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July 26, 2006

No One To The Father Except Through Mehavioralism

Is God a Behavioralist?for the last few weeks my work has mostly consisted of reviewing current literature and research on youth mentoring for the disadvantaged that has come out of the US and Europe over the last few decades, and coming up with a succinct and easy- to- navigate handbook for local argentina organizations that are trying to set up their own mentoring programs. running alongside this project is the interviewing of 7 prominent local NGOS that work in mentoring to try to fuse practice with academic research that come from continents away.
the interesting thing is that these are mentoring programs that have operated in this country since the 1970s but have never read any guides on mentoring, talked to any larger international education clearinghouses, and usually have never even heard of the greek-latin word "mentor". what we have are locally funded and rather sizable organizations that are completely just winging it. so, what are the results... ?
in pursuing this question i have come to the most interesting division between US and Argentine epistemology.
in the US academy, and now pretty much everything from government to business to nonprofit and volunteering work, is about PROVING things---it is the science of evaluations, the religion of statistics. obey the one true path of the STATA, or be forever deemed "inefficient". How dare you be inefficient when there are starving people everywhere who could use that money! Find thee a more efficient yoga relaxation class now now now!

in Argentina, and i am told much of the latin world (that includes the carribbean, latin america, france, spain, portugal, and italy) it is rather the opposite. heads of departments here at argentine universities are not economists, but masters of critical theory, philosophy, and rhetoric. it is about what you can ramble about, not about what you can prove. after all, PROVING THINGS, the religion of the US and the World Bank and the IDB, has not done so well for argentina. the history in this country rolls out like a long dirty laundry list of financial disasters, IMF bailouts of investors, and military juntas that swings rapidly between the left and the right. a few days ago i was at an education conference here about postindustrial society education policy reform and preparing our young for jobs of the future (the speaker, of course, is an UK Phd, Harvard prof, and the advisor to Hong Kong) at the talkĀ“s end, the argentine professors in the audience began asking questions such as : "how can it be just that education is reduced to an economic variable?" "these stats work in hong kong, but what do they know about he history of argentina?" "what is the philosophy behind this movement?" this whole time, the part of me that has been formed by the nochildleftbehind zeitgeist just wants to yell "how do you prove this?"

alas, how DO you prove this? how do you prove in numbers and regressions and universally reproduceable equations that education when done correctly can bring us out of the present perpetually self-repetitive cycle into a generator of peaceful, informed citizens? at my interview yesterday with a mentoring organization, they told me "you have to believe in education". thats it, it is simple for many of these argentine groups. believe in it, not prove it.

our religion has holes, and it takes a leap of faith to believe that an arbitrary set of functions punched into a computer can provide answers for all settings and all problems. much like the days of old europe, we have our clergymen who interpret the text to their whim, and we have a system of penalty and rewards for those who win (are inefficient) and those who listen to our words and creeds. i am reminded again that this is not the one and only true religion.
in buenos aires, at least, a group of idealistic heretics fight on, and they do very good work.

Posted by Johnny po Lin at July 26, 2006 10:34 AM

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