A call to the NZPF conference: the situation is desperate
By Kelvin Smythe
A call to the NZPF conference: the situation is desperate - Click here.
A call to the NZPF conference: the situation is desperate
[This posting was only written because of daylight saving. I was feeling tired and coming up with reasons for not writing it – but getting up and finding the extra hour available induced me to begin. It was written in two hours – goodness knows how it reads.]
The situation is now so desperate that I feel a mood change upon me. I sense that my postings will, just as before, be expressed in anger but in a more controlled way because to let go would be to lose coherence. I sense that my concern will, more than before, round on those within education for the illogic of their reasoning as I see it, or for the lack of ethicality in their actions or inaction. I sense that I will become deeply unpopular in swathes of education.
So be it.
Last year I was travelling to a destination with another conference presenter, and this presenter said, ‘Kelvin, in the ‘90s with your magazine, I was a principal, and we wondered what the hell you were going on about.’
And even though the message, in my view, has been consistent and quite straightforward, most principals still wonder in the same vein.
I say it again, as I said it at the Whangarei Principals Conference in 1989: We will be increasingly subject to a reign of management by measurable objectives – academics will provide the basis for these, the bureaucrats will impose, and the politicians will control.
In association with this, the lamb’s clothing of Tomorrow’s Schools will be progressively shed with boards of trustees becoming ciphers, and teachers and principals, mainly through fear, learning to obey.
Manifestations of the ghastly American education way are coursing through our system.
I am filled with rage. I am filled with rage that contenders for the Labour Party have not dispensed with Goff – a man who does not connect – waiting rather to pick up the pieces when he is demolished; meanwhile we in primary will have to go through the agony of a kind of education totalitarianism for another three years (the election for goodness sake is there to be won – if you don’t have the courage to stake your career on a challenge, don’t come out of the wreckage in a few months saying you are the new hope – you won’t be, because have already demonstrated you aren’t).
I am filled with rage at Auckland University and Helen Timperley, in particular, for their seething commercialisation of education. Timperley is the academic who, just before heading off to Wellington to stitch up another contract, said she thought ‘national standards were on the right track’.
Universities, supposedly the beacons for the search for truth are, in New Zealand, the source of evidence-based giant untruths and devious behaviour. Could I ask if the literacy project was in any way used for developing the norms for asTTLe, and for promoting it in schools? Now it has been sold for many millions to the government to be used in a few years for national testing.
I repeat again that the evidence-based ‘truths’ that academics like Timperley produce are academically dodgy, based as they are on narrowing education to make it measurable, based on testing that so quickly follows the teaching that a fair bit of the result is memory not learning, based on the enthusiasm in the teaching that comes from self-interest in the result, based on testing and interpreting the results of their own research, and based on skimpy research into whether any learning gains were sustainable.
Academics like Timperley have been the ideological basis for the American disaster, but this has not held them back in New Zealand from working hand-in-glove with Anne Tolley.
I am filled with rage that we seem prepared to allow education review office bullying and report-distorting to run rampant. Schools not complying with the national standards are to be isolated for more frequent visits and, of course, bullied. Then there is the latest distorted report: the one saying half of the RTLB clusters are not working properly.
I am filled with rage at the demonising, isolating, and scapegoating of teachers. We are so caught up in the national standards’ struggle that the fundamental change in the relationship between schools and the government can be missed. If you go back through the recent history of school and government relationships the overwhelming characteristic is one of consultation. The early and rushed passing of the national standards’ legislation without select committee consideration, the monumental statistical lie in the legislation’s Explanatory note, the denial of the influence of poverty on education performance allowing blame for the outcomes of this influence to be shifted to schools, the aspersions on the motivations of teachers by the prime minister as well as the minister, the outrageous misuse of statistics throughout the whole national standards’ debate, the use of the education review office for blatant propaganda production, the ministry announcement of policies without reference to teacher organisations, the setting up of Orwellian-type advisory committees, the false ‘research’ processes, the looking to overseas for education ideas rather than within – these are just some of the developments that education historians will point to as signifying an axis shifting move from a consultative model to the American one of demonising and isolating teachers.
I am filled with rage that a form of consultation with teachers and principals is occurring, a treacherous form, with teachers and principals representing themselves not their teacher organisations, or if they are represented being overwhelmed in numbers and influence by government supporters. Subject and special purpose groups funded by the government are being formed to promote government policy by other means. These subject and special purpose groups are playing an important part in making teacher organisations impotent and in validating and supporting various aspects of government policy.
This brings me to the latest two outrages which have caught the teacher organisations off guard: the RTLB reconstruction and the SAPS.
I am filled with rage that the reconstruction will take RTLB away from the control of schools and from a close association with children to a hierarchical extension of the bureaucracies. RTLB will be there to extend the Timperley way, and the national standards’ way, into the running of schools – RTLB personnel will be reporting back to the bureaucracies about what is happening.
As you know, or do you? that national standards and government policy is about humiliating principals to teach you your place by having low status people controlling you, as happens with the review office – it is all part of the Americanisation process?
Then we have SAPS. At the meeting of SAPS, many of the new recruits reeled out of the conference room horrified at the totalitarian education process adumbrated. They have been given the Timperley and Parr book and that will be the education little red book.
I am filled with rage at people agreeing to go on these government advisory committees, on people volunteering to be a SAP. However, teacher organisations have provided no leadership on the matter.
Which brings me to the NZPF Conference? I want to acknowledge the considerable advances both teacher organisations have made. Their media releases are fantastic in content and immediacy of response. NZPF have restructured their support staff to considerable advantage. But the organisations are only where they should have been this time last year. The time for media releases and bold speeches is not enough, we need a plan, we need an overall plan for system change, we need a plan for education unity, we need to have actions in place that, how shall I say it? constructively delay, divert, and block government outrages. We need to have this delay, divert, and block policy working in tandem with a promotion of constructive system change.
Some weeks ago I made a parenthetic and mild criticism of the conference programme which brought a written retort from the organisers (which I haven’t seen). I think I queried whether the organisers considered they had caught the temper of the times. However, organising a conference is a huge undertaking which always has me gasping with admiration at how organisers bring such things off. It will be a success, the principals and the organisers deserve nothing less. Peter Simpson has said he has been listening to us and is going to make a strong speech. Good on him – it will be stirring.
But it will not be enough. We should be on emergency footing. At the most we should have had one speaker to set the tone, for instance, Diane Ravitch, who was an education undersecretary under the older Bush. Through her we could have connected with where we are now. Then the rest of the conference should have been devoted to a structured preparation for what lies ahead. Remember last year’s conference when opponents of national standards were isolated from the main conference, and were recognised only tangently? Well – the situation has moved on from that, but a terrific opportunity will go begging.
I urge the organisers and the participants to squeeze in what they can to prepare schools for the battle to secure the soul of primary school education.
We need a joint emergency conference with all the teacher organisations from pre-school to tertiary; each organisation to have a special purpose secretariat to be set up for the emergency; teachers and principals to be asked not to participate in government-sponsored committees or policies until the government has brought the teacher organisations into true partnership; booklets to be published explaining the basis for teacher opposition to an authoritarian education system; a policy that will stop the review office from isolating schools who refuse to implement national standards; booklets to be published explaining the basis for the kind of organisation system being lobbied for; a special conference with academics to discuss teacher concern about the commercialisation of education, the complicity of academics in denying freedom of initiative and philosophy to teachers that they demand for themselves, and the dire effects on the practicality of college teaching of the PBRF system; papers to be published exposing the near fraudulence of much government-sponsored research and of much measurement-based research; open conferences to be set up for the Green Party, Maori Party, and Labour Party to attend; and to put aside the very convenient myth that classroom teacher political consciousness can’t be raised (just start off with the question: Is teaching as satisfying to you at the moment as you would like it to be? This infantilism of classroom teacher has to stop).
We need to learn to say ‘no’ and to refuse, and to be uncooperative, and to boycott.
When Elena and Nicolae Ceausecu were in captivity, Nicolae blustered to the guards proclaiming his innocence and making mild threats Elena looked witheringly at him and said, 'Shut up you fool, can’t you see they are going to shoot us!' When people in education talk of negotiating with Tolley, I feel like saying, 'Shut up you fools, can’t you see she hates us!'
Above all we need to promote an education system based on valuing variety. That one change, expressed throughout the system, would transform New Zealand education to the wondrous thing it once was, and easily could be.
On Thursday and Friday a feverish debate began through e-mails when Helene Peroux, Senior Project Officer Special Education, sent out the first RTLB reconstruction newsletter to the 320 principals in charge of RTLB clusters, but she made the classic bureaucratic mistake of not covering the e-mail addresses. What followed was a fabulous education happening - principals found they were able to communicate freely with one another. The issue went viral: what a glorious exchange of views, freedom was in the air – it was wonderful to be alive. Education historians should get copies of what was communicated. The only disappointment was that principals, god bless them, kept their telling criticisms and analysis at the practical level.
The discussion, however, threatened to break through to another level when one principal (Brent, I think) said that in his view the change was related to national standards (which, of course it is, see above) – I waited, held my breath, then came a response, he was slapped down, ‘Can’t see how it is’ and that was that.
A few postings ago, I sent out a posting on needed changes to the education system. I am convinced they are practical – not airily futuristic. Some of the suggested changes are central, some less so – but in total would deliver a wonderful education system.
I have shifted them to follow this posting; I am willing to travel anywhere to talk about them; I urge leaders in education and principals and teachers not to reject or ignore them just because mad dog Kelvin Smythe is promoting them; or because the idea of changing the education system seems beyond imagination.
Look we might be down, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be looking at the stars. Perhaps, someone might give an aging battler a thrill and mention them at the conference.
Be warned, if they don’t get some recognition, I might be forced to give my nine-year-old granddaughter a cow bell while I carry the box to somewhere near you – and, as well, start hiring the empty shops for window displays (See posting ‘A majority of one’.)