Why are the writers of review office indicators so angry?

The riddle referred to in the introduction is that the main ideas, some of the main lines. and some of the metaphors (for instance, the looking-glass) come from A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. It is a feminist book; it is also a literature of genius – and one of the most influential books I have read. In my edition the part referred to starts at page 50. The irony becomes clear as you read on in the posting.

Why are the writers of the School Evaluation Indicators so angry? The five principal writers, the chief review officer, and two important contributors, have combined to produce a document that is driven by anger. I would point out that all of the eight involved are women and, except for the chief review officer, academics. (Please note, that I would have made a similar observation if the involvement had been all men.) There is an irony in this on what follows, but that is for readers to work out. There is a riddle in this posting that I will leave readers to respond to in the Comments’ section.

Before I trace the source of that anger, I need to say in passing, that this is a shallow, unworkable, devious, and cruel document – one that should be interpreted in Kafkan terms of labyrinthine bureaucracy and psychological brutality. This posting, however, is not an analysis of the document but a search for the fountainhead; and that fountainhead is anger.

I am not blaming the chief review officer for the document; she is clearly caught up in currents beyond her ken and control – and I mean no disrespect by this (neoliberal education policy being to blame), she could just as well have been a monkey (reduced to a cypher by understandable ignorance).

The abiding impression left in the document is an element of heat. A heat that takes many forms: it shows itself in language, sentiment, reprobation, and condescension. But there is another element present that could not be immediately identified. And it was anger: an anger that has gone underground and mixed itself with all kinds of emotion and characteristics. To judge from its tortuous effects, it was anger disguised and complex, not anger simple and open.

What is the real nature of what I call, for the moment, their anger, from whence did it come?

The way the writers were appointed may provide a pointer. I contemplate the signals of conformity to government policy sent out by academics in articles and comments prior to their appointment. They are at least accepting of the idea of teachers being prevented from having a genuinely representative voice in decision making. There they are, accepting appointment to a group from which teachers (as representing the voice of teachers) are excluded.

There they are, being listened to and lauded by the hierarchy and political elite. There they are, proposing systems and ideas which teachers have cried out please don’t do this – the systems and ideas won’t work to the benefit of our professionalism and children’s welfare; they will restrict our freedom to act to be imaginative and innovative. Can’t you see? we, the teachers, are being excluded; we are groaning under the burden of scorn and cat-to-mouse pawing.

But you are now the neoliberal powerful; you are academia not of truth, but of propaganda.

You are everywhere, and everything – we are made to feel nothing – yet you are angry, I can feel it.

I read anger in everything you write. There is anger in the way we are the disappeared – disappeared by fantastical jargon, enveloping abstractness, grotesque tokenism, vomit-inducing cover of Maori concepts, and the game of lies.

When I read in the document what you mean about teachers (oh so slyly embedded), I thought not of what you were saying, but of yourselves. The academic distancing doesn’t fool me; the so-called indisputable proofs you use to establish your argument show evident traces of demanding that the results should be one thing rather than another. In this is demonstrated your anger.

You could only have taken on your hierarchical position, a position that you know excludes the true participation of teachers, if you considered teachers as inferior – as needing to have things forced on them for their own good.

Mephistopheles and Faust is an eternal part of the human condition and is here expressed (not from your point-of-view, of course).

But you know you are going to be criticised; your knowledge challenged; your fitness for the task and questioned; and your motivations besmirched. No, no, no, you say, I am doing the right thing for the right reasons; how dare you question us, take away from us – and you are angry at the contemplation.

The political context is now that you have become nabobs of education. In accepting the hierarchical position – that is a given. You have indicated to our neoliberal political leaders by signs large and small that you accept the neoliberal tenets. Some of you have sent signs in writing, in resounding absence and silence, in speaking out in favour of some change, or against change suggested by others (especially the teacher organisations). So there you are representing neoliberal education power, and to do this you must appear very knowing, and especially where you aren’t, that is, in how schools work, how they really work.

You are now shouldering great power. Such power calls for confidence in oneself. Without self-confidence you would collapse in a heap.  And how did you generate this imponderable quality, which is yet so invaluable, but was needed as a result of ascension to power.

The generation of that quality is timeless in the fact – it is done by thinking that other people are inferior to oneself; by feeling that one has some innate superiority. Hence the enormous importance to those who wield power, have access to it, of feeling that great numbers of people are inferior to oneself.  This, in human behaviour, is one of the greatest sources of power – and misuse of it.

This, of course, has been, and still is (but to a reducing extent), the secret of male dominance. Women have served all those centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size. This, I suggest, explains in part the necessity that women are so often to men. This also explains the anger in men under the criticism of women. How restless and they are under their criticism. For when she begins to tell the truth, the figure in the looking-glass, his fitness for life is diminished. How can he go on ruling the world unless he can see himself at least as twice the size he really is? And that has been a source of anger leading to the persecution and belittlement of women – of disappearing them.

And here we have, our academics and others, with that power. The looking-glass is of supreme importance to them because it charges the vitality; it stimulates the nervous system. It enables them to speak with that confidence, that self-assurance, which through the years has had such profound consequences in public life and led to such curious notes in the margin of the private mind.

And the consequences for the review office document is one of underlying anger; you couldn’t help yourself, because that which you were hoarding, as a rich person hordes wealth, you were concerned might be taken from you – that attendant sprite on power.

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4 Responses to Why are the writers of review office indicators so angry?

  1. Kelvin says:

    The riddle referred to in the introduction is that the main ideas, some of the main lines. and some of the metaphors (for instance, the looking-glass) come from ‘A Room of One’s Own’ by Virginia Woolf. It is a feminist book; it is also a literature of genius – and one of the most influential books I have read. In my edition the part referred to starts at page 50.

  2. Kelvin says:

    HI Kelvin: Thank you for this. It is powerful and strident and spot on and so bloody sad cause it’s so bloody true!!!!
    I’m about to spend the evening with John Powell, one of my favourite authors, and after flipping thru the library copy of his book several times I kept coming across phrases that shout out categorical inequality, and misuse of power. His writing on privilege is superb too.
    So thank you!!!!

  3. Ah, Kelvin! If only I were a smoker I’d have a toke or two of whatever you are on… though beneath the smoke lays the truth. Some of us still bound within the system may be aware of the neo-liberal agenda but sadly many are not. Most of us that really need to both heed and read your musings sadly do not. All of us are concerned with survival, swimming daily in deep pools of performativity and managerialism, troubled by day-to-day minutiae whilst trying to make a difference for every child.

    The mere thought of a future-ERO critiquing an individual teacher performance or evaluating an attestation against whatever the RTCs or Professional Standards might become fills me with dread. For ERO to become the para-military wing of the MoE, as STA has, defies any sense common or otherwise. Beeby’s paradise will indeed be lost but perhaps not for ever. For it is foretold…

    I offer a glimmer of hope: Turkey. We may still vote for Christmas here in NZ but elsewhere President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s plans to change the constitution and extend his grip on power have proven futile. When politicians overreach themselves their hands are chopped off. It takes time. One more electoral cycle in NZ should do it.

    There is Little on the horizon to ameliorate the current scourge of right-wing belligerence but another leader will emerge to begin the re-balancing of the country and, with luck, the profession.

    As an educational leader I am often asked by teachers why we are not considered as professionals by parents and politicians: perhaps we should begin acting as such.

  4. Kelvin says:

    Witty and insightful. Thanks Steve.

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