Parata’s speech: mythmaking and distorting to say the least

Only to the extent … Posting 4

National as a neoliberal government, though cleverly disguised, always acts to the priority of the powerful and wealthy.  In relation to education, to the extent it can get away with it, the government is niggardly in funding of public schools, undermines the public service ideals of teachers, and makes curricula narrow and utilitarian. To achieve such purposes, the concept of avoiding provider capture is required, thus eliminating teacher voice from policy making, replacing it with that of government-aligned academic advisers, private providers, principals, and teachers. To maintain this facade there is also required an unrelenting control – a control based on propaganda, false figures, lying, distorting, dissembling, controlling by fear and contracted services, restrictions on freedom of speech, and a centralised, hierarchical bureaucracy extending to the minutiae of classroom actions.

Let us see how this pans out in a recent major speech by Hekia Parata to the Iwi Chairs Forum, Friday 29 November, 2013

Dissembling: ‘Our spending on schools is up 40%’, said Parata.

Funding per student: Last year Labour government: 2007 – 5,487.24. 

First year of National government: 2008 – 6, 1247.72; 2009 – 6,497.44; 2010 – 6, 747.47; 2011 – 6,798.95; 2012 – 6,796.81; 2013 – 6,991.08

(This was for all years of schooling; State and state integrated; includes property, organisational, and salaries funding.)

In funding per student there was a $1.000 increase over the first two years then, taking into account inflation, a decline.  That is bad enough, but Hekia Parata knew that for primary school funding there was forecast a 7.5% reduction in funding between 2013-2018. As well, she knew that for comparable education systems, New Zealand primary school funding per student was well below the OECD average. In other words, she had nothing to boast, and a fair amount to be apologetic, about.

Propaganda and distorting: ‘We have made steady progress to deliver more jobs and higher incomes for New Zealanders.’

There are indeed, more jobs but mainly lower paid, part-time, and casualised.  There may have been some higher incomes, but for most, those on wages, there was stagnation in growth.

Dishonesty and dissembling: ‘We found [under Labour] that the periodic national and international studies on student achievement had stagnated in reading and declining in maths and science.’

Parata should have acknowledged at this stage in her speech that such results have not improved under National, indeed, they have deteriorated and are continuing to do so.  She delayed informing the audience, till further in the speech, that the next OECD ranking will be coming out next week and it ‘is probable that New Zealand may well slip further.’

Propaganda and dissembling: ‘Education under Labour was about what demands the teacher unions were going to make of the government.’

This is union bashing propaganda as part of the application of the provider capture theory to prevent genuine teacher representation in policy making. The exclusion of teacher organisations from policy making has meant a change in the structure of education from co-operative to hierarchical, from curriculum-focused to managerialist, from variety in practice to conformity, and from trust to fear.

Mythmaking: ‘We found we had the necessary quantity of teachers …’

There is no credible evidence that New Zealand had the necessary quantity of teachers. Class sizes in New Zealand are much larger in comparison with private schools, charter schools, and schools in comparable systems overseas. The assumption, introduced by the government, that class size was of minor significance in improving learning, is ideologically based, and not supported by an honest examination of the evidence. It is a myth developed by neoliberal governments to scapegoat teachers to justify reform of education systems according to neoliberal dogma.

John Hattie’s research was the main academic support for the three main tenets of neoliberalism in education: that teacher organisations were better kept from involvement in policy making because they were bound to act in their members’ self-interest; that class size was of little significance in learning; and that students from lower socio-economic home environments had the same capacity to learn as students from more privileged ones. (Hattie, though, was notoriously difficult to pin down on this one, he gave various figures according to his audience – but he was definitely in the camp of being hard on teachers of children from lower socio-economic environments, accusing them of always making excuses about the level of achievement attained and harming children’s learning through communicating low expectations.)

(In my next posting, I will analyse Hattie’s research, his mathematics, statistical methods, sampling, and presentation of results. My conclusion will be, that so blatant were his errors in process, analysis, and presentation, and so significant his influence on New Zealand bureaucracies and the ministry of education that an inquiry should be held to establish how it happened and why the National government and bureaucracies were taken in by what was clearly academic hogwash. If Hattie is confident of the validity of his work, he should welcome the scrutiny.)

The point I want to make clear, though, is that these three education myths would have been acted on by the government irrespective of Hattie’s research. Hattie, however, was extraordinarily active and influential. With his charismatic and extrovert nature he was a neoliberal government’s dream come true; a far better academic prop than some American academic who didn’t really understand us.

Mythmaking: ‘… but not a necessary focus on the quality of teachers.’

As for immediately above.

The ‘quality of teachers’ is an expression used by neoliberal governments that has developed connotations well beyond its surface meaning. If the expression was ‘quality of teaching’ there is left room for the idea of teaching being a co-operative undertaking and with the initiative lying more with schools. The ‘quality of teachers’ as it has come to be used suggests teachers to be controlled and bounded as individual entities; individual entities whose main relation to children is not through other teachers in schools, the various curriculum areas they undertake, but through national standards results and through government bureaucracies and regulations.

Neoliberal governments always assume office saying the previous ways for education had failed and point to a lack in the quality of teachers as the main cause. Teachers are scapegoated for perceived failures in the previous ways of doing things, providing neoliberal governments a justification for bringing in different ways – those ways are always hierarchical. This control through hierarchy is crucial to neoliberal purposes because such governments have intensive ideological purposes in mind for education. One line of action to achieve these is to reduce funding to public education, which serves the dual purpose of freeing up money for tax cuts for the wealthy and undermining public education. When public schools struggle as a result of both the reduced funding and miseducative policies associated with that reduction, neoliberal governments then repeat the cycle of blaming teachers leading to more control-based education measures. A double neoliberal pincer on schools also occurs. Neoliberal governments are always ‘reforming’ social welfare structures and labour laws for what are declared as flexibility and efficiency ends, but one of the most marked effects  is an increase in economic inequality. Though denied by neoliberal governments, this greater inequality has a significant effect on the capacity of the affected groups of children to learn. When failures in education manage to seep through the wall of propaganda constructed by neoliberal governments they always reflexively reach for teachers to blame.

Distortion: ‘The review of absenteeism and reform of the attendance service means more kids are staying at school now.’

The reform of the attendance service has failed.

Distortion: ‘… a relentless focus on individual achievement.’

There has been a relentless focus on a narrow perception of the 3Rs and assessment; a focus bound to fail because flexible thinking has been neglected with dire implications for children especially when they reach secondary school. Flexible thinking needs to be seen as mutually supportive with the 3Rs and pursued intensively throughout a rich curriculum from children’s first years at school. The failure to do this because of that relentless focus on the 3Rs is providing a second-class education for a category of children who come from home environments unlikely to compensate for that failure. National standards have been pursued with such a relentless focus as to label children early and hard, so early and hard that you can sense children looking for a crack to hide in.

Mythmaking: ‘School leaders will be able to track their student’s progress and use the tool [PaCT] to inform teaching programmes and guide decision making in response to new information …’

Schools already have the tools and expertise to track student’s progress and guide decision making.  PaCT would just give bad assessment information more status but no more validity and thus make it even more educationally destructive.

Distortion and dissembling: ‘The 3Rs are not the be all and end all of education – but they are a very useful pointer towards how children are adapting to their learning environment.’

I don’t want spend much time on the correlation Parata makes between the 3Rs and children adapting to their learning environment because she is really just attempting another justification for national standards.  National standards aren’t needed as a pointer; that pointer is everywhere and in everything children do.

Most of this posting is about responding to Parata’s arguments about the education of Maori and Pasifika children, but I want to point out another group of children not being well served by national standards – that is all the other children and especially children of high ability.

Children of high ability, whether Maori, Pasifika, Asian, and pakeha, are possibly the worst served in the education system. The 3Rs were brought in mainly under the justification of children who were slipping between the cracks, but then, under that cover all children were corralled by the 3Rs and had to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous national standards. When I go into higher decile schools and see the devastating effect on learning being inflicted because of national standards, I feel an anguished urge to cry out: let those children go.

Mythmaking and distortion: ‘In an educational sense – China and her territories, Vietnam, Korea – have made great strides in these surveys.’

The schools of the Asian cities that allow themselves to be surveyed are based on middle-class exclusivity and all the characteristics that go with that. Their survey results are an argument for the influence of the home environment on learning, not the influences of the policy or the quality of the teaching.

Mind you, there is evidence that international tests are being manipulated to suit Asian practices and knowledges to create angst in Western countries that rebounds to the business interests of the international education providers and the interests of the international survey people themselves.

Centralised bureaucracy, fear, contracted services, restrictions on freedom of speech: ‘In successful education systems … there is a very strong alignment between what is developed in policy and what is delivered in practice.’

It depends on what Parata calls successful. I suspect she is referring to Asian cities and countries that mostly have non-democratic political systems or authoritarian government, and all have conformist cultures. In these Asian countries and cities, a non-inclusiveness of lower class people usually pertains.

The National government in applying the provider capture concept has excluded non-government aligned academics, teachers, and principals from policy making, thus demonstrating the government priority to control school education down to classroom minutiae. Because education is value laden, all parts of it should be involved in policy making, and all parts of it should be involved in good faith and a commitment to compromise. And after policy and aims are agreed on, education is best served by giving teachers and principals wide discretion in how to put it into practice.

Propaganda and dissembling: ‘I am quite clear that we need to considerably grow the quality of teaching practice and education leadership, raise student achievement, and build a professional culture driven by successful out comes. [In the next paragraph Parata is going to begin a paragraph stating teachers are doing an outstanding job.] This would allow us to slough off the current carapace of interventions, inputs, programmes, that have slowed down our system to pedestrian pace.’

This statement is significant and menacing. When she says ’This would allow us to slough off the current carapace of interventions …’ it translates as: if teachers could only do their jobs properly there wouldn’t be the need for so much expenditure on special needs interventions.

This is a signal that special needs are going to receive reduced funding and that IES is going to be used as the justification for that.

Propaganda and distortion (carrying on from immediately above): ‘Today’s teachers are doing an outstanding job, but their practice and development has not consistently kept up with the demands we place on them, especially in areas such as mathematics and science …’

Beware of Parata bearing praise of teachers as there is always a putdown to follow.  Strange isn’t it that this is the government that dismissed all science advisers as one of its first policy actions? an action of considerable symbolism.  What I’m going to say, the minister will never understand and accept: the best ideas for practice come from at the periphery, that is from free-thinking teachers in classrooms. Teachers feel so controlled and hemmed in, that the only change they are capable of absorbing and acting on, is that which is highly formalised. Because the context is not right, any government attention to mathematics and science will achieve very little. Mathematics and science, to improve, need a much freer school and classroom environment, and teachers who feel they have the time and opportunity to try things out, explore, and innovate.

Propaganda and mythmaking: ‘Andreas Schleicher (PISA) said on his recent visit to New Zealand ‘it is not the diversity of children in the classroom that is the challenge: it is the diversity of practices in that classroom.’

This is another rerun of the myth that home circumstances don’t have much effect on children’s learning. A characteristic of New Zealand classrooms – as a result of the expansion of centralised bureaucratic control – is a severe lack of diversity in classrooms and a high degree of standardisation throughout the system. A command education system communicates that it knows, so that in the end teachers throw up their hands in frustration, give way, and follow the commands passed down to a T.

Propaganda and mythmaking: ‘I immediately called together a Ministerial Cross Sector Forum comprising all sector leaders and key state agencies … to work together on teacher quality agenda and professional development of teachers and education leaders.’

The Ministerial Cross Sector Forum in typical neoliberal style has been swamped by the minister with her own nominees to crowd out the voices of the teacher organisations. This Forum has provided the minister with a platform for her government’s myths: that public education can do more with less; that home background shouldn’t effect learning achievement because any differences can be made up by ‘quality teachers’ and quality leadership; that it is best for children to concentrate on the 3Rs at primary school; and that education is measurable (which serves to determine what is taught and the how).

The implicit question she asks of such a Forum is: Within the limits of these realities [myths], what policies should we advance to improve children’s learning?

The only possible response to this question is a highly controlled and hierarchical education system.

In contrast, the implicit question that should be asked of such a Forum is: What are the main aims for the various curriculum areas and the best ways to move children towards these?

This is an open question with many possible responses.

Lying, dissembling, restrictions on freedom of speech, hierarchical control: ‘We have made some very strong strides together, and it was exciting to be able to announce recently, after extensive consultation with the education sector, that the Teachers Council will be replaced with the Education Council of Aotearoa/New Zealand (EDUCANZ), which will take on a broader mandate to lead the teaching profession and drive innovation and improvement in quality teaching initiatives and professional development.’

This is Hekia Parata as motor-mouth supreme: ‘We have made some very strong strides together …’ is a fantastical example of the corruption of thought and language in interaction.

The whole EDUCANZ process was authoritarian in nature therefore predestined in outcome. ‘Strides’ long or otherwise weren’t taken together with teachers. Any strides taken were to trample the teacher organisations and any chance of a co-operative education system.  When the select committee called for submissions many were submitted and only a miniscule number supported the new concept.

EDUCANZ is not an organisation properly representative of a professional body but a government organisation intent on tightly controlling all aspects of teaching and severely restricting freedom of speech. It is another bureaucratic overlay on schools to control teachers and principals so that a more severe neoliberal agenda can be pursued largely untroubled.

The key expression in Parata’s reference is the intention to take ‘a broader mandate’ [in other words even wider powers of control] ‘to lead the teaching profession and drive innovation and implementation [the implications of the word ‘drive’ are significant] in quality teaching initiatives and professional development.’

EDUCANZ is the ultimate in the application of the concept of avoiding provider capture – this is a body paid for by teachers and supposed to represent them as a profession, yet they are not represented. And here we have Parata going on about togetherness and consultation. EDUCANZ represents a locking in of teachers and principals to the failed neoliberal model and commits education to being a major arena for the advancement of the neoliberal ideology.

Propaganda and dissembling: ‘Lifting the educational achievement of … young people is the driving force behind the Government’s Better Public Service targets.’ 

This government ploy of setting targets for children’s achievement in NCEA and national standards has the effect of putting huge pressure on schools to meet them. The outcome has been rising ‘achievement’ in NCEA and national standards but falling actual achievement. This is Mad Hatter Tea Party territory.

In primary schools figures are being inflated; a posting two weeks ago said reading seemed about right but out of whack in maths and writing. As for secondary schools, the internal passing of units is a disgrace. Every release of international survey figures has, as a result, become an embarrassment to the government. National standards, as well as being inflated and providing faulty information to parents are also interfering with children’s learning. In secondary schools, the false achievement means large numbers of children (many Maori and Pasifika) are being channelled into softer academic pathways with implications for vocational prospects. For secondary I recommended reducing internal passes and making NCEA maths and English compulsory for a further year.

Propaganda, mythmaking, and dissembling: ‘The data gained from national standards school level results has given us a richer picture of the system.’

The information from national standards is not only useless but also dangerously misinforming and educationally harmful.

Propaganda and mythmaking: ‘We also required schools to implement plain English reports.’

Reports are not plain nor are they in English suitable for parents; they have become jargon-laden monstrosities hiding meaning by serving to convey inaccurate information in a confusing way.

Propaganda and mythmaking: Under ‘Building on Success, schools will work with programme facilitators to design a tailored programme …’

If the number of cute labels were proportionate to success we would be topping international tables. The labels chosen have an Orwellian flavour to them. In this one speech we have reference to: Positive Behaviour for Learning; Progress and Consistency Tool; Unleashing the Potential in New Zealand Business; Education Council of Aotearoa/New Zealand; Prime Minister’s Excellence Awards; Community Action Groups; Ka Hikitia – Accelerating Success; Starpath; Vocational Pathways; Pasifika Education Plan; Partnership Kura; Success for All – Every School, Every Child’; Kura Hourua – Partnership Schools; Investing in Education Success; and Intensive Wraparound Service.

Success displayed in inverse proportion to it being achieved.

Propaganda, distorting, and lying: ‘Evidence-based research …’

It is truism to say evidence-based anything is only valid if undertaken validly. To call something evidence-based when it is not carried out validly is nonsense. Evidence-based research is often used as a tactic to promote academic knowledge of the narrow, fragmented kind at the expense of teacher-derived knowledge. Ministers of education and government-aligned academics use it as an instrument to exclude teachers from policy making, promote a narrow, measurable curriculum, control teachers, and bang them over the head.

I challenge Hekia Parata to bring together a fair selection of academics and charge them with the responsibility to look at the evidence for matters such as class size and learning, home environment and learning, and learning and measurement.

Propaganda, distorting, and lying: ‘Best practice …’

Most best practice recommendations come from quantitative academics who have a strong bias to a controlled, measurable, and objective-based approach to learning.  The best best practice should be seen as coming from schools, mindful of academic knowledge, sometimes undertaken in association with academics, but only validated by successful, longitudinal school practice.

Distorting: ‘We will build 21st century learning environments that feature … sustainable and inspiring learning spaces.’

The best 21st century learning environments I see are 20th century ones – environments that have four walls and a ceiling not too distant from the children. On results so far, the so-called 21st century environments are too often uninspiring cathedrals of vacuity. Most teachers don’t want such environments but no-one asks them for their opinion; it is architects, education planners, and politicians who have taken exclusive charge of new buildings, seemingly on an ego trip. The problems are that they are designed with a particular form of learning in mind – a digital one; are based on slack assumptions about the correlation between co-operative learning and very large spaces; don’t suit some children and don’t suit some teachers (some very good teachers); and become inhabited with cells of children shushing with all the inhibitions that flow from that.

Distorting: ‘… that will bridge the digital divide.’

Because the curriculum, by government example, is out of fashion, considered a bit of nuisance – the divide in digital learning is not between the digital haves and have nots but the digital and the curriculum – and it is a divide the digital is falling into rather than bridging. But there is no telling a good number of principals and private providers, they have the USBs between their teeth running their own race, unfortunately largely in the wrong direction. It has happened in all countries and despite all the warnings is happening here.

Propaganda and distorting: ‘What the evidence tells us is that too many of the kids that our system has been careless with are Maori and Pasifika students.’

This is just so unhelpful and unfair, mischievously but typically loading the blame on to schools for the lower achievement rates of Maori and Pasifika children. I know she says ‘system’ but she really means schools. She could have said, despite the best efforts of schools, the achievement rates of Maori and Pasifika children are too low. But no, she creates division and antipathy by pandering to her iwi audience. When I think back on my 45 years of going into schools and all the love, care, and attention I have seen so generously lavished on Maori and Pasifika children by teachers, all the celebration of advances large and small, I could weep.

What the evidence tells us, Hekia Parata, is that the schools of these children need far more financial help, including more teachers, more special needs support teachers, and more social support services. It also tells us that the families of these children also need more financial help, a higher minimum wage, better housing, and better social support services. It also tells us, and Parata is right here, that such schools need stronger links with their communities. But to load the responsibility of economic and social deprivation on to schools while funding them in niggardly ways, all the time taking pot shots  at them for not doing as well as the schools of the economically and socially privileged, is some kind of sick joke.

Propaganda and distorting: ‘For too long they have been ‘those kids’ said with the voice of low expectation, and dismissed with the fatalism of ‘we know which ones’

Pot shots like that.

I have had decades of going into schools from areas that are struggling economically and socially. Yes – I have read the research from universities that has linked expectation with learning outcomes – there is something in it, but not much. Overwhelmingly more significant is the link between reducing poverty in society and, in schools, increasing staffing, funding, supporting services to individualise teaching, and building school-community links. I have also seen the link between the holistic curriculum and learning for children, a learning that carries them through to successful learning and lives.

And now we have Parata saying (should we weep or laugh a transcendental laugh) ‘Poorly targeted decile funding, as confirmed by new analysis, confirms academic results consistently fall away as a school’s decile comes down.’

‘Results consistently falling away as a school decile comes down’, as we know, confirms that as poverty increases, improving children’s learning becomes harder.

To Parata, it is a replay of her ‘expectation and performance’ slur of teachers in low decile schools.

Somehow to Parata, there are hugely sensitive gradations of expectation and performance according to teachers’ responses to the decile ratings of their school, right up to decile 10.

What Parata really wants is some of the funding being based on results. In other words, she is seeking to impose the syndrome the government has set up throughout the education system (from primary to tertiary) that achieves better published results but worse actual learning. The syndrome goes like this: we will shame education institutions, put fear into them into them in various ways so that they inflate the children’s results. This is the National government way to better education and at a lesser cost. Oh happy days!

And lo and behold they do improve. Why spend money on the education of the poor, on reducing poverty to the benefit of education, if shaming, fear, and threats can do it for nothing or even less.

Hence, a degree of cheating in primary (more a gentle inflation), much more in secondary, and tertiary (except for universities) is awash with it. At the receiving end are the major universities wondering what the hell is going on. As well, from time-to-time international surveys spoil the party for the government; interrupt the cosmic joke this neoliberal government and successive ministers of education are having at the expense of public schools and Maori and Pasifika children.

Propaganda and distorting: ‘This year we released Ka Hikitea Accelerating Success, an update of the Maori education strategy, and the Pasifika Education Plan for the next five years.’

Bound to make to make the lightest of dents.

Oh my goodness those names. Parata fiddles while her people hurt. (There are some good programmes in schools for Maori and Pasifika children, in particular in reading and maths, but the funding allocated is miniscule.)

Propaganda, dissembling, and lying: ‘The focus of the five partnership schools that have already been announced have indicated a focus on Maori and Pasifika children … will provide a necessary alternative to an education system that has let these kids down.’

Here’s that nasty streak again, saying children who attend charter schools have been let down by the education system (meaning schools). The reasons why parents choose schools, any kind of school, are complex and often difficult to dig out.

The real reason why charter schools have been so enthusiastically pursued by ACT and this government is to use them as a platform to denigrate public schools and scapegoat teachers to undermine confidence in public schools as a justification to privatise education; to radically change the nature of schools and their purposes; to use public schools for indoctrination; and to reduce the cost of public education system.

There is no oversight in charter schools of enrolment selection; testing on reception; the numbers of children who leave; and testing on performance. It is the now typical setup of this government to improve through results as against actual learning. And in this case, as against the piteous situation for public education, the schools will be lavishly funded and generously staffed.

Unrelenting control: ‘The government is committed to strengthening governance in our schools …’

If I had to pinpoint where Parata is most wrong, and where present-day education is most wrong, it is the obsession with governance and control. Of course, good governance settings whether from the government, the bureaucracies, and boards are crucial but what is good governance for schools?

A model has been developed from business and transmitted to schools by the government, the bureaucracies, school trustees association, and consultants. That conception of governance is the kind the review office applauds, finds easy to tick.  And, indeed, schools can be OK with such governance, especially if there is a deputy with a feeling for the curriculum to partially plug the gap.

Inspired governance comes not from managerialist texts but from an inspired understanding of the curriculum. It is not a matter of getting the approved form of school governance in position and the governance will, as a matter of course, look after the curriculum.

The governance Parata sees as the only kind, and the education review office, is managerialist. It is about hierarchy that functions on the belief it knows. It knows how education works; how it can be organised and standardised into unproblematic, manageable, and measurable parts; made utterly assured in its mission by the ideas of certain quantitative academics who also know. Curriculum-driven leadership is based on teacher knowledge interacting with other knowledges, on commonsense validated through informed experience, on the value of variety in education, on education as part of life in a social democracy, on identifying the essences of curriculum areas, on commitment to a broad-based curriculum as part of that, and on teaching and leadership being significantly an art.

The managerialist theory is dependent for its ascendancy on the provider capture theory being in place so that the teacher organisations are marginalised and public schools and teachers denigrated and scapegoated. Is it radical to say the essences of the broad-based curriculum, the characteristics to make them flourish in classrooms, should drive how schools are organised? It shouldn’t be but it is. The curriculum is the princess to the pea; the slightest discomfort being deeply felt.

Controlling by contracted services: ‘… we increased funding to the NZ School Trustees Association by 84% in budget 2013 and are in the process of centralising all authority for Board support in this body.’

The school trustees association is a despicable agency, almost totally aligned with the government, only fitfully raising a faint voice of protest as a cover for its nauseating snuggling up. The damage this group is doing to children’s learning is immense especially as a prime propagator of the destructive practice of managerialism.

Befuddlement: ‘Our work on governance establishes a more deliberate and strategic approach to how we will support parents and communities – the ‘demand side’ to improve student achievement if you like, along with the ‘supply side’ of better governance.’

In a sentence this explains why we are in such deep … shall I say mire? I always thought the demand side (if that term has to be used) arose from the children’s needs, with parents involved but also substantially trusting teachers, and the supply side came from principals and teachers with the board of trustees there for oversight  but also mainly substantially trusting teachers. That is the balance that works best in the interests of children; a balance now seriously out of kilter as a result of the stultifying grasp of control-based hierarchical management ideas.

Propaganda and dissembling: ‘We are already seeing good effect with our Intensive Wraparound Service, a new tailored approach to each individual young person and their carers. I am aware that we need to constantly improve our special education provision and will do so in better collaboration with the sector. A whole programme of activities is underway designed to ensure more children get support; higher quality teaching; better co-ordination between agencies; and more support for families when times get tough.’

Parata is able to proclaim such nonsense because she displays a near-genius ability to convince herself of it. It is utterly contradictory to an earlier part of her speech about the need ‘to slough off the current carapace of intervention’ but that gives her no pause.  She has deluded herself into becoming wonderfully unaware of the decline in funding for schools and forecasted to decline even further in real terms, and there is the wasteful cluster system to add in.

These are the ways Parata corrupts language and thought in interaction: Her reference to the good effect of the Intensive Wraparound Service is not borne out in practice but comes across with unhesitating sincerity ; when she says that she is ‘constantly aware of the need to improve special education’ that is really an admission that all is not well within it but to her not registered as such; the references to ‘better collaboration’, to a ‘whole programme of activities’, ‘higher quality teaching’, ‘better co-ordination’ is whistling in the wind but in her thinking of high significance; and the ‘more support for families when times get tough’ is really a reference to support being reined in – that’s neoliberal doublethink for you. If you look carefully at what she has said, there is an appearance of the government committing to increased funding for special education but in reality, no commitment at all – there is a reference to changes in organisation (a characteristic Parata ploy), then the rest of the responsibility is allocated to teachers and schools.

In her speech patterns there is continual evidence of thought corrupting language and, in turn, that language corrupting thought; a surrendering to words from practised dishonesty as against testing that honesty to find the words to express it. An effect that can become cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing in a cycle of deception and self-deception, the same effect in intensified form.

In a recent posting, ‘My last student visit’ , I said to the student I had visited, that at your tender age you have broken through to inspired teaching. Other people could have had the same specific experience, but it wouldn’t have resonated with them – with you it has.

I know the implications seem straightforward to you, but some people never get it.

One of the great books of the last century is, Stoner, a book published in 1965, recently rediscovered, and now a cult classic. Its author, John Williams, was interviewed late in his life. The book was about a humble, staid associate professor of English at the University of Missouri.

John Williams said of Stoner: ‘Some people may read the novel and think Stoner had such a sad and bad life. I think he had a very good life … He was doing what he wanted to do, he had some feeling for what he was doing, he had some sense of importance of the job he was doing. He was witness to values that are important … The important thing in the novel to me is Stoner’s sense of a job – a job in the good and honourable sense of the word. … It’s the love of the thing that’s essential. And if you love something, you’re going to understand it. And if you understand it, you are going to learn a lot. The lack of that love defines a bad teacher. … You never know all the results of what you do. … The important thing is to keep the tradition going, because the tradition is civilisation.’

I am not going to be crass and relate what John Williams has to say about Stoner to the behaviour of Hekia Parata. I hope, though, she takes the time to think it through. But then she won’t will she?

But I am going to relate what I said to the student to the behaviour of Hekia Parata. As a minister she doesn’t get it. That is not fatal in a minister of education but it is when that minister won’t listen and surrounds herself with a motley crew.

And I’m going to dedicate what Stoner said to all the wonderful teachers, principals, lecturers, and departmental people I have worked with over the years and who loved their job in the good and honourable sense of the word, and in loving the job came to understand it and learn a lot. A love that defined them as a good teacher – none of us knew the results of what we did. I agree, the important thing is to keep the tradition going, because the tradition is civilisation. They were witness to values that are important. And to be personal, in these dark days, that is what is keeping me going – being a witness to values that are important.

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12 Responses to Parata’s speech: mythmaking and distorting to say the least

  1. Audrey Jones says:

    A thorough thoughtful criticism as usual!

  2. Kelvin says:

    Hi! Audrey. Are you the Audrey Jones I know from way back?

  3. Bob Watt says:

    I’m glad I’m no longer teaching. Parata is a loose cannon. Her “reforms” are destructive and counterproductive to children learning. Excellent dissection of her diatribe.

  4. Bruce Hammonds says:

    Great summary of the twists and turns of Hekia Parata I hope it is read by all principals and teachers. The government, this term, will continue roll out their neo-liberal agenda
    By various means the expertise and voice of teachers are being squeezed out and as a result the holistic creative approach to learning will be side-lined.

    I heard Hekia on National Radio yesterday (17/11) talking about her IES school ‘collaboration’ scheme to be ‘enforced’ by chosen ‘super’ principals and teachers. Evidently a ‘dashboard of indicators is to be developed to show how well schools are educating their students. Compliance and conformity will be the result not diversity and creativity we need if we are to develop, then share, new ideas.

    She also mentioned (I think for the first time?) the idea that clusters of schools might share hard plant like science labs along the lines students in the past travelled to manual centres.
    With such moves in mind she might as well call principals site managers and teachers technicians!

  5. John Carrodus says:

    A sharp pointed dissertation as you throw your heart and soul into your subject – as we have come to expect! As I said some time ago, in this war, I’m glad you are on our side kelvin. I pity your targets recieving direct hits from your very smart bombs, Even when they brush aside your latest straffings, they fail to recognise that you have blown their rudder off! Like the Bismark, the good ship SS Command Education – under her Captain, will steam in ever increasing circles getting well beyond herself. Bruce, your comments above are spot on. The inclass interferrence model promoted by the super clusters and enforced by ERO, will no doubt be evaluated as the best way to brainwash primary teachers into the MacStandard’s dogma. I look forward to your next one up the spout Kelvin.

  6. kellyned says:

    Well said Kelvin.
    As for IWS being effective – bollocks! I have been told today that there is just 1 place available across the South Island for the allocation meeting today!
    Previously i understand there were 9 students qualifying for support across the top of the south – but no places for any of them. What does that mean? Schools struggle on with these highest of needs students or toss them out for the sake of their other school population.
    If that indicates a well functioning system then I must be speaking a different language!!
    Not in my book does that look anything like satisfactory.

  7. stephen dadelus says:

    we are being served up lies nested in lies.

    Kelvin you are so right. SHE JUST DOESNT GET IT!! she’s not alone, more’s the pity.

    The jester held court at the forum… they laugh at the jokes.. they applaud in unison… they bow.. they nod affirmation..yes yes yes minister they cry out… the band played on … an unholy show… they don’t sleep with poverty… the new masters of all they survey… shortsighted as they are and destitute of humanity… and the lunch was plentiful ..i bet you 😉

    “That time of year thou mayst in me behold,
    When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
    Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
    Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.”

    William Shakespeare: Sonnet 73

  8. Ros Powell says:

    Kelvin, so much to agree with here; it sure resonates with me. I like the way you talk about best practice and how the Parata standards are stifling teacher creativity and experimentation. I well remember how exciting it used to be as a classroom teacher to explore new ideas, and have worried for some years that there is just no time for this to be happening any more. The way Parata puts down principals and teachers in low decile schools is appalling and shows her ignorance and lack of interest about the issues around poverty and education.

  9. catharina mcnamara says:

    Have you noticed how the word ‘driven’ keeps repeating in the current NZ Education vocabulary?

    For sure, Hekia is mission driven – driven by successful professional practice, driven by
    successful outcomes…. driven I feel by the eduspeak of Harvard and its global education tentacles.

  10. Sandy Anderson says:

    Thank you Kelvin – while our daily work is trying to make a difference to each child in an holistic sense in our schools, because of the pressure to be all things to all people , we scarecely draw breath these days, which makes us not so politically active as perhaps we should be. That is quite simply due to exhaustion at the end of a day….. However, your timely postings make us realise that all those ” important defining moments we spend with our kids ” are being compromised by what is happening to us in the wider educational context,. and that awareness does strengthen our private resolve to hold the line, and continue to do what is right for our kids. !!!! Thank you for your advocacy. It means a lot. “Circling the wagons” protects us in this environment but for how long !!!!
    Sandy from HB

  11. Jon Land says:

    Ministers of Education have an interest in education until they are promoted. The usual criteria for success is that they have successfully denied teachers a pay rise during their period of tenure in the role. If and when Parata makes it to the next step up the ministerial ladder you can be sure her interest in education will end. Some of us spend our lives in education and our reward is to be accused of being the ones who are failing children. I have always found this sadly ironic.

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