Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘marshall cavendish

If you have been following the story behind this children’s book, you might know that:

  • The author depicted a bully who was “dark-skinned with a head of oily curls”.
  • A reader flagged the book as racist.
  • The National Library Board removed the book from the children’s section shelves for review.

The latest news article revealed that the three-month review brought the book back to the shelves, but this time to the family and parenting section.

The publisher of the book, Marshall Cavendish Education, apologised and said it would stop selling the book and recall it from stores.

From an educator’s point of view, this is a perfect case for social studies or any lesson on critical thinking. Here are some things to think about.

There is no question that the depiction of the character was racist even if the author denied intent. The fact that the review processes did not catch this and put the book out for sale and on library shelves illustrates the same problem. The racism was so insidious that it has become normalised.

The decision to put the book out of sight of children is a masterful administrative stroke. It looks good on paper (we have addressed the issue) but does not actually deal with the issue (insidious racism was not called out).

The move to allow parents to use the book to educate their kids presumes that adults will teach children good values. What if they parents do not point out the racist depiction, or worse, reinforce it?

The responses of the review board and publisher were patronising. Consider these quotes from the latest news article:

  • “NLB acquires about 1 million books annually, we rely on patrons’ feedback and the review by the panel”
  • “Marshall Cavendish Education said it ‘welcomes’ NLB’s decision to move the book to the adult section”
  • “We will continue to work closely with our myriad of passionate authors to produce content that supports, nurtures and inspires students”

All the statements reek of avoiding responsibility — there are too many books to review, the review board made the decision to keep the book on the shelves, and we will keep publishing such books without a clearly revised review process.

The agencies might try to push the issue out of sight. But the responsible and critical will not allow them to push it out of mind.

How did a major publisher of textbooks in Singapore release a blatantly racist book?

We might worry about its selection processes for authors and content. We might wonder what editing and filtering its clearing house performed. After all that failed, we might sigh at the template-based response and “apology” the company issued.

The company might look into tightening it policies and processes. But all that is administrative salve for a deeper problem. It needs to find out how and why it allowed this to happen in the first place.

I suggest three root causes. The company:

  1. focused more on content and skills, and not enough on values and attitudes
  2. did not embrace diversity of hires and thought
  3. focused on easy answers instead of difficult questions

The book was titled Who Wins?. Nobody wins if those of us in schooling and education repeat those mistakes.

I am scheduling this entry to coincide with the end of my talk in the Philippines this morning.

My Google Slides deck is available online.

Keynote cover slide.

First, some background.

I was approached to deliver this talk two weeks ago. By the time the contract document was finalised, I had just six days to prepare the slide deck.

This was a very short runway because I normally work with partners who contact me three to six months, or even a year, in advance. I can recall only one other similar late request. In both these cases, I either knew someone well or had worked with the organiser before.

I wrote earlier that I prefer the “stewing” method of preparation. This gives me time and space to make changes based on more current information I find. I agreed to help even though this was an “instant noodle” request only because I had delivered similar talks before.

Despite the short runway, I decided to challenge myself by using my own visual design approach, refreshing old content, and incorporating new information. This meant very quick and intense work, but very little rehearsal.

As with all talks, I struggled during preparation to decide how much content to include. I decided to remove three of four broad topics, but left the content in the slide deck just in case they came up during the Q&A.

Now, a bit of history. This is the fourth year in a row that I have been invited by a group in the Philippines.

  • 2013: Keynote for Philippine eLearning Society
  • 2014: Plenary for Policy Governance and Capacity Building Conference
  • 2015: Keynote for De La Salle University
  • 2016: GenYo Innovation Summit by DIWA, Philippines (partner of Marshall Cavendish, Singapore)

None of these visits were by my design. They were a result of doing good work, making connections, and maintaining a constant online presence.

Finally, a strategy. I share as openly as I can. If there is a contract, I ask that the resources I prepare be shared under a Creative Commons license. I stipulate this in every proposal document I prepare.
CC information in my slides.
This practice does at least two important things. It keeps my resources searchable and accessible online, and it encourages my partners to rethink their closed practices. It is my small way of promoting open-minded and open-practised changes in educational technology.


Usage policy

%d bloggers like this: