovative and successful programme is created by someone with passion and intelligence. Then a bureaucrat or bureaucracy who doesn't understand the issues shuts it down.

Lets hope that this can be turned around.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Russell Skelton on the Northern Territory leadership coup

Russell Skelton tweets about Adam Giles replacing Terry Mills as the new Chief Minister of the Northern Territory (CL stands for Country Liberal Party):
Don't write off Adam Giles as CLs leader, he is a cut above Mills (12th March)

Adam Giles most capable CL leader since Jodeèn Carney, not to be under estimated (13th March)

Adam Giles makes history, will also make a difference in NT. Smarter than Mills (13th March)
I have a very high opinion of Russell Skelton since reading his amazing book The Betrayal of Papunya

education reality check from Dean Ashenden

Dean outlines some of the things we have to think about before we think about actually improving the learning of Australians
  1. The outrageous behaviours of the 3 sectors: Private, Catholic, government
  2. More competition is not a magic bullet
  3. Throwing money at the problem won't work
  4. Productivity talk misses the main point: education is an important human right
  5. The technological revolution needs to be incorporated (somehow)
  6. Improve quality for all, not just teachers
  7. Gonski is already eviscerated
  8. Reality check: ED is a mess
Rules of engagement to survive schools debate
Dean Ashenden, The Australian March 16, 2013

IF Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard have done nothing else, they have certainly got us talking about schools. Everyone wants to have their say about what's wrong with schools and how to fix them, not just the politicians but grandees of print journalism, stars of national radio and television, leader writers, economic commentators and whole fleets of bloggers, enough in total to drown out the familiar drone of the interest groups and old education hands like me.

Those of us who have been writing about or agitating in schooling forever have our own well-worn ways of getting it wrong, not by what is said so much as by what isn't. Unfortunately these selective habits are often recycled and amplified by the arrivistes.

There are still six long months to go before we can all stop talking about schools, so here are some dos and don't's for the meantime.

First, do not talk about the outrageous conduct of the independent schools (the rich ones especially) or the Catholics (the bishops especially) or of the government sector (unions especially) without saying why they are behaving outrageously. They are doing only as they are encouraged, required or allowed to by the world's worst-practice Australian system of sectors: three funding sources mixed in three ways for three groups of schools governed in three ways.

The sector system is guaranteed to produce adversarial conduct on all sides and hence chronic special pleading, misleading "facts" and a culture of complaint.

Second, do not suggest that more competition between schools or sectors will improve the situation unless you are prepared to talk also about how to make it a competition that everyone, or just about everyone, reckons they can win (as in the AFL, for instance). That would mean, among other things, setting ceilings to spending by schools as well as floors of the Gonski kind, and common rules on things such as cherry-picking students and booting them out.

Third, do not talk about the (manifest) need for more or more fairly distributed public money unless you also are prepared to talk about how to make better use of them.

In particular, have a good answer to the question of what it is that the public got by increasing per pupil expenditure on schools by 2 1/2 times (in real terms) in the 50 years to 2004 (without any improvement in the salaries and status of teachers).

Fourth, do not justify more spending on schooling on the grounds of its productivity.

It's a half-truth anyway (schooling is more about scrambling for a share of a growing cake than about growing the cake) but, even if it weren't, the argument for more and better schooling isn't that it's good for the economy. The central point is that it's better to understand how the world and its numbers and words work than not, and that if you don't, you're legless.

Fifth, don't talk about the virtues of tried and true methods in the classroom unless you can also suggest how they will accommodate the coming technological revolution in teaching and learning. Machines are capable of substituting for the labour of teaching, and will soon be more so. Think of schooling, think of the waterfront, or dead country towns, or Fairfax, and then tell us how teachers should teach.

Sixth, for these and other reasons, please do not talk about teacher quality unless you talk also about the quality of the workplace and the work process of the teacher's 25 or so co-workers. The classroom and the lesson are inherently hard to manage ways of organising time, people and work.

So, if you must talk about teacher quality, please attend also to the quality of students' and teachers' working lives and the need for work process and workplace reform. (And be ready to say where you will find the money to give teachers a very substantial pay rise.)

Seventh: if you must talk about Gonski (and we must) please note the following. Gonski is already eviscerated: by his riding instructions (no school will be worse off), by the Prime Minister's upgrade (every independent school will be better off), by the states' refusal to wear Gonski's proposed national schools funding body, by the Catholics' insistence that money for need should be spread across half of all schools, not Gonski's quarter, and by the government's idea of phasing it all in by 2019.

An eighth and last suggestion: whenever you write about Gonski, or equity, or productivity, or funding, or competition, or anything else to do with Australian schooling, please take a sentence or two to explain that we're in no shape to do anything much about any of these things.

For the first time, Australian schooling faces the common external challenge of international performance comparisons but it has no capacity for a common response.

The system is divided into three sectors in each of eight states and territories, subject to the close involvement of nine governments and their electoral timetables and annual budgetary games.

As Gonski's fate sadly demonstrates, the system is incompetent. It's the system that's letting the side down, not the schools. So, when you write about fixing schools, please remember to mention the idea of fixing the machinery that is supposed to fix the schools.

Dean Ashenden has been a consultant to many state and national education agencies.

Quotes About Open Mindedness

Quotes About Open Mindedness

Here are the quotes from the above site that I liked the most.

“Vulnerability is the only authentic state. Being vulnerable means being open, for wounding, but also for pleasure. Being open to the wounds of life means also being open to the bounty and beauty. Don’t mask or deny your vulnerability: it is your greatest asset. Be vulnerable: quake and shake in your boots with it. The new goodness that is coming to you, in the form of people, situations, and things can only come to you when you are vulnerable, i.e. open.”
― Stephen Russell, Barefoot Doctor's Guide to the Tao: A Spiritual Handbook for the Urban Warrior

“It's a fact—everyone is ignorant in some way or another.

Ignorance is our deepest secret.

And it is one of the scariest things out there, because those of us who are most ignorant are also the ones who often don't know it or don't want to admit it.

Here is a quick test:

If you have never changed your mind about some fundamental tenet of your belief, if you have never questioned the basics, and if you have no wish to do so, then you are likely ignorant.

Before it is too late, go out there and find someone who, in your opinion, believes, assumes, or considers certain things very strongly and very differently from you, and just have a basic honest conversation.

It will do both of you good.”
― Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

“It does take great maturity to understand that the opinion we are arguing for is merely the hypothesis we favor, necessarily imperfect, probably transitory, which only very limited minds can declare to be a certainty or a truth.”
― Milan Kundera, Encounter

“Few people ask from books what books can give us. Most commonly we come to books with blurred and divided minds, asking of fiction that it shall be true, of poetry that it shall be false, of biography that it shall be flattering, of history that it shall enforce our own prejudices. If we could banish all such preconceptions when we read, that would be an admirable beginning.”
― Virginia Woolf, The Second Common Reader

“Nine times out of ten a man’s broad-mindedness is necessarily the narrowest thing about him. This is not particularly paradoxical; it is, when we come to think of it, quite inevitable. His vision of his own village may really be full of varieties; and even his vision of his own nation may have a rough resemblance to the reality. But his vision of the world is probably smaller than the world…hence he is never so inadequate as when he is universal; he is never so limited as when he generalizes. This is the fallacy in the many modern attempts at a creedless creed, at something variously described as...undenominational religion or a world faith to embrace all the faiths in the world...When a philosophy embraces everything it generally squeezes everything, and squeezes it out of shape; when it digests it necessarily assimilates.”
― G.K. Chesterton, What I Saw in America

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

the holism of facts, conventions and values

Two Dogmas of Empiricism by Willard Van Orman Quine (1951)

Read Quine's Two Dogmas of Empiricism for the most eloquent rebuttal of reductionism. By reductionism I mean the attempt to break down complex issues progressively into simpler statements. I'm not suggesting that all reductionism is bad but that it can be and has been overdone.

Before I read Quine's article I had regarded the term holism as little more than a buzz word used by woolly thinkers. Richard Dawkins is alleged to have once said in his militant atheistic style, “By all means let's be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.” (included in some very good quotes about open mindedness). Of course, such a general statement is correct. In fact, it is irrefutable unless the context is provided.

But Quine explains, in part, why we need to think holistically even though that is more difficult than a monistic or One True Way type of outlook.
The dogma of reductionism survives in the supposition that each statement, taken in isolation from its fellows, can admit of confirmation or infirmation at all. My countersuggestion ... is that our statements about the external world face the tribunal of sense experience not individually but only as a corporate body.
So, our knowledge and beliefs stand as a corporate body and attempts to break them down or to not allow the different specialised compartments to communicate with each other can be dangerous. This is what worries me about my own practice. I drift from one favoured way of working or doing to another, from immature marxism, to constructionism, to a more mature marxism, to Direct Instruction and there is little coherence left in the overall meaning of it all. I think trying out new approaches is good but it also needs to be evaluated. As Socrates suggested, "An unexamined life is not worth living".

Here is part of what Quine says about the connection between theory and practice:
The totality of our so-called knowledge or beliefs, from the most casual matters of geography and history to the profoundest laws of atomic physics or even of pure mathematics and logic, is a man-made fabric which impinges on experience only along the edges. Or, to change the figure, total science is like a field of force whose boundary conditions are experience. A conflict with experience at the periphery occasions readjustments in the interior of the field. Truth values have to be redistributed over some of our statements. Re-evaluation of some statements entails re-evaluation of others, because of their logical interconnections -- the logical laws being in turn simply certain further statements of the system, certain further elements of the field. Having re-evaluated one statement we must re-evaluate some others, whether they be statements logically connected with the first or whether they be the statements of logical connections themselves. But the total field is so undetermined by its boundary conditions, experience, that there is much latitude of choice as to what statements to re-evaluate in the light of any single contrary experience. No particular experiences are linked with any particular statements in the interior of the field, except indirectly through considerations of equilibrium affecting the field as a whole.
This is a different emphasis to the way I have thought about theory and practice previously.

Previously, I have favoured a marxist approach of a theory to practice spiral which ascends to the concrete (needs more explanation). Quine's approach is more along the lines that our knowledge is a dynamic jigsaw with fuzzy edges that interacts with senses experience. I think the difference is that Quine's approach is more open to the legitimacy of different viewpoints that fit the same body of information.

Another philosophy I have been studying recently, due to my interest in Direct Instruction, is logical positivism and / or logical empiricism.

These two different approaches (marxism and logical empiricism) tend to loudly proclaim their "correctness", as the One True Way. My feeling is that these approaches are sometimes correct about specifics but it is dangerous to see them as correct about everything. In practice, One True Way thinking has led to disaster.

Quine's approach is potentially more pluralistic. Quine may not have taken that step himself (according to Putnam, this requires more study) but his analysis opens that door.

Along the same lines, Quine concludes his paper with:
Each man is given a scientific heritage plus a continuing barrage of sensory stimulation; and the considerations which guide him in warping his scientific heritage to fit his continuing sensory promptings are, where rational, pragmatic.
In another essay, (Carnap and Logical Truth), Quine presents a doctrine that fact and convention interpenetrate without there ever being any sentences that are true by virtue of fact alone or true by virtue of convention alone:
The lore of our fathers is a fabric of sentences. In our hands it develops and changes, through more or less arbitrary and deliberate revisions and additions of our own, more or less directly occasioned by the continuing stimulation of our sense organs. It is a pale gray lore, black with fact and white with convention. But I have found no substantial reasons for concluding that there are any quite black threads in it, or any white ones. - source
This last quote is included in Hilary Putnam's The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy (2002), p. 138. Once again the details of the argument that fact and convention cannot be separated need to be investigated by me. Quine's rhetoric is brilliant but is he correct? My study of these issues is far from finished.

Putnam takes the whole discussion further in the above collection of essays. In essay 8, The Philosophers of Science's Evasion of Values he argues that science includes value judgments, not only "moral" or "ethical" judgments but also judgments of "coherence", "plausibility", "reasonableness", simplicity" and "elegance" (epistemic values).

Where this leads us requires far more discussion of Putnam's work. So, I'll just conclude with this quote from Vivian Walsh referenced by Putnam as an extension of Quine's doctrine:
To borrow and adapt Quine's vivid image, if a theory may be black with fact and white with convention, it might well (as far as logical empiricism could tell) be red with values. Since for them confirmation or falsification had to be a property of a theory as a whole , they had no way of unravelling this whole cloth.

Monday, March 04, 2013

sympathy, power, art and science fused

What is required is a blending, a fusing of the sympathetic tendencies with all the other impulses and habitual traits of the self. When interest in power is permeated with an affectionate impulse, it is protected from being a tendency to dominate and tyrannize; it becomes an interest in effectiveness of regard for common ends. When an interest in artistic or scientific objects is similarly fused, it loses the indifferent and coldly impersonal character which marks the specialist as such, and becomes an interest in the adequate aesthetic and intellectual development of the conditions of a common life. Sympathy does not merely associate one of these tendencies with another; still less does it make one a means to the other’s ends. It so intimately permeates them as to transform both into a new and moral interest.
- John Dewey. Ethics. 1908
In quoting Dewey, Hilary Putnam argues (in Ethics without Ontology), pp 8-9, that it is impossible to understand him without understanding the profound links he makes between aesthetics, ethics (moral philosophy) and epistemology (the nature of knowledge)

How does this fusion (of sympathy, power, art and science) work in practice? As distinct from the compartmentalisation that uses science to tackle one problem, power to tackle another problem, sympathy to address a third problem and aesthetics to solve yet another problem. Dewey and Putnam provide some overarching guidelines here which distinguish good leadership and practice from just following a formulae or algorithm. It is the fusion that makes the difference.