Saturday, 26 December 2015

Open Public Broadcasting Services: The Good, Bad, and Ugly of a Public Funding Discussion

A recent article published in the Sunday Sydney News, titled 'Dreadful and appalling': Government senator slams idea of ABC paywall, serves as a backdrop for a broader discussion about the potential of open public broadcasting services (OPB). An argument is developed in which OPB better serves the public than do the knowledge restriction schemes that are discussed in the article. Well-funded public broadcasting coupled with bipartisan public leadership is needed for a public-minded conversation leading to progressive public policy concerning public funding of public broadcasting. The problems and opportunities that are described are shared by many publicly funded knowledge creation and dissemination organisations harbouring public good values and missions. Perhaps the problem described for public broadcasting serves as an invitation for a broad and robust program of discussion and action among public broadcasters, universities, libraries, and other sympathetic organisations.


Used under the doctrine of Fair Use
Australian Broadcast Corporation
 Used under the doctrine of Fair Use
Every once in a while I read a story that presses a lot of buttons. A few nights ago I came upon a newspaper article, by Latika Bourke, courtesy of the Sunday Sydney News, titled 'Dreadful and appalling': Government senator slams idea of ABC paywall. It is a very short article and is probably worth reading for a few reasons. Practically, it touches on an ongoing debate that has been occurring in many countries for a number of decades. It is principally about the role of public broadcasting and the nature of its funding, with a hint of rhetorical conservative political partisanship.

The earliest recollections that I have of the public broadcasting debate in the US extend to the Reagan era in the 1980s. Not surprisingly, due in part to half a century of reiterative and self-referential neoliberal political follow-the-leader, the tone and the script has remained intact across the decades and the continents. Here in Australia the conversation about public broadcasting, particularly public television, was (re)activated and brought to public pitch as Tony Abbott’s conservative Liberal National Party (LNP) government swept into office in 2013. I know that the debate was active before then and it remains so under the political influences and civic vision of the Abbott-free LNP.

I have chosen to read and interpret the “Dreadful and Appalling” article as a broader commentary about the nature of publicly funded culture creation, public good, and commercial affairs. There are four main characters in the article including:

  • Michelle Guthrie: former Google executive who has been recently appointed as Managing Director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). Guthrie identifies three approaches to managing ABC programming and content. They include erecting paywalls, increasing commercial advertising, and committing to digital first distribution.
  • Fiona Nash: National Party Deputy Leader serving in the Australian Senate for the state of New South Wales, former Assistant Minister for Health in the Abbott Government and currently serving as the Minister for Rural Health under the Turnbull Government. Nash criticises Guthrie's proposal to erect paywalls, providing a public good argument.
  • Julie Flynn: Chief Executive Officer of FreeTV Australia and longtime political journalist and media executive. Flynn criticises Guthrie's proposal to increase commercial advertising, providing a commercial protectionist argument.
  • Peter Costello: Currently Chairman of ECG Financial Pty Ltd, which is a boutique corporate advisory firm. Costello is formally a perennial Member of the Australian House of Representatives representing the Liberal Party of Australia for nearly 20 years starting in 1990 and Treasurer in the Howard Government for more than a decade starting in 1996. Costello criticises Guthrie's proposal to pursue a digital first approach to program and content distribution, providing a confusing and apparently nonsensical argument.

The criticisms reflect the good, bad, and ugly of thinking on the topic of publicly funded knowledge. Within the context of the “Dreadful and Appalling” article, each of these individuals, Nash, Flynn, and Costello, reflects a position on funding public knowledge. I do not know if the positions presented in the article are fair, typical, or consistent with the views that they have previously expressed. I do not know if those views conflict with other things that they have said or represented elsewhere. I do not know of any ulterior motives latent in their statements that may or may not exist. But I do see examples of good, bad, and ugly thinking.


Apparently as part of a plan to manage the estimated 36 billion dollar hole in the 2016 Australian national budget, it is assumed that the ABC will be facing significant decreases in public funding during the coming 5 years. Guthrie, speaking in her new role as ABC Manager has indicates that she wants to

  1. erect pay walls around content to raise additional revenue,
  2. increase levels of commercial advertising at the ABC, and
  3. aggressively pursue a digital first strategy for the ABC.

Nash's, Flynn's, and Costello's objectives leave room for a different approach to thinking about the value of publicly funded knowledge that should at least appease Nash and Flynn. Part of rationale that Guthrie has adopted is that she needs to exercise initiatives that make-up the difference in forthcoming public funding and needed expenditure for the ABC to fulfil its mission.

None of Guthrie's recommendations should be particularly surprising given her background at Google. Online would seem petty natural, as would commercial advertising, and surly she would have had plenty of exposure to costumers using pay walls for limiting access to content. The interesting part of the “Dreadful and Appalling” article is the responses that these recommendations received.

The Good…
Minister Fiona Nash, responded rather negatively to Guthrie’s first proposal. As a public servant with an eye turned toward probity and the common-sense use of public funding, she objected to charging the public for assets that they had already paid for through their taxes and transferred through government allocations made to the ABC. Nash's response Guthrie's plan to erect paywalls is that
It's a dreadful idea, Australians have already paid for the ABC once why should they pay for it again?... That regional people could miss out on regional content because they would forced to pay for it is appalling." - Fiona Nash

Once again, this righteous and common-sense position might actually engender a little faith, even among the most cynical observers, in the spirit of public mindedness among some politicians. That is, so long as the progressive attitudes of those politicians extend to a commitment for appropriate funding levels for public broadcasting.

Assuming the best intent on the part of our elected representatives of the public good, I would though suggest that in addition to not intentionally limiting access to publicly funded programming we actually advocate for increasing creation and access. Along these lines, why not make publicly funded programming and content open, reducing legal as well as practical barriers to use and distribution? After all, public is public, and if the public is underwriting the expense to create and distribute the ABC content and programming, why not maximise its value to the public directly? The whole cycle makes sense.

  1. The ABC receives public funding through annual appropriations. 
  2. The public benefits from its investment in Open Public Broadcasting services (OPB) though the creativity and expertise applied by the ABC staff and mediated through their professional discretion as servants of the public good, and reflected in their programming, services, and content. 
  3. The programming and content created is then made available openly to the public for unfettered reused, modification, and distribution in the public domain.
  4. The content now in the public domain once again benefits the public, but this time for their direct benefit unmediated through the ABC as a public agency. 
  5. Increase value is created through open public use, including the potential for entrepreneurial activities generating tax revenues.

With appropriate licensing, something like under something like  CC-BY or CC-BY-SA, and appropriate distribution channels, perhaps something like the Internet, the value generated could be maintained for many cycles.

Unfortunately, I suspect that the idea of OPB would require more “public mindedness,” and perhaps courage than has been generally exhibited among elected servants of the public good. Australian politics are as partisan as those in the US, and a truly open Public Broadcasting Service would require the government, representing the interests of the whole public to fund the OPB at levels that assume little syndication and reselling revenue. While it is true that some traditional revenue streams would be reduced, others may emerge through value-added services if that is appropriate, but it would clearly provide opportunities for others to generate value and potentially taxable revenue on the public investment. At the end of the day though, the argument needs to be about improving quality of life and civic capacity, which is kind of the point of any public service. In short, political budget-makers would need to fund the ABC at levels that allow the ABC to forgo short-term revenue generation schemes like paywalls, in lieu of long-term investment in knowledge for public good. Incidentally, the public good includes providing the openly available content necessary to support commercial and entrepreneurial activities and develop new value creation models based on changing assumptions about intellectual property restrictions on public goods.

The Bad…
Now that we really don’t need paywalls, we can turn to Guthrie’s proposal to increase commercial advertising. My principal concern with this proposal is that as commercial advertising becomes more important to Public Broadcasting we all run the risk of creating full-length commercials masquerading as public or educational broadcasting designed to take advantage of the trusting public. That is, we run the risk of having another commercial culture creation entity posing as producer and curator of public knowledge. That being said, my concerns are obviously misplaced and quite naive, as the principal objection to more commercial advertising that is made in the article, is not at all about protecting public interests. It is about protecting the pecuniary interests of commercial broadcasters, as is clearly articulated by Julie Flynn the CEO and spokesperson of FreeTV Australia, an industry and lobbying group for commercial broadcasters.
"Commercial free-to-air broadcasters invest significantly in local content, and we would oppose any changes to the ABC that would result in metro and regional broadcasters having to compete for advertising dollars with a very generously funded broadcaster," – Flynn

On the upside, if this is the principal opposition to commercial advertising for ABC, then FreeTV, should logically support appropriately funded Open Public Broadcasting. If appropriately funded, ABC would not need to extend beyond traditional sponsorships, commercial broadcasters would not need to compete with ABC for limited advertising dollars, and perhaps profits increase for commercial broadcasters, additional tax revenue is generated, excellent public broadcasting services are provided, and everybody is happy.

So, perhaps Open Public Broadcasting actually addresses a few concerns and forces a non-partisan discussion across multiple interests about public investment, in public knowledge, for the public good.

The Ugly…
Having made paywall restrictions and commercial advertising unnecessary, this leaves us with the last of Guthrie’s proposals; digital first, which is the only proposal that actually creates value for the public. Although digital distribution is part of the ABC Charter, reactionary business interests and politicians whose motives we must take with some healthy scepticism, are still questioning the idea of public broadcasting entering the age of digital creation and distribution. For example, Peter Costello is actually reported to have asked,
Why does the ABC need to be across all this different media? Why does the taxpayer need to fund a competitor in an internet space that is crowded with private operators? … There are so many things that taxpayers are asked to pay for. How high, as a priority, is digital communication and entertainment? - Costello

Wow... Oddly enough, I am left a bit speechless – I think bewildered. I do not think that I have anything to add to Costello’s statements that is not already painfully obvious. They do though call into question if the rest of us need to recalibrate the conversation and our expectations for progressing a meaningful public dialogue that is meant to progress the public good. Is it possible to seriously discuss public policy and the economics of OPB, when public figures are seriously questioning the appropriateness of publicly funded knowledge and culture finding a home on the most broadly accessed and openly available communication system available? Could Costello possibly be articulating a message that public knowledge has no place in the public commons? Is he expressing a latent attitude that the Internet is not a place for the public, but instead should be reserved for private commercial use? Is he suggesting that the Internet is little more than a forum in which commercial interests do competitive battle for market supremacy, as his quotation indicates? Is his vision widely shared and highly regarded?


To be fair, I have not thoroughly researched the nuances of the ABC, or the histories and the long-standing attitudes of Guthrie, Nash, Flynn, or Costello. Perhaps they have been misquoted in the few articles that I have read.

Regardless, it seems clear that some voices are louder and more organised than others. The ABC, like FreeTV, and other organisations have well-established ways of influencing policy. It would be great to see one of these influencers seriously take up the topic of open publicly funded knowledge and put away the idea and odd logic that we need to restrict access to public knowledge to generate revenue to produce more restricted knowledge. Instead we need to articulate our values and goals in ways that reject the cycle of restriction and scarcity and substitute it for one of growth and abundance. I suspect that there are other publicly supported culture and knowledge creation, preservation, and dissemination organisations including libraries and universities that have common interests with public broadcasting. These are organisations, along with museums, galleries, archives, and public theatres that are meant to support vibrant social life and civic capacity. Perhaps together, with and among organisations with common values and exercising a shared voice, the notion of a public open knowledge economy will find fertile ground.


'Dreadful and appalling': Government senator slams idea of ABC paywall

MYEFO: Budget deficit increases to $37b as Government releases economic update

About The Licenses (including cc-by and cc-by-sa)

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Fiona Nash, Senator Page

Peter Costello Page

Free TV

Creative Commons Licence

Open Public Broadcasting Services: The Good, Bad, and Ugly of a Public Funding Discussion by Ken Udas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Fee-Free, Stigma-Free, and Open Education

In a recent commentary in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Kenneth Warren and Samir Sonti made an important point about the stigmatising effect of anything that is made freely available based on personal financial need. They point to the problem of creating a stratified "welfare education" system that will likely undermine the public good value of free college.  In addition to considering the logic of free education, it is also worth considering the benefits of open education, and asking why fee-free college and open education are critically important and not being discussed together as part of the same public policy debate. 

Kenneth W. Warren and Samir Sonti, posted a commentary in the Chronicle of Higher Education on December 16, 2015 titled Nobody Should Have to Pay to Go to College. I think that it is worth a quick read (it is a short article) and the main point of the commentary deserves some thought. Reading through the arguments and putting aside the objections to free college, I believe that the central point of the article is that a free college education, like any other investment in a public good ought to be stigma free. The authors express this notion succinctly, pointing out that,
[t]he first step to stigmatizing the idea of the public good is to divide the citizenry into those who need help and those who don’t — a move that only masks certain forms of public assistance (tax breaks) while making other forms (Aid to Families With Dependent Children) markers of irresponsibility.

I am making a point of this, because I think that it is the point of the article, and it seems to be one that is easily missed. Perhaps most commenters on the Chronicle site looked past this point because the objections to free college or university education are a bit incendiary. 
  • The first objection was economic. Free education would be a waste of public funds because the college dropout rate is currently so high.
  • The second objection was also economic. Public funds for free college education should not be available to those who can afford to pay. 
Interestingly the first argument might be construed as supporting the idea that education is a public good, while the second objection is logically an argument that education is a private good. The reasonableness of both objections really needs to be considered alongside an assessment of the aggregate private and public benefits that individuals and society enjoy by participation in and graduation from college. If those aggregated benefits exceed the total costs, then free education is a good public investment regardless of either argument. The idea of free education is best framed in terms of an investment in social progress and personal wellbeing, rather than as an entitlement of citizenship or a reward for previous service. That is not to say that higher education is necessarily the best investment on the long list of important public good investments, although it might be, but it is at least a place to start the public policy discussion. I do not think that we need to assume that the best investment is in 4 year degrees, or elaborate athletic programs, or we need to assume that free education necessarily means open admission to every public college or university. All of these and many other topics need to be rationally discussed as part of the public policy debate.

Free Cooper Union CC BY-SA 3.0
Free Education To All Banner - Free Cooper Union
CC BY-SA 3.0
It seems to me that in any event we ought to be considering how the transaction costs associated with fee-free college can be decreased in order to increase the net public and private benefit. This simple point recognises that fee-free college is not cost free. We are after all talking about the redistribution of income, which is a serious commitment. We all have an obligation to ensure that public funding is spent responsibly and effectively. To Warren’s and Sonti’s point, I would suggest that there are a number of transaction costs associated with stigmatising fee-free college education. First, there are the emotional and social costs associated with stigmatising any group. There is a personal cost of overcoming the stigma of accepting something free that may be considered inferior by some simply because it is free for those who cannot afford it, which might even decreasing its market value artificially. There are also transaction costs for the government, universities, and students. They take the form of regulation, compliance, and enforcement necessary to ensure that only those who qualify for “welfare education” have access. Although costs associated with the oversight of public funds are essential, stigma and related compliance costs are unnecessary and counter productive. They can be easily addressed by adopting the principle that a public college education ought to free to all, because it is good for all - so long as the aggregate benefits are greater than the total costs. Recognising "stigma costs" is a good contribution to the discussion, as they seem to get little meaningful attention or consideration.

I would suggest that a discussion about open education more broadly is worth considering in this context as well. Theoretically using open and free educational resources whenever practicable should reduce the transaction costs of acquiring, sharing and managing educational content. For example, today, if I were to assign Herbert Crowly’s The Promise of American Life for a history or political science course, I could order it from a vendor carrying a distribution from a proprietary publisher and it would cost students about 25 USD per copy. Alternatively, I could refer learners to the Internet Archive and they could download it for no cost as it is in the public domain. To the extent that the cost of books and other learning materials can be reduced, the overall transaction costs for access to education can also be reduced. Likewise, if we believe that university professors provide a benefit to students by designing their courses and providing structure, assigning particular readings, posing thoughtful questions, and making meaningful assignments that help guide learning, why would we not want to make those artefacts freely available to self-directed learners for their benefit? That is, if we do believe that some students are more likely to learn more effectively when engaging in a structured course of study than she or he is without any guidance, then we might realise additional public good coming from reducing the transaction costs to learners who are not registered at a free university, but are engaging in self-study. The costs are reduced for learners and spread across different types of learners, while the benefits are increased by providing access to anything that can help support learning and access generally.

Much of this is not novel. There are many examples of open course content and open curriculum. Much of it is rather vocational in nature, and much if it is not terribly well designed for independent learning, but it is available. We are fortunate to be seriously discussing fee-free education at this time at a national level, in public, with passion, and with urgency. A cursory scan of the 80 plus comments posted on The Chronicle site to Warren and Sonti's commentary illustrates that there are perspectives on the topic and those willing to contribute to the conversation. Everything about this conversation is complex. Topics for example, ranging from education financing, faculty autonomy, academic integrity, credentialism, perspectives on private and public good, measurement of educational impact on society, assumptions about equity and welfare, and the consequences of tax burden, are technically complex, value laden, and emotionally charged. That is, they are not simple conversations and they do require participation from a range of interests.

In the United States, Democratic nominee candidates, Sanders and Clinton both have free-college proposals on the table. It would be wonderful if during the next 24 months free college is assumed and the discussion turns to debate over the details of various plans. For example, we might be exploring the relative benefits of integrating service learning into the curriculum of all public education; the possibilities of promoting citizen science at an international scale to stir interest in STEM and provide open data supporting educational, social, and commercial progress; and the practicalities of making resources funded by the public available to the public. All of these topics have the potential to generate additional public good benefits that are lost when educational access is restricted, framed exclusively as a private good, and closed. It is important that before any proposal is adopted and refined or dismissed and taken off the table it is subject to the type of rigorous and critical debate necessary for the development of well-crafted and thoughtful public policy. One of the arguments for free and open public education is to ensure that as a society we have the civic capacity to engage in this and similar debates.

If we can have a serious and critical discussion at the national level about fee-free college, why can we not have a similarly serious discussion about Open Education for those attending a public university and for those who want to study independently?  Is there an underlying logic that supports not only free college for all, but open access to publicly funded educational resources - as a matter of practical and sound public policy?


From The Chronicle of Higher Education, By  December 16, 2015.

Internet Archive
The Internet Archive is a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, and more.

Creative Commons Licence
Fee-Free, Stigma-Free, and Open Education by Ken Udas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Alternative Phrasing


Cory's habits and arts of an educated person are a shared responsibility of teachers and students. They are the foundation for a liberal education and necessary for the exercise of public intellectualism. There are things we ought to be thinking about and doing to ensure that Cory's habits and arts are meaningful parts of university life. This is the third posting in a series that started with Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Foundations for Liberal Education & Generic Graduate Attributes, and Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Behaviours Indicative of Self-Knowledge.

Annoyance with the unavoidable complexities of genuine 
teaching and learning is expressed as insistence that 
educational relationships submit to the scientific 
paradigm, with an increasingly aggressive 
response to any who would question or 
depart from this submission. 

-Stephen Rowe on mangerialism and the art of teaching


As indicated at the end of my last posting Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Behaviours Indicative of Self-Knowledge, I am not sure that I made many improvements to Cory’s original phrasing of the habits and arts. In fact, with the exception of the habits of discrimination, mental courage, and mental soberness, I am sure that most of them could just stand as they were originally stated. I do think though that the brief description that follows each habit or art will make it easier for teachers to develop approaches that strike at developing capabilities and behaviours that support both liberal and professional learning.

So here goes...


The Habit of Attention.
The habit of applying ones mind to an idea, observable phenomena, or artefact long enough to understand it for the purposes at hand. An educated individual will exercise the habit of paying attention for appropriate durations of time, considering relevant information and disregarding irrelevant information actively as time passes.

The Habit of Engaging in Structured Critical Conversation. (formally "The Habit of Submitting to Censure and Refutation")
An educated individual will exercise the habit of constructing arguments, accepting criticism of their statements and arguments, expecting and preparing for a counter argument, and in turn critiquing the counter argument as appropriate.

The Habit of Considering the Accuracy of Facts, Arguments, and Conclusions. (formally "The Habit of Regarding Minute Points of Accuracy")
An educated individual will exercise the habit of critically and rigorously calling into question the accuracy of the statements of others and those she or he has made or is considering.

The Habit of Planning and Acting in Accordance to what is Possible in a Given Amount of Time. (formally "The Habit of Working Out What is Possible in a Given Time")
An educated individual will exercise the habit of considering, planning, and scheduling activities with full consideration of time dependencies. This extends to factoring the implication of time into ones own arguments and while considering the arguments and suggestions of others.

The Habit of Discerning the Qualities of a Thing or Behaviour and Forming an Opinion Accordingly. (formally "The Habit of Taste")
An educated individual will exercise the habit of discerning the characteristics of things, ideas, and behaviours and assessing their quality appropriately within pluralistic cultures.

The Habit of Identifying Differences and Similarities Among Things or Behaviours, Making Judgments, and Forming Opinions (formally "The Habit of Discrimination")
An educated individual will exercise the habit of articulating the differences among things and behaviours, and when appropriate applying the differences to the choices the individual makes.

The Habit of Consciously and Rationally Behaving in a Manner that May Put Oneself at Risk for a Broader Good or Principle. (formally "The Habit of Mental Courage")
An educated individual will exercise the habit of expressing ideas, engaging in conversation, and knowing acting in ways that may put her or him at risk for an ideal or principle.

The Habit of Disciplined and Responsible Thought and Expression. (formally "The Habit of Mental Soberness")
An educated individual will exercise the habit of applying appropriate levels of discipline and judgment when considering topics and making decisions.


The Art of Changing Ones Mind, Frame of Reference, and Paradigm with Little Notice. (formally "The art of assuming at a moment's notice a new intellectual posture.")
An educated individual will possess the ability to modify her or his worldview appropriately given their situation and access to previously unknown data or information.

The Art of Applying Intellectual and Emotional Empathy to Another Person’s Thoughts. (formally The art of entering quickly into another person's thoughts")
An educated individual will possess the ability to adopt the intellectual and emotional state of another’s thoughts and quickly assess them from ones own and the other’s perspectives.

The Art of Engaging in Nuanced Understanding and Expression in Argument. (formally "The art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms.")
An educated individual will possess the ability to appreciate the nuances of an argument and intentionally respond with appropriate force and intellectual subtlety.


In many ways I am holding the importance and value of Cory's habits and arts to be self-evident. That these are the behaviours and abilities that we want our students to possess at the very least when they graduate from our universities and at the very most when they enter them. I would suggest that they are necessary to engage with others in broader society critically as a public intellectual. As indicated in a recent post titled Liberalising the Corporate University, I believe that open public expression is an obligation for the professoriate within the context of academic freedom. So, exercising the privileges and obligations of academic freedom ought to provide an excellent opportunity for teaching and learning through modelling practice that illustrates the essential nature of Cory's habits and arts and provides fertile ground for learning through practice. Incidentally, it may also reassert the central role of professor and student in university life beyond one that is economic. To nurture this culture as a matter of practice I believe that we need to think about:
Pouring into Cast - CC BY-SA
  • Positing that self-knowledge is an aspirational goal for all affiliated with the university teaching mission, and that Cory's habits and arts are essential to strive for self-knowledge. 
  • Recognising that genuine learning of this nature is inherently personal and value-laden, will look more like mentorship then instruction, and will be more costly than running the university as a foundry.
  • Building opportunities to learn about and practice the habits and arts in each university class.
  • Ensuring that there are opportunities to develop and practice the habits and arts through co-curricular activities at each college and university.
  • Developing and articulating learning objectives in each class that address at least some of the habits and arts.
  • Sharing across academic communities learning activities, learning content, and formative and summative assessments design to grow knowledge and practice of the habits and arts.
  • Map the habits and arts across the curriculum, and at least in Australia include them as part of the generic graduate attributes we expect our graduates to exhibit.
  • Publicly engage with professional societies, accreditors, employers, public funding agencies, policy makers, philanthropic foundations, and others to discuss the nature and importance of public intellectualism, the university, and the fluency of graduates in the habits and arts.

None of these things will happen on their own. University faculty will need to commit to an overriding assumption that the habits and arts are important, as will students. University managers must also understand, support, and allow a culture of open and critical expression take root, in our broader communities, within the University, and essentially within the class and extended learning environment. Building the habits and arts into the curriculum in a manner that promotes prolonged practice with increasing sophistication designed to result in fluency is a good start, but creating an environment in which students and teachers know each other and engage in genuine, critical, and reflective learning and teaching is essential. It is probably obvious that preparing an educated citizenship is more expensive than training a workforce, which means that funding agencies and learners will also need to assess the value that Cory's arts and habits as the foundation of a liberal education provides. For the most part, in many societies our public primary and secondary schools have failed to provide such preparation, are we willing to fund it through higher education?

As always, I welcome comment and would appreciate any suggestions for improving the rephrased habits and arts.


Eton Reform
From Defence of the Etonian system in reply to the criticisms of Matthew James Higgins (‘Paterfamilias’) and Sir J.T. Coleridge. Cf. DNB, v. 22, p. 488,

Standing up to Managerialism

Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Foundations for Liberal Education & Generic Graduate Attributes

Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Behaviours Indicative of Self-Knowledge

Creative Commons Licence
Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Alternative Phrasing by Ken Udas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Behaviours Indicative of Self-Knowledge

Cory's habits are the preconditions for being able to effectively engage in the arts of expression, which in turn require a level of self-knowledge.  The structure that Cory provides allows us to reduce the foundations necessary for a liberal education and attainment of many generic graduate attributes to behaviours. This posting is the second part of a three post series. The first articles in the series is titled Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Foundations for Liberal Education & Generic Graduate Attributes


As indicated in my last posting titled Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Foundations for Liberal Education & Generic Graduate Attributes, I intend to dig into Cory’s habits and arts of an educated student and provide my interpretations. Although Cory stated them in text (not bullet points), I have teased them out and presented them as follows...
  • Habits of an educated person...
    • the habit of attention
    • the habit of submitting to censure and refutation
    • the habit of regarding minute points of accuracy
    • the habit of working out what is possible in a given time
    • the habit of taste
    • the habit of discrimination
    • the habit of mental courage
    • the habit of mental soberness.
  • and the following arts of expression...
    • the art of assuming at a moment's notice a new intellectual posture
    • the art of entering quickly into another person's thoughts
    • the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms.
I would like to spend a little time on each of them first providing my interpretation and then offer an alternative phrasing to perhaps make them a bit more contemporary. Once again, I believe that it is worth while because attaining the objectives of both a liberal eduction and generic graduate attributes in Australia requires a foundation. Without a set of assumed abilities, practices, and skills, it is difficult to meaningfully develop curriculum and pedagogy with appropriate and realistic intent.


First and foremost a habit is a behavioural routine, which may be learned and unlearned. Many habits are unconscious, they have become so much a part of an individual’s normal pattern that they are executed without conscious thought. Unlike bad habits, the habits of an educated person are intentional outcomes of a formal university (or school) education. Others expect them to be evident in practice by an educated person and they help the individual behave in a critical, reflective, adaptable, and thoughtful way to learn and self-actualize. A habit is frequently the result of practice, as is fluency.

The Habit of Attention
We can take attention to be a behavioral and cognitive process of selectively concentrating on one aspect of the environment while ignoring other things. This is what we generally mean when we instruct somebody to “pay attention” or ask somebody for their “undivided attention.” It is notionally connected to vigilance, which we can think about in terms of sustained concentration. That is, it is the ability to maintain concentrated attention over prolonged periods of time. Inherent in the behavioural exercise of attention, is the ability to concentrate for extended periods of time on a physical item or a mental construct, while also selectively admitting (selectively filtering) other ideas into a span of attention for consideration. It would be hard to imagine an educated person being able to grapple with difficult concepts in the act of learning without having the ability to apply appropriate levels of attention for sustained periods to the matter at hand.

The Habit of Submitting to Censure and Refutation
Submission has a number of denotations, I believe though that in this case we ought to think about the notion of submission in terms of consent, which communicates a texture of willingness to submit with the intent of achieving some benefit. That is, consent implies an agreement to submit as an exercise of free will. Censure is a rather strong term that points to disapproval of others, while refutation speaks to an act in response to or in anticipation of censure. In our context we are referring the disagreement or disapproval of an idea expressed as part of an argument. Refutation is a formal element of rhetoric, which is one of the three foundational liberal arts that make up the Trivium.

Graham's Hierarchy of Disagreement
CC BY (Click Graphic to Enlarge)
Refutation is the act of countering or disproving an argument or counterargument in a persuasive essay or speech. So, our educated person would be in the habit of making arguments, and consenting willingly to disapproval and then entertaining and anticipating a counter argument, which she or he will then develop a strategy to refute. The person posting the original argument will more effectively anticipate a counterargument and prepare a refutation by placing herself or himself in the position of the other person. These of course are the foundations of engagement in critical dialogue and thinking and reflective learning. And, as we will later read, are enabled through the "Arts of Expression."

Referring briefly to the habit of attention, it becomes obvious how important the "selective filtering" process is during the act of refutation. An effective counterargument is based on focusing attention on non-trivial flaws in an argument and are themselves not flawed in obvious ways. Filtering out distracting and irrelevant information and lines of logic is essential for this type of critical engagement.

The Habit of Regarding Minute Points of Accuracy
Accuracy is important to the educated person because of what it implies. The ability to regard or consider minute points of accuracy requires an understanding of what is being measured and how it is being measured. Successfully assessing accuracy allows the educated person to at least:
  • See through a false impression of correctness based on observable precision in order to detect flaws in logic that impact the correctness of an assessment, outcome, argument, or answer.
  • Determine, for the purposes at hand, an appropriate level of tolerance one should apply to the standard of accuracy.

Regarding, considering, and understanding the accuracy of a truth claim is a critical ability and behaviour. This is true as well for developing arguments based on evidence and considering the reasonableness and robustness of the truth claims that others might make. We expect that an educated person would as a matter of habit consider the accuracy of claims while determining the validity of an argument. Not to do so would almost certainly result in a level of intellectual sloppiness prohibiting rigorous learning, acts of original discovery, and effective practice.

The Habit of Working Out What is Possible in a Given Time
This habit is in part an important and useful application of the habit of regarding minute points of accuracy outlined above. Being able to accurately assess time commitments contributes to a range of other habits and represents a critical point for refutation. That is, being able to refute an argument based on the time related factors allows our educated person to...
See through a false impression of correctness based on observable precision in order to detect flaws in logic that impact the correctness of an assessment, outcome, argument, or answer.
Public Domain (Click Graphic to Enlarge)
 The geologic time spiral—
A path to the past, Public Domain
(Click Graphic to Enlarge)
In addition, and a little aside of the main point here, there are also practical and obvious advantages of having the capacity to reliably be on time for appointments. The educated person who works out how much time it takes to do things will be able to better contribute to a wide range of social activities including participation in collaborative activities and scholarship. Working out the amount of time it will take to accomplish a series of tasks to deliver particulate outputs with particular outcomes, requires at least the ability to:
  • Anticipate a future state and the impact that actions taken in the future will have on the environment.
  • Assess the current condition of the environment and how it will impact on the timely delivery of desired outcomes and outputs.
  • Anticipate the willingness, competencies, and capacities of others who may be enlisted to help achieve desired ends.
  • Prioritize efforts and order events to reach desired ends.
  • Accurately identify and estimate the appropriate characteristics that contribute to a desired end.
  • Anticipate potential modes of failure in a chain of events, assess likelihood, and prepare contingency actions.

Although we recognise that not all educated individuals manage time well, we would expect the individual to have a firm and sophisticated conceptual grasp of time.

The Habit of Taste
This is an interesting habit. In this context it would seem that taste ought to be taken as the habit of discerning the quality of a thing or behavior and forming an opinion accordingly. I assume then that an educated person would have the habit of “good taste.” This is all well and good, but in a pluralistic society or for those who travel and enjoy relationships in a diverse community, the habit of taste, must be accompanied with the ability to assess taste from multiple perspectives depending on the circumstances. This, along with the habit of discrimination of course strikes at the heart of a liberal education.

The Habit of Discrimination
Discrimination is the ability to distinguish between things. The observer might need to discriminate based on physical qualities that are qualitative or quantitative, aesthetics - as in a performance, or morality - such as right and wrong. The habit of discrimination is the act of making such distinctions. Discrimination implies the ability to observe the environment, identify differences between things and across time, make judgments, and to be able to classify things. The term discrimination has taken a rather specific meaning in modern speech, which is the unjust discrimination against others based on an unfair classification, which is not the intended meaning in our context.

The Habit of Mental Courage
Tiananmen Square
Stephen Hott CC-BY
Courage generally refers to the strength or fortitude to act, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. Mental courage for our purposes may refer to the courage to think differently, challenging common or dominant thought, engaging in the discussion even at personal or professional risk, and when appropriate doing so publicly with the knowledge that while submitting others to your censure and refutation, you must do the same. The habit of exercising mental courage is a necessary precondition for the growth of knowledge and pursuit of truth. And, as Kant suggests, it is necessary for enlightenment. For those in the academy, it represents the behaviors that academic freedom is intended to protect, and in its exercise represents the responsibly that all thinkers have to the public good.

The Habit of Mental Soberness
I believe that mental soberness in this case needs to be interpreted as an expression of reasoned seriousness and speaks to a level of disciplined thinking. It speaks to the type of thinking that is not impeded in a way that leads to taking an important topic, data, information, or knowledge too lightly or behaving in a glib or superficial manner. It also speaks to the ability to communicate with an appropriate attitude and level of gravity that befits a topic. When engaging in discussion on serious topics that have meaning, particularly if one is in a position of influence, soberness points to a level of fairness and truth. At the end of the day, I believe that acting regularly with mental soberness earns a level of trust.


An art can be thought of in terms of contributing to an overall ability to create an artefact through an act of artistry. It is an expression of abilities or mastery of a particular medium perhaps attained through training or some other educative process. At the center of our use of the term “Art” is the notion of an ability that is applied with something beyond skill, as in a habit, but requiring a level of creative expression that perhaps includes, but extends beyond technique. So, an art may be exercised as a habit, but requires much more nuance in its application. We may also suggest that works of art have the potential for impact that touches something in our humanity. One could argue that the habits outlined above are preconditions for being able to exercise the arts of expression.


Expression is communicating ones thoughts and feelings. Expressions can of course take many forms and make use of many media. The media and expression are intertwined and may effectively be inseparable. The mechanics of expression and their relationships to the media used, the intended message being communicated, and the desired affect and outcome may themselves be part of the expressive act.

To be honest, I am not entirely sure exactly why Cory chose expression as the critical art at the exclusion of others. It is of course through expression that others can observe us. The notions of being technology, information, digital, and media fluent is fundamentally tied to the art of expression. In an age in which the tools for mass communication and the potential of mass influence are readily available, the ability to effectively express oneself and the ability to engage with expressions becomes more critical than ever, pointing to the ever growing need for educated individuals, not just individuals who are well trained and skilled.

The art of Assuming at a Moment's Notice a New Intellectual Posture
The ability to assume a new intellectual posture speaks to more than just changing one’s mind.  It involves a change in attitude, perspective, rationale, and approach to a thing being considered. That is, it is more than shifting one's position on a continuum representing an intellectual construct, it is about modifying or creating a new conceptual model on which to shift.

The Art of Entering Quickly into Another Person's Thoughts
The ability to enter into another’s thoughts, speaks to the ability to place oneself in another’s mental frame both in terms of the logic of their thinking, assessing their motives, perceptions of their environment, the sophistication of their reasoning, critical capabilities, and disposition to reflection, but also having the ability to empathise with another and judge the relationships between logic and emotion. We can quickly see how self-knowledge plays an important role, while assessing the impact we have on ourselves and our interpretation of another’s thoughts as we enter them.

The Art of Indicating Assent or Dissent in Graduated Terms
This is that ability to express agreement and disagreement with an idea, action, artefact, or argument with nuanced variation. The ability reduces the impulse toward taking polar positions, ignoring subtlety in arguments and ideas, and partisanship. The ability to assent and dissent in graduated terms is essential to the idea of civil discourse and meaningful public debate. Without have the ability to do so, we cannot engage in discussions about how things exist in our common experience.

So, Cory is referring here to the arts necessary for effective expression of thoughts and feelings. There is a clear focus on being able to understand, appreciate, and adopt the perspectives of others. Although it is not explicitly stated, a review of the habits listed above indicates to me that they are the habits necessary for effectively and reliably practicing the arts of expression. This leads to the conclusion, that for Cory anyway, an educated young man or woman should be able to express oneself effectively. Which further implies, that the educated person must know what one thinks (in possession of self-knowledge) in order to express it. Which further implies that the education person must know how to think as a matter of habit.

Not entirely surprisingly, this is perhaps the shorthand definition for enlightenment as expressed by Immanuel Kant in “What is Enlightenment”and sits at the very definition of a liberal education.

While in the first posting in this series, Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Foundations for Liberal Education & Generic Graduate Attributes I outlined why I think Cory;s arts and habits merit consideration, in the final posting of this series, Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Alternative Phrasing,  I will rewrite Cory’s habits and arts to reflect a more contemporary language. I am guessing that I will not make substantive improvements in any but a few of the descriptions, but I do hope to make a contribution by describing them that lends to actually writing and implementing learning and teaching approaches that result in outcomes. That is, framing the foundations in a way that we can build on them, rather then framing our objectives in important and inspirational terms while largely ignoring that most learners need to engage in developmental activities to acquire the necessary arts and habits.


Eton Reform
From Defence of the Etonian system in reply to the criticisms of Matthew James Higgins (‘Paterfamilias’) and Sir J.T. Coleridge. Cf. DNB, v. 22, p. 488,  

Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Foundations for Liberal Education & Generic Graduate Attributes

Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Alternative Phrasing

Harvard College Writing Center: Strategies for Essay Writing

Creative Commons Licence
Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Behaviours Indicative of Self-Knowledge by Ken Udas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Foundations for Liberal Education & Generic Graduate Attributes


In 1861 William Johnson Cory presented an argument in Eton Reform that a "great school" will introduce a number of habits and arts that mark an educated person, preparing them for a liberal education. It is my feeling that most university students are not provided with such arts and habits before entering university study and that it is incumbent upon the university to build the foundation for many students. In this, and the following 2 posts, Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Behaviours Indicative of Self-Knowledge and Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Alternative Phrasing, I will interpret and re-craft Cory's habits and arts to better suit our current context.  

But you go to a great school, not for knowledge... 
Above all, you go to a great school for 

- Cory, Eton Reform


Public Domain
Interior of the Lower School at Eton
Public Domain
A few years ago I was referred to an essay titled Eton Reform written by William Johnson Cory defending the curriculum of Eton College.  Cory had prepared a defence of the Etonian system (curriculum) in reply to the criticisms of Matthew James Higgins and Sir J.T. Coleridge. At the time the headmaster was addressing allegations that Eton College was teaching its students nothing useful that may lead to a job. That is, Cory was defending the benefits of a liberal education, in effect participating in the same argument that we are now engaging about relative benefits and relationships of education for employment and education for enlightenment.

Cory, in no way dismissed the need for boys to appreciate the need of work, or to be prepared to eventually engage in productive employment, but also felt that the job of a school was to prepare its graduates to think and act in particular ways that speak to being educated. He makes direct reference to the notion of self-knowledge and the need for his boys to develop the capacity for rational thought as the foundation of freedom. Prepared in this way, Eton graduates will have developed the abilities and practices to exercise freedom rather than follow uncritically what they are told.


During his defence of the Eton curriculum, Cory lists a number of habits and arts indicative of an educated person. They struck me as having value, so I have kept them in hand and have occasionally referred to them. I last mentioned them in this blog in a posting titled Is a liberal technical education something more or something else? I have found them useful because in effect, the habits and arts are the preconditions for a liberal education. Without them, it would be very difficult for a student to engage meaningfully, critically, and reflectively in social settings.

Public Domain
William Johnson Cory, Public Domain
It is here that I think Cory distinguishes between education for training and education for self-knowledge and enlightenment.
"At school you are engaged not so much in acquiring knowledge as in making mental efforts under criticism.  A certain amount of knowledge you can indeed with average faculties acquire so as to retain; nor need you regret the hours you spent on much that is forgotten, for the shadow of lost knowledge at least protects you from many illusions.   But you go to a great school not so much for knowledge as for arts and habits; for the habit of attention, for the art of expression, for the art of assuming at a moment's notice a new intellectual position, for the art of entering quickly into another person's thoughts, for the habit of submitting to censure and refutation, for the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms, for the habit of regarding minute points of accuracy, for the art of working out what is possible in a given time, for taste, for discrimination, for mental courage, and for mental soberness."
And mixed into this quote is the essence of what is needed in preparation for a liberal education. That is, without the habits and arts to which Cory refers, a learner is poorly prepared for engaging in a liberal education. To provide a point of reference in a contemporary context, I will refer to the American Association of Colleges and Universities' (AAC&U) framing of a liberal education as...
... an approach to learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. It provides students with broad knowledge of the wider world (e.g. science, culture, and society) as well as in-depth study in a specific area of interest. A liberal education helps students develop a sense of social responsibility, as well as strong and transferable intellectual and practical skills such as communication, analytical and problem-solving skills, and a demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings.

Which is frequently articulated in the form of an inter-disciplinary general education curriculum that, when well-crafted promotes awareness about ways of knowing, as well as the acquisition of disciplinary and professional knowledge.  In Australia, we try to capture part of this through the definition and use of Generic Graduate Attributes. One definition of Graduate Attributes points to
...the skills personal attributes and values which should be acquired by all graduates regardless of their discipline or field of study, and representing the central achievements of higher education as a process...  

To illustrate an application of graduate attributes in practice, I have copied below the introduction used to address the nature of Graduate Attributes and Generic skills at the University of Sydney, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS).
Graduate Attributes are central to the design, delivery and assessment of student learning in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Students are encouraged to acquire attributes in scholarship, global citizenship and lifelong learning. In the context of their learning in a range of disciplines and subjects, students will develop key generic skills in:
  • research and inquiry
  • information literacy
  • personal and intellectual autonomy
  • ethical, social and professional understanding
  • communication

To further illustrate the nature of graduate attributes, the following provides a little more context, but if you are interested in more detailed treatment visit the FASS Teaching and Learning site that addresses General Attributes.

  • Research and Inquiry. Graduates of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences will be able to create new knowledge and understanding through the process of research and inquiry.
  • Information Literacy. Graduates of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences will be able to use information effectively in a range of contexts.
  • Personal and Intellectual Autonomy. Graduates of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences will be able to work independently and sustainably, in a way that is informed by openness, curiosity and a desire to meet new challenges.
  • Ethical, Social and Professional Understanding. Graduates of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences will hold personal values and beliefs consistent with their role as responsible members of local, national, international and professional communities.
  • Communication. Graduates of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences will recognise and value communication as a tool for negotiating and creating new understanding, interacting with others, and furthering their own learning.
All Australian universities have such attributes, and although they all vary, they principally drive at the same qualities. In addition, the development and presentation of generic or general attributes are mandated at all Australian universities and are meant for all students. 

Once again, I would suggest that Cory's habits and arts provide the necessary foundation for learners to engage in a liberal education and take as part of their lives the general attributes listed above and similar attributes at other universities. And if this is so, what do we do about learners who do not come from "great schools" and have not otherwise acquired the habits and arts to which Cory refers?

Several months ago, while trying to make this point, I was chatting with a group of colleagues and presented the list of “Habits and Arts” of an educated person as part of a paper for discussion. Keeping in mind that Cory composed the list in 1861, it is not surprising that the feedback that I received was that the list seemed sort of quaint and na├»ve in nature. Conceding that the language is a little dated, I insisted that the actual content remains relevant to university administrators, academics, and to students. I argued as well that their framing as habits (and arts) inherently frame them in terms of behaviours, which is an advantage. I am not necessarily suggesting that the attributes included in Cory’s list have been ignored or are not generally built into university curricula, but I do not feel that they are frequently articulated as clearly and directly as they ought to be. Nor are they generally associated clearly with a higher education purpose that extends beyond, is fundamental to, or complementary of the growing emphasis in many universities on occupational and professional training for employability.

Recognizing that the 1861 language does not resonate very well in 2014 (and I am guessing will no more so in 2015), I have taken a little time to describe what I think Cory was driving at with each of the Habits and Arts he listed, relate them to the qualities that many colleges and universities espouse as valued general graduate attributes, and propose a refreshing of the item under discussion.

For now, here is the list of Arts & Habits.
  • Habits of an educated person...
    • the habit of attention
    • the habit of submitting to censure and refutation
    • the habit of regarding minute points of accuracy
    • the habit of working out what is possible in a given time
    • the habit of taste
    • the habit of discrimination
    • the habit of mental courage
    • the habit of mental soberness.
  • and the following arts of expression...
    • the art of assuming at a moment's notice a new intellectual posture
    • the art of entering quickly into another person's thoughts
    • the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms.
As this posting is getting a bit long, I will expand on Cory's habits and arts in the next two postings. In the next posting titled Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Behaviours Indicative of Self-Knowledge, I take some time to explain my interpretation of each of Cory's habits and arts. In the final positing, titled Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Alternative Phrasing, I will rewrite Cory’s habits and arts to reflect a more contemporary language. Although I am not entirely confident that my interpretation and re-crafting will be much of an improvement, it will serve as a good reflective exercise for me and perhaps improve my thinking along these lines.


Eton Reform
From Defence of the Etonian system in reply to the criticisms of Matthew James Higgins (‘Paterfamilias’) and Sir J.T. Coleridge. Cf. DNB, v. 22, p. 488,

Eton College

Graduate Attributes and Generic Skills, University of Sydney, FASS

What is a 21st Century Liberal Education?

Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Behaviours Indicative of Self-Knowledge

Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Alternative Phrasing

 Creative Commons Licence
Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Foundations for Liberal Education & Generic Graduate Attributes by Ken Udas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.