I had always thought that Roger Kerr incapable of an original idea, but I was wrong, after the publication of the following gentle satire in my magazine (Developmental Network Newsletter, No.3, 1997) he did, indeed, have an original idea (one or two others having now followed in his wake) – of issuing me a legal letter.
So we had the situation of a powerful business lobbyist and powerful Wellington law firm, concentrating their sights on a magazine for primary teachers, circulation 2000 (three times a year). I was highly flattered. Apologise and retract the letter said, or else.
All I did, I said in reply, was to extend the logic of your argument a little.
People might think I made those remarks, he said.
Yes – they might, I said, which is the justification for making them.
(The two newspaper items are real.)
Waikato Times item 1.
Law school blacklist ‘complete nonsense’
By KERI WELHAM
WAIKATO law graduates are chased by Auckland firms and Roger Kerr is talking nonsense, says a Hamilton lawyer.
Mr Kerr, executive director of the Business Roundtable, told a Waikato Student Union forum this week that a national law firm had a policy of not employing Waikato law graduates.
Norris Ward solicitor Murray Bindon said: ‘I am aware of no firm who would make such a comment. It’s complete nonsense.’
Mr Bindon whose firm employs two Waikato graduates, said the university’s law graduates had been chased by Auckland firms since the seven-year-old course began turning out lawyers.
The university said more than 70% of last year’s 108 graduates had found fulltime jobs within six months.
Waikato is slightly ahead of Auckland University which said 67% had jobs six months after completing their degrees.
Waikato Times item 2.
Business group wants education vouchers
SCHOOLS and tertiary institutions should be exposed to more competition and students should be funded by vouchers, Business Roundtable executive Roger Kerr said in a speech prepared for delivery this morning.
More competition was needed and private institutions had to be able to compete equally with state institutions, he said.
The simplest way to achieve this was to allow funding to follow the student (a voucher system).
There was no shortage of evidence that, on average, private schools outperformed state schools and that choice was an important factor in raising standards.
It was no surprise that Australia out-performed New Zealand in international comparisons of achievement: it had a much larger number of private schools, Mr Kerr said.
Roger Kerr: veritable Kiwi Socrates
Roger Kerr of the Business Roundtable, as we’ve come to recognise from experience over the years, is a person of towering intellect in education matters – a veritable Kiwi Socrates. We have all learnt to rely on his insights. Not for him the overstatement, the speculative, the unsupported allegations. To gain the wisdom he seeks to convey, a careful appreciation of what he has to say is required. He builds to his final truth through the construction of a carefully considered framework and then the addition of a tightly argued detail.
None of this, of course, should surprise anyone. After all, consider his background. He went to school, university, and his children went to school. With a background like that he has a head start on most education commentators.
To develop my case for Roger Kerr’s eminence in education matters, I draw your attention to the to the newspaper items above.
In the first item, a Murray Bindon, in his criticism of Roger, completely confuses his argument with statistics – a sure sign of a weak defence.
No more needs to be said about that.
It is to the main part of Roger’s address – the pallid performance of state schools I want to pay most attention.
In this second newspaper item, with the directness we have come to know and love in Roger Kerr, he gets straight to the point: ‘There was,’ he says, ‘no shortage of evidence that, on average, private schools outperformed state schools, and that choice was an important factor in raising standards.’
Note the use of the academic phrase, on average. To us lesser trained minds it wouldn’t have occurred to have used such a phrase in such a way. I invite you to turn the phrase over on your tongue, say it aloud, savour it. We might say a footy match was fairly average, but that would be the end of it – for the unimaginative, as most of us are, to pluck a phrase like, on average, out of the air is breathtaking, a stunning rhetorical achievement.
Roger’s insertion of this phrase into the debate gives promise of new and exciting philosophical possibilities. The effect is of sunlight suffusing the darkness of ignorance and confusion.
We are, Roger, forever in your debt. I hasten to add, though, that Roger, as already noted above, rarely wastes time functioning at the level of mathematical evidence. You will already have observed that none is given in his address. For him the on average allusion is a quite sufficient. To Roger Kerr, a dwelling on mathematical evidence is both the last first and last resort of a fool. What Roger Kerr relies on for his credibility is coruscating wit, profundity of insight, and Olympian delivery.
However, that is not the only wisdom to be gained from the paragraph so notably elevated by the reference to on average.
To introduce what he was saying, Roger Kerr said, ‘There was no shortage of evidence.’ So there you go. Who better to know?
No-one, I suggest, should even bother scratching around in research journals trying to find evidence to the contrary, or to quibble over tenuous arguments about research reliability and validity, or to establish whether such research even exists.
Roger has said there is ‘no shortage of evidence’, and that is where the matter should rest.
After all, commonsense tells us Roger is right. (The way his insights generate a profusion of commonsense intuitions being a further attestation to his brilliance).
Take Kings College, for instance. It is a South Auckland school and a private one – its examination results are far superior to the neighbouring South Auckland state school of Otahuhu. If you take a number of private schools like Kings College, and a number of state schools like Otahuhu, on average (it never fails to thrill), the private schools will have better examination results than state ones. Game, set, and match.
Roger Kerr said much more in his address than is reported in the newspaper. Newspapers have this infuriating habit of not reporting his speeches in full. While we are appreciative of the Kerr pearls that do get through to the pages of our daily press, so many don’t.
For that reason, I include a number of other things that were in his speech. I am sure that, once again, they will impress you with their reasonableness and the way they carry their own authenticity.
‘Teachers in state schools,’ Roger Kerr said, ‘lack motivation and have little concern for the children they teach. All those no-hopers are interested in is their fortnightly pay.’
‘There is plenty of evidence,’ he said, ‘on average, to support that.’
‘Teachers in private schools, on the other hand, have an aura all of their own. The fact that their training is the same as that for state school teachers is immaterial. The moment they step into the hallowed halls of a private school an epiphanic transformation occurs. ‘At a conference, the faces of private teachers stand out – a sense of beatification being noticeable.’
‘What a contrast to the demeanour of state school teachers. Their sly, slack appearance, depressing to any who bother to glance their way.’
‘On average, state school teachers don’t give a damn for the children they teach. All they want to communicate is their leftist, co-operative, feminist, greeny, hug-a-Maori ideology.’
‘State school teachers are not true New Zealanders in the way we are. They don’t have the disinterested concern for New Zealand so typical of teachers in private schools or members of the Roundtable. ’
‘Their self-seeking behaviour and ideological concerns inure state school teachers to the normal range of emotions felt by decent New Zealanders. That is why we have no compunction in setting out to destroy whatever lingering respect for them remains, and the institutions that persist in employing them. The cut of criticism does not get through to them. They don’t feel and they don’t care. There is no shortage of evidence for this.’
‘There have been times,’ Roger Kerr admitted, ‘when, for the greater cause, I have been tempted to embellish things a bit, to give truth some enhancement, to say, for instance, that there is evidence for something when, on average, there isn’t.’
‘But I have, in the end, resisted such temptation. If I had succumbed, the interpretation might have been that the case I was making was not strong, that what I was doing was not a disinterested search for truth, but ideologically partisan, and that I cared more for my ideology than I did for my fellow New Zealanders. Then I would have been vulnerable to the same criticism I’m making of those state school teaching time-servers.’
‘State school teachers are devious beyond belief. There is no shortage of evidence for that. Mrs Smith of the local school with her cardy and floral print dress doesn’t fool me one little bit. Behind that ruddy, simple, cheery face lies the fevered mind of a latter-day Che Guevara.’
And then our Roger makes his typically stirring address finale.
‘What is good for business is good for education. Posterity will laud our message as inspirational idealism. We have lit on a universal truth. People are economic animals – only willing to change and improve through competition and the prospect of material gain. That is the message for schools and humanity. I can assure you, that in future decades, when historians look back, they will not see that this message is excessive. There will be no calls for change in Tomorrow’s Schools. They will say we got it right.’
‘Picot described Tomorrow’s Schools as providing a level playing field for the various sides in education. We have a big laugh about that, because it serves to distract attention from the real issue. It doesn’t matter whether a field is level, or tilts this way or that, because it evens out at the halftime changeover. So that is all floss. What matters is who controls the referee. And in that respect, we do. While other groups fuss around surveying the plane of the ground, we control those who officiate.’
‘That’s how it should be, because we represent the future. State schools represent the past and we’ll whistle them to a standstill. So far they have persisted in playing on, but they are proving an embarrassment to themselves, and a burden to everyone else.’
When we have razed and torched the state schools and banished the ratbags who infest them, there will arise from the ashes, the phoenix of a multitude of private schools. These schools will seek out the poor and the disaffected and all who come unto them.’
‘In our mind’s eye, our schools will be bathed in a bright light and choirs of angels will sing – and all will be well.’
There will be no shortage of evidence, on average, to prove that.’