South Island Association Intermediate and Middle Schools
Annual Principals’ Conference 2010
How corrupted is our education system?
The basic ideals of a western-style education system rest on the consistency with which the welfare of the child is at the centre of decision making; the ethicality of decision making; and the degree of freedom the main participants have to express their ideas freely and influence that decision making. Leaving aside the children, the main participants are the government, the bureaucracies, teachers, academics, parents, and the media.
The central argument in this talk is that our system is seriously corrupted: a corruption that has moved on apace since Tomorrow’s Schools – a change in system which had the increased power of governments, bureaucracies, academics, parents, also principals (in a tortuous way) at the centre of attention, not children and teachers.
Our education system is out of balance, lacking sufficient checks and balances, creating an environment in which certain participants feel free to act blithely, unscrupulously, autocratically, and without due consideration for some other participants, namely teachers and children.
When a lie is told, a distortion is advanced, arrogance is displayed, unethical behaviour occurs, a little bit of what is there for teachers and children dies
What can you say about a system when the minister of education tells big lies as a matter of policy; when the heads of the two main bureaucracies stand by as a lie passes through as part of the education legislation of this country; when the review office reports on schools are riven with lies and distortions; when the basis of the relationship between the review office and schools is sublimated fear; when the ministry of education won’t acknowledge that national standards are having a devastating effect on a curriculum they helped to develop?
What can you say about a system when you have university freedom of speech curtailed and distorted through being bound by contracts to the government; when you have an evasive like John Hattie considered a leading academic; when Helen Timperley, on the eve of going to Wellington for contract talks, says she thinks ‘national standards are on the right track’ (and has said nary a further word in elaboration); when you have narrowly academically self-serving publications like Best Evidence Syntheses dominating education; when you don’t have the best people appointed to teacher education positions because of the PBRF system; when number-bound academics overwhelmingly dominate; when number-bound academics go out of their way to talk down family and socio-economic influences on learning, to their aggrandisement and teachers’ despair; when much number-bound research is akin to lying; when the Hawthorne effect and other research influences are much talked about – also much relied on to produce career-enhancing results; when, because of high stakes’ situations abounding, most numbers produced about anything in education are, at the minimum, distortions?
What can you say about a system when learning and teaching are separated from assessment for bureaucratic convenience; when assessment is valued over substance; when uniformity is valued over variety; when skills are valued over children knowing; when principals choose professional development for their schools, not to meet the needs of children and teachers, but to cover themselves for review office visits; when principals have only apparatchik professional developer providers to choose from; when the arts, science, and social studies are languishing and their advisers dismissed; when a teaching by numbers idea like WALTS dominates to the degree it does (‘what the review office wants’); when the ‘big swerve’ by parents occurs to avoid brown-faced schools; and when you have nauseous-inducing publications like the Education Gazettefronting for the minister and the bureaucracies?
The list could go on.
What can you say about a system when a B-grade thinker, but A-grade actor, like Avis Glaze is paraded as a source of valued advice; or when an academic husk like Tom Nicholson appointed for the same purpose (mind you, no surprise, over two years ago, I predicted in the ‘Battle for primary school reading’ that a National government would have him returned for such a role)?
And if you want an example of the kind of lying or distortion (this time lying) that has now become something of a norm for the bureaucracies, I ask Graham Stoop to go to p. 4 of his office’s latest tissue of guileful errors, distortions, or lies (Reading and Writing in Years 1 and 2, 2009). He will find the lie at the end of the text on that page, and can check the source to confirm it is indeed a lie, also the way the lie rebounds to the discredit of teachers.
At a time when we are trying to rebalance our economy, also our social and cultural relationships, we should be acting smart, but we are acting dumb.
Thank-you for the invitation to speak to you. It takes a little courage to ask me to be a speaker at a conference. Thank-you again.
It is especially warming for me to be speaking to South Island principals. The South Island has always been a great base of support.
And I want to claim some South Island roots. Shadbolts owned virtually the whole of Banks Peninsula within a few months of Ben Shadbolt stepping off the ship from Australia, penniless. (Bank robbery, poker game?)
I suppose at the end of the address, the label ‘controversial’ might be applied, but it’s not really how I see it, or go out of my way to be.
I can assure you I don’t set out to offend, but at some stage, I know I will.
I simply want to get to the heart of the issues that are affecting a group I identify with:
As I proceed, I do not for a moment take for granted your support for my positions. Some of you will be adamantly opposed. Good on you.
You can be comforted by the fact that on the subsequent two days your point-of-view will be aired by two of your champions: Mary Chamberlain from the ministry; and Kathleen Atkins from the education review office.
As well, your point-of-view is in the ascendancy and will be for decades to come. So happy days are ahead for you.
I do, within the ranks of principals, make a plea for tolerance from all sides.
One of the difficulties with maintaining tolerance is that you have all been successful, and when look down from where you are, it is human nature see that pathway to success as the pathway to success.
But as we know – if we reflect and challenge ourselves – through chance, circumstance and personality, there are many pathways to success.
This leads me to a series of pre-sayings that underlie my talk.
Anything but the curriculum: We are ingenious in thinking of ways to avoid thinking about the curriculum by thinking about things that seem like thinking about the curriculum, like thinking (detached from genuine context).
Another problem with national standards is that it is diverting attention from attending to some serious deficiencies in the other parts of the curriculum.
Just as economic activity requires the free exchange of ideas so does education.
Economic activity does not thrive in an environment of uniformity and bureaucratic control neither does education.
There isn’t anybody who knows and certainly not governments, bureaucrats, or the academics of certainty: education proceeds best in an environment of creative doubt.
And remember: bureaucrats never report themselves out of a job; and researchers always research themselves into one.
We who subscribe to the holistic philosophy do not want to dominate; we just want education structures to allow a reasonable degree of space for various philosophies to be expressed, and acted on, fairly and freely.
And, if you want a quick definition of holistic education, it is teachers teaching to aims, with what might have been objectives, functioning as criteria. (Aims allow time, space and flow: time for teachers and children to think and respond imaginatively; space within the structure of activities for divergent thinking; and flow from being able to keep your eye on the main prize.)
Governments and bureaucrats always get it wrong, even when they might look as though, for once, they are getting it right.
The historians amongst us might ask didn’t Beeby and Fraser get it right? Yes – OK – but only in the sense that freedom reigned in education, the only limitations (which were considerable) were in community attitude and in teachers’ minds.
And Beeby and Fraser were lucky; there were virtually no academics of certainty present. In those days we all felt close to discovering the teacher holy grail. (Imagine our dismay if we’d known this wouldn’t actually be achieved until 50 years later.)
And the nub issue of our times.
Assessment should never be separated from the process of teaching and learning.
To understand what children have learnt you need to know how they learned: that is, what happened and how they responded in the process of learning.
To put it bluntly: you have to be there.
To base assessment on gauging outcomes at the end of a process, effectively removes the affective, the divergent, the nuanced, and the imaginative, from the assessment of teaching and learning.
Separating assessment from teaching is a recent phenomenon allowing people outside the classroom, armed with checklists, with little or no experience of primary teaching, or understanding of the curriculum, to control and condescend to primary schools.
A definition of primary education is that which is controlled bureaucratically by never-been teachers, and by secondary, special class, pre-school, and primary teachers – but especially secondary teachers.
Though I paint a dark picture of where we are, I want to say that the situation in schools is always better than an analysis might suggest.
There is a certain irrepressibility about New Zealand children, teachers and principals. No matter what the circumstances, teachers and principals always strive for the positive, buoyed by the children and their desire to do well for them.
A main idea in this talk is that system’s corruption in the New Zealand primary school education is rife.
System’s corruption occurs in two ways – along with an associated phenomenon: the first way is when people in education feel constrained by fear and other influences from challenging or diverging from official ideology.
The second is when people in education use the system, whether consciously or unconsciously, to their advantage, and the disadvantage of others, especially teachers and children.
And the associated phenomenon is the way people can, as individuals, appear benign, but the group or institution they represent, can be sources of considerable harm.
The structure of my talk is as follows:
In 1989, at a principal’s conference in Whangarei I spoke for a full day (Maurice Gianotti spoke the first day); at it I said, amongst other things, that there would be no pay off for our efforts unless the external review function was changed. I also spoke of the American foundations of Tomorrow’s Schools.
I will use that talk as a signpost and three other experiences as signposts for current directions in education.
Then I will use George Orwell’s 1984 as an analytic source to examine the validity of the claim of system’s corruption being rife, with attention throughout to the ministry, quantitative academics, and particularly the education review office.
There will be reference to ‘hate’ sessions, big lies, doublethink, newspeak, the difference between confession and betrayal, controlling the past, and the end being contained in the beginning
The talk will conclude with a brief look at the state of the curriculum today.
Early in the Orwell comparison I will take a brief look at the ministry. My attention there will be on the ministry’s claim that national standards fit comfortably into the new curriculum.
Throughout the Orwell comparison, I will highlight a group some find difficult to see as harmful to school education – quantitative academics. I call them the academic quantitatives of certainty. My argument will be that the influence of this group is everywhere and often pernicious.
I will say that there needs to be a growing awareness that our education system is in the grip of a management philosophy that stifles initiative, variety, and creativity.
A crucial part of that philosophy being the ideological reliance of governments on a certain group of academics who, as ‘experts’, provide ‘certainty’ for the centralised, command control of education.
I will say that the reward for those experts, with their self-serving myth of certainty, what Wittgenstein described as a modern-day superstition, is status, power, influence, and awards. For us, though, the outcome is a shafting.
I will say that as a result of this group’s ideological control of the system from professional development in schools, to schools of education, to the functioning of the review office, to the ministry, and to advice to governments – the holistic philosophy barely gets a look in.
But the main attention will be on the review office.
In this talk I will provide unchallengeable proof that the review office has been complicit with the government in a lie that began in a National Party pamphlet and has now ended up as part of the Education Amendment Act. (Delivered in a separate paper: ‘Stoop must go’.)
I will provide evidence (acquired through the Official Information Act) that the review office has a ‘gotcha’ culture; I will provide evidence that in its latest report there are mathematical and statistical errors which have seriously skewed the results against schools. (Delivered in a separate paper: ‘Stoop must go’.)
I will charge the review office with undertaking the latest report (2009) as a gift to the government propaganda machine, with research practices and interpretations that are guilefully simplistic. (Delivered in a separate paper: ‘Stoop must go’.)
I will say that the review office talks of being impartial and unbiased, but it can easily feign this because it is its pedagogy that carries the main burden of this partiality and bias.
I will say that it is the uniformity office, the imposition office, the no alternative office – the office whose authority, in the last resort, is based on fear.
[Signpost one] In 1989, I spoke to the Northland Principals’ Conference and my main message was that Tomorrow’s Schools was about centralising power and localising responsibility. Also, as stated above, that there would be no pay off for your efforts until the external review structure was radically altered.
The foundations of the system that dominates us today can be traced back to the USA federal and state government legislation of the 1970s that took government control into the heart of classrooms.
There were four principles: control by unambiguous outcomes; a theory of control based on measurement and accountability; an emphasis on quantitative research; and a tight audit system.
Attention moved from understanding the curriculum to one of dividing it up for ease of measurement, check listing, and control.
Bureaucracy and control first, children’s learning second – that is the rubric of our times.
The word ‘assessment’, in the way we use it today, was virtually absent from education until the system of bureaucratic management took hold in the late ’70s and ’80s.
It was then that assessment was separated from teaching, with an associated emphasis on measurement.
The present education system turns on this separation.
[Signpost two] In 1992 I spoke at an Auckland Principals’ Conference on the curriculum areas, concentrating on their essences so they could be taught holistically. I poured my heart into it.
When we lined up to get our coffee, two principals came to me and said: ‘That was good Kelvin, but we [as principals] don’t really do the curriculum anymore.’
[Signpost three] In 1999, I spoke to a group of principals. My message was: There are things you have to do because your livelihood depends on it, I understand that, but in your heart and mind you should retain the idea that there is a better way. Hold on to the idea that you are only doing some of the things you do because you have to.
I looked into the eyes of the principals and saw confusion and incomprehension.
I bided my time in education for a few years after that. Ceasing publication of my magazine, Developmental Network Magazine.
[Signpost four] In 2008, I stopped biding and started networkonnet. One of my first postings was to comment on Kiwi Leadership for Principals.
Its main points: New Zealand principals work 50% harder than their overseas counterparts, and many New Zealand principals had lost contact with the curriculum, the deep curriculum.
And in 2010, we have national standards: the gold card dream for ministers of education, education bureaucrats, and quantitative academics.
Orwell’s 1984 resonates.
Using Orwell’s ideas to analyse our education system should not be considered too much of a stretch.
After all, Shakespeare might write of kings and queens, but he speaks to the feelings, fears, hopes, motivations, and impulses of our shared humanity.
I don’t want to over-interpret Orwell into the present at the risk of trivialising his ideas or distorting the present: I want rather to provide you with the opportunity to make the connections as you see fit.
‘They were grouped in the centre of the hall opposite the big telescreen, in preparation for the Two Minutes Hate.’
To relate this to the present is, though, a severe over-interpretation, but in material I’ve gained from the Official Information Act and observing the minister and her bureaucrats, I believe their attitude toward teachers and principals is derogatory, condescending, resentful, and sometimes hostile.
Teachers and principals are seen as obstructions to, and obstructive of, their evidence-based plans and certainties.
Teachers and principals are mainly seen as functioning on myths and hand-me-down ideas.
‘His mind slid away to the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them; to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it; – to forget whatever was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, then promptly forget it again. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.’
The ministry provides the perfect storm for this in its claims that the new curriculum and national standards are compatible. We who prefer not to have to doublethink don’t want to hear anymore of this. We don’t want to hear anymore about the need for school connectedness when national standards are about schools competing; about treating children as individuals when the basis for league tables is being laid; about creativity and imagination as the curriculum narrows; about pathways to literacy and numeracy as existing pathways disappear and curriculum advisers are being dismissed; about the promise of the competencies as they are being replaced by the betrayal of the national standards; about the need for teachers to take ownership of the new curriculum as they are scapegoated, condescended to, and swarmed over by bureaucrats.
We don’t want to go backwards from national standards to the new curriculum – we want to go forward from the new curriculum.
For the perfect living example of doublethink think John Hattie, the person billed with suggesting the idea of national standards, as well as being billed as a leading critic of them.
What’s that all about?
Hattie’s concern with national standards is not with national standards but that they are not his national standards.
Hattie only runs with the hares to hunt with the hounds.
But the greatest source of doublethink by far is the education review office. As a result of review office doublethink, teachers are caught up in the unrelenting logic of an irrational system: a measurement-based system that in its full expression exists nowhere, and will never exist – yet such a system is put forward as not only desirable but attainable. Schools in true Orwellian style, have to meet expectations of a reality that don’t exist. Given that unattainability, let alone its lack of desirability, schools are in the invidious position of trying to work out what, in the circumstances, will be acceptable, will get them through. This uncertainty, to make sure they are on the safe side, drives schools to ever greater conformity, sometimes to conformity well beyond even the expectations of the review office.
Schools, as a result of the doublethink of the review office, are expected to function in a teaching and learning reality that does not and cannot exist, is acknowledged informally as not being able to exist but, officially, as something that is achievable. This means review officers can pull the rule book out whenever they have a mind to. And in true Orwellian style they don’t have to have a mind to too often to establish the fear that is the coin for their existence. They have the ultimate power – that of determining the length of a piece of string.
Can you remember the smiley face of Carol Mutch in a recent Gazette? Now think of the highly systematised self-review idea that is associated with her. The point is this: self-review whether brilliant or blather (it’s blather) is not a voluntary policy for schools to consider; you know you have to do it, or they will get you on that matter or a related one, so you do it, possibly coming to have some sort of belief in it, but also knowing deep down it’s just another bureaucratic process being fixed on the school.
That is doublethink, believing in two contrary ideas simultaneously.
As well, as defined in the introduction, it is also an example of how our system is being corrupted: people, can, as individuals, appear benign, but the group or institution they represent, be sources of considerable harm.
Schools have to sort of believe in what the review office believes in, but also know that what the review office believes in is mainly baloney.
I can’t stress enough how nearly all the education bureaucracy, and a large part of academia, live in a dream world.
‘Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought.’
No word in the vocabulary was ideologically neutral.’
Instruction used instead of teaching; evidence-based learning means forget about teacher-generated knowledge; best evidence synthesis means an assemblage of dodgy research, dependent for its existence on the Hawthorne effect, exclusions, clinical and other highly unreal situations, lack of robustness, and carelessness about sustainability; best evidence synthesis means task force green employment for quantitative academics; assessment used instead of evaluation; accountability used instead of responsibility; stakeholders used instead of parents.
The ‘school improvement’ category of research and thought means excluding consideration of socio-economic influences on learning; ‘They won’t all learn to the same level on the same day, but they will all learn’ (as used by Avis Glaze) means she is downplaying socio-economic influences on learning; excellence means measurement-based learning; high-trust learning (as used by the review office) means low-trust learning; school self-review (as used by the review office) means journey where you like as long as you end up at destination review office; ‘We are improving schools without ranking schools’ (in Ontario as used by Avis Glaze) means we are ranking schools; ‘We don’t have national standards’ (in Ontario as used by Avis Glaze) means they have state standards run by a private company; and Education Gazette means periodic bouts of nausea.
Holistic learning (as used by the review office) means atomised learning assembled en masse; best practice means an imagination-free teaching zone; skills means abilities stripped of the cognitive and the affective to allow taxonomies, lists, categories, and measurement; WALTS means plastic tiki student participatory democracy; ‘unbiased and objective view’ (as used by the review office) means biased and objective; minimising compliance demands (as used by the review office) means increasing them; ‘ERO and the Ministry of Education meet regularly to discuss items of mutual interest’ means devising ‘gotcha’ situations; ‘increasing evaluation capacity’ means imposing more bureaucratic demands on schools; management-by-objectives means leadership without vision; ‘National standards could set New Zealand education back a generation’ means I gave John Key the idea; and the Inaugural Prime Ministers’ Science Awards means sorry honey I’ve just shrunk science in primary schools.
Competency-based education, performance-based education, competency-based education, next-step learning, mastery learning, criterion-referenced testing, outcomes-led education, standards-based education, feed back (up, forward, sideways to the left, now to the right), and benchmarking, to name a few – means have we gone crazy? and the quantitative academics of certainty are in control.
Three-quarters of the leadership of schools don’t know how well their children are doing means, oh no! the minister is talking (lying) again.
‘I don’t mean confessing. Confession is not betrayal – only feelings matter. If they could stop me loving you – that would be real betrayal.’
‘She thought it over … They can make you say anything – anything – but they can’t make you believe it. They can’t get inside you.’
‘No,’ he said a little more hopefully, ‘no’ that’s quite true. They can’t get inside you. If you can feel that staying human is worthwhile, even when it can’t have any result, you’ve beaten them.’ [On this turned the story and the tragedy.]
This reminded me of my talk to the principals in 1999 when I said I accepted that they would have to conform with a lot of things they might not agree with, that were inimical to children’s learning and teacher professionalism, but urged them to retain in their hearts and minds the feeling and knowledge that there was a better way.
‘He wondered vaguely how many others like her there might be who had grown up in this world – knowing nothing else, accepting the Party as something unalterable, like the sky, not rebelling against its authority but simply evading it, as a rabbit dodges a dog.’
‘Who controls the past’, ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’
‘Past events, it is argued, have no objective existence, but survive only in written records and in human memory.’
‘At one time it had been a sign of madness to believe the earth goes around the sun: today it is to believe that the past is unalterable.’
‘The alteration of the past is necessary – to safeguard the infallibility of the Party.’
‘If one is to rule, and to continue ruling, one must be able to dislocate the sense of reality.’
Of all Orwell’s messages, this, for me, is the most telling.
Young teachers coming through are presented with one reality: the reality emanating from the academic quantitatives of certainty – a reality of visible learning, in other words, learning that can be measured; learning that can be divided up for individual children as exact next-step learning; learning that is like pieces of a jigsaw to be put together by the teacher; learning that eschews the affective because it can’t be measured; learning that is presented as efficient and modern; learning that implies other ways of learning are old hat; learning that discounts socio-economic influences; learning that elevates certain academics to positions of power; learning that crowds out teacher-generated knowledge; and learning that appeals to politicians who like its unambiguity.
All this is backed up with the one kind of education philosophy dominating colleges of education courses, reinforced by the effects on lecturer appointments of the iniquitous Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF). How much do students hear about Warner, Richardson, Beeby, Snook or overseas educationists like Dewey, Apple, or Eisner?
The overwhelming message is there is no alternative.
If by some miracle a student did come out with some knowledge of the holistic, what chance for its survival in the world of professional development contracts given only to exponents of a number-based philosophy?; of the smooth flow of quantitative jargonspeak that is a kind of education muzak; of doing it by numbers WALTS; of the best evidence synthesis syndrome which is really a parade of academic status; of the management by measurable objectives philosophy of the review office; and now of national standards.
Leaving aside the minister who, when she talks, manages the remarkable feat of always leaving the truth undisturbed, a major source of big lies is from the academic quantitatives of certainty and their near fraudulent research (Hawthorne, exclusions, clinical and other highly unreal situations, a lack of robustness, and carelessness about sustainability) which replaces reality with their own fantastical one.
Two examples: In Teacher Professional Learning and Development, a Best Evidence Synthesis publication in the Timperley series, she writes: ‘The limitations of this process must be acknowledged. Much professional learning is informal and incidental or occurs in meetings after school. In such situations, neither the process nor the outcomes are typically documented, so they do not appear in this synthesis. We do, however, wish to acknowledge their importance and the possibilities for promoting professional learning.’ (xxiv)
This was, at least, acknowledged, though to no tempering of the book’s conclusions. The nub of the issue is that teacher knowledge needs space and a sympathetic environment to develop; it has neither.
Timperley, of course, misrepresents the issue: the limitations in the research she refers to, are far more than about the professional learning that occurs informally or incidentally; they are also about the disappearance of professional learning that used to occur formally but divergently. In the past, official providers had the freedom to be divergent, and the schools loved it; there were also a range people from outside the official system who provided divergent curriculum approaches. (I was one of them, in both these categories.) Professional development courses are now almost entirely dominated by universities and by private providers who invariably conform to official policy. They all conform to official policy because they are officially bound to, or because schools, for reasons we have already canvassed, feel under pressure to seek such courses. I know that schools sometimes break out for courses like thinking, or whole brain learning – to do so is of almost spiritual relief to them, but all these kinds of courses float above the curriculum.
Once again, anything but the curriculum.
Helen, you and your associates are killing us!
The second example: In Visible Learning Hattie says ‘It is not a book about what cannot be influenced by schools – thus critical discussions about class, poverty, resources in families, health in families, and nutrition are not included – but this is NOT [his capitalisation] because they are unimportant, indeed they may be more important than many of the influences discussed in the book. It is just that I have not included these topics in my orbit.’
This exclusion, the enigmatic nature of its wording, and its breathtaking illogic, is the new reality and the new tyranny for us, and the new big lie.
Hattie is doubletalking. He seems to be saying that socio-economic influences on learning are very important, but in the same sentence he is qualifies this by saying he has omitted consideration of them – NOT because they are unimportant [a slightly dodgy way of leading into a point, don’t you think?], indeed they may be more important [only may be?] than many other influences discussed in this book [heavens – in the plural: what would those be John?]
This is typical quantitative snake oil (doublethink).
Hattie has excluded socio-economic influences on learning from his ‘orbit’ not because they can’t be influenced by a book like his on education, but because such influences hinder his push to control the present.
To control the present he needs to establish another reality, a quantitative reality.
It is resoundingly Orwellian: ‘Who controls the past – controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’
Hattie is moving to control the present; therefore the past; therefore the future. If schools can’t alter socio-economic influences, then best to put them to one side and forget about them. To refer to them is to seek an excuse. Better to establish a new reality without reference to socio-economic influences. Teachers are really being told they are using, and have used, socio-economic influences on learning as an excuse for why certain groups of children have not done as well as other children – and that this excuse will not be available in the future.
The fact that he omitted socio-economic influences on learning, which he says are not unimportant, does not stop him from presenting his ‘findings’ in percentage points. Confirmation of his real view is best gauged by noting how he seriously downplays socio-economic influences on learning in the advice he gives to politicians.
This is not the place to go further into this issue, except to say that downplaying socio-economic influences on learning is a retreat from reality and an obstruction to developing programmes for meeting the needs of particular groups of children and their families. And, as part of this, it serves to get governments off the hook from having to address the causes of those socio-economic influences. The near exclusion of socio-economic influences is resulting in schools and teachers being made scapegoats to the power advantage of politicians, bureaucrats, and certain quantitative academics.
‘Either the future would resemble the present, in which case it would not listen to him: or it would be different from it, and his predicament would be meaningless.’
‘The end was contained in the beginning.’
‘Our only true life is in the future. We shall take part in it as handfuls of dust and splinters of bone. But how far away that future may be, there is no knowing. It might be a thousand years. At present nothing is possible except to extend the area of sanity little by little.’ [The irony here, in a declaration that sounds profound, philosophical, and true, is that it was made by the intellectually charismatic Party loyalist drawing the protagonist into a trap.]
The following paragraph is a lift from a recent posting (‘A cute little group of like-minded academics’) on the deleterious effect of quantitative academics of certainty on New Zealand primary education:
‘There won’t be decisive change for the better until, some time in the future, New Zealand faces a crisis, probably a combination of the economic, social, and moral. In that circumstance, we should be ready with some ideas, carefully considered ideas, for a better way of going about things. In the meantime, especially in education, power structures being the way they are, we must expect that education will be increasingly unsatisfying for children and disappointing for society (both economically and spiritually). This will be especially so in New Zealand which doesn’t receive the lavish funding, say, UK, Australian, or American schools have received; and poverty increases with its flow-on education effects. All we can do, I believe, is slow down the decline by opposing the characteristics of scientific management, by exposing the myth of the academic expert, proposing alternative ways, and campaigning for a fairer society.’
What concerns me is the similarity in sentiment between my statement and the insidious Party loyalist ensnaring the hero. Is my statement defeatist? However, I stand by it.
This, then, has been about system’s corruption, that is, the way in our education system we are increasingly constrained from challenging or diverging from official ideology through fear, power disadvantage, and other influences.
Another gripe I have with national standards is that it is stopping us addressing genuine and widespread problems evident in the curriculum.
The curriculum in schools is something of a Rocky Horror Show.
You can do your own casting, but the teachers are, of course, Janet and Brad.
The main points I would make are that under the control of the curriculum by quantitative academics, and the measurement-based review office, as teachers have sought pedagogical relief, the curriculum has become faddish; cluttered with add-ons; and dishearteningly uniform (though there is evident from school to school a famine or feast characteristic in art, physical education, and music).
Discussion of the curriculum has become discussion of everything but the curriculum; or discussion of things that sound like the curriculum, but aren’t – things like self-review.
In some ways, leaving aside literacy and numeracy, there isn’t anyone there to discuss the curriculum with.
As a substitute for discussing the curriculum we discuss enquiry learning when we should be discussing the essence of curriculum areas; we discuss thinking skills or activities when we should be discussing how to establish challenging affective-cognitive contexts within which thinking most usefully occurs; we discuss student decision-making without providing sufficient structure and time for that to be genuine; we discuss outcomes-based learning (and its myriad of derivatives) thereby participating in the destructive process of separating teaching from assessment; we discuss progressions when we are simply discussing jargon accretion; we try to catch children’s affective attention without establishing the necessary knowledge base; we discuss complicated solutions to problems and ignore straightforward ones from our holistic tradition; and we design professional development programmes to cover the school for an ERO visit, not the needs of children and teachers.
I would have loved to have spent the morning talking about holistic teaching and learning; about valuing knowledge as a way to the affective; of true democratic classrooms not the WALTS’ caricature; of the need for time and space to allow true thinking and learning; of how to make best use of the best part of the new curriculum, the second competency. But all this would have been a waste of your time – we first have to regain control of our professional lives.
So I conclude with words already delivered – with words such as:
‘There won’t be decisive change for the better until, some time in the future, New Zealand faces a crisis, probably a combination of the economic, social, and moral. In that circumstance, we should be ready with some ideas, carefully considered ideas, for a better way of going about things…’ and so on, and so on.
‘All we can do, I believe, is slow down the decline by opposing the characteristics of scientific management, by exposing the myth of the academic expert, proposing alternative ways, and campaigning for a fairer society.’
As for the fate of national standards, ‘The end was contained in the beginning’ – but that is another story for another time.
SIAIMS Annual Principals’ Conference