What We Wrinklies Did

The Treehorn Express

Treehorn story?  http://primaryschooling.net?page_id=1924

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

The Treehorn Express is dedicated to the cessation of Kleinist NAPLAN testing in Australia.  Kleinism is a New York version of fear-driven schooling which uses the blanket-testing NAPLAN [its only learning-motivational weapon] to destroy the  reputation of teachers and schools. This weapon was forced on schools in Australia in 2009. It separates ‘haves’ from ‘have nots’ and opens the door for mega-bank-rolling by known curriculum vandals for control of school-based learning. It disrespects school pupils, devalues teachers’ professionalism, threatens Australia’s developmental future and is just no good.  Politely described, it stinks.

Although some ‘education’ groups support it, ideologically, NAPLAN is immoral, unprofessional, politically driven, unrequested by the profession, curriculum destructive, extremely costly, wasteful and divisive. It has a background of malicious intent. 


  For official information, click on http://www.nap.edu.au/information/FAQs/index.html  Get it ?__________


Recently, I wrote an outline of this article for the Queensland Retired Teachers Association. It was meant to refer to what went on in schooling when we wrinklies held the chalk… the late forties to eighties. It got out of hand. I present it to you in its revised form.

What We Wrinklies Did

“Twenty-four grams one pennyweight, twenty pennyweights one ounce, ten ounces one pound” we used to chant at school and later taught others to chant. It was difficult to see the relevance of the chant when we were actually weighing things in another peculiar arrangement of numerals and weights, called ounces, pounds, stone, hundredweight and tons; and only jewellers had a use for Troy Weight.

While it did not make sense, we did as we were bid. We trusted our superiors, thinking that they knew what they were doing. When I asked a school inspector why we taught Troy Weight, he responded that our curriculum gurus believed that it should be learned because of Australia’s historical attachment to the discovery of gold. I suppose that the heritage-oriented curriculators of the day thought that it represented giant support for the integration of subjects.

This occurred about the time that Social Studies became a curriculum imperative. We’d taught Civics, but this was a new one. Professor Schonell described this innovative integration as ‘…the hybrid result of an unhappy marriage between Geography and History.’  It did seem to be a peculiar way to deal with social activity, especially since, at this time [1962], Robert Dottrens had written his world-wide popular UNESCO treatise The Primary School Curriculum, which highlighted the teaching of social behaviour, especially getalongability with one’s school complement, in the playground, in one’s street, in one’s town and through to neighbourliness amongst nations. Fighting each other in the playground, street or on a battlefield would cease to exist, if we encouraged our young to believe in social harmony.

There was a problem.  It wasn’t examinable, so the idea was dropped. We went along with integrated Geography and History without question. ‘They’ said that it had to be done, so we did it. ‘They’ set examinations.  Given the fifty years since then, do you think that such a study of social activity has worked, socially that is; and how much did examination of it contribute?  Worth a thought, right? How do the present-day high levels of hate and fear and militarism [including our invasion of northern hemisphere countries] receive so much support? Strange.

Remember the slog on parsing and analysis. If you taught a scholarship class, you will recall the endless hours you spent on them to make sure that these high-marked examination questions were answered effectively. Our mentors believed that our pupils would read better and write quality error-free material if they rigidly studied such aspects of English grammar.  Now, our grandchildren write higher quality stories than we did at their age, read at a much higher level and can discuss more intelligently what they have read or written  –  and they have never done any parsing  or analysis.

I wonder what response we would get if we asked present day pupils to provide an example of a copulative verb. Remember?  “The verb ‘to be’ and other copulative verbs take the same case after them as before them.”  We made our pupils learn crude rules such as this, imagining that pupils would remember them, while at the same time their home and street language approved of : ”He done it. I seen him. Eh.”  That’s the way that Mum and Dad and friends spoke. As well, language exemplars like broadcasters said “Australia are winning by 54 runs.” and editors wrote “We promise to promptly correct errors.” Never mind. We kept at parroting rules because it was expected of us. Rules are rules. Pupils would remember them when the time came; so we spent more time on parsing and analysis and rules of syntax than on any other aspect of literacy.

We even spent one hour each week on handwriting in copy books. What a waste. Wouldn’t young Barack Obama have ended up with sore knuckles if he tried that round-the-corner grip in our day?

There was not meant to be any joy in English and Mathematics, was there? They were examinable. We became slaves to examination and the horror and shame of failure. Indeed, there were those who believed that learning works best under strict conditions and was not intended to be positive and joyful. [This notion is popular again!] We even arranged the classroom in order of success. The front row and the back row knew where they belonged in society. The dull or slow had to be shamed and denied schooling past leaving-age.  Of the 33 pupils in my Grade 6, only 3 survived to complete Senior.

The Scholarship and Junior exams sorted us out according to crass scores and saw the rest seeking early employment. Things in Queensland took a new focus with the abolition of the Scholarship examination [1962] and a rethink of assessment procedures for secondary classes [1970]. Freed to learn, the world advanced at a remarkable pace when professional child-based teaching found a place.

The world shared ideas, ideals and made the most of child differences, of school and cultural differences; and teachers learned more about the nature of learning than anyone had done in history. It looked as if schooling itself could help to create higher achievements than ever before;  that innovation and inventiveness would sooth and enhance our lifestyle like never before; and that we would learn to love each other regardless of origin, colour, religion or general beliefs.  We saw schools as places where children would burst a blood vessel to get to each day, to learn something. We would teach them the value of learning and sharing and doing and achieving.  Then, about 1990… BANG.

The management structuralists and measurers took control, with Orwellism as a natural partner. Gullible politicians fell for this new brand of child-bash totalitarianism and legislated for its introduction. The good-guys’ dreams and visions of a top-level learning base for schooling were shattered. A contempt for childhood emerged. It remains; and is being encased in cement.

SO… you see…..our teaching generation, you and me, has no monopoly on the absurdities and stupidities. Imagine what our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will think of what is happening now.  They will surely notice that some of oddest and most ridiculous operations have been maintained or resurrected from our past; and an astonishing negative attitude to schooling has  been added [2008+].

Blanket testing is a prime example. It exists on the premise that we cannot trust children to try harder at learning and achieving without its fear-based tones; and that learning and achieving are not meant to be joyful.

Fear is the best and only motivator. Making children frightened while learning has enormous political all-party support. Some even want to pay teachers who get better pupil scores than others. It’s a score-at-all-cost notion. The term ‘screwball’ applied to it seems so inadequate.

Present-day teachers cannot be trusted, so they are denied the chance to teach their pupils HOW to learn; and are not allowed the time to share each individual’s progress with them and show them how to share their progress with their parents now how to take pride in personal achievement.  Their superiors only encourage the measuring of the measureable by imposing mandated tests concocted by someone else; and, months later, superordinates make public, unhealthy, inane comments on the results and make absurd assumptions about schooling. We actually support these purely political, bovine oddities by our silence.

God. It is so sad to see all this happening.  it hurts. Truly.

Yes. Our descendants will remind us that we approved of measurement too much, and by ignoring the teaching of learnacy [learning how to learn and to love it], we neglected the development of a truly pleasant and productive life-style for them.

Since our paranoiac measurement controllers cannot test the love for poetry, the appreciation for music and art, the attitude to natural wonders, our getalongability, environmental sustainability, the exhilaration of following a selected pursuit, they have  frozen interest in them.

These are unimportant aspects of living, according to the fat controllers.

Our school-teaching generation and those between then and now, with all its age-sage, over-looked and ignored the carriage of fair-dinkum schooling into this new millennium. We let crude and school-ignorant political power neglect  our present generation children’s development without a whimper. Shame on us.

“We were robbed”, our descendants will surely observe. They will ask, “No ethical, child-oriented generation should approve of national blanket testing and its fear driven basis”


 Why do the British hate their children?

[The Week, 18 November 2011 Page 12]

Britain’s treats its kids like pests, says Jenny McCartney of The Daily Telegraph, London. We see them as frequently annoying and sometimes frightening. A recent survey found that half of respondents agreed that children today were “feral” and “like animals”. We’ve all seen the small child trying to ask their mother a question only to be told to “shut up”and then dragged roughly down the street. Uncharitable attitudes are hardly limited to the working class.

Middle-class parents commonly refer to their children as a chore to be managed, the “hours spent with them dutifully ticked off in a mental box” and labelled “quality time”. It’s no wonder our kids grow into resentful, even threatening, teenagers with no respect for authority. Handle them dismissively enough and they will certainly “take on the mannerisms of the nuisances they are already assumed to be”. In Spain and Italy, the climate is different. The child’s basic nature is assumed to be benign. Through frequent immersion in family gatherings, the children are socialised. British society, on the other hand, has demonstrated an “essential contempt for childhood”. No wonder We Need To Talk About Kevin was such a hit. But it’s not Kevin we need to talk about – “It’s us”.

“Please do” says Treehorn.


   Other Treehorns ? :   Check Recent Posts and Archives in Sidebar.

Phil Cullen

41 Cominan Avenue

Banora Point

Australia 2486

07 5524 6443



2 thoughts on “What We Wrinklies Did

  1. Well do I remember the parsing- though I’m not sure I could remember many of the rules or even more numerous illogical ‘exceptions’. I recall sitting the last Scholarship Examination in 1962 – by then I think they’d decided to relax the standard and pass everybody who sat. But my overwhelming memory of primary school was the liberal application of physical punishment for mistakes as well as misbehaviour. Having declared war on the teaching profession in Grade Three when my teacher downgraded my mark (because he didn’t like me) and forced me to sit at the bottom of the ranked class, I continued the noble fight against the system and its agents for the next five years. I guess I managed to learn despite my teachers and their preoccupation with hitting me. Their most powerful effect was to generate an aversion to mental arithmetic and maths in general that held me back throughout my schooling, and even years later when I became a reluctant maths teacher.
    High school by comparison was much more civilized and the few canings I received there actually had some effect. On reflection it seems that I loved learning – memorizing, for my own sense of achievement the names and geographic locations of a hundred nations and states, performing autopsies on toads, road kill and fish, and conducting wildly dangerous experiments with combustible materials and oxidizing agents (my attempt at a recipe for nitro-glycerine fortunately lacked some vital ingredients).
    All this was in diametric opposition to my attitude to what I was supposed to learn. English, especially the creative aspects of the subject was my favourite, closely followed by chemistry. But for the most part I just went through the motions.
    Having hated school I surprised myself as well as everyone who knew me, by entering the graduate Dip. Ed program at UQ. We were welcomed by Les Winkle who performed a ‘schoolmaster’s trick’ by describing us – based on the normal profile of teacher’s pets and middle-class goody-two-shoes who made up the vast majority of the 400 student teachers in the audience.
    But I was there because I’d heard about a promised ‘revolution’ in education and teaching, and because the government had just boosted salaries in an attempt to increase teacher numbers.
    I entered the profession during the ‘liberal years’ of individual freedom and experimentation but despite any number of new initiatives I found that really nothing of substance had changed in terms of curriculum save the colour and the position of the deck chairs. The longer I spent in the classroom the more I came to resemble the teachers I’d despised as a student. My practice suffered until I was ‘put out to pasture’ with a group of ‘unteachable’ students in an off campus, non-uniform, unconventional setting. There, after nearly 40 years of de-humanizing conformity to a system I didn’t believe in, I re-learned the joy of teaching and learning with these damaged children who were being kept on the rolls purely to fufil the myth that the system catered for all students.
    I had a class full of Treehorns, and the time to listen to them, nurture them and watch them grow again unconstrained by any official curriculum. My students were even allowed to opt out of NAPALM (sic) though I suspect that it had more to do with protecting the school’s averages.
    The students aged 13 to 17, all suffered personality disorders, specific learning disabilities, lack of continuity in school attendance, poor parenting (or none at all), low socio-economic status -the full complement of ‘disadvantage’. But free to learn what they wanted, when and how they wanted, they became self-discliplined – in the true meaning of that term.
    Now, in retirement I teach willing students at U3A – more enthusiastic in their 70s and 80s than many high schoolers!.
    Bob Haslem passed your blogs on to me a few months ago and I have been reading them avidly ever since.
    I can only congratulate you for your persistence in fighting this pernicious system of degrading grading,
    John Saint-Smith

  2. Thank you [and Bob] for your candid comments, John.
    Poet Ray Kelley in his book “Flight to the Chookhouse Roof” [P.36] described…
    Number, Connection, Clause, Kind & Relation –
    These were the columns we were taught to rule
    Preparing for that State Examination
    Kids sat for at the end of primary school.
    Picture us at age thirteen as we dip
    Steel nibs in time-crazed inkwells to write down
    The clauses that will prove our Scholarship
    Principals, Adjectival, knotty Noun
    (Is it the Subject or in Apposition?)
    And maybe three Adverbials in the mix.
    Sorted with tags like Reason, Time, Condition
    To take that Number column down to 6
    Behold the strands unravelled, one by one,
    And the long sentence with hard labour done.

    Our website http://kelleyandcullen.net has more comments of the era.
    Please maintain your interest, John.
    Phil Cullen

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