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Preview: Bill Kerr

Bill Kerr

Last Build Date: Sun, 22 Apr 2018 11:11:37 +0000


I survived a Centrelink phone call wait

Sun, 22 Apr 2018 11:11:00 +0000

To put it crudely: it is not so much that bureaucratic procedures are inherently stupid, or even that they tend to produce behavior that they themselves define as stupid, but rather, that are invariably ways of managing social situations that are already stupid because they are founded on structural violence
- David Graeber (link)
After 87 days (22nd Jan - 19th April) my old age pension application to Centrelink was finally resolved in my favour.

During this process I submitted 2 complaints to Centrelink (earlier blog), a complaint to Nigel Scullion's office and a complaint to the Ombudsman.

The whole process is done on line these days. When it came to making phone calls to Centrelink I had to wait one time for 30 minutes (when I gave up), a second time for 20 minutes and the final time for 50 minutes.

When I made my second complaint to Centrelink (on the phone) I was told that most claims are settled in 49 days.

I have been on the old age pension twice before and in those cases everything was finalised within a couple of weeks. Things have changed dramatically. I guess this happened during the Abbott PM years.

The Ombudsman's office told me that some claimants have had to wait 2 hours on the phone. They advised me to keep phoning and this proved to be the most effective strategy in the end. My advice is to call them, put it on speaker phone and make dinner while you are waiting. The violin concerto is tedious but it could be worse.

When I ring a business such as the Commonwealth Bank they have a call back facility. Not Centrelink.

At no time was I interviewed face to face. All documents have to be submitted digitally. This impersonality of the process combined with very long waits on the phone would seem to be designed to induce people to give up. It would be devastating to someone in dire financial need. Certainly there were times when I felt I would never receive what I believed was my right according to Australian Law.

I thought of a good T shirt slogan, "I survived a Centrelink phone call wait". I just typed it into google and this article popped up:
Older Australians are waiting an average of 25 minutes to speak with Centrelink on the phone and more than 33 million calls have gone unanswered in the past nine months.
- Can't get through to Centrelink? Busy signals jump as pensioners wait longer to talk to staff

Remote Teacher Corp for indigenous students

Sat, 14 Apr 2018 10:42:00 +0000

"Apart from targeted incentive packages, there are two other ways we could lift quality teaching in remote schools... The second is to look at senior teachers at the other end of their careers who could sign up to a Remote Teacher Corps program for a rotational pool of senior and experienced teachers to work in remote schools"
Something in Warren Mundine's book, In Black and White, pp. 301-2 helped me recall and find an article in The Australian from 2014: Making a difference in indigenous education, Andrew Penfold, The Australian, October 18, 2014

Andrew Penfold is the Executive Director of the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation (AIEF) which provides scholarships that enable Indigenous students to attend leading Australian schools and universities.

The section of the article that most interested me is quoted above, the idea of senior and experienced teachers forming a Remote Teacher Corp.

This should have potential. It is actually what I am doing as an individual on my own initiative. But you can't achieve much as an individual. A Remote Teacher Corp is a great idea.

technology and indigenous progress

Fri, 13 Apr 2018 11:27:00 +0000

This is the next iteration of my thoughts which began with "Digital Immersion Mongrel Vygotsky"TECHNOLOGY AND INDIGENOUS PROGRESSProgessive pathway: from little bits big bytes growConservative pathway: the sinister glamour of modernityTechnology initially invades, just like colonialism. When the Yolngu first saw a ship’s anchor they thought the explanation for such a massive amount of metal was that it must come from the gods. Up to that point they had only traded small amounts of metal for spear tips, with the Macassans. But unlike colonialism, the attraction of the new technology is an irresistible force. Rusted car bodies litter remote Australia, the legacy of opportunist car dealers exploiting the indigenous. Technology without understanding is not empowerment. The cargo cult is not liberation. Others speak of the sinister glamour of modernity. That is sometimes true. In 19thC Australia the combination of repeating rifles, horses and native police recruited at a distance were used to brutally crush the local tribes. How do we frame the whole discussion about technology and change? There are arguments for and against the use of more sophisticated technology in schools. The most common expression of this is that technology is just a tool, which assists us in delivering a curriculum whose content is determined by other factors independent of technology (instrumentalism) More interesting is the them and us framing. There are two version of them and us. The first has a Damnation theme, as represented in movies or characters such as HAL, the computer in 2001: a Space Odyseey, The Matrix and Terminator. The second theme is Salvation. A few years ago Ray Kurzweil predicted a Singularity at 2020 when due to increasing processing power machines transform into something totally different. Rather than them and us I prefer the augmentation theme: Us as Them, We the Machines. We use technology as a means to augment our human characteristics - something that we have already been doing for thousands or millions of years Nevertheless there remains a difference between commercial progress and human progress. Commercial progress is mainly about making more money. This leads to rhetorical lameness and a dumbing down of the true potential of technology. Commercial rhetoric focuses on technology hype, jobs, money and the obligatory “fun”. They ignore real economic analysis (deep problems of capitalism), philosophy, social justice, cultural diversity, learning theory and that we are dealing with a new medium. Digital is the new medium, the new literacy. How could you justify resistance to that? STEM is overhyped and promoted in the wrong way by commercial interests. But it makes as much sense to resist STEM as a monk scribe resisting the printing press in the 15thC. Resistance is futile, you will lose. More importantly, it is not the right thing to do. 1450: printing press invented by Gutenberg 1454,5: Gutenberg Bible produced (Gutenberg Bible ) 1456-mid 80s: classical and religious books were produced, essentially copies of profitable old manuscript books 1484: the first scientific illustrations appeared in books The first novel did not appear till the 1700's and comics did not appear till the 1900's.So, it's reasonable to assume that the older generation has to die out before the new generation can find their own path. Although the older generation has it's share of creative visionaries they are marginalised by the majority. NEXT SECTIONExemplars before detailed rationale. But the exemplars need to tap into both local, contextual culture and a proven or at least plausible learning theory. [...]

technology as trickster, revisited

Thu, 12 Apr 2018 08:52:00 +0000

I wrote the following in 2006 (original) I looked it up because I've been thinking more about the epistemological and technological rationale as part of my 3 teething rings in my "Digital Immersion Mongrel Vygotsky" article. ie. there has to be a powerful and persuasive rationale to bring digital technology to indigenous people. I'm not there yet. Some critics argue that the STEM push is over hyped and I recognise that commercial interests will do that. 2006 article begins with this cartoon which shows Alan Turing tangled up with his invention: I've been rereading about Alan Turing, one of the inventors of the idea of the computer, and Douglas Hofstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach. It's slow going because sadly, I've neglected my maths over the years. This relates to the old discussion / biases about technology. Some people see technology as reactionary, eg. The Greens, Braverman, Theodore Roszak, Michael Apple. Others see it as neutral, just a tool that can be used for good or bad. I see technology as having a life and evolution of its own, its own internal dynamic. We are co-evolving with technology. To ask, "Is technology progressive?" is equivalent to asking, "Are humans progressive?" My answer is "yes" but it's the wrong question to start with. I think we can say that humans are technology. I've long been aware of an essay by Engels (1876), The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man, which argues that the hand preceded and in turn assisted the evolution of the human brain. Alan Turing's concept of the universal computer is saying the same thing from another direction. Humans are technology. " ... there is really only one kind of computer, or, more precisely, that all kinds of computers are alike in what they can and cannot do .... whether its' built of transistors, sticks and strings, or neurons ... making a computer think like a brain is just a matter of programming it correctly." - W. Daniel Hillis, The Pattern on the Stone, p. ix 2018 update: [I am a materialist but no longer believe that computers can be made to think like brains and so have to think more about the implications of that now] My point is that you have to ask the more fundamental, structural question, "What is technology?" first in order to answer the sociologists question, "Is technology progressive?" The latter question is the wrong question because it immediately encourages people to separate humans from technology whereas in reality we are just two different variants of an evolutionary process. Part of this thought was triggered by a recent essay by Jeremy Price, Technology as Trickster (update 2018: unfortunately, I can't find this on the web anymore), where he rejects both the ideas of technology as neutral and the McLuhan idea of "techno-zen environment/ecology" (technology as just a medium). Jeremy draw his metaphor by imaginatively cross fertilising from a book by Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World, linking Hyde's observations about human behaviour to machine behaviour. Jeremy's conclusion: The idea of technology as neutral, as a hammer or screwdriver to do with as we please, sits uncomfortably with me. The strict Canadian-McLuhan ideal of a techno-zen environment/ecology ("technology exists") similarly does not work for me, for while I like the idea in theory, I cannot get away from my American bias towards the idea of "progress." In my mind, the idea of Technology as Trickster allows for progress but not in a way that is our own design; try as we might to deny it, technology still has agency. Technology may not have a "human consciousness" (I think we're still working on a definition of that one), but it is something to be engaged with -- not to be controlled. Technology may not be aware of the upheaval it engenders, but we can be, and part of our engagement with technology is an acceptance of change and a vision for making the best of complexity in order to improve ourselves and others. [...]

In praise of contamination

Wed, 11 Apr 2018 03:19:00 +0000

... the ideal of contamination has no more eloquent exponent than Salman Rushdie, who has insisted that the novel that occasioned his fatwa "celebrates hybridity, impurity, intermingling, the transformation that comes of new and unexpected combinations of human beings, cultures, ideas politics, movies, songs. It rejoices in mongrelisation and fears the absolutism of the Pure. Melange, hotchpotch, a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world. It is the great possibility that mass migration gives the world, an I have tried to embrace it"
-Kwame Anthony Appiah. Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2006)
This is where the idea of including mongrel in "Digital Immersion Mongrel Vygotsky" originated

digital immersion mongrel Vygotsky

Sat, 07 Apr 2018 23:25:00 +0000

- a contextual pathway to enable modern indigenous technology

The origin of this was an exploration of an effective way (pragmatically) to bring digital technology to indigenous people. This turned into a hands on exploration of disparate fields which for convenience can be organised under three sub-headings which can in turn be melded together:

Epistemology: One interpretation of Vygotsky argues that all knowledge is socially constructed and that ethnomethodology, paying detailed attention in the now, is the best or only way of detecting and evaluating what is going on (Wolff-Michael Roth). This world view is critical of other learning theories be they behaviourist, cognitivist or constructivist.

Culture: Martin Nakata’s (cultural interface) and Kwame Appiah’s (cosmopolitan) approach is that indigenous (and other) culture is mongrel (no longer traditional), consisting of disparate, complex threads created by the intermingling of the traditional with the colonial. It follows from this that effective communication between different cultures must be contextual based by paying detailed attention to the now.

Technology: Taking a broad view there are many human technologies originating from the hand and the word. Digital technology (moving bits) is now replacing print as the dominant social medium. The only effective way to master digital technology is through full immersion in the medium. Some groups working with the Disadvantaged in the Third World have understood this, eg. Learning Equality, and use affordable hardware (Raspberry Pi and low-cost Android tablets), software (FOSS) and infrastructure (sneakernet where internet connectivity is limited).

Combining these approached leads to “Digital Immersion Mongrel Vygotsky”. The goal is to combine these three approaches to find the contextual sweet spot in the middle of the teething rings.

Appiah, Kwame Anthony. Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2007)
Learning Equality
Nakata, Martin. Disciplining the Savages, Savaging the Disciplines (2007)
Roth, Wolff-Michael. The Mathematics of Mathematics: Thinking with the Late, Spinozist Vygotsky (2017)

thank you wikispaces

Fri, 30 Mar 2018 05:15:00 +0000

Sadly wikispaces is closing due to the high cost of keeping up. Their farewell statement.

Wikis are one of the great things about the world wide web. From 2006 on I founded or help create 4 to 5 separate wikis which were all free thanks to wikispaces generous policies towards educators. Here they are:

Learning Evolves
Africa Game
Universal Communications

According to the farewell statement these links will disappear after 31st July, 2018.

I want to say a big thank you to the wikispaces team for developing and maintaining an awesome system.

What next?

With the ongoing commercialisation of the web it seems safest to stick with the giants so I've decided to continue with Google Sites. I prefer the Classic version over New because with the Classic you can do some HTML/CSS.

So, see Living Contradictions for my continuing presence on the web.

my complaint to Centrelink

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 09:01:00 +0000

My Customer Reference Number: (provided)When I visited the Centrelink Office in Alice Springs I was told that I had to submit my Age Pension Claim online. I went ahead and did that. I found the computer user interface to be not user friendly. In particular when documents were uploaded they disappeared from view so they couldn’t be checked. When multipage documents were uploaded I was informed they were being merged into one document but there was no way to for me to view the final product of the merging. At other times I was informed that the system wasn’t working. (1) In my opinion you need to improve the user friendliness of your online sofware. Recently, after a very long wait I’ve received a letter from Centrelink reference (provided) dated 12th March 2018 requesting my bank account balance on 10 January 2018. The letter was signed by (provided) MANAGER If I don’t meet this request by 25th March I am informed that my “claim for Age Pension may be rejected” This is strange because I have already provided Centrelink with my bank account balance in my Age Pension application. (2) Why don’t you accept the bank account balance that I have already provided to you?(3) My application was submitted on 22-1-2018 online so why do you want my bank balance on a different date (10-1-2018)? My bank account balance is split into 3 sections (Streamline, Netbank Saver, GoalSaver). I phoned the Bank and they have told me they don’t issue statements for particular days. (4) How do you expect me to provide details for my bank account balance on a particular day when the bank does not issue them? When I uploaded my application I received a response saying it would take you 6 weeks to process. Your nominated date was 12th March. You then sent me an automated mail every 4 or 5 days saying that my claim was “progressing”. But there was zero evidence that anyone was working on my claim during that 6 week period. I believe my claim was straightforward and could be processed in less than an hour. (5) Why have you taken so long to process my claim?(6) Why did you state that the claim was progressing when it is clear that no progress was made for 6 weeks?(7) Why do you threaten to not provide me with an Age Pension if I don’t meet your demands within 2 weeks and yet you take more than 6 weeks to process my form. That is not equitable fair dealing.The current letter says I can “download forms to be completed by going to and searching the name of the form”. But the letter doesn’t say which name to search for! I visit the URL suggested and do a search for “bank account” and I can’t find a form on that site to provide my bank account balance. (8) Since you want me to fill out a form why don’t you provide me with the name of the form or attach the form to the letter you sent me? The letter says “please call us on 132 300” if I have any questions. I called that number and a computer voice spoke to me requesting information which I did my best to provide. The computer then put me on hold and played a violin concerto for the next 30 minutes from 16:30 to 17:00 on Friday 16th March. After 30 minutes waiting I give up and hung up the phone. (9) Do you think it is reasonable to keep people waiting for more than 30 minutes on a number which you provide for questions? All my dealings with Centrelink have been digital. (10) I would like to offer you the opportunity to interact with me face to face. I would happily open any Bank Account or Super Account I hold and show you the details. I believe this would be a far more friendly and time efficient way to resolve any doubts you may have about the veracity of my claim. Regards,William Kerr update 17th March:(1) When I arrived in Alice Springs I received a form letter from Senator Nigel Scullion where he offered to assist me with matters of federal respons[...]

the little children are still sacred

Sat, 10 Mar 2018 01:45:00 +0000

Jacinta Price:
In the wake of the alleged rape of the toddler at Tennant Creek she took to Facebook and in ­typical style went right in at the deep end. “I have said it over and over again that a child’s life is far more important than anything else whether that be the child’s culture or kin!” she began. “Those who complain about the high rates of removal of Aboriginal children fail to point out why this is happening. Those of us who push for children to be removed in order to save their lives are ­fighting an uphill battle. The parents are failing their children and then the system is failing the children and this has to stop! The blood of our children is on the hands of those who want to keep pushing the ‘second ­stolen generation’ myth … political correctness and stigma brought on by our ­country’s history renders us useless to act on what is the right thing to do!”
- Uncomfortable truths
Follow the link for a moving insight into Jacinta's inside story (update: unfortunately the linked article is behind The Australian paywall)

Some books I am reading in 2018

Sat, 03 Mar 2018 03:59:00 +0000

Broad, Neil. Eastern and Central Arrernte Picture Dictionary (2008)
Dobson, Veronica Perrurle and Henderson, John. Anpernirrentye: Kin and Skin: Talking about family in Arrernte (2013)
Gibson, Ross. Seven Versions of an Australian Badland (2002)
Ilyenkov, Evald. Dialectical Logic: Essays on its History and Theory (1977)
Leontyev, Aleksei Nikolaevich. Activity and Consciousness
Livingston, Eric. Ethnographies of Reason (2016) Mahood, Kim. Craft for a Dry Lake (2000)
Mitchell, Euan. Your Book Publishing Options: How to Make and Market Ebooks and Print Books (2014)
Mundine, Warren. In Black and White: Race Politics and Changing Australia (2017)
Murdoch, Iris. Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature (1999)
Nakata, Martin. Disciplining the Savages, Savaging the Disciplines (2007)
Roth, Wolff-Michael. The Mathematics of Mathematics: Thinking with the Late, Spinozist Vygotsky (2017)
Sheets-Johnstone, Maxine. Putting Movement Into Your Life: a beyond fitness primer (2014)
Suchman, Lucy Human-Machine Reconfigurations: Plans and Situated Actions (2007), link goes to free pdf
Upton, Eben and Halfacree, Gareth. Raspberry Pi User Guide 4th Edition (2016)

On the death of Sean Dunne

Sun, 25 Feb 2018 10:39:00 +0000

I only just found out that Sean died by his own hand on the 10th February aged 34 yo

He was the head of Boys Boarding at Djarragun College where I lived in Term 4 last year.

We chatted quite a bit and discovered that we shared similar opinions on many issues. I incorporated some of the phrases he used in my article "Life After Noel". We both agreed that Noel’s leadership had become toxic.

I learnt that he was trained as a psychologist and that he had done some hard yards for a few years in Aurukun. He described to me once a horrific murder he had witnessed in Aurukun.

I had some dealing with difficult students at Djarragun some of them Boarders. Usually I would report this to Sean and he was always very supportive. We would talk to a student together about the problem and on another occasion he phoned a parent on my behalf.

He voiced his concerns about the state of the College to me. That the buildings were old and run down, that personnel had been reduced, that shifts were longer and as a result it was becoming near to impossible for him to do his job properly.

I now know there were other issues in his life too which I didn’t know about then.

We both agreed that the College was a disaster waiting to happen. I never dreamed that it would take this form.

I left the College at the end of last year. Sean said he would drop in and say goodbye on his last working day in December 2017. I went out looking for him on that day but couldn’t see him. I felt we had a budding friendship which I wanted to continue.

Everyone knows, whether you are close to it or distant from it, that with aboriginal and TSI issues, death is never far away. Those voices, now stilled, need to be heard, however imperfectly.

my understanding of marx's theses on feuerbach

Tue, 06 Feb 2018 00:51:00 +0000

I Ontology = What exists = the furniture of the universe
Combine 1 and 5
Hegel wrong: Ideal thoughts
Feuerbach wrong: Material objects
“Correct” abstract thinking, even imaginative “correct” abstract thinking doesn't grasp reality
Human practice, activity grasps reality
Practice is not just doing, it is the full, messy, sensual social human drama of activity

II Epistemology = the path to true knowledge
Combine 2 and 8
Thinking, rationality, logic, dialectics separated from practice, can't achieve truth
The path to truth is in the world, lived practice

III Emancipation
Combine 3, 4 and 11
Humans change society which changes humans in a never ending dynamic spiral

Existing secular social relations are just as oppressive as religious social relations. It is not enough to understand or interpret the world from an atheistic viewpoint. The stinking mess of capitalism needs to be changed, revolutionised.

IV Human essence
Combine 6, 7, 9 and 10
You have to look in the right place to find the essence of humans → the ensemble of social relations.

The atomised, isolated, abstract individual is a dead end which must not be our unit of social analysis. That belongs to the capitalism social form.

An individual is nothing more or less than a vehicle of dynamic social relations. Our individual self is spin, we invent ourselves from the available social relations. The idealised, independent, autonomous, successful individual in capitalist society is merely someone who has selected the social memes, and is a slave to those memes, that make for success in capitalist society. They have an individual body but a human is fully social, not just a body.

The original:
Theses on Feuerbach

Brecht De Smet on this xmca thread

Reading List (started not finished):
The Mathematics of Mathematics: Thinking with the Late, Spinozist Vygotsky by Wolff-Michael Roth (2017)

I believe that Marx's theory can be updated and that Wolff-Michael is making a valuable contribution to that. My notes on Wolff-Michael's book are here, which includes further references most of which I have yet to read or only skimmed myself.

life after Noel

Mon, 22 Jan 2018 23:08:00 +0000

An article about how and why my opinions about Noel Pearson changed based on 2 years teaching at Djarragun College, in Far North Queensland.
Alice: “I don't want to go among mad people”
The cat: “You can't help that, we're all mad here. I'm mad. Your mad”
Alice: “How do you know that I'm mad”
The cat: “You must be or you wouldn't have come here”
The full story is here: Life After Noel (4000+ words)

farewell speech

Mon, 04 Dec 2017 20:40:00 +0000

I had to think about what I have learnt from this place.

In the late 1960s Bob Dixon, a linguist, came to the Cairns areas.

At first he visited the TableLands, got to know some aboriginal people, and wrote down the Dyirbal language.

Then he travelled down to Yarrabah and found Dick Moses, the last Yidinji speaker. He sat down with Dick, under a fig tree, and wrote down the language.

After a while he complained to Dick. The green ants in the tree dropped onto him and were biting him. Would we be able to move to the verandah?

No way, said Dick. Those green ants are good for you. They are medicinal. When they bite you that will stop you from getting sick.

So, that is what I have learnt from this place. When things drop out of the trees and bite you then you have to understand that it is good for you!

beautiful cairns

Mon, 04 Dec 2017 00:01:00 +0000

Djarragun mountain: Djarragun means scrub hen. She builds her nest in a pyramid shape. I climbed her this morning, one quarter way, that is.

I will miss the beautiful natural environment of Cairns / Gordonvale. But one can't live by environmental beauty alone.

The plan is to continue teaching the indigenous in the NT. More, later.

moral philosophy: honest description precedes solution

Mon, 06 Nov 2017 07:03:00 +0000

Honest description of an issue / problem precedes any possible solution to that issue or problem.

The reason that Plato banned the artists from his republic is that he felt they would tug on emotional heart strings and sentiment would get in the way of truthful description.

The world is full of clever people who talk the talk but don't walk the walk

I encounter people coming up with solutions to problems before they have fully described or delved into the problem. For some hard to fathom reason they don't talk to people who might know more about the problem than they do. They are more concerned about looking good on paper to those above them in the hierarchy than an honest and open dialogue with those below them in the hierarchy. The lazy solution is accompanied by slogans. eg. "No child left behind" (reality check: we did leave quite a few behind)

Programmatic solutions often don't work even though they look good on paper. The nitty gritty reality on the ground, the tremendous suction generated by dysfunctional forces can tear the program to shreds. The makers of programs often hide in their offices and leave others to be the sacrificial lambs of their failed paper work.

As their failed solution spin out of control, they plan the next step in their career pathway.

I like the Iris Murdoch quote about the artists: "Rilke said of Cezanne that he did not paint 'I like it', he painted 'There it is.'"

In more detail the Iris Murdoch quote goes like this:
"One might start from the assertion that morality, goodness, is a form of realism. The idea of a really good man living in a private dream world seems unacceptable. Of course a good man may be infinitely eccentric, but he must know certain things about his surroundings, most obviously the existence of other people and their claims. The chief enemy of excellence in morality (and also in art) is personal fantasy: the tissue of self aggrandising and consoling wishes and dreams which prevents one from seeing what is there outside one. Rilke said of Cezanne that he did not paint 'I like it', he painted 'There it is.' This is not easy, and requires, in art and morals, a discipline. One might say here that art is an excellent analogy of morals, or indeed that it is in this respect a case of morals. We cease to be in order to attend to the existence of something else, a natural object, a person in need"
- On 'God' and 'Good', from pp. 437-8 of 'Existentialists and Mystics'

Bob Dixon "Searching for aboriginal languages"

Sun, 05 Nov 2017 01:51:00 +0000

I've finished Bob Dixon's "Searching for Aboriginal languages".

It's an amazing book. He manages to get inside the head of aboriginal people and report their life truthfully and eloquently. He achieves this through his love of language and over time that translates into a love for the people who were giving him their dying languages.

It's full of interesting anecdotes as well as a whole lot of of linguistics, most of which I didn't understand. It's available on line you can download the pdf from here: Searching for Aboriginal languages. This book will help you understand aboriginal culture, the positive, the negative and the interesting, more so than most.

My quick, very inadequate notes included:

60 talk in language about wanting to kill the author (see below)
99 language forms reflect the present mountainous environment
100 I'll walk in front of you because even though I like you I don't like white people; if I walk behind I'll be tempted to knife you in the back
115-6 making woman's sexual organs
157 different language used for talking near in laws, shame built into the culture, error is shame
166 the taboo on the name of a dead person leads to borrowing words from another language
212 test out the author by talking BS at the first meeting
238-9 Yarrabah depressed, aboriginal culture destroyed replaced by nothing
251 hunger 2 days before welfare cheque
298 green ants medicinal so don't complain when they bite you

I have worked with family of some of the people in the book, which made it special. Details not included here.
"Mabi bayingala yawangga malagangu jangganany nyinany," Maggie said. "he's like a tree-climbing kangaroo sitting high in a tree eating malagan vines, that white man there. I'd like to throw him to the ground," she continued, "hit him when he's down there and the dog might bite him. Then peel his skin off, cook him in the fire and eat him. I'd eat his liver first. Cut his hands off and his tail, and put him back in the fire to cook a bit more. Cut the carcass up with a knife and share pieces around to all the kids ..." (p. 60)
update: for an outline of Bob Dixon's remarkable life see here (James Cook Uni site)

Has the dream of cheap computers + FOSS for the disadvantaged evaporated?

Sat, 07 Oct 2017 09:16:00 +0000

What Rangan Srikhanta, who formerly distributed OLPCs in Australia is doing now:
  • Not a cheap laptop
  • Not free and open source software
One Education

Their infinity computer sells for $380 + GST. What happened to the dream to make a laptop for kids for $100?

His initial plan was to make a modular computer that kids could put together and to have multiple OS: Linux / Android as well as Windows. But then Microsoft intervened....
"What happened to the modular infinity?"

"... the short story is that Microsoft put us in touch with manufacturers that could make the Infinity:Concept a reality"

"We are currently working to get both Android and Linux supported on the Infinity:One! Our aim is to provide your choice of operating system, and Windows 10 is just the beginning"
- FAQs
Promises, promises ...
"We’re not there yet, but we’re working towards it. The road to Infinity begins with the Infinity:One - join us on our mission to make the world a better place for children through technology."
- Concept page
Contrast what has happened with this 2015 interview of Rangan:
This week, the Australian 15-employee One Education will announce its new generation low-cost computer. A Lego-like modular PC-and-tablet in one that can be assembled by a four-year-old, updated as components reach their end of life, and repaired in the last their primary years

Its main components - screen, battery, keyboard, CPU, camera, Wi-Fi connection - are separate parts of the puzzle, with the main bits concealed under a soft silicon cover. A trade scheme will allow schools to swap parts as the technology evolves and students' needs change.

The XO-Infinity is only a prototype thus far.The first working model is due in August, the first shipment early next year.
- Meet Rangan Srikhanta, the former refugee who wants to change the world one laptop at a time
Update (Oct 9, 2017)
Received this mail from Tony Forster:
I see the Infinity one in a similar light as OLPC's XO Android tablet as a bid to 'stay in the game' while cheap tablets and phones undercut the OLPC business model.

The smartphone is the hardware that now best fits the OLPC concept:
"provide educational opportunities for the world's most isolated and poorest children by giving each child a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop"
I think that Sugar's bid to control the OS or Desktop failed and the best thing to do is work with the user's choice of OS, be it Linux, Android or Windows and provide good free open source educational software to run on these platforms.

Specifically I would like to see a drag and drop programming app for Android that is optimised for a small touch screen.

a critique of Tyson Yunkaporta's cultural critique of western education

Sun, 01 Oct 2017 07:51:00 +0000

I've written a critique of Tyson Yunkaporta's cultural critique of western education, here. 6425 words.

Different authors have different opinions about what culture is, cultural change and how important culture is. I dismiss strong cultural relativism but argue there are deep reasons why culture is important.
Culture is the brain wiring that occurs in the first 5-7 years of a child's life. We forget how we learned that stuff, it just becomes part of us, part of our identity, more or less impossible to change. So, for example, a rural Aboriginal child will almost certainly grow up believing in the spirit world, whereas an urban white middle class child might well grow up being an atheist or agnostic. That early “brainwashing” can't be avoided in our current society and it's not going to go away any time soon.
Should indigenous culture be integrated into the school curriculum?

Tyson Yunkaporta's 8 indigenous ways are outlined:
  1. Holism: the Aboriginal learner concentrates on the overall picture before going into detail
  2. Visual: a concrete, holistic image serves as an anchor for the learner
  3. Community: for Aboriginal people the motivation for learning is inclusion in the community
  4. Symbols and Images: since learning styles are problematic reframe visual-spatial learning as symbolic learning, using both concrete and abstract imagery (it's not clear to me from Tyson's descriptions what this alleged reframing of problematic learning styles actually means – see later for a critique of learning styles)
  5. Non verbal: Kinesthenic, hands on, silence, imitation
  6. Land links: Aboriginal people have a deep connection to place
  7. Story sharing: Elders teach using stories, the lesson is contained in the narrative
  8. Non linear: the linear perspective of direct questioning, direct instruction is categorised as “western pedagogy”; contrast this with Aboriginal pedagogy where multiple processes occur continuously. But note that in the next paragraph Tyson says there are “excellent western non-linear frameworks available like De Bono's Lateral Thinking ” (p. 13)
Tyson does argue a common ground position, that in selecting the 8 Aboriginal pedagogies he has kept an eye out for “common ground” between Aboriginal and western ways

He sees positive synergies arising from interaction between cultures and rejects those who make negative comments about indigenous learners and their cultures.

My case against

I'll just list the headings of my points in response:
  1. Tyson's 8 processes of Aboriginal learning and reality.
  2. Traditional culture is a warrior culture
  3. There are negative (welfare dependency) as well as positive (open culture) indigenous cultures
  4. The complexity of the cultural interface defies attempts to simplify it. One effect of simplification is to promote a pressure to conform to a cultural stereotype
  5. There doesn't appear to be good evidence that different learning styles make a difference
  6. The cultural solution feeds into the ongoing Political Blame game
  7. The cultural solution is silent on what I believe ought to be the fundamental goals of the education system, the non universals
  8. Philosophy of harmony or philosophy of struggle?
I conclude with some historical context and my current position on the role of culture in the curriculum.

the indigenous imitation game

Sun, 10 Sep 2017 11:50:00 +0000

"Man is a creature who makes pictures of himself and then comes to resemble the pictures”
- Iris Murdoch, Existentialists and Mystics, p. 75
“the magical power of replication, the image affected by what it is an image of, wherein the representation shares in or takes power from the represented”
- Francesca Merlin (1998), p. 150 quoting Michael Taussig (1993)
Most of us, white fellas, have images of the indigenous “problem”. Some of us even have images of the indigenous “solution”.

Ever since Whitlam, 45 years ago now, indigenous self determination has been on the table. The indigenous will determine their own future. Old style, immoral, coercive assimilation into white culture will be a shameful thing of the past.

Into this power vacuum step indigenous thought leaders who map out the requirements for self determination.

Is this real? Or is it more an imitation of an image of what aboriginality is meant to be. An attractive delusion for the guilt ridden white middle classes down south. (Please, please someone fix this problem, this terrible shame in our nation's history)

The reality is that aboriginal culture was never a unity but divided into more than 100 different tribes with differing language and cultures. Those different cultures are now positioned in a complex limbo somewhere in between their old partly forgotten, partly degraded traditions and western culture, the good, the bad and the ugly.
“Representations of Aboriginality as made most powerfully by others come to affect who and what Aborigines consider themselves to be. The imitative relation as lived out in Australia has rested on the assumption that Aboriginal cultural production continues to be autonomous from what previously sought to encompass or displace it. Further, the relation often requires from Aborigines demonstrations of the autonomy and long standing nature of what is seen of their cultural production.”
- Francesca Merlin (1998)
Caging the Rainbow by Francesca Merlin (1998)


Sun, 10 Sep 2017 10:00:00 +0000

mimesis: an attempt to imitate or reproduce reality

Imitation is inferior to the real thing. In imitation we select something from the coninuum of experience. We create boundaries that don't really exist.

Humans create texts, poetry. We have a strong urge to represent reality. Imitation may approach reality but is not quite real.

Plato distrusted art and poetry. Divine madness. It may persuade by rhetoric rather than truth. It is seductive.

mimesis₁: actual praxis (ethnomethodology), real life, day to day drama. Marx called this sensual human activity. What people in real life actually do.

This makes ethnomethodology a radical alternative to all other forms of research

mimesis₂: a created world, a world of text. This world works well on paper using abstractions from the real world. If it describes practice then that description is not really practice but a formalisation of practice. This is not an argument against abstraction as such. But abstraction should only be introduced when it has a clear empirical use and can be verified in actual human behaviour.

mimesis₃: a theorisation or reconfiguration of mimesis2 by academics or bureaucrats three steps remote from the actual praxis.

We hear complaints from teachers who often state that what they learn in university courses is of little use in their actual praxis; and that their praxis is little if at all captured is the theories that they encounter in their university courses. The same point applies to education department documents such as the new national curriculum, which is meant to act as a guideline for teaching practice. Teachers end up turning themselves into knots trying to make their more realistic programmes conform to the supposedly higher level theory.

Reference: The Mathematics of Mathematics: Thinking with the late, Spinozist Vygotsky by Wolff-Michael Roth (2017), p. 22 and pp. 30-32. The link goes to a pdf of Chapter one.
Wikipedia: mimesis

Greens should just shut up and listen by Jacinta Price

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 09:40:00 +0000

width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>When elders from the communities of Kununurra, Wyndham and Ceduna travelled to Canberra last week with a video revealing the appalling violence on their streets, they delivered a strong message. Those streets are war zones of drug and alcohol-fuelled assaults and child abuse — and they want it to stop. The video, supported by West Australian mining businessman Andrew Forrest, proves the desperate need for the cashless debit card system that quarantines 80 per cent of welfare recipients’ payments to limit access to alcohol, drugs and gambling. These elders are crying out for the lives of the children being assaulted and abused. In one of these communities, 187 children are victims of sexual abuse with 36 men facing 300 charges, and a further 124 are suspects. I know all too well the deep frustrations these Australian citizens feel as they are desperate to save their people from the crisis being played out day after day in their communities. They have long fought for our political leaders to recognise the need to take the tough — sometimes unpopular but necessary — steps to make meaningful change that will save the lives of Aboriginal children, women and men. So why do large numbers of our media and our political leaders (including some indigenous ones) fail to respond to such clear evidence of assault, child abuse and violence at the hands of our own people but are prepared to call for a royal commission when the perpetrator is a white person in uniform or when institutionalised racism is perceived to be at play? A television report on the horrendous treatment of juvenile inmates at Darwin’s Don Dale Youth Detention Centre swiftly sparked a royal commission. Yet footage of an Aboriginal man stomping on an Aboriginal woman and various other vicious acts — which in my view are far more shocking than that of the Don Dale footage — draws criticism by the Greens that the video was simply propaganda for the cashless welfare card. This is not propaganda; it is proof. We hear regularly that we should be listening to Aboriginal people on the ground to understand the complexities of the problems and to encourage us to find solutions for our horrific circumstances. Well, here is a video created by Aboriginal leaders in conjunction with the wider community, including the police and a mayor, pleading for the implementation of a practical measure to help curb the purchase of alcohol and drugs so the lives of the most marginalised Australians may be improved. No, it is not a magic bullet, but it is a start towards improving the lives of Australian citizens in crisis. Forrest has been criticised for telling the world that he has been approached by minors willing to sell sex. A 14-year-old I know who roams Alice Springs streets at night regularly witnesses children selling themselves to “old” Aboriginal men for alcohol and cigarettes. We pass such information on to the police, who already know it is happening, yet the authorities responsible for these children tells us they have seen no evidence of it. Just as there was a conspiracy of silence to deny the reality of frontier violence, now there seems to be a conspiracy of silence on the left to deny what is happening openly in our streets. The evidence of deep crisis has never been so blatant. This trauma is inflicted on our people by substance abuse and violence fuelled by a taxpayer-funded disposable i[...]

maths facts speed and fidget spinners

Fri, 07 Jul 2017 09:53:00 +0000

Good article by Dan Willingham and great comments: On fidget spinners and speeded math practice I teach Direct Instruction maths and timed maths facts practice and testing is a significant part of that program. Some kids are good at maths facts and complete their sheets easily in the time provided. Others are not good, I can see them counting on their fingers and they can't complete the sheet in time. Over time the pattern repeats. Those who are good breeze through; those who count on their fingers struggle and I don't see a lot of improvement happening despite all the practice we are doing. Does that give them maths anxiety? Possibly. It does give me teacher anxiety. I wonder how can I help them improve? The main part of Dan's article covered an issue that I think is obvious. Speed in maths facts helps build conceptual understanding. The comments discussed the issue that concerns me in more detail. The first commment (Michael Persham) stresses that you have to be clear on the goal of maths facts practice. The goal is for the kids to memorise the facts, to achieve automatic recall. So, those kids who count on their fingers are not working towards that goal. So, how can I get them to stop counting on their fingers and work towards the goal directly? Well, I could talk to them about the goal of memorising facts and how counting on fingers works against that. I've never done that! Why? Because I wasn't really clear about the goal and in the back of my mind I was thinking it is better if they get some correct answers by a method that works for them. Now I'm thinking it would be better to say to them give it a quick guess rather than count on fingers. I'm not suggesting they will all follow my advice - getting the right answer is a strongly, conditioned goal - but a few will give it a go. It's important then that they are not penalised for a quick guess, that it does not become part of their formal assessment. The second comment (John Golden) suggests some particular strategies to improve maths facts recall. After handing out the worksheet: ask the students to circle the ones they know by memoryask students to identify 5 they want to know by memory but don't give out the sheets like a word search, "find all the computations that sum to 8?" The third comment (educationrealist) raises some broader issues which are important for my practice as well but I won't go into them now. One issue of concern which he/she raises is that some students never get good at maths facts but that doesn't mean they can't do other, more conceptual parts of maths well. I can see it is really important to identify those students so they don't get discouraged by their lack of ability in one small area of maths. So, why will I buy a fidget spinner? Because a good teacher uses drama, one of the real secrets of teaching. And I'm also thinking they would make a great prize for those who improve a lot in their maths facts speed.[...]

the persistence of invisibility of really important aspects of indigenous reality

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 23:39:00 +0000

Summary and some thoughts about Ch 3 The Trouble with Culture of Peter Sutton's The Politics of Suffering (2009)Where I can learn from this chapter is that Peter Sutton has a deeper and more sophisticated understanding of indigenous culture, its negatives as well as its positives, than most commentators. He also blows the whistle on the willful blindness of official government reports and some other commentators / authors, including some who are well intentioned and have done the hard yards. Nor do indigenous leaders escape from his critique although he treats them with respect. The invisibility of reality appears to operate at several levels and he goes some of the way to unmasking that. I feel that Peter has become pessimistic about indigenous futures as a result of his life experiences but that his analysis is fundamentally correct and serves as an essential starting point for those committed to continuing to try to solve the problems that many have tried to solve without success. Personally, I prefer pessimism that lives in the real world to the phony optimism of those who draw a veil over the truth. I prefer to face the dark side of life than to live in the false light of self deception. Can we accept the reality of the dark side and still remain optimistic and energetic about positive change for indigenous people? That is the challenge. The radical historical shift in government approaches to dealing with indigenous affairs which occurred in the Whitlam years (1972-75) forms part of the backdrop to this analysis. As government policy became more humane, open hearted and liberal the actual on the ground situation for aboriginal people became worse. Welfare poison led to drug addiction, dysfunction and death. That is what Peter experienced and has driven him and other commentators to document, analyse and explain this seeming paradox. “In my time with the Wik people up to 2001, out of a population of less than 1000, eight people known to me had died by their own hand, two of them women, six of them men. Five of them were young people. From the same community in the same period, thirteen people known to me had been victims of homicide, eight of them women, five of them men. Twelve others had committed homicide, nine of them men and three of them women. Most of these, also, were young people, and most of the homicides occurred in the home settlement of both assailant and victim. Of the eight spousal murders in this list, seven involved a man killing his female partner, only one a woman killing her husband. In almost all cases, assailants and victims were relatives whose families had been linked to each other for generations. They were my relative, too, in a non biological 'tribal' sense ...” (p. 2) Remote communities are shattered. If you google Aurukun, Doomadgee, Koyanyama, Elcho Island or Wadeye and poke around you will see what I mean. Those who have avoided foetal alcohol syndrome or arrested development through malnutrition still end up less educated (illiterate) and less socially mobile (emotionally immobile) than their grandparents who were raised on the mission. Paternalistic benevolence was more successful than self development. Various authors, indigenous and non indigenous, have blown the whistle on this devastating reality. The cat is out of the bag but nevertheless still remains invisible to many at the official government level where policy is made. After reviewing the evidence Pe[...]

dysfunctional community syndrome in remote Queensland

Sun, 25 Jun 2017 08:47:00 +0000

The situation has been like this for decades and no one knows how to fix it:

A typical cluster of violence types in such a dysfunctional community would be, male-on-male and female-on-female fighting, child abuse, alcohol violence, male suicide, pack rape, infant rape, rape of grandmothers, self mutilation, spouse assaults and homicide ...
Memmott et al., 2001, Violence in Indigenous Communities, p. 51
The remote community of Kowanyama has issued a desperate cry for help following a horrifying run of youth ­suicides.

A senior frontline staffer in the town has told how the community has descended into a deep sense of despair since the public tragedy in ­October when a car rammed into a house full of mourners, resulting in a 48-year-old woman being killed and 25 others injured.

The staffer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said there had been more than 20 suicides or attempts in Kowanyama, which has a population of about 1200, since the shocking event in ­October
- The Cairns Post, June 24, 2017
Update (June 28): Similar situation in the Kimberley region of West Australia.
In what will be one of the largest inquests in Australia in recent years, coroner Ros Fogliani will examine the suicides of 13 young Aboriginal people in the Kimberley region.

In his opening address, counsel assisting the coroner Philip Urquhart said five of the deaths involved children aged between 10 and 13.

They had all been exposed to alcohol abuse and domestic violence in the home, had poor school attendance and most had not sought help from mental health services.

There was evidence six of those who died had been sexually abused...

Over the next three months, the coroner will travel to Broome, Kununurra, Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing to hear evidence about what drove the young people to take their lives and what could have been done to prevent their actions.

She will also examine whether recommendations from a similar inquest 10 years ago had any impact.
- Indigenous suicide inquest told rate of deaths in WA's north has 'reached disturbing proportions'