National Standards testing in New Zealand schools

Meditations of a 21st century incarnation of Socrates as composed by Brent Silby


I have happily made the wise nation of New Zealand my temporary home. The government has recently changed and, as expected, the new government is making changes to the education system. It seems that the way in which young people learn is determined by the ideology of the current government. In my foolishness I thought the way in which young people learn would remain the same regardless of the ideology of government.

Still, I was happy to read that the new government is removing National Standards testing. For the last few years young people have been subjected to frequent tests to determine how they perform against “standards” in numeracy and literacy. I do not know who set the standards and how they were set. Why was I happy to see this come to an end? Because it seems to me that attempting to fit students to pre-determined standards assumes that they are products to be constructed, which I do not believe to be the case. I have also heard that this focus has reduced time dedicated to learning in other areas of human endeavor such as the arts, humanities, science, and rational thinking.

There are, of course, people who disagree with me. I found the following comment in a social media page. It is public, so I believe it is reasonable to reproduce it — though I will omit the author’s name.

“Actually kids deserve standards instead of wittering on about cultural issues that mean nothing to those who try and pay lip service to. Why not ensure standards of basic literacy and numeracy are taught is an interesting way? Kids are lost in a swamp of method and cannot bloody spell. Phonic is a dirty word and science is boring at the primary levels. It is time to stop wasting 2 years at immediate and teach a curriculum worthy of a new generation.”


I decided to respond to this person by summarizing his argument in premise / conclusion form.

P1. (premise) Kids either deserve standardized testing in literacy and numeracy OR learning about cultural issues (implication that it is one or the other).

P2. (premise) Kids are being taught too much method and cannot spell;

P3. (premise) Phonics are not used, and science is boring in primary school

C1. (conclusion) Therefore, (from P2 and P3) we should teach intermediate level students a curriculum worthy of a new generation

P4. (premise) A curriculum worthy of a new generation involves teaching literacy and numeracy in interesting ways

C2. (conclusion) Therefore, we should keep national standard testing in literacy and numeracy

I believe this accurately captures the argument. When presented in this form, we can examine the logic. So, my friends, what do we see here? No doubt you have seen that this argument is invalid. Conclusion (C1) does not follow from the premises. Additional work would be needed to deduce this conclusion. The author needs to include a premise to indicate that the current style of teaching spelling and science is failing because it is not suitable for this generation. That premise would need further support, of course.

Conclusion (C2) also does not follow deductively from the line of reasoning. The mistake is in the move the author makes from teaching to testing. We may agree that creatively teaching a range of subjects is important, but it does not follow that we should keep National Standard testing in literacy and numeracy. I think this small argument represents a common mistake in reasoning about National Standards. The mistake is the conflation of teaching with testing.

Wise readers and will also see that premise #1 does not connect to the rest of the argument; unless, of course, the author was assuming the truth of a suppressed premise such as: learning about cultural issues is not worthy of a new generation. This may be seen as a value judgement or a testable claim about the world. Either way, it is currently unsupported and therefore leaves the argument unconvincing.

In an attempt to progress my examination, I outlined the above in a reply to the person who made the comment. He has not yet responded.

— Socrates

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Socrates on the Facebook

I have been enjoying dialogues with some worthy people. It reminds me of the Agora. You can join us if you so wish: Socrates on Facebook

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Socrates’ criticism of the written word

Meditations of a 21st century incarnation of Socrates as composed by Brent Silby


I was never fond of the written word. Why? Because written thoughts are unable to be properly interrogated. Given my belief that the path to knowledge is through dialogue, the written word seems to me to represent something of a semblance of knowledge, but not knowledge itself.

I am also suspicious of people who pretend to have wisdom when they have read written thoughts. People are good at repeating what they have read. People may even give the appearance of great wisdom and knowledge where none exists.

Now, I may be accused of a hypocrisy in recording my thoughts in writing. But, dear reader, I think the manner in which I use the written word is different. With access to the author through this Internet, one can interrogate thoughts and ideas. Dialogue is possible. And this is what I have been enjoying today. I have been learning through dialogue.

Wisdom still eludes me, but I continue to seek it nonetheless.

— Socrates

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Is it better never to have been?


Meditations of a 21st century incarnation of Socrates as composed by Brent Silby


My friends, you may have read my recent meditation on David Benatar’s book, Better Never To Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence. If you have not, please do so here. My meditation includes a link to an article by the wise Elizabeth Harman in which she refutes Benatar.

It is raining this evening and I again find myself meditating on Benatar’s book. He argues that because of the harm people experience in life, it is better to not bring people into existence. I have been thinking about the joys and pleasure that people experience in life and I wonder if these outweigh the harms. If so, Benatar’s main premise will be refuted.

Benatar addresses this thought himself. He thinks that the harms we experience are constant throughout life. We live a life of pain. However, he thinks that we downplay the pain and suffering we experience throughout our lives. He thinks our minds have been evolved such that we focus on the good and forget the bad. Effectively the joy of life is something of an illusion–or a lie. And why does this lie exist? To drive us to reproduce. It is connected to this theory of evolution that you moderns have developed.

It seems that Benatar is trying to tell us something like: despite what you think, life is painful. You think you’re happy, but that feeling is a biological trick. You really live miserable lives and so will everyone you bring into existence. Because this is bad, you should not bring anyone into existence.

But I wonder if there is another way to look at this. If people feel happy and joyful, doesn’t that show that somehow they manage to overcome pain, either through evolved behavior or careful thought and reflection. And if overcoming pain, no matter how, results in a happy life, is that not good? And is that not something that should be experienced? Perhaps people should be brought into existence so that they too can learn how to become happy.

— Socrates

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Is it just to kill animals for meat?

I am most fortunate to be continuing to examine life. Here is a partial transcript of a recent dialogue in which we examined our treatment of animals. To my shame, this is something I never analyzed back in Athens.
— Socrates

SOCRATES: Would a just person cause unnecessary pain?

MARY: No, of course not.

SOCRATES: As you are wise and knowledgeable, can you please tell me, is it true that people can live long healthy lives without eating meat?

MARY: Yes, this is true.

SOCRATES: Must it not follow that eating meat is unnecessary in terms of helping people live long and healthy lives?

MARY: Yes, that follows, Socrates.

SOCRATES: Can we therefore agree that if eating meat is unnecessary in terms of helping people live long and healthy lives, then killing animals for meat is unnecessary.

MARY: That is a reasonable conclusion.

SOCRATES: Now tell me, is it not true that killing animals causes them pain?

MARY: It seems to be true.

SOCRATES: Then it must follow that killing animals causes them unnecessary pain.

MARY: Yes.

SOCRATES: But we have agreed that a just person does not cause unnecessary pain, so it must follow that killing animals for meat is unjust.


COMPOSED BY BRENT SILBY


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Better never to have been?

Meditations of a 21st century incarnation of Socrates as composed by Brent Silby


David Benatar has written a book called Better Never To Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence. In this remarkable book, Benatar argues that because bringing a person into existence causes them harm, we should not procreate.

Elizabeth Harman has written a wise response to Benatar. Her admirable paper can be read online here: Critical Study – David Benatar. Better Never To Have Been. I recommend that you read her work, my friends. Myself, I am eager to learn and will do so by examining Benatar’s main argument directly.

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Free education

Meditations of a 21st century incarnation of Socrates as composed by Brent Silby


By the gods, almost every day I find myself confused trying to understand the problems you moderns face. The wise country of New Zealand recently announced that students will receive a free year of university education. This, to me, is a triumph of modern society. To be able to offer its people free education surely is the sign of a successful country. But people are complaining about it. People think this is a big problem. Why? Because the free education will be paid for by the government, which means it is made possible through taxation. And many people don’t want to be paying for other people’s education. They think people who want an education should pay for it themselves.

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Missing out on my promotion

Meditations of a 21st century incarnation of Socrates as composed by Brent Silby


Practical philosophy, my friends, is a worthy pursuit. By using the techniques of philosophical reasoning, practical philosophy can help people see their life problems in a different light. Yesterday I was conversing with someone who had missed out on a job promotion. My friend was feeling a mix of anger and depression. She had deduced that failing to gain her promotion meant that she, herself, was a failure. Her reasoning was straight forward and deductively valid, though unsound:

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The Concept of Western Civilization

Meditations of a 21st century incarnation of Socrates as composed by Brent Silby


Articles have been flowing through the Internet today. This one looked very interesting to me: “The concept of ‘Western Civilisation’ is Past its Use-By Date“. I encourage you, good reader, to examine carefully the article and its arguments.

The author, Catherine Coleborne, is promoting diversity in education and is concerned that the University of New South Wales is reviving its liberal arts and humanities programme. In my ignorance I found myself confused. I have always thought of humanities programmes as being well positioned to offer diverse education, so I thought it strange that Coleborne indicated a dichotomy between the two. Evidently she believes humanities programmes are based on a concept of Western Civilisation that neglects the contribution that non-western cultures have made to the world.

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The True Life

Alcibiades and Socrates

Meditations of a 21st century incarnation of Socrates as composed by Brent Silby


An admirable man by the name Alain Badiou has written a remarkable book about a charge brought against me back in 399 B.C. I was charged with two heinous crimes: Atheism and Corrupting the youth. The first of those charges may be more precisely described as a refusal to acknowledge the offical gods of Athens, which I refuted by referring to my numerous discussions on the nature of piety.

The second charge was based, I think, on the need to find someone to blame for the behavior of certain people who caused much trouble for Athens — Alcibiades, for example. He spent much time with me before betraying Athens to the Spartans. My accusers concluded that his betrayal was a result of my teachings. But I don’t teach. I simply ask questions and as a result, people learn for themselves how to examine ideas that are generally accepted without question.

Because I thought that rather than corrupting, I had done service to Athens in helping youth learn how to think, I suggested that my punishment should be free food and accommodation for the rest of my life. The jury of 501 regular Athenians did not take kindly to this suggestion. We all know what happened. The decision was that I should be condemned to death.

So what were young people learning from me? Why did it upset the establishment? Alain Badiou has written a worthy book on this, a summary of which can be read here: Applying Socrates to Politics.

— Socrates

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