Sir Toby Curtis: Bullshit and Puha


There are Establishment Pakeha and Establishment Maori. With all, and in education in particular, I am forever on guard.

For birthday honours give me Ranginui Walker who did what he did but on his terms.

Toby Curtis, ladies and gentleman is no Ranginui Walker. Indeed, he is to Ranginui Walker what the wrong end of the telescope is to the right.

Normally I grit my teeth and leave such knighthood inflations pass. But there are occasions when the grit-inducing selection is compounded by an outrageous fawning in acceptance.

(Please note: I have judged Toby Curtis on two key moments – on his public acceptance pronouncements; and on his report on charter schools to a select committee.)

Establishment is as Establishment does and Toby Curtis in celebrating his elevation to a knighthood did Establishment beyond the bearable.

Toby Curtis, amongst other Establishment things, is chairman of the Iwi Education Authority who, as it just happens, will soon be running, or planning to, iwi versions of charter schools.

Hekia Parata is furiously primping and seducing the iwi leaders in secret meetings, playing them like old fools, though not all have succumbed. From reading leaked documents (provided by one of those who haven’t), I am well aware of what she is up to. She is promising them untold riches and swaggering power to run these schools. All they have to agree to is a form of payment by results but she is winking with collusion at them: it will be like the present charter schools, she is silently communicating – you will produce the ‘results’, we will say a group based in the ministry will be keeping a close eye on you, and we’ll all be in clover. The system is already deep in assessment bullshit. What harm more will a little more do might well be the unofficial line.

And Toby Curtis is the very model of a model education Establishment Maori (or pakeha).

And the key to entry: Never mention the poverty and its effect on children’s education. Oh dear no. Never mention the poverty. Have on hand a phrase ‘like poverty is not destiny’ or similar sentiment to get out from under.

Be education-Establishment staunch – one might have benefited in the rise to Establishment glory from anti-poverty policies, but it is all boot-strap stuff now.

Oh no, never mention the poverty off your own bat. Dear me no. Maori children in a magical process, it seems, are pretty much exempt from the effects of poverty. A 20 per cent effect might be sort-of-admitted, but the poverty should never be raised in polite company and, if it is, certainly not dwelt on. This is the gauntlet test for membership of the present education Establishment.

And then there is the need to follow government education policy to the letter. Government policy is to make schools and groupings of schools to compete so that education becomes divided, demoralised leaving them easy prey to government will. And that will is to break up public education to the advantage of the children of the elite (pakeha and Maori) and to the ideological advantage of the new political right.

In all these two respects, Toby Curtis delivers in spades. The way he used the announcement of his knighthood to further ingratiate himself to the education Establishment was outrageous.

He says in the Waikato Times January 1, 2014, that the ‘education system is in good hands’. That’s me says Hekia of the ‘good hands’.

But ‘he was concerned too many Maori children were failing at mainstream school.’ Just what I’ve been saying says Hekia of the niggardly funder of Maori in mainstream schools.’

‘The majority of our children – are still in the state system and they are failing miserably – to the point it is almost an expected norm.’ Once again, just what I’ve been saying says Hekia of the let’s increase class sizes.

‘I simply cannot accept that, because the Maori schools are doing outstandingly well,’ says our new knight.


My cousin Tim wrote Bullshit and Jellybeans in the 1970s; in the 2000s I’m labelling this Bullshit and Puha.

If Maori schools are doing outstandingly well so are public schools.

It is bullshit and the proof in that is that there won’t be a storm of public interest in Maori schools as a result of Toby Curtis’s pronouncement; people won’t be saying Wow! Maori schools are doing outstandingly well, let’s get onto this. They will recognise it as bullshit and puha. Nor will teachers in Maori schools say ‘Yes’ we have cracked it, everything is going outstandingly well. They will also recognise it as bullshit and puha.

Indeed, all and sundry will recognise what Toby Curtis has said as bullshit and, in the context, tragically harmful bullshit – bullshit and puha.

As it happens I think both Maori schools and public schools, in their own ways, are doing an outstanding job in the circumstances.

On the basis of ‘results’ such as they are, both systems are struggling, but both systems are putting in outstanding effort given the effects of poverty on learning and the severe lack of compensatory underfunding. I accept that Toby Curtis may be referring to cultural self-esteem and language knowledge and use – if so he should be specific. But once again, both systems are doing well according to their briefs.

I was in the junior area of a Hamilton public school with almost a 100 percent Maori population. The teachers were a mix of pakeha and Maori. It was a beautiful experience. Love between teachers and children was palpable. The children were ripping into their work as teachers and support staff cuddled, cajoled, and inspired. These were teachers who knew their children, who provided a safe and understanding environment, and who knew the subtleties of the curriculum and children’s learning. The children were ragged from poverty but they were being patiently nourished and healed by the teachers.

This is my experience of learning in schools, an experience of going into classrooms in an official capacity for 45 years and I am still doing so. Your slagging of such schools Sir Toby, such classrooms Sir Toby, and such teachers Sir Toby, to impress your new friends is demoralising to teachers and harmful to all New Zealand children, Maori and pakeha. If public school education is broken in New Zealand, as it is in America, except for the elitist schools, all schools will be broken. I have been in public schools in Rotorua, in lower decile schools, and what I have described above has been my common experience. Why are you slagging them? But those schools, all schools, need far more funding to compensate for the education effects of poverty, and need to be in the context of a supportive system, not a harsh one of bullying politicians, ignorant bureaucrats, mind-boggling misguided policies – and exploitative hangers on.

And now we return to charter schools. You are being used Sir Toby Curtis; I know you think otherwise, but you are wrong – unfortunately it is Maori children both in charter schools and in mainstream schools who will suffer. You will waft along in the comfort and glory of your knighthood – but it is the children who will suffer. It is divide and rule Sir Toby Curtis – you are being played for a fool.

Look at the mantra Sir Toby you are required to use: education is the way; national standards are the way; accountability is the way. These will solve everything. The idea of improving education and reducing poverty as policies working together rejected. How convenient that is to your new friends Sir Toby.

I have no problem with iwi and schools, but they need to be steered well clear of the charter school movement, and new structures would need to be built. An education system run by men, commanded by men is a recipe for disaster. As would an education system established in a context of anti-public school rhetoric. But, as I say below, kura kaupapa Maori already fit the bill for proper Maori aspirations so why the need for iwi schools.

Education as an expression of sovereignty – absolutely, this is a human and cultural right; a Maori framework for education, yes – but it is a matter of parental choice and not an education absolute, so there needs to be varying framework formats.

But where does all this leave kura kaupapa Maori? Aren’t these kura an expression of what Toby Curtis wants? They have considerable education decision-making latitude; they are immersion schools; they provide a very distinct Maori framework – in what way don’t they meet the education aims expressed by Toby Curtis? Why not fund kura kaupapa Maori better and expand that network?

But that won’t do for Sir Toby’s Establishment: first, the leadership of kura kaupapa kura mainly comes from women though nearly always with iwi leaders in supportive association; second, they aren’t and never have been set up in a context of anti-public school rhetoric; they have retained a fair degree of independence from the Establishment; and they oppose national standards. As we have seen, acceptance of national standards is the currency of exchange for entrance into and support of Sir Toby’s Establishment.

The rejection of kura kaupapa Maori as the vehicle for Maori sovereignty, which represents all that is good in Maori education, and promises more, is proof that the sponsors of iwi charter schools have something very different in mind from accepted goals for Maori education.

The key thing about charter schools is not what they do but what they represent. Charter schools represent an ideological movement to provide a platform to undermine public schools: the intention being to move school education from being a public good to a private one. The undermining of public education being intended to make education more elitist with a top layer of schools providing a broad richer education and other layers  a narrowed and standardised education for social obedience and cost reduction. Charter schools, given neoliberal economic policies of recent time, are the inevitable Ayn Rand expression in education. Their job is to help maintain the economic status quo in the face of widening social and economic inequality. Iwi charter schools are Ayn Rand in a grass skirt – the Establishment willing to shell out many gold pieces for this wider aim.

To conclude, an example of the Establishment inducements on offer and hoops to jump through to get to the top. I refer to Toby Curtis’s submission to the Education and Science Select Committee on charter schools. He was apparently funded on a junket to 26 countries to look at models for charter schools. The report was comically weak and naive. The conclusions, in effect, a description of how kura kaupapa Maori schools work. He really only needed to pop down by the lake to speak to Cathy at Kura Kaupapa Maori o Ruamata.

He concluded this way in his submission: ‘I have great difficulty in understanding why highly skilled competent Pakeha teachers in Decile 10 schools achieve outstanding results with the Pakeha learner, but fail miserably with Maori clients. Perhaps, a more disturbing feature is that this deplorable intergenerational failure rate appears geared to continue indefinitely into the future. A further note of concern is that schools failing the Maori learner, are not being held responsible or accountable for their woeful performance.’

Music to the ears of the Establishment. A great payoff for your junket Toby and congratulations on your knighthood.

What a slurring, grossly ignorant statement by our new knight.

No mention of the effects of poverty on learning, not a hint– it is all venom. This is attitude is unfortunate for teachers in public schools, but disastrous for Maori children in all schools. The generally accepted effect by objective academics is around 60 per cent. To ignore this is beyond belief and constitutes constructed lying, self-serving constructed lying. The governor-general in his New Year call pleaded for care around the issue of child poverty, the person who will be knighting you Sir Toby, and from you this bullshit. You say that teachers in Decile 10 schools fail their Maori clients, more absolute bullshit – Maori children in Decile 10 schools do spectacularly well, middle-class Maori children are often the star of the show. And then you pile the failings of society onto teachers and would have then shamed and punished. What sort of education system are you envisaging? This statement is an unfortunate and, please excuse me for saying this, but you may have guessed anyway, in my view, so is your new status.

You end in your statement with a reference to learning being a treasure of beauty and when shared minds, hearts, and souls being touched by the hand of the Creator. How sweet, but could I ask you to go back to check on the Creator’s view of child poverty and education?

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