Saturday, 3 May 2014

The three "i"s of (aboriginal) education

Ostensibly, the recent resignation of Shawn Atleo was over aboriginal education. In his press conference he said that he didn't want to be a distraction in the important public debate over aboriginal education:

"This work is too important, and I'm not prepared to be an obstacle to it or a lightning rod distracting from the kids and their potential," Atleo said. "I am therefore today resigning as national chief."

The highly complex issue of "aboriginal education" has never really been about "education" per se, but rather more an intricate dance of Laing-Bateson dynamics between aboriginals across the globe and the governments that dominate them.

RD Laing (7 October 1927 – 23 August 1989), was a psychologist who went against received wisdom taking the expressed feelings of the individual patient or client as valid descriptions of lived experience rather than simply as symptoms of some separate or underlying disorder. (

The views and philosophical flavour of Laing would be familiar to readers of Ivan Illich (of Deschooling fame) though I doubt they would be aware of the apparent cross-pollination (or tangential trajectories) of these two greats of social criticism of the 20th century. I don't know if these two ever even met each other...history has a way of giving particular genius to people of disparate paths who arrive at similar insights who, though temporal contemporaries or belong to the same era, never meet. 1956, Gregory Bateson and his colleagues, Donald Jackson, and Jay Haley articulated a theory of schizophrenia as stemming from double bind situations where a person receives different or contradictory messages.The perceived symptoms of schizophrenia were therefore an expression of this distress, and should be valued as a cathartic and trans-formative experience. Laing argued a similar account for psychoses: that the strange behavior and seemingly confused speech of people undergoing a psychotic episode were ultimately understandable as an attempt to communicate worries and concerns, often in situations where this was not possible or not permitted. Laing stressed the role of society, and particularly the family, in the development of "madness" (his term). Laing argued that individuals can often be put in impossible situations, where they are unable to conform to the conflicting expectations of their peers, leading to a "lose-lose situation" and immense mental distress for the individuals concerned. (further along in the same Wikipedia entry on RD Laing)

Though I would tend to agree with much of Laing and Bateson (from what I've read of them), I'd argue that the symptoms of "madness" (or, more properly, malaise) as described above are not at the personal level per se but nonetheless correctly attributable to displaced societies.

As a person of intellectual inclination who happens to be aboriginal I'm often met with disbelief from both sides of the divide. Having sampled different strands of thought and having achieved a certain level of comfort in both modes of being when I offer an insight I'm nonetheless met with profound skepticism or outright suspicion. I nevertheless persevere because knowledge is not personal but cultural (ie, belongs to all humanity).

Having spent a majority of my life educating myself I feel I have something to offer. Education, as a concept, is less understood than one would think. To those involved at the policy level, education is something akin to that which divides aboriginals from the so-called "mainstream". It's an unquestioned assumption, and to look at it too closely is bound to blind you like the sun - so luminous and mysterious it is.

I have a simple epistemological scheme of "education", distilled from my expansive (HA!) experience. I dub them the three "i"s of education (all taken from a wonderful website I found and bookmarked a while ago):

Vygotsky states cognitive development stems from social interactions from guided learning within the zone of proximal development as children and their partners co-construct knowledge. (

At this point speech and thought become interdependent: thought becomes verbal, speech becomes representational. When this happens, children's monologues internalized to become inner speech. The internalization of language is important as it drives cognitive development.

"Inner speech is not the interior aspect of external speech - it is a function in itself. It still remains speech, i.e. thought connected with words. But while in external speech thought is embodied in words, in inner speech words dies as they bring forth thought. Inner speech is to a large extent thinking in pure meanings" (Vygotsky, 1962: p. 149). (

a revolution in development which is triggered when preverbal thought and preintellectual language come together to create fundamentally new forms of mental functioning” (

When I worked as a policy analyst on education and language issues, I long advocated for a three stage approach to education and child development (repeated and recreated at every and all levels):

a narrative-based pedagogy;
recasting of the narrative into first (or basic) principles;
allowing the student a creative hand to master and reinforce what is learned.

As a non-specialist, and only pondering what learning means to me, I think surely there must be something here...


No comments:

Post a Comment