Tuesday, November 29, 2011

We Not Me

Have you heard that phrase at meetings where the leadership of administrations of one form or another try to shame or cajole their staff to follow questionable paths determined as necessary by the corporate agenda? This may work in the authoritarian political and corporate setting where the threat "either you are with us or you are against us" combined with 'we not me' can have serious implications or ramifications for the independent thinker. Social institutions, such as high academia within Universities, public education, universal health organisations, where there is no profit in creating widgets, where the overall social good is at heart of the work, corporate authoritarian methods are resisted by the people within as methods counterproductive to the social good. In social institutions 'we not me' sounds like another attempt by Harvard economic theorists to apply corporate management values to social institutions. These rarely if ever work, ultimately ending in guilt tripping and blamestorming. It is astonishing and often laughable how institutions espousing the corporate mantra of the business model of individualist competitive capitalism should use collective values in support of bald individualism. Who is 'we'? Who is 'me'? Is it the royal we and the lonely me? 

Both 'me' and 'we' have been selectively twisted in connotation to suit those who need some form of justification for their views and efforts. It is dubiously attributed to Queen Victoria to have initially used the phrase, "We are not amused." At present the original circumstance is not important, however the use of 'we' in this sense is meant to convey the intent that she spoke for a number of people in the voice of one, she, the Queen, being the embodiment of all in the 'l'etat c'est moi' form. This not to be trifled with individual, or small group of individuals, in today's world is powerful and of elite standing within some form of hierarchical organisation, political or economic, reflecting an authoritarian 'speaking for all' relationship. It is a long step away from the meaning of the collective 'we' as representing all people of equal stature in a society having decided on a common vision.

As a collective 'we' the term 'us' is better, for 'we' has become the elitist autocratic 'Royal we' and not the common inclusive 'us'. Everything about the 'Royal we' is exclusion, bullying, innuendo, perception and deception. It is autocratic, and no input is valued unless it is for the benefit of the 'we', the body corporate, the hierarchy of those whom 'we' should obey. In an Orwellian vein 'we' is often used as a means of cajoling those who believe in the democratic 'us' into thinking the 'process' is essentially democratic. Not doing, playing along or conforming to the 'we' is characterized as not being a part of the team (or organization), more of a hindrance than a help, as counterproductive, and therefore antithetical to the task at hand and in effect being seen as a criminal element. As an old Japanese proverb describes, "A nail that sticks up will be hammered down."

Simplistic yet measurable 'effort' and 'process' become paramount over unmeasurable character and ultimate free choice even while espousing the qualities of the latter and downplaying the former. Knowing the flaw in this the autocrats perform superficial attempts at promoting character and choice through simple checklists and surveys with items created by those who wish to recapitulate what they desire and avoid the true difficulty in assessing the nonconformist and highly variable nature of both.

The 'royal we' expends vast time and effort on the propaganda of belonging, loyalty, the prescient task at hand, collaboration not cooperation (collaboration connotes a superior to inferior relationship while cooperation requires equality and the 'royal we' can't have that) and the deleterious effects of not 'buying in' to the 'non-negotiables' of the 'grand plan' of which none but the hierarchy had input. This form of shaming propaganda is as old as humanity itself when brute force for compliance became seen as politically counterproductive to the maintenance of power and the attempts of authority at compliance. Shame is an effective, old as the hills and out of mind Adam and Eve wore clothes to hide their shame and embarrassment, means of negative emotional reinforcement of why noncompliance adversely affects the utilitarian pleasure through avoiding pain scenario within organizations large and small. Other more unoriginal and devious methods of getting what the 'royal we' wants becomes the order of the day. As the leading example of a then growing global trend, Thatcher's attempt to use the 'we' in the name of all people in Britain was thinly disguised as instead representing her elitist neo-conservative political party values, with her firmly at the helm, and the rest of 'us' firmly but happily trapped below in neo-classical capitalism indebted and owning property. 
Hearing the twisted mantra 'we not me' is as old as Machiavelli's notion of a 'prince' being both feared and loved and a recap of modern failed TINA (There Is No Alternative) of narrow minded Thatcherism that ultimately destroyed the old system and later, in turn, itself failed miserably in 2008. That says much about how well the 'royal we' works.
Blamestorming, definition from Investopedia (makes sense there'd be such a thing)...
A fusion of the words “blame” and “brainstorming” which is used to describe a meeting where participants determine who is responsible for a particular problem or failure. Blamestorming is essentially the identification of a scapegoat; if the source of the problem was obvious, blamestorming would not be necessary.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


The traditional Arab Muslim world continues to struggle not because the people are determined to win democracy from the dictators, but of the argument between piety and conservatism against modernisation and liberalism within Islam itself. It would appear that in order for a Muslim state to be modern a strong dictator is required to maintain it. However, it also appears that for a Muslim state to be pious another strong dictatorship is required. In both cases liberty, freedom and democracy are long in the shadow of the dictatorial techniques needed to keep either regime in power. And it must be noted that this struggle exists mainly in the Arab branch of Islam. Different approaches to religion and politics in Asian states requires a completely different assessment and so this current discussion must be limited to the Arab states.

Education, female emancipation from male rule and high unemployment rates among these people, as well as the desire for a modern lifestyle, are the current factors in the rise of the Arabic Islamic Spring of 2011. The old regimes have not been flexible enough to accommodate technological change and the more liberal values needed to operate within them. Instant communication with its ability to organize and rally people together and access to multitudinous points of view are holes in the dictatorial boat that have become nearly impossible to plug. Indeed, these holes are growing to the point that a dictatorship cannot possibly maintain itself any longer in our modern world. Arabic dictatorial Titanics are going down one after another. A major re-think is needed for dictatorships to maintain themselves, but it is doubtful they will last. In the new regimes certain to come into being, lessons could be taken from the Neo-Cons of the so called democratic world on how to manipulate communication to suit the needs of the state. But it is already too late for classical military/political dictatorships that remain in the Arab Islamic world. And for the Arab states that remain as traditional monarchies their days are numbered as well and for the same reasons.

The Arab Muslim world is not really in a struggle with the modern, democratic, free and therefore corrupt west, it is instead locked in a struggle with itself. Islam is no more a unified religion than Christianity is, nor Judaism for that matter. And it is this battleground the rest of the world must endure.

Being able to 'agree to disagree' without retribution has yet to surface in the Islamic faith as it nominally has within Christianity. The linch pin in the Christian case was the formal separation of direct Church authority from State authority and a couple of hundred years of costly warfare to finally figure that out. Arab Islam is venturing forward on an old well used road. This road is dangerous and deadly as the signposts show and sadly it appears it remains the only road to the future for the Arab Muslim world.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

High stakes multiple choice testing: PISA, expectations and youth

A few years ago I was asked to answer questions regarding the success Alberta students have in these international PISA tests.  I said that it’s a simple answer. If NASA can take a Chimp out of his natural environment put him in flight simulators, accelerators and the like and get the poor creature to perform tasks like punching a lighted button at the right time for a banana pellet and then fire his poor soul into space, from 6Gs to weightlessness and back again, all the while getting our poor relative to replicate their training to perfection in an environment totally alien to them, I could, through excessive drill and skill training in the unnatural environment of successive high stakes multiple choice testing over 12 years train my human subjects (you know, students) to perform well at PISA tests! And that IS in fact what we do.

Now, high stakes multiple choice testing of youth in itself may not be bad as a science experiment, what is bad is that we categorise, stratify and determine policy towards our social institutions based on the results of such grotesque events. That we experiment on 'animals', before we venture forth ourselves is perhaps detestable enough for its callousness and cowardliness on our part, but tto experiment on our own young and then take the results and apply them to the social engineering of our educational systems and society is terrible indeed.

The question I have as an educator within this crackerjack system is where are the students in this? With such good results in international testing are more of our youth going to university than any other area/country or province? Are more succeeding in posts of advanced learning, executives in major corporate boards and leading in research to unburden the human condition? Are there more doctors, more lawyers, more engineers, more geneticists, physicists and mathematicians? Are the twenty-plus percent dropout students also included in these tests? Or are we finding that even with the super achieving high degree of education we throw at students they are still kids, are doing wonderful just to mollify us and then moving on to be whatever they would have been with or without our 'interference'? Are they better human beings, more accepting (not tolerant), more giving, more civically and socially conscious?  Are our students better decision makers, leaders in social justice and the arts?

Is scoring well on tests a true indicator of knowledge? of worthiness? of humanity? of courage? of fearlessness? Does the number they acquire tell us what kind of person they are? Could they be a sociopath, a terrorist, a murderer or Mother Teresa, or Gandhi?

I am disappointed that school administrations the world over are so short sighted towards their children. The industrial age is long gone and yet we continue to re-trench old exhausted ideas draped in new technologies that stifle inspiration and imagination in our youth. We have deterministic outcomes/ends (of the world we adults live in and want to maintain) that leave no room for adaptive and inspirational out of the box thinking and acting in the world the students could live in if they had the freedom to create it. Instead the world over, teachers teach to an exam, they have no choice. It’s no wonder our students do so well at exams but are so lost in their lives. And yet I am sure and hopeful that one day they will wrest control from their parents and create a better world which we, through lack of courage and fear of what we may lose, have always known we should have done ourselves.