values

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.

Advertisements

Mass-sigh-ya

Blogging at this time of the year runs the risk of falling into the black hole caused by the gravity of Christ-mass. It has so much pull regardless of what it means to individuals there is no escaping it. So here’s me skirting around the event horizon trying not to fall in and realising I’m already there. Black holes are theoretical and mysterious and darn right scary which is how I feel about most aspects of anything associated with Christmas.

I’m all for people wanting to celebrate and attach whatever significance or value they want but how about the option to not participate. In much the same way as quantum physics tries to explain black holes, we have formulas for doing Christmas from whatever perspective you want to take, but it’s still compulsory.

So I’m picking a side and going with the full on Santa version. The one for the kids where anything is possible so long as there is an adult willing to stick their reputation on the line and fully embrace the concept that candy canes will grow out of the garden if you plant tic tacs. Why Santa? Because it is not about me and I can legitimately indulge in fantasy and make believe with full entitlement and bring joy to children by demonstrating that being open to the idea that however unlikely something might be it could be and that sometimes the permission to wonder and dream is the biggest gift you can give.

Having said that, I’m still waiting for my HMX Supermax BMX from 1981...yip still a kid, maybe Santa can time travel? Heck if he can get around the world in one night he’s got some Tardis type qualities in that sleigh so bring it on!

Lightening up the dark side

I was there at midnight to see The Force Awakens with all the other generations of Star Wars fans. I remember 1977 (just) – Paeroa, 5 years old and being awestruck with the story jolting some philosophical curiosity lose. Returning in my 40’s with my storm trooper t-shirt I felt right at home, like my tribe had converged from all walks of life. The approving nods, one liners that offer a secret hand shake of sorts. My expectations were muted and whilst I enjoyed the sense of nostalgia my heart wasn’t moved, it was a little too deja vu. No spoilers here but perhaps what I do feel sad about is the mystery of The Force. I’m also a bit perplexed about this galaxy far far away and it’s parenting practices. If there were social services of any kind they should have targeted that skywalker line and done some serious family therapy. Perhaps a family group conference for the Solo/Skywalker clan is needed with a few ghostly ring ins – Qui Gon, Obi-Wan, Yoda, and maybe Anakin – if he is over his whining. Hollywood could do with ending its dependence on Freudian psychoanalysis to develop its plots and character development. Actually there was a character played by Max von Sydow who looked remarkably like Freud…but he was shafted by a blade of light.

It’s a bit of a romp down memory lane, like a high school reunion of sorts. Where memories of the past are jumbled with the present but the familiarity is comforting to a degree. But here are a couple of strengths of star wars that are worth mentioning:

  • Diversity is the norm – people don’t question each other if they seem to be able to understand another species or even a droid/robot.
  • Age is a relative thing – some live thousands of years others much shorter and there aren’t long winded lectures to young’uns about it.
  • Difference is expected but if you are at the pub – respect the rules and the patrons or you will be out on your ass – or asses.
  • Technology hand-me-downs are ok – light sabres for example seem to be fine – no-one says ‘are you kidding? I’m not taking that old thing’.

 

My new hope is to recapture that mysterious wonder for The Force but maybe it will be about awakening my own senses and perhaps returning to my inner Jedi.

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.

Flagging change

If I was an entrepreneur I would be thinking seriously about getting into the flag industry. From the passionate to the privileged, patriotic to political there is a growing movement toward marking territory along lines of separation in the present that flow into the past and future of which all happen now with real effects that can be felt in persecution, disavowal, and fear. There is a new flag on the block and it’s got nothing to do with NZ trying to decide how to resignify our place such that the rest of the world finally knows we are not the east island of Australia.

The Russians are all in a flap about family values and have decided they need to help people pick a side. This flag is meant to be a counter to the increasing profile of the rainbow one used as a visible representation of the invisibility of those falling outside heteronormativity. The idea of ‘straight pride’ being captured by a flag with a family on it reveals other invisibility. Clearly unless you have three ‘able bodied’ children of clear gender expression (based on clothing and marginal hair length differences) and two parents you are not a good model of heterosexuality. They might have gone with a simpler version that both mirrors and contrasts the rainbow. A simple black and white with no shades of grey, although they might want to refrain from using any symbols – been a bit of confusion with regard to black and white flags recently. Alternatively Russians themselves could fly all sorts of family flags without deviating from a man and woman being the parents. Mixed race couples, people with varying body shapes and functional uniqueness, and the obligatory alternative numbers of children that could make for a family unit – including 0.

South Carolina could consider adopting its state flag for public display, how many people know what it looks like? It’s one that might help cast off the shackles of mixed meaning because regardless of now the past lives and replays certain acts and scenes if given the chance under particular signs that have been etched in the fabric of time itself. We need to remember that rallying under a banner has been an effective propaganda technique for centuries and symbols can be turned from one meaning to another just ask any Hindu about the Svastika.

So to Russia with love – being heterosexual is not a crime in any country, you cannot be sent to jail, killed or denied basic human rights simply for being straight. Pride is only possible against a background of shame, the blood of those lost to hate crimes might make a good backdrop for your new flag – red…somehow I think that has other connotations.

Back to the drawing board.

inclusive exclusion

Throwing money at schools to provide more support for students with unique functioning says something about a profound discomfort in schools with any form of diversity beyond culture. When writing about the ‘cost’ of providing support for disabled students the needs of the majority of students who ‘might miss out on teachers time’ are privileged. The threat to the normative learning environment is what is represented when it comes to promoting increased funding and my concern is this moves schools further away from inclusive and more toward exclusive concepts of special needs. One of the reasons I think is a general dis-ease with any form of emotional, social, physical difference. The need to manage diversity by erasing undersirable outward expressions of uniqueness means schools have lost one of their most powerful functions, to provide young people with experiences with others who may ‘be’ un-like them to allow this unsettling to play an role in forging a genuine appreciation of the vast range of humanbeingness. Maybe this has something to do with the insanity behind assessment driven pedagogy, I’m not sure, but the dominant concerns indicate this might be part of the reason.

Another pressure point is the growing parental entitlement creeping into education. I don’t begrudge parents wanting the ‘best for their children’. However neoliberal forces seem to have condensed and concentrated this into a drive to demand that schools remove all barriers to their child achieving their best. It seems as though ‘accessibility’ has been hijacked as an idea to some degree. If litigation or media exposure is threatened, Principals can be backed into a corner to preserve their brand. These are some of the contextual influences skipped over by media in a bid to focus on economies of identity – financial bottom lines and the ever growing business management approach to education and pedagogy.

A concept I find increasingly needed but missing in schools is de-expertising. That is, you can actually ask young people themselves what they need! And be careful to allow for some space to just them to be teenagers, de-pathologising youth in general would be a good start. Getting frustrated, angry, emotional and struggling to communicate feelings is not uncommon for teachers…or young people. Let’s remember that and get back to basics – the 3 r’s – 1: Are assumptions disabling students more than their actual disabilities, 2: Are young people consulted when developing IEP’s? (especially year 11 and beyond but even before this), 3: Are the needs of the many really that different to the needs of the few?

Having said all this however I am acutely aware that parents are covering the costs of teacher aids and shouldn’t be. I’m also grateful for the work RTLB’s and TA’s do, an often invisible and underappreciated part of the fabric of teaching. To the Ministry Of Education, put your money where your mouth is but don’t let it suffocate a wider discussion of inclusion, belonging and feeling valued by everyday practices in schools.

More assessment? What the Hekia?

Moving through the corridors at work over the last week has had the air of a zombie apocalypse. The ashen faces, sunken red eyes with black rings, shuffling feet and monosyllabic answers from senior students indicative of a gradual trend of sucking the life out of young people and teachers with internal assessment. The level of burn out and fatigue for the middle of the year is a worrying trend. Rarely do I hear students talk about what they are learning, or finding interesting or inspiring – they simply don’t have time or space to wonder, think, challenge or explore knowledge. While countries such as Finland who we look to for models of best practice are moving toward less assessment and testing we are moving in the opposite direction thanks to a government determined to make the tail wag the dog. The political spin doctors will convince the public this is about raising achievement and being able to measure this consistently. The so called ‘gap’ at year 9-10 is not really a ‘gap’ it’s just that there is no national tracking at these years, but there are plenty of assessment tools schools use, otherwise we wouldn’t have had improving pass rates for NCEA.

Teaching to the assessment is already happening which is not education but robotic performance where the types of questions asked by students and sanctioned by teachers are centred on what has to be done to get there. Get ready for the Governments next big experiment that will drain more of the life blood out of schools. Hekia does like to go for the jugular after all.

It’s a good thing vampires and zombies are trendy right now as the piles of marking bury my colleagues and crush the spirits of youth.