Sunday, January 25, 2009

A new way the money goes

When I see the capital that is needed to save the banking sector and the automotive industry, and maybe there will be other sectors, I can't help but asking myself if this money is more real than the one these sectors have produced so far. There must be some endless reservoir somewhere. Maybe politicians have finally managed to find the only endless resource in the Universe before scientist have.

Anyway, as there seems to be no limit regarding the money that states manage and are asked to bring up, the other question that strikes to my mind is, if it's not time to seriously consider the proposition of a "Guaranteed minimum income" (GMI) for every citizen, or as I would prefer to formulate it, for every human being on earth - child or adult.

If you think this is a crazy idea which is not practicable, you probably have have one excuse and one reason for that. The excuse may be that you never have considered the idea - and therefore you have never taken the time to think it over in depth.

Recently I have read an interesting and convincing book by Götz Wolfgang Werner, a quite famous German businessman. The book is called Einkommen für alle. Der dm-Chef über die Machbarkeit des bedingungslosen Grundeinkommens, Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Köln 2007, ISBN 978-3-462-03775-3.

If this guy, who has proved many times in his career as a successful business man, to have a profound knowledge on a lot of what has to do with money, is convinced that the GMI is a feasible concept, I think it's worth considering the idea. I invite you to take the time to read about this visionary proposition come back to the negotiation table, when you have made up your mind on the basis of your own arguments and on the basis of arguments that you can find in quite a few sereous sources. So far for the excuse.

Now what about the reason for possibly rejecting the idea? You actually may think that people will never be mature and responsible enough to make a substantial contribution to society if they are not forced to work to earn some money and that this would be the end of society how it works today.

To this I must answer with two questions: Isn't the option to make a substantial contribution to society dependent on decent life conditions? And second, what in the end has been the substantial contribution to society of those who have a major responsibility in probably one of the biggest worldwide economic crisis the world has seen so far?

I don't want to go in a detailed discussion about the success of current economical models, as I don't want to speak to much about the necessity to save automotive industry in order to save jobs of ordinary employees or corporate jet users, when at least one of the main reasons for the decline of this industry, besides mismanagement, is that people have stopped considering buying cars as one of their priorities for the moment.

What I'm mostly interested in is what the effect on education would be of such a measure like providing every person on earth with a basic income that would be high enough to live decently and safely.

What would education be like if teachers and parents would not feel obliged to tell their students and children "If you don't learn you won't get a job, and you'll suffer all the consequences of being unemployed; no house, not enough food, no decent living for your children, no whatever you can think of that you only get if you got a job and enough money?"
What would the messages to the coming generation be like if there were no such threats like : "If you have no job, you will be forced to live in the street, to steel, to beg or at least you will always be dependent on someone else to survive?"

Maybe you would ask children more questions like: "What would you like to do in your life? What occupation would you find challenging?" Whatever their answer would be, you could reply: "Fine, if that's your life project, wouldn't it be great to find out what could be important to know if you want to do that?"

I'm sure there would still be people wanting to be astrophysicists, politicians, teachers, farmers or car builders. I can also imagine that there would be people doing nothing or doing the wrong things - as many do today - paid or not. We would also have to think of what incentives could motivate people to collect our garbage.

But what I am sure of, is, that we would develop a different viewpoint on what is important and interesting in life and what education is for. At least we could ask everyone what her/his life project is, without being sarcastic.

image source:
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Marketmakers.jpg
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jakarta_slumlife43.JPG

Monday, January 19, 2009

Thinking with Charles Darwin

On February 12th we are going to celebrate (some would probably prefer to say "deplore") Charles Darwin's 200s birthday and on November 24th 2009 the 150th anniversary of the publication of his book "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life" - in short called The Origin of Species. Another milestone of his work is the book "The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex" which he published in 1871.

Although many other scientists have worked on evolutionary theories, Darwin is the one who built his on the principles of mutation, variation and natural selection and the common descent of living organisms. The convergence of Charles Darwin's theory, with Mendel's findings on heredity, with the discovery of the DNA and it's role in heredity, but also with Wegener's theory of the continental drift and with many other theories have conducted to our modern view on the origine and the development of the living organisms, the face of the Earth and the Universe.

Ok, this is all stuff that you can read up in most science books and on the Internet. But there are two reasons why I think that it is important to bring this up on my blog on educational matters.
First, teachers are those who have to deal with the conflict between scientific findings and beliefs. Second, teachers have to encourage the development of critical thinking and scientific thinking - at least that's my point of view.

Regarding the first issue, there is a serious risk that science is not taught as it should because,"Teachers hesitate to offend to religious beliefs of their pupils even when these directly contradict scientific fact." as Richard Dawkins puts its. (For more information see: "The Genius of Charles Darwin" Richard Dawkins; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfAS2kBJDBw ; in 10 episodes.)

To get a feeling of how serious this problem is taken you should read the report "The dangers of creationism in education" by the Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Culture, Science and Education of the Council of Europe published June 8th 2007 (Doc. 11297). http://assembly.coe.int/main.asp?Link=/documents/workingdocs/doc07/edoc11297.htm

But there's the other issue. There is a risk that science is not taught as it should be, because schools continue to rely on a concept of transmission of knowledge which has much more in common with indoctrination and brainwashing than with teaching or with scientific thinking. I would even go so far as to say that this is not a risk but a fact in most classrooms.

To open a science book, to paraphrase the content of a chapter on evolution for example and to impose on the students that they memorize and recite the theories that have been presented has nothing - nothing at all - to do with anything that comes close to scientific thinking. Such a practice fosters belief, not very different from religious belief, but not thinking.

I see the same risk when students are asked to choose a "science" subject, to gather information on the Internet and to translate them "into their own words", during a few so called "project work" lessons. Even if this maybe more motivating and even challenging than to follow chalk-and-talk lessons, this isn't sufficient to produce thinking young people either. In my view this approach mainly produces superficial and fragmented knowledge and seldom helps students develop a transferable critical attitude, particularly if gathering and assembling of information is a substitute for discussion, negotiation of concepts, formulation of questions and hypothesis, reconstruction of scientific interpretations, justification of choices, evaluation of different viewpoints and analysis of their dependency on the sociocultural context in a specific period in history etc. (see also http://www.criticalthinking.org)

What's the use of such teaching if in the end, most of what is left of it are some simplistic beliefs (why should I call them concepts?) of how things work, were it mathematics, language, learning, intelligence or evolution.

Am I asking to much from school? I don't think so. I am asking less but more in depth work, much more time spent on one project and a lot of socratic dialogue. If you are of those who persist on thinking that past teaching methods were useful to develop scientific and critical thinking, I suggest that you design a test like the ones that have been developed for the PISA survey, but for adults - parents, teachers, whoever you want. You will see right away what I mean - as sure as death and taxes - and you will acknowledge that a lot of teaching has been, continues to be and will be for long nothing but a big waste of time.

But, we started with Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory.
How does it work again? ……………………………………………………? Who cares?
If it's important, and if I need it, I'll find it easily on wikipedia.org or in some other bible.
And if you give me some time, I'll put it in my own words if you prefer.
But there's this question that I can't get out of my mind:
Do I believe what I read or do I understand what I read?
Let's see if I can find the answer to this where I found the other one.
If not, maybe it's not a good question after all.

image sources:
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Darwin_ape.jpg
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Darwin_tree.png

Thursday, January 8, 2009

200th birthday of Louis Braille, January 4, 2009

Louis Braille's celebration day reminds me of the fact that it is not the child's disability that prevents her/his inclusion into mainstream schools but the school's disability to include children that do not fit into the norm. (Besides, being in the same building is not a sufficient condition for talking about integration or inclusion.)

Reading about Braille I also remembered how impressed I was as a child by the movie about Helen Keller and her tutor Anne Sullivan who taught her to communicate using a manual alphabet.

One thing that came to my mind, when I searched the net to find information about Louis Braille and his invention of the tactile reading system called braille, is that - as I can't read braille, not even identify one single word with my fingertips - I sure must have disability because I don't have this ability.

"The chief handicap of the blind is not blindness, but the attitude of seeing people towards them."
"The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight but has no vision."
Helen Keller

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Andragogy and Pedagogy, what's the Difference?

Recently I came across the term Andragogy which was used by Alexander Kapp in 1833 and which was adopted by Malcolm Knowles to designate "the art and science of teaching adults". (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedagogy).
On most websites dealing with andragogy, I found that it should be distinguished from pedagogy, which relates to teaching children. The authors generally state that andragogy, in opposition to pedagogy, builds upon a different (!?) set of assumptions (four or five) about learning.

I must say, that I was astonished when I read what these assumptions are, and I thought, well, if, in the view of these authors, these assumptions differ from those of pedagogy, I wonder what strange concept of pedagogy these authors must have. And, I also wonder what concept of children, childhood and children's learning they must have. Below, I've quoted from five different websites. See for yourself, and try to find for each statement an opposite view that you would associate with pedagogy - meaning the art and science of teaching children. I just couldn't find any.

I don't question the rightness and the usefulness of those statements in general, but I question that there exists a concept of pedagogy that builds on the opposite assumptions, even if sometimes realities of teaching may suggest that there is one. At least, in my personal view, pedagogy and andragogy are not different. To state that there is a difference, is also to state that meaningfulness of learning applies to adults and not to children - which is absurd - nothing more nothing less.

From http://tip.psychology.org/knowles.html :
"(…) Andragogy makes the following assumptions about the design of learning: (1) Adults need to know why they need to learn something (2) Adults need to learn experientially, (3) Adults approach learning as problem-solving, and (4) Adults learn best when the topic is of immediate value. (…)"

From http://agelesslearner.com/intros/andragogy.html :
"(…) The andragogic model asserts that five issues be considered and addressed in formal learning. They include (1) letting learners know why something is important to learn, (2) showing learners how to direct themselves through information, and (3) relating the topic to the learners' experiences. In addition, (4) people will not learn until they are ready and motivated to learn. Often this (5) requires helping them overcome inhibitions, behaviors, and beliefs about learning. (…)"

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andragogy :
"(…) Knowles' theory can be stated as four simple postulates: 1. Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction (Self-concept and Motivation to learn). 2. Experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for learning activities (Experience). 3. Adults are most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance to their job or personal life (Readiness to learn). 4. Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented (Orientation to learning). (…)"

From http://www.infed.org/lifelonglearning/b-andra.htm :
"(…) 1. Self-concept: As a person matures his self concept moves from one of being a dependent personality toward one of being a self-directed human being 2. Experience: As a person matures he accumulates a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning. 3. Readiness to learn. As a person matures his readiness to learn becomes oriented increasingly to the developmental tasks of his social roles. 4. Orientation to learning. As a person matures his time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application, and accordingly his orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject-centeredness to one of problem centredness. 5. Motivation to learn: As a person matures the motivation to learn is internal (Knowles 1984:12). (…)"

From http://campustechnology.com/Articles/2008/10/The-Institutional-Path-for-Change-in-This-Age-Andragogy-not-Pedagogy.aspx :
"(…) 1. Letting learners know why something is important to learn 2. Showing learners how to direct themselves through information 3. Relating the topic to the learners' experiences 4. People will not learn until they are ready and motivated to learn 5. Requires helping them overcome inhibitions, behaviors, and beliefs about learning (…)"

Some Reading Milestones

  • Towards reflexive method in archaeology : the example at Çatalhöyük (edited by Ian Hodder) 2000

  • The Book of Learning and Forgetting (Frank Smith) 1998

  • Points of Viewing Children's Thinking: A Digital Ethnographer's Journey (Ricki Goldman-Segall) 1997

  • Verstehen lehren (Martin Wagenschein) 1997

  • Computer im Schreibatelier (Gérard Gretsch) 1992

  • The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter. Uses of Storytelling in the Classroom (Vivian Gussin Paley) 1991

  • La cause des adolescents (Françoise Dolto) 1988

  • Scuola di Barbiana. Die Schülerschule. Brief an eine Lehrerin. (Edition of 1980) / read in German 1982
    Letter to Teacher by the Schoolboys of Barbiana (1970)
    Lettre à une maîtresse de'école, par les enfants de Barbiana (1968)
    Lettera à una professoressa (Original Edition) 1967


  • Vers une pédagogie institutionnelle (Aïda Vasquez, Fernand Oury) 1967



Documentary Films on Education

  • Eine Schule, die gelingt (by Reinhard Kahl) 2008

  • Les temps des enfants (Jacques Duez) 2007

  • Klassenleben (by Bernd Friedmann und Hubertus Siegert) 2006

  • Lernen - Die Entdeckung des Selbstverständlichen
    (Ein Vortrag von Manfred Spitzer) 2006

  • Die Entdeckung der frühen Jahre
    Die Initiative "McKinsey bildet" zur frühkindlichen Bildung (by Reinhard Kahl) 2006

  • Treibhäuser der Zukunft - Wie in Deutschland Schulen gelingen (by Reinhard Kahl) 2004

  • Treibhäuser der Zukunft / Incubators of the future / Les serres de l'avenir; International Edition (by Reinhard Kahl) 2004

  • Journal de classe, 1ères audaces (1), Les échappés (2), Sexe, amour et vidéo (3), L'enfant nomade (4), Remue-méninges (5) (by Wilbur Leguebe, Jacques Duez, Agnès Lejeune) 2004

  • Spitze - Schulen am Wendekreis der Pädagogik (by Reinhard Kahl) 2003

  • Journal de classe, (by Wilbur Leguebe and Agnès Lejeune; Jacques Duez) 2002

  • Etre et Avoir (by Nicolas Philibert) 2002

  • The Stolen Eye (by Jane Elliott) 2002

  • The Angry Eye (by Jane Elliott) 2001

  • A l'école de la providence (by Gérard Preszow) 2000

  • Blue-Eyed (by Jane Elliott) 1996

  • A Class Divided (by Jane Elliott) 1984

  • Eye of The Storm (with Jane Elliott) 1970

Past quotes of the day

For every problem, there is one solution which is simple, neat and wrong. Henry Louis Mencken

Traveler, there is no path. Paths are made by walking.
Antonio Machado

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Immanuel Kant

The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them. Albert Einstein

To paraphrase a famous quotation, all that is necessary for the triumph of damaging educational policies is that good educators keep silent. Alfie Kohn

We used to have lots of questions to which there were no answers. Now, with the computer, there are lots of answers to which we haven't thought up the questions. Peter Ustinov

I had a terrible education. I attended a school for emotionally disturbed teachers. Woody Allen

A professor is someone who talks in someone else's sleep. W. H. Auden

When I was an inspector of schools I visited one classroom and looked at a boys book. He'd written, 'Yesterday, Yesterday, Yesterday, Sorrow, Sorrow, Sorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Love, Love, Love.' I said, 'That's a lovely poem.' He said, 'Those are my spelling corrections.' Gervase Phinn

Real thinking never starts until the learner fails. Roger Schank

If what is wanted is a reexamination of schooling in terms of purpose, structure and process, then testing programmes are the wrong vehicle (...) Caroline V. Gipps

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. Albert Einstein

Act always so as to increase the number of choices. Heinz von Foerster

Another way of avoiding teaching is by relying exclusively on a textbook, workbooks, and other commercially packaged learning materials. Teaching is reduced to administering a set curriculum without giving any thought to the substance of what the students area learning or to their particular needs. H. Kohl

The right to ignore anything that doesn't make sense is a crucial element of any child's learning - and the first right children are likely to lose when they get to the controlled learning environment of school. F. Smith

Learning is the human activity which least needs manipulation by others. Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful activity. - Ivan Illich

Too often we give our children answers to remember rather than problems to solve. - Roger Lewin

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. - Mark Twain

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