High Stakes

 The Treehorn Express

Who’s Treehorn?   http://primaryschooling.net/?page_id=1924

Theme song : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQj-6F7yPM8


Treehorn would not have known that the staffroom at his school contained four different kids of teachers. He didn’t care. None of them seemed to notice his condition nor cared about his shrinking. His own teacher was special in many ways; the others, just people.  For adults, the four different kinds are easily distinguishable. They tend to reveal themselves after a few minutes’ conversation and more by a visit to their classroom.

Kleinists have a firm belief that pupils learn best when they are threatened with all sorts of punishment and that they need plenty of testing, testing, testing, cramming, cramming, cramming, practice, practice, practice, raving, raving, raving. They believe in high-stakes, hard data schooling.  I was one of these for far too long. My excuse was that every pupil from Year 1 onwards had to be prepared for that three-subject examination at the end of primary school that alleged to select those who should be allowed to proceed further. The exams were prepared by fearsome kleinists who lived in an office far, far away from my classroom.

Kleinism is based on the notion that, if the children do poorly at factory-made tests, it is the teacher’s fault. It’s all fear based. Politicians frighten the bureaucrats, who in turn frighten the principals who then frighten the teachers who frighten the kids. Simple business design; and the gospel according to Rupert.

Mugwamps are people who sit on the fence on ideological schooling issues. They have their mugs on one side and their wumps on the other. They don’t bother to check things out. It’s too much. They let superior kleinists get away with it.

Eichmanns lack a mind of their own. Like Adolf, organiser of Germany’s program of elimination of the Jews,  they  whimpishly ‘do as they are told’ and let others concern themselves with issues of basic morality and social justice. They don’t want to distress their bureaucratic superiors or their political masters.

Then there are Real Teachers who believe in kids and care for them, empower them, have high expectations of their personal achievements and ensure that nothing will interfere with their quest for developing each child’s love for learning. They believe in the sanctity of the pupilling processes. One day they will reveal themselves and liberate children from the farcical numbers game.. Their views are ignored at present.


To illustrate……

Cheap varieties available….

 KLEINS   –  hard and bitter.

MUGWUMPS – grow well on both sides of the fence.

EICHMANNS – easy to control.

Children should be kept clear of these varieties, if possible.

They are toxic.



1.Thank you Mary Mackay of Amsterdam for the illustration of the tee shirt.

2. Previous Treehorn [“3Rs on Steroids”] was circulated by Allan Alach, Primary Principal. Diane Ravitch picked it up’ and included it on her twitter to 20,000 fans. Onya Allan. Thanks Diane.

Phil Cullen

41 Cominan Avenue

Banora Point

Australia  2486

07 5524 6443



Ask your local state and federal member if he or she know how much Naplan testing costs….publishing, administering, including salaries of operators.

Go on. It only takes a few minutes.

I’d like to see the reply.

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3Rs on Steroids

The  Treehorn  Express

Who’s Treehorn ? Click http://primaryschooling.net/?page_id=1924

Treehorn was an ordinary primary school child whose condition was ignored by his parents, teachers and his principal. Florence Patty Heidi, author of The Shrinking of Treehorn, was able to sense the distress that the lad felt when his closest carers did not worry enough to try to care for him better. The Treehorn Express, named in his honour, maintains that all school children who have to contest  fear-driven blanket tests are also being treated badly because their carers don’t give two hoots about the effect of the tests. This lack of feeling for pupil welfare is pandemic. Taken to its extreme [as today’s article “3Rs on Steroids” indicates] in Korea, test-publishers and on-line pushers should be thrilled by the prospects for them. Kleinist [fear-driven schoolies] wont be dismayed. This looks like the future, kiddies.


3Rs on Steroids

TIME magazine, [October 3, 2011] Pp26-29, presently on the news-stands,  contains an article Teacher, Leave Those Kids Alone  It is a must-read. If you approve of Naplan, National Standards and NCLB-RTTT, this is your ideal future. This form of shadow education is for you. This is why Korea does so well in the PISA tests [using methods somewhat different from Finland’s].

The article describes how hagwons provide extra tuition for anxious secondary school students. 24% of all students [at a cost of $US 2,600 per student] attend some kind of private-after-school instruction.  Situated in clusters in various suburbs they are rooms and classrooms with desks for ‘extra’ assistance, providing tuition until late into the night.  Cramming is deeply embedded in Asia.

President Lee Myungbak vowed to change things at his inauguration in 2008 when he said,”One-size-fits all, governments-led uniform curriculums and an education system that is locked only onto the college-entrance examination are not acceptable.”  But, while you have an external examination of any kind, you have sub-forms of hard-data testing.

While you have hard-data testing, you have competition; while you have competition you have cramming and winning at-any-cost.  No presidential decree can alter intense fear-driven motivation. When embedded in the psyche, it rots the learning processes.  When mandated through legislative law, it rots society. When the 3Rs totally replace the 3Ls [Love, Laughter and learning] it creates anomie. A country’s creative and productive talents are ruined.

“No one defends the status quo in South Korea. “All we do is study, except when we sleep” one high school boy told me, and he was not exaggerating. The typical academic schedule begins at 8.a.m and ends somewhere from 10p.m. to 1a.m. depending in the ambition of the student.”

The author, Amanda Ripley, begins the article  with her description of a late night trip with a mid-level bureaucrat from the a local district office of education in Seoul, looking for hagwons who break the 10 p.m. curfew.

The “crackdown is one part of a larger quest to tame the country’s culture of educational masochism.” she says. “The problem is not that South Korean kids aren’t learning enough or working hard enough; it’s that they aren’t working smart. When I visited some schools, I saw classrooms in which a third of the students slept while the teacher continued lecturing, seemingly unfazed. Gift stores sell special pillows that slip over your forearm to make desk-top napping more comfortable. This way, goes the backward logic, you can sleep in class – and stay up late studying.”

There are more hagwon instructors in South Korea than there are school-teachers.


Forearm Pillows for ‘Students”

One might suggest that schools be issued with such pillows for use when its pupils are entombed with a teacher who uses only didactic, chalk-talk strategies. [ http://primaryschooling.net/?page_id=74 ] It is small wonder that people are slow to learn when they have little part in the sharing of the topic; and the average span-of-attention to an ordinary ‘lecturer’ or speaker is about six minutes. They are exceptional or new to hold an attentive audience for longer.

Please let me speculate. The corporate mega-stars and bankers who control the world and its politicians, imagine that only didactic, chalk-talk methods of teaching are used in schools. The politicians who introduce the legislation have memories only of didactic methods at school. The sciolists and measurers who write tests and measure everything, also believe that such methods prevail; and some of them used only didactic techniques during their brief encounter with learners. They may even believe that, because they were taught that way, it’s good enough for everyone.

Decisions affecting the future of our country are based on these premises. it.

Can you think of a movie where school rooms are the setting and the chairs and desks don’t face the chalk-board?  It assumes that learners have to sit and listen or write to learn anything, doesn’t it; reflecting the film director’s view of teaching?   “Goodbye Mr. Chips”; “To Sir With Love”; “Kotter”; “Dead Poets Society”; “Teachers”.


STOP PRESS  Released yesterday [30 Sept.] in the USA, is a film called ‘American Teacher’ which attempts to respond to the negative portrayal of teachers that is a consequence of the blanket testing movement. It is presently circulating through the States and, with luck, will circulate through Australia & NZ.  http://www.democracynow.org/2011/9/30/american_teacher_new_film_rebuts_vilification

[Many, many thanks to Mary Mackay, a Treehorn reader, who teaches in Amsterdam. Small world, ain’t it?]


Some Challenges Ahead

Andrea Kuszewski suggests that some folk know what they are talking about when they suggest a change to more creative ways of teaching, and by banning the damaging testing regime used in the USA. Her hypotheses and suggestions are well worth thinking about. In  http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2011/07/07/the-educational-value-of-creative-disobedience/  She predicts that there are some big challenges ahead. Her summaries deserve some real-teacher thought.

Allan Alach, NZ Primary Principal, outlines some of the challenges that his country has to face. Schools that do not comply with the Ministry’s [aka Department’s] edicts will be supervised by SAPS, a seemingly appropriate name for a thought-force that will take over the school until it complies. http://leading-learning.blogspot.com/2011/09/fasten-your-seatbelts.html

When Deborah Meiers talks about giving our education systems’  purpose and hope, she says, “To sit idly by and watch our country move towards standardized testing and away from equal education is the greatest crime of the century.”   Read about her and listen to her on  http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/3656


Don’t forget, check previous copies of The Treehorn Express.

Phil Cullen

41 Cominan Avenue

Banora Point

Australia  2486

07 5524 6443



Don’t forget to watch this

  as you  write to your local member and possible candidate to tell them about the ‘greatest crime of the century’.