remembering martin luther king jr

By robynjay On January 19th, 2010

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

Yesterday was MLK day and I’m commemorating his life and work by listening to his famous speech once again. This was 1963 and I was not quite 4 years old. We still have a long way to go to achieve King’s dream.

TED Talks has also republished the video. Their bio of King says

” Son of a Baptist minister, student of theology, adherent of Ghandi’s teachings and the writings of Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King Jr. brought his supreme oratory skill and a visionary message of nonviolence to the fledgling African-American civil rights movement, leading it to historic influence. He spearheaded the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, spurring the United States Supreme Court to declare segregated busses unconstitutional, and the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech to a gathering of supporters 200,000-strong.
In the early ’60s, King’s all-encompassing message — addressed to men and women of all different creeds — drew support from major leaders, among them President John F. Kennedy, and laypeople of every color. The youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize (he accepted the award in 1964, at age 35), King is remembered for his unbending commitment to the improvement of the lives of all people, even as the stormy ’60s brought out leaders promoting more radical, separatist and militant ideology. His hopeful voice came to fill the hearts of millions, and still strongly resonates today, as citizens in America and elsewhere enjoy a world he envisioned but didn’t live to see: more equal, more whole. ”

King was assassinated in 1968.

education: right or privilege?

By robynjay On January 18th, 2010

We now live in a country where the right to a free, general education pretty much ends at age 18. Young people have known no different. They are excluded from improving their skills if money is tight, and are burdened with debt at the time of their lives when they need those savings most. Sure places like TAFE offer subsidies but its far from ideal. Education now equals money earning citizens not enriched lives.

Recent discussions by Mike Bogle and Simon McIntyre reflect a reaction to this contemporary position.

When I was 19 I undertook a free undergraduate higher education degree.  In my late 20s, with little money, I enjoyed so called ‘hobby’ courses at TAFE. If I paid fees, they were minimal. In my mid-30s I worked in the field of adult literacy and numeracy. The students who attended could choose whether to pursue a qualification (generally their Yr 10 equivalent) or simply to focus on their particular need. For people with a disability this was often money focused, for youth – getting their licence, and for older people-being able to read to their children and grand-children. The important thing was that they had a choice, and it was free – no question.

Under the Howard Government in Australia, the education of its citizens became aligned to skilling up workers. The days when a grandmother could gain free informal but professional literacy support disappeared. By 2006 NO provider in NSW was able to offer literacy assistance to adults that was not aligned to a qualification. From that time on grandmothers and people with intellectual disabilities were force fed through a qualification encompassing competencies they would never use, for a piece of paper they did not care about.

During this period we also saw Adult & Community Education (ACE) colleges move from centres of community enrichment and wellbeing, to a mix of so called ‘hobby’ courses and vocational education and training (VET) to a situation where, if non-accredited courses are run they come hand in hand with a pretty hefty fee to offset the lack of adequate Government support. Number crunching became the requirement, and creative mapping of personal enrichment courses to potential VET outcomes and future careers was what enabled centres to stay afloat but still meet community needs. And quite rightly so.  A creative drawing course can easily inspire an individual to take up a career in design etc. The benefits of engagement in learning for individuals and their families is well documented.

Post-compulsory non-accredited education in Australia is now only afforded to those with superfluous income, OR those with the skills and motivation to establish and manage their own personal learning environment (PLE). In terms of the latter, not many have those capabilities.
Set this against a changing world where working lives are complex and ever changing; where the need for generic skills of resilience, flexibility, knowing how to learn and locate information, team work, innovation far outweigh specific practical skills. In the VET world leaders are documenting the need for students to be supported in picking and choosing from multiple qualifications, with a resulting portfolio of competencies rather than a rigid qualification. The needs are changing but organisational structures are NOT.

Higher Education has the potential to truly focus on community education and enrichment but is totally hamstrung by archaic power structures, and an elitism that will be its undoing. It is of course at the mercy of Government funding and priorities place it’s staff on a treadmill of research and time demands that distract from innovative teaching, but it’s whole position is outdated and irrelevant.

In terms of informal opportunities at a University level  I think there are other options apart from trying to squeeze people into a mould.  They say courses are full but I have not yet seen a lecture theatre or tutorial room that does not have any empty seats. What would it take to offer a small number of places for people to sit in? Imagine the benefits of having mature community members engage in conversations with enrolled students. No assessments, no grades. For young people it’s a good opportunity to decide whether the course is indeed for them; for older community members it’s an opportunity for extending their skills and sharing their wisdom. People attend actual courses, rather than simply watching recorded video because they seek interaction; this would offer that.

So the issue that started all this was what to offer young people who miss out on their university place. I’m going to be quite radical here and suggest that they simply should get out in the world, travel and work, and have time to think about their true interests. Too many young people move straight from 13 years at school to another 4+ at university. They make bad choices based on parents and school content and accrue debt as a result.The worst result is for these individuals to accept other courses simply because they are all they could gain entry to. I saw this in Education and the result is a bunch of mediocre teachers. I’ve seen it in Science where students have gained entry with an entrance score of less than 50/100.

If you build it, they don’t always come…

The desire for ‘a degree’ is driven by a society where recruitment and progression is based on those bits of paper instead of real skills. Universities are a classic case in point; where a PhD in an obscure topic is deemed more important than actual capability and experience for jobs that do not require high level research. Higher level positions are almost unobtainable unless you’re a life long academic and yet the pay rates offered are abysmal. It’s no wonder they cannot get good staff when needed.

Universities need to get their act together if they wish to remain relevant in the middle to long term. They need to focus on quality teaching, innovation, openness, community connections and education in its truest sense. They need to recognise the skills and knowledge that people bring to a course as a result of life. And they need to be seen as a flexible and welcoming place for conversation and learning. We are now in a space where students will vote with their feet and pick and choose from the talented educators who typically are open and accessible. Perhaps what is need is a new model of educational organisation; one for the future.

cc licensed flickr photo by Seryo