Sunday, 17 June 2012

The question of form and function

As a liberal arts education advocate, I'm fascinated by the notion of posing open-ended questions to life's issues. Posing open-ended questions is key to critical thinking: am I my brother's keeper? may not have a pat answer (ie, answering the question seems to depend upon the case - social, political, ideological, personal, etc.) but that doesn't mean that no decision can be made thoughtfully. In fact, looking into an open-ended question is often the very process of educating oneself and becoming personally (socially) engaged (ie, becoming a critical thinker).

The act of critical thinking has nothing to do with being negative about something, but having to do with engagement with the discourse.

One of the basic things I like asking myself to help me better think about anything is "what is its form; what is its function?" This may not sound very pertinent and ground-shaking, but its very examination is the key to advancing humanity. Even if only one side of the question can be determined it helps to inform subsequent thoughts and feelings on the subject.

For example, before Newton physical phenomena and the astronomical sciences especially were almost always religious/mystical in nature. The very act of "formulating" the question of gravity in the way Newton did casted the universe in a new way.

The other great thinker that I admire who formulated questions in such a way is Thomas Paine. In the Rights of Man, Paine talks about the distinction between the "form" of government and the "business" of government. It is through this lens where he advances critiques on the various forms of government, and the levels of legitimacy of political power. Granted, he had an agenda to forward but he makes mince-meat out of the hapless Mr Burke who only talks about the God-given right of Monarchy to rule, and the God-given role of the oppressed to be ruled, even by child-rulers.

Thomas Paine, like Newton, does not just fawn over tradition but strips away the "form" in which that tradition has usurped and dominated all subsequent discourse by looking into the source and necessity of legitimate political power (ie, the "business" of government).

The question of "aboriginal education" must be examined in the same fashion for it is a gate that aboriginals rarely ever pass. Is "education" like science and political power the sole purview of the Church and State (ie, bureaucracy), or is it a fundamental right of society? Is education a right or a privilege? Whose interests are served in granting or denying education to a discernible group of Canadians such as aboriginals?

These are legitimate questions. Immigrants (not that I want to compare apples with oranges) even from "third-world" countries do much better on the main than aboriginal Canadians, politically, economically or by any subjective/objective measure. To me, this is a question of commitment by government (Canada in comparison to other countries) to do its business consciously, deliberately, properly and effectively.

This question is, after all, is not a question of "winners" and "losers" (as vacuous social darwinism would have us believe) but a question of fair distribution/contribution (the business of government and society, as Paine contends).

At a more basic level: what are the participation rates in politics, criminal justice/welfare systems, science and other public discourse for aboriginals in comparison to other Canadians? In terms of aboriginal education (and the life prospects it implies), is it the case of "round" bullets for "christians" and "square" bullets for the "pagans"?

Jay

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