Archive for November, 2008

Detractors Promote “What Orwell Didn’t Know”

A blog reader from Rockville, Maryland commented that I should read the latest book “What Orwell Didn’t Know.” I will counter his recommendation with the following about what George Orwell (aka Eric Blair) DID know, a lot more than this young, pseudo-researcher from the left. Orwell was a very popular author from 1945 once his post-war book of Animal Farm was published until his death in 1950. Orwell’s writings still are applicable today and this book has been translated into many languages. Obviously Orwell as a journalist DID know what was happening in Ukraine and other regions of the former Soviet Union. Read the following from Orwell’s Appendix of Animal Farm concerning the freedom of the press.

At present, not only is serious criticism of the USSR considered reprehensible, but even the fact of the existence of such criticism is kept secret in some cases. For example, shortly before his death [murder] Trotsky had written a biography of Stalin. One may assume that it was not an altogether unbiased book, but obviously it was saleable. An American publisher had arranged to issue it and the book was in print—I believe the review copies had been sent out – when the USSR entered the war. The book was immediately withdrawn. Not a word about this has ever appeared in the British press, though clearly the existence of such a book, and its suppression, was a news item worth a few paragraphs.

I’ve watched some of the “Why We Fight” series masterfully done by film director Frank Capra. This was supposedly a documentary and a propaganda piece for Americans to NOT be isolationist and get involved with the World War II. In fact, Stalin loved the Capra’s film series so much he insisted movie theaters throughout the Soviet Union show it to the populace with a Russian translator. Yes, Americans had sacrificed much on foreign shores with the First World War, they weren’t ready to do go over the Atlantic to fight again 30 years later. However, the Soviet Union needed the Allies help to combat the Nazi Germans. Living in Ukraine and Kazakhstan I am finding out how the Soviet Union’s history books have painted Stalin as the great war hero and all honor and praise is given him for winning the war!!!

According to Orwell, he wrote the following about what journalists back in the 1940s felt pressured to do:

Stalin is sacrosanct and certain aspects of his policy must not be seriously discussed. This rule has been almost universally observed since 1941, but it had operated, to a greater extent than is sometimes realized, for ten years earlier than that. Throughout that time, criticism of the Soviet regime from the left could only obtain a hearing with difficulty…The English intelligentsia, or a great part of it, had developed a nationalistic loyalty towards the USSR, and in their hearts they felt that to cast any doubt on the wisdom of Stalin was a kind of blasphemy. Events in Russia and events elsewhere were to be judged by different standards. The endless executions in the purges of 1936-8 were applauded by life-long opponents of capital punishment, and it was considered equally proper to publicise famine when they happened in India and to conceal them when they happened in the Ukraine. And if this was true before the war, the intellectual atmosphere is certainly no better now.

The issue involved here is quite a simple one: Is every opinion, however unpopular—however foolish, even—entitled to a hearing? Put it in that form and nearly any English intellectual will feel that he ought to say ‘Yes.’ But give it a concrete shape, and ask, ‘How about an attack on Stalin? Is THAT entitled to a hearing?’ and the answer more often than not will be ‘No.’ In that case the current orthodoxy happens to be challenged, and so the principle of free speech lapses.

One of the peculiar phenomena of our time is the renegade Liberal. Over and above the familiar Marxist claim that ‘bourgeois liberty’ is an illusion, there is now a widespread tendency to argue that one can only defend democracy by totalitarian methods. If one loves democracy, the argument runs, one must crust its enemies by no matter what means. And who are its enemies? It always appears that they are not only those who attack it openly and consciously, but those who ‘objectively’ endanger it by spreading mistaken doctrines. In other words, defending democracy involves destroying all independence of thought. This argument was used, for instance, to justify the Russian purges.

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“Crimethought” – George Orwell and Thomas Sowell

Today I had planned to use a quote about ideological “Newspeak” from George Orwell’s 1984 book. In Orwell’s introduction to 1984 he explains that Thomas Jefferson’s words in the 1776 “Declaration of Independence” would have been simply labeled “crimethought” according to his Orwellian fiction.  Unfortunately, reality for millions of people who lived in the former Soviet Union actually meant going through this surreal kind of punishment. 

 

I will instead use part of an article from one of my favorite economists, Thomas Sowell.  He wrote a piece on November 11, 2008 titled “Intellectuals” and this relates to the issue I addressed in yesterday’s blog about Ukraine’s Holodomor (Terror Famine of 1932-33).

During the 1930s, some of the leading intellectuals in America condemned our economic system and pointed to the centrally planned Soviet economy as a model– all this at a time when literally millions of people were starving to death in the Soviet Union, from a famine in a country with some of the richest farmland in Europe and historically a large exporter of food.

New York Times Moscow correspondent Walter Duranty won a Pulitzer Prize for telling the intelligentsia what they wanted to hear– that claims of starvation in the Ukraine were false.

After British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge reported from the Ukraine on the massive deaths from starvation there, he was ostracized after returning to England and unable to find a job.

More than half a century later, when the archives of the Soviet Union were finally opened up under Mikhail Gorbachev, it turned out that about six million people had died in that famine– about the same number as the people killed in Hitler’s Holocaust.

In the 1930s, it was the intellectuals who pooh-poohed the dangers from the rise of Hitler and urged Western disarmament.

It would be no feat to fill a big book with all the things on which intellectuals were grossly mistaken, just in the 20th century– far more so than ordinary people.

History fully vindicates the late William F. Buckley’s view that he would rather be ruled by people represented by the first 100 names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard.

How have intellectuals managed to be so wrong, so often? By thinking that because they are knowledgeable– or even expert– within some narrow band out of the vast spectrum of human concerns, that makes them wise guides to the masses and to the rulers of the nation.

But the ignorance of Ph.D.s is still ignorance and high-IQ groupthink is still groupthink, which is the antithesis of real thinking. By Thomas Sowell

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Thankful for George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”

George Orwell wrote in a preface to his book Animal Farm in the Ukrainian translation the following quote.  His Ukrainian readers, who were trapped after WWII in Displaced Persons camps in Germany under the British and American administration, needed to know his background and why he wrote about Marxist theories from animals’ point of view.  These Ukrainians resisted returning to the USSR, knowing they would be killed back in their supposed “Motherland.”  The Ukrainians and others termed as “kulaks” had gone through so much BEFORE the war. (Think Holodomor of 1932-33).

 

November is the time of year when people in Ukraine honor those who died in this famine called a “genocide” perpetrated by Soviet policies as of 75 years ago. Many understand that other nationalities suffered as well, not just Ukrainians.  Unfortunately, not everyone will agree with the extent of how many people actually died and whether it was genocide or not.  For now it is interesting to read what George Orwell knew and when he knew it. (think sixty years ago).

 

Even if I had the power, I would not wish to interfere in Soviet domestic affairs: I would not condemn Stalin and his associates merely for their barbaric and undemocratic methods.  It is quite possible that, even with the best intentions, they could not have acted otherwise under the conditions prevailing there.

 

But on the other hand it was of the utmost importance to me that people in western Europe should see the Soviet regime for what it really was.  Since 1930 I had seen little evidence that the USSR was progressing towards anything that one could truly call Socialism.  On the contrary, I was struck by clear signs of its transformation into a hierarchical society, in which the rulers have no more reason to give up their power than any other ruling class.  Moreover, the workers and intelligentsia in a country like England cannot understand that the USSR of today is altogether different from what it was in 1917.  It is partly that they do not want to understand (i.e. they want to believe that, somewhere, a really Socialist country does actually exist), and partly that, being accustomed to comparative freedom and moderation in public life, totalitarianism is completely incomprehensible to them.

 

Yet one must remember that England is not completely democratic.  It is also a capitalist country with great class privileges and (even now, after a war that has tended to equalize everybody) with great differences in wealth.  But nevertheless it is a country in which people have lived together for several hundred years without major conflict, in which the laws are relatively just and official news and statistics can almost invariably be believed, and last but not least, in which to hold and to voice minority views does not involve any mortal danger.  In such an atmosphere the man in the street has no real understanding of things like concentration camps, mass deportations, arrests without trial, press censorship, etc.  Everything he reads about a country like the USSR is automatically translated into English terms, and he quite innocently accepts the lies of totalitarian propaganda.  Up to 1939, and even later, the majority of English people were incapable of assessing the true nature of the Nazi regime in Germany, and now, with the Soviet regime, they are still to a large extent under the same sort of illusion.

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“Digital Natives” Comments in KZ – Part II

The following is a continuation with ten more comments made by my Academic Reading and Writing students after they heard me read my article about “Kazakhstan’s Orality vs. InfoLiteracy” off the screen.  The last several responses show that there are definite limitations in being too wired in to the techie world.

 

N.K. In Kazakhstan, we have a serious and unsolved problem in education even nowadays.  But we are a developing country, we hope that all will be all right.  I support the project of our President Nazarbaev.  Project related to the building of “Information Technology Park” in Alatau IT City.  It will work before 2011…We lack information literacy at our schools.  Especially teachers should know how to use different programs in computer.  By using it, they can do their subjects more interesting and more productive.  Information literacy, it is what we need nowadays.

 

N.B. We are living in the 21 st century, Digital World.  I agree that nowadays we have digital inequality.  Teenagers and children, they are digital natives.  From the small ages they started to use computers, playing different kinds of games, doing homework on Internet, browsing Internet to search for different kinds of information.  They were born in that time where computers play an important part in our lives.  People who are much older (I think from 40 years old) they are digital immigrants.  When they were teenagers, they didn’t have computers and now it is difficult for them to understand how it works and difficult to use it.

 

K.V. I watched TV and heard that also there are some places where teachers taught the old generation how to use computers, they are very glad that they can use e-mail and can send these mails to relatives that are very far from them, they said that it is more better than letter which is sent very slow.  Technologies helps society to write faster or they can find an online book, which is faster than to go to library.

 

M.K. I think that our schools should change the methods of teaching to newer ones using more technologies, rather than just oral method we used before.  There are much more possibilities for that nowadays than there were even 5-10 years ago.  We can use powerpoints, Moviemaker, Excel, Photoshop, and other things on the Internet.

 

S.O. The literacy of ancient Kazakhs is oral, but only few is written.  Nowadays everything has changed.  Everyone started to use computers, Internet.  But there are some people who don’t know how to use the computers.  Next generation, our little brothers and sisters will live in a more improved and developed world.

 

A.A. But the main point is how to use and understand this information, in order to be a literacy person.  If we, our country, will leave all these things and will stay at the same level all the time, it would be a great problem.  All the world developing all the time, and we should follow it step by step and maybe be in the lead.

 

V.S.  Kazakhstan is a poorly developed country in digital aspect.  Internet began widely spread about two years ago and still we have slow Internet.  In Japan 4G is available but we don’t even have 3G.  Also, Kazakhstan doesn’t invent any gadgets.  So, I think we need to produce and invent technological devices.

 

L.J. We are living in a Global Village and we have all innovations that the world has approved.  But the difference between us and Europe, for instance, is in the amount of these innovations.  The problem is that we are not producing digital things yet, so we buy them from abroad.  And they are expensive, so not everyone can afford the latest I-phone or something.  But particularly, in every family there is at least one computer, t.v. dvd player, so our citizens, young people know the basics of how to deal with digital things.

 

G.M. With a great level of technological progress that exists now, it is very hard but from the other side is very useful to follow it.  We can’t live now without computers and we must be information literacied, in order to get any job or study at university.  In some cases, I think it is really helpful and made some people’s lives easier and sometimes it saves our time.  However, now people are always in a hurry, we always have lots to do and sometimes don’t pay attention on something that is very meaningful in our live.  Our ancestors weren’t literacied, but they were really happy.

 

A.Y. On the one hand, it is useful to master computer programs, Internet, even games for children.  But on the other hand, virtual life will become inevitable part of peoples’ lives and it can replace the real friends, parents and teachers.  A person who will use only computer and life with the life of this thing, just can be lost in this technological world.  And his life will be fulfilled only by programs and unreal games.  In my opinion, using computers, people shouldn’t forget about personal, real life and balance these two things.

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“Digital Natives” Comments on IT in Kazakhstan

The following 10 comments are from my Academic Reading and Writing students after they heard me read my article about “Kazakhstan’s Orality vs. InfoLiteracy” off the screen.  (Read yesterday blog entry to find out what they read and responded to.)

 

A.K. Not only children and teenagers should learn computer skills as our President said but I think adults should learn computer literacy, because they teach us (children), but if they don’t know, how will the new generation develop in this sphere?  Nowadays presentations, work and all spheres of our life are connected with computers; Internet is very popular.  Lots of people use Internet for knowing news about the world, different countries and so on.  And information technologies are deeply connected with Internet, meaning computer literacy.

 

R.S. I believe that the division mentioned in the article is present.  From my own experience I can tell when speaking about digital technology with my parents is rather difficult because they basically don’t understand a word of my sayings.  Sometimes it makes me annoyed to explain the same things about how to use this and that over and over again for hundred times.  I wonder what will be in the future.  Will we, digital natives, be digital immigrants for our kids as the progress goes on and on and new inventions are still being made?

 

Z.S. We have to be surrounded by Information Technology in our globalized economy.  We must be the digital native, we must speak digital language.  It would be easier to communicate and get every information we want and need.  By using IT, we can get useful information to be beneficial in all situations.  As we know, all the job vacancies need us to be “Digital Natives.”  If we are, we’ll get more payment, we’ll earn more money.

 

A.A. Today is century of Information Technology (IT) and we can study with the help of IT.  I think, from the five kind of literacies, the best one is digital information literacy and it is most popular today.  All books we can find on Internet in digital format, all documents converted to digital format.  Education – we use a lot of digital technologies.  We have a lot of advantages of this.  We can economize our time by making wonderful presentations (Powerpoint).  Use Internet to find information and use electronic libraries to find electronic articles and books.  All of this increases our productivity and quality of education.

 

N.P. Digital inequality in Kazakhstani societies is one of the important problems for older generation.  It’s not only a problem for the global economy, but also a problem of the local society.  The seriousness of this problem mostly is reflected in the teacher-student relations.  For instance, even at our university, the most modernized university in KZ, there are some difficulties among the teachers who are above 50 years old.  Because they are digital immigrants in IT, on the contrary, students are born with “computers in hands.”

 

Y.K. IT is a part of our life, we cannot live without it.  I totally support that idea about “Digital Natives and “Digital Immigrants.”  Our president sees that Kazakhstan, having almost all culture is oral tradition, has difficulties with transferring to the “Digital World.”

 

D.D. Nowadays information literacy is very important in everyday life.  We face with digital technologies everywhere, when we go to the shop, there are cashier machines and we should know how does it work, in order not to be in delusion.  Our mobile phones, we can’t live without them, it became a part of our life.  Internet is another thing, where we should know Digital literacy.  For example, my Mom, she has her own small business, but before it, she didn’t know at all how to even turn on the computer, we presented her a mobile phone and it took her a lot of time to teach herself how to use it.  It is an example about digital natives and digital immigrants.  For her generation, it is strange, something new about these things.

 

A.Y. On the one hand, it is useful to master computer programs, Internet, even games for children.  But on the other hand, virtual life will become inevitable part of peoples’ lives and it can replace the real friends, parents and teachers.  A person who will use only computer and life with the life of this thing, just can be lost in this technological world.  And his life will be fulfilled only by programs and unreal games.  In my opinion, using computers, people shouldn’t forget about personal, real life and balance these two things.

 

Z.B. I think that our country is developing like many others in Europe and we have to use new innovations and new technologies because it is our future.  Also, I am agree that we are just developing country and our President is very aware of surrounding globalized economy.  Nowadays, we have some problems with teaching, not all the teachers want to use computers or have computer skills.  That is why first of all we have to change teaching strategies in schools because everything begins from school.  For example, include computers classes, three language classes with high qualified teachers.  Because nowadays more and more young children don’t know their native language.  It is a great problem.  And we have to know how to use new technologies, like computers in order to find a good job and to be in the same level as European countries.

 

A.K. Nowadays a lot of people have problems with new technology, and most of them are older people, for example, my mother.  And I think our schools should give all this technological knowledge because technology is the future and WE ARE THE FUTURE!

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Paper Presented in Karaganda – “Kazakhstan’s Orality vs. InfoLiteracy”

 The Kyrgyz proverb “Getting education is like digging a well with a needle.” [Bilim iyne menen kuduk kazghandai] is a familiar saying shared by the Kazakh culture as well. When exploring how to successfully teach Information Literacy, it would seem a very deep well to dig indeed.  This paper will use the proverbial “needle” to define terms such as Orality and Info literacy, as well as explain my own experience teaching composition and how writing relates to the oral traditions of Kazakhstan.

 

What is Orality?

All cultures learn to communicate orally, in fact, according to Walter Ong’s (1982), a 1971 study showed there were 3,000 languages and only 78 had a written literature. Given those same odds in today’s volatile age, it is necessary for diplomacy between nations to better understand oral cultures rather than vice versa.  Ong argues that “many of the contrasts often made between ‘western’ and other views seem reducible to contrasts between deeply interiorized literacy and more or less residually oral states of consciousness” (p. 29).

 

Obviously Walter Ong’s seminal work in 1982 needs to be unpacked in greater detail, yet the focus of this paper is to look beyond his research to the present technology age of computers.  However, before I proceed, I am intrigued by the work done by Lev Vygotsky’s devotee, Aleksandr Romanovich Luria.  In 1931-32, Dr. Luria researched the oral cultures of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan as a neuropsychologist.  He did extensive fieldwork comparing oral and literate subjects in remote areas which will shed some light on Walter Ong’s life work concerning the term he coined of “Orality.” 

 

What is Information Literacy?

According to Caroline Stern as cited by Christine Bruce (2002) there are at least five different kinds of literacies: 1) Alphabetic – write name; 2) Functional – read and write; 3) Social literacy – communication in cultural context: 4) Information literacy – critical location, evaluation and use of information; 5) Digital information literacy – application of information’s literacy in the digital environment.  In the same powerpoint produced by Bruce, Patricia Breivik (2000) defines “info literacy IS NOT…teaching a set of skills but rather a process that should transform both learning and the culture of communities for the better.”

 

Kazakhstan’s Digital Inequality and Digital Divide

President Nazarbayev is no doubt very aware of the tension between his own Kazakh culture of oral traditions and the technological world he is surrounded by in our globalized economy.  He ordered by Presidential Decree on September 15, 2006 to build the “Information Technology Park” in Alatau IT City, near Almaty with completion sometime in 2011. A quote taken by Nurlan Zhagipavov may exemplify the President’s thinking:

 

“It seems to me that the intelligent people and business elite of the country must join and create joint educational projects so as to restore and save the High School.  Liquidation of ‘digital inequality’ has to start from this” (p. 35).

 

A year before in 2005, UNESCO gave funding for a grant titled “Kazakhstan: Electronic Library in Rural Areas for Reducing Digital Divide.”  Strides are being made at the university I teach at, to help our incoming first year students to understand the power of the electronic library right on our university campus.

 

What are Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants?
The two phrases “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” were coined by Marc Prensky (2001) in an article he wrote by that title.  According to Prensky, the definition for “digital natives” is what my typical university students are in today’s classroom, “they are all native speakers of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet.”  The quandary most older teachers who fit the “digital immigrant” category are facing, according to Prensky, is they “speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language.”

 

According to Prensky (2001) Digital Natives are used to receiving information very quickly, they like to parallel process and multi-task.  However, Digital Immigrants have little appreciation for these new skills the “digital natives” use because they are totally foreign to them.  Digital Immigrants prefer to teach the way they learned, “slowly, step-by-step, one thing at a time, individually and above all, seriously.”  When I heard Marc Prensky speak at a tech conference in 2002, sadly he quoted an American high school student complain, “Every time I go to school, I have to power down.”  Despite oral traditions still being extremely important in Central Asian countries, I believe writing teachers of the 21 st century, the world over, need to keep pace with “Info Literacy.”

 

 

References

Bruce, C. (2002). Seven faces of information literacy: Towards inviting students into new experiences,  http://crm.hct.ac.ae/events/archive/2003/speakers/bruce.pdf, retrieved on Oct. 25, 2008

 

Ong, W. (1982). Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. New York: Routledge.

 

“Purchases on the Internet? Reality!” (2008). World Monitor, Kazakhstan, 3(14), 34-35.

 

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, NCB University Press, 9(5).

 

“Special Economic Zone – Information Technology Park.” (2008). World Monitor, Kazakhstan, 4(15), 46-47.

 

 

 

 

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A missed award and another former student’s comment

Lucky Penguin could have gotten the “Best Blog Dart Thinker” award but alas and unfortunately for me she has switched over to writing her blog in Russian.  While using Google translator I can tell that she is waxing very poetic.  I miss the days when I could understand Lucky Penguin’s writing in English, she was (and is) a VERY good writer.  Of course, she is under no obligation to me and Lucky Penguin can do whatever she wants. Blogging is no longer an assignment I expect from my former Ukrainian students.  I had forgotten that I had required three times a week of blog entries from all my charges.  I have not dared ask my Kazakh students to blog for a number of reasons but mainly because Internet connections are not as fast or reliable in Almaty as they were in Kyiv, Ukriane.  In fact, Internet connections seem to be getting worse rather than improving!!!

The following is what my dear NoireSwan wrote.  How I LOVE to read their comments and know that I’m appreciated by my former students:

April 18, 2008 , You know…I can not say why I am writing this…just some special feeling is pushing me to express myself here.

A year ago everything was so different from now. so many people came and went, so many thing happened. and suddenly, siting in a bus, back from high school, i remembered of K.G. why? ask someone else… 

Probing Noireswan on August 31st, I asked what she remembered about me as her former composition teacher.  This is what she wrote on Sept. 8, 2008:

Ha! I remember my first class with our substitute teacher who was telling us: ‘K.G. is so hardworking and she expects this from you’. And when we’ve started our classes with you I realized how right he was))
And then, in the bus, I was thinking of our teachers and know what?
To tell the truth, my English grammar is still not perfect, BUT… it’s much better than it was when I just came to the University. Who did this terrible work on me? K.G.! 
You know, sometimes I was angry, because it was really hard for me. Sometimes I was upset, because I couldn’t do what she expected from me. But now I am thankful to this professor, she knows that the result is the most important.

 

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