Sunday, August 31, 2014

Nagasaki mon amour.

"23rd October 1868. Shanghai. Had a discussion with a man about the religion of Jesus, his retort was we had bought opium. 

He was met by the reply that we bought the gospel to counteract it. It certainly taxes the missionaries' wisdom much to reply to such a charge."

I am a child of Empire, I am a child of evangelists. 

In 2010, after 142 years I heard my great grandfather's voice for the first time. He was 24 years old, he was on a ship bound for Nagasaki. He was to be the first Anglican missionary to Japan.

It had taken years of research to track down his ship's journal hidden in a database in a university library somewhere on the internet amongst an enormous archive of missionary society papers, unread except no doubt by specialist historians.

On receiving the facsimile of his journal, I was met with a shock, it was illegible. 

Of course, fountain pens were not to be patented until twenty years later, I was translating quill.

To leave to Japan, just after the defeat of the Samurai without speaking the language, to go to convert the Japanese to an alien religion while knowing that missionaries had only recently been massacred must have required unimaginable courage.

What movement was my ancestor participating in?
What can one say about connecting those (un)fortunate Japanese converts to our Empire faith?
Where did he imagine he was heading?

2008, my Facebook experiment had been a great success. 

A student wrote eloquently about his impressions of connected learning, here is a translation from the original French:

"Creating social networks in education could reveal to be a major development...As a student, I know one of the attractions of the university is the notion of Freedom, Free-will, Motivation, Equality.

Paradoxically the major problem is that of Free-will. I often hear students around me say 'What do we have to do?' 'We have to do...' I rarely hear students say, 'I want to do something.' I have the impression that we have less and less will to take our lives in our hands, we look rather for paths which are traced out for us. But I think this sort of site (Facebook) could help us by bringing together students around affinities, allowing us to connect with researchers in our fields, to work on common projects."

Over a period of six years, I have been working to enable this students' vision to come to fruition. I have been using Google's tools for over five years now. I am asking myself more and more questions as to the ethics of this.

Gradually, my work is having an effect on students, teachers, and researchers within my institution and others that we are connected to.

I started with missionary zeal.
I still believe that I must go in this direction.
I have over the years become much more critical.
I no longer have the same faith.

Into what Free world am I leading my students? 
For whom am I enabling them to be digitally literate?  How will their paths be traced on the internet for whose ends? What is my responsibility in opening my students to a world through the lens of a globalised world vaguely glimpsed on a screen, where culture is squashed into bits through a browser?

What of the dark areas on the heat map of connection? What do they tell us? Shall we talk of a digital divide of those unfortunates to who we must bring the light? Shall we see those who are not trackable via their wifi signals as poor savages?

It is too late now for me to head back, the connections have already been made, I am lost en route to this globally connected state, a connected educator. 

I shall however go forward with my questions.

I shall share those questions, those doubts with my fellow learners. 

I am not sure my friends that I will not lose my faith. 

My great-grandfather, sailed the trade routes, opened up a port of call for Christians, he is buried in Gibraltar, a monument to a lost or perhaps a remodelled Empire. 

His voice lives with me, and haunts my doubts. 

A few months ago, I posted a theme on Dave Cormier's rhizomatic learning course.  It was to be week 12 1/2 of 6. Here is some of the words I wrote:

We are pushing frontiers...
But are we misled, misguided?
What if we were simply well-meaning missionaries for a neo-liberal colonisation of education, the necessary social glue for the message of Massive (profit)?
George Siemens has blogged his views on neo-liberalism here. enter link description here
Richard Hall responds in his blog here. enter link description here

In Africa, the Colonists grabbed the land, the missionaries brought the bible. 

They learnt to pray with their eyes closed. 

China got Hong Kong back, their power stretches daily... 

Dearly beloved brethren and sisteren let us learn with our eyes wide open as to our possible destinations...


  1. I love the missionary metaphor, with all of its connotations. I read something recently that said only 14% of Americans are on Twitter, and this really made me think....not about giving up on Twitter, but to remember it is a small microcosm even of a very wifi-connected world. Your post reminded me that the potential exists for another bifurcation of "haves" and "have nots" to many voices not heard as we proceed in what we perceive as a very connected way. Sigh...don't lose faith. Perhaps like those roots underground in the garden that reach further than we thought, our connectedness can reach places we thought unreachable.

  2. Hi Simon,

    Loved this reflection.

    Your grandfather was a product of his time, where faith and the belief that all should share the same faith was etched into who he was a person. He had been conditioned since childhood to belief that his faith was righteous and good, and therefore was righteous and good for all. No wonder he was floored by the retort that westerners had brought opium. Very few people even talk about what the Opium Wars were about and how China was forced to buy opium by both the British and the French. He was brave, but he was also a man of his time.

    So are we modern day opium pushers? Shills for Facebook, Twitter and Google? Are we as blindly following the rules of our society that have shaped us? Will someone, many years from now, look back on our reflections, or thoughts about the benefits of an open, connected society and think, "You poor deluded fools. How could you not see how your thoughts, reflections and connections were being mined by the very companies that provide the software so that we could invade your lives even further?"

    But then I think, "Hmm, if I was not using these tools, would I have ever been able to read your thoughts about your grandfather and about how your thoughts on open education have changed?" And once we've shared ideas does that not change how we perceive the world?

    So, I am for the idea of cross pollination of ideas and thoughts while keeping a wary eye on the very corporations who provide these "free" services.