Friday, January 17, 2014

Cheating, Survival and New Beginnings

This is my response to the task for Week One of the Rhizomatic Learning Course on P2PU focusing on the topic of 'cheating on learning'...

There is a call from a certain group at the moment in Australian education about better recognising Western traditions in Australia's history and society. A certain bias that is being brought to bare by the new Liberal Government. See for example Tony Taylor's article in The Age. One of the things that this got me thinking about is the forgotten history, the voices denied air, subordinated, all in the attempt to create a stable tradition. In Kevin Donnelly's case, this Anglo tradition is based on place of Christianity in our culture. Yet when you dig deep it could be argued that it was not 'Christianity' that laid the foundations of much of this great nations, rather it was those who had to resort to doing whatever it was they needed to do to survive, whether it be stealing a loaf of bread or pinching a pocket watch. The consequence of which was to be sent to a place the other side of the world.

Having just finished reading Kate Grenville's The Secret River, a novel which provides a frank portrayal of life in the new colony and out in the frontier country, I can't help but be reminded about cheating as an essential weapon for survival. When all is at stake, stealing is a way of carving out a new beginning. Whether it be syphoning wood from rich merchants to sell to provide for others or claiming land to plant crops and clear land, stealing is often the basis for getting by. What is fascinating is that over time such acts as the appropriation of land become common place. What was once 'stealing' is eventually seen as 'normal', whether that be because the power structures evolve or simply because those who suffered the ill-deed can only be stolen from once.

What is interesting is that on top of these often forgotten histories are a set of traditions created seemingly in denial of the past. I am currently reading James Boyce's book 1835: The Founding of Melbourne and the Conquest of Australia. The book explores all the different influences associated with the development of Melbourne, from the founding of the project to the treaty with the local native people. One of the things that struck me was that many of the founding fathers actually sent in ex-convicts to clear the land, to establish some sort of settlement, before actually going in themselves. In this situation, those who initially squatted and settled had little respect for the rules of the colony. Often it was the rules dictated by the empire that brought them to the place that they were, a long way from 'home'. Such settlers cared more about doing what needed to be done to survive, rather than what was right and appropriate. Eventually the investors of the Port Phillip Association came in and took control, moving from a focus on settlement and survival to one of gain and investment. 

The irony about all of this is that stealing comes first, while traditions follow afterwards. Like an artist who roughly sketches the inital drawing with pencil, only to go over it at a later date with something more defined and set. However, even if these first lines are erased, a trace often remains. An indent in the surface. A reminder of the first beginning.

To come back to education, this all leaves me thinking about those learners who are using stealing in the classroom today - collaborating, sharing, hacking - what foundation are they laying? What are the new traditions that will emerge from these seemingly humble beginnings? What legacy are they creating?