Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

What Larry (might have) written to James

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I was away when the great storm blew up in Google around the memo written by James Damore, and his subsequent sacking, and I had to rely on the various musings of the liberal right and liberal and illiberal left commentariat for views (I tend not to read what the illiberal right tries to say).

It was confusing.  I (along with a lot of other people, I guess) never saw Damore's original memo, but it's here c/o Gizmodo if you really want to read it.  I've had an interest in these issues for some time, and I was hoping for some enlightenment from on-line notes and musings, but what I got tended to be comments from entrenched positions.

Then the Economist weighed in with a memo that Larry Page might have written (but didn't).  It begins:


Created on: 15 August 2017 at 15:15 (Delivered after 1 seconds)
From: Larry Page <*********>
To: James Damore <***********>
cc: <>
Subject: Re: “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber”

Dear James,


See what you make of it.  If you get to the end there are a number of links to studies and comments on the problem which is more widespread than Google – a search engine, let me say again, I do not use on principle.  Personally, I think it's a pity they took the easy step of sacking him, rather than use the opportunity for some open, in-house discussion about their problems.  Ah, well, ...


Daughters of Destiny

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I've been watching Daughters of Destiny, a four-part documentary about the Shanti Bhavan school in India’s Tamil Nadu which was founded by Abraham George, an Indian business man who made his $zillions in the USA.  I did this with the sustainable development goals in mind.

Shanti Havana is a Bangalore free school for low caste children.  One child per family is selected to go to the school as a boarder at age four and is then educated and supported for 17 years up to their first day of work.  The point of all this is not to rescue one child from a terrible future, but for them to go on to create positive change for their families and communities by getting the sort of job that are normally out of range, especially given the shameful education which they traditionally receive.  This is a fine goal but a heavy burden for them to carry.

It is directed by Vanessa Roth, who lets children, staff and parents speak for themselves.  As a result, Daughters of Destiny mostly lets you think for yourself about what you are seeing.  Some will no doubt deplore this plucking of children out of the warm bosom of the family, and some may regret the selection that is involved.  Others will think it a shame that it's a private school with the ever-benevolent, enlightened guiding hand of the Indian State nowhere in sight, and some will deplore experimenting with children in this way.

I do none of this and think you'd be hard-hearted to let ideology trump the opportunity that's available to these children, families and communities. Shanti Bhavan school has been going now for 17 years, and is looking to expand.

As for the sustainable development goals, all this looked, prima facie, to be the sort of  'quality education' that we all go on about; as such, even UNESCO bureaucrats might approve.  Oddly, no one mentioned ESD.


Al's new movie

📥  Comment, New Publications

I hope Al G's new film, An Inconvenient Sequel: truth to power is better than the original.  I certainly trust that it doesn't contain as many errors as the first – errors that led a UK judge to force the DfE to issue guidance to schools which was very inconvenient for all concerned.  You'll recall (maybe – it was a long time ago in 2007) that the various UK governments had sent the film to all secondary schools in the country so that students could see it.

There seems little danger of that happening this time around, so maybe the high court won't be troubled.  I see, however, that reviews are beginning to circulate with some of Al's interpretation of data being challenged yet again.

I saw the first film and was underwhelmed, but it was before the Blog and I can't find what I wrote, although I remember finding it hectoring and too apocalyptic for my delicate tastes.  I've watched the new film's trailer and it does look like more of the same – with Al still jetting round the planet, giving stirring speeches and doling out moral instruction.  Where have all the flowers gone? came to mind.


EASE-y does it

📥  Comment, News and Updates

As you all surely know, EASE is a project which is open to up to 60 SEEd members to join and contribute to.   SEEd has run one launch event in London "with 18 organisations participating and another 17 interested in how they can contribute and learn from this influential process".  This was, it seems, so successful that EASE is being launched twice more, this time outside London; in Liverpool, and in that hotbed of sustainability activism, Stroud.  You can see the details here.

SEEd says that it:

"... recognises that there is a huge amount of good work taking place but no coherent story demonstrating the impact and importance of environmental education (EE) and education for sustainability (EfS).

It is also:

"committed to capacity building and an integrated vision for Learning for Sustainability."

It says that:

"Funders and UN agencies (e.g. UNESCO) are also becoming more and more interested in supporting scaling up and embedding the work, rather than endless pilots and new programmes.  As a sector, we know the evidence is out there and SEEd has gathered about 100 documents already with plenty more to find.  A meta-review needs to be conducted and the capacity of the Environmental Education and Learning for Sustainability sector needs to be built.  Understanding how to use evidence to influence and persuade will be crucial to the success of this work."

Whilst I, of course, wish all this well, I do continue to wonder what it's for and how it will all work.


Mentioned in despatches by UNESCO

📥  Comment, New Publications

I see that Paul Vare and I have been mentioned “in despatches” [*] by UNESCO in its SDG Learning Objectives.  It is, of course, always nice to have your work noticed.

The report begins:

"Education is UNESCO’s top priority because it is a basic human right and the foundation on which to build peace and drive sustainable development. UNESCO is the United Nations’ specialized agency for education and the Education Sector provides global and regional leadership in education, strengthens national education systems and responds to contemporary global challenges through education with a special focus on gender equality and Africa.

UNESCO, as the United Nations’ specialised agency for education, is entrusted to lead and coordinate the Education 2030 Agenda, which is part of a global movement to eradicate poverty through 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Education, essential to achieve all of these goals, has its own dedicated Goal 4, which aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” The Education 2030 Framework for Action provides guidance for the implementation of this ambitious goal and commitments."

In this, I particularly noted: "Education, [is] essential to achieve all of these goals, ...".  This is obviously the case, particularly in the sense of "inclusive and equitable quality education [to] promote lifelong learning opportunities for all" (see above).  However, as this sort of education has been complicit in getting us into the mess we're in (as others have argued many times before), this isn't enough.  Perhaps the Foreword would acknowledge this, I wondered.  Here it is, written by Qian Tang, Assistant Director-General for Education:

UNESCO has been promoting Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) since 1992.  It led the UN Decade for ESD from 2005 to 2014 and is now spearheading its follow-up, the Global Action Programme (GAP) on ESD.

The momentum for ESD has never been stronger.  Global issues – such as climate change – urgently require a shift in our lifestyles and a transformation of the way we think and act.  To achieve this change, we need new skills, values and attitudes that lead to more sustainable societies.

Education systems must respond to this pressing need by defining relevant learning objectives and learning contents, introducing pedagogies that empower learners, and urging their institutions to include sustainability principles in their management structures.

The new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development clearly reflects this vision of the importance of an appropriate educational response.   Education is explicitly formulated as a stand-alone goal – Sustainable Development Goal 4.  Numerous education related targets and indicators are also contained within other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Education is both a goal in itself and a means for attaining all the other SDGs. It is not only an integral part of sustainable development, but also a key enabler for it.  That is why education represents an essential strategy in the pursuit of the SDGs.

This publication is designed as a guide for education professionals on the use of ESD in learning for the SDGs, and consequently to contribute to achieving the SDGs.  The guide identifies indicative learning objectives and suggests topics and learning activities for each SDG.  It also presents implementation methods at different levels, from course design to national strategies.

The guide does not aim to be prescriptive in any way, but to provide guidance and suggestions that educators can select and adapt to fit concrete learning contexts.

I am confident that this guide will help to develop sustainability competencies for all learners and empower everyone to contribute to achieving our ambitious and crucial global agenda.

Well, up to a point.  The first thing to note is that this is all about ESD which wasn't mentioned in what went before.  There, it was 'education' which was stressed.  But then, the report is all about ESD, and the title perhaps ought (more honestly) to have been ESD learning objectives.  It's understandable, of course, that UNESCO has hitched its broken-down ESD wagon to the more resilient and sprightly SDG horse.  However, whether anyone will take any notice as it trundles its way through the streets is a moot point.

UNESCO did at least resist writing "The momentum of ESD has never been stronger".  In that, it knows the truth of the matter.  How bitterly it must regret all the waste of time and effort over 15 years when it could have been focusing, from 2003, on reforming education itself as a part of Education For All [EFA].  Whatever happened to that idea?

More later, no doubt, on those tedious learning objectives themselves.


[*]   Vare, P. and Scott, W., 2007. Learning for a Change: Exploring the Relationship between Education and Sustainable Development.  Journal of Education for Sustainable Development. 1(2), 191– 198.


Last word – on VW

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Last week a VW engineer, James Liang, was sentenced to 40 months in jail and given a $200,000 fine.  The Detroit judge said that Mr. Liang and other VW executives and employees were responsible for a “massive and stunning fraud” that violated the trust that consumers need to have in goods and services purchased from corporations.  The NY Times [*] reported the judge saying:

“This is a very serious and troubling crime against our economic system.  Without that trust in corporate America, the economy can’t function.”

The judge said Mr. Liang had been “too loyal” to VW, and unwilling to expose its deceptive practices or walk away from his $350,000-a-year job.

VW, which has pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to violate the Clean Air Act, as well as customs violations and obstruction of justice, has agreed to pay $4.3 billion in civil and criminal penalties.  This is part of a $22 billion in settlements and fines that VW is paying as a result of its cheating – although UK consumers are not getting a cent of this.

Six other Volkswagen executives have been indicted in the US case, as well as one employee of Audi.  One executives, Oliver Schmidt, the former head of Volkswagen’s environmental and engineering centre in Michigan, has been held without bail since his arrest in January 2017 . Earlier this month, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the federal government and violating the Clean Air Act.

Note that will you: "violating the clear air act".  Does the UK even have a clean air act?  If so, has VW been accused of violating it?  You know the answer.  The contrast between the US and UK governments could not be clearer.  In the US, the Department Justice threw the book at VW; in the UK, the government has been dragged repeated to the Courts by a charity [Client Earth] in order to get it to enforce its own air quality legislation.  Why are we not much more angry about this?


* Here's a NYT graphic on how the scam worked, which cars were involved, and the difference it made to emissions.  And this link provides more of the detail of the scandal.




Final thoughts – almost

📥  Comment, News and Updates

A few final thoughts from my trip to Germany:

  • The eastern part of Germany is full of wind farms, fine railway stations (Go to Leipzig!), and a lot of new roofs, but it feels empty
  • Germany’s social divisions have become regional.  The Economist says that there is now there's a north – south split as well as an east – west one, but, comparing Dresden and Bremen, the south of the east looks and feels better in many ways than the west of the north
  • Mrs M's writ is less powerful in the east where locals are happy to run red pedestrian lights: it must be that legacy of being told what to do all the time and how to think.
  • Their health service is clearly better than the NHS though not without issues.
  • German black pilsner (e.g. Köstritzer Schwarzbier) seems much superior to its Czech cousin.
  • It's odd to see huge ads on German streets glamourising smoking, and to realise that circuses still have 'wild' animals.
  • I'm wondering whether I shall ever buy a German car again.
  • I'm already looking forward to my next trip.

This was almost my last thought.  Tomorrow I'll round off this series of posts by returning to VW's cheating and its consequences.


Berlin Airport Blues

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The last time I flew out of Berlin’s Tegel airport, I said “never again”, as its squalid facilities would put even the USA to shame.   But here I am, 10 years later, with another delayed flight (I blamed the EU's new rules).  Tegel is now, of course, even more inadequate.  The signage is appalling and it led us to what resembled a hanger – but it turned out to be the wrong hanger.  I expected the USAF to be dropping food parcels any minute (wrong airfield, I know!)

Tegel has no train or metro connections and so you have to go there by bus.  The X in the TXL bus from main Berlin railway station (Hbf) does not, it turns out, mean ‘express’.  It means ‘cross town stopping shopping service’ where buggies and babies jostle for a stop or two amidst cabin baggage and hold luggage.  It’s a nightmare (as is the signage at the Hbf).  I imagine Mrs M is ashamed of the whole thing, although I doubt she ever uses it.

We eventually got back to the well-organised, spacious, efficient, light and airy Heathrow Terminal 2.  What Germans think of this when they arrive is unrecorded.

Tegel is as much a joke airport as is Berlin’s much delayed and ridiculed replacement: the Willy Brandt Airport.  This gives the lie to Germany’s engineering and organisational super-prowess.  After 15 years of planning, construction began in 2006.  Due to be finished in 2013, and recently 'completed', WBA is still not in use and won't be until fundamental safety features are sorted out.

For the quite unbelievable details of this fiasco, Wikipedia is a good place to start – and you really should read this before you buy your next vacuum cleaner.



Schadenfreude, Bildung and Beer

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Sitting in a (distinctly non-Anglo) Saxon café with a glass of black pilsner in my hand, on a terrace overlooking the Elbe as it made its way through Dresden, I could not help but enjoy the discomfort of endless groups of Germans so eager for culture that they submitted themselves to listening to dull tour guides witter endlessly on.  The victims looked leg, brain and bildung-weary, and I caught many a glance in the direction of my beer.  Well, it's a free country, or so Mrs M says, and local beer is only 60p for 500 ml in the shops (with money back on the bottle), so there's a ready remedy to hand.

All this brought another new German proverb to mind:

In today's Germany, although you're never far from Bildung, you're always closer to beer.


Tomorrow's post is about the difficulties of leaving Berlin.  There's also more on the German's soiled reputation for engineering excellence, and a warning about buying a new vacuum cleaner.



Why Germany needs 5 flags

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I said in a recent post that it seemed but short steps from saying that German car-makers cheat, to saying that German business cheats, and that Germany cheats.  In other words, that Germany risks letting its criminal car companies represent the nation's morals in the world.  You see a VW on the road: you see a symbol of Germans cheating the public.

The risk seems high, and there is now awareness of the umbilical link between the German government and its car-makers.   There was a striking cartoon in Thüringer Allgemeine while we were in Erfurt which showed 5 German flags behind the podium where an official government statement was to be made.  Each black, red and yellow flag showed the logo of a different car company.

The Times reported last week in a piece on the forthcoming German federal election:

"People are unhappy about the collusion between carmakers, their readiness to dodge diesel emission standards, their proximity to government and the pervasive suspicion of establishment cover-ups.  Germans are rightly proud of their cars and they understandably hate cheats.  Now something is going awry.  The economy is doing quite well, which should give fair wind to an incumbent government, but voters worry that their teenage children are being exploited in their apprenticeships and traineeships.  Unpaid overtime, a demand from some employers that the youngest in the workforce turn up two hours earlier than everyone else, also rankles.  The German engine is not purring as it should."

Tomorrow, I'll have a piece on Schadenfreude, Bildung and Beer.