On education, the New Zealand Herald has become the Fox Television of New Zealand media.
The Herald has demonstrated shades of neo-fascism by advocating obedience to the government as an end in itself; trickery in polling; telling the big lies; turning issues between the government and critics into battles of will; commending unfairness; being careless of open government; scapegoating; being callous and uninformed; using ugly, alienating language; and being irresponsible about the possibility of failure and its effects on the vulnerable.
An editorial (December 15) had only one point to make, and that was in the headline: ‘Teachers must learn to obey Government’s orders.’ What a pompous prat.
The editorial writer (I assume to be John Roughan) was intent on pitching the issue of national standards as one of obedience and a battle of wills. There was absolutely no recognition of national standards as an issue for reasoned debate.
Teachers must learn to obey government’s orders. That was it.
Is that a precept for all New Zealanders or just teachers?
What are the moral, social, and political implications of such a precept?
In a subsequent editorial (February 6), once again it is a matter of wills. It is headlined: ‘Government should hold its nerve.’
This time more debate, but no more reasoned.
The arguments in some instances lack a feeling for the spirit of democracy, in others neo-fascist shades return.
National ‘campaigned on this policy’ the editor says, ‘and passed legislation to put into effect this year.’ Yes – but the government knew the issue was controversial, so it is reasonable to assume, that is why they rushed the legislation through at the first opportunity, and without a select committee. How really democratic was that?
Then, in discussing league tables, amoral totalitarianism: ‘Who cares about ‘socio-economic advantages?’ asks the editor. ‘Parents do not mind advantages; they are probably looking for them. They are not primarily interested in fairness to schools.’
It is axiomatic, though, that if one group is being unfair to their advantage, then another group is suffering unfairness to their disadvantage. How fair is that? Fairness, I thought was fundamental to morality and democracy, but not, apparently, to the Herald. (In a later column, John Roughan, the probable editorial writer, looks to national standards to give ‘lie to the idea of educational progress [being] predetermined by wealth.’ Such are the contradictions and the scapegoating that always accompany bouts of teacher bashing.)
I can tell, by-the-way, that the editorial writer has spoken directly to the prime minister and swallowed some of his ideas holus-bolus. There are many examples, the most obvious one being when the editorial writer complains that one of the academics who criticised national standards ‘was John Hattie whom the Prime Minister says introduced the ideas of a standards-based system to him.’ (This was when Key was queering Hattie’s pitch with teachers to pressure him back to the government – a tactic that worked. Given Hattie’s personality, though, it was always going to happen. As light is to a moth, power is to Hattie.) So there we have it – on education, it seems, the Herald is largely the mouthpiece of the government.
Teachers, who are one of the victims of all this, are other New Zealanders, mainly our daughters, sisters, and mothers. How could the editorial writer do this with absolutely no credible evidence? And then there are our children. Tomorrow’s Schools gave our society our brown ghetto schools, now national standards are going to finish the job. This ghettoizing has certainly contributed to the 20% of children in difficulty Key and Tolley are, ostensibly, concerned about. Now national standards will make things even worse.
With smirking callousness, the editorialist says the ‘damage to children’s self-esteem and [them being turned] off learning … could see greater efforts made at school and home to get them up to standard.’
It seems to me to be a form of Eichmannism. The Herald uses its community face to appeal to its readers with its niceness, but when it wants to, and in education politics it does, it can turn nasty.
Contributing to the paper’s nastiness, and an indication of the value it places on education, there has been no settled education reporter for months. So all that has been reported on have been the set battles about what the government said, and this or that organisation said in return. A well-informed education reporter informs not only its readers but its own journalists and editorialists. The Herald has established and well-informed reporters for business and horses, why not for education? I don’t think, though, the Herald wants to be well-informed about education; I think it wants to deal in stereotypes. (It’s nice to have Andrew Laxon back, but is he going to be allowed to concentrate on education?)
Oh yes – there were set education pieces in the dialogue section, just as Fox sometimes allows in a different viewpoint, but they were carefully isolated. And there was an editorial that set out to criticise the government for spending the money on the newsletter to parents, but ended up being just another message about a battle of wills.
Then there are the big lies. These are demonstrated in the way the newspaper has let the government get away with them, for instance, what is the disinformation the unions are spreading? Also, the bringing in of national standards was obviously a populist political stunt; obvious because no credible evidence was put forward as to why they were needed or how had worked elsewhere.
The newspaper also propagated many of its own big lies, for instance, the second editorial (February 6) declared that the ‘battle with educational failure has just begun’. Where is the evidence that New Zealand schools are failing?
The reason why, in education politics, the Herald editorialists resort so readily to unreason is because there are no reasonable reasons to be had.
This leads to the poll. This poll was the Weimar Republic poll of New Zealand polling.
This poll: its nature and its reporting was a disgrace.
The question should have been: Which statement do you favour: The government’s national standards policy?
Schools being required to make available to parents all their nationally standardised results?
When it was found that 88% of parents admitted to little or no understanding of the government’s policy, to continue with the poll was a serious abuse of the polling process. Given the degree of lack of understanding of the national standards policy, the question about favouring or it or not came down to responding to an emotive label. To continue with the question, then to emblazon the numbers in a massive front page headline added abuse to abuse. A headline that parents were evenly split on the worthwhileness of national standards might have been a fairer headline, but not really, because how would parents know given their state of unknowing? The poll was a farce.
It was a poll Goebbels would have been proud of.
Perhaps one question that could have been asked was: Do you believe the government’s national standards policy should have gone to a select committee before becoming legislation?
Another possible question: Why do you think so many teachers oppose the government’s national standards policy?
They oppose because of the harm it might do?
They fear change?
They don’t want to be accountable?
I urge the government to do its own polling with genuine questions like these, and the further above.
Then there’s Roughan’s column. It was a column that brooked no reasoned argument nor provided any; a column of ugly declarations. If our primary schools were ever allowed to become organised along the lines he advocates our society would indeed be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.’ A society that had such schools would deserve them. I refuse to be outraged by such surly writing.
As it happens, we have primary schools better than we deserve, certainly better than the New Zealand Herald has helped to contribute to over the years.
There are some of us who remember a 1960 Minhinnick cartoon which had a paving stone labelled ‘The Play Way’ being lifted to expose a mass of insect life. That was the Herald’s cartoon depiction of Beeby’s education vision of individualisation, variety, the aesthetic, and the way the affective and the cognitive can work together. A vision that has inspired primary schools to this day and explains why they still punch above their weight educationally. However, under the burden of narrow, unambiguous objectives; accountability based on measurement; tight external auditing based on measurement; a concentration on those things that can be measured; and the emphasis on quantitative research – there are some early indications of schools fraying into arid and fragmented triviality.
Primary teachers recognise that the Herald editors, in education, value control over achievement, conformity over variety, drabness over brilliance, and gross judgements over informed ones.
Teachers, however, will continue their struggle for a democratic vision for New Zealand primary schools: they will not follow the admonition of the Herald editorial of just obey, nor will they follow that admonition in how they work with children in classrooms. The Herald can work for a more controlled and conforming society, teachers will continue to work for the democratic values of fairness, concern for the individual, variety, and achievement.