Another dot in the blogosphere?

Yesterday I asked if practices could be transmitted. Shortly after I read the forum letter that prompted that question, I experienced something at a fast food restaurant that made me question if practices can (or even should) be transplanted.

If you enter a Japanese eatery, you might be greeted with a welcome. I am quite sure that it works where it originated, but it was startling and strange to hear it at a burger joint. My guess was that the manager used to work at a Japanese eatery.

Often the people who shout the welcome parrot the greeting and they direct it no one in particular. There is no real welcome in their eyes or faces because they are just going through the motions. It does not seem to be in our DNA or culture.

We cannot simply transplant a practice that works well elsewhere without considering the context for its use.

So by all means attend sharing sessions or invest in study trips. But do not expect transplanted practices to work. It seems like common sense. The same common sense that has become a rare commodity among leaders, administrators, and policymakers.

Earlier this month I read an ST forum letter written by a person who hoped that there was some way to retain older teachers because they could transmit best practices.

I have reflected on why I think we should not take the phrase “best practices” seriously [1] [2].

Now I am wondering if practices can actually be transmitted. By that I think the writer meant the passing on or handing down of practices like rituals, stories, and examples. The thing about such transmission is that the context and meaning for such practices often gets lost.

Even the transmission of light is not without incident. It can be reflected, refracted, diffused, or diffracted so much so that what it used to represent is not the same as the original.

I do not discount the good work of experienced teachers. But we must distinguish between the experienced teachers who continue to learn and those who rely on outdated formulae.

Both types of teachers can offer “best” practices, but one set of experiences is more valuable than the other. One set accommodates, and is perhaps strengthened by the reflection, refraction, diffusion, or diffraction of practice.

One of my newfound favourites on YouTube is Brett Domino. He and his partner form the Brett Domino Trio band (and yes, there are only two of them).

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BD appeared on my radar thanks to a Gizmodo post a short while ago. He spoof-taught us how to create a hit pop song. The video went viral, but I do not think that his channel has got as many new subscribers as he deserves.

I think that he is a rare combination of musical and comedic talent. But not everyone agrees.

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When the BD Trio appeared on Britain’s Got Talent five years ago, Simon Cowell did not appreciate his talent and was the first (and only) judge to buzz them out. He did not get what BD was trying to do. The audience seemed to get it. The other judges did and even had to explain it to Cowell.

There are many Cowells in the world today. They have narrow definitions of talent or worth. When they are the majority they drown out the views of the minority who think otherwise. Even if they are the minority, they have so much influence, possess veto powers, or claim to represent current norms that they get their way.

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Take BD’s video response to Airbnb’s recently redesigned logo for example (warning: Not for the prude or sensitive). BD was not the first to point of that the logo looked like genitalia. However, I think he quickly responded with a funny and catchy song. But how many people are going to laugh along and appreciate his talent?

Here is another example. Someone I know on Twitter expressed her frustration at having to show her O and A-level certificates as she moved to another job in the civil service. Most statutory boards and the civil service here prize paper qualifications seemingly at the exclusion of everything else. Almost two decades of teaching experience was not good enough.

That person was facing a Cowell form of evaluation. But I think that it is far more important to know what you are worth by your own reckoning, and if you find it necessary, find other measures.

The BD Trio has its likes and comments in YouTube. Owners of other forms of digital portfolios can collect and curate comments, critiques, and bouquets, and showcase them alongside processes and products of learning. I think these will be far more important and effective in the near future.

I have found this to be true for myself. I am leaving NIE at the end of the month. But I have found suitors despite not actively looking for a more permanent job. People know me from what I have shared at talks or online. My worth is not measured by my doctorate but by what value I bring to the table. That value is not theoretical in the form of school certificates but a living portfolio in the form of this blog and other digital artefacts.

So instead of waiting for the world to change, I suggest we see and be the change. We all have talent whether someone else values them or not.

My head spins every time Twitter updates its app. While the iPad version of the mobile app has remained stable, the iPhone version has changed its “underwear” frequently.


About two updates ago, the block function was simplified and looked like the interface above. One update ago, it reverted to the multiple-and-little-choice interface. The most recent update brought the simple block function back.

I hope Twitter keeps the simple option. There is no need to know why I want or need to block someone just like there is no need to know why I close the windows when it rains.

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I am just one person, what can I possibly do? We learn to say that as we grow up.

One man, Jadav Payeng, did not learn that lesson. He has been planting trees in Majuli island, India. He has single-handedly planted a forest that is larger than Central Park in New York.

He started his mission in the 1970s and the reforested area has attracted wildlife like elephants, deer, and tigers. He also has ideas on how to simultaneously prevent soil erosion and make the place economically viable.

That is the work of just one man. Now imagine what what a few more who go beyond dreaming or complaining can do.

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Facebook is a juggernaut. But if you keep tabs on social media trends you might get a sense that the older set are adopting it and the younger set are avoiding it.

Here is a musical reason why (courtesy of the brilliant Brett Domino Trio).

And Tango Makes Three - Banned Books Wee by Rob Dumas, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  Rob Dumas 

Someone wrote yet another letter to the ST forum to point out that And Tango Makes Three was also banned from some libraries and schools in the the US. I do not know if the writer or someone in the paper titled the letter Book caused stir in America too.

“America” has become synonymous with the “United States of America”, but they are not the same thing. When I was a graduate student in the US, I met a Venezuelan, Chilean, and Brazilian who pointed out that they were proud Americans too. South Americans to be precise.

The same could be said about those in Central and North America. Let us not misrepresent the scale of the ban and try to justify our actions by saying that someone else bigger than us did the same thing.

The writer also declared:

And Tango Makes Three, has been among the most banned books in public libraries and schools across the United States, which has long been known to be an open and liberal Western society.

With one sweep of the brush, she painted all of the US as open and liberal. Really? Some of the most conservative people live there. Some of the most uneducated and poorest live there too.

Where did the writer get her information about the US from? From our local press? From television programmes and movies? From a whirlwind trip to tourist spots in the US?

How about actually living there for a while, listening to a variety of US citizens, observing what happens on public transport, or even suffering verbal abuse on the street? How about alternative points of view so that there is a balanced painting of the overall picture?

That is what books like And Tango Makes Three and the civil discussions that emerge from reading it are about. It is not about promoting an alternative lifestyle that you do not believe in. It is about telling our children what the world is and teaching them to think critically and independently.

If we do not do this, the least of our problems will be assumptions that Singapore is in China and the US is America. The bigger problems we perpetuate are ignorance and apathy which can spawn hatred and bigotry.

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