Friday, March 30, 2007

'Triumph of the Airheads'

Author: Shelley Gare

It does seem these day that no one is very interested in serious issues and are only to happy to reduce serious arguments to black and white - anything to avoid thinking about an issue.

Consider the simplicity of either the Cambridge or the NCEA issue. The simple pass fail exam model is easier to understand than a model dedicated to giving all students a degree of success.

Or the current 'smacking bill' issue - a name developed by its opponents to stop thinking in its tracks.

After listening to author Shelley Gare this lightweight thinking makes sense - she calls it 'airhead thinking'.

She believes that we are creating a world of superficial airhead thinking. This, she believes, is a result of our education system, the flood of information technology, shallow lifestyle magazines, reality TV and uncontrollable consumerism. All these lead to a, 'look at me', or a, 'me first' society that refuse to take responsibility if things go wrong.

Two major trends have created the 'airhead problem'. One is the economic market rationalism of recent decades that makes financial wealth the ultimate mark of success. Everything has been reduced to simple measurement and accountability - if it can't be measured then it can't be important. The other trend is what has been called 'post modernism' . Old certainties have been replaced by a 'grab bag of values' - no value being more important than any other. This retreat into frivolity is compounded a general feeling of powerlessness to make a difference that many people feel.

The development of the 'triumph of airheads' is supported by neuroscience research which indicates as our brains are continually bombarded by information our ability to reflect is being eroded away. Our society is literally 'shaping our brains', what is not being used is 'pruned', and neural pathways develop to cope with the rush of information being developed. As a result we don't think deeply and are attracted to novelty and triviality. Gare calls this the 'Paris Hilton effect' or the 'Big Brother cult' where superficial attractiveness is almost all there is. Light entertainment is the name of the game; 'the attraction of the simple and the silly'. Narcism - too much about 'me', 'my' self esteem and a corresponding casualness, or empathy, about people in need.

As a result important issues are given little thought - often until it is too late. Climate warming, water shortage, the growing gap between the rich and the poor and the sustainability of the planet are all such issues. There is even, she believes, a dislike of the serious.

Education comes in for criticism as well. Gare believes that the eduction children get is to shallow as a result many students leave with poor communication skills particularly literacy and numeracy and with no real feeling or understanding of other people in the world.

I have sympathy with her view about education although I am not a 'back to basics' person , unless, that is a love of learning is seen as basic. Teachers have had to implement complicated technocratic measurable curriculums where what is really important (or basic) is all too often lost. It has become a game of trivial pursuits or achieving targets and has contributed to the 'dumbing down of our society'.

What is required to stop this drift into 'airhead- ism' is an education system that encourages students to study rich topics in real depth to avoid shallow thinking. And, to please people like Shelley Gare, students who have the ability to write , speak, read, do basic maths and, most of all, to think.

This shouldn't be too hard to do if the technocrats and their endless new answers to solve the problems that have they have created would get out of the way.

It is only in schools dedicated to quality in depth learning that students minds can be shaped, to develop the reflectiveness required, to face up to the important issues that threaten to overwhelm us.

In the meantime it seem as a society happy to play the fiddle while Rome burns.

Our brains , she says, have been forced underground while gullible 'airheads' rule supreme.

As Gare says, 'Certainly, I can't remember a time in my life when society seems to have been more willfully delighted by ignorance, more stupendously spendthrift, more mind-blowingly uninterested in anything but the self gratification possible in the next five minutes.'

Lets start doing fewer thing well in our schools and making thinking viable again.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Making a real difference!

Poutama, the 'Stairway to learning' tukutuku pattern.
Te Kotahitanga Project
While the general population is being distracted by conservative schools claiming that old fashioned Cambridge pass/fail exams are the way to the future rather than the new national Certificate of Education ( NCEA) where all students are able to gain credit for their learning, there are more important issues to focus on.
The focus ought to be on about how best to teach so all can learn - particularly the so called 'achievement tail'.
So it was great to hear Russell Bishop, University of Waikato, talking on national radio about the Te Kotahitanga project which is clearly demonstrating Maori student achievement; students who, all too often, make up the poor achievement tail.
If I were a secondary school principal, with students who are failing, I would be learning as much about this project as I could and not just for Maori students but for everyone.
And their is plenty of material to read. A good start would be the book 'Culture Counts' by Russell Bishop and Ted Glyn. What 'counts' is the culture of the students, their life experiences and their existing knowledge; what 'counts' is involving students and their parents in the learning process; what 'counts' are the relationships between teachers and their students; what 'counts' are the teaching strategies teachers use in their classrooms and what 'counts' is the total culture of the school.
All the above challenges the current traditional approaches of many schools.
For progressive, or creative teachers, little will seem new. Even though the focus is on Maori students the ideas are relevant for all learners. And it is in line with the idea of 'personalising learning'. It is all about changing the power relationships in schools.It is all about the importance of respectful relationships and placing the learner at the centre of his, or her, own learning.
Most of all it has been shown to be successful. Students are succeeding, teachers , who once might have felt overwhelmed, are seeing positive results; it is a 'win win' situation for everyone.
And at heart it is all very simple ( even if it is hard to change both teachers and students mindsets).
It comes down , according to Bishop, to the following points.
Teachers who demonstrate they care for their students.
Teachers who hold high expectation of all their students.
Teacher who are well organised and prepared.
Teachers who have changed the way they interact with their students; who provide commentary and feedback to learners; who work with students to co-construct learning; who value students prior ideas; and who introduce relevant learning experiences.
Teachers with an expanded range of teaching strategies - who have developed an informed teaching practice. Maori students prefer small group or one to one involvement.
Te Kotahitanga is an approach based on respectful relationships.
The role of the teacher is vital - all too often teachers hold, what Bishop calls, 'deficit theories' about their Maori students leading to poor performance. Teachers involved in the project, given appropriate support, have had no problem adapting. The problem of low achievement has been in the performance of the teachers rather than the students.
Rather than being distracted by the Cambridge or NCEA 'debate' we ought to be putting into practice the ideas as outlined by Bishop and his co researchers. And it is not that the ideas are in themselves new ( although their emphasis on Maori learning is ) but it is the proven results that 'count' the most.
For information check out Te Kotahitnga material on the Ministry of Education site and the Te Mana Korero 2 kit available in all schools called ' Teachers making a difference for Maori students.
It would be a shame if such great ideas were to be sidelined because they are seen as suitable only for Maori students.

Monday, March 26, 2007

About learning from John Cleese

Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind

John Cleese once spent ten enjoyable years, earlier in his life, as a history teacher but he says , 'today's educational trends which focus on specific metrics of accountability, represents a fundamental change in mindsets that demands some pretty outstanding creativity on the teachers part.'

Cleese writes that he has been interested in what makes people creative for over forty years. His first discovery about creativity was when he went to bed with a problem unsolved he would find that in the morning the solution had mysteriously arrived and, often, he couldn't remember what the problem had been in the first place. He thought this was, 'very strange.'

He then came upon research in the 30s about what makes people creative by Donald McKinnon, from Berkeley University, which found that most creative people had two characteristics . The first was a great facility for play.They would play with problems out of real curiosity not because they had to. And the second characteristic was they were prepared to ponder longer before resolving it. The more creative people had a 'childish capacity' to become timelessly absorbed in play when they were intrigued.

Cleese found this fascinating but counter intuitive as, he says, our current ethos dictates that the only real kind of thinking is quick, logical and purposeful. Any other kind being seen as sloppy, amateur, self indulgent and wasting time.

Cleese agrees that there is a time to do things quickly but feels hurrying has become a mind set. The assumption that the kind of thinking we should be using all the time is fast, purposeful, logical, computer type thinking is, in his, words, 'poppycock'

'We don't know where we get our ideas from', he writes, 'but it certainly isn't from our laptops.They just pop out of our heads somehow, from out of the blue.'

Cleese believes we all know this slower thinking works but we don't quite trust it so he was, 'overjoyed' to find a book 'Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind' by academic psychologist Guy Claxton. Claxton use the phrase 'hare brain' to to refer to the deliberate conscious thinking we do when we apply reason and logic to known data.'Tortoise mind', on the other hand, is more playful, leisurely, even dreamy. We ponder a problem rather than earnestly trying to solve it, by bearing it in mind as we watch the world go by.

Why Cleese asks, 'has the tortoise brain become neglected?' One reason he continues, is because the hare brain is articulate.It can explain itself because it is consciously aware of is own capacity. It can show the working as in a maths problem. The 'hare brain' can always justify itself.

Cleese believes we ought not to distrust the 'tortoise mind' because simply because it is not articulate, 'we must be willing to give it time to find ways to express itself before we let our articulate hare brain in to analyze it'.

He concludes by saying, 'when we are stuck, when we see we're just digging the same hole deeper, that's when we need to use our tortoise mind.I promise you, it will aways produce new ideas.'

Makes sense to me.

We can't measure or rationalize everything - certainly not the really important things. I have always believed that education is far to important to take seriously. Lets have some serious fun for a change.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Don't forget teaching!

Inspiring learning - the forgotten challenge
Recently we have seen schools appoint new Boards of Trustees. Boards of Trustees were introduced as the key element of 'self managing schools'. Democracy in action - appointed to represent the wishes of the local community they seem to have been lost the last decade or so in administration, finance, buildings and complying to endless compliance demands.
Any idea of influencing the direction of school philosophy and programmes has been well and truly lost. Some would say thank goodness.
Whatever, the emphasis now needs to be placed on teaching and learning - and responding to the particular needs of each individual student A new phrase has entered the educational ring - 'personalised learning' but, for those with long memories, it will sound very familiar. For those who have been 'colonised by managerialism and rational 'one size fits all' curriculums it will be either a challenge or an intellectual problem.
Schools never should have been distracted from their only important function - inspiring all children to retain and extend their natural love of learning.
Forget about how to run the school ( give BOTs the some administrative help to do this ) and for goodness sake get school to work together! A recent report on BOTs said the biggest issue in our schools was 'a lack of connectivity'! Self managing has become stand alone - or apart.
To develop inspirational schools BOTs ought to work with their teaching teams, students and the parent community to develop schools that really attract and engage all their students. It seems, at present, we know how to extend the more capable but have no idea about how to solve the long lack of achievement tail.
Creative teachers know how to inspire even the most reluctant students and always have but they need the trust and freedom to do so. Inspirational talented teachers are the key to future success. They need to be valued and put in touch with each other, other teachers and other schools so as to spread their wonderful ideas. We have had enough of education by distant committee, contracts, targets, audit cultures, imposition of incoherent curriculums and endless compliance requirements.
Up until now we have been busy re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic - worrying about weather antiquated Cambridge exams or complicated technocratic modules will win the day when the ship is sinking. It is obvious exams fail half the students ( that was their point - to sort the wheat from the chaff) and the module system, as it is currently implemented, is not inspiring many students who see it as a grab bag of bits and pieces.
Inspiring students , of any age, in tasks that really engage them and give them a chance to both develop their competence and their talents is the answer. The trouble is students can't be measured using old ideas of assessment - they can only be measured by what they can do, perform , create,and demonstrate and by their attitudes toward further learning.
The real challenge for BOTs is to create 'their' schools as creative learning communities for both 'their' teachers ( to attract and keep the best) and for students ( to develop each individuals set of talents) and they will have to work with other schools both to share and to gain new ideas.
Inspiring all learners to learn for learning's own sake is the real challenge or problem. As H L Menken , the American journalist once said, ' 'Serious problems often get easy solutions and the easy answers are always wrong.'
Time for some new thinking at the BOT level?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Accountability or 'Accountabalism'

Accountability is destroying creativity.

Accountability has gone terribly wrong says David Weinberger, a marketing consultant, whose latest book is named 'Everything is Miscellaneous'.

'Accountabalism' is the , 'practice of eating sacrificial victims in an attempt to magically ward off evil.'

Weinberger says we have been, 'lured by the myth of precision'. Accountabalism 'suggests there is a right or wrong answer to every question' and that we can measure all results exactly.

'Accountabalism' has well and truly spread to schools where compliance and the need to measure selected achievement targets to prove success is the name of the game.

Accountabalism, according to Weinberger, is premised on two seductive myths.

1 Systems go wrong because of individuals

2 The right set of controls will enable those who know best to prevent individuals from creating disasters.

The real problem of accountabalism is that accountability measures allow us to live in state of denial about how little control we as individuals have over our environment.

Accountabalism believes that when things go wrong the answer is to impose yet another level of accountability; more forms, more compliance. The trouble is this imposition is at the sacrifice of creativity , innovation and adaptability.

Schools will be well aware of the above problems.

Accountabalism assumes perfection. The trouble is organisations are not machines and even machines break down. Schools are not capable of anything near perfection so things 'go wrong' a lot. This is natural and does not mean the system is broken and does not require heavy handed compliance processes, or schools trying to self delude themselves by pretending all is well.

Accountabalism ignores human nature and, 'underestimates the twistiness of human minds and motivations.' Accountabalism refuses to 'acknowledge how people think and work differently' vital if creativity and initiative is to be encouraged.

As a result of all this mono cultures are created ( a 'one size fits all mentality') that are disastrous for innovation and, as well, it 'makes work no fun'.

So accountabalism, while it claims to increase individual responsibility ( the so called 'self managing' schools) , drives out professionalism and human judgement creating in the process low trust cultures with policies and procedures to follow for everything.

Accountabilism Weinberger says, 'has squeezed centuries of thought about how to entice people towards good behaviors' . Morality and professional judgement have been bureaucratized to the point that too many of us now believe we can exert any control at all.

As we move into a creative era our organisation, particularly schools, are encouraging a seriously dysfunctional compliance mindset.

What we need to do is to put pressure on those who have subverted our creativity and start to develop our schools as learning organizations capable of organic growth able to respond to the needs of their communities and students.

Down with accountability - up with creativity!

PS We have had enough of Ministry C.R.A.P. - Ministry continually revising all procedures.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

It's about who can tell the best story.

The power of telling authentic stories -spreading an 'idea virus'.

The power of storytelling is now being recognised .

Rational sensible people believe that if you can produce enough, data, facts and information about anything people will believe whatever you are trying to convince them is the right course of action.

Not so, writes Seth Godin, author of an interesting book called"All Marketers are Lairs'. People are attracted by those who can tell the best stories and that this has always been the case. As our ancestors noticed things they invented stories to explain them . Real facts have little to do with such beliefs.

Such stories are seen as shortcuts when we are too overwhelmed with data. Believing stories make our lives easier even if stories can never tell the whole truth. To make things more interesting, Godin writes, some people cannot handle the truth. No one , he says, buys facts they buy a story. So if you want to sell, or spread, an idea you need to appreciate and respect what people believe no matter how irrational it may seem to you.

So success depends on telling great stories to capture people's imagination. Such stories are not necessarily true or factual but they need to be trustworthy, authentic, credible and consistent. And the less spelt out the better - stories are appreciated as first impressions matching the 'voice' of the listener and appealing to all the senses. Stories however will not appeal to everyone - they need to agree with the worldview of the listener and if they do will make the audience feel smart and secure. Once people believe in a story they then work hard to make them true.

If you are interested in telling, or marketing ideas, understanding the power of storytelling is vital. Children are educated, politicians elected, religions thrive, jobs gained and goods sold by stories believed ( for better or worse) .

Stories, once believed, are then hard to change no matter the truth. Sometimes there is almost no connection between what is actually there and what we believe. People , it seems, do not like changing the world views; this is the reason why the emperor got away with wearing no clothes! People hate admitting they're wrong.

Godin's book is all about how to tell great mind changing stories. The point he makes is that you are not in charge of people's attention - people will not listen unless it resonates with their and beliefs and biases. Even if they do listen to your story it will be distorted in the process to fit their beliefs.

So getting your story right is the issue - not the facts and figures.

The key is to understand people's 'world views', or 'frames of reference', and to appreciate you can't change a persons 'word view' by insisting on them understating the facts. The best way, Godin's writes, is to build on and amplify what people currently believe. Thankfully, even though we are all individuals, people 'clump together' into common worldviews that the story teller can build on - and to appreciate that each group wants to hear stories that support their own worldview.

The best story tellers are artists who are skilled on building on what people want.

There are messages in this book for a wide range of people from politicians to teachers - and it is important that story telling can be powerfully misused. Success depends on who tells the 'best' stories. Stories fail when the people, who once believed in it, decide it fails.

Godin's advice is to tell the best stories you can to the people at the 'edge' and not to aim to capture everyone - the rest will take care of itself. Once an idea becomes believed it will spread , Godin writes, like an 'ideavirus' in a fertile environment.

Without powerful stories old stories die hard. People don't like changing their minds. Godin's advice is to 'hook' ideas onto an old story.

If stories people believe are everything what is your story?

What is your school's story?

Do they need building on?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Learn to think the opposite!

The wrong way might be the right way!

While waiting to catch flight at Singapore Airport earlier this month I picked up a small book to fill in time called ,'Whatever you Think -Think the Opposite' by Paul Arden. Arden is the creative director at Saatch & Saatch in the UK.

The book is all about the benefits of making bad decision, shows how risk is your security in life, and why unreason is better than reason; how the wrong way to think is the right way to win.

'Original ideas', Arden writes, 'are created by original people, people who either through instinct or insight know the value of being different and recognise the commonplace as a dangerous place to be'.

Too many people try to make decisions based on facts and evidence but the trouble with sensible decisions is that everybody else is making the same decision. If you aways make the 'right', or the safe decision, says Arden, everybody else is also making the same decision and you will end up the same as everybody else.

Making the same decision is dull, predictable and leads nowhere new.The unsafe decision he says,'causes you to think and respond in a way you hadn't thought of', and in the process, 'will take you to a place where others only dream of being.'

Arden believes you ought to be in charge of your own life and that you ought to learn to, 'rock the boat.' Unfortunately in the process of 'growing up' we reach the 'age of reason' and begin to think in more adult ways - risk then becomes something that must be carefully considered.

Being unreasonable is required to thrive, says Arden, quoting George Bernard Shaw, 'The reasonable man adapts himself to the world.The unreasonable man adapts the world to himself.All progress depends on the unreasonable man.'

Knowledge makes us play safe, the secret he says, is to stay childish - I prefer childlike.

Too many people spend too much time gathering data before they actually do anything. Arden's advice is 'to run with what you have got, and fix it up as you go'. So much for all this nonsense about evidence based teaching if you want to develop imaginative and creative students.

It is all about how you present yourself. 'Most people are other people, their thoughts are someone elses opinions, their lives a mimicry', says Arden, quoting Oscar Wilde.

So , he asks, what is your point of view? Advances in any field are built upon people with a personal points of view. The prevailing point of view is what the majority think. Having the courage to stand up for your own point of view in the face of public opinion is what makes you a winner.

If ideas are fresh and new you can't expect others to like them straight away - ideas have to be applied before they are recognised as good ideas. Oddly, Arden says, the people who struggle most are often the ones who eventually become the most successful.

Going to university, he says, is all to often a delaying tactic. Go to work, is his advice, and do your learning in the school of life. Solving problems is the exciting part, not knowing the answers. Good marks will not secure you an interesting life - only your imagination will.

Arden concludes his stimulating book by asking readers to simply change their lives. The world, he says, it what you make it. So think different and your life will change.

A good read for schools and Ministry technocrats who seem determined to destroy the idiosyncratic talents and imagination of their most creative students by their obsession with sensible planning and obsessive accountability.

As we enter an age of creativity it is time to be unreasonable I think.

If you think you can - you can!

It's all in the mind!

As Henry Ford once said. 'If you think you can or you think you can't - you're both right.'

Recent research by Stanford Professor Carol Dweck and her colleagues , published in her book ,'Mindset: The New Psychology of Success', recommends that students need to become aware of how their brains work.

She suggests:

  • That we teach our students to think of their brains as a muscle that strengthens with use forming new connections every time they learn.This certainly fits in with those who hold a constructivist view of learning.
  • That we teach students appropriate study skills and convey to them that by using these methods it will help their brains learn better.
  • That we should discourage using labels ( and streaming) that convey to students that their intelligence is fixed.
  • That we should encourage students to appreciate that there is wide range of ways of being intelligent - schools that are aware of Howard Gardner's research on multiple intelligences will be aware of this. Schools that focus on narrow literacy and numeracy targets will be giving students the wrong message.
  • Teachers ought to focus more on student's effort, strategies and progress rather than praising their talent or intelligence . Students need to see mistakes as positive rather that negative events - something to learn from and not to fear making
  • Most of all teachers need to give students relevant challenging work that students see as fun.

Everybody ( including teachers) should be seen as capable of growth - that everyone has their own mix of strengths and weaknesses. Everyone should be rewarded for their love of learning ( a phrase originally in our NZ draft curriculum but removed - to hard to measure?). All learners should be rewarded for making an effort and for asking for help.

This brain friendly teaching also requires that teachers learn to 'do fewer things well' so as to allow students to value the need to learn in depth. And it requires projects that are open ended, even messy, to match the kind of learning that brains are stimulated by in 'real life'.

If we take this advice then, Dweck believes, we will change the metal model of our students ( and their teachers) and allow students' brains to learn better, learn more, and make more connections.

This is the kind of learning behavior we will need for a creative era.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Imagine by John Lennon.
Imagine if we could start from scratch to really design a school system for a creative age.
All too often 'reforms' are attempts to sort out problems created by previous reforms and are akin to trying to patch up the Titanic!
What if schools weren't organised in traditional ways?
Take a look at a nearby secondary school - consider they were designed to produce students for an industrial era and owe much of their thinking to a past factory age mentality.
Consider why are school holidays and hours are organised as they currently are? Why is learning fragmented and timetabled the way it is?
Why is there such a difference between primary and secondary school approaches - and need this be so? Why do schools work independently of each other and in isolation from their communities?
In the United Kingdom such questions are being asked by the Innovations Unit of their education department and outlined in their booklet 'Next Practice in System Leadership'.
It would seem that we need to merge the expertise and pedagogy of primary and secondary teachers and to develop a more unified years 1-12 approach.
In the UK a range of scenarios are being attempted. In one village a school has been established combining a primary and a secondary school with a whole village leadership structure. In another area a secondary school and its feeder schools are establishing a whole town delivery of of educational services.
The landscape of school leadership is changing. Headteachers are taking on the responsibility of leading more than one school in forms of partnerships and federations. By doing this they are able to provide a diverse range of integrated services to their students.
Such developments might be a glimpse of a future in where the whole idea of 'school' might be 're-imagined'.
Such developments would need centralised support and encouragement. Pilots groups could well be established in an attempt to pioneer more effective models for the future.
Once educationalists start to think of new models all sorts of ideas would emerge some of which might provide exciting alternatives to the current traditional system - a system which is obviously currently failing too many students.
Those who are interested in such ideas ought to download a booklet by Michael Fullan on System Thinkers . In this publication Fullan writes that in the future school heads have to be as concerned about the success of other schools as that are about their own school. He believes that sustainable improvement of schools is not possible unless the whole system is moving forward. Over the years he has come concerned with: developing networks to share better practice; the radical concept of personalising learning ( fitting the curriculum to the learner and not vice versa) ; and now he is thinking about wider developing systemic changes as outlined above.
He believes that most current initiatives amount to adjustments to the current system rather than a new and more fundamental way of working necessary if we are to move beyond success gained by imposing 'informed prescriptions' on schools - the success of which is now plateauing out due to lack of ownership of the schools themselves.
The role of the centre ,writes Fullan, is to set up the conditions for cultivating the wisdom of the system - to mobilize that the ingenuity and creative resources of the whole system to develop a 'collective commitment'.
He says we have an ingenuity gap - and that we can't rely on whatever 'wisdom' is able to rise to the Ministry levels! Fullan is asking for a return of moral purpose to our system. Solutions he writes can only be solved locally but not independently.
Tapping and sharing the wisdom of schools and teachers will not be easy as politicians prefer short term ad hoc solutions. If collective wisdom can be tapped a new creative commitment could be developed to achieve system transformation.
Such a transmission of our antiquated system would be exciting.
Creative leadership at all levels will be vital.
As John Lennon sang - imagine if!

India's Active Learning Vision

India - a country on the move.

India, writes Richard Hanzella ( President of the ascd) is a democratic country on the move (only China is growing faster). India is becoming an economic force to be reckoned with.

India, he says, may be a messy chaotic country but it is progressing on all fronts including education. Education is being seen as a way of developing an India with one 'voice'.

Rather than worrying about test scores and achievement data as in the West ( and NZ) Indian educators are most concerned with developing students who are able to face future challenges as active learners says Hanzella. India has a National Curriculum with interesting guiding principles : the need to connect knowledge to life outside school; an avoidance of rote methods; enriching curriculum challenges rather than textbooks; and nurturing an over-riding identity informed by caring concern within the democratic policy of the country.

The Indian framework is all about enhancing children's natural desire and strategies to learn. It is all about meaningful and inclusive learning respecting each learner, including a strong emphasis on the arts at all stages as an important way to build a sense of one's self.

Social justice and equality are seen as vital as is the ability to respond to new situations in a flexible and creative manner with predispositions towards participation in democratic processes.

I may look an impossible ask but, according to Hanzella, the Indian will is strong and the spirit engaged. He saw in all the diverse schools he visited similar goals being articulated.

He concludes by stating the Western emphasis on testing and achievement competence is taking us away from basic needs of learners. India's emphasis on learning, Hanzell writes, can encourage us all.

The Indian Curriculum Framework opens with a quotation from India's greatest poet Rabindranath Tagore:

'When I was a child I had the freedom to make my own toys out of trifles and create my own games from imagination...One day in this paradise of our childhood, entered a temptation from the market world of the adult. A toy bought from an English shop was given to one of our companions; it was perfect, big and wonderfully life like. He became proud of his toy and less mindful of the game; he kept that expensive thing carefully away from us, glorying in his exclusive possession of it, feeling superior to his playmates whose toys were cheap....One thing he failed to realize in his excitement ....that this temptation obscured something a great deal more perfect than his toy, the revelation of the perfect child. The toy merely expressed his wealth, but not the child's creative spirit, not the child's generous joy in his play, his open invitation to all who were his companions to his play-world.'

Is this what we are missing in New Zealand - the joy of learning with others for its own sake? Of the importance of imagination and creativity - all impossible to measure but easy to see.

Perhaps the new 'buzz phrase' of 'personalising' learning will put us, in the materialistic West, back on the right track?

It's ironic that while Asian countries are valuing the creativity and imagination they admire in the West the West is trying to compete with the Asian countries success in basic learning!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Big Picture

An interconnected world.
It's been a while since I wrote a blog!
For the past three weeks or so I have been travelling in Vietnam. To fill in the flights and the various long bus trips I bought a book by Jared Diamond called 'Collapse', subtitled 'how societies choose to fail or survive', to amuse myself.
It turned out to be an ideal book to read in a 'third world' country because many of the points he makes were illustrated during my travels.
It has become apparent to me that there is no guarantee that the world as we know it will be sustained if we do not make some real choices. Civilisation as we know is at risk of collapsing - the thesis of Diamond's book.
He introduces his book by taking a close look at one of America's 'green' states Montana and shows that all is not well. The chapter is a warning for those in New Zealand who are complacent about our so called 'green clean' reputation. The water is not as clean as it should be and the soil not as pure ( due to mining) - Montana's case is model for the world.
The fate of Easter Island is a worse case scenario. The various chiefs competed for resources to build the famous heads in the process clearing all the trees and in turn their society - Easter Island is a powerful metaphor for the rest of the world.
Diamond outlines the failures of a range of cultures, big and small, ancient and modern, who have failed to survive for a variety of reasons as well as societies that have made better choices and have survived even in the most difficult of environments. Trees and water conservation lie behind success or failure of most societies plus the ability of people to learn from their experiences, other cultures, and not be blinded by beliefs and practices that are no longer appropriate.
The point he is making is that today, due to globalisation, (unlike earlier societies like Easter Island) all societies are connected and interdependent on each other. He believes there are lessons we can learn if we have the imagination to do from the success or failures of other societies otherwise we will all suffer the fate of Easter Island.
Vietnam represents a country with aspirations to becoming a 'first world' country . Add the giants China and India to the mix and 'we' will have pressure on resources that until now only the first world has been able to take advantage of. Deforestation and water pollution are two problems I observed but most obvious was the desire of a growing population to acquire all the material goods the West takes for granted - motor bikes and increasingly cars.
Diamond points out that: we are destroying our natural habitats at an increasing rate; wild foods especially fish are increasingly are at risk; that we are losing genetic diversity; that land is being washed away by erosion and ruined by salinisation; that the world energy sources and reserves are being depleted unwisely; that the chemical industry is providing unintended toxic consequences; that introduced 'alien' species are out of control in many parts of the world; that human activity is producing greenhouse gases contributing to global warming; and finally that the human population, although slowing, is still growing but worse still demanding resources and life styles once restricted to the West.
All these issues are apparent in Vietnam.
Sustainability will be become the only issue of real importance in the future but unfortunately it is a complex multi- dimensional problem. Unfortunately there are still many who believe that a faith in progress and technology will solve all our problems
Jared finishes his book with cautious optimism. There are positive examples worldwide, big and small, top down and bottom up, that provide inspiration for us all.
He also believes we can learn lessons from past and present cultures but only if there is a collective facing up to reality and a moral desire to achieve the best for the common good. National self interest and 'privatisation' will prove, as always, to be destructive. He draws attention to the fact that the world 'trouble spots' ( that involve 'first world' interventions) are all areas where there are environmental stress, over population and destabilisation of governments.
His cautious optimism results from the fact that most of out problems are caused by our own actions and that, if we can develop a new consciousness, we can solve most of them. We will need international political will to cooperate and that this will result from the pressure every individual puts on leadership in all societies and communities.
We all need to develop long term thinking about the sustainability of our world and the courage to make painful decisions and even sacrifices. Values such as materialism and particularly consumerism, will have to be replaced with values that will lead to a sense of a world wide community based on sustainable practices to protect, sustain and use resources wisely.
He believes if we all act wisely 'we can make a difference' that will benefit us all.
By the way I loved Vietnam.