Definitions of prime symbols
Letter to the NZ Minister of Education
Response letter from the Minister
The ultimate test of a
national education system is whether it produces sustainable human
beings. There is now much evidence that just measuring levels of
literacy, numeracy and technological proficiency is very insufficient.
Some of the most brutal, wasteful and destructive individuals and groups
in recent history have also been the most literate and numerate. Clearly
education systems that produce such beings are profoundly flawed and put
us all at great risk.
The statistics of our
consumption rates, pollution levels and other vital measures indicate
our Anglo-American education system is a prime example of such failing
The following letter is from
the New Zealand Minister of Education, a person renowned for her
insistence on high education standards. Well-paid Ministry officials who
are the quintessential products of our education system and who are our
nation’s specialists in curriculum development, the science curriculum
in particular, drafted the letter. The Minister’s office assured me
the Minister does not sign any letter she has not read carefully and
fully agrees with.
The reader may note the
At no point does the response
attempt to challenge the notion that the ultimate test of an education
system is the sustainability of its graduates. Nor is any attempt made
to rebut the performance data provided in my letter. The Minister
acknowledges the “importance of sustainability”, thereby implicitly
supporting the suggestion that it is the ultimate evaluation of her
Ministry and that our education system is a serious failure. However at
no point does the letter admit to this possible failure.
This suggests the Minister and
her officials are unable to understand and undertake the first steps in
any rigorous evaluation process. Such evaluation must conclude that the
New Zealand Curriculum fails to address “issues of sustainability
through its vision, principles, values, and key competencies” and
that there exists overwhelming evidence indicating that there is
something inherently flawed in the Curriculum's governing framework.
The statement that “sustainability
is explicitly mentioned in four of the five strands of this learning
area” reinforces this suggestion that the Minister and her
officials are incompetent at evaluation. The truer measure of an
education activity is the active response of the student, not what they
say. Similarly the truer measure of a curriculum is the actual
sustainability of the students, not the inclusion of the sustainability
symbol in the curriculum.
The learning area referred to
is “science”. As you
read the Minister’s letter you will notice an interesting phenomenon.
The letter acknowledges my request for the Ministry’s definition of
the “science” symbol. However its authors are meticulous in not
providing a definition. The letter speaks of “science”, “the
science learning area”, “scientific research and development” and
“science” teachers without defining in a meaningful way what “science”
The linked page (Curriculum
Learning Area/Science) also fails to provide a meaningful
definition and reveals profound confusion of the nature of science.
For instance, observe how the New
Zealand Education Curriculum Framework symbolises science as a
parallel learning area to all our activities rather than as the process
The curriculum states: Many
of the major challenges and opportunities that confront our world need
to be approached from a scientific perspective, taking into account
social and ethical considerations.
This implies ethics is not
inherent in science and that science is not a state of being. It implies
that not all activities need be ethical decisions. It is difficult to
see how this vision of the nature of science is compatible with the
education of sustainable beings.
The curriculum also states: They
(the students) learn how scientists carry out investigations, and
they come to see science as a socially valuable knowledge system.
This implies students are not
inherently scientists to some degree and completely undermines the
stated notion that science is about inquiry and experimentation. Surely
it is their inherited spirit of inquiry and experimentation that enables
students to develop language, civics and other arts as infants? In other
words, a primary message of the curriculum is that it not true that all
human beings are born into the state of science to some degree.
It is a fact that a majority
of students experiencing this curriculum conclude they “do not get
science” and consider themselves "failures at science". It
is also a fact that less than 1% graduate from our educate system
formally as “scientists”. The remaining 99% of us are, by
implication, deemed to be “non-scientists”. This evidence indicates
the NZ Curriculum communicates this primary message with considerable
success. As mentioned above, this is also a prime message of the
governing Curriculum Framework.
These and other confusions
perhaps explain why the letter provides no definition of science. The
Minister and her officials instinctively recognise that a sustainable
definition would reveal the fatal flaws in the current NZ Curriculum
This hypothesis is supported
by the Ministry’s responses to my requests for their definitions of
energy, power and electricity. You will observe that the letter
acknowledges these specific requests and then takes great care to avoid
providing definitions. It is clear that the Minister and her officials
cannot define them.
The probable reasons for this
extraordinary behaviour of our top policy makers is that they
intuitively realise that the current Ministry uses of these symbols are
unsustainable and that the provision of sustainable definitions would
expose the flawed learning activities occurring at every level of the
formal education system and in Government policy.
These meticulous omissions are
most probably born of non-scientific political considerations.
This probability is enhanced
by the letter’s introductory statement: The education system in New Zealand enables
the teaching of science to be responsive to scientific research and
development. This allows our science teachers to keep up to date with
potentially changing definitions and understandings.
The Minister has invested
considerable political capital in instituting a system of National
Standards on our education systems. This is fundamentally hostile to the
nurturing an open spirit of inquiry and inclusiveness, as the National
Standard tends to become the overriding objective of the system.
This means that for the introductory statement to be true then
the Ministry’s notion of science must be flawed. The National
Standards ethos works against creativity and radical discovery and so
teachers are less able to keep up to date with potentially changing
definitions and understandings. This is proven by the fact that the
Ministry is unable to even provide current definitions of these prime
symbols because of the rigidity that already exists in the existing
Final reflection: it is
interesting to speculate what grades the Minister’s response would
receive it were a classroom activity for ten, fifteen and twenty year
Here are the best definitions
I can find. They are chosen because they most fully conserve the
potential of the science energy power and electricity symbols at this
point in the evolution of our consciousness. They are much more
inclusive and radically different to most of the definitions taught in
our NZ schools.
of prime symbols
The “science” symbol is best conserved by defining it as a state of
being and listing all the requisites required for the state of being to
Collegiality, openness and sharing
Inquiry and experimentation
Honesty and trust
Generosity of time and reflection
This state of being enables the development of arts, language, civics
and all that is civilisation. We are each a scientist and a
non-scientist to some degree.
Energy is the potential of the universe(s).
Power is the rate at which the universal potential (energy) is manifest.
In other words, power is the measure and energy is the measured. It is
commonly symbolized thus:
Power = Work/Time
It is impossible to use the electricity symbol if we are to
retain its fullest potential. It is impossible because there exists a
wide range of electrical phenomena and these have very different, often
completely contradictory qualities. Thus conservation of the potential
of the electricity symbol involves not using it and instead
giving each electrical phenomenon its own descriptive symbol.
Compassionate Curriculum Framework
You can view what a more sustainable curriculum framework might look
to the NZ Minister of Education
Hon Anne Tolley
Minister of Education
I share your concerns about
the standards of education in New Zealand and the need to assess the
effectiveness of our education system.
Perhaps the ultimate
assessment is whether our education system produces sustainable people
and the indications are that it is failing us on scale. It has been
estimated that if every person on the planet consumed resources at the
rate the average New Zealander does then it require at least five planet
Earths to sustain humanity. For example, if every person on the planet
destroyed mineral oil at the rate New Zealanders do then the rate of
destruction of this extraordinarily versatile, valuable, non-renewable
resource would instantly increase perhaps ten fold. Pollution would
increase proportionately and economies such as ours would instantly
implode as the price rose. This implosion is already occurring to some
extent, as is reflected in the unsustainable increases in NZ household
and national debt.
Such analysis points to the
failure of our education system to propagate science. I am aware that
current Anglo-American evaluation techniques indicate the contrary –
according to these measures our students rate well internationally for
their level of science. However clearly these results are inconsistent
with measures of sustainability. In order to establish the cause of this
dissonance I suggest we all need to be very clear of our definition of
science. Thus I would be very grateful if you could provide me with your
definition of science.
I would be very grateful if
you could also provide me with your definitions of energy, power and
electricity. Like the science symbol, these three symbols
profoundly frame how our students view the world and behave. Our current
education system evidences great confusion on their meaning. Ministry
officials provide conflicting definitions and offload responsibility for
definitions to individual schools. The most literate and numerate of our
policy makers, including those in our universities, Government and
industry, commonly confuse the symbols. Indeed the BSA has ruled that energy,
power and electricity can be used interchangeably.
I look forward to receiving
your definitions of these four symbols. My great concern is that we make
flawed uses of these symbols at our peril, for they have the power to
destroy our society.
letter from the Minister
you for your email of 22 August 2010 which asks for definitions of
science, energy, power and electricity, and queries whether our current
education system produces sustainable people.
education system in New Zealand enables the teaching of science to be
responsive to scientific research and development. This allows our
science teachers to keep up to date with potentially changing
definitions and understandings.
New Zealand Curriculum
recognises the importance of sustainability and acknowledges that it is
not the responsibility of one learning area of the curriculum to instil
this knowledge in our young people. Within this holistic approach, the
science learning area provides a framework for schools to enable
students to investigate, explain and understand our natural, physical
world and the wider universe. Sustainability is explicitly mentioned in
four of the five strands of this learning area.
information on the science learning area can be found at: http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/Curriculum-documents/The-New-Zealand-Curriculum/Learning-areas/Science
New Zealand Curriculum
addresses issues of sustainability through its vision, principles,
values, and key competencies. Our vision is for young people to seize
the opportunities offered by new knowledge and technologies to secure a
sustainable social, cultural, economic, and environmental future for New
you for writing to me about this issue and for your interest in our
young people’s education.
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