[wisehat] Wise Hat News #8

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  • Date: Mon, 17 May 2004 22:01:37 +0900

Wise Hat News #8
17 May 2004

The online version is available at:

1. Democrazy
2. To the Death
3. Gaian Democracies
4. What's New?
5. Democracy as daily practise
6. Administrivia


**"The spirit of democracy is not a mechanical thing to be adjusted by
abolition of forms. It requires change of heart."**

Nights are falling later and frogs are croaking louder. The rice fields I
can see from my window are flooded with water. Around the World the trumpets
of democracy are brandished and the flags of conviviality are unfurled.
Underneath the water in the rice fields rice has been planted in the mud. I
wonder what the harvest will be.

In the United States up to one million voters could find themselves
disenfranchised as HAVA is implemented. HAVA stands for Help America Vote
Act. The voters who will loose their votes are black.

In South Africa it seems that the only party that can be elected is the ANC
and it is questionable what this means. In South Africa 13.6% of the
population are white and they control about 84% of the arable land. 40% of
the population live in poverty though South African businesses are marching
across the continent. Amongst other things South African businesses run the
national railroad in Cameroon, the national electricity company in Tanzania,
and manage the airports located in or near seven African capitals. But the
wealth these businesses generate isn't reaching the majority. I won't
mention Aids.

In India it is a fair prediction that whatever the outcome of the election
the poor will remain poor. In Sub-Sahara Africa the rate of malnourishment
in children is 20-25%. In India it is 53%. In 1991 the number of landless
labourers was 74.6 million. In 2001 it was 107.4 million. Nine out of ten
rural families and seven out of ten urban families spend as much as 60
percent of their income on meeting their basic food requirements. Meanwhile
the government is stockpiling food. It is also dismantling the Public
Distribution System that could be used to distribute food. The Government is
effectively spending more money on keeping people hungry than feeding them.

In Iraq, well, I can't imagine you think there is going to be democracy in
Iraq. But the question is, to what extent is there democracy anywhere? Sure,
there are many countries where it is possible to vote. And in many countries
there is even some chance that all the votes will be counted. But what
practical difference does it make? And what can we do about it?

This time around I'd like to focus a little bit upon democracy. Winston
Churchill described it as the worst form of government apart from all the
rest. But perhaps it is time to examine carefully and find a better one?



** "All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and
take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender.
For it is all give and no take." **

Way back around or before the time of the French Revolution Voltaire made
his famous pronouncement about disagreeing with a speaker, but defending to
the death their right to speak. We've come a long way since then, now it
seems it isn't that simple. For example, various countries have laws to
outlaw race crimes. These can include incitement to hatred, effectively
placing limitations upon what people are allowed to say in public. Then
there are defamation and libel laws that also limit what people can say. It
is not untrue to say that often free speech is a liberty that only the rich
and powerful can afford.

Certainly, large powerful media companies can make free speech difficult.
Two recent examples spring easily to mind. Currently, Michael Moore is
battling with Disney because Disney are preventing their subsidiary Miramax
from distributing Moore's latest film "Fahrenheit 911". His film looks at
the 'Saudi Connection' to the Bush family and the September 11th Twin Towers
Attack. Disney will have us believe that they don't want to distribute a
politically controversial film in an election year. What they won't tell us
is that they been touting for funds from a member of the same family
investigated by Moore.

See: http://www.fair.org/activism/disney-moore.html

Just before news of this broke there was another case of a company
interfering with programming. The Sinclair Broadcasting Group pulled the
plug on the April 30th edition of Nightline. The program was to have a list
read of all the soldiers who had died in Iraq. Sinclair deemed this to be
antiwar propaganda and instructed stations under its control not to air the

See: http://www.fair.org/activism/sinclair-nightline.html

One can argue that the right of free speech doesn't necessarily include the
right to broadcast it over a network. But such an argument would only make
sense if control of what was broadcast remained outside the control of
individuals and corporate interests. The Fair reports linked to above give
examples of the bias in the output of companies like Disney and Sinclair.

The situation is complex. As Media Lens (http://www.medialens.org/ ) often
points out, the corporate media are quick to dismiss the idea that they are
controlled either by their advertisers or their owners. But just because
control is seldom direct it does not mean that it is not there. Essentially
the structure of the system creates the constraints. Here's a link to an
overview by Noam Chomsky.


One of the points that Chomsky makes is that since the system is essentially
hierarchical one doesn't advance up the hierarchy unless one serves it. The
system is essentially selective. So no one needs to tell those advancing up
the hierarchy what is permissible and what is not. One simply won't be
successful unless one thinks the right way and accepts the legitimacy of the

I've recently felt this kind of pressure. A while back I was invited to
write Think Tank Articles for ELT News and have been doing so for several
months. Recently, however, I was asked to tone down the "political" content
of my articles. This was seen as a bludgeoning approach and one that upset
the balance of the column as a whole. I wasn't being kicked out. I was being
asked to comply. I was offered the possibility of a separate forum if I
"would rather not change my style".
The editor may well have a vision for the nature and scope of the column as
a whole. But this was never given to me before I accepted the job. If such a
stipulation had been laid down I'd never have bothered.

There are various issues here, such as how come some people get appointed as
experts and their words become weightier. Why does touching on political
issues upset the balance of the column and what is the purpose of the column
if not to expose people to ideas and views they might never consider, but
what I am focusing on now is how structures tend to promote conformity.

I guess my days as an expert at ELT News are numbered.


** "Democracy must in essence, therefore, mean the art and science of
mobilising the entire physical, economic and spiritual resources of all the
various sections of the people in the service of the common good of all." **

What is democracy, anyway? Is being able to cast a vote once or twice every
four or five years really democratic. If it is democratic why is it that the
richer are continuing to get richer and the poor poorer? If voting did
anything wouldn't we expect the reverse to be happening? Or are the mass of
people just masochistic? Or perhaps they are just constantly misinformed and
keep making the wrong choices?

It is certainly true that voting does make a difference to the fates of
individual politicians, but to what extent does it really give people
creative control over their own lives?

In the book "Gaian Democracies" (see

Roy Madron and John Jopling maintain that what we understand as democracy
now is really a 'Global Monetocracy'. The system is not designed to deliver
justice and sustainability. Rather injustice and unsustainability are
'emergent properties' of the system as a whole, the purpose of which is "the
continuation of money growth in order to maintain the current debt-based
money-system." Don't ask me to explain this, I've only just started reading
the book, but intuitively I feel this is true. I strongly recommend reading
this book!

One way I can suggest you test out this idea about maintaining the money
system is to start looking at the assumptions embedded in the news
headlines. I wrote the introduction to this newsletter last week as the
election in India was taking place. The count is in and the BJP coalition
has had a shock defeat. But even before the result was out BBC World News
was reporting that the result could have an effect upon the Indian economy.
But why should that be? If the economy was under real control of the people
and the election an expression of the people's will would one expect such a
knock-on effect? It's precisely because people have so little control that
capital can move as it does. And this is taken for granted. It is not

What is taken for granted, what goes unsaid can tell us quite a lot about
the nature of a system.

Another example is provided by ETJ. English Teachers Japan is a national
body for teachers in Japan. It has several yahoo lists. Two lists are
moderated and one is unmoderated. By their very nature lists require owners
and whoever is the owner has power over the list. But any individual owner
can still decide whether to exercise that power or not. An owner can allow
the group to set its own guidelines and rules. An owner can decide not to
use the power that the position of owner gives. When the owner does use the
power of the position the response of the other list members gives an
indication of what the list members think they are participating in.

It was my assumption that as a National Organisation ETJ would be
democratic. However, recently two events occurred that I consider
undemocratic. The first was when one member was removed from the unmoderated
list for a stinging abusive post. The second was when the ownership of
another list was transferred without consulting the membership of that list.
What was interesting to me was that there were no comments about the process
of either action. They were simply accepted as benevolent actions by the
group's founder. Or rather, because the actions were conducted by the
founder they were not given a second thought.
I'm over-suspicious of the role and necessity of leadership. However, one of
the themes of "Gaian Democracies" is the importance of liberating leaders. A
system has a tendency to be self-perpetuating. In a hierarchical society
power concentrates at the top. It follows that only if people in leadership
positions act in a liberating way will opportunities for change to that
society occur. But the liberating leader cannot create the change alone.

One example, of a liberating leader is Mikhail Gorbachev who moved to reform
the Soviet Union and end the Cold War. When a coup was organised by the
communist old guard thousands of young Russians rose to defend the new
structures Gorbachev had implemented. Unfortunately, there is a difference
between 'Social Defence' strategies and 'Social Change' strategies. Despite
installing Yelstin into power the Russian activists found themselves
betrayed. They had fought the wrong battle.

To reconfigure a meaningful human system Roy Madron and John Jopling state
that both a clear purpose and principles to enact that purpose are
essential. A clear purpose can be expressed in a single sentence. The
sentence should be so powerful that participants can agree that if the
purpose is achieved their lives would have meaning.

What purpose would give meaning to your life, and if you teach, what purpose
would give and maintain meaning for your teaching? For myself I haven't
formulated it as a sentence yet, but the key, the purpose is freedom.


** "An ounce of practice is worth more then tons of preaching." **

I'm a long way from redesigning the site but it's been given a face-lift.
Here is a list of new additions. Hope I got them all, my apologies if I
repeat anything:


I've started an online diary describing my experiences at the four
preschools I 'teach' at. No-idea if it is of interest, but here's the link:


The Only Thing - written for the Winter 2004 Kagan Online Magazine. I
reminisce about my time in secondary school and introduce a new Co-operative
Learning Structure.

Think Tank (January 2004): It will Pass. Proverbs for Teaching

Think Tank (February 2004): Being Purposeful. Children deserve as much
respect as adults do.

Think Tank (April 2004): What Can I Say? The Real World in the Classroom?

Think Tank (March 2004): Democracy in the Classroom


Monster Bingo: Combines Writing and reading practise with board thumping

Shark Escape: A first attempt at a computer game. Fast reading is essential.


Both, One, Neither: A pairwork exercise that may lay the groundwork for
doing Spot the Difference exercises.

Spot the Difference: An example set including two pictures and a
corresponding worksheet

Wordsearch - Magic E: Four Sheets and some thoughts on how to introduce the


** "The first condition of humaneness is a little humility and a little
diffidence about the correctness of one's conduct and a little
receptiveness." **
I cringe when I think about the lack of democracy in my own classrooms. Even
that phrase is suspect. I could have written, "in the classrooms where I
teach" but that was an after-thought. How is it that democracy is so often
an after-thought? One reason, I guess is that we are used to 'command and
control' classrooms. I guess it is the norm for teachers to control their
classrooms and give commands. This goes hand in hand with the 'empty vessel'
analogy. Students lack knowledge and it is the teacher's job to provide it.

Of course even if a student's knowledge of a subject is nil (and this is
almost impossibility if the student has chosen the subject) each student has
a unique set of experiences and interests. No student is empty and being
living and breathing will have at any given time a fluctuating mood and
interest. Even the most diligent student may have a low energy level or be
distracted or have an equilibrium disrupted by other events. Who is the
teacher to make decisions for the student?
One answer is the person with the most wisdom in the room, and when teaching
children this is almost always the case. What use is experience if we don't
call on it?

But there is a difference between calling on one's experience and
force-feeding it down another's throat. I think part of the job of teaching
is to help students discover things that they might otherwise miss. I think
it is to help students to understand the choices available and weigh up the
likely outcomes of those choices. I think it is to help students to find
questions and to widen their horizons. Perhaps this sounds like I am talking
more about mentoring than teaching. Nothing I've mentioned has anything to
do with subject-knowledge. Somehow, I think that is of little importance. I
mean, if a student has passion for a subject then that student will be able
to learn. Too often, though, teachers are put in the position of having to
teach students who have no real passion for the subject. Why is this, and
why is it acceptable? I guess because on a day to day basis democracy is so
little a part of our lives.

If we lived and breathed democracy and choice would compulsory schooling in
any way be palatable?

This week an observer will be present in one of my classes. I asked the
three children concerned whether it would be OK if another teacher came and
watched. They were nonplussed, perhaps because the question was outside
their experience. Meanwhile, tomorrow a boy will come and join another class
to see what he makes of it. But what about what the existing members make of
him? Should students be freely able to join any class without the say-so of
the existing class members? Even to raise such a question seems strange, but
isn't it an important one?

A while back I mentioned that I had started to do some fantasy role-playing
in with a couple of boys. One of the boys wasn't keen and so the
experimented ended. Last week we had a meeting. I was really unhappy with
how the class was going, or rather with the attitude I was perceiving. They
would come and do some English with me for five minutes and then chase each
other around the table or throw balls at each other or root around in a box
and pull out some toys. Even when they sat down with me their focus was

A few times I attempted to join in with them but wasn't satisfied. They were
off in their own world communicating in Japanese and English couldn't get a
look in. I decided that I just didn't want to participate in the kind of
class we had, hence the meeting.

What surprised me was that both had clear ideas about why they wanted to
learn English. I had the impression that perhaps they were doing it to
please their parents but, while this was a factor, I concluded that it wasn
't the dominant one.

We decided to create a four-part lesson. In one part we will work on a
puppet show. In another we will use a textbook. In a third part we will
prepare for taking the Eiken test. The other part will see us playing board
games. It remains to be seen how much additional focus this structure will

Of course, the impetus for the meeting came from me, the teacher. I need to
figure out a way so that it is clear that everyone has this right. Read this


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** "There is no human institution but has its dangers. The greater the
institution, the greater the chances of abuse. Democracy is a great
institution and therefore it is liable to be greatly abused. The remedy
therefore is not avoidance of democracy but reduction of the possibility of
abuse to a minimum." **

(Quotes this issue by Mahatma Gandhi)

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