Thursday, March 01, 2007

On Education and the State of Democracy

Here is an article by our beloved Barry, the pick-a-box king:

Barry Jones article

Oddly, while reading this I thought of our federal education minister, Julie Bishop. She is very concerned about a few things: poor literacy and numeracy rates (not of interest to me here), ideologues teaching in schools, and post modernism eroding facts, slipping into that all frightening relativism!!!

Surely she can't have it both ways. Can you have evil idealogues co-existing with relativism?

What does she suggest we be taught if there not ideology, nor critical theory (which of course is the critique of ideologies)?

Considering Barry's article, what does her suggestions mean for the future of democratic Australia?


Samuel said...

what about critiques of critical theory? should they be taught that to?

Rowan Blyth said...

If you are implying a critique of modernism and post-modernism, then yes, I think they should.

Please note that I am aware that we are talking about school children, and there is only limited time to cram a bunch of information into them.

Theory is the realm of leftists in this governments opinion, and those evil lefties are eroding our very social fabric by educating our youths, and presenting findings of rigourous studies that don't support their agendas.

My question is what honestly would be taught in areas pertaining to 'ideas' such as english, history or social studies if you remove the ideas from them? Students studying 'ideologies' such as maxism or deconstruction are hardly the 'problem illiterates', and they have as much right to being given a theoretical education, as those struggling with numeracy and illiteracy do of being given a practical one. So where does the attack come from, other than from an ideological position of censorship?

MH said...

I had composed a more extensive reply, but my central point is:

Does the attack originate from an ideological position of censorship? Possibly. But I think that your earlier comment is more apt – the ‘right’, to employ the colloquial, are worried about the employment of social critique. It is a central tenant of conservative positions that critique should be tempered with respect for the historical development of an institution. For the ‘right’ the ‘ideological’ approach to eduction, firstly, constitutes a critique of traditional approaches, and, secondly, encourages the critique of both the disciplines being studied and the society in which they are studied that is not tempered by diffidence. As such, critique is something that should not be encouraged. This would seem to make the attack more political than censorial.

It would also be apt to note that the voters targeted by the Liberal Party, historically, have been those for whom a priority is that there children get the grades to enter university so they can get a well-paying middle-class job, and who would struggle to understand the complexity of educational theory if ever they were concerned with it. These are individuals for whom it is more important that their children can read a contract than use a Marxist framework to understand the rise of Julius Caesar or Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’.

Rowan Blyth said...

"These are individuals for whom it is more important that their children can read a contract than use a Marxist framework to understand the rise of Julius Caesar or Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’."

This is exactly my point in reference to Barry Jones article: there is such a heavy concern with training in our 'education' system, rather than an emphasis on education. This is especially evident in the state of our universities and the over abundance of IT, engineering, and law students, which to the most part seems to have deteriorated to being the new business degree of thirty years ago. (That is not to say that all law students are simply glorified business students, but there appears to be a lot in this category).

I would defend the claim that the liberals would rather not have an educated voting electorate, one armed with critical skills, more strongly than that of censorship. However, when there is an active agenda to oppose certain things taught in schools, and this has been explicit, then there is a real sense in which censorship is being applied to the teaching curriculum.

Clearly it is a lack of value for such education that is the central tenant for the attack, but considering the dominant ideology of selfish interest, and uncritical assimilation of media prompts, it really is worrying that they honestly see any threat in our schools from ideologues, or worse, intelligent, educated ideologues.

By why can’t they see the value in it? Well generally speaking democracy needs an educated populace, while more dictatorial government requires a trained one. Take from that what you will.

MH said...

I agree that the division between education and training is important.

Just sitting here a couple of interesting things seem to come together. One is the Socratic debates about education, in particular the discourses about whether virtue can be taught and Plato’s model as set out in the Republic. Another is Kant’s division between public and private rationality. A third is Mannheim’s development of those concepts into subjective and instrumental rationality. A fourth is the idea that democracy requires an educated electorate.

I’m not sure how I want to shape these thoughts. One shape seems to be a question regarding whether philosophers have privileged certain forms of education over others in the creation of a citizen? Another shape seems to be a question regarding what level of education is necessary to make a good citizen – is the ability to read a necessary condition (would the Romans and Greeks disagree with that?) or the ability to reason in complex, abstract ways? A further seems to be a question about what mode of rationality is required by a citizen – is an instrumental approach to civic problems appropriate? (Is that not, in a sense, what Rawls advocates?) This latter point suggests the question 'can a democracy consist entirely of enlightened egoists?'

Perhaps there is something here that needs to be discussed to a greater extent?

MH said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MH said...

Post script.

Is the question at the heart of this ‘what makes a good citizen?’

Rowan Blyth said...

To some extent the question might be "what makes a good citizen". Clearly education is largely the training of ‘citizens’, and as such what constitutes their curriculum is dictated by what kind of citizens are the desired outcome. This does bring us to the issues of substantive reason and etcetera blah.

Note that I am not advocating all people must be academically trained, and as such I am not being prescriptive about what all students should study at school. It just appears odd to try and deprive the academically inclined their right to study such areas in preparation for university.

On saying this however, I might try and attempt something of a Platonic list of what should be taught in our schools to all students so as to create better citizens, even if we do not live in a republic This is the ‘Rowan’ curriculum for good citizens if you imagine each category is given about one hour a week, with italicized given a double weighting so roughly 2 hours. This makes for a 30 hour week, so 6 hours a day for 5 days a week. All heading include both theoretical and practical elements of the subject, and all don’t assume a standard heady heights level candidature. This would be grades 7-10, and for 11-12, allow categories to be replaced with electives to provide for trade, academic, generalist or other outcomes.

Literacy and English;
Creative production; (art, music, digital media, etc.)
Media and dissemination;
Computer science;

Numeracy and mathematics;
Biology and health;
Physics and applied mathematics;
Psychology and mental health;

Life skills
Physical education and health;
Cooking, diet, cleaning and hygiene;
Work skills and experience;
Industrial production; (textiles, woodwork, metal work, electronics)
Planning and design;

Culture and Identity
History and modernity;
Sex, sexuality and gender;
Religion and belief;
Geography, race and ethnicity;
Representation and expression; (art, music, digital media, etc.)

Community involvement;
Politics and democratic participation;
Current affairs, foreign and domestic issues;
Economics; (economics refers to monetary, household and time management, both macro and micro)

If any of these ‘subjects’ need to be explained, please ask.

MH said...

Why planning and design?

Rowan Blyth said...

Planning and design simply covers the fact that I am attempting balance, and addressing some basic familiarity with current work trends. The design business is big, as witnessed by the amazing number of graphic and web designers. I have however expanded this to not simply be learning design, but overall pre-planning of any activity, which if I had been taught such things, I might not be where I am today. I don't think it hurts people to be able to read plans or having basic engineering knowledge, even if it is as simple as identifying structural faults such as rising damp.