Saturday, February 19, 2011

Industrial Age economics and education... Part Three

Liberal humanism is seemingly in decline as children, through year after year of increasingly instrumental, procedurally rigorous and formalized education towards some predetermined outcome become at best numb to their own social context and at worst play a game until they complete the passage. Worst because how awful is it that our children waste their most imaginative and exploratory years while they are being bored and sterilized of creativity in industrial classrooms. They are mollifying us, the adults, by their paying attention and performing well in class, the students have long given up fighting 'city hall'. They are biding their time waiting for graduation and freedom before they move forward unencumbered by the past, their parents and other adults creatively making a new future for themselves.

Politicians, education administrators and any adult interested in youth say they want imagination, exploration and creativity in our classrooms but these lofty ideals are squelched by formal examinations, academic rigour in even the most nonacademic classes which prevent teachers and students from truly and honestly venturing into the unknown territories of creativity. Accountable results, achieved through rigorous attention to procedure and instruments, that reflect desired outcomes curtails creativity in all but the most simple uses of creativity to attain a predetermined outcome. Recapitulation of the past is all that is possible with predetermined outcomes. Imagination, exploration and creativity do not have predetermined outcomes and must be free and unfettered to progress.

We can expect a citizenry less critical, less engaged, less healthy, less creative and more unlikely to vote as we expect more obedience, attention to procedure and competitiveness among our students in school in what we adults figure is a more competitive world. These attributes may be good for us today but are covering our future in a thick secure blanket that will inevitably smother us. These children are harmed and our society is harmed by such static and undemocratic ethics. But these youth are learning and biding their time.

Youth are waiting for the moment when they can collectively work to change the world. They are the largest most educated group known. Baby boomers had to learn as they grew and created their society. Youth today have grown up in this diverse and ever technologically changing world. Youth today are globally connected, both politically and economically are more liberal and compassionate and humanistic than ever before. They have seen how ravaged the world is and are instantly made aware of it. They understand difference, are more attuned to acceptance than tolerance and see the world as a whole rather than disparate parts as the current generation in power do. Many of the institutions built by the boomers are seen as extraneous, useless to the modern young person. Savvy political leaders today are using the new methods of communication and social media to galvanize youth to action. But many leaders are using new methods to maintain old ways. This will fail in time. A new world is approaching.

Learning is not simply achieving high test scores or final grades, or blind obedience, or guided inquiry. A good, active and engaged citizen is not necessarily a satisfied client as the neo-con, neo-lib system imagines one to be. My only hope is that as the students become more worldly, more connected, more mobile and more understanding of the hypocrisy youth are being taught, that they envision democracy exists somewhere out there, move towards it on their own and not worry about the edifice created and maintained by the previous generations whose single goal today is to maintain it at all costs. What has been created so hopefully out of World War 2 is no longer democratic, creative or hopeful. The single greatest hope for liberal humanism, for it is far from dead, is our youth.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Brave new world?

Interesting times...

Tunisian , Egyptian and now Yemani rebellions of the common individual against traditional power and it's traditional opposition. Demographics, employment rates, education and digital connectedness has predicted this. Obama's use of social media in the last election has begun the process in the west. It remains to be seen how this will spread and continue globally.

New attention to civil liberties, long curtailed in the name of security against the ghostly enemy terrorism, is gaining in importance once again. The actions of left and right politics is so blurred as to be one in the same for all intents and purposes. The left argues against the right until they come to power and then assume the policies of the right. Similarly the right rails against the policies of the left until they come to power whereupon they adopt left policies as their own. Strategic positioning (the tail wagging the dog)and political posturing plain and simple. Small wonder the electorate is so jaundiced. A sure sign of bankrupt social collective policy being influenced by wonton individual special interest policy.

During the seventies left leaning social governments were seen as big, expensive and overly involved in big brother control of society. Right leaning philosophers advocated smaller government and more individual control of one's life - more individual freedom both economically and politically. Today the roles have reversed, most conservative governents are burgeoning big brother enterprises dipping deep into deficit to maintain tight security through civil and military means, paying special attention to economic interests and buying votes all the while decreasing individual freedom.

Post baby boom youth are feeling their opportunity coming as the old traditional pre digital-age wanes and struggles to maintain their world. Who maintains or wins the control of information will determine the new path to the future.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Industrial Age economics and education Part two - the effects on children

Classical Liberal economic values and neo-conservatism political values, heavily entrenched in efficiency, measurable progress, predictable outcomes, are seen as the exemplary model and engine for attaining high standards of educational performance with the values of competition, hard work and obedience to procedure and measurement, the hallmarks of entrepreneurialism of the old industrial age. The 'invisible hand' though rarely mentioned is central to the notion that individual choice and decision making will produce the best results for all of society.

How niaeve this line of thinking this is. Not every individual choice is a positive one, not every individual choice is beneficial. In fact, seeing as how most individual choices are suited only for the individual making it, precious few individual choices will be beneficial to even a few other individuals let alone society as a whole. Even individual choices taken from the viewpoint of their positive effects on others are few and far between. This folly has been demonstrated again and again within the failures and crashes of the business cycle. Complete embeddedness in the old model leads to failure and a moment in time where all are caught wondering what went wrong.

And the subjects upon whom all these practices are applied are the students. Students have individual needs in terms of learning strategies, social conditions, mental conditions, personal likes and dislikes, apptitudes and desires as well as the fact they are children coming to grips with the expectations of the society of adults, and require accommodations (to assuage guilt of an actually unfair equality of opportunity) in order to achieve the ends meant for them by others. Most of these individual, personal and highly volatile characteristics are generally put aside in favour of a seemingly equal opportunity start and experience in collective public education. But in this process of only achieving the specified outcomes required of children, the humanity of the individual, the consideration of the individual student as a living breathing being, is lost to the attainment of the ends. The student becomes an object, the widget, and parents willingly acquire a familiar role as the client. This dehumanization of the student to an object, with grades, with defined expectations and outcomes, leaves behind an individual decidedly struggling for a healthy, reflective, compassionate way to move forward in a multifaceted adult life. Rarely do the best guesses of adults for the future come to pass, and so the outcomes required of children are most often a simple recapitulation of the past, what is known, and that is what is expected and examined ...the past.

Children today in organized industrial education are the most highly formally examined of anywhere known. The rampant use of the 'economy of grades' as a carrot for excellence in performance (from the Board room down to the individual student) in standardized tests, while predicting good performance, says nothing of the actual learning health of the student. Loss of childhood and meaningful socialization, that is informal cooperative distributed learning outside of the classroom environment via extended family or other members of the community, in the larger context is lost to extended formal learning in a classroom, where competitiveness is exemplified, are extant issues. Doing well in school does not necessarily mean doing well in life, having high grades does not mean one is a useful and engaging member of society or on the job! While the curriculum and the demand for cooperation and collaboration between the students is taught, this is completely undermined by the competitive race for individual grades and entrance into post secondary institutions. Cooperation, sharing of differences and alternate views are lost to raw competitiveness. To actually make students free to learn is seen as too disorganized, too unpredictable, too unmeasurable, too unaccountable. It is easier to mold them to last years model than to let them free to envision and create a new world.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

And another thing .... Feb 10

It seems in many systems, both political and economic, especially those built on the concept of 'accountability', simple competence in the tasks performed by the individual are seen as good enough and all that is required to do the job. Over stimulation towards the need for oppressive accountability sets itself against the other concept of our age 'efficiency' and the expert is downgraded in importance and relevance making improvement through progress and innovation highly unlikely. What is at first seemingly about improvement and its control, the 'cult' of accountability will eventually ruin the often laudable goals of many organisations both private and public.

Expertise or the development of the individual toward expertise is seen as a threat to those in positions of power who presumably are experts, play the role of expert but often are not. True experts see the problems and issues of those in power who are not experts and may point them out.  Making your boss, or superior, feel inferior is a recipe for conflict.

The seeming cult of 'accountability' rather than motivating individuals towards development of skills to expert, enforce ongoing mediocrity of mere competence. There exists a very real fear of informal retribution from those in positions of power who feel threatened by the development of expertise among their 'underlings' or 'inferiors'. If and when someone does develop expertise they are often, but not always, seen as a threat, made to feel uncomfortable, seen as unhappy and in need of a change ultimately leading to transfer and or promotion out to a 'happier place'.

In a system based on accountability, like the quota system of the old USSR, efficiency and risky innovative progress were sacrificed as attention became heavily placed on the common denominator, usually the lowest. Risk taking by experts is seen as untenable, wasteful and pointless in achieving the 'goal'. These risks are assessed (risk assessment, yup they even have a phrase for it), cost benefit analysis is applied by those in positions of power and responsibility and who are then accountable to yet another layer of management. Nobody wants to take a risk and look bad, everyone settles for mediocrity.

Risk for improvement is seen as a liability, staying the course of what is known, measurable and knowable is preferred. Efficiency is eroded and improvement in overall operations is heavily curtailed, perhaps even made to decline as more attention to the minutia of accountability through a growing burden of procedures and a burgeoning preponderance of instruments of measurement (usually simple checklists) takes precedence over real progress. The mundane and mediocre are preferred over the level of expertise and excellence despite the desires of the greater organization.

If accountability becomes a primary in goal attainment, the goal will never be met neither by coercion or genuine desire. Drastic measures to seek improvements will be demanded with efficiency, expertise and progress compromised and downgraded with no hope of achieving them. Fudging and downright lying by management about improvement, progress or meeting, and perhaps exceeding, output targets will become commonplace as the house of cards get bigger and bigger. Blame for lack of attention to accountability, decline in overall performance and stagnation in methods and procedures is put upon the workers as the managers scramble to see what is wrong with their program.

Overemphasis on accountability stagnates any system in its outlook towards growth, opportunity and improvement. Letting experts do what they are expert at, accepting risk as a part of progress and trusting your people to do what it is they are hired, or selected, to do without undue surveillance are hallmarks of good and even great organisations.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Feb 9 Executed sled dogs at Whistler, BC

I have been asked my opinion about this quite often these past few days. It is sad and horrible, to be sure, but some perspective is required here. 70 to 100 dogs is a lot of animals. Killing them as 'humanely' as possible with gun and knife and rock is brutal at best. Creatures don't die easy, not nearly as easy as Disney or other programs would have you believe. The will to live is strong and the kill shot different for each and every individual. That the person who fulfilled this gruesome task has emotional issues nearly a year later demonstrates at least some remorse and his personal torture fits his crime against nature, but what about the cowardly CEO who issued the order? maybe a slap on the wrist or a loss of a few dollars. There is the real criminal in all this.

But some perspective outside of this huge concern for these dogs is needed. First the dogs would have been very difficult to sell. They are working dogs, not couch potatoes. Second no good veterinarian worth their salt would put down healthy animals. Third the dog lot had 300 dogs I understand. A lot of mouths to feed and without much work difficult to control and maintain. Something had to be done. This is not new thinking. It happens in any domestic herd humans control. How many animals are killed for burgers and our tables? How many horses for foreign tables? Goats for feasts? What is humane about their execution? Our dinner table today is so far removed from what actually happens before we carve the roast.

Hard decisions were made concerning this dog sled operation. Awful decisions that if not attended to would have led to starvation and other issues when cost benefit sums would be addressed. Perhaps then after months of suffering with disease, both mental and physical, the vets would have come in and done the dirty work. What bothers me the most, is that the one responsible, the owner of the operation should have done it himself, one by one and face to face. But this is generally not the nature of CEO's. They make these oh so hard decisions, but farm out the actual action of their decision to someone else. They should do their own dirty work like giving pink slips to thousands of workers one by one and face to face, or telling retired investors that they have lost their life savings one by one and face to face. Business leaders have it far too easy in my book.

Then there is the perspective that I wish we would give the same attention and concern to the 16-20,000 children who unneccessarily die every day in this world. We have plenty of food and medicine to prevent this. We waste, throw away, discard and let rot more food and medicines than it would take to solve this problem. And we don't. Not even a little bit. It does not make profit to give it all away, better to waste, throw away or burn it than save people's lives with it. Some day an accounting will come, not by some supernatural being, but rather by the oppressed against their oppressors.The world is messed up. When has it ever not been so?