Monday, June 1, 2009

Layer 163 General Motors, Bankruptcy, Autonomous Learners, Electoral Reform and a Tory Clause 4.


A couple of interesting snippets from the radio.

1. This morning it was reported that the bond-holders of General Motors have said no to swopping their bonds for the company's shares, and thereby refusing to switch from being creditors of GM to being owners of the company. This news is so dire for GM that they are now being advised to file for bankruptcy. It used to be said that what was good for GM was good for America. Does this now mean that the US should file for bankruptcy? If China decided to dump their holdings of dollars then they'd have no choice. So much for the triumph of pure free-market capitalism. The USA is effectively being kept solvent by the fact that a communist country currently chooses to keep its financial reserves in dollars, thereby maintaining the value of the dollar.

2. Last week a spokesperson for British universities was saying that the big transition that undergraduates need to make is to stop seeing university as an extension of school and to start becoming autonomous and lifelong learners. The irony of this is brilliant. Who do they think is to blame for the fact that students have been infantilised by our education system to the point where even young adults have yet to become autonomous learners? Let alone enthusiastic, self-motivated and lifelong learners who love learning for its own sake and eagerly embrace learning every day of their lives?

If children as young as the newborn are capable of being autonomous learners, then who takes away that autonomy? If KS2 children are capable of using the Internet and libraries to pursue their own independent learning - which they are - then who turns them back into dependent and non-autonomous exam-passers? Could the responsibility lie with the expectations of tertiary education, by any chance – with its incessant demands for A grades, which schools are encouraged to pursue (under threat) by cramming and directing pupils' learning to the nth degree?

This is so ludicrous and so sickening it's hard to even discuss it sanely and rationally. It's shameful for a country to have to admit that the vast majority of its young people (and indeed older people) have no idea how to be autonomous learners with an interest in and indeed a love of learning for its own sake.

The majority of our population, those who don't get the A grades at A level, consider themselves academic failures, even as they occasionally discover a talent and an ability to develop expertise in certain skills and subjects. These are the people who discovered that they were goats when the rewards were being given out to the sheep. They were labelled as such, and they feel labelled – second or third class. Even 2nd class honours degree students feel second class. The real academic high flyers might be absolute dunces and clods when it comes to actually applying their knowledge, and totally uncreative as people, and total numbskulls when it comes to other sorts of intelligence, but by jove they're the cream as far as academia is concerned.

It's a miracle in our society if people who were never allowed to enjoy learning suddenly discover that it's enjoyable. But the most ludicrous thing of all is that even when they become undergraduates, and indeed at post-graduate level, students are not allowed to be autonomous learners. Heaven help them if they depart from the syllabus and strike out in directions that are nothing to do with their chosen degree. They're asking for trouble if they depart from the received wisdom of their department and develop ideas of their own, or embrace the alternative ideas, on education for example, of non-approved thinkers and academics.


Electoral Reform.

There's an interesting editorial in today's Guardian about electoral reform. Basically it says that virtually everyone who's been commenting on their features on the New Politics has said that proportional representation is essential, even if Labour and the Tories don't. Well, those people wouldn't, would they?

Oxzen said this on CIF :

NO to proportional representation?

Electing MPs on the basis of members representing a specific geographical area is well and good, but it's only one basis for representation. What's clearly lacking in our geography-obsessed First Past The Post system is proper representation of a range of political IDEAS and ideologies. Why can't Cameron, the Tories and New Labour grasp this? Or, if they do get it, why can't they just be honest and say "we don't want proportional representation because we recognise that people might vote for IDEAS instead of brands (NuLabour, Tory) and personalities (Cameron, Brown, etc), and that's unlikely to be to our advantage"?

The people of Britain DEMAND that they be able to vote on the basis of true PR for parties that most represent their political beliefs rather than the discredited brands known as Conservative, Labour and LibDem. You don't believe me? Hold a referendum.


And on Cameron's article about the need for a massive radical redistribution of power Oxzen said:

Mr Cameron mentions "bankers who got rich whilst bringing the economy to its knees". Can he honestly say that he raised his concerns about this whilst it was actually happening? And if not, why not? Because plenty of progressives, including writers on The Guardian and The Observer, did so. Is he seriously saying that his "progressive conservatism" will take the necessary steps to ensure it can never happen again?

Whilst it's difficult to disagree with much of what he says here I have to take issue with his superficial understanding of what needs to happen to the education system. He clearly supports a "market" approach, which is a recipe for disorder, waste and fragmentation. The best systems, e.g. Finland, are run as proper integrated systems by professionals who have a thorough understanding of the educational needs of children.

What on earth does he mean by giving funds to "any suitably qualified organisation" to set up and run a school? Organisations, as such, cannot be "qualified". Everything depends on the pedagogic approaches of the organisation, and the ideology or educational philosophy of those who manage and teach within it.

Surely as a parent he knows that it's the needs of children that ought to be paramount, and that the needs of children are not met by schools competing to better their positions in league tables determined by inappropriate summative tests, administered at enormous public expense, which he says nothing about.

And what makes him think that "empowering councils" is more likely to be helpful to schools? Has he really spoken to local politicians about their understanding of the needs of schools and their pupils? This would be a step in the right direction in some cases, since New Labour's centralisation has been so counterproductive, but it's no guarantee of bringing enlightenment to bear on the problems of schools.

As for Mr C's refusal to contemplate proportional representation - he clearly thinks his party is likely to win the next election by a landslide under the current system, and so has no intention of even asking we, the people, whether we want PR. This says everything about how "principled" and "progressive" he really is, or rather isn't.


In a way that was a bit harsh. It's clearly impossible at the moment for Cameron to get his party to support PR. So he's maybe just being pragmatic, rather than unprincipled. Assuming he really is a decent, sensible and progressive Conservative (OK – I know that's pretty much an oxymoron) then the real test of whether he's going to shift his party in the direction he says he wants to go in will be whether he manages to persuade the party to support PR. This will be his Clause 4 moment.

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