Newsletter No. 67

Speak i ng f o r Democ r a t ic Educa t i on 'Education is not a neutral activity. It is deeply implicated in relations of cultural, economic, and political powers,' says Prof. Michael Apple, John Bascom Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and an advocate of democratic education. Prof. Apple visited the University as Wei Lun Visiting Professor last month and gave a lecture entitled 'Education and Power' on 13th March. In his lecture, he warned that a complicated set of alliances had been formed in an effort to link educational policy and practice with the needs of business and industry, and that privatization and marketization were forces powerful enough to transform education into a commodity. These together with the move by governments to centralize control over knowledge and values would have profound effects on people's understanding of what education is and who it is for. The ultimate result may be very damaging to an education worthy of its name. Prof. Apple has worked w i th governments, universities, unions, and dissident groups in many nations to democratize educational research, policy, and practice. He is currently working on policy recommendations for curriculum evaluation in the United States to counter the state's centralization of control over education. Time Factor Important m Economic Performance A co-recipient of the 1993 Nobel Prize in economic sciences, Prof. Douglass North from Washington University in St. Louis visited the University last month and delivered a public lecture entitled 'Economic Performance Through Time' on 7th March. Prof. North has been honoured for his research on the economic history of the United States and Europe. In his lecture, Prof. North argued that, as in the case of certain Third World and Eastern European economies, turning around a stagnating economy requires more time and effort than changing the formal political and economic rules. 'It is the admixture of formal rules, informal norms, and enforcement characteristics that shapes economic performance. While rules may be changed overnight, the informal norms usually change only gradually,' he said. Prof. North has had significant influence over the way economists think about economic history and the development of market institutions. World-Renowned Chemist Explains Theory of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Winner of the 1991 Nobel prize in chemistry, Prof. Richard R. Ernst of the Eidgen ö ssische Technische Hochschule Zurich of Switzerland visited the University on 13th March and gave two lectures on nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). All NMR-based techniques are based on the fact that certain atomic nuclei behave like miniature magnets. When molecules containing such atoms are placed in a strong magnetic field, the nuclei tend to be aligned in the field direction. Subjecting the sample to a radio frequency pulse will jolt the nuclei into disorder, and as they settle into realignment with the magnetic field, they emit resonance frequency signals that provide valuable information about their structure. Such techniques have widespread medical applications and Prof. Ernst is a pioneer in the field. Prof. Ernst's two public lectures were entitled 'Revealing Insights into Molecules, Materials, and Men by Nuclear Magnetic Resonance' and 'Intramolecular Dynamics in Liquids and Molecular Order in Solids Investigated by NMR'. Probing General Education in East Asia A conference on 'General Education in East Asia — Theory and Practice' was held on CUHK campus from 13th to 15th March. Organized by the Office of General Education and sponsored by the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Education, the three-day conference aimed at examining the controversies surrounding the meaning and content of general education as it is taught in places like Hong Kong and Taiwan. Scholars and administrators from higher educational institutions in the East Asian region were invited to present papers and participate in discussions on the philosophical, historical, curricular, and administrative aspects of general education. They shared their experience in organizing general education courses for university students and concluded that there was much room for improvement. The conference attracted some 70 participants from local tertiary institutions, and plans are underway for a similar function to be held early next year to further explore relevant issues in mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.