It doesn’t seem to matter much where I travel in my mind lately, in the end I nudge up against Illich and his sense of “corruptio optimi pessima” - the corruption of the best is the worst of all.
The Magnet and I are working with a group of Auckland teachers planning a term long inquiry framed by the question - From where will the Tui sing?
The learning experiences planned for students explore connections and interdependencies [relationships if you like] past, present and future, between and within people, communities, environments, and ecosystems.
In attempting to recreate an environment (regenerate native bush) to bring back the Tui, students must look past simple “what does it eat?” questions, to more complex “what does it need for successful sex?" questions. For it is only when sexual activity occurs – all that nesting, mating, egg laying and chick rearing - that we can feel confident that any return of the Tui’s song is more than a flash of faddish edu_enviro_activism.
It is this “How can we alter our surroundings?” and “How do our surroundings alter us?” thinking that interests me. I am always trying to create conditions for better learning outcomes for kids – altering the surroundings as it were – BUT I have to admit that the surroundings of school also alter me.
Illich argued “the corruption of the best is the worst” about Christianity where he claimed “a community of spirit” has been betrayed by church systems and methods designed to control,institutionalise, and manage Christian vocation. The Rivers North of the Future 2005
“In the early years of Christianity it was customary in a Christian household to have an extra mattress, a bit of candle and some dry bread in case the Lord Jesus should knock at the door in the form of a stranger without a roof.” p54
Over time the role of Christian hospitality was replaced by Church based, and then state based care giving institutions - free choice became a task - “the free choice of the householder has become the task of an institution”.
In the 21st century Christian “hospitality” is too often degraded and replaced by the provision/ funding of welfare institutions by the state. Our 21st century learners know little of hospitality and everything about the “service industries’ - know only the institutionalisation of neighbourliness
The “agencies and charitable institutions” we create for those whom we leave unattended make us comfortable about abandoning the “I thou” relationship. We absolve ourselves from the responsibility of “hospitality” and leave the decisions over who will access these agencies to others.
Corruption through institutionalisation, control, and management can be applied to more than neighbourliness.
Corruption features in Doc Searle’s recent post where Dave Rogers claims that competition for commodities in the context of VRM and Web 2.0 environments is consuming us – blinding us from what Illich would call the “I thou” relationship.
None of this VRM, or Web 2.0 bullshit is important. It's all crap. You and I have a certain amount of time here in this life. "Changing the world," isn't why we're here. That's just a line of shit they feed you, so that your time and attention and energy are devoted to serving the needs of the competing entities. We aren't consumers, we are the consumed.
All we have, all we'll ever have, in this brief life is each other. All of our virtues, all of them, are compromised and corrupted each and every day in the name of competition. Maybe not by everybody, every day, but all of them are, every day. And because there is no logical end to competition, it will only continue to get worse.
Everything that we somehow, in our heart of hearts, still think really matters, is being lost, little by little, every day as we compete with one another over nearly everything. Not the least of which are these stupid arguments about bullshit internet technologies, and how to get along better with the people who want to sell you something.
Illich has long argued that when education/ health is seen as a commodity we alter the “I thou” relationship - Roger's sense of "our time and attention and energy” is diverted to “fulfil self generated needs”. In education you only need to read the Statement of Intent 2007-2012 MoE Government Themes and Ministerial Priorities Ch 2 p18 to appreciate that the NZ Government sees knowledge as a “commodity” - as something to be marketed to increase our competitive economy in the world.
“Economic Transformation is about continuing our journey towards a thriving and internationally competitive economy with a highly skilled workforce. The education system is a critical contributor to economic development. It is responsible for equipping New Zealanders with the skills and competencies needed for a productive, adaptable workforce in an increasingly globalised world.” pdf download
Geetha Narayanan is alert to what happens when the importance of knowledge is described in terms of competitive advantage/commodity
Further, this pressure is resulting in a disconnect between the means and ends of education.
The larger democratic ideals of social justice, of interdependence and of co-evolution through cooperation and collaboration are being increasingly marginalised in favour of greater accountability through testing, the drive towards nationalised curriculum, which suffers from a ‘one size fits all’ mindset, and the need to develop competitive advantages in a networked world that has a globalised economic structure.
All this thinking interests me because when I work in schools I perpetuate the institutionalised commodity – I feed the tui rather than pointing it somewhere where it can nest, mate and raise chicks. I support an institution that has been designed to always be needed.
I want to believe that we have escaped a corruption of purpose when we invent different ways of “doing school”, I talk about it enough, but I suspect that despite good intentions any alternative delivery system for “education” in New Zealand must necessarily become an institution to manage and control. As such new ways of “school” in all its imaginings must treat learning as a commodity, and function primarily to fulfil self-generated needs.
"Corruption" in my view is the subtle pressure to take views or positions because of the financial reward they will bring you. "Subtle" in the sense that one's often not even aware of the influence.
Planting an area in harakeke , kowhai and Kaka beak to attract the nectar eaters is analagous to setting up an institution for learning, setting up a school - in that it does not acknowledge that no amount of institutionally controlled and funded planting will result in a self sustaining Tui population if we do not also bring certain death to the rats who disrupt the Tui's reproductive cycle.
The profession of teaching in school, like planting harakeke for Tui without eradicating the rats, it represents an institutionalised dependency (of learning), and as such represents “corruptio optimi pessima”.
And I am part of this