Maori plan is egregious education and aberrant democracy

This situation with 21st century curriculum development is unconscionable: we have the 2008 curriculum; the ministry mainly ignoring it and making it up in the name of national standards and controlling teachers; the education review office doing the same but imposing it in trash-talk style; the private providers adding their twist to it; and the Education Council coming in over the top with more regulation and bureaucratic procedures – and no one speaking up for teachers. The NZEI president doesn’t because she doesn’t see (it seems) the curriculum as her business or sticking up for children and teachers in a way that matters, and the senior NZEI staff because they are all strategy and little classroom reality; and a Labour Party education spokesperson doesn’t because I don’t think there is one. Labour, as the party that began it all back in 1991, surely owes it to teachers and children to stop tinkering with anti-neoliberal ideas here and there and have the gumption to change the structure that is the fundamental source for them.

Now we have the education review office’s grossly miseducative Maori plan. The review office and the ministry have reduced Te Kotahitanga and then landed all that Maori social and economic disadvantage, expressed as education disadvantage, on schools without even a how-do-you-do. Nevertheless, the education review office Maori policy is sure to be a success National-government style: a bucket of snakes for education – a magnum of champagne for spin. Yeah-howw! will go Parata – that will stop the calls for spending money on that part of education.

Drop a bundle of objectives on Maori children on top of the seven or eight hundred objectives already there; then some beautiful Maori concepts – to be nauseously tarnished by the association – into this base mix; threaten (by implication) schools with sanctions if they don’t make them a success (make them a ‘success’ or else), call it evidence-based – and bobs-your-uncle.

Never in all my years in schools have I heard such a universal excoriation of an education policy.

The idea won’t work, can’t work.

The review office, though, has said the idea has worked elsewhere, indeed, that the research showed that the children concerned had made up years of learning in a short time – rubbish. The evidence, if they are willing to put it forward, won’t prove that. If it exists will have come from a school in some unlikely place; or been learning, vulnerable to drilling; or been from a limited part of the curriculum concerned; or from a formal curriculum; or undertaken in laboratory conditions; or been tested soon after an education sugar rush was administered; or not had the ‘progress’ sustained; or not been tested for whether it was sustained; or been undertaken with a low teacher-class ratio; or not been replicated.

Remember, the framework also has to be near identical, that is, imposed across a system and with no genuine increase in funding.

Show us the quoted research Iona.

There is a central issue to all this, that if not addressed by the teacher organisations and its members, nothing else matters, and if addressed, nothing that matters won’t be. The essence of neoliberal education is the exclusion of genuine teacher representation from policy development and implementation on the basis that teacher representation would, through self-interest, contaminate policy.

Action against this is what I am demanding of teacher organisations and political parties.

The charge of self-interest is, of course, a nonsensical one as self-interest is an inherent human behaviour, indeed one crucial to survival. Any people assembled for a purpose must therefore be, as a part of their behaviour, self-interested. Why should teachers be excluded on those grounds, when it is a characteristic of all? The distinction might be made, is made, that the self-interest of an individual is different from the self-interest of an organisation as represented by an individual. Without going much further into this, and now referring specifically to a group considering an education policy, there will always be other organisations represented at such groupings (various government elements for a starter), why omit teacher organisations? the very organisations closest to children; and when the government selects teachers as individuals, the self-interest of those individuals should come under scrutiny: the consideration has to be made how far they align themselves with the always pre-eminent organisation on such occasions, the government.

Self-interest as a result should not be the defining issue for who should be, and in what form (individual or organisational), at education policy development meetings. Meetings have procedures to handle human behaviour, not least, ways to accommodate disagreement.  Membership should be decided on what an organisation or person can contribute to the aims of a meeting – for education policy meetings, teacher organisations should be there as of right and because of what is right.

There is the overarching matter of social and political context – we live in a democracy and an education policy meeting should be there to do the best for teachers and children.

As such, there should be recognition and acceptance that 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, protest against 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 it.

There isn’t anybody who knows.

Power should be shared throughout the education system, and various checks and balances 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 uncompromising 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.

And such a lamentable process is what has occurred with the education review office’s Maori plan. The inevitable outcome egregious education and aberrant democracy. An example, I suggest, of untempered self-interest on the part of the leadership of the education review office to protect and further their careers. Yes, I know – what choice did they have? which is exactly why genuine teacher representation is vital – vital to resisting burgeoning  bureaucratic autocracy, and to resuscitating faltering education democracy – which is exactly why they didn’t have one. There should be a vigorous and sustained campaign of non-cooperation with government policy that refuses teacher organisation representation on that policy’s development and implementation. And, as decided, that to be extended to non-cooperation generally without representation always.

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9 Responses to Maori plan is egregious education and aberrant democracy

  1. Roger Young says:

    An excellent article Kelvin. You have described accurately what is causing the problems in education today. If only we had some of your thinking in the Ministry and in NZEI.
    As any principal worth his/her salt will tell you a principal has to look after the teachers in order to look after the children. The Government needs to recognise that all its talk about helping students learn won’t work if it abuses the people carrying out the tasks….the teachers.

  2. Bruce Hammonds says:

    Couldn’t agree more Kelvin. I understand how difficult it is for individual schools to confront the compliance requirements of the Ministry of (Mis) Education and their accomplices the Education Review Office.

    But you would hope teacher and principal organizations would confront such politically inspired policies. Isn’t that why they were formed?

    If it not possible to confront such destructive policies then democracy has been lost.

    The last NZPPF conference, as reported in their magazine , couldn’t have made the attack on democratic education clearer.

    The Ministrys ‘one size fits all’ model reflects the current governments approach to all aspects of the public sector – those that haven’t been privatized.Evidence based on narrow targets – in education National Standards.

    We need a Bernie Sanders in NZ to confront the failed business/ corporate approach to what passes for democracy.

    Have to admire your courage Kelvin confronting those who seem intent on destroying any creativity that is left in ourban system . A lonely but loud voice.

    Isn’t it time for regional teacher and principal organisations to stand up. Communities of schools based on sharing teacher creativity rather than the current model which is the Ministrys way of making schools conform. Can’t believe their are schools involving themselves. They remind me of collaborators in Nazi controlled France

    • russell1 says:

      Quite right Bruce. The tragedy of it all is that (at least in my region) some of the professional leaders actually think neo-liberal etc is actually the right way to go.

  3. Paul Tegg says:

    Absolutely agree Bruce and having just listened to YONG ZHAO presentation and how National Standards and the government’s narrow focus and prescription on literacy and numeracy has diminished the vision and values of the 2007 revised NZC

  4. Kelvin says:

    Thanks Bruce. I needed that.

  5. Kelvin says:

    A northern principal declares: Hear, hear, I say! No co-operation without representation.

  6. Kelvin says:

    A Waikato principal writes: Yes, it is all a big mess isn’t it! We had an ERO review under the new set up and with some luck got a good report, but what a minefield the whole thing is at the moment. I am slightly amused that the acronym CoL (Community of Learning) will quickly become CoC (Community of Control), which will have a much closer ring of reality to the way the acronym is pronounced. Thanks Kelvin.

  7. Roger Young says:

    Next it will be a Community of Control Under Privatisation.
    Cant wait for the acronym…

  8. Bruce Hammonds says:

    I fear you are right Russell. There are managerial type principals who have fallen in line with the neo liberal ideology. Worse still many just go along with it to be seen as successful.Many must know it is wrong but haven’t the courage to stand up to it -the teacher unions and principal organisations ought to be doing this!.

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