ABC

Bipartisan Education Policies (they’re both bad!)

When I posted the above quote from the AGE as a  tweet above this morning it was because Mungo MacCallum’s piece in the AGE this morning, ‘Pandering to Prejudice’, struck a chord with me as to just how narrow the election debate has been, both in terms of the issues raised and the constituents it’s appealing to and how exasperating I’ve found it.

MacCallum’s piece begins:

What the punters of Rooty Hill want, they’ll get – no matter how irrational.

There are times when it appears that this election campaign is no more than a contest to win the hearts and minds of a handful of drunks in the front bar of a pub in the western suburbs of Sydney.

Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott acknowledged as much last night by locating their simultaneous community forums not in the town hall of a major city but in the RSL club of a suburb 42 kilometres west of Sydney’s CBD, Rooty Hill. The name, incidentally, dates to 1802 and refers to the roots of trees, not the other kind.

But whatever the proclivities of its residents, they are considered by the pollsters, spin-doctors, sociologists, astrologers and other necromancers who staff the campaign headquarters of the major parties to be the ultimate swingers – the ones whose votes on August 21 will determine who governs not only Rooty Hill, but the entire continent.

The town is conveniently centred on the electorates of Lindsay, Macquarie, and Greenway (marginal Labor) and Hughes (marginal Liberal) and is also believed to have a psychological and psephological affinity with other Labor marginals such as Robertson and Dobell on the NSW mid-north coast.

Assuming even a small proportion of these voters were listening last night, Gillard and Abbott had a lot to win or lose on their performances. Which makes it all the more perplexing that both leaders have spent most of the past 12 months treating them like mugs.

It is certainly true that the westies, as they are known with a combination of affection and derision to the commentariat, are not exactly political philosophers in the Platonic tradition. They are, in contemporary terms, the battlers – some very successful ones and some still striving to catch up, but driven more by self-interest than idealism.

They tend to get most of their news and views from the tabloidDaily Telegraph and the shock-jocks of commercial radio, neither of which are obsessively committed to intellectual diversity. But this does not mean that they should all be categorised as a sub-class of urban rednecks, incapable of rational thought.

Their battling includes a great desire for education, if not for themselves then certainly for their children. This is particularly so for the migrant communities in the west. It is easy to characterise some of the suburbs as ghettos, but the word implies a level of poverty that is simply not there. The Lebanese, Vietnamese and Chinese communities in the west are thriving and the second generation is rapidly integrating with the mainstream. But they are, or at least some are, protective of their new home ground, and this is where the less scrupulous politicians have scented an opening. John Howard’s notorious slogan, “We will decide who comes into this country and the circumstances in which they come”, resonated, not because it made sense, but because it confirmed the legitimacy of some immigrants over that of others.

This morning, Radio National did run two pieces on education, a piece on the ‘evolution of the education revolution‘ and a debate between Crean and Pyne on educational policy. Not a lot of depth, but interesting about the computers in schools program, broadband plans, performance based pay and my least favourite, the offensive ‘fast-tracking’ of teachers.  You can download the audio yourself from the links above.

What values?

Last night, coming home from parent-teacher-student conferences, I happened to catch Background Briefing on ABC radio, talking about some of the root causes of the economic crisis, and particularly the role that business beliefs and values (aka greed) played in the problems that arose.

The program was talking specifically too about the role of Harvard Business School in helping establish and promote the values of ‘profit maximisation’ at any cost that proved so devastating later on. I’m obviously no economist but I’ve blogged about the hypocrisy of some of the banks and businesses a little before and I’ve often been struck by the gulf between the values that schools promote and celebrate (diversity, collaboration, social justice, environmental awareness, positive participation) and the values lived by some of the business leaders in real life. (competitiveness, cut-throatness, profit over people, exploitation of resources etc)and how that collision is rolled out.

I’m reminded of a somewhat twee little book, which may contain a kernel of truth, called All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, which argues among other things that the simple social learning of sharing, helping each other etc, emphasised in pre-school, were the important enduring behaviours.

Last night’s program focused on just how some of the business values were shaped and developed and these extracts from the transcript give something of the flavour of the discussion.

Stephen Crittenden: Everyone we spoke to for this program was quick to point out that there are many very capable MBAs, and many good business schools offering sensible MBA courses.

But the number of failed CEOs with MBAs has not escaped notice. Stan O’Neill and John Thane at Merrill Lynch, Andy Hornby at HBOS, and the best-known of all, Enron’s Jeff Skilling who’s serving a 24-year jail sentence, and the former President of the United States, George W. Bush.

McGill University Professor Henry Mintzberg says what we call a financial crisis is really at its core a crisis of management, and not just a crisis of management, but a crisis of management culture.

Henry Mintzberg: It’s a syndrome, it’s a whole attitude. We’ve corrupted the whole practice of management, it’s utterly, utterly corrupt from top to bottom; not everybody, but much too much of it is corrupt. It is a cultural problem. And by the way, it’s largely an Anglo-Saxon problem I think. I think the worst of it is in the US, and second is the UK. I think Canada has been smarter. In England the UK for example, there’s a long history not just of MBAs but of accountants running everything. In other words, what you had is a detachment of people who know the business from people who are running the business.

Stephen Crittenden: Another critic of the MBA is Harvard Business School Professor Rakesh Khurana. He says the business schools have been teaching some pretty anti-social theories which their graduates go away and put into practice.

For example, Rakesh Khurana says it was the business schools who were the source of the theory of shareholder maximisation. They originated the idea of using derivatives and credit swaps to manage risk, and the idea that managers are so fundamentally self-interested that they can’t be trusted to do their jobs unless they’re provided with huge stock options.

Rakesh Khurana: What we taught were very simplified and not necessarily accurate models of human behaviour, that over time become self-fulfilling. And so there was this model that in fact by basically being self-interested to an extreme, that was the appropriate way to behave and act. And what that does over time, because this is not an innocent exercise, it actually over time because it is a professional school, comes to shape the identity of those individuals. That is, they begin to see themselves in those views. And one of the consequences of that is that if you look with respect to executive compensation for example, and the incentives around that, the view becomes that I actually have to be compensated to do the job I was hired for, and on top of that you have to bribe me with stock options to make sure I do that job. In no other occupation or profession is that part of the modus operandi.

Stephen Crittenden: This is also a story about how society educates its elites. Phillip Delves Broughton is a former Paris correspondent for Britain’s Daily Telegraph. He recently took two years off to do an MBA at Harvard Business School – HBS – and he’s just written a book about the experience. Here’s the man himself, reading from his book.

Phillip Delves Broughton: A second year student rose to welcome us, and to reiterate the importance of values to our future in business. He told us that simply by getting into HBS, ‘You’ve won’. From now on, it was all about how we decided to govern our lives. What he said would be repeated throughout my time at Harvard. Harvard Business School was a brand, as much as a school, and by attending, we were associating ourselves with one of the greatest brands in business. We were now part of an elite, and we should get used to it. I struggled with this idea. It seemed so arrogant on the part of the school, and somehow demeaning to those of us who had just arrived. Regardless of who we were when we arrived, or what we might learn or become over the next two years, simply by being accepted by HBS, we had entered an über-class. It was Harvard Business School, not anything that came before it, that conferred the ‘winner’ tag on all of us.

The full transcript of the conversation is here. You can also download the audio HERE.

21st Century Learning Discussion

With the annual Curriculum Corporation COnference circus in town last week, there was a lot of talk about national curriculum, at briefings I attended, and on the mainstream radio. Including this discussion on the Radio National program Life Matters.

Australia has a ’21st century economy with a 19th century education system’, Rupert Murdoch’s damning assessment in his Boyer lectures currently being broadcast on ABC Radio National. But is it fair?

Today a forum recorded at the National Curriculum Corporation Conference on what a 21st century education might actually look like.

The panel includes some of the top education reformers and innovators in the world. They discuss the current major reform of curriculum in Australia, skills and knowledge needed in the 21st century, how Hong Kong transformed its education system and the role of technology and innovation.

Michael Stevenson
Vice President of Global Education at Cisco Systems

Guests

Professor Barry McGaw
Head of the National Curriculum Board and Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute

Valerie Hannon
Director of Strategy for the UK Innovation Unit

Chris Wardlaw
Former Deputy Secretary of Education in Hong Kong

You can listen to the conversation HERE