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Elect my candidate – honouring reasoning and intellectual agency October 25, 2010

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Education Policy and Politics, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
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From Professor Michael Singh

In his first post on 21st Century Learning, Michael Singh reflects upon and celebrates the intellectual and moral gains made through educational research and writing over the past decades as captured in contemporary educational literature, and through this signals the constancy of values that will continue to be critical for the effectiveness of 21st century schools.


This evening I wish to nominate my candidate for this election.

In doing so, I wish to begin by presenting to you the evidence that is necessary for you to make an informed decision, before casting your vote – for what you value and have reason to value.

In terms of leadership my candidate has worked long and hard over the decades – and is not just driven by the electoral cycle.

Perhaps my candidate’s greatest achievement has been in enhancing the interests of Indigenous Australians.

From the days of Charles Perkins’ ‘freedom rides’ and the 1967 referendum in support of Indigenous citizenship, my candidate has made it customary to acknowledge this country as Indigenous lands, to acknowledge the Indigenous ancestors of these lands and to acknowledge the continuing presence of Indigenous peoples.

This evening we honour the rich collaboration between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia in the work of Margaret Somerville and Tony Perkins.

In Singing the Coast (Aboriginal Studies Press, 2010) we see the immersion of non-Indigenous Australians in the struggles of Indigenous Australians over place, identity and knowledge.

Since at least the 1960s my candidate has also done much to advance the struggles of immigrants to Australia.

The Child Migrant Education Program was among those important achievements in the field of English language education.

Moreover, in the 1970s, with the end of the Franco-American neo-colonial war against the peoples of Viet Nam my candidate secured the undoing of White Australia politics.

Phan Le Ha and her colleague are carrying forward the multilingual and multicultural education agenda in their work Multilevel and Diverse Classrooms (2010).

That an Australian university can now honour a Vietnamese scholar, and count her as one of our own says much about the direction of change being pursued by my candidate.

With a nation-wide program that led to the establishment of preschools in the 1970s my candidate has done much to advance the interests of young children and their parents, especially their mothers.

In a field where economics and neuroscience are key drivers of policy-makers’ decisions, Marilyn Fleer and her colleagues are doing much to demonstrate the need for educational knowledge that builds the capacity of early childhood workers.

Moreover, through their work in Early Childhood Curriculum (2010), and Early Learning and Development (2010) they are contributing to the transnational flow of Russian knowledge into the Anglophone West.

My candidate for this election has done much to promote the intersection of race, class and gender, supporting the women’s liberation and anti-racist movements.

This evening Cynthia Joseph and her colleague are to be honoured for their important work, Black and Postcolonial Feminisms in New Times (2010).

With the mounting concerns about this dangerous and endangered world, my candidate for this election has done much to move forward the struggles against the exploitation of water.

This evening we honour the contribution of Brian Wathhcow in The Song of the Wounded River (2010) for his revelations about the damaged done to Australia’s greatest, but most fragile river.

My candidate has always been concerned about alienation, and especially about ways of generating higher-order knowledge – theory – from engagement with the struggles of those experiencing alienation.

On this occasion we honour the contribution of David Zyngier, Engaging Pedagogies and Pedagogues (2010) for his investigations into the politics of dis-engagement, the alienation that leaves students at schools ‘at risk.’

My candidate has been most concerned about identifying and working with those forces that can bring forward long-term change.

While workers are no longer the beginning and end of these struggles, work, workplaces and workers are integral to my candidate’s interests.

This evening we honour the contribution of Terri Seddon and colleagues in Learning and Work and the Politics of Working Life (2010) for their investigation into the changes in work and education, and the importance of debate and dissent to both.

Likewise we pay tribute to Deanna de Zilwa for her analysis in Academic Units in a Complex, Campaign World (2010) of the adaptation and resistance by academics’ work units to the new forms of government and market regulation that directs their operations.

Central to my candidate’s efforts to bring about change has been the human reasoning and intellectual agency involved in acquiring and producing knowledge.

That teachers’ knowledge is recognised and acknowledged in John Loughran’s What Expert Teacher Do (2010) is a wonderful achievement to be celebrated for expanding educational research beyond the boundaries of empirical concerns about practice.

This then is the evidence – and the values – that I have offer you in support of my candidate.

My candidate for this election has done much to keep the excesses of power inequalities at bay – often through the work of scholars such as these – scholars who have used the powers of human reason and intellectual agency to make visible forms of power that are otherwise obscured.

When it comes to dealing with concentrations of power; when it comes to re/asserting meaningful control over peoples’ lives; when it comes to giving direction and pace to change – my candidate stands for each new generation carving out its own path – its own vision – its own language – its own lexicon of critique.

Therefore, when voting in this or any election, I give you my number one candidate – democracy.

Some may mock my support for democracy as an over-indulgence.

Bt it is the power of the people to bring forward the forces that can effect the direction of the historical changes documented in this research that makes democracy worth voting for – every time.

This democratic impulse claims intellectual status and the authority of research-based knowledge for the underrepresented and marginalised in the everyday life of this nation.

It is the power of the people to monitor, mediate and mitigate the concentrations of unaccountable power documented in this research that makes it possible for the people to assert meaningful control over their lives.


Michael Singh is Professor in Education and leads the Work Knowledge Democracy research program in the Centre for Educational Research at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. This blog post is an excerpt from an address he gave before the recent Federal election in Australia. Michael delivered this address at the Research Expo, Faculty of Education, Monash University Melbourne, on August 16, 2010, where he was invited to celebrate recent research achievements in Education at Monash.


1. Bingyi - October 26, 2010

This instrumental role of democracy may be evident, for instance in governmental response to the acute suffering of people. The rulers have an incentive to listen to what people want if they have to face their criticism and seek their support in elections. In a democracy, government response depends on the pressure that is put on the government, and this is where the exercise of political rights (voting, criticizing, protesting and so on) can make a real difference. In a democracy, governments are expected to listen to people’s critiques or if they do not then they face protests about policy adversity, and to exercise this democratic freedom.

The constructive aspect of democracy lies in its conceptualization — including comprehension of needs and how policy respond to these needs. The conception of “needs” relates to our ideas about the preventable nature of some deprivations, and to our understanding of what can be done about them. Democracy is intimately connected with public discussion and interactive reasoning. Public discussions—debate and critique—play a crucial role in the formation of these understandings and beliefs. The guarantee of open discussion, debate, criticism and dissent—all of which research contributes to—are central to democratic processes of generating informed and reflected choice. Political rights, including freedom of intellectual expression and discussion, are not only pivotal to inducing government policy responses to needs, they are also central to the conceptualisation of needs themselves.

2. Hui Meng - October 26, 2010

I think this address is very powerful. I am especially interested in comments on the role of education in social equity. Indiginous knowledge both in its narrow and broad senses deserves more attention from the Western world.
I know Dr. Phan Le Ha who was mentioned in this address. She is a very hardworking and productive international scholar, who has made great effort to articulate “marginalised” knowledge. Probably we need more people like Professor Singh and Dr. Ha to improve the education equity.

3. YUFENG - October 26, 2010

This is very interesting. I hope China has some scholars who are also working on this. Education equity is very important.

4. Qi Jing - October 27, 2010

Well-crafted and ingenious speech. Can’t agree more with Singh’s nomination of democracy as the ultimate pathway of the society as well as contemporary educational research. As Dewey suggested, “…Democracy as compared with other ways of life is the sole way of living …. For every way of life that fails in its democracy limits the contacts, the exchanges, the communications, the interactions by which experience is … enlarged and enriched”.

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