Thursday, March 31, 2011


Pulling machinery apart is fun. Car engines, computers, clocks, pumps... there's nothing like dismantling a creation to see how it works.

It only gets tricky when you have to put it back together, and while that kind of task can be undertaken in the centre with some equipment that needs repairing, you can safely assume that when the case comes off the CPU it's well and truly all over for that computer!

Tinkering - as a bloke with a workshop - is part of my life, and it's been interesting to watch many colleagues who rarely, if ever, pick up a spanner or screw driver, get up to speed with its potential as a fun 'learning experience'.

Check out Let the Children Play on the blogroll to see how others are enjoying it. The Austin Tinkering School is of course heaven - they get to do it all day!!

Jealous or what.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

From play to empathy...

Sitting around the kitchen at a friends while the kids riot in the lounge produced some interesting ideas...

I have never considered the link between imaginative play, empathy and democracy before. Have you?

Novelist Ian McEwan opines that empathy, as in the ability to think and feel what it might be like to be someone else, sits at the centre of morality and is the most important competency our children should be learning.

As children we develop empathy through our play, particularly make-believe or fantasy play. It is here that children get to try out social roles that are outside their world and practice social interactions safely within the context of 'it's just play'. Dramatic play is by its nature full of confrontation and challenge, it the schizophrenic plot and ensuing tension that keeps play interesting as well as throwing up social dilemmas to be worked through where we learn to think outside of ourselves.

Apparently (no references sorry) research of the top one thousand USA crims found that their commonality was a lack of play as children. A lack of empathy enables you to kill randomly, to hurt without caring, to exploit without hesitation. Sound familiar these days?

The totalitarianism of the individual as championed under neoliberalism does not need or nor want empathy. Capitalism does not need or want empathy.

Empathy leads to truer more authentic democracy based on equality, community and mutual aid.

Dramatic play provides the foundation for developing empathy, but to enhance this learning we need to get in there, to be a co-player, to be throwing open-questions, ideas and challenges into the play that keeps it dynamic, but also allows the learners to build social competence.

Think Vygotsky, the Zone of Proximal Development and social justice education.

Now, play like it really matters.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Look Ma, life-long learners....

I've really come to hate that phrase 'life-long learners'. It oozes political bullshit, another hegemonic whitewash that covers up the reality of neoliberalism, globalisation and the Global Knowledge Economy, or 'GKE' to the academics. It's the education buzz-word of the decade...

Life-long learners are the drones of the GKE; those whose jobs are constantly being disestablished as we (as a nation) move further and further away from producing tangible products to play the game of hyper-capitalism - ideas, knowledge, data, information - all that shit that poorer countries can't under-cut us on... “Designed in New Zealand, Made in fucking China.”

Jane Gilbert's 'Catching the Knowledge Wave' (2003) dives into the festering sore of neoliberalism to explain that 'knowledge' in the neo-liberal context does not mean old knowledge, but innovation, as in a process.

Minds, instead of being like containers – databases of stored knowledge, will need to be thought of as being like processors and/or resources that are connectible to other minds – to generate new knowledge.”

So knowledge is no longer “matter”, but an “energy” that “causes things to happen”, the knowledge we gain is not to be used as intended, but rather as a catalyst to modify and improve; ie, to generate new knowledge.

Thus we are 'life-long learners' who do not dilly-dally with content, but put that knowledge to use to generate new knowledge, new ways of making and selling shit to the plebs. Knowledge is the product of societies that don't actually do much any more. We don't produce tangible goods, we just design the packaging. The actual hard work is left to third world countries where costs are cheapest. The knowledge wave is essentially hyper-capitalism and by aligning with it as a country we are aligning with the exploitation and oppression of the world's poor.

In early childhood education this way of learning if fundamental. Children are building upon prior learning as they meet new challenges and assimilate or accomodate this new knowledge. We ain't too worried about content, it's dispositions to learn that matter: motivation, perseverance, collaboration, reflection...

It's a catch-22 situation countered by a critical analysis of power that is rooted in social justice, equity, and the freedom to live ones life as they want. It's a tough job but someones gotta do it eh?

Life-long learners don't have to be mindless sheep. My new mantra.