Heroes, totalitarianism, and things

In the national standards’ struggle every district has its heroes. This is when personality, vision, insight, and particular circumstances come together to enable principals and board members to bear witness for all schools. Below are four such examples. I congratulate the board members, principals, and communities on their moral courage. This web site has regularly reminded its readers that longevity in an educational struggle is an argument in itself. The rewards of that longevity are already showing in a shift in public opinion.

At the funeral on Friday for that wonderfully curmudgeonly Kevin Lawson (I’ll sorely miss him), principal of Crawshaw School, I congratulated Pat Poland for his stirring tribute to Kevin, and for his leadership over national standards.

Anyway, what have our four sets of heroes (representing hundreds of other examples) been up to, and what are some thoughts that flow from this?

Waikato Times

School boards face action on charters


The head of the New Zealand School Trustees Association has accused primary school principals of putting pressure on boards of trustees to boycott National Standards.

The accusation came as a handful of Waikato principals effectively thumbed their noses against the standards by handing in charters lacking required data.

President Lorraine Kerr said she had heard instances of boards feeling pushed into supporting principals and warned that it was the boards that would face the wrath of the Education Ministry.

Under the Education Act, the ministry can sack boards that do not submit their charters with National Standards data, replacing them with a commissioner or limited statutory manager.

The deadline for submissions passed yesterday and four principals and boards of trustees from Waikato schools made their point by visiting the local ministry office on London St to hand in their charters – minus the information the ministry had been demanding.

Te Kowhai School principal Tony Grey said they refused to provide meaningless information.

“It’d just be junk data – it wouldn’t mean a thing,” he said.

Deanwell Primary School principal Pat Poland said the schools’ gestures had been repeated nationwide, including in 42 schools in Auckland.

“Our stance is the National Standards are poorly thought out, poorly implemented and bad for education and bad for children,” Mr Poland said. “I’m highly concerned about education in New Zealand. We have a wonderful curriculum in New Zealand but I’m worried we will follow overseas examples that are test orientated.”

The charters featured annual plans and achievement targets but made no reference to the controversial standards, due to be fully implemented next year.

But Mrs Kerr said National Standards were law, not part of a debate on education.

“NZSTA has some work to do giving boards the courage and information so that they’re equipped to do their job,” she said. “It’s a real worry because the bottom line is that when things go wrong in schools, it’s the responsibility of the board – it’s the board that’ll be disbanded and will have to cop all the consequences.”

Mr Grey denied putting any pressure on his board and said they were the ones driving the opposition to the standards.

Board chair Peter Kelly said it was not only a total board decision but also a whole community choice.

“We have our own views as independent board members but we wanted to make sure we had that backing,” he said.

After three community meetings the board felt parents were behind them, but Mr Kelly admitted they were effectively calling the Government’s bluff, hoping they were not replaced by ministry-appointed officials. “We’ll see how bolshie the minister gets,” he said.

– Waikato Times

The most interesting point from this is motor-mouth Lorraine Kerr saying national standards were ‘not part of a debate on education’.

It is interesting isn’t it that the right-wing gets hysterical when the metaphor of Nazism is used? Well why shouldn’t we use it? When Shakespeare wrote of the motivations and behaviours of kings and queens, he wasn’t (leaving aside Elizabeth) actually addressing kings and queens; he was addressing us all with his portrayals of universal motivations and behaviours.

When Orwell wrote of totalitarianism, of which Nazism was an extreme example, he wasn’t just concerned with extreme forms, he was also concerned with facets of it, with trends. Kerr’s ruling out of debate on national standards can legitimately be described as Orwellian and thus associated with such facets and trends.  Just as Shakespeare used kings and queens for the metaphor of his time, we assert the right to use Nazism, Stalinism, and Maoism as a metaphor for ours.

Kerr needs to realise that national standards’ legislation was rushed through without select committee debate, contained a massive statistical lie, and has been defended with a Goebbels-type propaganda campaign. There has also been an Orwellian rewriting of the past to control the present and future. We have a hermetic education system with the government tightly controlling all research, universities, and professional development; asserting a vice-like grip over bureaucracies, including new bureaucracies like SAPs; pervasively using fear, scapegoating, Big Lies, and puppet organisations like NSSAG and STA. Then there is the media which, in education, through ignorance, prejudice, superficiality, and manipulation, act as house journals and expressions for the government. Even the Listener, which in other times might have been a voice for reason, has become rabidly against schools (probably spurred on by one of the key writers having a spouse in John Key’s office).

There is an irony in Kerr’s declaration for clamping down on debate. The steadfastness of our heroes has led to Anne Tolley and Gary Hawke (chair NSSAG) with the sneaky support of Brian Hinchco (a member of NSSAG) retreating a little with the intention of drawing the teacher organisations into a trap.

Tolley was reported in the Rotorua Daily Post as saying a review of national standards was on the cards; Hawke stated on National Radio that ‘a third of schools want to make standards work, another third are not enthusiastic, and the rest are doing the bare minimum’. He wants this, he said, to be researched. As for Hinchco’s article with its Hattie-type moral ambiguity ‘So why are principals opposed to National Standards?’ – well a posting on that is coming.

But the salient point beyond this obvious trickery, is that whether Kerr likes it or not, a debate of sorts is going to continue.

Well done our heroes. A notch in your belt to you.

The attempt will be made, however, in Orwellian-style or should I say NSSAG-style? to constrain the debate within the bounds of implementing national standards, not whether there should be national standards.

Noam Chomsky, who knew a thing or two about totalitarianism, said:

‘The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. [Think NSSAG – though somewhat overstated.] That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.’

But heroes have the power to make best laid plans go oft awry.

And I predict they will.


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