Saturday, May 18, 2013

black deaths ... Bess Price speaks out

Bess Price, the Member for Stuart in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly and a full blood Warlpiri woman:

I now take this opportunity to talk about an issue that has always been close to my heart. Within the last four months, two more young mothers related to me were killed in Alice Springs Town Camp. One was injured mortally in the public, in front of several families. Nobody acted to protect her. Dozens of my female relatives have been killed this way. Convictions usually lead to light sentences. I was told by a senior lawyer that no jury in Alice Springs will convict an Aboriginal person for murder if the victim is also Aboriginal and he or she is only stabbed once.

We all have done nothing effective to stop this from happening. It has been going on for decades. This week we heard outrage from the Stolen Generation Association because this government wants to put the safety and wellbeing of our children first before their (inaudible) culture. I am not talking about the children of the Stolen Generation. It is our children.

Why hasn’t there been the same outrage over the continuing killing of our women and abuse and neglect of our kids? If these women victims were white, we would hear very loud outrage from feminists. If their killers had been white, we would hear outrage from the Indigenous activists. Why is there such a deafening silence when both victim and perpetrator are black? I believe that we can blame the politics of the progressive left and its comfortably middle class urban Indigenous supporters.

Because I have spoken out on this issue and others close to my heart, I have been routinely attacked by the left. Professor Larissa Behrendt claimed that what I say is more offensive than watching a man having sex with a horse. Her white professional protester colleague, Paddy Gibson, told the world that I was only doing it for the money and frequent flyer points. The Queensland educationist, Chris Sarra, said that I was ‘pet Aborigine’ who only said what the government wanted me to say. Chris Graham, the white editor of Tracker magazine called me a ‘grub’.

A white woman in Victoria, Leonie Chester, calls herself Nampijinpa Snowy River, on the internet. She tells the world that my people, the Warlpiri, are ‘her mob’. She and her friends have obscenely insulted me on the internet, over and over. Marlene Hodder, a white woman from Alice Springs and her protesting friend, Barbara Shaw, have called me a liar several times.

The Crikey blogger, Bob Gosford, who calls himself ‘the Northern Myth’, calls me Bess ‘Gaol is Good for Aboriginal People’ Price and accuses me of ‘vaguely malevolent and populist buffoonery that is designed to capture the attention of the tutt-tutterers and spouted by politicians that inevitably have a short tenure in power’.

In Brisbane, Tiga Bayles, using an Indigenous community owned radio station, told the whole world that I am ‘a head nodding Jacky-Jacky for the government’ and that I am ‘totally offensive and arrogant’ because I do not want people like Tiga who know nothing about us, speaking about my people. He and his friends laughed as they told the world that I am only interested in money.

When my daughter went to Sydney for the Deadly Awards, an Aboriginal interviewer for the Koori Radio Station in Redfern advised her not to tell anybody who her mother was. This is how these people show respect for family. In the last month, I have watched three of my sisters and a grand-daughter being buried.

These racists and sexist hypocrites sneer at our grief and care nothing for our suffering, but they are the darlings of the left. I wonder what would happen if Andrew Bolt had used insults like these against any Indigenous Australian. The hypocrisy of these people is incredible.

But I am in good company. When Mantatjara Wilson, a wonderful strong compassionate women I called mother, told the world about the crimes against her children on national TV, back in 2007, with tears streaming down her face, the left-wing activist moved to undermind her. They went into the communities not to protect the kids but to find women who would oppose Mantatjara.

They talked about outrage and shame, not because of the crimes you all know about but because somebody else was brave enough to tell the world about them and ask for help. That was what they called shameful.

They worry about the shame felt by perpetrators once they were exposed, not because of the agony of the victims and families. It is easy to find women who will support their men even though they are killers and rapists. Families are always stand up for their own and those who call themselves progressive will always find those willing to stand beside them and betray their own women and kids.

A few others have stood up and faced the vicious criticism of the left. I acknowledge the wonderful work of Dr Hannah McGlade in Perth and Professor Marcia Langton in Melbourne. Warren Mundine and Noel Pearson have also spoken out. A conference of Aboriginal men in Alice Springs publicly apologised to Aboriginal women and kids for the violence and abuse men have inflicted on them. None of those people have received support from the left or from Labor governments.

The left has tried really hard to call us liars and to put us down for speaking the truth and for wanting to stop the killing and the sexual violence. But they have put no effort, none at all, into protecting our kids and women. The exception to this has been a determination of Minister Jenny Macklin, who I acknowledge for her courage in the face of strong criticism from her own party and the Greens.

I recently went to Sydney for the launch of a book called Liberating Aboriginal People from Violence by wonderful caring friend of mine Dr Stephanie Jarrett. My words are on the cover of her book. We need to support those who tell the truth.

Dr Jarrett does that and she cares, maybe too much for her own good.

I have seen the tears in her eyes and heard the passion in her voice when she talks about her murdered and bashed ones. I trust her completely, but, of course, those who are not interested in the truth are out to bring her down.

She has been attacked in the Monthly magazine by its editor John Van Tiggelen in an article called Thinking Backwards. Dr Jarrett is saying there are elements to our traditional culture that we must change if we are to stop the violence that is destroying us, and she is right.

Things are much worse now than the old days because of the grog, the drugs and the awful welfare dependency that is sucking the life out of us. There are elements of our culture that are really good and should be kept, but we should be prepared to do what everybody else in the world has done and change our ways to solve the new problems we have now and that our old law has no tools to solve.

Some people call this integration, others call it simulation because they want us to continue to live in poverty, violence and ignorance so we can play out their fantasies on what the word culture means. I call it problem solving and saving lives. The left has its own agenda and liberating our people from violence is not part of that agenda.

Van Tiggelen talks about the book Black Death – White Hands written by Paul Wilson in 1982. In that book Wilson argued that when a man called Owen Peters killed his girlfriend in Queensland it was actually because of white colonialism and racism.

It was not the killer’s fault it was the whitefellas’ fault. This argument worked. Peters was only given a short sentence. Dr Jarrett started to worry about Aboriginal women’s rights when she saw David Bradbury’s film State of Shock. This was made in 1988 and was based on the same case.

Bradbury brought the film to Alice Springs and brought Owen Peters with him. In the film, Bradbury gave only the story of Peters and his family. Nobody from the victim’s family was given a chance to give their point of view. They would not have backed Bradbury’s arguments so they were ignored.

I remember Alwyn Peters telling us, ‘She has ruined my life; he was talking about the one he killed’. He went on to say, ‘She comes to me in dreams’. This made me feel sick.

When my husband asked David Bradbury, ‘Why did you not talk to the victim’s family, you would have got a different point of view?’. He said, ‘Alwyn Peters’ family are victims too’. In other words, all our sympathy was meant to be for the one who killed and his family, and not for the one he killed or her family.

In 1991, Audrey Bolger of the ANU’s North Australian Research Unit, wrote a wonderful little book called Aboriginal Women and Violence. At last, somebody was taking notice. At last, a white woman was trying to get governments to act. She was ignored and, as far as I know, nobody tried again after that.

Her voice was drowned out by the politically correct who took their lead from Wilson and Bradbury: just keep blaming the whitefellas and everything will be fine. When governments says sorry, everything will be fixed. Audrey Bolger said in a book way back then, that in the final analysis the problem of violence against Aboriginal women will only be solved by Aboriginal people themselves.

The report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody said the same thing. In a way, she was right: my people need to act now to stop our own violence. But, in another way, this has given governments and the wider community an excuse for the big cop-out.

Okay. We whitefellas caused the problem but only blackfellas will solve them, so we sit around waiting for that to happen.

She also said: The problem is a complicated one, bound up as it is with other issues connected with changing lifestyles. Working through these issues towards satisfactory solutions is crucial to the future wellbeing of all Aboriginal people.

She was right, but in the 22 years since she wrote that, there have been no satisfactory solutions found and things are much worse now. It has not happened and I am sick of sitting around waiting for my loved ones who are being killed. We have had committees and research projects, and advisory councils, and ATSIC, and now we have A National Congress of Australia’s First People. Billions of dollars have been spent. We have had visits from the United Nations special rapporteurs, and Amnesty International Indigenous officers.

Not only have solutions not been found, but the most important issues are not even raised and talked about. I want to work through these issues and find solutions. For the left and for many Aboriginal politicians on the national stage, it seemed the only issues worth talking about were the Stolen Generations and Aboriginal deaths in custody.

These are real issues that have to be addressed, but they were not the only issues. In the meantime, women still died, children did not go to school, epidemics of renal failure, diabetes, cancer, heart disease grew worse, suicides increased, young men went to gaol, and we kept killing each other and ourselves.

Australians were not told that the death rate amongst our young men was higher outside custody than in, and that more Aboriginal women died at the hands of their menfolk than Aboriginal men died in custody. Since then, so many more women have died and have been sexually abused, assaulted …
- from Alice Springs News Online

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Inspirational article about the *real* Education Revolution in Cape York by Nicolas Rothwell

Controversial teaching method brings hope and social change to Cape York
Nicolas Rothwell From: The Australian May 11, 2013

"GET ready!" A hand-clap. The children lean forward in their seats, expectant, alert.

"What colour?" their teacher calls out. "What number?" The replies come back in unison. The mood is focused; the pace swift. New words, facts, concepts are brought in one by one, and reappear all through the lesson and reinforce each other. This is concentrated learning, with a swing and urgency about it.

In a small classroom in Aurukun on the west coast of Cape York, step by step, the everyday wonder of Direct Instruction is unfolding. Here, in the far reaches of far north Queensland, in a remote Aboriginal community, something remarkable is taking place: young boys and girls are at their desks, studying, writing, absorbing every piece of knowledge offered them. It is the dream that has seemed beyond realisation in recent years: a remote-area indigenous school where the students are bound for success. Is the dream at last being fulfilled?

Aurukun is the showpiece campus of the Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy, key project of the region's great reformer, Noel Pearson: a school run almost entirely on the basis of the Direct Instruction system; a school already much inspected and evaluated, eagerly praised and pre-emptively critiqued. But only now, two years into the venture, is there something of substance to assess: data, initial evidence to go with the impressions that days spent in the classrooms leave in the mind.

First, though, the strange backstory: the tale of how Direct Instruction, "DI", an American teaching method pioneered in Illinois and Oregon, and much used in public schools in US inner cities, came to Cape York. The story is bound up with Pearson's path in life. Mission-born at Hope Vale on the Cape's east coast, gifted, given educational opportunities, he went to boarding schools and to university, became a lawyer, and made his name, while still young, as a native title advocate.

Then he changed priorities. He went back to far north Queensland. His home region was in crisis. The chief causes were plain to him: alcoholic drinking, passive welfare provision and a breakdown in schooling. Pearson devised a comprehensive strategy for social change, and after a long struggle on the battlefield of ideas persuaded governments and senior bureaucrats to back his vision.

Four communities opted in: Hope Vale; the little, range-surrounded town of Coen at the heart of the Cape; Mossman Gorge near Port Douglas; and the large settlement of Aurukun, home and capital of the Wik people. The Cape York welfare reform trial began in mid-2008: its key innovation was the Family Responsibilities Commission, a panel of local leaders with the power to impose income management on community members whose actions are doing harm to those around them.

The trial had many facets. It included measures for financial management and home improvement, but at its core was an even more ambitious reform plan: Pearson's blueprint for a network of top-flight primary schools, and an academy, with high aims and concrete proposals to realise them. From his own experience he knew that education liberates. Get the schooling right, and anything is possible.

What would be the best replacement for the long-established, lacklustre approach? He had investigated teaching models: promising schemes and remedial programs, motivational initiatives from around the world. One stood out: DI, the brainchild of a most unusual professorial pioneer named Siegfried Engelmann.

Pearson recounts his discovery of DI and the development of the Cape York Academy concept in a slim book he published two years ago, titled Radical Hope. It contains a brief afterword in which the very first field reports from the DI classrooms are set down.

They were positive, and even then Pearson was optimistic, with good reason. DI is straightforward, and based on close study of the way a child's mind works. It is a teaching method, as well as a tightly controlled curriculum. Above all, its track record proves its effectiveness. It works wherever it is properly implemented: in the poor suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, where Cape York community leaders saw it in action on a study tour; in the disadvantaged regions of the US Midwest; in native-American schools in Arizona and New Mexico.

Pearson was also confident in the group of educators he had assembled. The first executive principal of the academy, Don Anderson, was one of the most admired figures in Queensland's education system. Anderson had become convinced DI had something to offer, and that the old model had failed, for tangled reasons. He had spent his working life in remote schools: at Lockhart River and Aurukun and Weipa on the Cape, at schools and colleges in the Torres Strait. He knew the trends.

"I had watched a continual decline over years," Anderson says. "A decline both in educational outcomes and in opportunities for indigenous children.

"And now, being involved in the first sustainable, significant recovery in schools performance, I'm more than happy to admit that much of our hard work in the past was misdirected and ill-conceived, even though we were giving 110 per cent."

Anderson grasped, then, the need for change, and the rationale, but he had to find a crack team to introduce it. And so, in early 2010, as soon as the deal to launch the academy model at the schools in Coen and Aurukun was struck, he placed a call to a handful of dedicated remote-area teachers, including one named Patrick Mallett, an individual with a pronounced taste for challenges. Mallett, today the principal at Aurukun, remembers driving in to the community that February, beneath wet season storm clouds.

"I arrived. Was this it? It was bizarre. There were children wandering about in the school grounds, a crowd of them were playing on the roof in the middle of class time. I'd never seen a campus so disengaged. Dysfunction permeated the whole place, it didn't feel like a school at all. The task seemed Herculean. But day by day, week by week, we began, we made progress. And for the children the penny dropped relatively early on that their teachers were now taking their education and advancement absolutely critically. Once they worked out that they could actually learn to read and write, their self-esteem rocketed."

Those early successes did not come merely from following a tuition model brought in from outside. Great care went into the design of the academy's curriculum, which is now also taught in the large school at Hope Vale.

It has three components: "class", the core DI program, which delivers 20 hours of literacy and numeracy teaching every week; "club", which gives lessons in sports and music; and "culture", a subject-group that includes local languages and traditional and environmental knowledge, and has a syllabus designed by the academy's own team. Club and culture are taught after normal school hours, in optional lessons that extend the school day by 90 minutes: attendance is almost universal.

A process of constant student assessment is at the heart of DI. Each child must learn each lesson, and achieve mastery, in reading, in writing, in the new concepts introduced in class every day. Individual tests are quietly administered to check progress every week. At the week's end, the teachers make a call to their American DI learning colleagues to go through the results. Each student's performance is checked. If a child or group of children lag in any area, they are split from their class and taught in a new group: they will not be left behind.

There are other safety nets. Regular attendance is one obvious key to classroom success, and in remote communities typically it is the chief problem. At Aurukun, a pair of dedicated case managers watch the school gates every morning, then travel round the community to seek out the no-shows. Any child who comes in more than half an hour late goes on a watch list. Three late days in a row triggers a referral of their parents or guardians to the Family Responsibilities Commission. This measure has helped lift attendance to 75 per cent.

Maryann Kerindun, both a traditional owner of land estates near Aurukun and a long-time teacher assistant at the school, can see the difference. "In the old curriculum, we had problems," she says. "A child could not recognise a letter; a child could not recognise a number. Learning struggled through those times.

"Then the changes began with this new system. They've come a long way. With this new set-up, with this DI in the classroom, you see the children focused, they're blossoming, they're surprising their own families."

The experience has been similar at the Coen campus, which began DI instruction at the same time, early 2010. There, Billy Pratt, a local with three children at the school and one in daycare, about to begin classes, has come to believe in the new system. Pratt is a member of the academy board, and heads a new regional ranger group. He looks back to his own childhood, when he had to rely on outside mentors to make progress.

"One thing we could never figure out was how come a teacher could achieve in the mainstream schools, but not here, in the bush," he says. "Now DI has come in, I think it works because of the method, and the constant testing and measuring. They don't let the students go from grade to grade without picking up anything.

"My children get a much better learning experience than I did. You need to stretch children: I want mine to be engaged, not get bored and rebel. My second, she's two years ahead of what's expected for a child her age. She comes home and wants to teach us; she's embraced it."

DI has its critics: fierce ones, who object to its use of textbooks with American examples, or contend that its scripted lessons reduce teachers to a robotic role, or argue that its field results in the Cape York setting are equivocal.

The view among the teachers is rather different. The pattern now in Aurukun, by no means an easy posting, is for frontline staff to stay much longer than the two-year minimum they initially sign on for. "We've lived it, we see it every day," says the head of the DI team at Aurukun, Naomi Gibb. "If I hadn't experienced this over the last 3 1/2years myself, I'd be sceptical. This whole model is building an intrinsic drive in students."

Other teachers speak admiringly of the determination their students show to get to school. The backdrop of their lives may include sleeplessness and domestic troubles: still they come. They come not for metronomic instruction but because the spark of curiosity has been lit in them.

DI lessons, as witnessed in the classrooms of the Cape, are a striking affair. A sense of excitement is present, and also a mood of harmonious forward momentum. Coen's teaching principal, Craig Jordan, argues that "DI has taken the focus off what you teach, and on to how you teach". The executive principal now overseeing the entire three-campus academy, Cindy Hales, is convinced this aspect of the method is central to its effectiveness. "Just because DI's scripted doesn't mean there's no life or heart," she says. "It's a kind of persuasive acting, a drama that makes learning live in the minds of children. People think it's easy and rote just because it's written down - but the hardest part is the transition to a learning life in the classroom: it's hard, good work."

This strong sense of purpose fills the schools. Motivation and positive reinforcement are taken seriously: the entrance hallways are festooned with examples of standout work. The ultra-Pearsonian credo of the academy - "Get Ready. Work Hard. Be Good" - is displayed everywhere, as are lists of benchmarks and goals. "Terrific work-books in Miss Grace's classroom," proclaims one notice, and there they are, photocopied and affixed, examples for emulation - long cascading sentence sequences in neat copperplate handwriting.

In class, the messages are much the same. Courtesy mingles with high expectations. "Boys and girls, you did that exercise so well: now, what are the things we do to be respectful? Teaching, listening, not talking. Good, good, Elspeth, I can see you're reading; and you too, Wilfred, with your finger, tracking." They are the atmospherics of the well-run schoolroom, completely normal and, in the context of a remote community, very rarely seen.

How to measure the vast collective effort engaged in by the academy's designers and staff, and by the children and families whose support lies at the project's heart? How to catch the alchemy that has brought hope and self-belief to communities long used to the lash of media stereotyping and negative publicity? What table of statistics records that? But testing and evaluation are constant features of the education landscape, and the academy, as an institution that inevitably serves to highlight the shortcomings of the status quo in remote community schooling, has been subject to intense scrutiny.

Much is riding on its performance. Experts from the bureaucracy are watching; critics of Pearson and his broader social intervention programs as well. Both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott are supporters of the scheme. The Prime Minister was instrumental in persuading the then state premier, Anna Bligh, to provide the initial three-year tranche of funding, $7.72 million - still the only large support the academy has received. The Opposition Leader led a team of corporate high-fliers on his "bricks and mortar" library-building working bee at Aurukun a year ago.

Hence the keen interest paid to the latest round of results in the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy, for the three academy schools when they appeared last September; hence the disquiet when some of the figures from Aurukun showed a mild decline in performance in some subject areas. Less attention was paid to the spectacular test results from Coen, which had been a school with high attendance rates even before the switch to the academy template: it was the best-performing indigenous-area school in Queensland, with all students achieving scores "at or above national minimum standards" in 10 out of the 15 test categories.

For Aurukun, the starting point had been very different: in early 2010, almost all the students were reading at kindergarten levels, or below, and attendance levels were abysmal. In such small campuses, NAPLAN's sampling may record little beyond the variations in the performance of individual pupils in different years.

There are other measures that track the gradual progress of the students at the Cape York schools, rather than seeking to judge their capabilities in a single snap test: both the routine internal monitoring and the Queensland Education Department reviews are favourable, while a forthcoming Australian Council for Educational Research report is expected also to highlight the state of progress in clear fashion.

The academy has always seen its project as a long-term remedial venture: its prospectus warns that it "does not expect significant gains in NAPLAN results until 2013-14, allowing children, especially older children, at least three full years to catch up to grade level". Consistent with this, the best performances at all its schools are among the youngest students, with the least pronounced educational shortfall to overcome.

Given Pearson's profile and the high stakes attached to the overall Cape York Welfare Reform scheme, cool assessment of the DI curriculum's long-term potential seems all the more important. For the academy is part of an experiment with both educational and political resonances. The Cape York Institute's linked projects are aimed to recast the economy of a remote region, invigorate a society trapped by passive welfare systems and inject a note of hope into its young generation through concerted learning programs.

The link between education and welfare reform is a bond. The schools rely on the parental discipline the Family Responsibilities Commission helps impose: and the academy aims to send its students away to boarding facilities at the secondary level, before they return to take up jobs in a revitalised local economy.

There is, though, one telling difference between the welfare reform initiative and the academy, and it explains their relative effectiveness: the multiple welfare reforms are opt-in, and secure limited participation; the schools are the sole providers of primary education where they operate.

The wash-up? Increasingly, those close to the academy believe they have found a wondrous weapon in the fight to strengthen remote indigenous communities: a tool to reverse the pernicious effects produced by two generations of poor learning.

Patrick Mallett, surveying his quiet, well-ordered school grounds at Aurukun, says: "When you have the right curriculum, the right approach and the right structures, you get the community on board, and it happens. I came very quickly to realise that DI was a miracle that had dropped out of the sky, and the people here were the best I'd ever worked with. We've stumbled on the solution to what has been perplexing the rest of Australia."

In the communities, a sense is dawning that the schools can develop into instruments for large-scale social change. At Coen, teacher aide Majella Peter is studying for an education degree at Deakin University and watching the classroom progress of her daughter, now in Year Three. "For me, as a parent, seeing DI opened my eyes: it actually works in lifting literacy and numeracy, and young mothers in this community know it's working."

Peter wants to be a lifelong educator, teach for a decade at the school, become principal there and then open an adult learning centre. "That would be my personal goal: I see my relations living on Centrelink and I feel for them; they can't go forward because they don't have much education, and I feel that could be part of the reason they don't have their life straight - and maybe in time, maybe, if they're responsible, they can straighten their career paths and look to the future."

At Aurukun, Maryann Kerindun has also seen things she never thought she would. "What blows me away is having my grandchild coming home and saying to me, 'Let's read together'. That's the most amazing thing that's ever happened to me, to be able to see that with my own eyes." A further vision shimmers into view, and seems more than a dream: "I want to see a qualified nurse from this community working at the clinic, a qualified CEO, a teacher, a mechanic, a doctor, and a self-managed community, and I know now it can happen. I want to see our future generations run the school."

With early word of the changed atmospherics in the academy schools beginning to spread, education bureaucrats, indigenous leaders and policy thinkers from across the country have begun to take note, and make visits, pilgrimages to the Cape: delegations have come from the Kimberley, northeast Arnhem Land and the Pitjantjatjara region.

The then chief executive of the Northern Territory's Education Department, Gary Barnes, a Queensland veteran recently placed at the helm of the entire Territory public service, brought his key indigenous policy advisers on an inspection tour in 2011 but this keen interest has yet to translate into action, and it is hard to picture regions lacking the leadership of Cape York adopting the academy model, backed as it is by the overarching, regulating mechanism of welfare reform.

DI, though, has evident potential as a teaching method of proven adaptability, and Pearson and his advisers have put forward a proposal to set up an Australian Institute for Direct Instruction, in partnership with Engelmann's Institute in Oregon. The story is at its beginning: the academy hopes, in due course, to extend its operations to between six and eight schools in the Cape, to achieve economies of scale.

If the promise of a new approach to remote-area learning is in the air, and the progress of DI on the Cape is a fascinating case study for southern experts, it means much more elsewhere. Aurukun and Coen are not just possible examples for other communities, intriguing options; they are hope, new pathways made visible. For everyone aware of the bleak lives being given form today in half-empty classrooms the length and breadth of remote indigenous Australia, the question of schooling models has a sharp edge.

Even those who were at first sceptical on the ground have swung about, as if the longing to believe there could be a light of promise has at last vanquished the ingrained expectation of failure, eclipse, and another new program to replace the one before.

Here is one of the most prominent woman leaders of Aurukun, the redoubtable Maree Kalkeeyorta - sister of the strong-minded Gladys Tybingoompa, who danced on the pavement of the High Court in Canberra on the day the Wik won their native title case almost two decades ago.

"I didn't like these changes at first, but I see things now. My sister wanted our children to learn, and I too. English, and our own Wik language way as well. We want the two. Our own way, and the way of outside Australia.

"I think life will improve now for the next generation. Look at them! They laugh, and smile, they love their school, you can see the happy faces. As long as it takes them, they'll follow their path now; they have a path. Every individual child has a pathway to go down, but it's going to start off in this schoolground first."

Sunday, May 12, 2013

hilary putnam philosophy study programme

Hilary Putnam's philosophical writings has challenged my long held views about the nature of the world and how it works in a very significant manner. Without going into personal detail he has both exposed and pointed to a healing of a long existent schism in my thinking between the scientific or "objective" aspect and the psychological or emotional aspect.

I am probably not alone here since the objective-subjective or fact-value dichotomy is strongly embedded in our culture.

Here is an outline of a study programme I am currently undertaking based on his readings.

World view:
Putnam's work represents a critique on various levels of the entrenched ("ideological") dichotomy between the "objective" (truth) and "subjective" (values).

The big R - Realism approach is that we can make scientific statements that accurately represent a mind independent reality. For example, Newton's Laws enable us to accurately send a rocket to the moon. However, the subsequent development of science reveals reality to be far more complex. Einstein's theories are conceptually quite different and Newton's maths turns out to apply only under limiting conditions.

The opposite approach to big R Realism is that all schemes of thought or points of view are hopelessly subjective. Cultural relativism holds that what we think depends on our culture, which is continually in flux.

Putnam has played a leading role in developing a third way which rejects both of the above extremes. It may be called internal realism or pragmatic realism. To describe it with a Hegelian metaphor: the mind and the world jointly make up the mind and the world.

The mind does not simply copy the world described by One True Theory. There is no Gods Eye View. It is time to recognise that the project of trying to define the furniture of the world (ontology) has failed.

Putnam has developed a similar treatment of epistemology or knowledge claims. It would be a mistake to demarcate "objective" science from "subjective" ethics. Neither scientific nor moral truth is either objective nor subjective (culturally relative). Rather, there are better or worse versions.

Scientific reductionism, although useful in some respects, comes up against limits which cannot be overcome.

Some of the key reasons for this world view are as follows:

Conceptual relativity:
Even at a simple level different ways of describing the world are equivalent but non compatible. What exists depends on which conventions we adopt. One simple example provided is mereological sums (details not provided here). The world does not dictate a unique "true" way of dividing the world into objects, situations, properties etc.

The nature of science:
Science is a diverse enterprise and just one good way to reason about the world. It is not a master philosophy.

A cut and dried description of the world - physics envy - has not eventuated, including in physics. The cut between the observer and experiment in Quantum physics means that a Gods Eye View is not possible.

Scientific epistemic values such as coherence, plausibility, reasonableness and simplicity are values too, just as are ethical values such as courage, kindness, honesty and goodness.

Science encompasses a broader notion of rationality than any formal scientific method which resembles an algorithm.

For example, we accept Darwin's theories because they provide a plausible explanation of the evolution of life. Not because they conform to any clearly defined scientific method.

Real scientists rely on their intuition and imagination extensively in developing their innovative theories. In their theory formation scientists postulate unobservable causes for observable events. If humans had a firm prejudice against the speculative and unobservable then we would not be good scientists.

Putnam has completed cases studies of the work of particular philosophers of science such as Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper.

Emergent properties of thought (mental states) such as loving, hating, desiring, believing, judging, perceiving, hoping can't be reduced to the physical. We are stuck with this dualism. (Brentano's problem).
"I am, then, a dualist, or, better, a pluralist. Truth, reference, justification - these are emergent, non-reducible properties of terms and statements in certain contexts. I do not mean they are not supervenient on the physical; of course they are. My dualism is one not of minds and bodies, but of physical properties and intentional properties. It does not even yield an interesting metaphysics."
(Three Kinds of Scientific Realism, In Word and Life, 493)
The vanishing a priori:
All the candidates for fundamental or foundational knowledge have progressively disappeared over time. eg. Euclidean geometry changed from the one true way to just one way amongst other ways of perceiving spatial relations.

update July 8th, 2013: Since there are no firm foundations in epistemology then we are stuck with better (more fruitful, coherent) or worse representations of reality as the best we can do, not true or false version in an absolute or "true scientific" sense. See "Pragmatic principles" below.

Breakdown of the fact / value or objective / subjective dichotomy:
The idea that value judgements are "subjective" and that statements of fact are "objective" is often regarded as common sense in our current culture. The purpose of Putnam's various arguments are to challenge that "common sense"

Human flourishing (the purpose of philosophy):
Scientism as a monistic world view represents an emotional craving for clear answers. Rather than a one sided reliance on problem solving, philosophy should help us acquire better metaphors and habits for looking at the world such as adjudication and reading and interpreting good literature. Facts and values become a distinction rather than a dichotomy.

Literature and philosophy "may be rich or impoverished, sophisticated or naive, broad or one sided, inspired or pedestrian, reasonable or perverse and if perverse, brilliantly perverse or merely perverse" (from Realism with a Human Face, p. 183)

Pragmatic principles from the heritage of Peirce, James and Dewey:
(i) antiskepticism: doubt requires justification just as much as belief
(ii) fallibilism: there is never a metaphysical guarantee to be had that such and such a belief will never need revision
(iii) there is no fundamental dichotomy b/w “facts” and “values”
(iv) practice is primary in philosophy

Mathematics, Matter and Method. Philosophical Papers, Vol. 1 (1975)
Mind, Language and Reality. Philosophical Papers, Vol. 2 (1975)
Meaning and the Moral Sciences (1978)
Reason, Truth and History (1981)
Realism and Reason. Philosophical Papers, Vol. 3 (1983)
The Many Faces of Realism (1987)
Representation and Reality (1988)
Realism with a Human Face (1990)
Renewing Philosophy (1992)
Words and Life (1994)
Pragmatism: An Open Question (1995)
The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy and other essays (2002)
Ethics without Ontology (2004)

Many of Putnam's books can be downloaded from here.