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Analysis of the Kindler Review

The relevance of analysing a particular review of "Learning from one another" is not only restricted to the cognitive structures presented in the text, it extends to the wider scope of Australian and/or Western society and how it views its interactions with Islam.

A major part of that interaction is the war conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan. Neither country has settled into a state envisioned by the US and its allies, but in Afghanistan the situation is far more confronting. In tandem with its destructive nature we have an increasing reluctance by Western constituents to engage and even arguments among the military are beginning to emerge.

The fundamental demographic conditions in Afghanistan can be compared to those in Iraq - see the extent to which the assessment by the US and by the British regarding the latter compares with Otoom's.

In addition Afghanistan presents a problem in other aspects. The West's moralistic attitude towards illegal drugs enables the Taliban to reap huge profits for its own war machinery which the West has to spend billions combating; political correctness in the West prevents a realistic assessment of the dangers of Islamic influence on its own turf but allows transferring its response to what it terms "Islamist terrorism" far away from its borders; rather than removing the influence of Islam from its home ground the perception is cultivated that waging a war in Afghanistan would somehow prevent terrorists from acting locally in the US, Europe and Australia, without consideration given to the fact that most of the attacks come from within those countries and significant terrorist training camps exist not in Afghanistan but in Pakistan. If terrorist acts are resourced from Afghanistan the profits from the drug trade makes their financing possible. Furthermore, prolonging the war beyond the immediate aims of a military exercise without achieving a conclusive result merely allows the Taliban to learn from their enemy. Imagine what kind of local security those billions of dollars spent in Asia could buy in our countries!

Assessing the situation over there in terms of its functionalities reveals the issues from the very beginning (which is the reason why they have been already discussed in "On the origin of Mind", written between 2000 and 2003). Relying on content only means having to wait until it happens, and so after nine years chasing an elusive peace there are now an increasing number of commentators who are able to refer to the wider aspects of the war; one example being Terry Sweetman's article (Courier Mail, 26 Jun 2010, "Time to exit the war").

The review discussed below represents an example of the Western mindset having been modified to comply with its general attitude of appeasement towards outsiders and the accompanying tendency to belittle its own strengths. The mindset exhibits the characteristics of a system in decay - loss of one's own identity and substituting it with another, the diminishing of vigour and the reinterpretation of language making it increasingly difficult to communicate essential information. That culture of decay has created a set of local demographics which feed on each other; that is to say, satisfying themselves at the expense of the rest of society. Unfortunately, the realm of academia has become part of it.


An analysis of a review of "Learning from one another"

Dr Michael Kindler, Manager for Curriculum Support at the Department of Education & Training in Canberra, has offered a review of the teachers manual "Learning from one another" (LFOA). What follows is an analysis of his review.

Words are important. At the risk of sounding trivial, words are used by the mind to evoke an imagery built through their structures and the links they establish with already existing knowledge we have acquired along the way. First and foremost they give meaning to what we hear or read because of their power to create a landscape in our minds. Often they span a number of inflections, sometimes subtly differentiated branch-offs from the stem, much like a meadow unfolds into various patches as we get closer.

Those patches can be more important than we realise. The subtlety of a tone may not be expressed openly but could nevertheless be the reason a certain expression has been chosen due to its embeddedness within the semantic structure held by the writer. We may read about a meadow, but we learn about this particular meadow because the author found something special among one of its patches without referring to the latter as such.

The title of the review, "Is Australia a harmonious knowledge economy?", evokes curiosity prompted by the question. But 'economy' covers more than a system of production and distribution and consumption. Immediately following the most common interpretation we find references to 'efficiency', 'frugality', 'careful use' and even 'thrift'.

Does Dr Kindler ask us to consider whether Australia uses information frugally in order to be harmonious, should we question whether Australians are orderly in their thrift and therefore still - or no longer - harmonious?

Or could it be that LFOA is in fact rather frugal with its information which subsequently segued into Dr Kindler's overall perception of the text?

He writes, "Recent waves of migration are adding new and different cultural values to Australia which, if we are open to learning about them, will indelibly enrich all our lives and bring as yet unimagined creativity and prosperity". These new and different cultural values will, so he tells us, enhance our creativity and prosperity provided we import them - the latter being the stated consequence of the former. What he does not mention is the possibility of one particular value being contrary to another; surely so many events around the world are testimony to just that. Given such clashes the ingestion of all values regardless would not necessarily result in richness and prosperity but could create the exact opposite.

Perhaps he sees differences as something positive per se and commonality as a negative. Why else would he say, "Gone are the days of English as the mono-imperial and economically dominant global language. Chinese, Arabic and Spanish have replaced the number of English internet sites, and gone is the tyranny of distance, thanks to vastly faster and improved Information and Communication Technology."

To examine languages in terms of their inherent sustainability goes beyond the present scope. Suffice to say that the more flexible and adaptive a language is, the more will it be capable of holding its own against others. English may have been spread across the globe during the age of colonialism, but since then its propensity for importing expressions from anywhere else made it the lingua franca of today. For that reason it also enables people from different backgrounds to understand each other, which, by the way, is one factor that does promote richness and creativity - especially since technology makes the real-time connection among them all so easy.

"This teaching resource is a well researched, well prepared and well thought-through set of lessons and workshops aimed to promote intercultural understanding in a contemporary world." By that sentence the reader would expect great detail contributing to the assumed understanding. Alas, LFOA falls short on all counts as a perusal would quickly demonstrate; the reader of this review has been mislead.

Dr Kindler's assertion, "The activities are geared to increase knowledge of what is still relatively unknown in most Australian classrooms", is similarly off the mark. Reading LFOA shows a clear lack of explanation of all those unknowns beyond a cursory listing of these items and no more.

Once again we are warned against commonality: "These classrooms have been historically characterised by an Anglo-Saxon and Christian-centric cultural approach dominated by English as the language of instruction". Wouldn't pupils in New South Wales learn about their state first and the rest later, wouldn't classes in Shanghai focus on their city first, and so on, and would they not learn about their history under the auspices of China rather than France or India or Australia for that matter?

Given that LFOA steers well away from providing a direct translation of Arabic terms the lauded linguistic diversity doesn't exist anyway, even assuming Australian children would find being spoken to in Arabic helpful.

Dr Kindler's choice of words in "The Diaspora of Muslims..." could be due to a negligent use of the word 'Diaspora' or represents an intended deflection of what the spreading of Islamic actually meant. The word is understood to mean a 'dispersion' (especially one suffered by the Jews - note the submersed element of victimhood smuggled in here), in other words an act committed by someone upon someone else. Muslims were not dispersed, they actively invaded others and dispersed those.

Writing "...Asia literacy..." uses a metaphor to circumscribe a more than superficial understanding of Asia, just as 'English literacy' goes beyond the mere vocabulary. If this is what is meant LFOA does not, as mentioned already, provide a deeper knowledge about Asia, it simply uses a collection of keywords without any attempt to allow their intended users to place them in a productive context.

The sentence, "Did you know that Australian secondary schools currently spend the least amount of time learning languages other than English of all advanced industrial OECD member nations?", firstly uses a negative as representative of ourselves in order to elevate the other, i.e. LFOA, by default. Secondly, the metaphor meant to link to a paucity in teaching other languages to the manual is misplaced in this case because LFOA explicitly states that accurate translations from Arabic are not its aim.

Sometimes an expression has a sufficient semantic distance to be meaningful to more than one stem (a case of linguistic homology). "Remaining ignorant of Islam is a threat to Australia..." is one such example. In Dr Kindler's view not being informed about Islam represents a threat to the assumed value of indiscriminate cultural absorption. Since that view can be challenged (see above) the alternative is to see 'threat' as something related to a lack of understanding about a danger. Since Islam does contain problematic aspects Dr Kindler's wording is still correct, albeit under different circumstances.

If the superficial approach in LFOA is necessary in order to gloss over so much that would be unpalatable otherwise, "...without relentless promotion of intercultural understanding and knowledge of other cultures..." attains a rather sinister aspect. The promotion would indeed have to be "relentless" for it to be effective.

Saying "...our future will remain imperilled..." falls into the same category as "Remaining ignorant of Islam is a threat to Australia...", discussed previously. As it is a repetition of type it can be assumed Dr Kindler has more than a passing interest in obfuscating what does and does not present a threat to us.

"Instead of relying on sensationalist and terrorist focussed media perceptions of what is often loosely, even erroneously, described as Muslim in character..." are weasel words that hide the action they are meant to stand for. If one out of ten terrorist attacks is perpetrated by a Muslim it could be called a coincidence, but if nine out of ten are committed by Muslims describing them as "Muslim in character" is not erroneous - it is to the point.

The subconscious internalisation of LOFA's nature and now dressed in the tendentious appeasement practised throughout the review shows itself in the statement, "[LFOA] goes a very long way to develop a more variegated...understanding of Islam...". Given that 'variegate' means 'to make varied in appearance or colour', what Dr Kindler really means is that LFOA has varied the concept of Islam to make it suitable for inexperienced children. Hence such things as halal food, dogmatic habits, etc. have been changed in terms of their appearance to be embraced more easily by the rest of us.

Assuming that, in the interest of multicultural diversity, it would be an advantage to consider "how to get students to think outside the envelope of their immediate experiences" then one would equally have to assume the same for Muslims and their pervasive codes, particularly when it is them who are the newcomers.

When the review tells us, "With rich illustrations of Islamic contributions to science and mathematics..." and "there are activities to learn about such things as Afghan camels in Australia, or the historical significance of the Crusades as seen through Muslim eyes", one has to wonder what, in the absence of any illustrations regarding science and mathematics, let alone rich ones, and in the face of hardly any history surrounding the introduction of the camels the reader is meant to expect from that kind of description.

Nor is the reference to finding Mecca intended as a geographic exercise ("The geographic significance of Mecca"). In the context of a sugar-coated introduction to Islam it becomes a politico-religious manipulation under the surface; as such it would achieve the same result no matter which way little Johnny points his finger.

Once again Dr Kindler's choice of words reveals the real motive behind this manual: "This resource is not a value-add to Australian classrooms: it is an essential tool with which to address the requirements of a 21st century curriculum...". So LFOA is not meant as an additional text alongside so many others, but one that should replace current material in favour of its own brand of representation.

"Even the Islamic approach to sex and physical education and Sharia finance are explained" - another mellifluous wave of the hand to shoo in a subject matter without needing to disclose its sheer complexity.

Sentences such as "What I liked best about this part was the cross-curricular perspectives" and "This explores central questions of identity, citizenship, role models, peer pressure and the role of parents and communities" are yet more weasel words so beloved by top-heavy academics who are intent upon dressing up emptiness as substance; there is nothing in LFOA that has been "explored" beyond a simplistic touch here and there.

If the Federation of Australasian Philosophy in Schools Association (of which Dr Kindler is a member) really promotes teaching how to think in schools, then using "Learning from one another" as a desirable example represents an unsettling attempt at reconstructing the meaning of 'thinking', quite apart from the message the Department of Education & Training in Canberra must get from its Curriculum Support division.

Overall that review shows how a person's thought structures not only determine their perception of the world but also make them choose their material to cultivate their own cognitive affinities. The review is the product of a mutual admiration society willing to admit anyone who knows how to play the game of smiling nods.

26 Jun 2010

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