Tuesday, June 07, 2005

From Friction to Engagement

To construct or not to construct, mom, that is the question upon most everyone’s lips these days. Politically, in Canada our home and native land, we have the same old, two, tired parties trying to construct their own unique narratives in a bid to gain the trust of a very distrustful Canadian public. Anyway, you will recall that in my last missive, I alluded to tension and neural networks and the way these are massaged by various media. Back when I was a teenager and engagement -especially with the opposite sex - was a full time preoccupation, a relatively obscure Canadian intellectual by the name of Marshall McCluhan coined the phrase: the medium is the message. He may have been better to say: the medium is the massage.

Judging by the manner in which the nation’s tensions are currently being massaged by Paul Martin and Steven Harper and their neurally linked and insatiable networks, I’d have to say the ‘massage’ is working. Today, we are beginning to talk a great deal in education about neural plasticity and the way that different and engaging activities enable the brain to establish new and enduring neural networks. And the intensity of the engagement determines the strength of the brain’s long term memory – not something our politicians want to occur, eh mom? One educator called true engagement the 4Cs: Challenge, Curiosity, Context, and Control.

Now if we apply these criteria to the Canadian political scene we can see that the Canadian electorate is well entrenched in what we in education call Discovery, or constructivist learning. Such discovery builds upon the Challenge of trying to solve the problem: do we continue with the ship of state ( sorry mom, a bad metaphor, the current Prime Minister being Dad’s old CSL boss ) as currently being sailed around the docks of Montreal by Paul Martin and his Liberals, or do we move to the evangelical right espoused by the western provinces ‘henchman’ and reputed savior Stephen Harper?

With discovery comes Curiosity. Can the electorate trust a man who might sell his soul just to hang onto power—the buyer being one Conservative MP of Indo-Canadian extraction who only wanted a seat in the senate for himself and his wife, mind, in return for his support? On the other hand, can they trust that a Stephen Harper understands that his church and its prelates and beliefs must be divorced from the state? Or so a significant number of the electorate would have us believe. What say you mom? Should a man or woman use his/her religious beliefs as guides for the rest of the nation? Remember the time when Pierre Trudeau suggested that the state had no business in the bedroom’s of the nation and you applauded vigorously. I wonder how Ann and Brenda’s parents reacted!

Next on the engagement stage comes Context, mom. Into this brouha, the electorate must be wondering: how can a country be as rich in resources as Canada is, but poor as church mice? (No mom, most Canadians don't know how to hide their resources in offshore Bermuda companies, like someone we know..) I know a bad metaphor, but really mom, here in Singapore with a population of some 3-4 million, and no natural resources – save that of intellectual capital, they have a surplus of some 132 billion $US. Contrast that with our country of 32 million, on the second largest land mass, replete with abundant natural resources and carrying a debt of 500 billion. Context, mom. Context is everything. We may have been poor but we did have the greatest of resources: you.

Which leads us to Control. True engagement means the learner is in control and knows what he or she is attempting to do. Thus true engagement leads to discovery, and not always of the things you might want to know. Judging by the fact that less than 50% of the electorate turns out to vote means the 4Cs are not fully addressed, leastwise by this present cadre of politicians. Memory becomes but a short term phenomena and the mind, perforce, looks elsewhere. My mind looks to you often, mom, and the next communication will be on the ways you nurtured the 4Cs and helped prepare me to become a sailor on the HMSS Discovery, upon which I now sail.

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