I had hoped in an earlier posting that Denise Torrey would be our Moses but, on the evidence of the latest newsletter, while she is going to be terrific, she will not be our Moses.
What a beautifully written and structured newsletter – she really has it all, but, unfortunately, on the evidence of this newsletter, while it is easily the best newsletter of recent years, she won’t let go sufficiently to be free-spirited enough to challenge in a fundamental way. She continually flirts with the fundamentals then shies away. She is within touching distance but reverts to homilies.
Denise outlines problem after problem oh so cogently; she refers to the demoralising effect of the education reforms – but she speaks as if those problems and reforms arrived independently of each other from outer space. It’s a case of don’t mention neoliberalism, the New Right, or managerialism, because to do so, I suppose, means an alternative philosophy would have to put forward and fundamental change advocated.
There are, however, many excellent moments in her newsletter, the best of the best in the last paragraph when she speaks with warmth of NZEI and the kind of collaboration schools want and the efforts of NZEI to achieve just such collaboration in the Joint Initiative.
Denise then moves to Saturday’s Moot in Wellington and sets out her hopes for finding ways to lift Maori and Pasifika achievement.
I want to say that under the present system Denise, Maori and Pasifika will never achieve to the extent we all want. The present system values the wrong parts of learning and the wrong way to learn.
The worst moment in her newsletter is when she says: ‘ERO has demonstrated that when governance and leadership work together, it’s magic and the positive impact on student outcomes is significant …’
That is poppycock on so many levels.
There are so many things I want to say but I’ll say this:
From the early ‘90s, my magazine carried many pages detailing why the education review office was the main bureaucratic carrier of the Tomorrow’s School philosophy; also that while some of its functions were necessary for the working of an education system, its manner of performing them, whether necessary or not, was decidedly harmful to education in a democracy. The situation, though, is complex because there are good people in the education review office who do useful things in a kindly manner, serving in some respects to ameliorate a toxic environment but then, as history informs us, destructive institutions to function in the way they want to function require some good people for a facade.
The review office is pure Kafka: the relationship of school to review office is one of unpredictability and lack of accountability leading to an overall relationship based on fear that is often sublimated by schools furiously conforming to, even going beyond, review office expectations. But in the complex, value-laden environment of education, there is always more a school can do, so there is always pervasive that Kafkan dread of being guilty of grievous error, of something else that needs to be done, of who knows what? Unpredictability of review office behaviour can derive from the personality or mood of the review officer, a principal being prominent in the newspaper, a principal being associated with a different philosophy of education, or even just showing hints of it, a letter about the school residing in the review office’s secret file – there are multitudinous ways for the review office to put a school on the rack – and there is no accountability.
But the most dangerous part of the review office’s way of functioning is its anti-democratic way of deciding, without consultation with parents, teachers, or any representative consultation group, what curriculum areas should be emphasised, how teaching should be organised to minute detail, and how schools should be administered. The official curriculum in New Zealand primary education is now a document interpreted for meaning by an unaccountable centralised grouping (review office, ministry, and treasury) with the latest word often being spread through review office school visits. This centralised group invariably taking out of the official curriculum those parts making the curriculum easier to measure as a means of extending bureaucratic control.
The review office Denise is the reason for the following – you can talk all you like about this and that, but this (the following) is it:
Many of the current errors in practice and theory in school education derive from an obsession with certainty. Small parts of learning attached to an array of objectives are being organised for learning in the belief that those small parts will somehow come together to form a coherent whole in children’s thinking – but they won’t and can’t because children’s learning processes aren’t contained in a machine but a human body. Sets of behavioural objectives on paper (or anywhere else) have miniscule education standing in comparison with the myriad complexity of cognitive learning pathways. The attempt to mechanise learning serves to fragment learning – reducing its meaningfulness, obstructing genuine accomplishment, and reducing motivation. The destructive effect on learning is seen more often and most strongly in boys, and children from lower socio-economic groups – and more apparent, in cumulative and latent effect, when children move to secondary school.
All best for the moot.