Archive for March, 2007

We define Canada

March 31, 2007

Is this some sort of personal fixation? No. This bothers me. Ibbitson returns to the subject of native education with another call for subjugating natives through education. Education becomes a weapon for continued conquest, consensus is a synonym for assimilation.

In State of the nation: It’s about consensus and accommodation (A4) Thursday, March 29, 2007, Ibbitson writes:

Where we don’t have consensus we must fight to achieve it. Canada’s Indian, Inuit, Métis and other aboriginal populations try to talk to the rest of us, but we don’t understand them and they don’t understand us. After almost five years of writing on this subject, I am convinced that only a national commitment to improving educational outcomes, while respecting Native control over key elements of the curriculum will make it possible for both sides to hear what the other is saying, which is the essential first step toward consensus.

Why do we need to “fight” for consensus? Why do we need consensus at all if the First Nations are self governing? If “we” don’t understand “them”, why is it only they need the education? What does “educational outcomes” mean if it leads to the “first step toward consensus“?

The way Ibbitson uses the word “Canada” to define the aboriginal populations exposes his bias. This is why the question : How Canadian are you? bothers me. Canada is not something that defines us. We define Canada.

Focus on the Family and Michael Moore

March 27, 2007

All this is an attempted dialogue. There’s a possibility of dialogue. There is no dialogue. There original article is here. The comments are here. I post this here because I like the connections. The Michael Moore review is on some 666 site, and Focus on the Family says a very similar thing, plus the original article talks of the same phenomenon as Hold On To Your Kids. I like connections.

His is a rather sentimental and weak argument. Teenagers have been teenagers for decades; he does not adduce what, if anything, is different about today’s teenagerdom from yesterday’s teenagerdom.
Dave | Homepage

I’ll push your first claim further, and note that teenagers have been teenagers for centuries, at least.

I think the post was fairly clear in it’s contention that what’s different about today’s teenagers is that they spend much more time with one another, and only one another, and they are taught by less competent individuals.

There are plenty of ways to attack both arguments, but it seems false on the surface to assert that I did not adduce a difference between present and past.
Tony | Homepage | 02.26.07 – 10:25 am |

What derisive, prejudicial and ignorant commentary. Many teens are creative, insightful and have excellent work ethic. Of course, some reflect poorly on each other, but many help each other improve in the hours the spend together.

What you say is sort of like saying all bloggers offer only ridiculous, self-aggrandizing commentary, just because they spend a lot of time reading each other’s blogs.
Mark Barnes | Homepage | 03.04.07 – 9:31 am |

Or like saying that one commenter who has trouble spelling words correctly is proof that all commenters are poor spellers.

I think the qualifiers were clear enough: “a large portion of high-school seniors,” for example. Of course I wasn’t talking about all teenagers, or all teachers, for that matter. The fact that many teenagers are brilliant, and their teachers highly competent, doesn’t refute what I had to say.
Tony | Homepage | 03.05.07 – 12:19 pm |

This author/psychologist gives parents and teachers some advice for dealing with peer orientation. That teenagers prefer to keep company with themselves is having a “devastating impact in today’s society”, according to Neufeld, and parents actually spending time with their kids is his new and innovative solution.

I’m guessing the tone of your post was what the two previous commentors were really on about. I see the same phenomenon but well, there’s this: “But perhaps picking a fight with higher education, in the same post where I pick on high schoolers and their teachers and their parents and the rest of us who let news like this roll off our backs without changing our behavior one bit, is, well, just one fight too many.” It’s a mexican standoff, like that scene (50) in Reservoir Dogs, but you’re blaming the actors in our social drama. Doesn’t blaming the script writers ever cross your mind?

Society is changing, but so has the economy. Why are kids working as much as they do? Why are parents working as much as they do? Why are you “picking on” the little guy? I take for fact our responsibility to ourselves and our children. But by your own understanding (“If you study about ten times harder, and have an ounce of common sense, and work really long hours, then perhaps you can build yourself a plane, and then you can fly. Otherwise, get used to walking.”) citizens are being worked beyond socialization. Is it stupidity or the underclass that’s spreading?
Rodger Levesque| | 03.12.07 – 4:38 am |

Given that real income in the lowest quintile of American households more than doubled in the past half-century, I would say you’re barking up the wrong tree if you want to contend that economic need is the driving force here.

My goal isn’t to pick on the little guy. It is to pick on the big, fat slob of a parent who spends too much time in front of the tube, and not enough time engaging his children in the real work of becoming responsible adults.
Tony | Homepage | 03.12.07 – 4:30 pm |

The real income more than doubled for everyone else as well. But fifty years ago a household would have had one bread winner. Today, that’s not the case. Two people are now working per household.

And sure not every household has two incomes, but not every teenager has no adult contact.

What do you call this? A cultural shift? Can it be called an economic shift? If one earner were to devote himself to the kids, would the household earning then be nearer to what it was fifty years ago? And is that doubled household income going straight to a materialistic lifestyle? I read in the paper often about the average household credit card debt. Was this a problem 50 years ago when households were bringing in half what they do now? How are these real dollars calculated? If the dollars take into account only necessities, is cable included? How about these gas prices? Computers? Cell phones? insurance? Are all these things taken into account?

I’m not going to try to tell you that the fat guy picture you paint doesn’t exist, I’m sure he’s washing down pork rinds with a miller lite watching deal or no deal right now, but the problem of family socialization time has to be more complex than that. You’d know better than I if you can call it an economic shift, but definitely a cultural shift has occurred.

It doesn’t matter which side of the polemical divide your argument falls.

This is from Focus on the Family:

“Dr. Steve Farrar presents a message on how the spiritual virus of affluenza (the pursuit of material success) is sweeping the country and destroying the family. Affluenza causes good people to make unwise choices by distorting their thinking, their judgment, and eventually causes them to sacrifice their children on the altar of success.

He gives three components to success in America. Attaining these three components equals status, and if you have status in America, then your perceived importance goes up. Steve provides tremendous perspective from the Scriptures (1 Timothy 6:6-11) and expresses that contentment is destroyed by comparison.

On Day Two, Steve talks about the God-ordained family and lists the two things that every family needs, presenting God’s ideal plan for the father to be the primary provider and for the mother to be the primary caregiver.

He traces the course of affluenza beginning with the Industrial Revolution, when men were first taken out of the home and into the factories for work, followed by the feminist revolution in the past 25-30 years which has taken women out of the home, and Steve asks who is taking care of the children.

Dr. Dobson closes by assuring listeners that he knows that materialism and greed are not the reason all mothers work, some are working out of need.”

And this is about a Michael Moore documentary:

“Moore first shows us how the mother from the impoverished town of Flynt, Michigan was left without work following the closing of the local GM plant as jobs were given to cheap labor out of country. We then travel with Moore before sunrise on a two hour bus ride to the wealthy suburban mall where the state’s privatized work-for-welfare program sent her (the program, incidentally, was run by defense industry giant Lockheed Martin, who also builds nuclear missiles in Littleton Colorado, site of Columbine High School). We get quick tours of the Dick Clark fifties-theme restaurant and the fudge factory where she performed her minimum wage jobs before bussing home after sunset. Despite the two jobs, the woman still did not have enough to pay her rent. Consequently, she was evicted from her house and taken in by her brother. Soon after, while she was bussing to work, her young child found her brother’s handgun, carried it to school and killed another student.”

I’m not proposing a solution. Tony, you’ve written provocatively on a very real issue. I think it’s more complicated than your presentation, and I’m still wondering, what’s really happening? When I asked if it was stupidity or the underclass that was spreading, I meant is our culture becoming oppressive? The problem has spread well into what was once called the middle class and on into academia. Is all this work, creating poverty of the mind? I think Camus had something to say about this. I guess if there’s a question in here anymore, it’s: Don’t you think you’ve simplified the problem (a problem you had the ability to recognize and examine) a little too much?
Rodger Levesque |  | 03.12.07 – 11:40 pm |

Chapter 6: Democratizing Technology

March 20, 2007

One of the interesting potentials of blogs lies in research. With a few key words you can compile a sampling of attitudes within a sector. Sure you can find any opinion you want to promote, but the potential for a public dialogue exists. You can replace “technology” in this book with any other public institution and it would more or less hold up. Is this because medicine, housing, education, transportation are technology? Here’s a blog post entitled rather descriptively People Who Know Nothing About Schools Telling Us How to Fix Them again, switch “schools” with “technologies,” “hospitals,” or “shelters” and it amounts to pretty much the same thing; professionals want to feel like they have some control over their work. This is the control Feenberg wants to see wrested from the professions. In chapter 2 Feenberg shows how these “white collar” labourers sided with the people against the ruling class.

Education gets knocked about often enough by public policy and it seems to be in constant crisis. I guess that’s why Feenberg might like to see locally elected technology boards. I’ll just put the pulled quotes here again:

Technology is power in modern societies, a greater power in many domains than the political system itself. (p.131)

But if technology is so powerful, why don’t we apply the same democratic standards to it we apply to other political institutions? By those standards the design process as it now exists is clearly illegitimate. (p.131)

Representation, even at its best, diminishes the citizens by confiscating their agency. (p.133)

Disarmed by its emphasis on representation and central role of majorities in electoral politics, conventional democratic theory tends to devalue or ignore actual public participation by smaller numbers and tacitly to accept the mass mediated shadow for the substance of public life. (p.133)

Only reinvigorated communities can arrest the slide of modern society into media-manipulated passivity. (p.134)

All too often, public interventions into technology are dismissed as nonpolitical or, worse yet, undemocratic because they mobilize only small minorities. (p.134)

Feenberg uses the sidewalk ramp as an example of public policy for the benefit of minority groups. (p.141)

Instead, the most important means of assuring more democratic technical representation remains transformation of the technical codes and the educational process through which they are inculcated. (p.143)

Such schemes [electronic town hall meetings] deligitimate by implication the forms of intervention open to us today which are not usually based on the principle of majority rule in a community setting. (p.145)


Feenberg proposes “a strategy combining the democratic rationalization of technical codes with electoral controls on technical institutions.” With this strategy, popular agency “would be normalized and incorporated into the standard procedures of technical design.” (p.147)

I’d like to have more time to write these up, maybe have something clear to say, hopefully this will be useful to me later. This has got to be better than writing nothing. Right now I can’t make any argument, and maybe it’s best to consider my words a little more carefully. I am reactionary. When I come up against even an attempted optimism (see pages 4 and 14 of chapter 1) my pessimism rises, and the reverse is true.

Do I simply need to develop more of a personal stance? Stance? Perhaps a straddling of the polemical divides, like some sort of conceptual millipede. That’s more the case. I’d like to see technology legislated. After watching Who Killed The Electric Car, it’s obvious how out of control the people who drive technology, the people who actually work for, make necessary and pay for that technology, have no say in how it is designed. When the Big Three are wiped off the map, it’ll have been for their own short-sightedness.

I’d like to see something done, but national governments are corporate ideology cushions, and local governments, as powerless in the sway of corporate dollars. Anyone who challenges these institutions will be beaten. And yet, many of the social services we take for granted were implemented to domesticate the enraged working class. Their unions were heavily legislated. Communists, their ideological foundation, weren’t allowed in leadership positions. Their actions were completely legislated, their potential controlled. The government’s moves to provide free education for everyone were condemned as a communistic idea, which it was. The working class was given everything its communist champions were calling for except control.

I don’t know how our democracy works. I’ve got a schoolboy’s idea of democracy, but this tired middle-aged hack doesn’t know all the forces at play. This idea Feenberg proposes feels good to the freedom and peace loving schoolboy who still lives around here somewhere, but for the cagey veteran in us the system isn’t rational.

There is no free and lively dialogue. It’s written in the history of Socrates, Jesus, unnumbered union leaders, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, John Lennon. Our power potential reduced to a monologue. Libel chill, Advertising boycott chill. To imagine there is some free and lively dialogue in North America is to be so intellectually limited that the stunted back and forth… no one buys it. Everybody know the reality. If you’re not dead, you haven’t said anything we need to hear. What a funny world we live in where an assassin’s bullet is our highest intellectual prize.

tear gas and screaming

March 19, 2007

This is what all the screaming and tear gas was about at the end of the 90s.

 

BBC Suspends £150m BBC Jam Education Site

The BBC suspended operation of its £150m children’s education site, BBC Jam, last week after complaints were made to the European Commission that the site unfairly effects the commercial market for similar content. The site, which provides free educational content for children in the 5-to-16 age group, will no longer be accessible from Tuesday.

Although I think that the BBC does waste a lot of taxpayers money, it still excels in certain areas and one of those is providing educational content. In fact part of the BBC’s charter is to promote education and learning. Although I’m a big believer in the Thatcherite policies of encouraging competition, I think this is going one step too far as surely setting up services like BBC Jam is one of the reasons why the BBC still exists?

 

Re: Let the objections finally cease

March 16, 2007

I wrote and sent this letter to the editor at the Globe and Mail:

As a Canadian who takes as fact the First Nations’ responsibility for their own lives and communities, I’d like to answer John Ibbitson’s question, “So what are you doing to help them reach that independence?”

First and finally, I’m not suggesting we take away their autonomy regarding self-education. Integration is not, as he writes, “the only solution.” The last time Ibbitson made this suggestion (Dec. 21/06) Phil Fontaine (national chief, Assembly of First Nations) replied, “our dedicated leaders and educational professionals have developed a plan that will more effectively meet our needs.”


It wasn’t printed.

Just as a note, I use “we” (italicized in the letter) very self consciously. Ibbitson draws his readers into this “we.” He writes:

Let’s say to each other: We will bring status and non-status Indian, Inuit and Métis high-school completion rates up to national average in this generation, and we will not let jurisdictional disputes, funding shortfalls or anything else keep us from reaching that goal. And we will hold our politicians, our native leadership and most important ourselves to account.


I am a part of this we, and bothered by the inclusion. I become an actor in a conspiracy, a conspiracy I want no part of, and must respond with “we.” And there is a conspiracy here. “Integrating native schools into the provincial school systems is the only solution,” A conspiracy against First Nations autonomy.

Another note, When Fontaine writes “our dedicated leadership” and Ibbitson writes “our native leadership” the same possessive pronoun refers to different groups.

And another note: Ibbitson writes:

Those close to the issue are shaking their heads. They know the federal government would never surrender jurisdiction, the provincial governments would never agree to assume it and native leaders would never give up control.

We’re shaking our heads in Ibbitson’s mind because of what we know? But he’s proposed the solution, what he goes on to call the only solution:

The solution would be for Ottawa and native leaders to let provincial governments — who actually know how to run an education system — assume full responsibility for native schools.

For the record I’m not shaking my head, but if I were it wouldn’t be for the reasons Ibbitson puts forth. First is the repeated proposal of integration that Ibbitson is making. There’s a question; What are his intentions? The last time he made the suggestion the native response was clear, they’ve got it under control. So this second proposal, essentially ignoring the First Nations response, has got to be questioned. I don’t have an answer, just a question; What are his intentions?

Next, the interjection, “who actually know how to run a school system,” might provide the answer to why Ibbitson ignores the First Nations response. The First Nations are obviously not “who” for Ibbitson. This is actually offensive. All the more so, when you consider the influence the provincial education systems have had in the north. The provincial education system doesn’t work for low income kids.

And third, why wouldn’t the federal government want to drop this hot potato? Why wouldn’t the provincial governments take the money? Most kids fly out for high school already, integration wouldn’t be much of a change. These two objections are fabrications to make it look like the First Nations aren’t the only ones who don’t want this.

The First Nations are in an excellent position to experiment within education and find different practices that work in their many different communities, languages and cultures. There can not be an “only solution” when it comes to education in the north.

I now know why the question “How Canadian are you?” bothers me.

Chapter 5: The Problem of Agency

March 16, 2007

I hadn’t read Chapter 7: Critical Theories of Technology, when Kant was recommended to me. In Chapter 7 Feenberg asks the question: “what can we learn from Marcuse and Habermas assuming that we are neither metaphysicians nor instrumentalists, that we reject both a romantic critique of science and the neutrality of technology?” Of course he goes on to answer that question for us. Now, One Dimensional Man is on my reading list, and I’m thinking about something by Niklas Luhmann, but I’ll have to ask around. What can we learn, and how can we use it to build the grand theory?

I’ve got the feeling that these quotes/ideas are going to be useful:

As in the factory or hospital or school, urban centers, media, even unions are reconstructed around the paradigm of technical administration. Expertise legitimates power in society at large, and “citizenship” consists in the recognition of its claims and conscientious performance in mindless subordinate roles. The public sphere withers; a literal silence is instituted as one-way communication replaces dialogue throughout society. (p.101)

The resulting weakness of democratic intervention into technology is symptomatic. (p.101)

The politics of sexual and racial identity returns agency to the individual but at a level that leaves basic technocratic structures untouched. (p.102)

Despite diminishing educational and cultural inequalities, social evolution continues on an authoritarian track. (p.103)

What we have learned is that even if no totalizing approach makes sense, the tensions in the individual system can be grasped on a local basis from “within,” by individuals immediately engaged in technically mediated activities and able to actualize ambivalent potentialities suppressed by the prevailing technological rationality. (p.105)

Social groups constituted by technology will reflexively turn on it.??????

It is this sort of agency that holds the promise of a democratization of technology. Technical politics foreshadows a world in which technology, as a kind of social “legislation” affecting every aspect of our lives, will emerge from these new types of public consultations. (p.105)

The problem is still the struggle against technocracy and its claim to an exclusive monopoly on rationality. But the solution now is to find radical political resources immanent to technologically advanced societies. (p.108)

Change in the system can destabilize its power structure.

“A thousand ways of playing/outplaying the other’s game, that is to say, the space that others have instituted, characterize the subtle, tenacious, resistant activity of groups which, for lack of a base, must maneuver in a network of established forces and representations.” From de Certeau

What de Certeau calls “exorbitant” practices are the equivalent of dominant language. Everyone must speak it, but marginal practices, like local slang, can give it a special twist. (p.113)

Where excluded members mobilize, political movements of a new type emerge that promise to create a lively technical public sphere.

Formulating local knowledge in a technical language that has legitimacy in the public sphere.

The malaise of modernity

March 15, 2007

Ripped from today’s headlines:

NEW YORK (CP) – Charles Taylor, a Canadian philosopher who says the world’s problems can only be solved by considering both their secular and spiritual roots, was named Wednesday as the recipient of a religion award billed as the world’s richest annual prize. more…

Chapter 4: The Limits of Technical Rationality

March 14, 2007

I had a short conversation with a couple academics a few weeks ago. Questioning Technology came up, and they wondered what I thought of it. It’s hard to talk about books like this with guys like this, but I had to confess that I’d never read any of the philosophers Feenberg uses to get his concepts together. Weber, Heidegger (only an article on Nietzsche), Marcuse, Habermas, I hadn’t read a single word of them. That’s pretty much why the pulled quotes I call “notes” are all I type out. But in philosophy I have read, the concepts of autonomy and human creative force were forged long ago.

So I ask a question, why read some monster tome of god-smothered thinking? I’ve tried Kant. Once you’ve read his name being dragged through the mud of Nietzsche’s anger it’s hard to put in the effort to read Kant. I picked up a slim hardcover copy of his Introduction to Logic, and I’ve tried to start it several times but can’t get past the first line, maybe I get a little into the second line, then I’m done. The book goes back on the shelf. I was told by one of the academics to hold off my judgement and read Kant. No reason, just read Kant.

Like I said this was weeks ago, and I’ve been thinking about that. My philosophical reading has been limited to the sons of Nietzsche. So I decided to read the Critique of Pure Reason. I thought it would be interesting to read it with the Critique of Cynical Reason. Plus, there’s something mystical about this.

Anyway, these are some quotes that I pulled:

“Democratic” rationalism is a contradiction in Weberian terms. On those terms, once tradition has been defeated by modernity, radical struggle for freedom and individuality degenerates into an affirmation of irrational life forces against the routine and drab predictability of a bureaucratic order. This is not a democratic program but a romantic anti-dystopian one, the sort of thing that is already foreshadowed in Dostoievsky’s Notes From Underground and various back to nature ideologies. (p.75)

We need not go underground or native to escape the iron cage… this is in fact the meaning of the emerging social movements to change technology in a variety of areas such as computers, medicine and the environment. (p.76)

Two principles of technology’s ambivalence:
1. Conservation of hierarchy: social hierarchy and the continuation of power are generally unaffected by the introduction of new technologies.
2. Democratic rationalization: technical initiatives often follow structural reforms pursued by social movements.(p.76)

Technological development is not unilinear but branches in many directions, and could reach generally higher levels along several different tracks. (p.83)

A critical theory of technology can “demystify the illusion of technical necessity, and expose the relativity of the prevailing technical choices.”(p.87)

Social groups excluded from the original design network articulate their unrepresented interests politically. New values the outsiders believe would enhance their welfare appear as mere ideology to insiders who are adequately represented by the existing designs. (p.94)

Design is not a zero sum economic game but an ambivalent cultural process that serves a multiplicity of values and social groups without necessarily sacrificing efficiency. (p.95)

We will someday mock those who object to cleaner air and water as a “false principle of humanity” that violates technological imperatives. (p.97)

Chapter 3: Environmentalism and the Politics of Technology

March 13, 2007

Feenberg draws his philosophy out of the late 60s-early 70s social movements. A couple years ago this documentary about Bruce Haack made evident the culture of experiment that existed in those far gone days. A real possibility of something new was just beyond the veil if only we could do something magic to lift it. “Thank you America for raping the only dream we had left.” I’m quoting from (often faulty) memory there, Burroughs’ Thanksgiving Day Prayer. When the pointlessness of the moon landing (or any other product of that culture of experiment) slowly revealed itself, “you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”

The May Events of 1968 “enlarged the field of the possible.” Three years later Barry Commoner “proposed transforming modern technology “to meet the inescapable demands of the ecosystem.” (“Be realistic. Demand the impossible.” Who said that? Now when I said in my notes on chapter two I was going to finish reading the book before I continued to review it chapter for chapter because there was something I didn’t understand it was this.) How could a free thinker not see in technology a legislative possibility? Isn’t that what Nader’s Raiders were doing? Am I misunderstanding the philosophy in this book if I see that organization as getting democratic on the technocracy? Is Feenberg drawing the philosophy out of this political action as well? Theory goes both ways, right? You can put theory into practice, apply theory (are they synonyms?), but what do you call it the other way? You can extract philosophical concepts out of political action?(I’ve read something like that somewhere before) Is that what’s happening here?

And some notes:

“Commoner’s contrary view depends on a nondeterminist philosophy of technology which admits the possibility of radical technical transformation”(p.47)

“Keep America Beautiful, Inc. proclaimed: “People start pollution. People can stop it.” Hundreds of millions of dollars of free advertising space were devoted to diverting environmental pressures away from business and toward individual action.” (p.61)
“The business men who sponsored this campaign… hoped that the political energy mobilized by the increasingly articulate critics of capitalist environmental practice could be focused on private options, leaving basic economic institutions unchanged.”(p.62)

“the environmental movement must choose between repressive policy of increasing control over the individual, or a democratic policy of control over the social processes of production (and, I would add, culture.)” (p.69)

Peter Piper picked peppers and Run rocked rhymes

March 10, 2007

I read this waiting to get a haircut (Rip Van Winkle would know where he was at my barber’s shop) a couple months ago, just found it on-line tonight.

There’s a dark little joke exchanged by educators with a dissident streak: Rip Van Winkle awakens in the 21st century after a hundred-year snooze and is, of course, utterly bewildered by what he sees. Men and women dash about, talking to small metal devices pinned to their ears. Young people sit at home on sofas, moving miniature athletes around on electronic screens. Older folk defy death and disability with metronomes in their chests and with hips made of metal and plastic. Airports, hospitals, shopping malls–every place Rip goes just baffles him. But when he finally walks into a schoolroom, the old man knows exactly where he is. "This is a school," he declares. "We used to have these back in 1906. Only now the blackboards are green." more…