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I’ve been doing some work recently on national and regional qualifications frameworks. A big thing, for me, is what I’m calling “horizontal mobility.” I see nearly all around me, and in my own life, people trying moving between careers as much as they’re trying to move up careers. How we frame “qualifications”, in my mind, is deeply flawed and often serve as pointless barriers. In a few months, I’ll be qualified to teach and develop teacher training courses but not qualified to teach in my school system. 

Second, I’m increasingly of the belief that problems we see in work performance are related to the systems themselves far more than a lack of specific skills. Does the US have an shortage of engineers or a shortage of engineers willing to work for a low price? Are service sector employees rude because they’re not paid well and their managers are rude to them or because they simply don’t know how to be empathetic? Is there an entrepreneurialism crises because people don’t know how to start businesses or because competing with Wal Mart is impossible and the police would chase most unlicensed, unregistered vendors off the street?

Getting back to teacher education specifically, I found myself mostly agreeing with the claim by Bill Keller in today’s New York Times that teacher training programs in most universities “have treated education programs as ‘cash cows.'” Why? 

 … they have plenty of applicants willing to pay full tuition, the programs are relatively cheap to run, and they are accountable to no one except accrediting agencies run by, you guessed it, education schools. It’s a contented cartel. 

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taliban-execution
Like everyone, I am stunned by the elegance of Malala’s words. I am inspired by her bravery. There’s nothing that she says that any modern, progressive person wouldn’t agree with and cheer on. That said, something hasn’t sat right with me about how and why she’s been placed on the international pedestal. Primarily, I am concerned that how some people are framing her specific situation, as horrific and inspiring as it is, detracts us from some larger issues in educational development and simplifies the drive towards gender equity in the South in ways that might ultimately harm progress.

I get there by invoking Godwin’s Law, which in short form states that when Nazi’s or Hitler come up in a discussion or a debate, the discussion is effectively over. Nazi’s are so unambiguously evil that they can’t be accurately compared to much of anything else today. Unless one is comparing genocide to genocide, and fascism to fascism, it indicates that the conversation has reached a point where all nuance has been lost. It’s a very useful heuristic that informs us about the quality of a discussion.

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Agriculture Asia China Development Economics Inequality Resilience Uncategorized

This is a follow-up to Reading Freire: Prefaces and Introduction. See all Reading Freire posts here.

When I was deep in my literature review of rural politics in the Philippines, a friend with ties to radical leftists in the Philippines mentioned a book, a sort of bible for people of his persuasion, called Philippine Society and Revolution by Amado Guerrero. It was an appealing read, as I have (sort of) a soft spot for the New People’s Army (NPA) in the Philippines. I had heard from many people in the Philippines, especially the poor, that Philippine Army was an ‘enemy of the people’ and that the NPA at least had the right intentions. I’m also well aware that the existing social order of the Philippines is held together partly by violence.

But like the first chapter of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, I couldn’t finish Philippine Society and Revolution. Both stand as historical or anthropological source material more than any sort of social science. As social science, it’s simply wrong. The models employed do not fit the real, empirical world I live in. They’re rife with intellectual shortcuts and expounding the most extreme cases as being the typical scenario. The primary shortcut is to find a single target struggle against, anthropomorphizing an Other that’s responsible for a wide range of problems. For Freire, it’s the unnamed Oppressor. For Guerrero, it’s the United States.

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This is the first section of a Reading Freire series.

One of the ‘a-ha!’  moments of my academic career came during a crusades class during my undergraduate years where I was saddled with some dozen or so books on the reading list. I was frozen with terror throughout much of the first quarter of that class, until the professor told me I wasn’t expected to read all of them. I was to mine them for the information I needed. I think it was at about that time I developed my “read the introduction, read the conclusion, go back and read the interior parts that go over the parts you either don’t agree with, don’t understand, or just want to learn more about” formula.

That later evolved into a second strategy of coming to rely on secondary sources – people describing what other writers are arguing. Why wade through the density of Foucault or Bourdieu when you can have someone else unpack the theory spread over several books into a few chapters? This sits alongside a notion that no one idea is so brilliant that it takes more than a hundred pages to explain.

But I’m walking back a little bit on that now. There are a few books that I want to read in full. The one that has stood out the most is Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. My thesis right is now about Southern farmers mired in poverty. How could I justify a PhD with a subject like that without seriously engaging the totality of Freire? And so I downloaded a PDF and the journey begins. And I’ve decided to more-or-less live blog it.

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I’ll be temporarily hosting the New York Times story on Wen Jiaboa’s family wealth on my website due to the NYT.com website being blocked in China now. The Chinese version of the story is on top, the English version is at the bottom.

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Probably a good place to start this is with The Wall Street Journal comparing Hong Kong’s recent typhoon to Beijing’s flood, under the headline Hong Kong vs. Beijing: A Tale of Two Storms:

At least 37 people died in fierce rains that lashed China’s capital city over the weekend, prompting flooding in various neighborhoods and structures to collapse in the downpour. Many residents were highly critical of how the city’s infrastructure failed to successfully weather the storm, with many asking why the city, with its all its investments in dazzling Olympic facilities, could still experience such deadly floods. By contrast in Hong Kong, while a handful of scattered flooding incidents were reported, Vicente appeared to pass through without doing any serious damage.

Let’s leave aside that these were two very different storms. Though wet, tropical cyclones are mostly wind events and most damage comes from storm surge. Hong Kong never went over an Amber rainstorm signal during the recent typhoon. That’s the lowest of the three rainstorm signals.

Let’s instead talk about comparisons and expectations.

Flooding in Yunnan, photo by Dennis Kruyt http://www.flickr.com/photos/phantagom/

Before I left to teach English in China, I sat on the porch with one of my best friends who had recruited me into the job and was trying to cover every base, so to speak, of what to expect in China. I tried getting a fifteen-minute Chinese lesson and walked away with “ni hao” and “xie xie.” I also asked her what her best piece of advice was: let China be China.

I quizzed her on what she meant by that. “Don’t judge China by American standards. Also, you’re not going to change anything. Just accept it for what it is,” she told me. And it was great advise. I’ve also come to understand it works both ways – don’t judge China by American standards, but also be careful not to expect China to be like other “third world”/developing countries. I had at least two teachers in my employ who flew into Shenzhen expecting rice fields and conical hats. I personally expected a police state and endless grey factories. Beyond the superficial, there are a lot of similar issues that look and behave differently in China than they do elsewhere.

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