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Books Personal

A reflection on climate strikes

Global Student Climate Strikes 2019

While reading Naomi Klein’s On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal and her description of the global student climate protests I was reminded of the reaction on Twitter of some of the educators and people I follow, which was quite disapproving of the strikes, like the post below:

Naomi Klein articulates very well why students wanted to strike: climate change presents such a pressing and dangerous situation, one that is very likely to be world altering, and that presents the very real possibility that for school age children there may not be a world with jobs and the life we know it in the future. If you know your future is is f****d, what is the point in studying for it? Klein, quoting Thunberg writes:

“Why should we be studying for a future that soon may be no more when no one is doing anything whatsoever to save that future? … What is the point of learning facts….when the most important facts given by the finest science of that same school system clearly means nothing to our politicians and our society?”

Klein (2020) On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal pg11

Teachers like Birbalsingh are focussed on their fight to create solid educational outcomes that they are sometimes not aware of the larger picture. Indeed, we could expect Toby Young, a climate change skeptic to take the view that students shouldn’t be protesting, after all from his position there is no justification for the strikes because climate change isn’t real. However, students striking to try to protect their futures, is just as important and urgent as studying at school to protect those futures. It is a shame that society has let them down to the point where they need to sacrifice their education in order to protest.

Greg Ashman writes along similar lines to Birbalsingh’s views in this post, although at greater length. And while what he writes echoes some of what Klein writes about in her book – the need for climate action to be driven by mass mobilization across societal groups for example – Ashman gets it wrong when he writes:

In this light, British school kids skipping school on a Friday to make vague demands that the government declare a ‘climate emergency’ does not really cut it. It is not like miners or nurses going on strike. It’s not really a ‘strike’ at all because nobody is inconvenienced and nobody loses any money. The only potential losers from a withdrawal of student labour are the students themselves, although this will depend greatly on the quality of the education that they have left behind.

https://gregashman.wordpress.com/2019/02/17/skipping-school-to-save-the-world/ accessed 16/11/2020

Yes, the strike is not like a miners strike. Miners damaged their own income at the time of striking. They did this to try to protect their livelihoods. But I disagree with Ashman’s analysis. Students are trying to protect their future livelihoods, when none of the adults around them, who supposedly care about their futures seems to be doing anything about it. Ashman also misses the point that the climate strike is also a strike against free market capitalism (not capitalism itself – just the free market kind). If all students around the world went on strike they would be damaging that system as whole if they do not get educated because there would be a much more limited market to participate in in future. Remember that it is this free market system that is prime driver of climate change.

UK Remembrance Day Strike 2020

In the UK there is a yearly ritual of paying respects to those members of the Armed Forces that have perished in conflict most notably in WWI and WWII.

This year commentators were outraged by an extinction rebellion climate change protest at the Cenotaph. Despite the fact that one of the protestors was an ex-service man, media outlets claimed that this was an “insult” to the fallen.

Firstly, it strikes (no pun intended) me as ironic. While the day is a space for private reflection – members of the armed forces remember colleagues who have lost their lives in recent conflicts, the public uses this day, supposedly, to remember the fallen precisely because they fought for freedom and the rights it entails – like the right to protest.

Remembrance day serves as an opportunity to reflect on freedom, justice, and, so the story goes, by doing so we remember the importance of peace. My father would argue that remembrance day keeps us from fighting in Europe because we remember what a sheer waste of life it was.

Conviently it doesn’t stop us from bombing countries far away from here. We are happy to do that for oil.

Today we seem to have become obsessed with the ritual of remembrance day. But what are we actually remembering?

To me, staging a protest on the day of remembrance seems to actually be a way of actively honoring that sacrifice – you are actively exercising your right that was protected by the sacrifice of others. If you take issue with protests, are you really honoring what the dead died for?

When the protestors are claiming that “climate change means war” they are not making a metaphorical statement. They are highlighting the very real concerns that climate change will drive conflict.

You may argue that it wasn’t appropriate at the event, but what you are really saying is that what is important here is not the principle we are supposed to remember but instead the shallow, banal nationalism, that such events can be seen to support – the glorification of war and the feeding of the narrative that Britain is Great because she is more X, Y and Z than other nations.

As Naomi Klein writes:

“Honoring the dead begins with telling the truth”

Klein (2020) On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal pg255

Climate change will cause more war.

Climate change will cause more suffering.

We are already seeing it in Syria where drought caused the migration of farmers from the rural areas into the cities and sparked the unrest that led to the war and the migrations that have been so bothersome to many in the UK.

Climate change will affect geopolitics and could lead to more international tensions and conflicts.

I can think of no better way to honor the dead than trying to make society aware of its own hypocrisy. We are happy to remember the sacrifice that our heroes make but unwilling to face up to the problems our international actions cause both today and yesterday.

Categories
Books Personal

My Favourite Quotes

Over the last few years I have been collecting quotes that I help me reflect and think about my thoughts, emotions and judgements in particular situations.

Acknowledging uncertainty

“I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken” Oliver Cromwell

I first came across this quote in the Ascent of Man – quite possibly one of the best television series ever made – and again recently while reading. Not only does this quote help me temper some of my own thinking about situations I encounter but it also helps me to evaluate my own claims about things I think I know.

I now think about knowledge in terms of certainty and uncertainty – for everything I claim to know I like to ask myself how certain I am that this is true, with the maximum being 95% – even the claims we think are completely true, could, ultimately turn out to be false.

The power of curiosity

“Be curious, not judgmental” Walt Whitman

I first encountered this quote as the desktop image for a colleague. I think it is safe to say that this colleague is one of two educators that have had a profound and lasting impact on my engagement with and thinking about teaching as a profession.

For me this quote challenges me to ask questions and hold back from arriving at conclusions. When we reach a conclusion about anything, we tend to close a door on that something and therefore lose some of the potential it may hold. For example, an idea I meet a lot when talking to families goes something along the lines of “the only universities worth attending are the Russell Group or the Ivy League” This is a value judgement but is this really true? How do we know this?

Killing my paranoia

“Never assume malice, when stupidity will suffice” Hanlon’s Razor

This is a new one for me and I came across it in Julian Baggini’s “How the World Thinks”. It went straight up on the IBDP common room wall (although I changed stupidity to ignorance). A great way to check one’s paranoia and emotional response to stressful situations life throws your way!

Confidence check

“The less someone knows, the more they think they know, and the more someone knows, the less they think they know” The Dunning-Kruger Effect

Are you over confident?

A a senior colleague once attended a conference on university admissions and guidance with me. They had said prior to going that this was an area they knew they wanted to improve in because they knew so little about it. A fine thing to admit. Admitting to gaps in our knowledge opens us up to new learning.

After our first meeting with parents where we discussed the generation of predicted grades, this colleague turned to me and remarked how much more confident they felt in dealing with parents about these issues.

Classic Dunning-Kruger.

Just a little extra knowledge (how much can someone glean from a day and a half professional conference) lead this colleague to immediately over estimate their own knowledge of the issues.

Beware your own confidence – if you think you are an expert on something or just think you know a lot about something, it is probably an indication that you don’t know that much at all and you need to keep learning!

Note to school leaders: you don’t need to know everything – in-fact admit what you don’t know – you will gain more respect and open yourself up to the possibility of learning.

What are the quotes that got you thinking?

Categories
Books

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt

I recently read Jonathan Haidt’s the Righteous Mind, at a time that I was considering adding an extra dimension to my blog about my experiences growing up in a super conservative, evangelical family. I was partly inspired to do this by Tara Westover’s fabulous work “educated” about her experiences growing in a fundamentalist mormon family.

The Righteous mind outlines the basics of moral psychology and the differences between those who identify on the political right and those on the political left. It provides an interesting, modern critique of pure reason and society’s obsession with it.

Humans are not rational and rely on intuitions followed by post-hoc rationalisation, Haidt argues. The book goes on to provide a scaffold to potentially reducing misunderstanding and miscommunication across partisan divides. Haidt argues that there are six foundations to morality and liberals and conservatives give emphasis to different ones. This is based on the work that he and other researchers have been carrying out in this areas since the 1990s.

I found it’s defence of intuition and arguments against reason enlightening and thought provoking, and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in morality, religion, politics and the division they cause. I would also strongly recommend it to anyone teaching International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge.

It reminded me of the following resources that I have used in teaching TOK:

The following are quotes from the book that I enjoyed.

Page 6 1. Where does Morality come from?

“In other words the understanding of the conservation of volume wasn’t innate, and it wasn’t learned from adults. Kids figure it out for themselves, but only when their minds are ready and  they are given the right kids of experience.” Comment – Piaget’s reasoning makes sense but his studies were only of small children. If he was right surely mankind would have figured out the laws of the universe much sooner. His model cant apply in all adult learning and is inefficient.”

” If you want kids to learn about the social world…don’t force them to obey God or their teachers or you. That will only freeze them at the conventional level.”

I felt this one above provides some clue into understanding members of my family….that’s another story.

“These subjects were reasoning. They were working quite hard at reasoning. But it was not reasoning in search of truth; it was reasoning to support their emotional reactions.”

This is a good reminder of the difference between exploratory and confirmatory reasoning. I would argue that an important part of education is concerned with trying to help others develop ways to consider arguments from multiple perspectives.

The intuitive dog and its rational tail

“The true believers produce pious fantasies that don’t match reality, and at some point somebody comes along to knock the idol off its pedestal”.

Many christians will claim that something is wrong because God says it is wrong. Evangelicals claim supreme knowledge – they just know. I have been having arguments, with my siblings, about our faith and Brexit, that can be summed up by this quote.

“Yet moral judgements are not subjective statements; they are claims that somebody did something wrong. I can’t call for the community to punish you simply because I don’t like what you are doing. I have to point to something outside of my own preferences, and that pointing is moral reasoning”

All too often, people I regularly engage in discussion with, are making judgements and not offering anything more than their subjective preferences and they think that that is OK. Many Christians I know interpret the bible in whatever way pleases them at the time.

“The main way that we change our minds on moral issues is by interacting with other people. We are terrible at seeking evidence that challenges our own beliefs, but other people do us this favour, just as we are quite good at finding errors in other people’s beliefs.”

“But if there is affection, admiration, or a desire to please the other person, then the elephants leans toward that person and the rider tries to find the truth in the other person’s arguments”.

“The first principle of moral psychology is intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.”

“If thinking is confirmatory rather than exploratory in these dry and easy cases, then what chance is there that people with think in an open-minded, exploratory way when self-interest, social identity and strong emotions makes them want or even need to reach a pre-ordained conclusion”

“The partisan brain has been reinforced so many times for performing mental contortions that free it from unwanted beliefs. Extreme partisanship may be literally addictive.”

“As an intuitionist, I’d say that the worship of reason is itself an illustration of one of the most long-lived delusions in Western history: the rationalist delusion”.

“Expertise in moral reasoning does not seem to improve moral behaviour, and it might make it worse….Anyone who values truth should stop worshipping reason….motivated reasoning (confirmatory reasoning vs exploratory)….depressing research findings make perfect sense once you see reasoning as having evolved not to help us find the truth but to help us engage in arguments, persuasion, and manipulation in the context of discussions with other people”.

“How hard could it be to teach students to look on the other side, to look for evidence against their favoured view? Yet, in fact, its very hard and nobody has found a way to do it.”

“Gut feelings are sometimes better guides than reasoning for making consumer choices and interpersonal judgements, but they are often disastrous as a basis for public policy, science and law. Rather, what I’m saying is that we must be wary of an individuals ability to reason. We should see each individual as being limited, like a neurone. A neurone is really good at one thing: summing up the stimulation coming into its dendrites to “decide” whether to fire an impulse along its axon.”

“I concluded by warning that the worship of reason, which is sometimes found in philosophical and scientific circles, is a delusion. It is an example of faith in something that does not exist.”

“The ethic of divinity is sometimes incompatible with compassion, egalitarianism, and basic human rights”.

“The Authority foundation, as I describe it, is borrowed directly from Fiske. It is more complex that the other foundations because its modules must look in two directions – up towards superiors and down towards subordinates”

Her Haidt provides an argument in support for the traditional teacher student relationships but also for leadership.

“Emphasising differences makes many people more racist, not less”

This quote reminds me of my twitter discussion with Alom Shah. I picked up on a statement he made about “all white people” and was promptly ridiculed by several of his followers. I still think that it is unhelpful to draw such lines in discussions of race. At the very least the work of Haidt shows that it is self defeating. If you are trying to reduce racism, you need to reduce division.

Categories
Books

Thoughts from Mary Myatt’s Curriculum

At Easter this year I read Mary Myatt’s little book, Curriculum: Gallimaufry to coherence.

This is an excellent book, full of short, sharply written chapters that are bound to get you thinking about the wider narrative of your school curriculum. Now that the International Baccalaureate‘s Standard’s and Practice’s explicitly mention curriculum coherence, this would be recommended reading for any IB coordinator.

These are some of the questions that I asked myself, thoughts I had, or sections I highlighted as I read through the book:

  • Why is a rounded education good?
  • What is the aim of education?
  • Why is important to build links to TOK?
  • Where does my subject fit into the bigger picture of the curriculum?
  • What is the story of the school curriculum?
  • We need to avoid curriculum bittiness by thinking about the big picture – what is the essential ideas of what is being taught in lessons/units? e.g. biblical underpinnings of Macbeth taught in KS3 to inform the learning in KS4 of Macbeth
  • The primary purpose of CPD should be to ensure that teachers can hone their subject knowledge and their pedagogical content knowledge.
  • Schools should prioritise their teachers subject knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge development: school’s that don’t are like restaurant owners that don’t pay attention to their chef’s ingredients quality.
  • Skills are not separate to knowledge. Comprehension of one text does not guarantee comprehension of another.
  • What are the unifying ideas of each curriculum? – these are the ideas that come up again and again within subjects and between subjects.
  • Curriculum is a narrative, we need to get teachers out of their silo so that they can help students see how their subject learning fits in with others.
  • Structuring units via questions might be the right track to do this?
  • What is it that kids need to know in order to access the stuff we are teaching? This needs to be the focus of the vertical curriculum alignment.
  • During INSET time can we set objectives of what we wish depts to achieve in their planning time together?
  • Reducing workload isn’t about reducing work, it is about efficiency and time allocation. Work load is reduced so less is done with higher quality.
  • While I was reading I tweeted the question: “What is source material in the sciences?” and I got this reply:
  • This thinking about source material has made me think again about my approach to teaching IB Biology, but the question I was then struggling with was how to get students to effectively engage with that source material?
  • I got an idea to answer this question during my philosophy for children training. So now I think that while focusing on curriculum is good, and focussing on concepts and ideas is good we need to ensure that teachers are effectively trained to do this.
  • Learning happens when students are made to think about and with the material. This idea is repeated in the work of Daniel Willingham.
  • Observations of teaching – do I know where the best practice is?
  • Feedback is actionable, Grading is summative – both can be marking so long as we understand the point of the marking.
  • Class blog – when we start a topic, students write notes on what they already know about that topic. They can then identify what they are unsure of and finally what questions they have about the topic. The posts can be updated and revisited as students move through the unit/course.
  • There has been a lot of time wasted on differentiation. It labels and limits what students can do and narrows the achievement gap.
  • LOs as ticks on a checklist. Teacher ticks them off as they move through the syllabus. Instead we need to provide time for repetition. I would also add that a way to do this is move from learning objective to learning questions.
  • What is being taught and how to teach it well should be the focus of meetings. SLT to communicate expectations to middle leaders.
  • Learning should be authentic and link to real world issues and problems, and have some real world outcome if possible. Students work should be honoured, for the time and effort that they put into it.

Categories
Books Education

Notes on Trivium 21c

Martin Robinson’s Trivium 21c was an absolute delight to read. Thought provoking and enlightening it presents an eloquently articulated history of the educational ideas and, through this radical history, a persuasive argument for the great synthesis of traditional and progressive teaching methods, united via the ancient arts of the trivium.

The trivium in teaching

The trivium of grammar, dialectic and rhetoric, originally used as the basis of the school curriculum in the middle ages are explored from a variety of different paradigms and meanings for Robinson to final expound his view of how this mantra could be utilised in modern schooling.

Grammar, Robinson argues, is not only the teaching of the rules of the language arts but is equivalent to the transmission of all of the basic facts and building blocks of knowledge that make up a particular discipline or subject. Grammar is also the transmission of the structure and rules of culture, which, of course, encompasses all the academic disciplines as well as other elements. To Robinson, modern grammarians are those of us on the traditionalist side of the great education debate on methods. Grammarians value knowledge and the methods best shown to help students gain this knowledge.

Dialectic, to Robinson, is the art of critiscm, skeptiscim and questioning of grammar. It is an art that needs to be taught in order to enable future adults to be able to think clearly about and with knowledge, in order to not simply be absorbers of knowledge but users and producers of it. Dialectic is important as it allows students to manipulate and use the knowledge acquired through grammar, by questioning it, reflecting on it and potentially rejecting or changing it. If grammar represents tradition, then dialectic represents progression; the dialecticians are those of us in education who aspire to the more progressive methods in the great educational debate.

The third art of the trivium, rhetoric, is the art of communication. Not only should learners be taught to acquire knowledge through grammar, taught to question it through dialectics but they should also be taught to communicate their thoughts through the arts of rhetoric.

Should the purpose of education serve the common good or enable someone to live a good life?

As someone who has moved from being deeply religious to being so no longer, I found myself agreeing with Robinson’s sentiments that curiosity is not best served by prejudice and that teachers must not model the closed mind of someone who thinks there is only one path that leads to meaning or, I guess, truth. In this vein he asks us to attempt to live, as teachers, with the uncertain position of holding the traditional and the progressive together, investigating ideas from across the range of opinion.

Robinson asks if all teachers in any given school understand the narrative of a the curriculum? He argues that only by seeing how their part fits into the wider curriculum can teachers deliver an education to students that allows them to be knowledgable, critical and reflective. He claims that students must learn the unifying concepts, the concepts that come up again and again, of each discipline again and again. This put me in mind of Thomas Khun who claimed that expertise as a scientist only arrives through exposure to many examples. Scientists are experts because they have been able to generalise from the many specific examples and they apply this knowledge in new scenarios.

Robinson also claims that teachers must move away from omniscience, which reminded me of an early career conversation a chemistry teacher who claimed that not knowing in a teacher is a sign of weakness, and that students don’t like it. I agree with Robinson that all teachers need to honest about what society doesn’t know, they need to embrace the uncertainty in their discipline.

A good teacher has mastered the core knowledge and more of their discipline as well as holding an appreciation of what society doesn’t yet know in their field.

We need to understand that teachers should have the authority to teach but recognise that all knowledge is probable and uncertain.

Teachers should use language in such a way that ensures uncertainty has its place.

Robinson’s book draws on many sources and aside from his main argument is highly informative of the history of educational ideas. His arguments are compelling and interesting but the book is worth reading not only for this but also for your education in the history of educational ideas that it draws upon. This book has helped me begin to see the synthesis of the progressive and traditional narratives and has got me wondering about how I can go about making argumentation an important part of my biology classroom in the second stage of the trivium. How can I use debate to really challenge kids to think and learn all sides of an argument? How can I introduce students to the, Dissoi Logoi in science, the art of seeing both sides of an argument as true within their contexts. Instead of dialectic argument as being right vs wrong we can make both as right. Dual thinking explores the possibility that both sides can be right.

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