Death of NAPLAN, or death by standardisation

Albeit incessantly controversial debates around NAPLAN since its introduction in 2008 by the then Education Minister Julia Galliard, its damage has run deep, to both education and society. Since NAPLAN can be easily gamed, academic coaching schools have been mushrooming in migrant, and/or lower SES suburbs, causing traffic delays on weekends and luring many full time school teachers to earn handsome spare cash. Property price near higher-ranked schools on sites like Myschool has skyrocketed, rapidly transforming many such schools and their communities into ethnic enclaves. Coupled with the so-called international educational benchmarking frenzy like the PISA, NAPLAN has been fast retracting Australian education, with such plausible advice as learning from one of the world’s most hideous educational systems like China as its mega city Shanghai tops the PISA consistently.

China as our role model:(

In the eyes of Shanghai students and teachers, NAPLAN is not even a child’s play. Yet, China’s original contributions to knowledge after schools and universities were reopened in 1977 are pathetically piecemeal compared with its population size and in the past decade have been dwindling in quality. Why so? The autocratic regime that suffocates democratisation (of speech, ideas, motives, mobility, etc.) is one to blame and its rigid, nationwide standardised testing system is another. Both favour singularity, homogeneity, solidarity, and certainty, which are like performance enhancement drugs in a short term but are innovation killers in the long run. Many middle-class above Shanghai parents are in such as a despair that they deperately seek overseas education refugee for their children in countries like Australia, unaware of the dire social and emotional toll those children may have to endure. So, is Australia like China and should Australia become China-like? Absolutely not! Then, why should we copy China’s system?

Experts behind NAPLAN!

It is fascinating that among all NAPLAN debates, rarely has anyone questioned credibility of the experts developing and administrating the test behind the scene. Since NAPLAN is mainly about literacy (of words and numbers), we might ask a very simple question on top of the experts’ test designing skills: how literate are these experts themselves?  Our dear readers may immediately dismiss this question as ridiculous or people who dare ask it as laughable. But after we ponder for a second or two on what literacy really is and what it means today, it may come to light that it is not so laughable after all.

In fact, it is legitimate and deadly serious.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t be shocked by a recent debate among  university academics in the Conversation on the pertinence of cursive handwriting. We may wonder who would need to learn cursive handwriting (or even handwriting) these days while we can type, touch, talk to, eyeball, or even will smart devices to act and there are myriad ways to improve student motor skills. In 2015, we witnessed the downfall of a former chair professor of poetry at the University of Sydney who was caught red-handed using the university email service to play racial slurs with friends. The professor should at least know that workplace emails are corporate property and are retrievable with technical ease. He should also have been adequately versed to know that poetry is intercultural remix by nature.  These people are literacy experts but their literacy skills are either of diminishing value, are outdated, or are becoming hindrances. Yet, some of them are experts devising NAPLAN, advising on it, or teaching into it. How ironic!

Literacy today…

Literacy relates to language and other sign systems that humans use to transact goods (ideas, emotions, values, information, etc.) and services. Sign systems evolve over time in tune with social and technological dynamics, so does literacy. It was mediated in the past by rocks, bamboo, scroll, or paper; these days we are accustomed to fidgeting in digits. Rocks are heavy, bamboo spiky, and scrolls too pricy, which made literacy exercises physically and financially challenging, appropriated only by a small group of elites.  No wonder intensity and reach of literacy in our pre-digital past was a paucity. Just think how many snail mails we sent each year in the past and how many emails and text messages we are sending and receiving each day today. Or compare how many people in the past were functionally literate to write letters and how many messages we can email and text instantly today?

The contrast from a sporadic challenge to an immersive, nearly ubiquitous daily activity is jaw-dropping and the transition from the elite to the mass is close to a completion. And yet we are whining that our literacy performance is going downhill. It seems we have no confidence in the wisdom that practice makes perfect; instead, we believe that practice makes permanent bad. Facebooking and snapchatting, littered with outrageous GIFs, emoticons, and others enigmatic symbols, often read like alien gibberish.  Sadly, audacious as they are, there is no sign these sorts of gibberish are going away any time sooner. Alas, they are here to stay and are infiltrating our beloved literacy world, chanting “practice makes permanent”. Standardised tests like NAPLAN could be our last straw for salvation!

What is literacy, anyhow?

Humans possess multiple senses but our means to relay information across time and space have been technologically restricted for quite a long while. Until the digital revolution, written words were the most cost effective while other means like images, voices, and videos were simply too expensive. It was no wonder that literacy then was largely synonymous with reading and writing. Alongside, proud traditions and discourses had been fortified to maintain this literacy authority. Today this authority is being shattered to the core by the computer, the internet, smart, wearable devices, and the AI, to name a few. Every second, hundreds of millions of people across the globe are involved in inconceivable sorts of literacy activities on top of reading and writing: twittering, Instagraming, Facebooking, livestreaming, animating, and trolling. None of these were availed to the mass thirty years ago. Oddly, none of these are assessed in NAPLAN, considering that it was commissioned more than twenty years later after the first major offence of the Internet.  And yet, experts, journalist, and politicians are condemning literacy deterioration, pointing fingers at schools, teachers, and students. If this is not a sign of sleep walking, then it must be motivated by sheer contempt.

Above all, it is a contempt of the scientific truth that literacy evolves. Standardised literacy tests like NAPLAN impose explicit rules rather than accommodating real life, authentic literacy practices. Even worse, they mob dissidents with many dying rules. This authoritative practice might have some grounds in the past when change was relatively slow, but is becoming increasingly archaic in digital times.  Just ask how many 80 years old are able to decipher 16 years old teenagers’ snapchats!

Of course, it is a contempt of people, irrespective of their age, class, gender, or ethnicity. It is a fact the younger generations are more literate overall than the older ones.  They have been extensively exposed to numerous varieties of text and have immersed in numerous literacy practices. Such is beyond the wildest imagination of the generations before  the 1970s.  And yet, in NAPLAN-like standardised tests, their innovative literacy practices are not honoured, let alone studied and promoted. How arrogant! And why would it be a surprise that NAPLAN results have been stagnate for ten years and decline sharply from Year 7 onwards? Year 7 is a time when students are attaining more learning autonomy and confidence to embark on extensive, novel, daring literacy journeys. And NAPLAN is trying to hold them back!  What a sham/e!

NAPLAN’s demise.

Contemporary literacy falls largely into three interrelated types. The first type is everyday or functional literacy. It enables us to go about daily life such as shopping, travel, and socialising. This type of literacy is usually immersive, ubiquitous, and improves alongside real life participation and use.  What have been discussed above are of this type. Can/should this type of literacy be standardised, tested, and benchmarked? Highly unlikely, unless we freeze time, change, and evolution. Physically situated, constantly evolving, and inconceivably diverse, everday literacy can only be cultivated and assessed through ongoing, authentic instructions and practices, inside and outside classrooms.

The second type is critical literacy. It empowers us to see through text; whether a text is racially biased or whether it is evidence based or just hearsay. This type of literacy is essential to a healthy democracy, its freedoms, and civic participation. Yet, attaining this type of literacy is knowingly complex and is usually subject to age and experience. Applying NAPLAN-like standardised tests will only reduce critical literacy to a cold robot or a faceless regime that crusades social dissent, as is happening in such countries as mainland China and the North Korea.

The third type is disciplinary or professonal literacy, which is knotted in specific disciplines or professions. This type of literacy can hardly be obtained without significant dedication of time, energy, passion, talent, and without a doubt, some degree of maturity. Some part of it might be automated to ensure a good command of terminologies. That might be exploited by NAPLAN-like standardisation.

But even this will not last long, when the AI is expected to reach tipping point of mass application in the near future!

 

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遮蠢红布

那天是你用一块红布
蒙住我双眼也蒙住了天
你问我看见了什么 
我说我看见了幸福
这个感觉真让我舒服
它让我忘掉我没地儿住
你问我还要去何方
我说要上你的路
看不见你也看不见路
我的手也被你攥住
你问我在想什么
我说我要你做主
。。。。。。

多年后重温崔健摇滚经典<一块红布>, 音乐粗糙且不去管它,词写得确实不错,很有意味,远超当时先锋、实验、朦胧派的各路诗哥诗妹。还是崔哥有见识,寥寥几行词就点准了社会主义生活的死穴。

问题是见识不能当饭吃:有见识未必有行动力,有见识未必有判断力。

崔哥骂共产党,骂工农红旗。骂者神气,听者解恨。仔细品味,大家都不过是受老马日弄的农民。从上到下,城里乡下,不过半斤八两,谁也不比谁强多少 。

上海滩是个大镇子,帝都就是个超级村,天朝不过是转型中的大农村。农村不是城市,更非工厂与公司。要抱团取暖,买地攒钱,扎堆结伙比高下。工人一技在身,远走他乡随地生根。农民树大根深,叶落终究要归根。

不管是六四后脚底抹油的方励之,手术台上死翘翘的刘晓波,秦城蹲大狱的薄熙来,专权跋扈的习大大,还是看热闹的吃瓜群众, 骨子里都一路货色。梦想一朝大风起,我做飞天猪。当村长做大王把别人一个个踩在脚底下。威风八面,牛气压天。

还是流氓闲汉翻身的汉高祖总结的通俗透彻:富贵不还乡,如秉烛夜行。 才高如杨振宁的大科学家也难洗脱农民基因,寂寞了还要还乡抖擞抖擞,体会高山仰止的威风。贪栈弄钱弄权的庸人如你我,自然更是茅厕里的蛆虫,有机会就要钻出来显摆。本事大的常委主席,电视上嘉宾微博上大V。没本事的刷微信圈秀同学群泡老乡会。

大家骂共党,骂老毛。其实细想想,还真不能怪他们。

不识庐山真面目,只缘身在此山中。

连马克思这样的政治经济学巨匠,进城没几天,没进工厂干几天,就屁颠屁颠地忘了自家农民本份。自以为号准了资本主义病根,洋洋自得地立起共产主义救世大旗。殊不知那旗还是农民旗,早期工业化炊烟下看过去,似乎很美很靓丽。

学贯古今语通列国的老马尚且躺枪,老毛小习这些现代科学素养低下的主就更不用提。老毛精擅千年村支书御人大法,学问可是一脑子浆糊。除了爱不务正业弄点讨巧的歪诗陈词,科学地理一窍不通,进化论相对论完全对牛弹琴,市场经济根本摸不找边。

小习大大更不堪。该启蒙的时候在村上泡小芳,该进学的时候在官场泡茶汤。肚里所装不过革命家训加老三篇,见识不比我家小学肆业的地主老爹强。还好有家学在身,又有国师辅佐,能从谏如流,不至太丢丑。

崔哥骂人,原来和你我一样,是在骂自己。骂自己没出息,不长进,没能赶上好时光, 当大官做豪强把美眉养帅哥。

看来抹掉红布之路漫漫,要慢慢走,悠着来。发发牢骚,逗逗鸟。有这心情,路上风景才能大好。

杨振宁的骚

同行评议,尤其是双盲审(作者不知审稿人,审稿人不知作者),一般要求去掉作者信息,力求公正,大牌教授被拒,很正常。而况学术是以质量衡量,不是看作者头衔和资历,这才是同行评议的本意。该事件中审稿人能顶住杨振宁诺奖光环,公正客观地评价其论文,作为学者素养和勇气,着实可敬,值得大陆同行和期刊编辑学习。顺便提一下,杨振宁时代科研人员从质量到数量都比较低,论文数量比较少,杨作为其中的佼佼者,自然很轻易就可脱颖而出,所以可以长期享受特殊待遇,久而久之,把特权当成了常规。现在稍一遭拒,就认为是遭到了冒犯,是典型的学霸思想在做怪。他未征求期刊和审稿人授权同意,就把评议意见公开发表,更表现出对当前学术界科研伦理常规的无知或藐视。难怪他要到大陆去走秀找感觉,大约就是想继续享受自己famous paper 的惠泽!

也说唐伯桥

以方励之、柴玲、刘晓波为代表的89一代的民运人士根本不懂民主。他们只会炫耀概念。更要命的是,经历了文革、上山下乡、反日宣传、儿童团、人肉盾牌人肉炸弹等各种形式的恐怖主义训练和影响后,这帮人的民主实践比起当年宽松政治环境下的孙中山、毛泽东、邓小平相差太远,又缺乏实际的生活体验。作为这伙人的典型代表,唐伯桥一旦落脚真民主的国家,就立马原形毕露,露出了流氓无产者的真面目。跟着他们搞民主,还不如跟90后、00后搞小确幸来的实在。 新一代年轻人虽然无意民主,但却在做实事,恢复让老毛破坏殆尽的市场经济,发展资本主义,张扬个性,拥抱多元化。这些才是真民主的基础,更是所谓民主转型的希望。

边巴次仁的中间道路有猫腻

在全球化民族融合再造的今天,边巴次仁的观点不仅落后,一旦得逞,比天朝管制下的西藏可能更可怕。要知道,民族不是一个固化概念,它可以成型,也在演化,更可能消失,融入到新的民族中去。这个演化速度有快有慢,但相较于个体生命要漫长的多。回族的出现就是很典型的例子。宗教也一样,佛教传到西藏,和当地自然、人文环境结合,就成了藏传密宗,和内地农耕社会的禅宗大不相同。到了电子化时代,各个教派来往紧密,没人能预料未来藏传佛教会是什么样子。所以西藏当然可以是自己的西藏,但更应该是西藏人的西藏,包括认同自己是藏人的藏族、汉人和其他种族和民族。这样的西藏也应该是各个宗教教派和平竞争和共处的西藏,而不只是藏传佛教的西藏。做不到这些, 结果会依然是残酷的教派斗争, 甚至是种族清洗和屠杀。本来以为这些年达赖喇嘛们流亡在外,已经深刻体会到世界大势。现在看起来不完全如此,骨子里的民族主义种族主义宗教至上的排他思想,和天朝并无二致。

文化多样性

偶然读到威廉学院Ashraf 与 布朗大学Galor 2011年合写的旧作,《文化多元,地理隔绝与国家财富的源起》Cultural diversity, geographical isolation, and the origin of the wealth of nations,大为震撼。作者立足新制度经济学,中间揉合了社会生态和进化观点,虽然数学模型大众亲近不易,但论断极为简单。该理论貌似简单,实则解释力惊人。

简言之,农耕社会技术水平低,资源流动区域小速度慢周期长,文化同化(assimilation)有助聚集社会资源,有效提高社会生产力,现在流行的所谓集中力量办大事就是这种思维的典型体现。农耕时代文化同化的必要性跳出国别对比、文化优劣、种族差异等常规框架,高屋建瓴, 准确解释了朝代更替、君主专制、等级固化、垂直管理、宗族主义、民族主义、集体主义等各种现象。

由此看来,农业时代的东西方,不过五十步笑百步,总体差别不大。 差别只是运气好坏,盛衰早晚而已。去各自老祖宗那寻根,如新儒家、文艺复兴等,不过是浪漫主义的幻觉。最大的用处,是历史学研究,探讨社会转型临界点(critical mass)形成的时间和具体因素。有意义,但不大,因为临界点成形有如预测地震带地震,必有大震,但至于何时发生,无法准确预测。

中国历史上有几次工业化转型机会,都失之交臂,而英国一蹴而就,不是英国人多优秀,只能怪中国运气太差。古希腊城邦间贸易发达,同时兴起的民主政治繁荣,之所以短命,是当时各城邦经济体规模太小,不足以制衡以抵御落后外敌入侵所致。

工业化社会至现今,社会科技水平大幅提高,资源流动全球化,速度快周期短,文化聚合发散(cultural fusion and diffusion) 能加速分工合作,推进科学技术制度创新。社会文化发散型聚合是工业及后工业社会的主要动力。这也解释了文艺复兴、理性启蒙、私有财产、个性自由、民主回归、自由贸易等等现象。

社会多模态

2017年7月13日,是个星期四。悉尼冬日,不冷,寒气还是蛮渗人,和悉大师哥两口子在家火锅小聚,聊到刘晓波。估计快不行了,师哥说。师哥悉大中文系任教,不爱政治话题,但职位特殊,所以内幕花边消息不少,比如某某教授民运成功日有志问鼎总统等等。晚上熬夜看温网比赛,起的晚,早上开车送小孩上学听ABC要闻播报,才知道刘晓波昨日已病故,六十又一岁。心里疙瘩了几下,一天不爽。后来陆续跟踪了几天刘霞、海葬、刘家大哥争遗产的报道, 依然不爽,不过没先前气闷了。

我是个后知后觉的人。长在西北内陆小县城,出身先富起来的底层农民家庭,阶级封印地主,尽管老早接触互联网,学力修到了硕士,耳目还是极其闭塞。知道刘晓波,是他08年底因零八宪章被捕,判了刑,其后10年又获颁诺贝尔和平奖,海外媒体大肆报道,而我已经落脚悉尼,博士新科,打算弃国家如小区了。

我专修语言教学,熟悉语言学符号学理论。刘晓波入狱那会正在读多种模态互动方面的东西,例如解多元理论、符号型社会互动等。感觉上文字、图片、动画之间的互动关系与人类社会关系比较,没实质区别。符号模态间竞争合作控制反抗其实就是人类社会的写照。不同的是,人类史无法重写,而观察、摆弄模态有的是时间。

说起来,多模态并非原创前沿,人类沟通从来就是各个感官和手段都参与的多维度多模态。之所以潮起来,是技术进步的结果。电子化、互联网、云计算大幅降低了声像制作和传输成本,让更多不善言谈或书写甚至残疾群体能够参与社会沟通和创造。技术变化要发挥作用,必须和社会认识合拍。比如,沟通方式专业化发展,擅长言谈书写的人士要么精进专长,要么充电转型,要么让贤给网红小鲜肉,要么搞专业团队合作。一味地抵制,往往两败俱伤。

社会制度也需要改变来迎合新变化。传统书写主导的沟通模式方式单一,要实现沟通效果最大化,精英控制的阶层结构比较有效。多模态沟通因为参与手段多样化,参与群体基数巨大,层次分化多样,必须向网络化平层结构转型。一言蔽之,人类沟通方式在变,若社会制度不变,长期僵持下去,渐行渐远,必然是爆炸式决裂。渐变也好,聚变也好,不过是科技发展的必然结果。个人或群体的主观意愿、喜好、主义等等,或能逆流一时,不可能逆流一世。

后来读麻省理工Acemoglu与芝大Robinson 2013年合著的新国富论 《国家衰落之谜论国力、繁荣与贫穷的根源》 Why nations failThe origins of power, prosperity, and poverty 作者秉承新制度经济学传统,以典型国家和地区经济发展史为蓝本,讨论解决盛衰因果如墨西哥和美国边境接壤的姐妹小镇、西非津巴布韦等。资料翔实,深入浅出,虽不能比拼当年亚当斯密《国富论》的开创见识,对马克斯韦伯清教徒文化决定论、精英治国、专家治理等各种流行论断的批判却是针针见血,毫不留情。指出同等条件下 ,实施民主制度、法治健全、主权稳定的国家,往往更能充分发挥市场繁荣经济的巨大作用。遗憾的是,全书自始至终,未能建立可复制的模型,给出逻辑解释,有先入为主,套套逻辑的嫌疑。

有意思的是,他们大作结尾对国家人口规模与经济发展的讨论,貌似漫不经心,某种程度上却准确预测了2016年英国退欧公投结果。英国退欧,表面上看是右翼民族主义作祟,骨子里是资本和市场对自由贸易流动性日益退化的不满。欧盟尾大不掉,官僚机构繁复,而网络全球化时代,地区分工愈来愈精细复杂,多样性愈来愈深入,联邦式垂直管理体系无法快速反应,照顾联盟国需求。以一对多,艰难;以多对多,繁杂;以多对一,正点。这和自媒体的发展,整合多媒体为用户提供个性化应用,不谋而合。Flipboard、Twitter、Facebook的流行,皆源于此。

所谓天下大势,分久必合,合久必分,苏维埃解体,美利坚纷争不断,集权中国天价维稳耗费,不过只是表象,表象下的实质,是技术革新、资本积累、市场自由变化引发的新势能。科技发展水平越高,资本流转越快,(人力)资源流动性越强的国家,保持主权稳定性所需要的地域和人口规模越小。现时东南亚的新加坡北欧各国是探索中的范例。世界回归希腊城邦战国群雄鼎立的小区时代,也许只是个时间表问题。当然,回归的实质根本不同,从前靠武力结盟,骨子里都想一统江湖,天下大同,唯我独尊,引来的必然是血雨腥风,白骨成山;未来靠合约协作,自家一亩三分地里精耕细作,资本生态圈里,各家各擅其长,互通有无,共同富裕。张五常等新制度经济学者认为中国郡县制度竞争力强大,说的大概也是这个意思。不过要捅破定势思维的窗户纸,更进一步,需要有冒天下之大不韪的勇气和智慧。