Search results for "education "


Author: joe

Thursday, 09 December, 2010 - 21:05

Here's a message for the Liberal Democrats if ever there was one. There's little condemnation of the Tories (we know they're robber barons); Labour are essentially invisible but did what oppositions do and voted against the coalition's bill. But the Lib Dems are the king-makers, the party that want to say they are the key to ensuring progressive policies are tabled and adopted. "Progressive" is the word they try to buy. Well Paulo Freire, the Brazilian teacher and thinker, has something to say about being a progressive.

If we are progressive, if we have more experience as opposition than as government, we must be reminded that, in such a historic moment as ours, it is easier to win elections than it is to govern. As we strongly react against the defamatory accusations leveled against us, may we not allow ourselves to adopt the same untruthful language used against us?
We must also observe, with ethical rigor, our right and our duty to speak about how we intend to govern and avoid demagogic promises or impossible dreams. If, in order to win an election, I needed to make a false promise, it would be preferable to lose and continue my political-pedagogical militancy, persevering in my ethical position.

It is fundamental not to give in to the temptation of believing that the ends justify the means, making condemnable agreements and deals with antagonistic forces. If I am progressive, I cannot join forces with those who deny the popular classes a voice.
Pedagogy of the Heart by Paulo Freire

If, in order to win an election, I needed to make a false promise, it would be preferable to lose . . . Are we supposed to think that Paulo Freire is somehow naive for believing that ethics should play a role in political decisions? Does some discourse of realpolitik mean we should discard the means in favour of ends? That is exactly what he calls "banking education": manipulating education to ensure that its beneficiaries don't go "above and beyond ideology". Give me an education of naivety any day, and hound those charlatan hypocrites out of Westminster.

Categories: Paulo Freire, education, liberal democrats, hypocrisy, ethics,
Comments: 0

Gramsci on education

Author: joe

Tuesday, 07 December, 2010 - 21:49

I agree with pretty much everything that Gramsci wrote. My admiration for the man, who wrote a lot of his most important work from a prison cell during an 11-year incarceration at the hands of Mussolini, which ended only months before his death, only deepens the more I learn about him - his outsider status, his compassion, his intellect, his political commitment, and the almost uncanny resonance with and relevance to the contemporary world his writing still offers. So I'm going to quote him at length, since he puts it all better than me.

A proletarian, no matter how intelligent, no matter how fit to become a man of culture, is forced either to squander his qualities on some other activity, or else to become a rebel and autodidact - i.e. (apart from some notable exceptions) a mediocrity, a man who cannot give all he could have given had he been completed and strengthened by the discipline of school. Culture is a privilege. Education is a privilege. And we do not want it to be so. All young people should be equal before culture. The state should not be financing out of everybody's money the education even of mediocre and gormless children of wealthy parents while it excludes the able and intelligent children of proletarians. Middle and high schools should be only for those who can demonstrate that they are worthy of it. And if it is in the public interest that such forms of education should exist, preferably supported and regulated by the state, then it is also in the public interest that they should be open to all intelligent children, regardless of their economic potential. Collective sacrifice is justified only when it benefits those who are most deserving. Therefore, this collective sacrifice should serve especially to give the most deserving children that economic independence they need if they are to devote their time to serious study.
The proletariat, which is excluded from the middle and high schools as a result of the present social conditions - conditions which ensure that the division of labour between men is unnatural (not being based on different capacities) and so retards and is inimical to production - has to fall back on the parallel educational system: the technical and vocational colleges. As a result of the anti-democratic restrictions imposed by the state budget, the technical colleges, which were set up along democratic lines by the Casati ministry, have undergone a transformation that has largely destroyed their nature. In most cases they have become mere superfetations of the classical schools, and an innocent outlet for the petty bourgeois mania for finding a secure job. The continually rising entrance fees, and the particular prospects they open up in practical life, have turned these schools too into a privilege. Anyway, the overwhelming majority of the proletariat is automatically excluded from them on account of the uncertain and precarious life which the wage earner is forced to lead - the sort of life which is certainly not the most propitious for fruitfully following a course of study.
What the proletariat needs is an educational system that is open to all. A system in which the child is allowed to develop and mature and acquire those general features that serve to develop character. In a word, a humanistic school, as conceived by the ancients, and more recently by the men of the Renaissance. A school which does not mortgage the child's future, a school that does not force the child's will, his intelligence and growing awareness to run along tracks to a predetermined station. A school of freedom and free initiative, not a school of slavery and mechanical precision. The children of proletarians too should have all possibilities open to them; they should be able to develop their own individuality in the optimal way, and hence in the most productive way for both themselves and society. Technical schools should not be allowed to become incubators of little monsters aridly trained for a job, with no general ideas, no general culture, no intellectual stimulation, but only an infallible eye and a firm hand. Technical education too helps a child to blossom into an adult - so long as it is educative and not simply informative, simply passing on manual techniques.
Of course, meanly bourgeois industrialists might prefer to have workers who were more machines than men. But the sacrifices which everyone in society willingly makes in order to foster improvements and nourish the best and most perfect men who will improve it still more - these sacrifices must bring benefits to the whole of society, not just to one category of people or one class.
It is a problem of right and of force. The proletariat must stay alert, to prevent another abuse being added to the many it already suffers.
Men or Machines? by Antonio Gramsci, 1914

I'll be protesting against the government's forthcoming proposals. I'll be demonstrating in favour of free education, the abolition of fees, the abandonment of the government's cuts-agenda, the expansion of the welfare state, the support of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society, the taxation of the very wealthy, the nationalisation of banks and public amenities, the dismantling of the financial system, disarmament - and then, when the electoral choices that we're trying to decide between are not neoliberalism, venal opportunism or outright philistine exploitation, but are instead socialism, communism or anarchism - then, I will be satisfied.

Categories: Antonio Gramsci, education, solidarity, protest,
Comments: 2

Protest and Babylon

Author: joe

Tuesday, 30 November, 2010 - 19:10

I went to today's teach-in at Bournemouth University, where 150 students and staff spent two hours discussing the planned fee rises and associated education cuts; I reported back on the CoR conference - in summary, I said:

We have to see the cuts in a wider context. It's easy to be taken in by the rhetoric, largely unquestioned by the media, that tells us that cuts are inevitable, and that we have to have pain now so that we will be in a better position down the line. The cuts are not about some piece-meal slap-dash emergency measures trying to deal with a unexpectedly large deficit.
The cuts are actually targeting the poorest, most deprived, most vulnerable people in society - the unemployed, the council tenants, the sick, the users of social care like support for adults with learning difficulties, mental health services and medicine for long-term conditions. It is a concerted attack on civic resources, pensions, healthcare, housing benefit, child benefit, legal aid, libraries, fire-services and day-care.
It is an attempt by a cabinet full of millionaires to open up welfare to predatory private sector companies whose motivations are profit rather than well-being - so that speculators can profit from hardship. It is a systematic attack on the welfare state which is wholly ideologically driven.
The important response is solidarity - not just to fight fee rises and defend education, but to fight every cut and defend every service; not to pick and choose which cuts we want to fight, but to defend the principle of a welfare state which tries to prevent poverty and provide a safety net for the most unfortunate in society.

To be fair, that's probably a more succinct and eloquent version of what I really said, but hey. And obviously I repeated Tony Benn's anecdote (see the end of this post) about the boy in the mine shaft, because it's great.

What was really heartening was to see that so many people showed up to talk about what can be done. Can we emulate the student occupations elsewhere? Can we write an open letter to our VC asking for a clear rejection of the current HE proposals? Will the union support the students? How do we make the arguments? "What is to be done?" the trot inside me was thinking.

What was really worrying, though, was to hear that the cops had been calling up individual students on their mobiles, wanting to know what they were going to be doing in their protests, warning them that they might get arrested, and clearly trying to intimidate them and warn them off.

But that's the Babylon for you: there is no such thing as an impartial instrument of the state, and the fuzz are not good guys. I really hope the students here grasp a moment of political opportunity, and don't let the state scare them back into silence.

Categories: babylon, protest, education, cuts, solidarity, dayx2, bu,
Comments: 1

The tradition of refusal

Author: joe

Wednesday, 10 November, 2010 - 20:49

- on violent protest

Situations of revolt are not always easy to discover. The writers of history marginalize and deliberately disconnect news of resistance from a tradition of refusal. Discontent is misrepresented, pacified and moved into channels of legality, compromise, and dialogue. The media distorts the impulse for social war, deferring it to the confines of single issues, mismanagement, and individual cases of dissatisfaction. Revolt becomes a disfigured story, obscured in the past, manipulated in the present, hidden from view.
Our actions should not appeal to these machines of "reality production." The only thing that will affect the reality of things will be to act upon reality, not to merely present it as we wish it to be. The only way to change the conditions of society is to change the nature of how we relate within them. There is no fixed or static condition that we are trapped in. The future is not only unwritten but also unpredictable and therefore capable of being affected by our willful determination.
Fire at Midnight, Destruction at
Dawn: Sabotage and Social War
by Kasimere Bran

I went on the march against HE cuts today. My wife and I marched through Whitehall, but then, needing water and rest, ducked out through the park; we got food, went home, picked boy up from school, ate dinner, watched journalists talk predictably about 'anarchists', heard moderate student leaders disown violence, listened to police spokesmen announce that these scenes should not be allowed to occur on our streets, intercut with shots of shouting across the dispatch box.

I don't disown the violence; it is a natural manifestation along the spectrum of discontent, part of a "history of refusal", a refusal I want to be part of. I don't wish to disown it any more than I'd wish to be condemned for my pacifism by any other activists. I don't care that the violence may be mindless, agitated by provocateurs. I don't care that middle class sensibilities are offended. Part of me wishes I was a young casseur, smashing things with a hedonistic rage that had little to do with 'the issues', while I am nevertheless not ashamed to be a diffident protester, strolling cheerily amongst chant-contagious students, in order to register my disagreement with government policy. Either way, whether out of willful determination, or nihilistic vandalism, the expressions of refusal are the thing.

The pervasive marketisation, monetisation, commodification and capitalisation of every last niche of civic life, thought and existence is a more insinuous form of violence. The encouragement of class demonisation, the stoking of resentment against sectors of society because they are jobless or because they aren't in some way chasing dividends, property ladders and the wellbeing of UK plc - the privatisation of existence til it is unacceptable to be a thinking, serious, frivolous, playful, intellectual, idiotic, happy, failing, pointless freeman, unless one is able to pay for the privilege: that is the sort of atmosphere which enacts, encourages and deserves violence. I refuse!

Categories: violence, protest, education, refusal,
Comments: 2

On blogging

Author: joe

Thursday, 12 February, 2009 - 16:39

I was recently invited to say a few brief words about the value of blogging. The event was a conference of uni staff who are taking part in a 'research-enhancement' programme of activities with a view to developing their research careers.

Not that I know much about research careers - I have cunningly managed to avoid disturbing anyone at the uni who keeps track of people's research activity. No journal papers, no conference papers, nothing that carries any esteem indicators whatsoever. I earn no esteem.

But anyway, I do write a blog, but more importantly have used blogging in teaching for four years now, so did have a couple of things to say about it. We ask students to start a blog when they begin the course, though we don't make it compulsory via assessment. I think it is important to make things elective, since incentivisation usually encourages instrumentality. (And only a cynic would note that this is the story of HE generally...)

Since the blogs aren't compulsory, you quickly find that the 'participation pyramid' (the imbalance between contributors and lurkers) which we see on sites like Wikipedia also characterises student participation. I increasingly think it is important to accept and allow such inequalities in uptake. By making things compulsory you infantilise the activities and the participants, and so those who would have contributed anyway get less benefit (who benefits from being infantilised?) and those who are compelled to join in do so in a tokenistic way. Ultimately, we want to encourage responsibility and independence, and micro-managing everyone's participation in various activities undermines that very aim.

Those who do participate voluntarily go on to experience many of the useful outcomes of writing in public. Of course, sometimes the writing is a whinging stream of consciousness, but actually this is a tiny part of it. More often, students write about the progress of their group work, or they articulate their desire to be better organised; sometimes they mull over the consequences of postmodern thought on their own dearly-held beliefs. I have read students link their own ideas to the Zapatistas, or share design ideas with clients. They write commentaries on oddities they have found in the wilds of the web, or they talk about the distresses and calamities of everyday life in eloquent ways. The range of subjects are fantastically kaleidoscopic, and it is, dare I say it, a little patronising to suggest it is simply an opportunity to whinge.

Just the act of writing (and especially in public) has many meta-cognitive benefits. Formless ideas are given form through writing. Feelings find expression. Thoughts which struggle to make sense become more sensible when we force ourselves to interpret them through language. There is something transformative and risky about writing ideas down and sharing them with others.

Jeremy Crampton, a Foucault scholar who keeps a blog, writes about Levy Bryant, a philosopher and author, and his blog, Larval Subjects, a blog I enjoy hugely. These thoughts capture the relationship between articulation and actualisation.

Larval subjects. Larvae are creatures in a process of becoming or development that have not yet actualized themselves in a specific form. This space is a space for the incubation of philosophical larvae that are yet without determinate positions or commitments but which are in a process of unfolding.

Larval Subjects

This captures the spirit of not knowing where you're going when you set out, a kind of lostness. [...] But there is something experimental to blogging, as a technology of the self. recall Foucault's comments about the pointlessness of writing a book if you already know what you're going to say.

Foucault Blog

Writing moves our ideas along, and develops them, determines and exposes their form and offers the potential for them to be further shaped and worked. This is true even if you write your diary in an underground cave, burn it and lock the ashes in an iron vault which you sink in an abyss (or write it in Blackboard). It is even more true if you do it in the open, out in the wild, and use the writing of your ideas to send out taproots seeking out people with similar interests, who can respond to you constructively, or people who couldn't disagree more, who will tell you exactly why your ideas stink. It is the ultimate in peer-review.

The objection raised to this is often that you shouldn't write about your research publicly in a blog because people will steal ideas from you, or you'll struggle to publish it in a journal later because it will already be in the public domain. I think both of these objections highlight the two main things that are wrong with academia. There are no ideas that can't be improved by being exposed to criticism, and the desperate need to retain ownership and exclusivity over ideas is, it seems to me, antithetical to the premise of education.

So, in the 30-or-so seconds I spoke at the mini-conference, I didn't manage to say quite all of those things, but those are the things I meant.

Categories: blogging, writing, meta-cognitive, articulation, learning, education, research, pedagogy,
Comments: 4

Broken university

Author: joe

Thursday, 01 May, 2008 - 17:49

I have a lot of other stuff to write about, and I will get around to it. In the meantime, I just want to note an observation which occurred to me recently. A moment of realisation.

I've been delving into writing code for collective intelligence, and as I worked through some of the intellectual ideas behind the various algorithms and principles, it occurred to me that universities are exactly the sorts of place where collective intelligence does not emerge.

Despite the fact that universities form a hub and focus for people who value intelligence, and sometimes, even creative thinking, actually the entire tertiary education system is set up to discourage collectivity, and incentivise secrecy and competition.

Universities do not exist for the benefit of learners, they exist for the benefit of researchers. Reward systems recognise research and publication, exercises which demand 'originality' and 'novelty' - which discourage people from sharing their ideas - and scarcely notice pedagogy. Researchers talk more about whose ideas are whose rather than what those ideas are.

The minor army of people who are there because they want to help people to learn are invisible, unrecognised, overlooked, ignored, tolerated. How have we managed to have such broken universities?

Categories: university, education, learning, collective-intelligence, irony,
Comments: 0

Blackboard can...

Author: joe

Wednesday, 02 August, 2006 - 20:39

...suck my balls.

Blackboard has just been awarded a patent on educational groupware.

I used Blackboard in the last place I worked, and it sucks balls badly. Nasty interface, clunky functionality, seemingly designed to make otherwise intelligent people despise computers and feel stupid. Employs a 'closed garden' model in which educators have to enrol you onto their courses in order for you to access material. The opposite of open learning. My current employer is also panning to move to it.

Stephen Downes provide a great roundup of critical reactions to the decision.

I'm particularly arsed off about it because I'm currently building some modules to provide 'educational groupware' functionality. My guiding principle throughout development is: whatever Blackboard does, do something else because Blackboard blows. Now, it's also evil.

Here's my favourite slashdot comment on the subject :)

Blackboard can suck my balls.

Categories: blackboard, e-learning, patent, evil, education,
Comments: 2

CEMP newsround

Author: joe

Tuesday, 07 February, 2006 - 19:06

For those of you who don't know, I work at Bournemouth University, where the Media School successfully bid for a Centre of Excellence in Learning and Teaching, which is now up and running as CEMP.

One of the projects produced by CEMP is a new set of community portals, including one devoted to Interactive Media. The forum is open to anyone to post commentds, or even ask for permission to be a contributor.

For some lunatic reason I volunteered to do a weekly round-up of news, which I now realise takes a huge amount of time, but on the hand, it is a good, um, discipline for me...

You can read my contributions here.

Categories: news, portal, interactive media, resource, education,
Comments: 3

Richard Dawkins for president of the world

Author: joe

Monday, 09 January, 2006 - 21:41

I have just finished watching the first episode of Richard Dawkins' new series on Channel 4, The Root of All Evil.

Firstly, the most pressing thing to say is that this is the best and most important piece of programming I have seen on the Television since Adam Curtis' The Power of Nightmares.

Secondly, Dawkins must be congratulated for having the courage of his convictions and pressing his views home in the face of undoubted risk from fundamentalist fascists who may now consider him a target.

Thirdly, why did the editors of this programme feel the need to switch a to 'fly-on-the-wall' documentary style whenever Dawkins' exposition veered towards blasphemy? Channel 4 would have shown real conviction by allowing Dawkins to lay out his arguments in the same way that Robert Winston is allowed to present his, or likewise Schama is able to expound on his subject. By using editing techniques to signify that Dawkins is presenting a 'point-of-view', they defeat the entire object of his argument.

Fourthly, I would like to see the BBC dare to produce programming like this in a prime-time slot.

Finally, why are there only two episodes, and not an entire digital channel?

That aside, hurrah, bravo, make the man a mullah, etc

Categories: science, fundamentalism, religion, education, media, fascism, politics, documentary, television, faith, reason,
Comments: 0

Web Gallery of Art

Author: joe

Sunday, 06 November, 2005 - 23:10

Discovered this amazing art resource today - the Web Gallery of Art.

Nearly 14,000 reproductions of art from 1100 to 1850, artist biographies, glossary of art terms, and virtual guided tours of the gallery.

I think it's incredible :)

Categories: art, resource, education,
Comments: 2