Monday, March 07, 2011

Purpose of Education: do I have any idea, does anyone else?

(The missing post: maybe title was too long.)

Purpose of Education: do I have any idea, does anyone else? Is it concerned
with society, and the whole of humanity?

So there is a debate. No not really a debate. A sharing of ideas taking
place on twitter, centred around the purpose of education. Each contribution
is 500 words in length. So can I write and stick to 500 words, avoid usual
lecturing and tirade, and stick to the topic, and then all that first person
third person stuff. So I guess the first point is that education should
develop the ability to communicate and be critical in a socially
constructive manner.

My interest in education, stems from childhood. Moving from England to
Zambia, to Australia, to England and back to Australia, I fell behind in
some subjects and was in front in others. All commonwealth countries and no
consistency in curriculum: start and end school at different times of day,
differing amounts of homework, and different order in presentation of
subjects. So for example at age 8 in Zambia, French was taught as 2nd
language, at age 11 back in England French was taught as 2nd language, back
in Australia at age 13 German was available as 2nd language but not French.
Clearly subject matter presented has little to do with the ability to learn.
On top of which my dad was some what disappointed that calculus wasn't
presented here in Australia until grade 12 (17/18): but he went to a
technical high school in the UK to learn calculus at 13 not ordinary state
school. On top of which I don't think my parents understood the Australian
system, so the pressure was on to get to university via grade 12 at school
rather than via TAFE. It has become apparent that the path via TAFE is
becoming increasingly faster and more productive, under the articulation
requirements of the AQF. Grade 11 and grade 12 seem to be a waste of time:
if can get into university and then get through university and get a job
afterwards then an extra 2 years at school may be useful. But otherwise
completing grade 12 is wasteful, even if pass the matriculation exams, it
doesn't mean will actually get a place at university. So to me the education
system has always been defective, at odds with the need to fit in and be
part of society. What happens if a person acquires their education entirely
with in the one system? Do those educated within the one system assimilate
better with the society and culture they find when they leave the confines
of education? Do kids in the city or otherwise next to the noise of industry
fare better than those in isolated and remote suburb or still more remote
rural town?

To change the system requires political change. To achieve political change
requires information, and in turn communication and education. Thus to
change the education system requires a change to the education of the
population : which needs to be brought about by a change to the education
system. But education for what purpose?

The natural world is dynamic and adaptive: it evolves. But our education
system is built around a mechanical concept of industrial society. Though
with capitalist competition does society even come into it? Society as a
machine as cogs, bolts and other parts which have to be maintained and
replaced. We thus become focused on accountants, lawyers, carpenters,
builders, architects, engineers and teachers. But none of these cogs are
really needed and few are really well defined. To the IEAust I am an
engineering technologist, to IIE I am an industrial engineer, and to APESMA
I am a professional scientist. Whilst my formal education covered
industrial, manufacturing and mechanical engineering: I make my living
designing building structures not machine structures. And design is some
what questionable: it is more along the lines of assessing
fitness-for-function against mandated codes of practice. I can attempt to
advise people that their proposal has problems based on my continuous
learning as a designer, but in general if the regulations will permit their
preferences, then their preferences get the go ahead. Or as is often the
case they have built without regulatory approval, and so the task is to
provide evidence-of-compliance, or identify modifications required to make
compliant and avoid demolition. These people complain about the need for
approval to build on their own property, yet would also be amongst the first
to ask where is the government when their neighbours build without approval.
It seems to be a common perspective: people don't want government
interference, but at the first sign of trouble they want a parental
government to help them out. They, them, the system are the problem. An
intangible non-entity is the problem and therefore don't have to participate
to fix: or where and what would they be participating in fixing.

{exceeded the 500: so this ain't it}

People seem confused about what government is. What is the role of
government in the modern world? We talk about public servants: but they seem
to have more an attitude of being our managers and masters. What is it in
our education that makes us subservient to those who are meant to serve? Yet
at the same time highly critical of what they supply. They are to serve us
and yet we cannot control what they supply.

Design and engineering are not all about science: the fundamental basis of
all design is a subjective human judgment. Engineering design has to resolve
issues of high variability, uncertainty and risk: in a culture that believes
that problems can be solved with mathematical exactness and certainty. That
buildings can be made earthquake resistant, hurricane resistant, and flood
proof. That all products can be "safe" and free from design defects and
faults. Such is not possible. Once a product is released to the market it
becomes raw material, and it will be put to uses well beyond the intents of
the original designer: many of these alternative uses will result in
failure. Some people will jump up and down and demand regulations be put in
place to improve the performance of the product. Other businesses however
will take note of alternative use and release a version of the product
optimsed for that alternate use: a vast array of alternative products will
arise. It is the end-users responsibility to properly assess the various
products available and select that best suited to their needs.

Wild flora do not have labels on them identifying them as toxic to eat. At
school I was taught that the berries along bird cage walk along side my
school were poisonous even if the birds did eat them. Some years later I
watched the movie "walkabout", and the kids decided that berries on the
trees were safe to eat because birds were eating them. All swans are white,
until you come to Australia where they are black. What is rational in one
environment could kill you in another. Our ancestors aquired knowledge, and
that provides us with an important collective memory: someone else doesn't
have to get sick or die to discover what berries are safe to eat. But the
artificial environment of industrial society is constantly changing. The
fruit that was "safe" to eat last week may kill you next week. How much
testing do we need to do as individuals to determine what is suitable for
our needs? Who can we trust to make the assessments for us? There is the
practicality of time to consider.

We have these concepts of life expectancy, and defined periods of our lifes
such as childhood: from which we can start to talk about being robbed off.
Strange concepts like: get a life. Is ignoring work, and needs of society
and having fun and otherwise enjoying self really a life? These will be the
people that will be first to complain: why didn't the government do
something about it? When "it", what ever catastrophic event it may be,
eventually impacts on their so called lives. Learning is important to
participatory democracy, but so also is the ability to actually participate.
Electing a dictator for a short period of time is not real democracy: nor is
a party political system where political philosophy of parties takes
precedence over the needs of the population.

So life expectancy: something which is highly uncertain: is given a sense of
certainty, and then people complain about unsafe products decreasing life
expectancy. But are they decreasing: or what is it they are really
decreasing? More and more of the planets biomass in being converted into
human form, thus less and less will be available for food. We are becoming
increasingly dependent on one another. Compare the quaint idealistic
surrounds of a country cottage, against an ultimate future inhabiting a
space station on the way to a new star system. But that new suitable star
system is may be thousands, even millions of years away. If we can survive
in space to get to it, then we don't really need to reach such destination.
would such destination become the promised land: paradise? Such space
station would be a higher form of life: and the human inhabitatants little
more than blood cells. But not expendable blood cells, for no biomass can be
lost from the system: no traditional naval burial and casting the dead into
space. Just how meshed into the system will we be: drones in a hive:
cybermen: the Borg: and wired into the matrix. Just how controlled would our
lifes be: what sense of freedom would we have?

We are told our recent ancestors fought wars for our democratic freedom: no
they didn't: they fought for their freedom: their freedoms are our prison.
Each generation has to fight for their own freedom. But if we know that
there will emerge an anti-thesis to the thesis of the status quo, and the
resulting conflict will result in synthesis of a future new status quo: then
perhaps government could take action to prevent the conflict. No! The
conflict is unavoidable: it is the response of a dynamic adaptive system.
but we can determine the form of the conflict: we can avoid it becoming a
bloody battle. Our society is full of judgment and bias. Teachers
traditionally were required to avoid expressing personal views in an attempt
to remove bias from the classroom. Now teachers are more likely to
deliberately educate bias out off certain judgments. At the same time there
is some bias instilled by the education system: or the schooling system.
That is kids pick up discriminatory judgments from others at school, and
parents have to educate the bias out. Kids can turn up at school with or
with out the bias and be bullied at school for having or not having. It is a
world of conflicts that we have to learn to deal with.

Education imparts skills for a future world not the world of our parents.
Consider that parents are effectively neanderthals and we are homosapiens.
Wisdom from the elders is not the same as their knowledge and experience. We
need wisdom to deal with the knowledge and experience of a different
environment to that of our parents. What does it mean to be human, and what
will the future human be? Will the Chrysalids of the tomorrow people be cast
into the outlands? Our original tools were an extension of our humanity, we
were not dependent upon them, they merely assisted. But the industrial city
is not an extension of ourselves nor an option: it is essential to our
survival: we are part of it. The human components of the industrial machine
have to be replaced with humans: but that makes the operation of the system
unreliable to other humans: so increasingly we replace the human components
with more machine components. There is thus less need for humans within the
system, but the system is able to support more humans. But we still have
archaic concepts of contributing to society. But what is this society? If we
are competing against each other where is the society? If I cannot join in,
and cannot participate why would I follow the rules: why not break the
existing rules and make new rules? If competing in the monetary economy
doesn't work for the individual, why should they tie their hands behind
their back and attempt to compete? The sensible thing would be to do what
they can do best: and that may be taking what they want from whom they want,
when they want and as much as they want: and little that anyone else can do
to stop them. It is fundamental to a contract that there is an exchange:
mutual compensation. The social contract cannot be biased and one sided: it
has to be social.

We are to a significant extent descended from warfaring tribal villages. But
our education is no longer restricted to those villages, our loyalties have
changed from being geographical centred to global enterprises. Yet we still
argue for locality: buy Australian, but British, buy American. But hey
everyone else open up your markets and import. Don't subsidize inefficient
local producers import: become dependent on a global village and politics in
far off land which you have no democratic control over. Why don't you have
any sugar: because there were floods and tropical cyclones on otherside of
world. Why don't you have any bread: because on the other side of world they
figured biofuels sold locally were more important. You are pressured into
changing and then they change the rules. The world is dynamic, decisions
have to take variability, uncertainty and risk into consideration: along
with the consequential hazards.

Each nation is talking about it winning the race. They have to improve their
education systems so that they get the technological lead over other nations
and they dominate the export markets. Why? That sounds like a declaration of
war. But it is not a war on nations it is war against humanity. Governments
are no different than any other business enterprise, and more over they
largely represent cities not nations. Industrial cities like London, New
York, Tokyo. Resources drawn from all over the world to feed these cities
and build them higher and higher. They are plants, and they lack the
mobility of animals. They are consequently inefficient, as resources are
drawn from ever distant places, consuming more and more resources to do so.
Are people to be schooled to be cogs in these dieing machines? If a city is
taken to be a higher form of life: then it has to be born, grow old and die,
and possibly reproduce at some point. If people are blood cells within these
higher forms of life then their production needs to be regulated. To what
extent can education be about personal freedom and happiness, when
ultimately a cog in a machine or a blood cell in a higher form of life. To
have freedom, need to be able to do more than talk freely: need to be able
to act freely.

But we have a locked in dependence, we are part of the industrial system.
The unemployed cannot go and hunt and gather or farm their own food. They
are locked into the artificial environment of an industrial ecosystem, they
have to develop as niche species. It is a strange concept: come buy me: or
is that come eat me? What antelope says: hey lion, you need me for food? But
basically industrial products are food, for highly specialised lifeforms of
industrial system. The system does not work on supply to the demands or
needs. It works on the principle of these are the resources I was born with
access to, these resources are of no use to me, but may be others will find
them useful so that I can gain access to the resources that I really need to
survive. For many those resources essential for survival are on the other
side of the world. In the distant future those resources could be on the
other side of the solar system as we travel further outwards into space.
We have the imagination to do many things and develop all kinds of
technology, even the resources. But just because we can dream, does not mean
that we should or would want to realise such dreams. Humanity has survived
past changes in the planets environment because we were mobile. But now tied
into our cities or villages we lack mobility. We are locked into preserving
and conserving: when the environment is dynamic, adaptive and evolving.
Businesses are not locked to geography: people who provide labour inputs and
the market are locked to geography.

Business could operate from ships at sea, and such ships could be located in
regions where there is potential for solar power and wind power: to drive
industrial production. Workers could live on the ships, no different really
than a box in a multistorey building. The ships could travel and pick up
materials in one place and set down finished goods in another. Workers can
get on or off for vacations at various ports of call. But why dock at land?
Why travel so far? Ships could meet at sea, and exchange goods. Why doesn't
this happen in a major way? Because the major cities, the homes of national
governments are locked geographically: and can only tax within their
geographical realm. People are not free, they are not citizens of the world
or children of the universe: they are trapped and chained citizens of
nations. Why are people trapped in places of drought and low potential for
growing food? Why do we have problems with refugees? Why are we still
effectively engaging in tribal warfare? These businesses, these governments,
these nations: these tribes.

Why do we waste time on who said what and did what, and who was first? This
nation was first, this person said that first. Whilst concerned about who
rather than what, we have a problem. Knowledge is classified and still
largely presented as a tree though a chaotic tangled 3D sphere of spaghetti
is probably more appropriate. The universe cannot be nicely divided up into
isolated junks, which added together define the whole. Synergy and
emergence, inform that the whole is different than the sum of the parts:
either more of less. We are not taught about the world, nor really observe
the world, we are taught models of the world, named after someone who is
accepted as the one who first thought it up. But these models are not
reality, and some are down right confusing to understand when reality is
thrown in. But the fame of those that created seems to take precedence over
reality. So that one major difference from schooling and learning from
experience: is the schooled have a language to describe, they can name and
they can indentify who apparently first named and observed. Often those
attributed as the first are little more than the first to record in a
permenant and public document. It may have otherwise been common knowledge
and taken for granted. Books themselves could be considered an invasive
technology. Rather than sharing they invaded, captured and stole knowledge
from the common people. Knowledge become property to be traded. Therefore
being the first is the claim to ownership. Our very language I guess is
owned by some entity: the nation state I guess. There you go: if want to
teach English as a langauge then have to pay royalities to England. Likewise
for any other langauge. If want to use langauge, then I guess user fee as
well. Then comes in dialects. But what dialects: regional, social, or even
individual. I think I have something of a mongrel dialect: Lancashire,
Cheshire, Yorkshire, Lusaka, Adelaide. Potentially a unique derivative of an
otherwise existing product: got to get raw material, original product to
create. Ownership pushed to limit becomes a problem.

Our view of the world is largely through the abstraction of spoken, written
and graphics languages. these language only describe critical
characteristics of the object or system we observe, not the object in total:
a mere caricature of the real thing. Our observations and science is not of
the whole nor of the real: we hypothesise about the limited abstraction of
the real. This in turn is reflected by different cultures and different
languages. German for example may be preferable language in which to study
mathematics. If want to study snow, then the langauge of the
eskimo's(Inuit?) may be best for the task.

The people of the global village have different ideas of society, culture,
politics, religion, coloured by the abstraction of the languages they use.
The dynamics of the natural environment require a population with mobility.
But the geographically constrained want to protect national identity. But
what national identity? Do these nations really exist? Are not the local
tribes still at war with the dominant tribe of the imposed kingdom or other
system of nation state? Are we individuals or are we part of a collective?
Are we schizophrenic? Humanity has to survive: not the UK not the USA nor
any other nation state.

People of the world need to be mobile. And that means a complex and dynamic
balancing act has to take place. It is not just a matter of refugees
assimilating into a new nation and new culture: the host nation also has to
adjust and change. Whether a flood of water or a flood of people nations
have to adapt. So far the adaptation has largely been to defend and protect
borders. But the industrial city states can support large populations, much
larger than the people who work within. So have issues of what is work, what
is and how can an individual contribute to society? Unions can only fight
against so called scabs if their is an under class below that of the union
membership. Language turns the unemployed into a burden on the community,
and the retired are rapidly approaching the label of burden. As population
ages and more people become pensioners. But we have this industrial machine
that can produce, and supply. Where is the real burden? The burden lies
within our monetary economy and our perceptions of fair exchange.
The next generation never enters the same environment of their parents. Life
changes the environment, it always has and always will, it is the nature of
life. Life has to adapt to a continuously changing environment. The children
of hunter gatherers entered a world or farming. The children of farmers
entered a world of factories. And always it is likely that there were
outcasts, those who could not or did not want to participate. Progress, and
continuous improvement are myths. Evolution is more dynamic and adaptive
than a march towards some ideal. But still we aim for an ideal, in which
there are fewer outcasts, of the kind that cannot participate but would like

Education has as part of its purpose to ensure that those who do not want to
participate, do so without causing unwarranted disruption to the rest of
society. Survival is a never ending learning process, and survival in
society is a continuous balancing act of learning, informing and educating
each other through communication.

And modern graduates through professional degrees, have been holding
knowledge secret, or patronising: there is only one way to gain this
knowledge and thats to spend so many years at university, more especially if
purchased degree. The more traditional scholars more likely to go out into
the world and share their knowledge: every graduate was a teacher. Not
everyone has time to waste at university to attend to their needs: and they
don't need all the knowledge contained in a specfic bachelor degree. However
there are issues of required journey, before being permitted to have access
to cetain knowledge. But this is where need to be guiding and helping each
other. So have an issue that this isolated limited set of knowledge has an
associated bachelor degree, but that definable set of knowledge over there
doesn't. So that only a small portion of the entire knowledgebase, which
itself is a small portion of the whole of the universe, is considered as a
qualification: to define the bolts of the industrial society machine.

But to survive, society doesn't need the old niche sub species of humanity,
it needs new niche species. These new niche species are frowned upon and
otherwise outcast. These species cannot participate as employees they can
only participate as businesses. They have to graduate from studies and form
new businesses, their education has to be broader and deeper than that of
previous generations, to operate in the industrial system. Business will not
support schools producing competitors, it wants schools to produce
employees, even when they have no positions for employees. But such new
businesses wouldn't really be providing substitute products more
complementary products. It should also be noted that it is somewhat easier
to find work, than it is to find an employer who can supply fulltime
employment: if have more than one employer: then they are clients/customers
and you are a business.

[speaking of which got to work tomorrow. Now 02:28AM]