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Re: [xmca] Obama's Learn Act and 2 challenges
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- Subject: Re: [xmca] Obama's Learn Act and 2 challenges
- From: Larry Purss <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Thu, 17 Dec 2009 20:01:29 -0800
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I agree that the forces of inertia are daunting but there is always an alternative story.
The question I ask is if the system is so monolithic how did all the people engaged in CHAT learn to critique their own culture because I'm assuming you think that is happening on this website. I'm making another assumption that many or most of us went through that school system. You might say that we are the exception to the rule but my answer is if we are the exception how did that happen.
To me the bigger puzzle is how people who inhabit CHAT are changing the world? I will introduce another metaphor that I think can capture the imagination. It is how we re-establish the "commons".
A place where people with their differences gather and interact to find common ground. This speaks to the book "Habits of the Heart" which was popular many years ago. That book saw the loss of the commons as central to our loss of shared purpose.
In summary, reflecting and critiquing one's own culture as an individual pursuit of cognition can leave us inhabiting ivory towers but leave the structures in place.
I know this is common sense on this site but Andy's post generated the reverie.
----- Original Message -----
From: Andy Blunden <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Thursday, December 17, 2009 3:55 pm
Subject: Re: [xmca] Obama's Learn Act and 2 challenges
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <email@example.com>
> When I was first exposed to the idea that formal schooling
> is a machine for producing failure (via the MCA article for
> discussion) I recoiled in disbelief, but have come to accept
> it as an obvious truth, despite the efforts of almost
> everyone involved in the system to make it otherwise.
> Still, could I throw another question at this idea? During
> the 70s and 80s in Britain, there was a folk belief that the
> school system did everything it could to ensure that a kid
> *never* failed. If a child, for example, was doing poorly in
> maths, they would be moved into a "stream" where the bar was
> set so low that no-one could fail. When kids come out the
> other end of the system (and according to legend) their
> parents believed from school reports which have shown "pass"
> all the way through, that their child has successfully
> "graduated" only to discover that they can't read or do
> basic arithmetic, and cannot get any job they would want.
> I think my interpretation of this story is that this does go
> on, and it is just another way of producing failure, proving
> that it happens despite teachers' efforts. Is that right?
> And Greg, I think I agree with what I took to be Jay's
> vision of the kind of education we need: training in the
> ability to critique one's own culture. And this is what is
> absolutely ruled out.
> And Bourdieu shows how the dominant social classes deftly
> move the goal posts every generation so that no amount of
> educational efforts at upward mobility are widely successful.
> Gregory Allan Thompson wrote:
> > I was intrigued by Jay's post. It seems to cut to the core in
> > a very straightforward manner.
> > In response, I wanted to pose two challenges:
> > First, I wonder if there might be ways to present the
> > alternative to thinking of education merely in terms of
> > testable knowledge/skills? It seems that there are circulating
> > discourses that could be picked up on (troped upon?) and which
> > would help to shed some light on an alternative to this. For
> > example, the common cynicism of people of all political
> > persuasions about testable knowledge.
> > It would seem like an important part of this project will be
> > to couch it in terms that aren't so left-ist and exclusionary.
> > I know this may seem like "selling-out" to some, but in the
> > world of policy pragmatism, it is hard to see any other way to
> > make this change happen (short of revolution - and since I
> > haven't heard this word spoken on this listserve (except with
> > regard to ontogenetic development) I will assume a deep
> > pragmatism resides here).
> > To give an example, I recall a story that one of my mentors,
> > Frank Margonis, used to tell about Dewey's way of
> > characterizing testing. It went something like this: (actually
> > this is taken from the only place I could find it, a 1959
> > School Review article - anyone have a better description?).
> > "Dewey once remarked to a younger colleague in the department
> > of philosophy at Columbia University that the techniques of
> > "intelligence" tests reminded him of the methods used in
> > Vermont during his boyhood to weigh pigs. A thick plank was
> > laid across a stone wall and then stones of a predetermined
> > weight were piled on one end until the pig at the other end
> > was brought to balance."
> > Here is a rhetorically powerful way of criticizing
> > intelligence testing - but, of course, it is one that wouldn't
> > carry much weight today because it is far from most folks'
> > experience. So, what kinds of pithy stories can we tell today
> > that would point out the problems with the testable
> > knowledge/skills paradigm?
> > I don't know if this listserve is the place to share such
> > stories, but I just wanted to put it on people's minds. But if
> > anyone has a brief narrative to share, I'd be interested in
> > helping to make it "go viral" (as they say today - or maybe
> > someone could make a 2 minute Youtube video?).
> > Oh, and I promised two challenges at the outset but I've
> > already mentioned the second: how do we make this agenda not
> > simply a "leftist" agenda? I would think that Dewey's notion
> > of "democratic education" might be useful (if only it could be
> > purged of its apparent political affiliations). Or maybe
> > "citizenship education" (although i suspect those on the left
> > would feel that this is not sufficiently pluralistic). Would
> > there be a way to dovetail this with some type of Ethics
> > education that would appeal to those on the right who get all
> > excited about "character education"?
> > Dewey is said to have learned from Jane Addams (in what must
> > have been a somewhat "antagonistic" moment of debate) that
> > antagonisms are "unreal". Addams believed that antagonism was
> > always unnecessary and never arose from real objective
> > differences. Rather it was simply due to the injection of the
> > personal attitude and reaction, thus delaying and distorting
> > the recognition of meaning. Dewey says that he realized that
> > he had been interpreting the [Hegelian] dialectic "wrong end
> > up" - he had seen the unity as the reconciliation of
> > opposites, instead of the opposites as the unity in its
> > I wonder if there might be some truth to this in all this
> > political bickering about what is best, educationally
> > speaking, for our children? (and btw, kudos to the folks on
> > this listserve for avoiding simple politicizations of the
> > problem, as we often see around us: "we're
> > right/good/intelligent and they're wrong/bad/stupid").
> > Whether with this administration or others, it seems like
> > there might be hope (!?) to move beyond the testable knowledge
> > view of things, and, more importantly, beyond a view of
> > antagonisms between people as inherent to human nature (wasn't
> > this at the heart of Marx's vision of communism?). But my
> > analysis thus far is simply interpreting the world in various
> > ways, as someone once said, the point is to change it.
> > -greg
> > p.s. Having read Marx in some detail this quarter, I wanted to
> > add a critique of "pscyhologism" ("individualism" in the
> > translation of Marx that we read) to Jay's critique of the
> > dominant view of education, but I fear that it will take
> > nothing short of a Revolution to allow us to see ourselves as
> > anything but self-determining psychological individuals (or
> > rather, psychological realizations of our genetic
> > individuality). But in the event that anyone has any pithy
> > narratives that capture the absurdity of this rather hegemonic
> > belief, please do share. I've got a career ahead of me in
> > which I hope to develop this critique, but there is no time
> > like the present for developing such a database of narratives.
> >> Message: 7
> >> Date: Wed, 16 Dec 2009 17:37:58 -0800
> >> From: Jay Lemke <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> >> Subject: Re: [xmca] Obama's Learn Act
> >> To: email@example.com, "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"
> >> <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> >> Message-ID: <C1BF12E2-5893-4BB5-AE8C-3D721BF8D958@umich.edu>
> >> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=US-ASCII; format=flowed;
> > delsp=yes
> >> Let me sound a slightly skeptical note, though with the
> > greatest
> >> admiration for the efforts of Kris and other sophisticated
> > educators
> >> to influence policy in Washington. Maybe some of these points
> > may also
> >> be informative for the non-US xmca-ers.
> >> I don't really think that US educational policy is about
> > learning. It
> >> is a branch of SOCIAL policy. It is, for politicians and many
> > voters,
> >> about equity, justice, moral values, quality of the labor
> > force.
> >> Conservatives by and large won the battle from the 1970s-90s
> > over the
> >> definition of educational quality: it means knowledge and
> > skills, as
> >> assessed by simple, mass-administered tests. They succeeded
> > because
> >> what they proposed was very close to common folk-wisdom
> >> schooling. They proposed what they did to prevent education
> > from
> >> becoming about learning how to critique and change the status
> > quo.
> >> Within the framework they established, the liberal left
> > looked to see
> >> how they (we?) could still use education as an tool for
> >> justice. The answer basically, from Head Start to NCLB (the
> > Bush-era
> >> policy) was to try to insure that children from poor families
> > got
> >> enough extra programs to help them compete with middle-class
> > kids in
> >> the world of testable knowledge/skills. I think that is the
> > course
> >> that Obama is still on. It seems likely to me that his
> >> experience would be telling him that kids in under-
> >> communities go to school relatively unprepared for its
> > demands, and so
> >> pre-school programs should be targeted to diagnostically
> > specific
> >> needs relative to predictable school demands. That how the
> > language of
> >> the proposed bill sounds to me.
> >> Politicians, senators, and even higher level staff people
> > probably
> >> don't know much about learning theory and don't have the time
> > to
> >> learn. If it is theory or models that use unfamiliar ideas,
> > all the
> >> less likely to be able to persuade or communicate.
> >> evidence for early social learning or artifact-hybridity
> >> development may as well be discourse from Mars in their
> >> National political policy I think cannot be realistically
> > expected to
> >> embody advanced learning theories. That discourse should have
> > its
> >> practical effects far more locally, in terms of what teachers
> > get
> >> taught about good practice in schools, and maybe what others
> > who are
> >> trying to innovate new approaches to education that go beyond
> > the
> >> classroom-only paradigm take into account.
> >> Apart from trying to avoid overly narrow language (and
> >> importantly, administrative interpretation of language) about
> > what
> >> kinds of programs can get federal funding, I think the core
> > issues at
> >> the national policy level ought to be more about goals. Equal
> > learning
> >> opportunity in practice is a widely shared goal; the means to
> > it are
> >> much debated. What is less addressed, I think, is whether
> > knowledge
> >> and skills acquisition should be in itself the primary
> > educational
> >> goal. So long as that conservative principle is maintained,
> > social
> >> equity goals will lead to bad educational practice for all,
> >> especially for those most in need.
> >> Reading, for example, is NOT "fundamental". It is a diversion
> > from
> >> serious educational thinking. (R.I.F. was a slogan long
> > supported by
> >> the right, though not only by them.) Reading is a tool, to be
> > learned
> >> and used as part of larger inquiries and activities with
> > goals that
> >> mean something to the learners. Those could be play goals, or
> > self-
> >> empowerment goals, or altruistic goals. So long as what
> > schools will
> >> demand of kids on arrival is that they be prepared to
> >> decontextualized de-coding skills (i.e. "reading"), and do
> > well on
> >> tests of these that are even more isolated from anything with
> > larger
> >> meaning, then all pre-school preparation programs will be
> > targeted at
> >> preparing students for mindlessness. And social equity and
> > social
> >> justice agendas in social policy will support this.
> >> It's not about the means. It's about the goals.
> >> JAY.
> >> Jay Lemke
> >> Professor (Adjunct, 2009-2010)
> >> Educational Studies
> >> University of Michigan
> >> Ann Arbor, MI 48109
> >> www.umich.edu/~jaylemke
> >> Visiting Scholar
> >> Laboratory for Comparative Human Communication
> >> University of California -- San Diego
> >> La Jolla, CA
> >> USA 92093
> > ---------------------------------------
> > Greg Thompson
> > Ph.D. Candidate
> > The Department of Comparative Human Development
> > The University of Chicago
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> Andy Blunden http://home.mira.net/~andy/ +61 3 9380 9435
> Skype andy.blunden
> Hegel's Logic with a Foreword by Andy Blunden:
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