[wisehat] Wise Hat News #10

  • From: "Wise Hat News" <news@xxxxxxxxxxx>
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  • Date: Sun, 20 Feb 2005 20:28:48 +0900

Wise Hat News #10

20 February 2005

The online version is available at:

1. Chickin Licken
2. Goosey Loosy
3. Turkey Lurkey
4. Foxy Loxy
5. What's New?
6. Tearing Up the Torn Cloth
7. Administrivia


## What a splendid head, yet no brain. ##

The sky is falling and the sea is rising. The sea has also struck deadly.
The Boxing Day Tsunami shocked and horrified the world. The TV could hardly
get enough. Governments played leapfrog with promises of aid - but only
after a massive out pouring of aid from the great beast (Alexander
Hamilton's term for the people) put them to shame.

The response by ordinary people shows that compassion and empathy have not
been totally numbed by me first consumerism. All around the world people
responded in huge numbers. We still have the capacity to be more than
cannibals consuming the planet. But will we use it, or lose it?

This time around I'd like to look at information. I may be even more
introspective than usual.


## Beware lest you lose the substance by grasping at the shadow. ##

One of my near monthly tasks is writing for Think Tank. The topic for
January was bringing tragedy into the classroom. I found it unsettling and
difficult. I'm still exploring why.

To accept the question one must first accept the classroom. For a very young
child the notion makes no sense at all. The world is confined to the realm
of the senses, or perhaps the senses and the imagination. I think the
imagination aids development and empowers the spirit. Compulsory education
chains the spirit and suffocates the imagination. Too often the teacher
becomes torturer.

Just the other day I witnessed some results of this. Two second grade
elementary school girls came with their mothers to observe a class. Before
the class started I talked with them and introduced myself. One of the girls
hid behind her mother like a toddler. I had some flashcards and I began
going through them giving enough information that by using initiative they
could name the cards. The second girl was intensely eager, so eager that
this had some effect upon her friend. But still, she was suspicious. Later I
heard that she had had a bad experience with a piano teacher. At least she
was able to quit.

Who knows what damage petty tyrant teachers can inflict upon their charges?

I'm wandering from my point. Of course, many teachers in compulsory
situations are wonderful and warm. They can and do act as catalysts of body
and mind. Is a cage really a cage if we enter it freely? Many children enjoy
going to school, though how much this has to do with interacting with their
peers, as opposed to school itself is another question.

The idea of not going to school is simply not there for most children. It's
just something that is done, like eating breakfast. But school isn't as
natural as eating breakfast. It's a structure, and the more children become
aware of it the more stifling it becomes.

Should classrooms exist? My difficulty with the tragedy question is that by
accepting it one accepts the notion that the classroom is divorced from
reality, a self contained bubble-reality all of its own.

What I'm getting at, in part, is how can an event as large and terrible as
the tsunami not enter the classroom once one is aware of it? Young children
may only be dimly aware but surely for everyone else it cannot be excluded?
Those who enter the classroom bring it with them. To exclude it must be

I think that to the extent a class is democratic the less problems with
artificiality arise. In such circumstances the teacher is more likely to
serve as a facilitator for learning than as an unelected leader. The whole
group would become actively involved in planning.

One practical problem that does create difficulties is the process of
communication between teacher and learners. Where both share a reasonable
proficiency in the same language democracy can flourish. Where such is
lacking, gaining genuine consensus becomes more difficult. But in no way is
it impossible. At the very least a teacher can always present students with


## A crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety. ##

But what does the teacher do when confronted with something outside the
students' existing frame of reference, especially when that something is

I believe there are monsters. Many of the games I play with children are
about escaping from or confronting monsters. I think it is important to be
positive and caring. I think it is important to celebrate diversity and
realise that differences can be a source of joy and creation. I think it is
important to be compassionate and gentle to be warm and loving. It is
wonderful to embrace life. But monsters do exist. There are forces that are
anti-life and we ignore them at our peril.

Oh monster, thy name is Monsanto.

Two days ago I learnt that terminator seeds are back. These are seeds that
have been engineered to go sterile after a single planting. The concept is
sickening. The concept is frightening. The concept is monstrous. It springs
from the pursuit of profit and power in its most unconscionable form.

Terminator seeds first raised their ugly little heads in 1999. There was a
world-wide outcry and Monsanto decided to withdraw the technology.
Greenpeace tried to buy the patent for one pound sterling claiming that they
would be better guardians of the technology than Monsanto. Now the Canadian
government is backing it and aiming to get agreement from the United
Nations. It's clear that Monsanto were simply biding their time and now feel
the time is ripe to try again. Savage and bitter fruit.

As soon as I read the news I found myself writing a song. There's a link to
a page featuring it below. But right now I want to focus on how this
effected my lessons. In several classes I put what we were doing to one side
and focused on the news. I took executive and undemocratic action.

Legitimate disruption or dubious meddling?

Who can ask such questions?

There's a poem by Bertolt Brecht entitled The Buddha's Parable of the
Burning House. If one was in a burning building would one seriously start
asking questions about the weather outside? And if you offered help to
someone in such a situation and they did likewise what would you do or say?

How does the proverb go? Action speaks louder than...

When facing something monstrous how can one not take action? But even in
less intense circumstances I think it can be reasonable for the teacher to
take action without consultation. Actually I think one of the
responsibilities of those who would call themselves teachers is to stretch
and extend the perceptions and expectations of students. If the teacher does
not do this isn't the teacher putting learning in a box and in the process
creating the separation from reality I've mentioned above? Does a teacher
not have a duty and a responsibility to prepare lessons based upon any
knowledge and experience?

Perhaps everyone does.

I feel that hijacking a lesson in the way I did was in no way wrong. What
would be wrong, however, is if I claimed the right for myself alone. I think
any student should have the power to do likewise. But is this an Orwellian
case of some being more equal than others? Is it not easier for the teacher
to dominate and manipulate? I think this can be true, but it is not as
difficult for students to have their day as might be thought. For example,
this week I intended to continue a theme of hospitals with one group of
children and one of them simply said, "No!" That one word was enough for me
to stop and do something else.

If we practise reaching consensus, if we give choice and establish trust and
above all listen. then we can avoid the tyranny of the teacher yet also use
initiative and make choices. We can refuse to see the classroom as separate
from reality and act accordingly.


## Any excuse will serve a tyrant. ##

The whole business of separating the classroom from reality is a racket. Who
gains by such a divorce? Undoubtedly, those with power. The more one takes a
holistic approach the more one is likely to be asking questions, questions
that are likely to be critical of the status quo. This is especially the
case when the status quo benefits certain groups over others.

Piecemealing information is an effective way of legitimising control.
Compulsory schooling is an effective tool to channel thinking and create a
mentality of subservience. For example, as John Taylor Gatto has observed,
what breaking up the school day into lessons really teaches is indifference
to learning. Passion is unimportant. The school bell enforces the notion
that it is more important to follow authority than show an interest in

It all ties in with the banking method of education (to use a term from
Paulo Friere: http://www.infed.org/thinkers/et-freir.htm).
Information becomes a commodity. The role of the teacher is
control the flow of information and ensure that the students learn what
needs to be taught. The teacher deposits information into the student. The
volition and interest of the student is essentially insignificant compared
with maintaining the top-down structure.

Those who accept the model are labelled successful and may go on to take
dominant positions in the structure. Those who cannot deal with the model
are labelled failures and become legitimate targets for control and

Not only is the process undemocratic but what chance does genuine democracy
have of developing while this paradigm is dominant? Is it any wonder that
fascism and totalitarianism flourish so easily? Is it any wonder that
governments can get away with murder (and call it championing democracy)? Is
it any wonder that business schemes like terminator seeds can at all be
considered viable? Is it any wonder that the occasional vote for
occupational politicians can actually considered democracy?

As it stands now democracy is a sick joke. Foxy Loxy has it locked up in a
cave and is feeding on the carcass. Even if the sky is falling it's time to
get out of the cave. We can do it.


## The gods help them that help themselves. ##

The site continues to evolve. The sidebar is becoming more useful with more
links. More pages from the past have re-appeared including all the previous
editions of Wise Hat News. (the former Now's Co-operative Newsletter has yet
to follow).

There are several completely new pages. Here's an alphabetical list:

Death By Numbers - A pairwork sheet featuring big numbers

Death By Television - A Think Tank Article focusing on tragedy

Forest Escape - An addition to the Snow Escape page

Onara! - A list song about farting (requested!)

Preschool Travels 3 - A splog about teaching at schools for the young

Phonics Bed - A splog about phonics with a graphic for download

Seeds of Death - A song about Monsanto's terminator seeds

Sorry! - A song about saying sorry (requested!)

Whose Shoe? - A silly activity using shoes


## Never trust the advice of a man in difficulties. ##

Those of you who are familiar with the old site or have met me may well be
aware of the torn cloth. This is simply a piece of cloth of any colour torn
on all four sides and worn in a prominent place. The idea is to arouse
curiosity and provoke conversation about war and boycotting war. The aim is
to get people thinking about how their economic activity relates to war and
countries that make war.

The United States and Britain attacked Iraq after years of crippling
sanctions. The invasion and occupation have shredded the notion of
International Law. The invasion of Afghanistan should not be forgotten
either. Surely we should be doing what we can to resist such aggression? A
boycott seems the least we can do.

Actually the original torn cloth pages specifically questioned the term
boycott. Here is part of the FAQ that I wrote over a year ago:



This sounds negative to me. It sounds like a reaction against something. I
am calling for positive action to change the war system. Also I think it is
imperative that people decide what kind of economic action to take. I say
think carefully about your spending. Notice I'm not saying don't buy British
and American goods. Many people in these countries are against war. Don't
cut your nose to spit your face. Be practical, be conscious, be active.


Now I wonder if this is just so much flannel. Especially as I feel that in
some respects I have thrown in the towel.

I'll elaborate.

I've acquiesced to the buying of a trailer house. Several million yen will
end up going to the United States and into it's economy. When I wrote the
words above I was thinking about books and software, not houses.

It is true that the house is being built by Amish builders and it is true
that we refused kitchen appliances supplied by General Electric. It's also
true that I have not spent any money myself. Yet I wonder, especially when
groups like Boycott Bush are contemplating a dollar boycott.

From a philosophical point of view there is no difference between purchasing
a book and purchasing a house. From a practical point of view the difference
is huge. I half feel that while I haven't torn the letter of the Torn Cloth
I've shredded the spirit.

The trailer house won't arrive until August. Time will tell how I will feel
about it when it does. I also wonder whether I will have the temerity to put
the Torn Cloth pages back up on Wise Hat. I guess time will tell that as

## We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office. ##


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## Do not count your chickens before they are hatched. ##

(## Quotes this issue by Aesop)

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