monetary system

docile rating

I’ve never been a huge fan of the decile rating system of schools in New Zealand. So when the government announced it is considering doing away with them I was a quietly optimistic for about a 10th of a second. Decile ratings are divisive and should be reviewed.  But I’m not convinced the idea of individual risk factors being used to target funding on an individual level is going to turn the tide of under achievement. It is yet another move to distance the stated intentions of economic and social policy from its effects. It’s another clever example of neo-liberal policy wrapped up in rhetoric around targeted funding. There are some pretty interesting criteria being proposed for defining those students ‘at risk’. Some are a little baffling, but probably are statistically accurate as I am sure there have been people crunching numbers in order to bring us such revelations.

Even if the decile rating system is disbanded it won’t change socio-economic segregation and stigmatising of particular schools based on demographic and dare I say it assumptions based on ethnicity. Education is precariously place in the society and the landscape of political manoeuvres.

However I wonder if we could replace the decile rating with a docile rating. Schools that teach to a 19th and 20th century curriculum and maintain a ‘bums in seats’ compliance model of learning would rate highly for docile learning. Those taking risks, enabling all kinds of energetic expressions and the presence of emotions with a valuing of novel and unique approaches to relationships would rate low in docile.

Businesses and employers would know what kind of ideas young people had experienced and how their thinking and ways of relating to diversity might have enabled or constrained their perspective. Docile ratings would be independent of the incomes of families and would reflect the commitment of a school to break free of traditional models and modes of learning.

Extra negative points for not having a uniform and having a play-ground at high school.

Diversity is not in the equation

I’m not sure why I feel shaken. While the media will likely focus on the quake in Christchurch today, with good reason, my morning started with a different kind of movement. The jolt came from reading about another residency being declined on the basis of disability or more accurately the ‘costs’ attached to the care that might be needed for a family member. This time it is a maths professor being turned down because his step son has autism.

Not feeling the love today, maybe our government is taking this 100% pure campaign to the next level. But with my general distain for Valentines day mixing with a pervasive sense of deja vu, I had to stop myself being torn apart with a visceral sense we have reached the point of dispassionate valuing of people based on the capitalist model of production.

What is really clever about neo liberal, advanced capitalism is just how absolutely mesmerising and hypnotic the ideology that manipulates deep fears to promote individual responsibility, freedom of choice, competition and productivity in the name of ‘best interests of everyone’. People hate the idea they aren’t thinking for themselves. It pushes values that appear on the surface to be good such as competition while quietly ensuring people remain just a bit on edge with a sense of vulnerability. It invites people to reduce life and worth into modes of being that play along with normative structures. When you are born into this global community you are plugged into this value system based on production and consumption. Forget all that stuff about diversity – unless it suits your advertising campaign. Perhaps as Bronwyn Davies suggests, the ultimate power of neo liberalism is it is founded on the assumption that there is no alternative – therefore making it impervious to critique.

It is the ultimate version of The Matrix people are so attached to the system that they will fight to protect it. The logic is sound – if someone is a drain on the health system (that is ‘your hard earned tax dollars are going to be poured down the drain) people will back the system that looks after them every time and agree ‘that’s fair’. New Zealand your ‘pure’ brand is starting to feel like a past regime without the overt propaganda just a quiet take-over of our fear of difference. I’m no maths professor but this really doesn’t add up to any form of humane and just society.

In the words of Elizabeth Grosz, ‘we need to disturb difference rather than be disturbed by difference’. Wake up New Zealand – the neo liberal matrix has you and it makes us look ugly and really shaky on human rights. Watch out for silver spoons.

Modern Learning Environments – rearranging the desks and chairs on the Titanic?

There are some great teaching practices going on in schools and other learning institutions. There are resources being developed, pumped, and thrown into the mix. And there is new furniture to buy desks and chairs in all sorts of configurations to ‘zhuzh up’ learning spaces. I’ve just been trying to do some ‘zhuzhing’ (how on earth do you spell zhuzh?). I hate shopping at the best of times I can barely buy my own lunch. But as my neurons fired off in a panic around table shapes, ottomans and whiteboards I wondered how a Modern Learning Environment (MLE) is defined.

Now I don’t teach anymore, so I’m hardly in a position to be an expert, but I’ve seen some of the wonderful work my colleagues do. Indeed the NZ media has taken on the subject of MLE’s this weekend and others like Sally Hart have responded more eloquently than I will. I suppose my question is more a philosophical one than a pedagogical one. I’ll leave that one to others who are more qualified to talk about differentiated learning in the 21st century. My question has to do with the structural power imbalances that still exist and more obviously defined by uniforms and how teachers relate to students via the use of titles such as Miss and Mr. I suppose it’s a bit curious how we have not seen any real shift in curriculum content and structure in the last 100 years either. Of course there have been ‘upgrades’. Subjects are still divided into sciences, arts, languages…etc. We still sit students down to sit 3hr exams (and expect teachers to mark them yesterday) – whether this is done on computers or not makes no difference – it’s just rearranging the deck chairs.

Why? I think the larger question is where does the school system fit in the 21st century? I believe that question has to be framed in the larger socio-political and economic framework. The basic format and purpose of schools has not changed. The illusion of change is superficial and alluring especially the advances in technology – shiny things. Basically, schools are still training workers for jobs to contribute to economic growth. We are creating conscientious consumers – but still consumers. Schools train young people to fit society. The various rituals and protocols are about providing opportunities to know the expected success pathways of life – be heterosexual, but if you are gay (or any other variety of diversity) get married, reproduce, get into debt, spend the rest of your life paying it off, maybe save the world on the side and create a cure for cancer and world peace, and be happy.

Perhaps a little cynical. Perhaps uncomfortably accurate. Regardless I still hate shopping and we know what happened to the Titanic. Time to design a better ship to move through a different medium.

Crying Vowel

Auckland harbour has a problem with effluent. Oh, I’m sorry that should read affluent. What a difference a simple vowel can make. The giant superyacht Serene belonging to Russian Vodka Baron Yuri Schefler is a great monument to the excesses of ‘big business’. How wonderful that someone can make that much money producing a neurotoxin that causes so much physiological, social and emotional harm. Do I agree that this is wonderful for tourism? It might, but what does the Serene leaves me with an extremely uneasy feely, a queasy giddy sense of vertigo not unlike being intoxicated. The opulence, is both breath taking for its grand statement of financial success and a monument to the stench of consumption with so many chewed up and shat out in the process.

The difference between rich and poo is R we willing to put our heads that far into a dark place and pretend the air is sweet? Think I need a drink…dang it… out of fejoa vodka. Perhaps I could get an I O U.

An Apple Product A Day Keeps The Shareholders At Bay

What time is it? Let me check my watch/phone/computer/personal trainer… And so it seems the world is whipped into another apple product frenzy with all the evangelical hoopla it can muster over something adorned on the wrist.

I don’t have an allegiance or loyalty to a brand, but it is a little cult like at times. People camping out for days to get their hands on the upgraded version of their already perfectly brand new (if they were a pair of jeans) gadget. It reminds me of mass hypnosis watching swaths of people surge like corybantic groupies high on the rush of consumption. It’s not that I don’t appreciate progress, or want to return to some version of the dark ages, although if you look at the world they still exist in some places.

Perhaps this is the chimera of technology, it divides the world as much as oceans of water do. What do we mean when we say ‘technology’ well it can be helpful to start with a definition.

technologytɛkˈnɒlədʒi/
noun
1. the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry.
o machinery and devices developed from scientific knowledge.
o the branch of knowledge dealing with engineering or applied sciences.

My question would be about what is practical and the meaning of ‘applied’. We live in a world where the last 2000 years exist all at once. Where once culture, religion or geography were the main ways we were isolated or divided, technology and its applications rule with the iron fist of profit exerting its grip on resources and dislocating populations in the name of mineral wealth to feed the insatiable production machine beast of the monetary system in all its configurations.

The only possible way for technology to actually improve the conditions for ALL life is to extract science in all its forms from serving the interests of corporations. Apple is but an example of the erroneous and iatrogenic trend in technology. I’m clearly sceptical when it comes to businesses having a sense of ethics or philanthropists being altruistic for that matter. If money is involved at any level of organisation the outcomes will serve particular interests always – even if the ‘eco/ego’ marketing says otherwise.

So here is my challenge, especially to those talented scientific/techno entrepreneurs out there. If you like it then you shouldn’t put a ‘patent pend(r)ing’ on it. And for the rest of us with slightly less talent but no less important – resist the Magpie within to go for the new shiny thing. Watch this space.

Wiped off the map by an unnatural disaster

Natural disasters can wipe out towns, even cities and thanks to technology we can view this from a distance and perhaps connect with the deeply distressing images of destruction. Our hearts go out to survivors and our responses can vary from detached and disinterested to sincerely moved heart felt sympathy. Immediate action aims to ensure suffering is minimised and the call to our sense of humanity reaches beyond our ideas of boarders and boundaries. It’s a wonderful thing, no question. Recovering, rebuilding and keeping communities like this together are and should be a priority.

But what if a town was wiped off the map by an unnatural disaster posing as a natural one? No I’m not talking about some form of weather technology creating a super storm (and I’m not saying that’s impossible either). I’m referring to a form of economic euthanasia that is a term used in a variety of ways (veterinary industry for example), but here I am using it to describe the concept of communities being considered no longer ‘viable’ to be ‘put out of their misery’ because they are not as productive, falling dangerously close to the debit side of the ledger. The town I grew up in (Thames) was recently paraded and parodied in the media along this line, so its hard not to feel personally offended as though where I am from has no meaning outside of this.

Let me put it another way. Where did you grow up? What is your turangawaewae. I don’t use that term lightly I use it with intent and respect. Value existed before the invention of money and yet the artificiality of the monetary system has been magically rendered invisible. Could you imagine the media responding to a town or community being devastated by a flood, tsunami or eruption with ‘well – no-one goes there anyway’ I’d like to hope even the most empathically inept would be astute enough to keep quiet although there are one or two I might not be so sure about.

I’m bothered by the trend to couch our lives in financial terminology and frameworks. The measuring of worth this way is so pervasive that we don’t even notice how often we account for our lives almost literally with fiscal language infiltrating almost everything. The weather forecast is preceded or followed by an economic forecast on news channels paralleling and surreptitiously inviting us to consider both as natural phenomenon that we are simply at the mercy of. From pre-conception to the grave our value is carefully calculated according to our contribution to GDP.

So it is not a hard stretch to imagine extending this to a whole community. If it is valued purely for its productivity then the cold rational book balancing mentality can legitimately argue for it being – well – ‘put to sleep’. We seem to want people and communities to function and fit a particular model effectively shrinking and limiting our appreciation of the quirky, small, and unique. Credit where credit is due to fiscal laws rather than genuine appreciation of diversity could be the true cost to society.

I’m no Marilyn Waring but I smell the stench of rotten economic values. Life shouldn’t need to make cents because worth is everyones business.

Waking up to being asleep

I remember when The Matrix hit the big screen in 1999. The ‘splinter in my mind’ embedded deeper infecting my consciousness and grew to a full blown pustule that needed to be squeezed. So I read and read as much as I could on everything that seemed to take me toward alternative ideas about reality. But it was frustrating talking with others who just ‘thought it was cool’ and quickly went out and bought large black boots and coats (guilty as well) with that being the most significant influence on their lives.

That was 15 years ago but The Matrix has grown as an idea to explore systems of social control much like George Orwell did with 1984 and many others – but these are the two that stand out for me. I haven’t tried to remove the splinter – it’s important to stay in a state of irritation and inflammation because without that I think I would potentially fall into accepting the program and falling asleep again.

It’s a bit of a fine line talking about control without someone instantly putting you into the ‘conspiracy theorist’ box and shutting the lid. Perhaps this reflects an awareness at a deeper level that ‘ignorance is bliss.’ I’m not sure but another possibility is the belief that once you start down the rabbit hole it could drive you crazy and would suck the fun out of life. Living outside the Matrix in the movie was far from comfortable, they ate ‘snot’ and lived underground – not the best or most aesthetically enticing representation of freedom. I’d like to suggest it is possible to delve into these areas and still maintain a sense of humour and enjoying life – yes it is possible to live in a contradiction without being a hypocrite, expecting consistency is a brilliant way of keeping people in check. Embracing contradiction is one version of the red pill.

The meaning of ‘control’ and ‘the program’ probably represents the essence of what I am talking about. Others have done this work and you can certainly scan the world wide web for allusions to The Matrix. I’ve referenced David Icke before and he would most likely be one of the more deeper rabbit hole divers – he didn’t just take the red pill I’m sure of it. I’d rather not put my own definition up because the splinter is the key – it is the catalyst that invites questions and a personal journey. It’s not as simple as ‘red or blue’ pill or even ‘awake and asleep.’ The best I could do is to offer some observations and invite anyone who stumbles upon this to keep wondering – I certainly don’t have a sense that I ‘know exactly’ what the Matrix is and would never claim to.

1. Language to me, is a key splinter. Any time something falls into a binary/dualistic paradigm it inevitably closes down the idea it might be neither or both or something else. My favourite example that is popular is ‘nature’ versus ‘nurture.’

2. Perhaps because of our general reliance on putting things in a binary/dualistic relationship there tends to be an over simplification of ideas into facts/opinions or myths. If certain knowledges throw their weight behind an idea it can be moved onto either side. Science does this with great efficiency.

3. Maintaining social division through stereotyping, notions of harm, danger, superiority and self-righteousness is supported by one of the most powerful dualisms ‘right and wrong.’ I think fear is a powerful controller and the use of extreme images and emotive language shuts down processing beyond reactions. This can be done on an individual level, communities, nations, cultures and no doubt if we meet another version of life in the universe, the same would apply – thanks Hollywood for your fine work in this department.

4. Reducing nature the environment and all other living things to either a resource to be used or an obstacle to progress that must be overcome, owned and controlled is shameful yet completely necessary for enabling a constant source of total paralysation and puppet mastery through the use of fear tactics and the manipulation of ‘scarcity and abundance.’

5. Mapped onto this we have a devoted programme based on creating a certainty that without a monetary system civilization would collapse – and ‘go backwards’ or ‘become uncivilized.’ Economics has become ‘naturalised’ and more questions are asked about ‘why mother nature is doing this to us’ than there are to artificial systems of ‘us doing this to ourselves.’

6. Finally we have media saturation of information and images. Why is this important? Because the illusion is more believable when based on an ingrained ‘truth’ that ‘seeing is believing’ and anyone who can control the strings of what is seen with the naked eye has the ability to manipulate at a very deep level.

Not sure if your head is hurting, it could be a splinter or you have been in front of the screen too long. How do you know if you are awake or still dreaming?

…knock knock The Matrix has you.

Press the escape key.

Racing ahead without looking behind

Down here in NZ where the oval ball rules, we have not escaped the global phenomenon of more spherical ball games including basketball. Why we have our very own Stephen Adams playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder – and all of a sudden I love basketball. That’s just how we roll sometimes, we connect personally with our fellow nest flyers…walkers (silly me forgot we are the land of flightless birds), and adopt them. It’s like living in a very large extended family. We can of course double our chances with the Adams family – sister Valerie is quite a good athlete herself. Olympic Gold, World Champ, Commonwealth Champ – yeah she puts that heavy round thing out there!

You don’t need to follow sport anymore – it follows you! Sport is a business and whilst we want children and young people to be active and enjoy the positive aspects of sport, in the end it is about generating profit. The relationships between marketing and promoting brands and sport is about as in your face as a ball in the face. What happened over the last week with the ‘racism scandal’ and the Los Angeles Clippers will be picked up as an issue around human rights, racism, justice and rightly so. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has ‘cut out the tumour’ excising as much removal powers as possible by cutting ties with Clippers owner Donald Sterling. But what will be the follow up treatment and overall recovery regime for the NBA?

While this decision has been lauded by most and is probably the right one, it is hardly a brave decision. It doesn’t require any party involved to deal with the fall out or be genuinely accountable. Legal teams are probably rubbing their hands together gleefully. Silver will be the ‘good guy’ cleaning things up and taking a hard line, Sterling the ‘bad guy’ and merchandise, new branding will probably be created to ride the wave of unity while the ground swell of public awareness is firmly fixed on the NBA. Sponsors will be running to advertisers to ensure they don’t drop in too late. Rest assured it will be ‘business as usual.’

What to learn and take from this? Money talks. Everything is for sale. That is the sad truth. This was never really about exposing racism – someone cashed in with that tape. If it does generate conversations about any form of discrimination in sport or generally, then great, but these will be fleeting and more about political point scoring.

I will be keeping an eye on proceedings but so long as my boy Stephen is playing well and representing the silver fern I will ride my own wave of national pride vicariously and cross my fingers he gets the respect he deserves as a player because of how he plays. I’m also hoping coaches with a homophobic streak get a bit of a wake up call. A note to Mr Silver then – you might want to look into that to.

Assessing the cost of assessing

Auckland was hit by gale force winds yesterday. The remnants of cyclone Ita and the collective exhalation of thousands of teachers on the last day of term added to the perfect storm. In my wisdom I decided to brave the elements and rode my bike. Observing that there were no other two wheeled vehicles on the road should have been read as a warning but I just clutched onto my drops harder and decided this was an epic opportunity to practice extreme mindfulness. I really was about as comfortable as a fish on a bike.

It was exhausting on every level. I’d used every ounce of concentration, skill, sense and bit of luck to get there in one piece. Walking into work looking at the faces of my colleagues the fatigue and weariness matched mine, although they were somewhat dryer. As students began arriving, they too had ‘done’ stamped clearly across their glazed eyes. It’s only the end of the first term!

I occupy a role in education that affords me some distance from the classroom and allows me to have conversations with young people about how they are making sense of life, including learning. I’ve done my time teaching – it was more learning than teaching if I’m honest and rolled sideways as I became aware of the rumbling avalanche of NCEA and the ‘A’ word – Assessment.

Jump in a time machine back to the 80’s (if you dare) – and New Zealand was experimenting with a combination of exams and internal assessment. Generally however the number of assessments we sat were minimal. Stress wasn’t something any of us really had a concept of except for a very short intense period before end of year exams. Teachers were able to do what they do best, inspire, provoke curiosity, play, create, respond spontaneously, and had TIME to explore content with students.

Before you reach into your memory of High School and pull out the ‘worst teacher’ story – because we ALL have one, this is about structural changes that I feel have come thick and fast and something has to give. There is a cost to both students and teachers. Both have been left scrambling through curriculum content, pushed along by looming deadlines, re-assessment opportunities, evidence gathering and perpetual feedback and progress reports.

When people scoff at youth (let alone teachers!) being stressed at school and are from my generation or older, I resist sarcasm or derision – but not always successfully. The relentless assessment regime over 3 years IS hard on everyone and the carnage is what I see on an increasing level. What is that? Significant anxiety, not just test nerves, but paralytic and overwhelming anxiety. Professional burn out and loss of passion and en-joyment of teaching. Intense pressure to be ‘perfect’ and work harder, longer and to keep ‘raising the bar.’ I’m not saying we shouldn’t aim high but for some reason we have come to believe that more is better and if you say ‘no’ that this indicates some level of failure, or incompetence.

Squeezing more and more out of people is doing nothing to improve the quality of education. That storm yesterday reminded me of the internal struggles I see teachers and students grappling with daily. Fierce winds of change, coming in gusts and catching you off guard on a slippery winding road where the difference between gaining and losing traction is delicate and requires huge reserves of strength at all levels of being.

Insurers measure damage in monetary value. I suggest the cost of the current level of assessment in education is incalculable because it is invisible or worse, desirable. They say if you are caught in an avalanche to ditch the heavy gear, hold onto something, start swimming. Ideally and this is perhaps unrealistic but hey – this is just me writing my thoughts, I would say ‘ditch most assessment’ hold onto authentic and creative teaching and learning, and swim for leisure not for your life.

Running on nothing so my feet feel free

Guitar solo by Mark Knopfler – anyone feeling it? Well…clearly you missed the 80’s – Money for Nothing is a classic and is the nominated backtrack to this piece (perhaps minus the ever so blatant homophobic reference in the middle of the song).

So I am ditching the running shoes in favour of going bare foot (now that title should make more sense) because quite frankly I trust my body. ‘Barefoot’ running is not quite accurate – a thin piece of rubber is strapped to your foot providing protection from sharp bits. This is where we get the interesting tension and polarity between our ‘natural design’ and the belief that technology improves on this ‘design’ (not here to argue who or what or where we were manufactured). But it is interesting that human beings have been around for ‘quite a while’ and shoes ….not so long.

It’s no mean feat (ha – pun intended) to take on the might of the scientific and medical industry that relies on our ‘design faults’ to keep a multitude of professionals and manufacturers busily providing us with salvation from all sorts of biomechanically induced ailments. There is a whole language of pathology and treatment regimes and shiny new shoes with go faster stripes are often the solution.

I’m not convinced anymore as I feel the drive for profit and marketing has captured the technological advancements in sport science leaving me with a distinct case of Iatrogenesis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iatrogenesis. The challenge of those going ‘back to basics’ is to navigate the plethora of rhetoric pushing the cause of ‘improvement’ as we instantly assume that science advances things.

The fact that people can make their own shoes (I know a guy who made his out of old go-cart tyres! – bit of DIY kiwi style) is a frightening prospect to a multinational corporation and their profit margins. Eventually they will relent and find some way to say ‘natural is best’ – put their logo on and claim it as their idea and everyone will rush out and pay exorbitant amounts of money for the privilege.

So – if the shoe fits – you can still go barefoot.