While what follows may look somewhat distant from the content of Part 1, the intention is to embolden one of the teacher organisations to act decisively against communities of learning (government-imposed local institutions) by looking back so that mistakes of the past are both corrected and not repeated. It is also a brief discourse on education leadership as a spur to action.
The move to neoliberal economics by the David Lange government making deep and pervasive poverty inevitable, was not destined to happen; neither was the move to neoliberal education in putting school education into decline. Under the guise of Tomorrow’s Schools, what happened in education needn’t have happened. All it needed was leaders who possessed an understanding of education beyond that of running a school, or who listened to those who did have, or been able and willing to lift themselves to the world of ideas. What happened in education needn’t have happened or continued to happen, but there is apparent in human personality, a weakness, a fatal flaw if expressed in leadership, to perceive the past as a certainty, thus removing the need to challenge its effects in the present. To perceive the past in that way, in this case in education, is to remove the need to establish and understand origins that if examined would expose the reasons for the aridity, fear, fantastic bureaucratisation, embedded failure, and a strain of viciousness that characterises our current education system.
To be serious about the present there is a need in teacher leadership to be serious about the past to accept that things might have been different. It seems me that a caricatured idea of the past has been thoughtlessly passed on, or assumed for leadership comfort, about where education has come from, resulting in naïve trust in authority. In reality, though, it is a fear-ridden, stressful, Kafkan battle out there with teachers and children going under and education leaders blithely, in public expression anyway, riding the waves.
Neoliberal education needn’t have happened – what on earth possessed Lange to hand over education to that ideology? and needn’t continued to have happened. What we need now from our leadership, that didn’t happen then, and is desperately needed now, are ideas that hit the philosophical mark and are persisted with – that is what we are crying out for. The idea of government-imposed local institutions being put forward under the guise of communities of learning should have been opposed from the beginning, opposed with the ideas derived from a wide view of education, from our education culture, if it had been, this extension of government control would have eventually faltered and failed. Communities of learning are where Tomorrow’s Schools were always going to go, that is to a more advanced even more virulent and extreme form of them, exhibiting even more control, hermeticism, bureaucratisation, and imposition.
The bureaucratising of education for control has been so pervasive that it seems to have overwhelmed the consciousness of those being controlled. There is now an overarching of bureaucracy from the ministry in Wellington, the education review office, the Education Council, the various consultative committees, the ministry and review office representations in the district, the government-imposed local institutions (so-called communities of learning) and, increasingly private education providers. Through the control of appointments to the government-imposed local institutions, and patronage of principals who display loyalty to the bureaucracies, the government is also increasingly controlling appointments to schools. The ministry and review office work together to put down any troublesome principals and have recently formed a head office structure to regularise control of government-imposed local institutions. Throughout the system fear abounds though it is often sublimated by principals, their obeisance so base that fear of sanction removed.
The naivety, surely, must be self-serving. One of the most outrageous bureaucratic layers established as a source of neoliberal control is the Education Council, purporting to represent teachers, but dominated by government appointees and serving as a government instrument to restrict teacher freedom of action and promote system uniformity. This bureaucracy is a source of outrageously harmful, unnecessary, and stifling ideas, yet a former head of NZEI is on it and the present NZEI president was. We know, of course, the rationalisations that would have been used to justify this NZEI membership, but they are not convincing ones, not ones that stand up to the test of principle. This is about teachers and children; another generation of withering government control and fatuity, doesn’t the organisation get it? this isn’t a game of tiddlywinks. Neoliberal governments don’t change their spots by chats over cups of tea. NZEI has to learn and act on principle, above all persist on principle, go out and talk on principle, make themselves unpopular with the government and media on principle, and stand for something on principle.
Sadly and tragically, one of the teacher organisations, NZEI, has the increasing appearance of another government bureaucratic layer. Since the national standards fight there has been a movement in policy matters from NZEI being a mildly active pro-teacher organisation to one of a covertly pro-government organisation, all the more successful in not being obviously so. The movement to support the government, gathered momentum in the lead up to the policy of government-imposed local institutions. In the election for national president, as informed from numerous sources, the word spread around the conference that Frances Guy would not be suitable for president, too abrasive to get on with Hekia Parata. Where that word spread from I do not know, but it was never dampened. Following that there was a continuous clean out of staff members who opposed the directions NZEI was taking. And the vote amongst members to change policy to support the government- imposed local institutions was corrupt – NZEI ruthlessly promoted support for the policy at the meetings; any questions rising from my postings, for instance, were aggressively turned aside and my name maligned. NZEI has not laid a mark on government policy since national standards. Oh yes, there have been copious media releases most very well written, with the occasional one getting media attention, but it is all so hum-hum. NZEI just can’t say anything interesting. Things are happening, damaging things, the new Education Act is alive with them, but NZEI just can’t rouse itself, too conscious, it seems, of its dependence on the government for the odd bone thrown its way.
This attention to NZEI might seem an odd way to spur the leading teacher organisation to policy action on government-imposed local institutions but I’m putting the truth out there as I see it – not accepting as inevitable their spineless, incompetent, unprincipled, subservient behaviour. I can’t quite see the levers that would make NZEI change but speaking out can’t make what they do any worse or more damaging for the teachers and children of New Zealand. Let’s be clear, these people who are letting down teachers and children in an organisational sense, are otherwise very nice, admirable people and, as principals run successful schools, some of which are particularly challenging, but temperamentally they seem unsuited for teacher organisation leadership, especially in the present toxic education environment.
The government-imposed local institutions will mean, if they are not opposed by teacher organisation leadership, another generation of education of vocational misery for teachers and learning failure for children, especially children affected by poverty. Have our leaders really gulled themselves into sufficient complacency to allow that happen to another generation?