“We don’t want the world to die”

We know that climate and ecological breakdown are eroding the earth’s capacity to support life, imperilling human security more profoundly than anything else in modern times. Systemic environmental collapse is now nothing less than an existential threat. In the words of climatologist Hans Schellnhuber, “We are now reaching the end-game, where very soon humanity must choose between taking unprecedented action or accepting that it has been left too late and bear the consequences”.

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A thriving public sphere

It seems obvious, in the shadow of the climate and ecological crises, that the environmental, social and political dimensions of climate disruption ought to occupy a central place in primary and secondary school curricula. Yet according to extensive international research, schooling rarely addresses these vital issues with any depth, nuance or rigour. Curricula continue to focus more or less narrowly on employment readiness, even at the cost of neglecting students’ democratic imagination, their competence in public reasoning within local communities, and their capacity to take collective action.

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A hot mess

Throughout the recent election campaign, Australians got a close-up view of the caustic effect of marketing and shallow reporting on political communication. Policy articulation was reduced to spin, slogans, and soundbites devoid of complexity and nuance. Journalists outcompeted each other with trivial ‘gotcha’ questions and an obsession with minor gaffes, edging out serious and impartial analysis of policy differences. All sure-fire signs of a political malaise.

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Doing without Socrates

The Socratic method, when used correctly, is an ingenious and dependable way of fostering collaborative dialogic argument in the classroom. Yet the Victorian Department of Education and Training (DET) presents Socratic discussions as something more like a chinwag, with stock sentence-starters awkwardly jammed in. It’s not only a travesty of the spirit of Socratic dialogue, but a missed opportunity for supporting the development of genuine critical thinking in schools.

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Straighten up and fly right: Making dialogue work

Does dialogue work to harmonise conflicting views, or does it simply entrench differences? According to extensive research in the psychology of polarised opinion, the answer is discouraging: when people of any ideological stripe encounter opposing views and evidence, their beliefs grow even more divergent. Hearing from the other side seems to make people double down on their original positions.

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