The vote in favour of clusters represents a defeat for the holistic in education, also my advocacy. Yes – the organisation of the ballot was a slanted farce, and I think principals mainly voted the way they did so as not to be left beleaguered. But the vote for clusters was a significant victory for the government and points to a deepening of neoliberalism. For me, it means I am pushed further to the fringes and my voice weakened.
I am disappointed but not at all bitter. Where we are educationally is of absolutely no surprise to me. In 2010, at the Wellington conference of the South Island Intermediate and Middle Schools, I concluded by saying that:
There won’t be decisive change for the better until, sometime in the future, New Zealand faces a crisis, probably a combination of the economic, social, and moral. In the meantime, we should courageously put forward ideas that are consistent with education in a democracy – that is the holistic – prepare the way for those ideas, and be ready to act decisively when the occasion allows.
All we can do, I believe, is slow down the decline we are witnessing by opposing the characteristics of scientific management, exposing the myth of the academic expert, proposing alternative ways, and campaigning for a fairer society.’
In saying this, the outcome predicted was not inevitable. What has happened needn’t have happened, indeed, history is substantially a record of what happened but needn’t have. It is a very human response to move urgently to describe something as inevitable as a way of excusing ourselves.
The teacher organisations, for all their occasional bleats of resistance and spasms of hostility, are in a comfortable relationship with the government – head offices together – indeed, the teacher organisations are increasingly acting as an extension of government. They are, in combination, an enemy of a balanced distribution of power characteristic of a properly functioning education system in a democracy. The central difficulty is that teacher organisations lack a philosophy from which their actions can cohere in systematic opposition to the government’s unremitting neoliberal one. Because the teacher organisations lack an alternative philosophy their criticism of the government’s actions rings hollow, lacks the resonance to be sustained, comes across as mere carping.
The teacher organisations have deserted the holistic philosophy, a philosophy that, at base, rests on partnership and trust and, inch-by-inch, migrated to the government one of command and propaganda-think. The leaders seem to lack the intellectual firepower or is it a desire to work things out for themselves? they react but never strike out on the democratic path of the holistic. In the neoliberal, power keeps aggregating upwards; in the holistic, power keeps dispersing downwards. One senses a fear in the leaders for their life after leadership, for opportunities being restricted in appointment to cosy government committees or senior education positions – but above all, one senses within them a belief there is no alternative.
The leadership of teacher organisations come across as suffering from battered teacher leadership syndrome and in Orwellian fashion as having co-operated in the past being made forgotten.
The teacher organisations have lost their ability to be horrified and outraged at what is happening in education, too numbed, confused, and dazed, I think, to be able to entertain the idea there is another way.
If the leaderships struck out on their own that would mean they would have to get out amongst the membership, develop their own thinking, and draw their power and status from the membership and, at the same time, empower that membership to act in the long-term for what is best for education. Instead, the leaderships prefer to draw their power and status from so-called deals with the government, from the government’s thinking, which really represents a slide to an increasingly command education system.
EDUCANZ is an education horror, but an NZEI executive member is on it; so what does that mean? Fighting EDUCANZ should be uncompromising yet, somehow pretty little arguments are devised that signal submission. EDUCANZ provides the context for a fetid swamp of other little groupings and practices. Take as a minor example the Advisory Group on Early Learning and its carefully selected members that, in combination, can be relied on, like all these groupings, to produce outcomes sympathetic to government policy. The latest one being a recommendation for children to start schooling in staged groupings. This wrong and educationally harmful decision for children was done just like that. This is how the command system works: becomes normalised, made acceptable, also how teachers are relegated to the outer reaches and children’s education degraded.
The following paragraph expresses the holistic, the opposite of the command system, and could be used as a touchstone to guide the teacher organisations in their long-term policy:
The education of children is problematic and value-laden. For the integrity of the education system, the various groups within it need to be free, willing, and able to argue and even, at times, obstruct the ideas and actions of other groups. There never has been and never will be a set of aims and related processes that have met, or will meet, the needs of all children within a system, or be agreed to by all those within a system. Power should be shared throughout the education system, and various checks and balances be in place to stop it becoming too concentrated. It is only in this way that children will gain some protection from the vagaries of educational and political ideas and the human drive to control and dominate. The powerlessness of the young, the fact of them being young, makes school-children tempting targets for those who want to turn schools into battlegrounds for competing visions of what society ought to be. Teachers are unsettled by the possibility of curriculum and administrative ideas being able to be passed quickly down the hierarchical chain without those ideas requiring teacher involvement at all stages of their development. The best ideas for education come from teachers and those close to teachers. The part of the education system that is important to teachers is the part close to them. The part further away has the capacity to do much harm, but little capacity to do much good. The nature of the education system should be to protect teachers from hastily conceived ideas – no matter their potential benefits. Good ideas are only good if the process for their development has been good. The last thing teachers want is the kind of efficiency that has someone in the hierarchy having an idea, and then using the chain of command to force it on them without due process.
As referred to above, teacher organisations, in relation to their members, are aping the government bureaucracies. Decisions are made in head offices, supported by heavy propaganda, and imposed on memberships in the guise of democracy.
What do you make of the following letter? I know the leadership can get on its high horse, but there is, I suggest, a fair amount of truth in it.
Yes it certainly seems we are being groomed for a tolerance for things Orwell could not have believed.
I thought you’d find it amusing that at the Wellington NZEI meeting I was at a few weeks ago your name was taken in vain. The NZEI rep after asking for questions on conclusion of her information regarding the Communities of Learning vote got a few curly ones which generated a few more, as they do.
She then said (in her booming voice) ‘put your hand up [really!] if you’ve been looking at Kelvin Smythe on FB.’ No-one did (no children being present!) and in my case not wanting to distract from the questioning).
She then asked again and commented that ‘well, it wasn’t something to take notice of’ (this is an approximation as I can’t recall her exact words).
An outrageous quelling of opinion I thought. It seems bullying culture is the new normal.
The vote was indeed rushed. I went around to the people around me asking if they knew what IES meant – they didn’t. I pointed out that we were being asked to vote on something we didn’t really understand, either in substance or ramifications. I think for many though (the vote was 19 against, 99 in favour) it was a case of lets spin this slightly better option out as long as we can before the government version is imposed on us.
Have a good break.
This, by the way, is exactly where I was when Tomorrow’s Schools began 25 years ago – on the outer – and NZEI acting like a government bureaucracy; an extension of government.
It wasn’t inevitable!