After all, who am I talking to who can do anything?

Reflecting on the children of the poor posting I realised it was pretty good; might even be the best I’ve written.

In my younger days I would have polished off something of that length by lunch, this posting took me to tea and an edit next day. It was reassuring to find something there when I dug.

Its effect struck me when watching Monday Breakfast on TVNZ 1, being John Key’s morning: there was his rationalisation for the tax cuts; support for surveillance of the poor; and children with special needs being informally excluded from schools (Key said helping the poor was all about education and NCEA showed results improving).

It was eerie. I felt cold.

Key came across to me as menacing and Orwellian, Big Brother from Airstrip One.

My own posting had heightened my own perception of the world.

Would this be a good moment to call it a day I pondered, go out on something of a high; well at least a slightly elevated position?

Was the current environment even one in which I could make a difference?

Do those involved wonder where this is all heading?

For guidance I thought back to a talk to the South Island Intermediate and Middle Schools Conference, held in Wellington, 2010, on the corruption of the education system – my final comment was not one of hope:

‘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 that circumstance, we should be ready with some ideas, carefully considered ideas, for a better way of going about things. In the meantime, especially in education, power structures being the way they are, we must expect that education will be increasingly unsatisfying for children and disappointing for society (both economically and spiritually). This will be especially so in New Zealand which doesn’t receive the lavish funding, say, UK, Australian, or American schools have received; and poverty increases with its flow-on education effects. All we can do, I believe, is slow down the decline by opposing the characteristics of scientific management, by exposing the myth of the academic expert, proposing alternative ways, and campaigning for a fairer society.’

Haven’t I said everything I wanted to say or could say?

After all, who am I talking to who can do anything?

With networkonnet I’m talking mainly to principals who even if they cared, are not in a position to do much about it, there’s an understandable paralysis there.

In my magazine days (1990-1999), Developmental Network Magazine went to nearly all primary schools and I talked directly to teachers – it felt very real.

NZEI, including the new president, is seriously compromised, I have absolutely no confidence in that bumbling, mildly corrupt organisation; NZPF will have a more steadfast president next year but is morally and intellectually moribund in most districts – acting as if a propaganda arm of government – where are the competing ideas?; Tracey Martin is a hero but doesn’t quite get to the vital bedrock that is the curriculum and classrooms; Chris Hipkins is a tentative near invisible player, sans ideas, drive, or imagination. And the kind of academics of yesteryear who spoke out so effectively, are greatly reduced in number.

And then there is the mortification of watching hundreds of millions of dollars being wasted on clusters.

Is this the ten-year syndrome and time for a break? (See below.) Is this that kind of situation?

It was 1999, that is ten years of the magazine, and I was speaking to a group of principals. My main message was that given the morally and ethically complex times ahead, principals, in doing what they had to do, needed to do that, but on the understanding that they retained, as part of their thinking, the idea that much of what they had to do was not in the best interests of children. They needed to make that distinction for their own integrity, and to be willing and able to challenge that which was not in the best interests of children when opportunities arose. I looked into the principals’ eyes and saw incomprehension, diversion, and glaze. (Interestingly, at the back of the room, there were some senior teachers, eyes alive with getting it.)

I thought OK, this could be the right time, why not? and I decided to end the magazine – and take a break.

Then in 2007, with the prospect of a National government and my deepest fears for education about to become a reality, I took the computer dragon by the tail and set up networkonnet.

And here we are ten years later.

The difference is another break of seven years would take me well past my use-by or even my being-there date, so I probably have to take my own advice proffered at the 2010 conference:

‘All we can do, I believe, is slow down the decline by opposing the characteristics of scientific management, by exposing the myth of the academic expert, proposing alternative ways, and campaigning for a fairer society.’

In other words, stop whingeing and get on with it.

However, if in the future I come across as a grumpy old man let me know and I’ll call it a day; as an angry man also let me know, but be warned, that will only act as an encouragement.

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4 Responses to After all, who am I talking to who can do anything?

  1. Kelvin says:

    An Auckland academic wrote: Hi wonderful interview with Peter O’Connor this morning on 9-noon about his work with Palestinian teachers in Jordan. As well as his passion for drama there was a fabulous line about the arts and education – he said the arts ‘startle us into thinking’. He quoted Dewey about the purpose of education – for living, rather than jobs or as a precursor to later life. Worth a listen on RNZ on demand.

    • John H says:

      It is so good to hear people talking about education in this way. Or, in fact, to be even talking about education, as opposed to misappropriating that term to describe something much less humanising and organic. How ironic it is to be living in the so-called information age when we are all but drowning in misinformation.

  2. Kelvin says:

    Beautifully put John. Hooray for you.

  3. Mike Shennen says:

    Kelvin one of the best articles I have read recently was called ‘Read this when you’re tired of everything’ on a ‘brightside me’ website.Hope it has some useful points for you.Last night our neighbour, after working all day as a builder,worked on his house until 11pm as he needed to pass a building inspection for his in-progress house renovations today.He went to work as usual today and needless to say he is buggered! Yet that is just one night for him…. whereas those hours are probably a usual routine for you as you work for all that is right and good in education on behalf of so many of us.No wonder you get tired now and then!!

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