Thursday, December 1, 2011

The poor PLANS , PEOPLE and PAPER balance

Nobody who works in public life is against Plans,  but power desperate Polys (and those who follow their lead ) produce far too many of them . Presumably its often a sense of powerlessness and remoteness (CEO's now often do not KNOW the organisations they run ) that drives this new wave of snowing .

How does Green labor come to think that Canberra can coordinate the States action in the Murray Darling Plan. The Carbon tax too,  is ambitious  beyond its means. How long will Labor's new love affair with the market last ? Not long , because its a pretence - a pretence that says price will avoid paper . The politics of paper and plans seems to move in extremes . Too often people who act professionally but are treated poorly by the powerful  are casualities

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bland Curriculum constrictions

  James Paterson (IPA) in The Australian ( nov 11) and in Quadrant  makes a strong point about the reasons why Australians are now faced with more pedantic and overly bureaucratic education review . In presuming to tell teachers how to teach,  and what they are doing wrong ( perhaps rather than tell the parents ) our political parties are doing our best teachers and our educations system great wrong .  If only pollies wouldn't meddle or think they know things in other people's area of expertise.I must stop dreaming  

....And get back to a memorable lesson and how it happened . A good teacher  has a rather special way of approaching any subject , and its not helped by trying to define "The lesson" too closely in phrases and words  that everyone ( esp a non teacher ) understands. That is to bring boring forward and leave basic excitement outside the room . That is to make the teacher the educator of the bureau and as everyone knows on that subject -most of our best teachers don't want to go back to kindergarten .
The lesson is a whole and , like a good meal , is best enjoyed and approved  as a complete thing .
 I would argue  the case that it's  "the extras"and the links to them  ( the "externalities" in ecosystem or economics, if you like )  that often  make a subject  interesting  eg a powerful discussion on renewable energy links  maths, physics and plant biochemistry or fun food learning needs a bit of secondary level chemistry to make fun with food technology more than a mere list of checkboxes .Kids learn,  and learn how to learn by glimpsing process in nature , not nature in isolation - in categories . You will reduce boring if you have the right  links.     Kids,  like us, learn more by linking subjects than we do by studying them in isolation. Its part of what we say when we say "learning best by doing" too.
Just listing the components is just making a very, very long list,  which no teacher has time to check list ( even though bureau persons in Canberra and Spring street might )
There is a lot to be said for the old system in Victoria where non core subject matter is  categorized generally so that only the final product is approved ( rather than try and talk to the parts as they do in curriculum review)
For example learning about responsible use of alcohol is not a matter of telling kids how many stubbies is good for your health  . Good education is a matter of TRUST which means the pollies are probably undermining it by trying to take full control of it.
With alcohol and good health lessons you  either
-leave it to their parents,
-have a  clear approved lesson  of what is to be taught in a form parents can clearly understand ,( Vic system)
--or use only people the parents trust to teach the sensitive non core subjects ( has to be clear that they do ) .
Politicians meddling in the categories and undermining the trust and technical soveriegnty of a "good lesson " undermines,  like a good meal,  the right combination of ingredients that make them both interesting , tasty and memorable .Education should be edgy and the curriculum approach is anything but edgy.

Any more ideas on how we can avoid the ongoing dumbing down of education in Australia?
The stream of parents choosing private schools says something about  more interesting combinations of subjects and values than the plain flour meals offered as gospel in too many public schools

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Original ideas - rarer than we all think

While Australia's media elite fail to recognize their old childish chorus of delight in all things reactionary (wars on everything old explains their venerability to new things technical ) they will continue to drag their audiences into the predictable reactionary dullness that has dogged the ABC for the last 30years .Greers constant reappearance on the ABCTV  clearly illustrates that the ABC is stuck in the past.
As the eternal appeal of Shakespeare, and Williamson show ,some recipes don't need to change,but can benefit from the new medium .

Clearly ncp (Trioli 's forum tonight) are confused enough to not recognize that more technology won't help when more honest talk may.
ABC success is dependant on allowing objective outsiders scripts to air ( the slap ,no1 detective ) NOT the tribe of commentators waiting in the wings for another contract.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The perfect subject for a discussion --Hot Air

 Our PM and her mates somehow developed the view that hot air concerns were something simple that she could discuss with the public- how could she get it so wrong ? It seemed to them last week that it was pretty simple ---so  that maybe is where the problem still lies.
To have a good discussion you have to limit the points to something that's simple. Something that has clear boundaries  and is easy to visualize.
"Air is really pretty simple" ( only largely N,C O H Ar ) Tick that
" Warming is pretty  simple "  ( we all experience that every day ) Tick that
"Global warming is pretty simple" tick that   "Fossil fuels heat up our our homes and engines so why not our atmosphere"  It all makes sense , simple sense to most people. Tick
Check.  Best of all there will be no unexpected arguments against what we say because you can't see any of the things we are talking about . Perfect
"Not only is radiation  invisible its divisible and so is air . Even if we are wrong ,its going to be very hard to prove us wrong . Our bloke knows more air than their bloke and no one in the media wants a long debate nbout things they can't see . It''ll be  fun and ,  no way we can lose - we have picked something too deep for us and too deep for them ---- to top it off " it looks simple "---- if you want to see it that way " Big tick
Real Science stuff on the atmosphere is awe fully boring because anything to do with organic chemistry , fluid dynamics and radiation  is really complex let alone together .
Lucky for polys the key elements are invisible and  highly divisible
---AIR Look at the forces acting on it ; downward there is weight , and horizontally drag at the lower boundary and inertia right through to the top ; Turbulence throughout creating layers and eddies. Mountains push it up and carry water with it  in all sorts of forms that drastically change the radiation and reflection patterns over every square inch of earth.  

HEAT energy from the sun manages to heat up one edge of this turbulent flow in a way which is greatly influenced by the amount and height of water in the atmosphere directly above it .Meanwhile,  the wind blows and carries the complexity all ways
ALL TOGETHER  -lots and lots of different types of  radiation running largely through the air  and in changing ways each day and season  .
- and every day and in every place the effect of water from the surface has an impact on whose talking to who
- on one boundary users of NCOHAr are acting against the laws of  physics by using up some of the air contents in a way that is mind bogglingly complex.
I am not confused or committed to reducing Co2 . The greenhouse effect has never been properly demonstrated and most long wave radiation we produce is most likely being lost to space. Doesn't stop people thinking otherwise.
Not easy to see whose bumping into whom and what they are saying when they do .   More here  Copyright riskwithin

Friday, July 1, 2011

Changing the categories

Being completely rational has its down side - Too much information and too many categories AND  too many categories that keep changing .The Greeks knew that , but somehow thousands of years later we are more than happy to wander around in a fog of changing word meanings -, unable at many levels to go back and find out ---what went  wrong ?   This confusion at coping level can't last and threatens our civilness via our ability to agree on consensus and settled logic stuff. 

A rock was once a rock - now its a bit of silica and a lot of oxygen  but if it were just those 2 , we still wouldn't know what it was . How it came about is critical to whatever it is - the story is important and critical .Something similiar seems to be helpful for corroborating categories 
The problem of changing names for things is not such a big issue for settled science which is very helpful because we can get on with our jobs eg . We know an neutron is not a neutron but who cares -  "we know where it is and where it fits"

BUT its a big problem with big picture stuff - values and the value we put into words ( or take away from them eg changing meaning of "wicked") . Good intentions abound , but any thinking person knows that "good intentions" create the greatest evil when the application does not cut it where it counts on the ground , when we don't look at the truth because we don't like it ( in ourselves for example) or when we deny things ( like evil when we in the West dispose of the word " wicked:") 

We don't need rulings ( the law ) as much as we need  something to measure things with - that's good science and good faith and good  relations (way back to some consensus about what to call things of importance). Otherwise the law and mere words may just be a very course imposition by those with the power or the loudest voices  .  

Too much Information

No more common expression of our day symbolises the problem of our day . "Keep it simple stupid" : is not only right today,  but it was always right . How did we ever get it so bad with TMI ? Maths teachers I know admit "we just do too much maths ".
How then did the founders of our modern civilisation get it so right when they met in Nicene 17 centuries ago and said "enough is enough ". . "We don't object to more books in Alexandrian libraries , but we reject the  Greek inheritance when it crowds out and doesn't identify the essentials  . " Infact ,we reject the idea that all the rules and rulings need to be there - men are born free with a will to live free so  most of the things you need to order your life are not in there - you have a mind and a will to do good -- use it "
We can all sit around here for another thousands years and still be no better off than Socrates as far as putting the pieces together .
How come they knew that the jig saw pieces would keep changing ........and we don't?
 "There are 66 books that talk to walking the walk and that's enough to get all the  basics right ". It doesn't mean there are other stories,  and most importantly,  it doesn't claim to tell you how to live ( except who to talk to about that) . Who needs that?????   Too much information and No freedom ( like we are supposed to have been born with - our inheritance !)  Copyright Emperors Academy July 1st 2011
Being completely rational has its down side - TMI

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Why is a crooked letter and can't be straightened

Our forebears are not as silly as we are often tempted to think . My mother in law 's old saying is right on the ball .
Sometimes you and I need to be perfectly honest and accurate about talking science - we need to say, like her, that "we haven't got time to discuss it properly right now". For those who don't know the expression . My wife would ask the good question as a child "why? " and "why mum why? " of her mother and get the above answer  .Lateral thinking - gloriously non greek stuff
The point is , I don't mind why and where you have to go to get there ...with such questions - the reality is that lots of people ( most) are not prepared to take the journey , so their jumping ship is plain annoying and time wasting for us scientists  ( honest engagement is the key).
Take the way journos as a whole fail to recognise like psychologists do that we all have  a religious bent ( may not  talk about it but ) Thoughtful reactionaries TR's and Aethists are right to be concerned about the dangerousness of religion - They are, like us,   impatient with where our society is heading but TR's  don't analyse the context well  enough to recognise whats good and bad ( that it motivates people and that's needed) about what we both  rightly see as "explosive stuff."  Reactionaries  miss the whole point of course  because they dismiss their own history -they don't see that freedom of religion out of the Bible is freedom to think for yourself  . many of course can't see that but the image of God portrayed there is clear in  setting those boundaries and maintaining them right through.  
Jon Feine and Tony Jones will pretend they have time sometime to talk through things ,  but I try to avoid listening because like most scientists and geo scientists like myself,  they only allow a limited conversation to occur on their favourite controversial subject and solution - and one which may well just suits their prejudice as non scientists quoting select science ( mere description ) .As presenters they jump ship when it suits them - not the audience ( any objective survey would pick this up ) They call the move - "moving on!:"
Point is , only scientists  these days seem  have time to discuss science .
If only the long suffering public would switch off too when the investigating jounalist has only 6 /   minutes of problem solving time in his consultation .
What these dummy gurus don't know yet is like my mother in law wisely recognised - it probably wouldn't have mattered how good her explanation was if she gave one - the child looking for incharge wouldn't be getting what they wanted out of the story sharing exercise anyway - she saved time . How wise can you be --. saving time.
What the dummy advisory panels  in the ABC and the political heavies have yet to realise is that talk is fine-- if you have time to waste  . The shit will really hit the fan when the patient tries to implement the idea  (MPCCC)  You heard it first on blogger on 23rd June 2011

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

We know

Remember that great moment on Fawlty Towers when Sybil is saying to her friend on the phone while both are propped up in bed " I know . I know , I know " . Your listening but you are not really listening . Too much

Loved Red's reflection today on 774 on lack of humility by the 2 who "knew all about the moon "- 

A constant driver for a very high view of one's own knowledge ( and the pedantry that is part theme here ) has been the very  human tendency to presume on one's own knowledge  .
I have come to believe  that God gives us children to remind us just how bad that disease can really be ----quite close to home.
 :"I know ": they say : "Do you have to go on ": "oh Dad .....not again "  . I mean the only reason you keep annoying them ( is not because you enjoy being a pain to your children ) but simply because you care that they don't stumble ......the truth clearly hasn't sunken in yet ...going on the rhetoric .
And it doesn't go away - "to tell you the truth" ( how do we treat all the've said before )....." how do know a man is lying.... his lips are moving" .
In the face of all the things we don't know and that stumbling stupidity we all seem to have , Truth is often out the door .  How come Jesus could  make that most amazing claim that He was" the way, The Truth and the Life "- he would have to be a megloomaniac or addressing one of the biggest diseases and maladaptive drivers of mankind  ..head on  - OUR pretence about what we know and what we think we know.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Is Education a purely secular thing?

Recent major political campaigns to try and kick religious teaching out of State schools in Australia is misconcieved; to limit the possible contribution of "metaphysics" is to constrain and limit a child's education. (The words are full of controversy - I will use them this way -Secular is established and accepted  , whereas Religious is more broad but also much more controversial.)
I think we should continue to agree to disagree ( rather than suffer Too Much I or all starting up our own schools ) by deciding our children's involvement by means of agreed extra -curricula teaching in secular schools.  
But is it really necessary to offer "religious education "?- many outsiders will ask. The well respected professional scientist and educationalist Whitehead went so far as to say that "the essence of education should be religious ".  I think he really means its always bigger and better to include it where you can .  While most of that sort of teaching should happen at home,  but having some of  it,( like the stories and sayings of Jesus) at school  is clearly stimulating for many students .Jesus stories and actions deal with everyday tensions that kids feel deeply ( forgiveness, acceptance) so its no surprise that kids attend and welcome these tough practical social engagement examples . The teaching is still controversial with some suggesting the simply rational idea  that revenge is natural and turn the other cheek is irrational or unproductive  (impossible some would say ) - the fact that :not taking revenge "is part of our cultural training means that  its good that its taught  .
Because the content is controversial though , individual parents and teachers  must know what the content is  ( they work from agreed content and have some a classroom teacher supervise as well  ) and be able to veto access of their children . Going to " the boundaries of knowledge  for stimulation " must be a process that is subject to considerable scrutiny by parents in particular .
There is a lot to learn and lots of ways to learn  . Good to have parent and other teacher input . Classic divisions are "work " and "play ". I like having a distinction between secular and religious in common conversation amongst us because it helps separates the world of facts and process ( world of work? )  from discussions about purpose and values ( The 2 words are only approximations anyway )  I like the stimulation that comes from having a distinction between practice work ( not much exploration ) and practice play.( more exploration )   A stated secular / non secular boundary( agreed /not necessarily agreed ; explored / unexplored )  helps ensures that parents can check that important purpose and value conversations are taken by teachers whom they trust ( as they would do with sex education or psychological matters ) 
Clearly parents need to agree that that some controversial  areas of teaching are being taught in a way which they would approve , just as they would if sex education or Islam was being taught . Education is no more a purely secular thing any more that sex education can be treated as a purely animal or technical thing . 
While it is clear there are secular and "bookish "'components to education , the occasional broadening beyond mere categories too allows for the "vision of greatness" that Whitehead so well described as necessary  for a good education; Whitehead punched pretty hard on second rate options - attacks which even today might help liven up the dull category only conversations that can force us to never talk about certain categories (religion and politics). We all like neat categories,  but its not entirely good for our appreciation of knowledge to limit ourselves to them.   You  don't grow physics it seems , without  allowing for meta-physics . 
Whitehead was very clear too , as  psychologists mostly are , about matters of faith ( even though he didn't believe in a personal God ) - its part of us and we best accept that for our own mental heath and not deny it .
Whitehead was also clear about the danger of the temptation to limit discussion to things our minds can understand , talking about"  the trenchant judgements of those who will not give the time to think out a complex question " ( surely a growing risk in the over -information age ) .
It needs to be said that , just because you are a scientist ( includes myself) doesn't mean your grasp of the breadth of knowledge is relatively any better than anyone else's . 

Most importantly, Whitehead could see , even decades ago,  how science education in particular could be limited by such a process,  and prophetically,  with the likes of A Huxley and others ,anticipated the shallow millpond in which we find ourselves when we argue using mere facts and phrases;  This limiting process has been growing in our era ; a process he called : "misplaced concreteness".  
Protestants ( like John Fairfax) , in particular,  have been keen to support access of all children in Australia to a  free,  but vice limited , and professionally trained view of public education ( A curriculum review means some things are not on offer and some things are taught a certain way-- Its a good thing to try to confine what we don't know,  even if we don't know quite  what we are confining .If nothing else it moves the boundaries of the purely secular forward) .
I for one don't want churches to start schools in my area if , like doctors , we can't get one professional trained operator to work in our community.I want the teacher of physics or chemistry  to be as a good teacher as possible because I believe the subject is never exhausted:  to see it that way is to encourage discovery.
For the first time in modern Australian history we can't even get one chemistry teacher to teach in our public  local high school at higher levels.
Both christians and nonchristains are leaving State schools because something about the education process in state schools is failing . 
Not only are State schools failing to reinforce values. ( its not neccesarily the teachers fault - the parents and education innovatives are probably more to blame ). We have been  allowing a degree of vice to waste away their ability to train and direct. Without value boundaries  , as the Greeks found , wider discussions ( eg" why do we have to learn this boring stuff" ) in class can become vicious circles in which all we get for our trouble is a headache .Can you teach something as boring as maths without a leap of faith - that it is important.
It's the headache image that best pictures the dilemma that is created in our minds  when we do not have a big picture to help order all the small pictures . None of us  are welcome to discuss politics or religion at a nice gathering where people are all suffering from a headache - that reality doesn't mean such a discussion wouldn't help individuals avoid more of them. If TMI is the problem --you still need a way of sorting it ( secular- religious distinctions are a start - a start with a proven record of reasonable success across the West .
Alternatively tell us --why aren't kids excited by science ( take a look at what excites scientists!)  ?

Australians ( including the non religious)  are increasingly choosing to go/send their children  where secular and religious are accepted as important categories of curriculum.  Why risk trying to make schools totally secular, as if those proposing to do what Emperor Julian tried some years ago  have actually been there and done that.  .