Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Francis mantra and the Western education system

Could the following be attributed to Pope Francis if he had been in education? “John Dewey champions the role of education in equipping us with the sort of critical thinking necessary for questioning authority, deconditioning our ‘mental bad habits,’ and dispelling false beliefs and illusory ideas bequeathed to us by society . . .” [John Dewey on the True Purpose of Education and How to Harness the Power of Our Natural Curiosity, Maria Popovabrainpickings.org, 19th Sept 2014]

Questioning long-held beliefs as well as the authority of the Curia is not incompatible with the acknowledgement in the West that its education system is broken? We Pinoys could accept that our education system is broken but in our heart of hearts would we accept questioning long-held beliefs and the authority of the Curia? That is like tossing our hierarchical system and structure – and even our faith?

“While it is not the business of education … to teach every possible item of information, it is its business to cultivate deep-seated and effective habits of discriminating tested beliefs from mere assertions, guesses, and opinions. 'Do not feel absolutely certain of anything,' philosopher Bertrand Russell instructed in the first of his ten timeless commandments of teaching and learning in 1951.”

“John Dewey, one of the most influential minds of the twentieth century, distills the purpose and ideals of education with remarkable clarity and conviction. The enactment of these ideals today would produce nothing less than a radical, sorely needed transformation of our broken education system.”

“Dewey champions the role of education in equipping us with the sort of critical thinking necessary for questioning authority, deconditioning our ‘mental bad habits,’ and dispelling false beliefs and illusory ideas bequeathed to us by society: Causes of bad mental habits are social as well as inborn… Over and above the sources of misbelief that reside in the natural tendencies of the individual (like those toward hasty and too far-reaching conclusions), social conditions tend to instigate and confirm wrong habits of thinking by authority, by conscious instruction, and by the even more insidious half-conscious influences of language, imitation, sympathy, and suggestion.”

“Teaching and learning are correlative or corresponding processes, as much so as selling and buying. One might as well say he has sold when no one has bought, as to say that he has taught when no one has learned.”

“The curious mind is constantly alert and exploring, seeking material for thought, as a vigorous and healthy body is on the qui vive for nutriment. Eagerness for experience, for new and varied contacts, is found where wonder is found. Such curiosity is the only sure guarantee of the acquisition of the primary facts upon which inference must base itself.”

These two lines are worth highlighting: “Teaching and learning are correlative or corresponding processes” . . . “The curious mind is constantly alert and exploring . . .” And if this blog is not a feel-good reading, it is reflective of the “competitive scars” from my private sector experience where learning from mistakes is a painful reality – and which in the society-at-large we call justice. Thus free societies swear by the rule of law, i.e., there is no free lunch. Failed nations obviously are the exception. 

Precisely because the private sector doesn’t have all the answers, it is cognizant that “teaching and learning are correlative or corresponding processes,” or must be. It expects education and training efforts to be such that one must not “say he has sold when no one has bought.” And why in the West industry has raised the observation that the education system is broken. It is mindful that “the curious mind is constantly alert and exploring,” that good enough – or “pwede na ‘yan” – is not good enough.

Why is PHL underdeveloped and thus lags in creativity, innovation and competitiveness? Should we be surprised? Consider how we valued our sheltered upbringing, i.e., is the world evil that we must avoid? And so we shut the rest of the world out even when we don’t like to be subjugated by our cacique masters? Consider how we valued political patronage, i.e., we supposedly abhor corruption yet we expect political favors – from our Barangay captain all the way to the Executive if not via the Legislative and Judicial branches of government? How is PHL then to be defined if we’re not a disaster waiting to happen?

Should our education system then gear up and commit to developing a questioning mind in Juan de la Cruz – the “critical thinking necessary for questioning authority, deconditioning our ‘mental bad habits,’ and dispelling false beliefs and illusory ideas bequeathed to us by society”?

What is happening to Afghanistan could provide us the mirror we ought to be looking at, one not distorted by our assumptions, beliefs and values, being more experienced as a democracy notwithstanding?

“American and NATO officials would have us think that democracy is gaining traction in Afghanistan, the Taliban insurgency has stalled and Al Qaeda is being defeated. All these arguments, of course, serve as an excuse for U.S. troops to start withdrawing at the end of the year, a plan that seemed wrong when it was made in December 2009 and is proving catastrophically wrong now.” [Afghanistan’s Failed Transformation, Ahmed Rashid, The New York Times, 25th Sept 2014]

“John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, apparently is the only official in Washington who dares speak truth to power. In a Sept. 12 speech at Georgetown University, he said that Afghanistan ‘remains under assault by insurgents and is short of domestic revenue, plagued by corruption, afflicted by criminal elements involved in opium and smuggling, and struggling to execute basic functions of government.’ His comments were largely ignored by the American media, and there was no immediate reaction from the Obama administration.”

“Moving from the lengthy U.S. military presence to full Afghan sovereignty was premised on the completion of four distinct transitions. But none has been successfully carried out, despite more than $640 billion in U.S. direct spending in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2013. The most critical transition, the one on which everything else rested, was political. Rather than build state institutions or carry out much-needed electoral reforms, President Hamid Karzai spent his long tenure encouraging a form of crony politics that failed to sap the power of the warlords.”

“The second promised transition was military. U.S. forces were to hand over security matters to Afghan forces, proving that the new, U.S.-trained Afghan Army would then be able to hold back the Taliban on its own.”

“The third failed transition has to do with economics . . . Money spent on schools and hospitals has dramatically improved education and health for Afghans, but these services remain dependent on foreign funding. There has been little large-scale investment in agriculture or basic industry . . .”

“The fourth contribution expected of the U.S. presence was insulating Afghanistan from foreign interference, which many Afghans fear as much as the Taliban. Iran, Pakistan and Russia, but also India, Saudi Arabia and other states helped fuel the civil war in the 1990s.”

“History will not look kindly on the legacy of the U.S. government and Mr. Karzai in Afghanistan. But this also means that Afghanistan’s new leaders can do better, and now, simply by acting responsibly — and working together to legitimize the results of this problematic election that has brought them to power . . . 2015 is supposed to mark the start of Afghanistan’s “Transformation Decade.” But if the country is to even get to 2015 in one piece, its new leaders must act fast to correct course after the failed transformation of the last decade.”

Granted PHL is no Afghanistan and is much, much better, but given this is the 21st century, how should we be scoring against the above political and economic yardsticks and, as importantly, leadership?

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