Getting Started: things to read and things to know about critical education

Oct 25, 2010

CEN Seminar #7 Now Available

In this seminar, Renee Herde, PhD candidate in the Faculty of Education at USQ discusses some of the developments in her research centred on Indigenous Knowledges and the National Curriculum. The seminar titled “Whose Knowledge is Best: indigenous knowledge in the mainstream science classroom” opens points of dialogue for the engagement of indigenous knowledges and practices within formal, institutionalized settings- primarily schooling and charts some of the epistemological challenges of working between knowledge systems.

Access the video here.

Sep 6, 2010

CEN Seminar #6-2010 Video Now Available

This seminar, titled 'Using Activist Dialogues to Unsettle Representations of Gender' derives from Sherilyn Lennon's doctoral research at the University of Southern Queensland, which in part, is exploring the production of various gendered discourses in a regional Queensland township. This seminar provides an incisive exploration of the ways that gendered identities are mediated in community contexts, and provides some invaluable insight into how the researcher as activist might confront these formations of identity.
View the Seminar here.

Instructions For Use:

This video file will stream using the Windows Media Player (v.9 and above), and will play over a broadband (or better) connection. The file is not downloadable. You are able to pause, rewind and fast-forward using the player's control bar.

Some users have reported that their institutional ICT policies do not allow streaming-video content. Please check with your local systems administrator if you are unable to connect to this streamed-video presentation.

Jul 26, 2010

PENA Teaching and Learning for Social Justice Symposium

PENA are hosting the 'Teaching and Learning for Social Justice and Action Symposium, October 30, 2010 at Victoria University. As the flyer notes, "Are you fed up with struggling against the odds? Do you fancy another weakend? No? Then spend a Saturday at our symposium which we have organised for you to be energised by like-minded educators, students and colleagues from all over Australia who you didnt even know existed!"

This important Symposium will be a meeting of key figures in critical education and social justice, and will be a must for those interested in learning more about social justice, critical activism and education.

For further info contact:


CEN Seminar #5-2010 Video Now Available

At the recent 'Migrant Security: Citizenship and Social Inclusion in a Transnational Era' Symposium hosted by the Public Memory Research Centre at the University of Southern Queensland, Jon Austin presented a paper titled 'Meeting the Stranger Within: Considering a Pedagogy of Belonging'. A recording of this presentation has been made available for the CEN.

An edited video recording of that seminar is now available.

Instructions For Use:

This video file will stream using the Windows Media Player (v.9 and above), and will play over a broadband (or better) connection. The file is not downloadable. You are able to pause, rewind and fast-forward using the player's control bar.

Some users have reported that their institutional ICT policies do not allow streaming-video content. Please check with your local systems administrator if you are unable to connect to this streamed-video presentation.

May 28, 2010

CEN Seminar #4-2010 Video Now Available

In this CEN seminar, titled ‘Ethnocinema: representation and intercultural collaboration’, Anne Harris and Nyadol Nyuon present an overview of their work in a recent research partnership and discuss the possibilities for an ethnocinema method. This presentation was originally presented to the Association for Qualitative Research, and was kindly recorded for use by the CEN.

An edited video recording of that seminar is now available.

Instructions For Use:

This video file will stream using the Windows Media Player (v.9 and above), and will play over a broadband (or better) connection. The file is not downloadable. You are able to pause, rewind and fast-forward using the player's control bar.

Some users have reported that their institutional ICT policies do not allow streaming-video content. Please check with your local systems administrator if you are unable to connect to this streamed-video presentation.

May 18, 2010



May 13, 2010

CEN Seminar #3-2010 Video Now Available

Andrew Hickey recently presented a seminar titled "Public Pedagogies of Place: When the street becomes a pedagogue". An edited video recording of that seminar is now available.

Instructions For Use:

This video file will stream using the Windows Media Player (v.9 and above), and will play over a broadband (or better) connection. The file is not downloadable. You are able to pause, rewind and fast-forward using the player's control bar.

Some users have reported that their institutional ICT policies do not allow streaming-video content. Please check with your local systems administrator if you are unable to connect to this streamed-video presentation.


Apr 29, 2010

CEN seminar #3

Andrew Hickey will present the third seminar in the CEN Research Seminar Series for 2010 on Thursday 6th May. The title of Andrew's presentation is "Public pedagogies of Place:
When the street becomes a pedagogue" Further details are available here

An edited video recording of the session will be available through the CEN site shortly after the presentation.


Henry Giroux: Democracy Takes a Hit

Henry Giroux spoke recently at Eastern Michigan University. In his typically passionate and incisive way, he addressed a number of central issues attaching to the state of democratic revival in contemporary times. A video of his presentation is embedded at the end of the report on the session.


Apr 20, 2010

CEN Seminar #2-2010: Video Now Available

Please click the following link to view the video of the second CEN Seminar for 2010: Louise Phillips':

Instructions For Use:

This video file will stream using the Windows Media Player (v.9 and above), and will play over a broadband (or better) connection. The file is not downloadable. You are able to pause, rewind and fast-forward using the player's control bar.

Some users have reported that their institutional ICT policies do not allow streaming-video content. Please check with your local systems administrator if you are unable to connect to this streamed-video presentation.


In Defense of Public School Teachers

Henry Giroux's current piece from Truthout is now available


Apr 19, 2010

Association for Qualitative Research Seminar

The AQR is presenting the following Seminar:

Ethnocinema: Representation and Intercultural Collaboration

Presenters: Anne Harris and Nyadol Nyuon

When: Monday 3rd May 2010

Time: 5.30pm – 7.00pm

Where: Chamber at John Scott Meeting House

Bundoora Campus, La Trobe University

Parking: Go to car park 7

Cost: Free for AQR members, $20 for non members and $10

for non-member students (incl. GST)

RSVP Anne Harris -

This seminar presents and interrogates a series of short films made collaboratively by the researcher and 16 Sudanese Australian young women from refugee backgrounds during 2008-2009, a qualitative doctoral research project entitled Cross-Marked: Sudanese Australian Young Women Talk Education. The films examine the prevailing social conditions for connectedness/ disconnectedness in the context of sometimes-hostile educational contexts. The films utilise the emerging practice of ethnocinema as an arts-based methodology, performative ethnography (Denzin, 2003) which disrupts conventional stories of the pedagogies of belonging and becoming. The films draw upon the co-creators’ social practices of self to trouble gendered, classed and racialised narratives of identity and they offer a territory of possibility for travelling along disorienting lines of flight (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987).

About the presenters

Anne Harris is a Lecturer in Creativity and the Arts in Victoria University’s School of Education. She is also a writer, videographer and Artistic Associate of Pumphouse Theatre (Melbourne). Nyadol Nyuon is a community development worker and activist and has been instrumental in the Lost Boys Association of Australia since arriving in Melbourne in 2005.


Special Issue on Critical Pedagogy, Popular Education and Transformative Learning in Higher Education

From Dr Bruce Missingham, International WaterCentre (& on leave from Monash University)

On 27 and 28 November 2008, teachers, researchers, activists, adult and community educators, and other community members came together in a conference at Monash University to share experiences and debate issues in critical pedagogy, popular education and transformative learning in higher education. The conference began as a collaboration between the International Development and Environmental Analysis Program of Monash University, the oases Graduate School at Borderlands Community Cooperative in Melbourne and the Research Centre for Cosmopolitan Civil Societies at UTS. We wanted to bring critical teachers, popular educators, community educators and others together to share knowledge and experience of praxis, of putting transformative education and critical pedagogy into practice with students in the university and the community, and to learn from each other. We set out to achieve that in a range of ways. The conference was addressed by prominent keynote speakers such as Mike Newman, Daniel Schugurensky from the Transformative Learning Centre at the University of Toronto, and Peter Taylor from the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex. We also heard some short, but lively, papers from academic researchers and community workers.

The heart and soul of the conference consisted of a series of interactive workshops in which critical teachers, popular educators and community educators set out to engage participants through dialogue, learning by doing, and other participatory methods. These included a participatory art workshop facilitated by our ‘artist in residence’ for the conference, Eleni Rivers, and a session of Playback Theatre presented at our conference dinner, facilitated by Shani Quiddington, performer and community educator. These workshops and interactive activities reflected the dialogic and participatory principles of critical pedagogy and participatory learning and were our attempt to make the conference process congruent with our topic and content.

A special edition of New Community Quarterly (Vol 7, No 4, 2009) has now been published featuring a series of short articles about the interactive workshops from the Critical Pedagogy and Participatory Learning for Social Transformation conference. It also includes Mike Newman’s inspiring keynote address. New Community Quarterly is published by an editorial team lead by Jacques Boulet and Borderlands Cooperative, our partners in the Conference.

Very little has been written about how to plan and run ‘participatory’ workshops or conferences, and even less describing actual examples of participatory conferencing in practice. This special edition, therefore, aims to document and reflect upon our experience of facilitating a participatory conference in the hope of stimulating broader interest in participatory approaches to sharing and creating knowledge. We also believe that the practical strategies and methods employed in the workshops and described here will be useful for critical teachers, popular educators and community educators in their educational practice. But we aim to do more than simply offer an overview of methods. Combined, the papers give an insight into some current thinking and approaches to critical pedagogy and transformative education in the higher education sector in Australia, and also reveal their relevance and worth. I suspect they remain largely on the margins of educational practice in higher education, but seem to be enjoying something of a resurgence nonetheless.

The theme articles in NCQ are:

Bruce Missingham, Critical Pedagogy, Popular Education and Transformative Learning in Higher Education

Michael Newman, Polemics, propaganda and one-sided education: A defence

Jane Pearce, Barry Down, Nado Aveling and Anne Price, ‘Critically’ reinvigorating teacher education: Issues and dilemmas

Keiko Yasukawa, Mathematics and Power: Messing around with the politics of numbers

Tony Webb, PhotoVoice as a tool for community development

Susan Goff with Max Hardy, Pedagogies of participatory democracy: an experiential inquiry into the critical possibilities of Citizens Juries

Peter Willis, Gabriella’s Glory: Evocative portrayal for Transformative Learning

Eleni Rivers, In the Role of Visual Troubadour

Deborah Durnan, Antero Benedito da Silva, , Bob Boughton, Popular education for conflict transformation in Timor-Leste

Holly Hammond & Pru Gell, Exploring praxis: defining our educational philosophy and making it real

Jude Westrup
, Participative and Transformative Postgraduate Learning and Teaching

Jude Cooke & Patricia Kenny, Embedding Participatory and Transformative Learning in curricula - from social exclusion to social inclusion

Some of the common themes of the workshops and papers are sharing stories and engaging with lived experience, group facilitation methods, dialog and problem posing and the collaborative construction of knowledge. You can find out how to order your copy at

Mar 30, 2010

CEN Seminar 8/4/10: Louise Phillips

Reconceptualising young children's active citizenship

The second CEN seminar for 2010 will be presented by Louise Phillips at the Springfield campus of USQ from 1-3 pm Thursday 8th April. Venue: A3LR3 (Springfield campus, USQ).

Louise is a storyteller, activist and early childhood educator. Her
research interests bring these roles together by exploring the place of story and storytelling in social justice with young children. In her PhD study (Young children's active citizenship: Storytelling, stories, and social actions) she explored her own storytelling practice through action research with a Prep class to investigate possibilities for young children's citizenship as communitarian citizens. In this seminar, Louise will draw from her doctoral study and explore possibilities for reconceptualising young children's active citizenship as formed through critical and post-structural readings of young children's comments and actions in response to unfair treatment of others.

Please note: This seminar will be presented at the Springfield campus of USQ. A videorecording of the seminar will be available shortly after the seminar through the CEN site.

Further information
Jon Austin
Faculty of Education, USQ
Phone (07) 46 31 2341

Mar 29, 2010

CEN Seminar #1-2010 Video Now Available

Please click the following link to view the video of the inaugural CEN Seminar for 2010: Kerry Taylor-Leech's

Instructions For Use:

This video file will stream using the Windows Media Player (v.9 and above), and will play over a broadband (or better) connection. The file is not downloadable. You are able to pause, rewind and fast-forward using the player's control bar.

Some users have reported that their institutional ICT policies do not allow streaming-video content. Please check with your local systems administrator if you are unable to connect to this streamed-video presentation.

Mar 23, 2010

Settling in-between

The presence of the Migrant has become a widely felt one throughout the past 50 or so years, especially in "Western" societies. The image of the foreigner, possessions packed into suitcases or packing cases, alighting from a ship with looks of both anxiety and hope is probably one that is evoked for many by the mention or thought of the word. The movement of people across space is nothing new, of course, and those movements have been described in many ways: nomads, conquerors, refugees, diasporas, and migrants are just a few of these. What accompanies all movements of people is an encounter with Difference on the part of both those arriving and those already in Place. In a typical migratory context, the Migrant is expected - and probably wants - to adapt to the new Place and does so by adopting as many of the characteristics as possible in the shortest possible time period to ease assimilation into the new cultural context. What is of interest here is what happens in between the time of arrival and a time of belonging - the period of settling or settlement. The idea of in-betweenness as a transitory phase between one aspect of identity and its transformation into another is increasingly of interest. Arguably, we all are in a constant process of settling, in a permanent state of settlement as our senses of Self traverse the shifting tectonics and orogenies of identity. Perhaps one of the crucial questions of the contemporary period is that of the meaning of living in-between, in motion , in Zygmunt Baumann's liquid times. From this perspective, we are all migrants, perhaps settling but more frequently never quite feeling Belonging.

In a recent seminar, Kerry Taylor-Leech presented an insight into the experience of settlement of two migrants as they found some locations into which to anchor a feeling of belonging. It is an interesting starting point to think a little further about the broader implications of being migratory. An edited video recording of Kerry's seminar is available (see the link above).

Jon Austin

Mar 5, 2010

A CEN Seminar

The Critical Educator's Network is pleased to announce the return of the CEN Seminar Series for 2010. The first seminar for the year will be presented by Dr Kerry Taylor-Leech, titled: 'In-Betweenness: charting the language and literacy development of two refugee English learners in the early settlement phase'.
Kerry's research extends to multilingualism and linguistic ethnography, with this seminar set to explore some of the implications for second language and literacy development drawn from Kerry's recent research work.
As per the attached flyer, the seminar will be held live on Thursday 18th March from 1-3pm in G414A at USQ's Toowoomba Campus. Alternatively, a video recording of the session will be available following the session and links for access posted once completed.
For further information, please contact Jon Austin at

Nov 27, 2009

CEN Fortnightly Post #11

It is again that time of year in Australia when the annual pilgrimage of school-leavers head coast-ward and generally provide the media with (mostly stock) footage of wilding hoardes of young folk publicly drinking themselves into scenes of alcohol fuelled violence. The beautiful thing with reports from schoolies, particularly over the last couple of years, is that you know before the report has even begun what is to follow- the old formula of kids gone wild, illicit sex, alcohol, senseless violence, and the ever-present moralising admonishments by the ‘mature’ reporter waving the finger at these out-of-control young things. A report earlier this week from Channel 9 during their 'Today' program followed entirely this logic, but with some surprise, added a twist. It was noted that, on the whole, schoolies this year have been 'well behaved'! But before the story was lost and all those old expectations could be re-written, the report cut to footage of violence and alcoholism from previous years and spent the remainder of the report tut-tutting the behaviour of young folks celebrating the end of school.
This sort of reporting is all too familiar, and when young folks are involved- people who by and large dont have any real access to present their own perspective in the mainstream media (apart from unwitting appearances in carefully selected and edited interviews)- they come off looking (at worst) entirely violent and out of control, or (at best), a bit silly and irresponsible. This isnt anything new of course- Marlon Brando, James Dean and Elvis were archetypal out of control teenagers once (until they became icons of a generation, of course)- but it does point to how we choose to represent and come to understand entire groups of people. The truth has little place in media representation, particularly when it is up against the long-held and discursively formed assumptions of a viewing public and almost salacious expectations for what we want to see a large group of young people doing.
Yep, sure, there is a reality of violence, alcohol abuse, and less than consenting sex probably occurring at schoolies, and this is far from ideal or desirable. But this also happens in pubs most weekends, on football club tours, and in aspects of wider society generally. This sort of behaviour isnt the domain of young folks alone, and isnt representative of all young people as the Nine report acknowledged but then went on to suggest otherwise.
But back to the news report. The really interesting thing with the report, apart from the mixed messages of good bahaviour and imagery of kids-gone-wild, was that it also introduced some new terminology into our social vocabulary. The 'schoolie' (the typically 17-18 year old high school graduate) has long been accompanied by the 'toolie' at these events (the 'toolie' is the mostly derided older young person coming back for a second or third bite at the schoolies cherry- schoolies are very much a clique when it comes down to it and don’t need those older, more tragic, toolies telling them whats for). But then something new was mentioned by Nine’s reporter- the 'droolie'! (the 'droolie' is an even more insidious character- and even older person who hangs around to pray on the young hipsters whilst they drink themselves to oblivion. In many ways, these people seriously are problematic). What a brilliant bit of social categorisation, slipped casually into the report as an ordinarily understood term!
What is at stake here? What should we do with the broad sweeping generalisations and ontological establishment of an entire group of people? How should we react to the hysteria that gets whipped up around who these people are and the lengths to which we see the media deploying definitional traits (traits the media were in part responsible for identifying to start with)? There is something profoundly sociological in these exercises of categorisation, but an amateur sociology at best that has no real concern for implications for the ways these people are represented beyond generating ratings. Here was the production of a social knowledge- a public pedagogy in action. Here was a word that defined a category of person and was slipped into the report as if we all knew and understood precisely what ‘sort’ of person was being talked about.
The problem of course is that, as we see time and time again, the media machine works in a co-dependant relationship with our fears and anxieties and largely re-inforces our assumptions (whether correct or not) in order to stay 'relevant' to our viewing tastes. Rarely does a groundbreaking piece of reporting occur that openly challenges viewers to reconsider views (especially in commercial television). So what we have occurring here is the wheeling out of all those old tropes that we expect to see- tropes that are almost comforting in that they re-affirm our fears, anxieties and expectations, whether 'true' or not. But added to this is the generation of new terms that feed into the logic of the old and go even further in re-enforcing our understandings of the world. The case of our largely 'well behaved' schoolies being accompanied by footage of violence, alcohol and general social nuisance, in conjunction with the idea of the lurking droolie, is key example of this.


Nov 12, 2009

Go Britney!

The Last Fortnight...

It has been a big fortnight. Britney has lip-synched her way through a Perth concert that from most reports was a disaster, with some tickets going for $1500 a go (its Britney Spears people- what the hell is going on here!!!). At much the same time the long(ish) running pay dispute with Queensland state teachers looks like coming to a close with the Queensland Teachers Union accepting a 12.5% rise over 3 years. At the top of the classification scale salaries will come to $83,308 a year (for 2011), with new graduate teachers identified as being the highest paid teachers in Australia (good news for current Education students in Qld!).

This is clearly good news, and pending acceptance by members of the QTU, should bring some equity back into the variant teacher pay scales applied across Australia. But as a comparison, I cant help but think that getting into the lip-synching business for upwards of $1500 a ticket for a 2 hour show is possibly an easier way to earn a dollar. Sure, you might not walk away with that glowing feeling of having positively affected someone's life, or ever feel that bit of ego-induced buzz that comes from saying ‘I’m an educator!’, but you will have world-wide publicity every time you burp, and an audience of millions that you could (if you wanted to) utilise to make a positive influence on the globe (but not in that poncy, self-aggrandising and utterly conceited Bono type of way, please). You also, instead of lining up to adopt a child from Africa, might think about actually putting back the money that you’ve extorted for rubbish concerts and albums into some worthwhile causes to help equalise the capitalist imbalance of wealth and poverty (but lets not get too carried away- there is a new SLK Merc that needs buying).

You see where I’m going here? 12.5% is a good move in comparison to existing pay structures, but when compared to some of the other frivolous rubbish that get remunerated quite well, its a fairly small price.

A Tricky Google Tool

A colleague from, an online union and labour activism orgnaisation, noted the following Google tool: Google SideWiki. Here’s what the good folks at LabourStart noted about SideWiki:

“Unless you're a regular reader of the official Google blog (and I'm not) you probably haven't heard of Google SideWiki. But a trade union activist in New Zealand has stumbled on something that he calls an "awesome new tool for activists". And he may be right.

I won't tell you much more, but will instead suggest you read what Google has to say:

And when you're done, and have set this up on your computer (it will take you less than a minute), go visit and see what I've done to Nestle's global website. “

What a brilliant bit of democratic technology. SideWiki provides folks with opportunity to question the PR spin presented on the web, and in a way not disimilar to Wikipedia, provides for open evaluation by users of the claims and promises made on a site. In the case of Nestle, that same multinational that is responsible for countless imperialist activities around the world, this provides a chance for open critique of the glossy fa├žade of an otherwise grubby company. This is what the web was intended to be- a democratic location of dialogue and participation. SideWiki makes that a bit more possible.

If you’re interested, you can sign up to (strangely enough) at

But please dont use SideWiki on the Critical Educator's Network unless you have really nice things to say (democracy only goes so far when you're intimately involved!!!).

Oct 30, 2009

What does a Critical Education Look Like?

One of the key themes that came out of the discussion following the seminars at both Sydney and Auckland was what might a critical education look like? Specifically, discussion focused on how the 'wash-out' effect between University and practice might be confronted so that new graduates, fresh with enthusiasm and idealism about critical education might maintain that enthusiasm as they face the rigours of having to embrace the profession and actually teach.
A post has been established on the CEN site for comment- views and ideas from current undergraduates, recent graduates and the experienced alike are entirely encouraged. What does it mean to live a critical practice and how does this translate into the classroom and workplace contexts.

An article that I count as a ripper and that may well form a prompt for thinking about these things is 'Critical Social Theory and Transformative Knowledge' by Zeus Leonardo, available at

It is well worth a read and may prompt your thinking in this area.

CEN Fortnightly Post, #9

Sam Watson and White Sensibilities

Yet again, the mainstream media has got its knickers in a knot over 'PC gone mad'. This time it relates to author and activist Sam Watson's (who you may know from such novels as Kadaitcha Sung and film Black Man Down) claim against Coles supermarket's Creole Cream biscuits. In what became the second 'PC gone mad' episode in the space of a month (the first, of course, being the Jackson Jive Hey Hey skit), the issue is perhaps not so much around whether these biscuits 'are racist' per se (with the legacies of creole-ness in Australia being largely unknown) but that any suggestion of race is quickly picked up as yet another attack on the sensibilities of 'ordinary' folks. Imagery of the majority, of folks who represent the core of this country somehow having to bend to the pressures of these fringe minorities and their political correctness claims, are conjured to great effect.

The problem with this idea of the 'ordinary' folk however is that this largely doesnt exist in contemporary Australia. There is no 'archetypal' Australian and no genuinely Australian lifestyle or way of being. There are just people who happen to live and be in this geographic space, and who perhaps share certain traits and ways of doing things, but who ultimately are diverse in the views, ideas, backgrounds and practices they hold.

This suggestion of 'PC gone mad' is a troubling one as it deflects attention away from real issues of race that we encounter as everyday elements of our lives and maintains a dominant, albeit largely mythical, idea of a 'mainstream' Australia. The tone and anger with which some journalists present these stories is more than a little concerning given the almost pathological approach to difference suggested in the thinly veiled, but poorly researched and analysed accounts of race and difference that draw on a perceived (and perhaps actual for some folks) public fear of difference. These sorts of reports also suggest that we, socially, dont quite know what to do with race in this country- we are worried by difference but dont do anything really to understand it and hence craft arguments such as 'PC gone mad' to dismiss what exists under the surface. It isnt a packet of biscuits that is at stake here, but the underlying logic by which we understand ourselves and the Other. To dismiss this under the oft used 'PC gone mad' line is to miss the point entirely and to maintain a social logic that fails to recognize that race should be an issue for those at the right end of the racial binary (ie, white folks who live with the privilege that being white carries) as much as it is for those who are pathologised by it.

Sam probably didnt do himself any favours by running the argument the way he did, and I suspect for the average person (does this person actually exist?) the argument around a packet of biscuits probably does seem more than a little trite. But what the mainstream media missed was the opportunity to pose some questions on what the naming of things as banal as biscuits might mean socio-politically and how very real legacies of race are represented in the naming of such products. Instead, they chose to run with the easier and ratings guaranteed 'belt up the black bloke' line. Unfortunately this was to the loss of all of us.

In the October 8 issue of the ABC's QandA program, Germaine Greer made an interesting observation of race in Australia. Paraphrasing her statements heavily, she noted that we in Oz have this unfounded fear of hoardes of people wanting to come to this country- people who are prepared to work harder than we 'real' Australian folks are- and who, according to the myth, will steal our jobs and buy our companies. As such, we look suspiciously on anything different and attack vehemently any suggestion that is contrary to our sensibilities. The response to a packet of biscuits is probably a good example of this. You can see Germaine in action at:

Until next fortnight.... Andrew

Oct 14, 2009

Maccas do Maths Education

One thing that has caught my interest in recent weeks that simply cant go without mention is the development of the McDonald’s sponsored ‘Maths Online’ web tutorial program. Designed as ‘... a high quality, independent online maths tutoring program based on Australian state curricula for Years 7 – 12’, it caught my eye as being something more than the many (some corporately sponsored) web based education programs available. My normal sensibilities immediately suggest something sinister is at play when something that should be corporately untouchable like education (albeit Maths education), is entangled in a sponsorship deal with the likes of McDonalds (Simpsons aficionados will recall the episode where Springfield Elementary was sponsored by Pepsi, with Troy McClure who ‘you may know from such educational films as...’ taking over ultra-crowded classrooms via a video screen as teacher/marketing compère and running dubious lessons with quiz questions such as ‘how many pepsis does it take to quench a thirst?’).

What is at stake with programs such as this? The McDonald’s television ads for Maths Online are quick to point out that their involvement has been to sponsor and to make the program possible, and that qualified teachers of maths are behind its development (and therefore, presumably, the pedagogy is sound and its intentions genuinely for performance improvement in mathematics legitimate). In a seeming corporate-education win-win, the ad also notes that McDonalds staff will be able to apply this online training to improve their point of sale arithmetic and (I guess) the calibration of french fry cookers. But is this it, and are lefties with naturally suspicious minds when it comes to these sorts of collaborations losing touch with a global-capitalist world that no-longer sees any real issues with these sorts of things (providing that legitimacy without undue corporate influence can be maintained)? I cant help but think of the Ronald McDonald House developments that support sick kids and their families in hospitals around Australia and the good that these have done for countless folks (my own partner who is a survivor of childhood leukemia included, and who has only positive things to say about the support these provided to her and her family). Is this the way it is in this corporate, late-capitalist world of ours?

Are we destined to rely on the charity (and tax-benefit induced incentives for corporations) that corporate sponsorship of things as precious as education and health brings and should we be hoping like hell that there will be similar corporate support when we need it in the future?

I’m cynical when it comes to these sorts of things and firmly believe in centralised, democratically sanctioned support of public institutions like education (and health), but accept that my thinking has its opposition in those who see benefits in corporate support. So, what do you reckon folks? Is this perhaps incidental, but symbolically significant, move by an archetypal corporate like McDonalds a benign threat to public, centrally authorised education systems, or should we be a bit more concerned about the foothold that this website perhaps suggests (it isnt the only example of this of course, and the US has been particularly canny in having its corporate citizens involved in the construction of schools, universities and other education providers for some time, just as the private education industry in this country has also in recent years).

On another level, is there something wrong with a fast-food giant getting tied up with schools- those same places that have become sites of significant community action on childhood obesity and poor diet? Can we trust that McDonalds is just trying to give back, or is my cynicism that this is simply a mechanism to have this corporate citizen look all nice and fuzzy via feigned interest in the future of our kids justified (just like when they introduced the the ‘healthy choices’ menu because they were worried about our health. It had nothing to do with cigarette company type litigation coming from folks about to die from heart attacks caused by Big Macs, I’m sure). Please allay my cynicism and tell me I’m wrong...

Until next fortnight...

Oct 9, 2009

Blackface, MJ and TV's responses

Just a mid-post point of interest for your critical gaze. You may have seen the Red Faces skit on Channel 9's Hey Hey its Saturday program (please don’t ask me why I was watching this) that parodied Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5 with a blackface routine Wednesday night. Oh dear. As one of the judges for the segment Harry Conick Jr, to his considerable credit, was particularly critical of the skit and identified the racial issues at stake.

Perhaps the only more disconcerting aspect to this is the tone of the comments displayed on Channel 7’s blog available here:
(Channel 7, with ratings prospect glee, saw fit to make a bit of a deal about this issue in Thursday morning’s issue of the program- but unfortunately, it became more a discourse about ‘has political correctness gone too far’ than a genuine debate about race, apart from Nelson Aspen’s comments that framed a reasonable argument about respect and history). Perhaps you might like to comment to 7 and 9 that we aren’t all red-necks in this country and can understand that parodies of blackface carry with them significant historical and cultural baggage associated with slavery, violence and oppression.

Oct 2, 2009

New Master of Education Courses at USQ

Feel like undertaking Masters Study in Critical Education, Popular Culture Studies and Indigenous Pedagogies? Take a look at these new courses available through the Faculty of Eduction at USQ:

CEN Fortnightly Post, #7

The Last Fortnight...

We’ve been a bit interested in the idea of Indigenous Knowledges at the CEN, with a couple of the recent Ideas Column entries dealing with the prospects of multiple ways of knowing (see particularly Jess Gannaway and Renee Herde’s posts). The idea is a tricky one, not least because it is perhaps difficult to divorce your sense of knowing from the epistemological roots that make you who you are, but also because it can be confronting to contemplate logics and ontologies different to ones own. This became patently clear to me during an undergraduate lecture in a sociology of education course a year or so ago when the lecture took a bit of a tangent after a discussion on ‘ways of knowing’ started and we found ourselves contemplating various narratives central to Torres Strait Islander and North Queensland Aboriginal peoples. After one of my students noted that these were simply ‘myths’, I thought I’d provoke things a little by suggesting that they are fundamentally similar to the myth narratives that white western culture has, like, psychology and medicine. ‘Huh?’ was the response from more than a couple of folks, and after a second or so, one of the braver and more outspoken members of the cohort noted that “suggesting that what causes ocean waves is a giant sea turtle flapping its fins has no empirical basis” and that “we all know that what really causes waves are ocean currents and planets and lunar patterns.....”. He went on for another 10 or so minutes with some entirely plausible, if not boring, science (he was a science major as it turns out). We’d hit an impasse, or so it seemed. While some of my students desperately wanted to be able to say that Indigenous knowledges were just as valuable and important as science was to their culture, they couldn’t, through their own epistemological placements, quite rationalise the conundrum our scientist colleague had provided.
Unfortunately, the discussion had missed the point entirely- we’d found ourselves attempting to identify ‘whose knowledge system is best’. This is not the point to be reached at all when considering Indigenous Knowledges. It is what these knowledge systems do culturally and symbolically, and how they represent the ‘boundary’ logic (to borrow from Anthony Cohen) of knowing that is important. Sure, we can probably understand that a giant sea-turtle flapping its fins doesn’t make actual waves, but that is to miss the point of the narrative. It is much more complex and symbolic than that. These narratives capture an entire cultural system and provide reference for how the world is considered and understood- just like science does for folks in some other parts of the world. While we can get hung up on literal interpretations of the narratives and forget that Western ways of knowing have their own literal follies (think here about the wonder that Thalidomide was meant to be, or atomic physics and the resultant millions who have been blown up due to this ‘technology’), the point is that Indigenous Knowledge systems are structures of knowing that have their own logics and ontologies that make sense of the world.
The point is that there is a necessary relativity when it comes to knowing, and this isnt limited to a binary of Indigenous Vs Western views. As another example, I recall talking to a farmer I know about how he was feeling pressured to change his farming practices by a state Government department, even though his practices had been in place on his land through generations of his family, sustained the land in a responsible way and yielded good quality food and produce. Here was a ‘local’ knowledge in opposition with an ‘official’ one (the problem being that the official one had the sanctioning of another knowledge system- the law- which required he change his practices).
I cant help but think of the epiphany that Malinowski, that great white classical anthropologist, had when he spent time in the Trobriands and realised that Western knowledge systems aren’t all there is and that the ‘natives’ he was investigating weren’t developmentally inferior to Western folks, but just different. His ‘Sex and Repression in Savage Society’ (apart from showing its eurocentrism and age by its title) stands as a key example of knowledge systems colliding (Malinowski mounts a convincing argument that makes Freud’s take on Oedipus complexes look itself like a ‘myth’). Perhaps this is the rationale by which we should engage knowledge systems that are different to those of our own- to get over the implicit superiority we perhaps automatically place in what it is we know in order to engage that which is different, but just as legitimate in naming and structuring the world.

'til next fortnight,

Sep 17, 2009

A Quick 'Well Done'

In the last fortnight, two CEN Members, Jill Guy-Smith and Linda Stanley received their examination reports for their Honours Dissertations.

Linda's Dissertation was titled 'Teaching Practice and Diversity: creating identity inclusive classrooms', with Jill's Dissertation titled 'Improving Indigenous Australian Educational Outcomes: an ethnographic study of a PSPI coordinator working in a Queensland school'.

Both Dissertations received a grade of High Distinction with minimal changes required.

Well done to Linda and Jill- this is a huge result. We hope you both might consider documenting some of the ideas from these works in future CEN Ideas Columns...

CEN Fortnightly Post, #6

The Last Fortnight...

‘Looking after each other’ might sound a bit trite on the surface of things, but its a theme that I’ve been contemplating fairly heavily over the last little while. In contexts where technicist approaches to education value rote skills over actual thinking, in which a person’s value is placed in terms of economic markers and not how successful a human being they are and in situations where thinking and criticality take a back seat to how well one might consume all that stuff that market capitalism thrusts our way, it is fundamental as critical educators that we contemplate (and hope for) what it is the world might be. A large part of this involves what we do for each other as educators, students and community members- how we look after each other and provide audience for each others ideas and support to enable dialogic, democratic participation in the world to occur.
I found myself talking with colleagues recently where it was generally agreed that due to oppressive workloads and ‘cold’ management structures that perpetually seem to miss the humanity that work can (and must) have attached to it, work as an educator can be lonely, isolating and, sometimes, depressing. ‘You need a fair amount of resilience’ one of my colleagues noted with regard to ‘keeping the faith’ and staying motivated. What a great shame, I thought. What can be an entirely rewarding way to work was reduced to this for my colleague.

So what do we do? In words appropriated by Homer Simpson, pop-saint of the new millenia, ‘I can’t stands it, I won’t stands it, and I cant stands it no more’. Hence, I reckon one aspect of making things a little less ‘cold’ is by organising. No, I’m not going to rally you to join a union for a picket (although that probably isnt a bad idea), but we do need to maintain connections with each other and talk, share ideas and perpetually remind ourselves that we aren’t alone. I saw this in action earlier this week with two members of the CEN trading notes on areas of shared interest (spot on, Tim and Renee), and from the notes of another when she talked about the vibrancy of a small hub of people working together in her University. And of course, Jess Gannaway’s prompt for discussion on the situation facing bi-lingual education in the Northern Territory. We also need to start sharing what it is we’ve done- projects completed, papers published, conference presentations delivered and community engagement deployed. If indeed we are required to work with ERA Rankings, esteem scales and the rest, we might as well help each other out while we argue the problems that these ‘accounting’ practices have on the work of educators. Again, it probably does sound a bit trite and simplistic, but as critical educators we need to look after each other and offer support by engaging our own dialogic connections.

One small development...

In this frame of thinking, I managed to tweak the site to allow members to publish!! You probably received an email notification asking you to sign up- ignore this if you’re not interested- but if you are, please do so and get blogging. Use the site as a vehicle to note events, successes, points of interest. I’m still keen to have the fortnightly post come out, but in between times, use the site to share ideas. (This also goes for the Ideas Column).

Sep 4, 2009

CEN Fortnightly Post, #5

The Last Fortnight...

One of the big news items over the last couple of weeks has been the various arguments and intrigue attached to Caster Semenya's status as 'woman'. Without wanting to get into the details about whether or not she should hold the world record, be stripped of her title and subjected to various medical 'tests' to verify her credentials as a woman, the scenario that the world's media played out for all to see about these otherwise normally private aspects of ones identity brings to the fore the significance that gender and sex hold in our contemporary world. At its most pragmatic, the question was whether this was fair for someone who phenotypically presented very masculine characteristics to compete with other women; at its symbolic end, it drew into question what indeed it means to be a woman. This became more than a question of 'cheating' as Tim Fish notes in his comments on the Freire Project site (

At much the same time, Australia's Miss Universe contestant Rachel Finch found herself widely celebrated when beamed across the world's media for her response to an entirely incisive (not!!) question as to how she feels about the sanctioning of womens attire in 'some countries' (read here, radical muslim countries). Apart from the ironies of this question being asked of a woman who was going through very rigorously ritualised performances to demonstrate her own sanctioned womanhood and femininity, the point is that we had in front of us, on our screens, an image of womanhood that few would question, and in fact, many would hold as being ideal (you can check out the final five answering their questions here: . While I'm sure these girls are probably smart in their own way, I just love the look of horror on their faces while the questions are being asked- 'oh please, oh please dont let me be asked a tricky one that will make me look like a ditz' is what the pained expressions are suggesting- itself a form of submission inducing control?)

So here we have two views of womanhood- one acceptable to the point that we celebrate the syrupy, stock standard answers given to a banal beauty pageant question and another entirely confronting because the 'woman' involved wasnt fulfilling the gender characteristics she was supposed to be fulfilling. It reminds me of the classic Harry Enfield spoof, 'Women, know your place':

How does gender work- how are we 'boyed' or 'girled' as Judith Butler would suggest, and what are the boundaries of acceptable behaviour available to us as gendered beings?

Until next fortnight,

Aug 21, 2009

CEN Fortnightly Post, #4

The Last Fortnight...

One of the questions that is regularly asked by the students I work with relates to how critical pedagogy might be ‘done’ and when ‘being critical’ should be deployed. Jon Austin and I were having a chat yesterday about a person we encountered a few years ago who used to arrange his classroom in a circle and would call this critical pedagogy (even though there was nothing specifically ‘critical’ in his pedagogy or the way he encountered ideas). Unfortunately for this character, there is nothing specifically magical about sitting in circles, and in-and-of-themselves circles don’t form an antidote to uncritical, unthinkingly reproductive and transmission oriented pedagogical practices (you can marginalise and disenfranchise just as effectively in a circle as you can in rows, or under a tree).
What I’m getting at here is that there is a mystique sometimes associated with criticality. While it sometimes provides some ego-inducing kudos to be able to work in areas that are perhaps associated with trendy teaching approaches and ‘cool’ content, the downside is that the actual, genuine criticality core to critical pedagogy is sometimes lost in the translation. It is perhaps easy to inhabit the image (and do things like set up classrooms in a circle), but far harder to genuinely ‘live’ criticality.
What is at stake here is a ‘critical attitude’- a way of being that encompasses a whole way of life. This on the surface of things may seem a little daunting and totalising (‘you mean, we don’t get a break from being like this?’ I hear you say), but it is about realising that the world isnt a neutral place. It isnt fair, and it does marginalize some folks (perhaps even you and me at times). We live in systems that are by nature competitive and are ordered against a logic of individualism (this is the nature of the late-capitalist, neo-liberal world we inhabit). The reality is that we cant all be equally comfortable in this contemporary world- it is simply set up so this cannot happen (for us to be wealthy means that there must be someone who isnt, to indeed provide the basis for us to measure our wealth). We can choose to ignore this, or we can accept that something must be done.
Here is where criticality is fundamental, and why it must always be put into action. Criticality is about recognising mechanisms of power in all aspects of our world- whether they be via what a line of erotically dressed toy dolls say about what we collectively think about female sexuality and the sexualisation of children (yes, I’m referring to those damn Bratz dolls) through to violent attempts to repress voters rights in a national election (ala Afghanistan right now). Sites for critical interrogation present themselves in all aspects of our world and must be explored, challenged and transformed.
This is not to say that you should develop a cynicism for the world or that we should automatically castigate little girls (or boys) for finding joy when playing with a Bratz doll- in some ways, I’m arguing quite the opposite. It is from questioning regimes of power that structure our world to serve the interests of the few that hope for something better might truly occur. From this, I would suggest then, that being critical (and more specifically, being a critical pedagogue) is about conceptualising and hoping to put into action a more participatory and democratically engaged view of the world.
So where should this be done? Should you be looking for the next revolution to jump on board with, or is it just as (if not more) important to deploy your criticality in those quieter, more localised experiences? While large-scale, high profile demonstrations and campaigns are important, so to is the challenging of a throw-away sexist/racist/ageist/classist comment heard on the street, or the day-to-day work done with a group of students. Again, the ‘attitude’ of being critical arises here, as it is how you contemplate the world, go about questioning it and then ultimately affect change that is important.
So what do you reckon? How might you live critically but also exist as a member of the social networks you are part of? Is it easy to live critically, or does it take courage to question and challenge? So many questions.