A transcendent education clarion call: clicks unbroken for hours

The response to ‘Mathematics: here is the answer’ had the feel of something wondrous: it was remarkable to observe the clicks unbroken for hours.

Mathematics: here is the answer

On June 10, 2015, readers of a networkonnet posting communicated a message that had the feel of a transcendent education clarion call.

Yes – I was pleased with the posting sent out; I thought it would be warmly received, but considered, from the readers’ point-of-view, that it carried the burden of being too practical, too eminently workable. At courses, teachers will flock to hear, say, the wonderful Ken Robinson, who in presentations is entertaining, inspirational, and idealistically spot-on. But a somewhat hidden key to his popularity is the non-confrontational and indirect way he works his way around what teachers might do on their return to school. I absolutely understand why teachers enjoy the uplifting and enjoyable Ken Robinson message and accept my downmarket role of being someone who focuses on ‘this is something you can do’ or perhaps more accurately ‘these are things you should not do to allow you to do the things you should do’. A message, I accept, that will only be welcome of me and others when teachers feel sufficiently free to shape programmes according to their judgement and intuitions, not review office directives.

As a result, the response to ‘Mathematics: here is the answer’ had the feel of something wondrous.

It was remarkable to observe the clicks unbroken for hours. The usual response is from 500 to 1000, on this occasion it was over 3000.

It was written with no such expectation. A message was being communicated in return, but what?

The centre-piece of the posting was a school’s mathematics programme based on holistic principles and around which I contributed an holistic context.

Perhaps what preceded the posting had something to do with the huge response?

The day before we had the grubby manoeuvrings by Hekia Parata linked to the launching of the New Zealand Initiative publication on mathematics and the toxic atmosphere that was engendered.

Before, in parliamentary question time, Parata, with a smirk on her face, said as far as the basics were concerned, everything in the garden was rosy. Chris Hipkins, she hee-hawed, was envious and just didn’t like success.

But next day, in association with the launching of the Initiative publication, she felt able to say ‘There’s a problem with maths in New Zealand and it is the fault of teachers.’

For Parata it is all a huge joke. This is what education has become, a playground for ideological games with Parata the playground bully and Peter Hughes her dogsbody Baldrick.

Rose Patterson is credited with being the main author of the hotchpotch that is the New Zealand Initiative report, but the driver of the message was John Morris, former principal of Auckland Grammar. He is one of architects of IES (which is what the mathematics report is mainly about) and of EDUCANZ; one of Parata’s key advisers; and the main source of education information for the editors of the New Zealand Herald. 

When the Initiative report came out, the ministry already had its website organised to highlight the need for IES and EDUCANZ as a way of solving the mathematics problem.

The exclusion of teacher voice from decision making, now brutally characterised by EDUCANZ,  is why primary school education mathematics is in a tailspin (along with the rest of the curriculum); and why that tailspin is impossible of righting. EDUCANZ’s increased control over schools will derive from the newly developed review office indicators and the intention to have an intensive appraisal system imposed on schools. A crucial link here is that of Claire Sinnema, who is part of developing the indicators for the review office, and central to the invidious appraisal system for EDUCANZ.

So concern for mathematics was in the air and a sense that the government was using mathematics failure to increase its ideological control over schools rather putting in a genuine effort to improve the curriculum area – and here was a posting from a website asserting it had the answer.

Regular readers then read the posting and seemed to have been convinced of its argument, which is why, I suggest, the word spread to tumultuous effect.

In the posting the reasons why numeracy was on the slide were listed; with the implication being that by avoiding these reasons, mathematics programmes would become holistic, based on problem-solving, and thereby lifted:

  • The common practice of cross-grouping cutting mathematics off from the rest of the class programme
  • The resentment by children of the cross-grouping
  • The heavy emphasis on grouping in the first place
  • The way children in the top group receive a better deal than children in the other groups, thus making ability grouping a self-fulfilling placement of children
  • The way grouping and cross-grouping impede relating mathematics to real life applications
  • The teaching becoming routine because of a lack of attention to problem solving
  • A sense of teachers not being sufficiently on top of things to be able to provide cohesion – not being able to go backward (to concepts taken) and forward (to concepts to be taken) in mathematical references
  • Strategies being used in heavy-handed manner
  • The lack of integration of numeracy with curriculum mathematics
  • A severe drop in lively discussion – time pressures, you see
  • The use of unmediated, downloaded teaching units
  • The need for more ancillary aide help (the recent  review office criticism of the use of teacher aides can be interpreted as providing support for the government policy of cutting back on funding for them)
  • National standards.

Information from a school programme then described the holistic ways a school followed to set up its mathematics.

Any open-minded primary school teacher who read the programme described in the posting would sense that given the freedom to implement it – it would work.

But there the rub – the freedom wasn’t there, and now with EDUCANZ and Claire Sinnema’s appraisal system; and the even more restrictive review office indicators – the already limited freedom available is set to be ravaged again.

In the bifurcation from Point Dot, the branch that represents measurable objectives and tighter hierarchical control, is to be even further extended. This branch gained damaging preponderance in 1990, serving to fix measurable objectives on primary school education, and a philosophy that put power into the hands of people distant from classrooms, people ideologically driven to their own power advantage. These politicians, bureaucrats, and academics, acted unrelentingly and unethically to make forgotten the other bifurcation branch of education, the one based on aims, discovery, and democracy.  (For a healthy education system both bifurcation branches should have an assured and respected place in education for teachers and administrators to choose from.)

It was this other bifurcation branch – the one severely disadvantaged in 1990 – that received a rapturous response in the posting, that readers recognised as the truth, the way forward, the basis for education for the 21st century.

That posting went on to say:

Under managerialism (the Tomorrow’s Schools’ period), no curriculum initiative has succeeded, and no curriculum initiative will succeed. How could any curriculum initiative succeed given the curriculum knowledge, or lack of it, endemic amongst its developers and sponsors? How could it succeed given that the teachers whose task it is to put it into practice are excluded from its development on the grounds of protecting education from teachers’ supposed self-interest?

This brings this sad story to the nub: any curriculum initiative, for instance, the numeracy project, comes loaded with unworkable and undesirable features. The only way the numeracy programme could have been made to work was if teachers felt free enough to colonise it, but teachers, for reasons explained above, did not feel free enough to colonise it, do not free enough to colonise it, and now even less so. Under managerialism, it is not teachers who colonise curriculum initiatives (and the curriculum generally for that matter), but the education review office.

And to this message, the readers, of what appeared to me to be just another posting, responded to in considerable numbers.

There is a message in this for teacher organisations, academics, and bureaucrats, to all in education – that message is the need for policy and debate to be based on the Point Dot bifurcation concept: in particular a recognition of that other branch, the near forgotten one – forgotten except deep down in the hearts and minds of teachers – the one touched by a posting that was sent out on June 10, 2015.

At any meeting on school education, any contact with the ministry, education review office, when the message seems all to be all about measurement and objectives, the cry should go out – What about the other bifurcation branch, the one based on aims, discovery, and democracy; how is that to be recognised and made available to teachers as a way of proceeding?

It was there in 1980s, why not in 1990s?

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