To a month of links and thinking differently;
And a little bit of noise—
I hope it’s been some fun…
I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained…
Herbert George Wells, War of the Worlds
“For years, the debate about immigration has been dominated by “experts”.
“Complex and inaccessible data was used by remote academics. They crunched the numbers and were left to draw the conclusions. The rest of us had to take it on trust that the facts sustained what they told us.”
The Guardian’s Mary Dejevsky agrees somewhat and tells us [the] immigration debate is not just about numbers … We have to consider people’s daily experience too:
“[The] Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration at University College London, found arrivals from the European economic area (EEA) since 1995 to have been even more of an asset to the UK economy than previously thought. They had, it calculated, contributed £8.8bn over the 15 years between 1995 and 2011, and if you considered only the past 10 years, the balance was even more positive.”
However Steve Doughty from The Daily Mail, read the same report and interpreted it slightly differently, claiming that :
“Immigrants from outside Europe have taken £100billion more in benefits and services than they paid back in taxes, a major study revealed yesterday.
“Over a 16-year period, the bill to the taxpayer of providing them with welfare, health and education was 14 per cent higher than the money they put in the national purse.”
This is a problem— when our source material is provided by unimpeachable sources but the conclusions drawn from it are wildly disparate, I’m afraid either the nature of the data or the conclusions must be rendered as lacking validity. At least in a usable, practicable way. Studies ought to inform, not divide in such a binary manner.
This is not a new problem. In an article in Scientific American, Patternicity: Finding Meaningful Patterns in Meaningless Noise, Michael Shermer writes about the mechanisms that allow us to see such differences; it also alows us to see bunny rabbits in fluffy clouds— the same mechanism which results in ‘complex and inaccessible data’ being summarised and presented as fact, while ignoring that:
“Unfortunately, we did not evolve a Baloney Detection Network in the brain to distinguish between true and false patterns.”
It is describing a form of apophenia: the ability we have to see what we want to see; or more simply, the ability to make sense when there is none. In fact, the irony is, I too could be doing just that, but I’ll be describing how I perceive the opinion process in another post, I just wanted to get the Baloney Detection Network out there because I love it, just as much as Hemmingway’s bullshit detector. It’s more or less the same thing.
Anyway, no amount of numbers can alter the fact that immigration is simply someone moving from one place to another. So I ask you, simply…
It’s just a thought…
One of my pet hates is when I hear educators moan about facts as if they were hazardous to health. I’ve heard them moan that they serve no purpose, that they’re a waste of time; outdated or are somehow superfluous; that it’s not proper teaching. There are numerous complaints, too many to list— however the median I seem to come across most, might as well be the very devil himself: the date:
1066, the Battle of Hastings;
1588 and the Spanish Armada
1805, Trafalgar and so on and so forth…
And to some degree I agree that there is a limited quality, albeit a limited re-usable quality to this type of knowledge. Personally, I love it, can’t get enough but that’s just me, give me more…
However, facts make learning easier. Facts give concept-based teaching context. Facts make learning more effective. This is not a judgement call, nor is it an opinion— unlike approaches based purely around concept, there is mountains of data which suggest that the use of facts as part of a learning strategy works; having a solid bank of knowledge regarding a particular topic, then makes conceptual-learning effective, not the other way around. The very notion that anyone can form long lasting contextual assessments on anything without knowing what it is they’re supposed to be contextualising is counter-intuitive— but this is one of the things modern teachers are taught to do, even though it flies in the face of most of the available evidence.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the ability to conceptualise is an imperative to successful learning; and the reasoning that the way it’s now used is ‘best’ and the way it should be done comes from reasonable sources— these are not stupid people. It just doesn’t work as they’d like it to work; it cannot work because the reasoning is built on whimsy, not the real world.
Facts: those concrete, unshakable units of information which are not subject to change are unpopular, when they should be the foundations upon which effective practices are built.
It’s difficult to understand why the idea of learning useful, relevant and re-usable information is so frowned upon— as a former practitioner, I do at least understand the potential difficulties involved in the presentation; I did all the time— but again, the median argument against it is just as unreasonable: we can’t just have kids reciting dates over and over…
Of course not— that really is stupid. Professional teachers should be able to incorporate some kind of fact-based content into their lessons if they are proficient in their subject, without the furore— they do it everyday to some degree as it is, but there’s just something about the word fact that they’re taught not to like. I would’ve taught in a dress if I had cold hard data suggesting cross-dressing made learning more effective; and that should be the only thing that matters. There are approaches which work and some which work better than others; some are just unpopular.
Now the reason I bring it up actually has nothing to do with teaching, but the underlying trait which shapes this particular issue.
It’s a packaging problem— rightly or wrongly our perception becomes this: so it’s gotta be true. It’s exactly the same problem we have with labels— some of which effectively describe certain people and conditions, but are wildly unpopular. Some of which are too accurate so a semantically broader variant is encouraged as preferable. Personally, I struggle with aspects of this— I don’t find words, tags or labels to be inherently functional without context. One of the problems of being concept-based people instead of substance based, will be an increased obsession with eradicating ‘offensive’ lexis, regardless of context. Which in itself, is an act I find deeply offensive.
Anyway, the catalyst for this came about from several sources, independent of which, I wouldn’t have had a contextual springboard to unite them— however when taken together, there are similarities which I think are fascinating.
“I told the group about my own experiences in coming to terms with autism, about wanting to be autistic because it was the only thing that felt like all my experiences finally made some sense. About redirecting my energy and efforts towards things that would help me cope, instead of things that would make me appear normal. Allowing myself to be more visibly autistic.
“At those last words, the entire group gasped in shock … I’m not joking. I was the only one there who thought it wasn’t actually all that bad to be stimming in public.”
Now my first reaction was to try to empathise with group— some of whom were clearly uneasy with the author’s rocking but I couldn’t consolidate what it was about the article that was impressing upon me without resorting to speculation, despite the resonance of one of the questions: “If I don’t do things like that, then maybe I’m not actually autistic?”
It wasn’t until I read this post, that it all clicked into place: that, like some teachers’ point-blank refusal to accept that facts do not give you cancer, what I had in front of me was another packaging problem— which lead me to re-read the question as, I wouldn’t mind being autistic if I didn’t do things like that…
What struck me upon the second reading was an event from another session, which thanks to the second article, had even greater meaning in this context:
“[O]ne of them said to me that maybe I needed a time-out to calm down, because I was rocking back and forth so much. And when I said I was just focusing on the conversation, and not feeling anxious at all, he didn’t believe me.”
Was she not believed because: autistics only rock when their stressed; or because ‘he’ only rocks when he’s stressed: so it’s gotta be true? It starts to become clear that across a wide range of things— how narrow and inflexible our associations can really be.
However, without Disabled, Not Broken2, I wouldn’t have written this at all. It finds the author posing a simple question and answering it by defining what he is and what he isn’t through a short exploration of language and its denotations: even the words which we use to define other words, which we then use to define who we are or what we think we are, aren’t always satisfactory contextually.
Add to that, that if you rock back and forth you are defined by your actions and emotional state: you must be autistic and you must need a time out. If you’re a teacher and heaven forbid you teach facts: you are defined by an historical context; that you’re out of touch, you’re doing something wrong and a bad practitioner. Perhaps, by the same reasoning: if you rock and you’re not stressed, it makes you a bad autistic?
In each case there are misconceptions based on a perception that has attributed to it, a value of some kind, so if you do it, think it, use it or say it, according to that perception: it’s gotta be true.
I am fascinated by the heroic age of Antarctic expedition, history, education, great sex, openness, cats, cameras; the space race; sentence-structure, lexis, discourse conventions and phatic communication; cinema; the sounds of cricket and its numbers; golf swings, sortes, piropo, productivity, logical fallacies; fagottists— which leads to the double-o phoneme and coda-less syllables; falderals, nonsense; nanism— my fear of developing it and albino-clowns who already have. Ironing, long-sleeves, compound swearing, yellow pads, yoof-speak and linguistic representations— meh. Books, tea, science, feets, unnecessary plurals and corrugated-cardboard to name but a few.
It’s a pointless list because there isn’t much I’m not interested in. I like the feeling of insignificance in knowing how little I know; and how each little thing helps me know what I already know a little better.
And I still don’t know what this makes me, but it kind of works like this:
Perhaps it just makes me English since ‘England is the paradise of individuality, eccentricity … hobbies and humors.’1 Quite whether the world thinks we are small or great, but such is the context of opinion. Goethe wrote that, ‘people of uncommon abilities generally fall into eccentricities when their sphere of life is not adequate to their abilities.’ Well spheres be damned as, ‘No one can be profoundly original who does not avoid eccentricity.’2 But to what end is thought’d: ‘eccentricity in small things [is] crazy’3 and though it ‘destroys reason, [it does] not [the] wit?’4
All I’m really trying to do here is to show a little of what it’s like to be autistic— from the ground up I’ve taken my traits and applied them to certain functions within the texts: from word orders and word types, semantic variances, repetitions and rhetorical devices— even archaic syntax to the very deliberate structure I use to present things. It’s not always easy to read and it’s not meant to be, It’s supposed to be a little overwhelming at times and take the reader in circles— but it’s a desirable difficulty designed to stimulate a little over-processing, in the same way real life does to me. It’s the only way I know how to present what it’s like to me: to demonstrate it, not write about it— especially when there are a million people out there able to just describe it so much better.
I was going to just post the blueprint, but thought the meta-language would just make it pointless— like the list…
And I guess lists should be conspiculous by its absense, but it’s really not…