It is a straight out swerve around Maori and Pasifika children
By Kelvin Smythe
It is a straight out swerve around Maori and Pasifika children
Forget about deciles and school performance as being considerations in the swerve around Maori and Pasifika children; the only consideration is whether a school has a significant number of Maori and Pasifika children.
As ever, if we don’t get the analysis right we won’t get the solutions right in response.
I’m not labelling the decision by white and Asian parents racist, it is much more complex than that, and in many ways no-where near as deep, but back in 1989 when school choice became something of a touchstone of the government restructuring of education, it became inevitable that school choices of white and Asian parents would add significantly to deepening social and education division – a deepening social and education division already well advanced.
And, anyway, the real touchstone for the government wasn’t choice, it was competition between schools. Treasury types rubbed their neo-liberal hands with glee at the thought of teachers at ‘non-performing’ schools being punished, shown up, made fools of, by parents deserting such schools
But on the definition of schools that were deserted being ‘non-performing’ then they were invariably Maori- and Pasifika-laden.
In 1989 I can remember hearing on National Radio a Maori woman saying: ‘Well we have to trust you [a government spokesman] on this one, but if it doesn’t work, this is your last chance.’
But governments and politically self-serving change never sleep. And we keep allowing them further chances.
In an article accepted by an overseas journal, on this very topic of choice, I wrote:
‘Any education policy that has choice embedded in the associated rhetoric will end up favouring children from wealthier families. In New Zealand school choice always ends up disadvantaging any children with brown faces. Much is made of parents looking up education review office reports and choosing schools on that basis. This is a major distortion. Much is made of parents choosing religious schools because of the supposedly more ordered environment. Once again this is major distortion. Since the year dot of education choice, choice has overwhelmingly been about flight from brown faces. Yes, brown faces usually mean lower average education results, but white and Asian parents do not even get to that; they tend not to get past the brown faces. And the more brown faces there are, the more to get past. Yet if white and Asian parents could get past this, they would find, as happened before 1989, highly satisfactory teaching being available for all children.’
Governments and their lackeys from the universities (and their evidence-based rubbish) have had more than enough chances to get it right; it is now time for teachers to demand to be central to education change.
What can be done about the choices embedded so centrally in our education policy? Nothing directly. The current range of choices is here to stay, especially because pressure for an increased degree of choice, given the deepening social divisions, was inevitable.
What must be done now, I suggest, is to challenge the overall fairness of any attempt to extend those choices; and be unrelenting in our battle for fairness for Maori and Pasifika children and other children whose education is already being blighted by them.
But teachers and their organisations really do have to be clever about how they argue their case. The ability of teachers and their organisations to undertake that arguing has been skewed against them, especially as John Key has taken to new heights the political capital to be accrued in demonising teachers.
While making political capital about concern for the education of children from poorer families, the National Party (also Labour if you go back to the arguments for the introduction of Tomorrow’s Schools) has used the concept of provider capture to work cruelly against improving the lot of these children. What its use has done is to remove teacher knowledge from policy making, leaving the field open to politicians, bureaucrats, quantitative academics, and that entity known as the public (whose voice is interpreted by these groups); it also removes from a position of influence, the voice of parents with children at school. In this way, it all becomes something of a generational thing, with the older generations holding almost complete sway over education policy, free to vent their generational prejudices on today’s children and teachers.
A point I want to establish here and develop further in a subsequent posting about national standards and league tables, there is a need for teacher spokespeople to regularly stand outside the debate and comment calmly as if a third party. For instance, a comment should matter-of-factly and regularly be made that Key uses education policy as a way to wrong foot teachers rather than help children; and that having suffered a setback with the class size fiasco, he is trying to recover ground by bringing up the matter of league tables. That kind of thing.
By removing teacher knowledge from policy making, the power elite has been able to pull the trick of bringing in a raft of education policies with the ostensible purpose of benefiting children from poorer families that actually disadvantage them, national standards being a notable example. Children from poorer families, through the obsession with narrow, standardised, one-pace for all are condemned to repetition of such a programme through their primary and middle-school years; an education devoid of imaginative, rich, and cognitively challenging learning.
I intend to write in an extended posting of where primary education is being pushed. The problem is not really national standards; they are just the scum on the underlying toxic flow. The real problem is the cumulative effect of two decades of the education review office insidiously establishing a dire new orthodoxy – an orthodoxy derived from the same philosophy as that of national standards.
Consider where education is, indeed, being pushed: a desiccated wasteland of learning. Teaching becoming formalistic when it needs to be flexible and imaginative; narrow when it needs to be wide; standardised when it needs to be diverse; a soulless sequence of disjointed inanities when it needs to be affectively stirring and holistic; and leached of real world reality when it needs to be cognitively rich.
And the principle about making education choice available should be clear.
If choice is extended, it is understandable, inevitable, and right that parents should make choices for their children according to their own values, but it is the responsibility of governments to ensure, that in making any education choice available, it does not work, in practice, to the advantage of one group of children at the expense of another.