‘Sit Down, Shut Up, And Listen’ – A radio documentary on mainstream education in Ireland

Click here to head over to soundcloud and listen to a radio documentary I recorded and edited including interviews with Educational author Mark Patrick Hederman on the outdated nature of the system, some fabulous stuff from students on how schooling could and should change and finally a teacher from an alternative school in Ireland on their struggles to get support from the Department of Education and her own classroom experiments in democracy.

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Piketty’s “Capital,” in a Lot Less than 696 Pages

Harvard Business Review:

Worth a read this. Nice to see a book based on collecting and analyzing data first, theorizing later. Rather than the usual ideology first approach.

Originally posted on HBR Blog Network - Harvard Business Review:

It was only published in English a few weeks ago, but French economist Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century has already become inescapable. The reasons start with the confluence of subject matter and author. There’s a lot of interest in economic inequality these days, and research conducted over the past 15 years by Piketty, a professor at the Paris School of Economics, is a big reason why. In the U.S., Piketty and UC Berkeley’s Emmanuel Saez transformed a tame discussion of income quintiles and deciles into a sharp debate about the skyrocketing incomes of the 1% — and the mind-boggling gains of the 0.1% and 0.01%  — by gathering and publishing income tax data that nobody had bothered with before. Piketty was behind similar projects in France, Britain, Japan, and other countries.

And now this book. It is massive (696 pages) and massively ambitious (the title is a very…

View original 1,696 more words

Public Meeting on Anti-austerity: A Quick Reaction

So I attended a public meeting of the United Left Alliance (ULA) this evening in the Wynn’s Hotel on Abbey St. The theme was anti-austerity although there was discussion of abortion legislation and general anti-capitalism in its various guises as well. Speakers included Joan Collins TD, Clare Daly TD,  Tomas O Dulaing, the principal of Griffeen Valley Educate Together school, a representative of the soon to be striking bus drivers, and a number of people from the floor. And funnily enough one of my lecturers was in the audience with me as well. Clare Daly gave a great speech condemning the Government for banishing vulnerable women across the waves just as we once banished them behind the walls of the Magdalene Laundries (I’m paraphrasing her poetic quote, which flowed a bit better and earned some applause, but which I can’t remember fully) with regard to exporting abortion, and Tomais O’ Dulaing gave a good speech too, which he’s said he’ll email me, so I’ll be putting that up here soon enough.

It would take an age to mention all the points, and I probably wouldn’t do them justice off the top of my head (for once I was without my trusty notebook), so I won’t even bother.

Suffice to say I was excited and emboldened to be in the presence of so many people who haven’t settled for austerity (What one man present, suggesting we call spades spades, dubbed ‘enforced poverty’) or oligarchy, or ‘occupation by faceless bureaucrats’ . Where this will all end up, I don’t know, but I’m curious. And from the humor and love in the room more than the indignation, I’m optimistic that some good will come from it. Or maybe Leaving Cert English essays have just trained me to end on a triumphant note whether its justified or not, that tactic always seemed to secure better marks.

Interview with Mark Patrick Hederman, Author of ‘The Boy In The Bubble’.

Recently I met with Mark Patrick Hederman, author of ‘The Boy In The Bubble: Education as a Personal Relationship’ at the Aisling hotel to interview him about all things education. Over the course of a thoroughly enjoyable two hour conversation that spanned topics as varied as US foreign policy, Gay marriage, and the excessive conservatism of the catholic church, we managed to fit in a word here and there about learning as well. So here’s what he had to say, to what I had to say.

On The System -

“The truth is that everyone wants to get a job. And there’s only one gig in town when it comes to that, and that’s the Leaving Certificate – otherwise you’re not going to get into any colleges. And if you don’t go to college, you’re not going to get the kind of work that you… Although nowadays people are realizing that they’re not going to get a job even if they do go to university!

Its a big problem and we haven’t really caught up with it yet. We’re still running a system which was invented in the 19th century – a factory model, and that’s the way it is.

So unless we recognize that every single person is different and therefore requires a different kind of education, not this ‘one system fits all’, then they’re not educated.

So we’ve a big problem on our hands, and the truth is that Ireland is a very small country, and we could provide for every child in this country the most adequate form of education if we wanted to.

If we do something like what Finland has done, invest in that, and that would be the most amazing achievement.

The trouble is that we used to think the child was the center of our education system but the child is the last in the pecking order. On top is the Government, then the civil servants, then the trade unions, then the teachers, and then, when they’re all finished having their feed, they’ll decide what’s going to happen with the children.

Even now the Croke Park agreement – things like money for teachers, holidays for teachers, overtime for teachers. It has nothing to do with the children.

A good education is not difficult. All you do, is find out what that child can do, what they’re keen to do, and them let them at it, and provide them with the facilities. Its so simple.

But we’re training people for this 19th century factory model – to be obedient and to be adaptive to the system”

On Online Courses -

“Face to face is key to education, not only that – it has to be the right face.”

On Creativity -

“Its fine to have teachers teaching creativity but that means they have to tap into their own creativity. And if people haven’t actually found their own creativity and used their own imaginations then they’ll be terrified of any child using their imagination,and they’ll tell them ‘sit down, and shut up and don’t challenge me! Because I’m so insecure and I’m a teacher and I’m in charge.”

On the impending Junior Cert Reforms -

“Well the students arrive into secondary school and the teachers say ‘they know nothing. They’re absolutely uneducated – they can’t read, they can’t write. So we have to clean them up; we have to really take them in hand and get them ready for the big time, which is the Leaving Certificate.

So that means the Junior Cert becomes a sort of a dry run for the Leaving Cert and that’s why the present attempt to reform the Junior Cert is a cop out – because what the minister has done is said ‘I’m not going to make any reforms, I’m going to leave it up to the schools’. So the schools are allowed to change that exam in whatever way suits them. But, as you say, if these children have to do the Leaving Cert two years later then they still have to be put through this shredder so they’re ready. There’s no way the Junior Cert will change for the better, there’s nothing you can do. No one’s going to thank you if a child arrives at the Leaving Cert fulfilled, creative, imaginative and getting an E.

So until we change the Leaving Cert itself, we’re stumped on everything else.

The Junior Cert is the greatest disaster when it comes to instilling competition and fear at a young age when everybody should be just exploring. If we really have to do a final exam, fine, but until then people should be free to explore all sorts of areas.”

On the Sudbury Model -

“Its fine for people who are actually up and running, but there’s other people who may have dyslexia or other problems, people who need huge attention and very special one-to-one care.

I believe people who are able to self-direct should be allowed do that and we should help them with it.

But there are the people who are their own worst enemies, or people who may be depressed or insecure – these are massive psychological problems. If every child had personal attention, we’d be fine, but we can’t afford it.

There’s no person in the world you couldn’t educate if you had the right team. But we don’t have that kind of resource.”

Responding to criticism that Glenstal is an exclusive school -

“If you can educate one person completely, just one person – you can change the world. Because they’re going to have an effect as a human being.

Its just amazing to me the number of people who are supposed to be successful, and yet they’re crippled as human beings.

You can only truly educate a small number of human beings in one place, and that’s going to cost more.”

Me – “Surely in a small Country like ours it must be possible to provide a real education to everyone? Couldn’t you charge sliding scale tuition fees where people pay what they can afford. Where we charge people in accordance with their means and then supplement that with fundraising. There are alot of non-profit schools around the world that use this model.”

Mark Patrick – “Well the thing has to pay, but we have lots of people who don’t pay and that is the same principle – those who can pay, do. But you see, when these things are done voluntarily by Do-Gooders they only last for a short time and then collapse

This should be run bu the Government. This should be our system of education. And we have the possibility, we really do.

And I’m very glad that the Celtic Tiger bubble burst. That was teaching people another form of madness. It was a different kind of unhappiness.”

Me – “Speaking of the Celtic Tiger, are a lot of the problems with education stemming from economics? I mean it already is a Government run, public education system, and the government seem to be very much in the pockets of the Troika. They seem to be prioritizing whatever area happens to have the most potential for jobs right now – say IT – and short term economic success rather than the long term holistic prosperity of the nation’s people.”

Mark Patrick – “And that’s always the way. And if the talk about creativity – they latch onto the word – they mean entrepreneurial, they want somebody who knows how to make the next gadget that’s going to make millions for Ireland. They’re not the slightest bit interested in creativity which is personal development or originality, that may not make any money till a hundred years later. So I agree.

I’m seventy next year, so I’m out of the game. But I still feel strongly that it could be possible, but I don’t know how to do it.

I don’t know what I would do. Well, I would do what I’m doing now, and that is educating any person who comes withing my radar, and that means finding out what that person is, what they want to do, what they’re potential is, and then finding the place that person should go. I mean there’s horses for courses and there’s any number of places for people to go, and if you look at the Nobel prizes that have been won, the music industry and so on – this Country is awash with creativity.

There are endless ways in which a person’s live can be lived fully, when each day is so exciting because their doing something more interesting than yesterday.

We’re singing from the same hymn sheet, you and I, but we’re not in charge. We’re the useless eejits running after the bus, complaining that we didn’t get on.”

Me - “If you were in my shoes, and you wanted to change the system, where would you start?”

Mark Patrick - “I’d start with the teachers, with the teacher training.

If a person is actually able to reach their own creative juices, their own personal fulfillment, they’re going to be a terrific teacher. Its the ones who are terrified of the people they’re teaching, that don’t really feel confidant and they have to teach a hundred students six different disciplines, that are not feeling able.”

On Change -

Quoting Margaret Meade, ‘Never doubt that a small group of citizens can change the world. In fact it is the only thing that ever has’ I asked Mark Patrick what his thoughts were on how we can go about repairing our education system, and if indeed a small group of committed citizens is what it takes to change the world.

“Well I know of one man who chains himself to the railings outside the Dáil every time the Leaving Certificate is on. To me that is a complete waste of railing space. You still have to know how to be a mover and a shaker. You can’t just go outside with a placard and stand there hoping someone’s going to notice.

There’s a book I wrote called ‘Dancing With Dinosaurs’ – we’re dealing with dinosaurs all the time, and unless you learn how to deal and to dance with them you’ll just waste your time and get your feet crushed.

Its important to be cute and knowing how to move and where to move and where the weakness is and where to push and shove. So I don’t believe in just small groups unless they actually have their act together and they know the people who matter and can embarrass them at certain points. Then you’re going to get noticed.

So how do we do that now? I don’t know. Because everybody – the trade unions, the civil service, and the government, and business, are all stacked against you.

So where do you defend the children in that situation?”

Where indeed?

So, to sort of summarize:

- Our education system is as antediluvian as the word antediluvian and needs to change but a vast and indifferent ocean of bureaucracy is separating reality as it is and reality as it should be.

Mark Patrick Hederman is the abbot of Glenstal abbey in County Limerick as well as the former principal of the secondary school there. He is also the author of several books including ‘The Boy In The Bubble – Education as Personal Relationship’, which, if you please, you can order here. Its a funny and insightful read.boy in the bubble

Bridge 21 – Bridging the gap between learning and education

In Dublin City, at the end of Nassau St, behind Trinity college and tucked away in the red brick of Oriel House , is the headquarters of an intriguing educational experiment that has been gathering momentum for five years now. Bridge 21 is a team and tech based learning program (emphasis on ‘team’ rather than tech) that in the words of Kevin, one of the program coordinators, is “basically looking to make school more interesting”.

bridge 21 pic 2

What started out as an outreach program for Trinity College to give student’s on the fence about going to college a taste of what it would be like, has now evolved into something more. When I sat in on a portion of one computer programming focused workshop, the 24 Transition Year students from 13 schools around Dublin were learning to program their own games through ‘Scratch’, they were combining Wii-motes and laser pens they had customized themselves to turn standard laptop screens into multi-touch interfaces, they were testing out and discussing each others ideas, and above all they were enjoying themselves, interested and a picture of what real learning looks like.

 These workshops aren’t the extent of Bridge 21’s work though. They’re working in tandem with 12 secondary schools, 8 of which are in Dublin, to help teacher’s redesign their classroom and reinvigorate learning. The real barometer of Bridge’s success though is in the feedback from the students themselves.

bridge pic 3

After the program I sat down with 6 of the 24 students present who had time to stay back. Full of beans, I couldn’t have stopped them talking, either about the insanities and restrictions of the schools they attended, or how different and empowering they found Bridge 21 to be.

Evelyn from Colaiste Brid: “You have more freedom to do what you want here and be creative. In school you’re shot down for creativity – you’re told it’s not practical or educational, but here they love wacky ideas.”

Lourdes from Mercy, GoldenBridge in Inchicore: “In Bridge 21 we do things, instead of just learning everything by heart from books like in school. If you’re allowed to take learning into your own hands instead of just being instructed you become more confidant. Mutual respect as well. “

Ben, from Droimne Castle: “In Bridge we’re treated equally. Not specially but normally.Kevin is very friendly and he gets everyone involved. If someone is shy he’ll notice and give them the encouragement they need to get them out of there shell.”

 Other points were that the students were afforded a mutual respect in Bridge that they don’t get elsewhere and they were unanimous in their agreement that they learned more and enjoyed themselves more there. They felt they were being trusted to make their own decisions and build on their own ideas, while at the same time being both challenged and supported by their facilitators, who treated them as equals and co-learners.

Bridge 21 is taking our stale, teacher focused traditional classrooms and turning into them into exciting hubs of team based learning through modern technology, leading to more confident and thoughtful young people, and demonstrating that learning and enjoyment are inextricably linked.

For more info on Bridge 21 visit their website at bridge 21.ie.

The Disease of Sexual Objectification: Inside a society that turns women into things.

Giant boobs leaning down at us off billboards, phallic innuendos in ads for everything from Burger King to Tom Ford perfume, teenage boys hooked on lads mags and online porn, girls taught by everything from Disney to Reality TV that their sole worth is through their looks and value as a sex object, that life is a competition to be ‘the fairest of them all’, Paris Hilton and co. plastered all over magazines and portrayed on television as actual news, anorexic models striking provocative poses in every second shop window, or every few pages of any magazine.

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 Are we living in a culture of sexual liberation for women as some might argue, or are girls being treated and learning to treat themselves as sexual objects, and what effects could this be happening on their development and life satisfaction?

Carole Heldman On Sexual Objectification:

Carole Heldman PHD, a prominent feminist blogger on sexual objectification in society has a pretty powerful answer to this question. On her blog she writes:

“Women who grow up in a culture with widespread sexual objectification tend to view themselves as objects of desire for others. This internalized sexual objectification has been linked to problems with mental health (e.g., clinical depression, “habitual body monitoring”), eating disorders, body shame, self-worth and life satisfaction, cognitive functioning, motor functioning, sexual dysfunction, access to leadership, and political efficacy.  Women of all ethnicities internalize objectification, as do men to a far lesser extent.

Beyond the internal effects, sexually objectified women are dehumanized by others and seen as less competent and worthy of empathy by both men and women.  Furthermore, exposure to images of sexually objectified women causes male viewers to be more tolerant of sexual harassment and rape myths… Theorists have also contributed to understanding the harm of objectification culture by pointing out the difference between sexy and sexual.  If one thinks of the subject/object dichotomy that dominates thinking in Western culture, subjects act and objects are acted upon.  Subjects are sexual, while objects are sexy.

Pop culture sells women and girls a hurtful lie: that their value lies in how sexy they appear to others, and they learn at a very young age that their sexuality is for others.  At the same time, being sexual, is stigmatized in women but encouraged in men. We learn that men want and women want-to-be-wanted. The yard stick for women’s value (sexiness) automatically puts them in a subordinate societal position, regardless of how well they measure up.  Perfectly sexy women are perfectly subordinate.” (http://carolineheldman.wordpress.com/2012/07/06/sexual-objectification-part-2-the-harm/)


There have been a number of studies showing that on the one hand sexual objectification of women is on the increase, and secondly that seeing their gender be sexually objectified is harmful for women’s cognitive development amongst many other things.

A study titled ‘Equal Opportunity Objectification? The Sexualization of Men and Women on the Cover of Rolling Stone’ found that hyper-sexualisation of women has dramatically increased while for men it hadn’t.

“A study by University at Buffalo sociologists has found that the portrayal of women in the popular media over the last several decades has become increasingly sexualized, even “pornified.” The same is not true of the portrayal of men.

These findings may be cause for concern, the researchers say, because previous research has found sexualized images of women to have far-reaching negative consequences for both men and women.” (http://www.buffalo.edu/news/releases/2011/08/12769.html)

Interview With Irish Feminist’s Network (IFN):

I interviewed a representative of the IFN named Collete, and here’s what she had to say:

 Asked how big of a problem she thought sexual objectification is in our culture answered

“Sexual objectification is a huge problem in our culture, for both men and women.”

The next question was ‘What are the roles of media in proliferating sexual objectification in society? What impact do TV, Magazines, Porn etc. have on a culture of sexual objectification?’

She answered -

“We’re surrounded by media images for such a large portion of our daily lives, it’s almost impossible to escape from it. We get the majority of our information today through media, be it music, tv, the internet, advertising or magazines, so it really is incredibly important for us as a society to think about the messages we receive from the media critically. On a personal level, I find the phrase ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ to ring true for so many girls and women today. If you repeatedly see women presented as sexual objects and not as leaders in a variety of roles and careers, it can be difficult to aspire to leadership positions as a woman. Only around 15% of our Dail representatives are women.

The 2010 Hunky Dorys ad campaign that featured women in revealing clothing, posing as rugby players is a good example of sexual objectification being used in advertising. When you look at how well the Irish Women’s rugby team is doing now, and how little media coverage and funding they get compared to the men’s team, it’s hard not to see a link between the two. Sexual objectification plays into seeing women as sexual objects, and not as individuals with their own experiences, talents and personalities.

sex ob 2

We really need to see more women in positions of influence within the media sector in Ireland. This will lead to more accurate and diverse portrayals of women in our media.”

She added -

“A simple way to tackle inappropriate and irresponsible media in advertising is to make a complaint to the advertising standards authority at http://www.asai.ie.

The Irish Feminist Network have shown the film ‘Miss Representation’ in many places around Ireland. It deals with how mainstream media portrayals of women contribute to the under-representation of women in influential positions.

Sexual objectification of women also contributes to rape culture, it encourages people to see women as sexually available inactive objects, and not as individuals with their own feelings and thoughts.”

Do you think that this culture has its roots in financially powerful media owners pursuit of money?

“I would agree to the extent that these issues can occur when profit is privileged over creating responsible content. However, there are plenty of examples of companies who can turn a good profit without resorting to creating damaging images and messages.

This is a point I have often heard made in criticisms of the beauty and fashion industries/magazines – i.e. that they deliberately encourage low self-esteem and anxiety in women in order to get them to buy products.”

Hollaback Dublin:

In an interview with ‘Hollaback Dublin’ Co-Founder Vanessa Baker she spoke about rape culture in Ireland and Hollaback’s attempts to confront the problem.

“We’re trying to spread awareness that this is a problem. A lot of people we talk to either don’t think it’s a problem and say we’re overreacting or haven’t really heard of it and don’t realize how big of an issue it actually is.”

“We live in a culture that deems this kind of behavior ok, and its new that people are speaking out against it saying that it’s not just a simple ‘boys will be boys’ problem, or refuting people who insist that it’s a compliment to be catcalled, which obviously it’s not.

Society is set up in such a way that men are supposed to pursue women , and a lot of the time street harassment is less of a sexual desire thing than an issue of power and a group of boys trying to show off and assert their dominance.”

d&g offensive ad

In Ireland Ryanair have received criticism for their advertising methods – In 2011 a member of their on board staff rallied together over 7000 people in an online petition to ask for the online advert, which portrays a member of the Ryanair cabin crew posing in a bikini, to be banned for sexism.

Ryanair also release an annual ‘the girls of Ryanair charity calendar’ displaying thirteen members of staff again posing in bikinis.

The letter read that “’Ryanair must stop using this demeaning advert or any other which objectifies their staff in such an offensive way.

sex ob3

‘You should be selling your service, not the attractiveness of your female staff. Were you actually hiring your female staff based on their looks, it would be illegal.’ (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2073488/7-000-ban-sexist-Ryanair-advert-shows-scantily-clad-crew.html)

But these are only one and two examples among thousands.


Sexual objectification is a disease that has spread throughout Western culture including Ireland, it has a wide range of damaging effects on a wide range of people and unlike some illnesses, there is no cure to be discovered except for people to cop on and stop disrespecting our sisters, our mothers, our friends and ourselves.

This blog might argue against the flaws in our education systems but there is one area where our bottom line obsessed society educates our children very effectively. In the same way as a perverse linguistic experiment might teach a child that the word for ‘love’ was ‘hate’ or that the word ‘pig’ represented people, and let the child off to see how it got on, our media (magazines, movies, billboards, books, mainstream porn etc.) teaches young people that images such as the one at the top of this article are sexy – That a young woman with no life in her eyes about to be fed with a phallic object too big for her mouth, is ‘sexy’. We are constantly assaulted with images conflating big boobs, generic faces, sexual promiscuity etc. with sexual attractiveness when true sexual attractiveness is not a characteristic of an individual but a dynamic between people combining looks, smell, humour, proximity, ideas, ideal, experience and so much more. And if you spend every day since you are a small child around this lie, you will learn to believe it, and think it’s the natural order, just as we learn to think our education system – a mongrel between a prison and a factory is natural and good, just as we took everything the priesthood did as the natural order, just as we failed to question the financial conmen who have us kissing the troika’s bottom.

A lot of people will read this and think ‘whiney moany feminism’, well I’m a boy, I’ve personally been around boys and men all my life. I know how many of them speak in private, away from women, and how many of them speak even when they are there. It is not natural that so many of us know multiple people who have suffered sexual abuse, it is not natural that girls can expect to be catcalled in the streets, it is not natural that women should be so obsessed with, and insecure about their image, or that boys and girls both see women as a sexual object to be possessed and acted upon. It’s not natural that boys grow up with a constant narrative of saving the world and getting the girl while girls grow up with the narrative of be ‘pretty’ and get saved by a handsome prince or be ‘ugly’ and well, it doesn’t bare thinking about. None of this is natural or right – it’s an imposed social order.

There’s definitely room for a couple of posts exploring in more detail the ways our children are brought up by media to think this way, and also the historical context for this happening, which as far as I know has a lot to do with the invention of agriculture and capitalism and their creating a hierarchical and materially unequal society in which men needed to consolidate their lineage and legacy, as well as women’s dependency on them. All for another day!

For more information misrepresentation.org is a fantastic site with a great documentary available on the stuff (I eventually found it online on documentarylovers.net, otherwise you have to order it or arrange a viewing which is a bit stingy on first glance, but otherwise maybe they couldn’t have afforded to make it, I don’t know). They also have an interesting campaign on Twitter called #NotBuyingIt where they call out sexually biased merchandise and get companies to change through the power of the people! They’ve had a few successes too.


So check it out, and if you liked this article please share it or leave a comment.

Mucho amore, Bernardo.

The Boston Bombings And US Terrorism


A number of reactions to the Boston bombings have struck me as either naively ignorant, or blatantly narrow minded and bigoted. As a result I felt it important to post links to a number of well thought out articles making the following relevant points -

I feel like I’m living in ‘The Truman Show’ but instead of one person being unaware his life is a lie – nearly the whole lot of us are! But why bother thinking for ourselves when there’s so many people clamoring to do it for us – for the paltry price of our souls at that!