Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Klingon Christmas

I found a web site that translates words into Klingon. So, in my never ending quest to make fun of the more materialist and crass elements of popular culture I translated words like "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays" and "Season's Greetings" as well as various Bible verses that deal with Christmas into Klingon. I then printed these out on brightly colored paper and decorated my library for Christmas in Klingon.

Nobody got the joke!

The kids here in this school have never seen Star Trek. The current series "Enterprise" Isn't carried here and neither are re-runs of TOS, DS9, Voyager or TNG. (If you don't know what those abbreviations are then you've not watched much Star Trek. ) They've also never seen the movies.

I must really be getting old.

Or, I need to buy a bunch of Star Trek novels and do a library display on TV shows that have become popular fiction!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Philosophic Idealism, or Jacob's Ladder

This is part three of this series

Previous Post in this series
1. Educational Philosophy
2. Before We Begin

Philosophic Idealism; Jacob's Ladder

I'm not really satisfied with this post yet and it will be edited as time goes by.

It needs to be understood that when we speak of Philosophic Idealism we are speaking of a very broad collection of thinkers. They encompass Theist, atheist, Agnostic, Monist, Dualist and Existentialist from many cultures and time periods.

In order to be a Philosophical Idealist you must only believe one thing. That what is true descends from the general to the specific and is not built up from the specific to the general. Idealist ground reality in something thought to be higher, nobler, more rational or in some way more real than what we immediately experience.

At least in a metaphorical sense, most Idealist believe that truth is spelled with a capital "T" and comes from Heaven, that it is discovered or revealed not invented. Just as Jacob saw a ladder stretching to Heaven and heard God making promises to him from the top of the ladder; Idealist believe that by following their philosophic ladder they can see, find or discover a higher truth. If you think that this sounds strange to you then you probably should not consider yourself an Idealist. (Though you might be surprised if you really thought about it.)

Perhaps the most well known of the Philosophic Idealist is one of the earliest; Plato. While there were philosophers in Asia that wrote about similar ideas at the same time as Plato, or even earlier, nobody put it all together like he did. Plato is one of the most important people of all time. You really cannot over estimate his influence on civilization. To paraphrase Alfred North Whitehead, you have Plato and everyone else is a footnote (1).

So what is it that makes Plato so important? The answer is, at least as far as we are concerned, the theory of forms. Perhaps the clearest illustration of what Plato means is through the well known cave allegory that is found in book 7 of the Republic. The picture of prisoners in a cave naming shadows and believing them to be real things because they have never seen anything else is a powerful one. We can imagine the predicament they are in and understand their misconception. We can also see how it would enlighten them if they were able to turn around and see the actual thing that cast the shadows.

Plato is saying that what we see is often times a distorted picture or shadow of reality. We should look for the true "Form" rather than simply name shadows.

When we make an argument from natural law, or a universal principle we are thinking and reasoning like Plato. We should look for the truth behind the everyday occurrence. This does not necessarily imply an appeal to any kind of deity (Though others did and have used Plato to make such an appeal as Plato himself did.)

Besides the Theory of Forms, Plato has exerted tremendous influence upon education through his use of what has become known as the "Socratic Method." Socrates was Plato's mentor and is the main character in much of Plato's work. Socrates was a teacher who stood in the market and discussed issues of philosophy with his pupils. He developed an inductive, question and answer pedagogy that has continued to influence education to this day. Jesus used this method when dealing with both His disciples and opponents and I believe you can see its influence in the works John Dewey and Maria Montesori as well as the psychology of Henry James and in classrooms in many places today.

The Socratic method uses a series of leading questions to enable students to discover a truth or idea that the teacher is trying to convey.

Here is an example of Platonic thought using a Soratic method as it might appear in a classroom.

Teacher: Do you know what gravity is?
Student: Yes, I do
Teacher: Tell me, what do you know about it?
Student: Gravity is a force in the Universe. It is the law of attraction that holds things together.
Teacher: Is it everywhere?
Student: Yes, it is everywhere.
Teacher: And does it affect all things?
Student: Yes, it affects all things
Teacher: So you would call gravity a universal or absolute law of the universe?
Student: Yes, I suppose you could say that.
Teacher: So there is at least one law that applies to everyone in the universe. Are there others you can name?
Student: Yes, there are several, the speed of light, entropy, perhaps chemical bonds and the way that elements are organized to name some. There may be more.
Teacher: If there are universal physical laws that govern the universe might there not also be some universal laws that govern our behavior?

At this point the true object of the lesson has become obvious. The student is going to have to either show that moral laws are in some fundamental way unlike physical laws or to find out how a universal moral or behavioral law would work. There doesn't have to even be a cut and dried answer.

This is a powerful teaching tool. These type of arguments and this pedagogy can really help students to clarify issues and come to grips with difficult issues. But, it is first and foremost a type of philosophy.

Next: Philosophic Realism or the Aristotelian tower of Babel

They're almost here

This past weekend a group of 20 G7 Protesters arrived in Hong Kong to scout out places to riot. They complained that the area assigned to them was not public enough.

The Chief of police was also on TV saying that if the protesters get violent the HK police would bang a few heads. Yeah, right, I'll believe it when I see it.

Friday, November 18, 2005


Next week is the school camp for middle school.

Am I a bad educator if I say that I don't like to spend three days and three nights in the company of 4 sixth graders?

I didn't think so.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Ugly Canadian

I had to go to a conference the other day.

Teachers, even in international schools have to keep their certifications up to date. So, I went to hear some consultant talk about ESL even though I'm not an ESL teacher and never plan to be.

Amazingly enough, I enjoyed the speaker for the most part. She was funny reasonable and only a bit strange. The problem was lunch. There were teachers there from all over Asia. One I ran into was a Canadian teaching at a school in Japan. Her first question to me was "Did you leave the US to get away from George Bush?" Before I could answer she dropped off into the most vile anti-American diatribe I've heard in months. I hate to say this but I've met lots of Canadians like this. Usually when I was on vacation in Florida. I always thought it was palm tree envy.

Actually, I left the US, in part though not completely to get away from Bill Clinton but I didn't say that. I simply said "I came to Hong Kong in 1997 way before Mr. Bush was elected; my wife is Chinese and this is home." It is a good evasive answer especially since it is true. It is also a good way to change the subject and get out of a potentially explosive argument. I've never been able to argue effectively with ideolouges from any political stripe because they aren't interested logic or truth. Ideolouges they are interested in their ideology and how it makes them feel.

I call what this woman did the "I'm normal like everybody else" complex. We all want to think that everybody thinks like we do. She assumed that because she was an American-hating-George-Bush-hating-Canadian, that I must be an American-hating-George-Bush-hating-Texan.

I think that many non-socialist do what I did. We pass the question off and move on. I think this gives the more left leaning people the idea that there are more of them then is actually the case. I can't say if the opposit happens but maybe it does. I attribute this to the admonition to be polite that many people are taught as children. You know the Thumper Rabbit principle; "If you can't say something nice then don't say any thing at all."

I don't know if that is a good thing or a bad thing. I do it because I don't like to be vilified and then blamed for being a villain. I can't speak for other people.

Unlike her, I realize that my politics are waaaaaaaay out there. I don't expect everyone to agree with me. That's why I try to keep political opinions to myself

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Closet Anarchist Blogger

Give Thanks - Even in Hong Kong

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

I like it because it basically can't be ruined.

Christmas is no longer a religious holiday but an excuse to spoil children. New Year's eve is simply an excuse, as if any was needed to get drunk. July 4th doesn't play well outside the US. San Jacinto day is only a big holiday in Texas. Memorial day is not celebrated in Hong Kong and they don't even want to learn about Labor Day here!

However, I find that many of my Chinese friends find Thanksgiving to be a wonderful holiday. They enjoy, what for them are exotic foods and the history of the holiday is a good introduction to American history. One year we had a group of mainlanders eat Thanksgiving with us. While they found some of the foods not to their taste others they really liked. But what was really great was that they came away from that table with a new and I think better and more true vision of America.

It is hard, I guess unless you are a turkey or a ham to not like Thanksgiving.

It is also I think, hard to grumble about people being genuinely thankful for having enough food and and adequate housing. If ever there was a good reason to start a holiday then Thanksgiving is it. Europeans don't seem to understand the holiday but the Australians I've met do. I don't know why this is.

I find it interesting that even the commercial aspects of Thanksgiving are still somewhat wholesome. Watching the Cowboys play on Thanksgiving day with our brothers and fathers and wives and mothers is a good thing. Indeed, the only day that I am a fan of American football is on Thanksgiving day. Washing the dishes together. Baking the pies and setting a table for Thanksgiving are moments that many remember as their fondest moments of childhood. The Thanksgiving day parades. The sandwiches. The casseroles! The three weeks of post Thanksgiving weight loss which is ruined by Christmas parties! It simply doen't get any better than Thanksgiving.

In my family Chinese vegetables such as Bok-Choi have replaced broccoli and taro once replaced sweet potatoes but we celebrate Thanksgiving every year.

This year our daughter will be gone and so my wife and I have arranged to have two seamen from a visiting US navy ship come and eat with us. The group that organizes this is hoping that some of the ex-pat families here will reach out to the sailors and make them feel less homesick. In my case I think the opposite will be true. Thanksgiving day is one of the two or three times a year that I really feel like an alien in Hong Kong. It will be a good thing to have my countrymen in our humble flat and eat and talk and drink some beer and maybe watch the Cowboys via cable tv.

So, this year. Whoever you are, wherever you are from; take some time on November 24 and give thanks. You'll feel better for having done it.

Until next time
Fai Mao
The blogger who gives thanks

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Before We Begin: Part 1: Some Parameters

Previous installments of this series


Before we Begin : Part 1

One of the buzz words in education the past 10 years or so has been the theory of "Multiple intelligences" which advocates teaching students based upon a variety of learning styles which are equated with "intelligence". I think when this fad started it claimed that there were seven types of intelligences and others have since added about 19467 types of intelligences to that number.

While there is great and demonstrated merit in a pedagogical sense to tailoring lessons to the interest, needs and culture of the learner, the theory is, I believe, philosophically and physiologically speaking, nonsense.

Thinking differently is not a different type of intelligence, it is simply using intelligence differently.

Underlying the multiple intelligence theory, it appears to me, is the assumption that people learn differently. That may be. Indeed, I would be surprised if it were not true. However, learning differently because of personality or heredity is not a form of intelligence.

I may be splitting hairs here, but the point is still a valid one. There are not a multitude of intelligence types, there are only learning styles.

I am aware this might all be viewed as semantics but I believe that the multiple intelligence theory is guilty of using terms in a fuzzy and confusing way. This is never a good thing and appears to me to be a rather larger problem in education than in other fields; though it could be that I read more in education than in other fields. However, the point here is to show that the theory of multiple intelligence has used a whole raft of philosophical terms and slightly altered the definitions of the words. In philosophy, words are tools. They have very specific meanings that are different from normal parlance. Thus, it is important to get your terms right or you generate confusion.

(Incidentally, I have just revealed a part of my educational philosophy)

Admittedly , I don't know much about learning theory but learning and intelligence are not the same thing though they may be related to each other, or be dependent upon each other.

I do, however, know something about what philosophers call epistemology or the nature of knowledge. Epistemologically speaking, there are only three ways to discover knowledge (thus learn) and two over arching paradigms to frame those three ways of obtaining knowledge. Every human has, does or will use these. There are no exceptions. If you think, and you are not an animal because research has shown that animals think in pictures not words, then you think using these structures.

That means that there are at most, only six ways (3- ways of knowing X 2-paradigms) to think about any problem. In reality, as we shall see there are only three that concern educators.

This is important to know because before one begins thinking about their educational philosophy it is good to know the form you place those thoughts into. It really does make a difference how you think about something.

While the various approaches to thinking have somewhat multivariate names, depending upon whose book you read, I will use the terms "Idealism," "Realism" and "Sophistry" to set them apart. All forms of thinking fall into these broad categories and there is seldom any overlap and what overlap there is caused by either confusion sloppy thinking. Once we understand the definition or meaning of these categories and see how we think we will be able to begin formulating an educational philosophy.

Next: Before we begin Part 2: "Idealism: Or Jacobs' Ladder"

Until next Time
Fai Mao
The gives you just enough to get interested blogger

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Educational Philosophy

My undergraduate is in History with a minor in Asian Philosophy and Political Science which is effectively a pre-law degree. That degree got me a job cooking barbecue in a grocery store deli. Now don't get me wrong. I don't believe the sole purpose of education is to gain a foothold in the job market, but it helps. That degree simply begged for more education.

I also have an MLIS with a concentration in archives and academic libraries. This is the degree that provided job skills and got me out of the grocery store and away from the front desk of a hotel. While I was training to be a preservation administrator, I have ended up as a school librarian. Such is life.

My Ph.D. is in educational Philosophy. At this point, it is an open question as to whether I am a philosopher who supports himself by being a librarian or a librarian who dabbles in philosophy.

I pursued the PhD simply because I wanted one. Indeed that is the only reason to subject yourself to the mental anguish and stress of obtaining this degree. It is conceivable that I could find a position in a School of Education, a Department of Philosophy, or a Graduate School of Library and Information Science. Not that I'm a Polimath, but my degrees are broad and I have experience and publication in these areas. However, because international schools in Asia pay rather well, all of the jobs would probably entail a cut in pay to go along with the rise in occupational status. In this area, if no other, I'm a materialistic pragmatist, I'd rather have the money.

That doesn't mean the PhD has not changed my outlook about my job or education in general. It has. My philosophical studies have altered my view of what, why and how I do my job. I have come to believe that one of the major problems with education world wide is that too many educators do not work from a consistent, coherent or self recognized educational philosophy. This not only makes their job harder, it means that their students often receive a less thorough education than they could.

This is bothersome in two ways

First, it is bothersome because despite my gruff exterior, I believe that students deserve the best education that society can afford to give them. Not just for economic advancement but because if done properly, education makes them better people. This statement is in itself a rather complex philosophical statement which could take pages and pages to unpack. I'm not going to do that here simply because I don't want to. I have other fish to fry.

Second, it is bothersome because I feel compelled, because I see the problem, to do something about it. This is probably the legacy of the parable of the "Good Samaritan" I was taught in Sunday school as a child. I have been trained since childhood that to see a problem and to not try to correct it is sin. This is also a complex issue that deals with psychology much more than philosophy. I don't know much about psychology but I'm convinced that neither do psychologist. So I'll leave this alone a well.

However, I am going to, at least on an irregular basis, start posting on the subject of educational philosophy. I need to do this because I don't see teachers or teacher librarians working through these issues. These post make become the rough notes for an academic paper.

Then again they may not. We'll see what happens.

The goal is to create a document that can be used as a foundation that teachers, administrators and school support staff, especially at Christian schools and International schools in Asia can use to gain insight into their educational philosophy. I'd like to be able to help schools develop their educational philosophy into a coherent system. I think it would improve their instruction.

We'll see how it goes

Until next time

Fai Mao
The Educational Philosopher