Chasing the Wind

The Treehorn Express


Treehorn story?

No fair-dinkum teacher likes NAPLAN.

It breaches all ethical rules.

In a school of repute there is no fan;

There’s learning without measurement tools.

Theme song:  ‘Care for Kids’


Chasing the Wind

That’s what it feels like when one is chasing to see what has happened to the long held schooling values and learning beliefs that have blown away…..and when one keeps begging, pleading, praying for them to do a 180.  Ever tried to catch logic, professional ethics and common sense when they have disappeared into the atmosphere, blown away sadly with the help of first rate, gentle true-believers who, one would think, because of their professional ethics, should never have tolerated any kind of harm to school pupils in the first place; the sort of  harm that measurers and politicians encourage.  So many good folk just don’t seem to care any more. School leaders have turned from educators into testucators, been eichmannised and now passively maintain an organised silence.   Who created this sort of schooling climate? How did it happen? GERM, the product, seems to be confined to English-speaking countries. Strange. Politicians didn’t do it on their own, but they cannot escape blame. Publishers control them.

It is quite eerie, as if some evil force has captured the minds of caring primary school educators, who used to display the very highest of ethical and administrative standards. They don’t understand its source, nor does ‘this movement’ have an M.O. of identifiable educational benefit. It has always had a cruel, immoral, profit-base, so ‘educators’ now hide; and children suffer. Ethical behaviour that was once aligned with the U.N. Rights of the Child has been scrapped, replaced by political brown-nosing to the advantage of mega-rich publishers and private school corporations; and to the grave disadvantage of all school pupils. Our country’s future is at risk. It’s morally ill. That’s certainly apparent.  How did it happen?

There has to be a word for the spread of this pandemic malady. The term ‘schadenfreude’ is not adequate. That is what happens at the political level and is now being passed on to school level. You can feel and sense the pleasure that non-caring influential politicians and their ilk get when they indicate that things on the school front are going to get better – ‘better’, meaning that scores will rise in the little bits of the curriculum that are testable; that fear works. Such palpable excrement.  They know that any ‘improvement’ has been at heavy human cost to little people. Then they apply this sham improvement to the whole classroom setting, to boot. Many, many children are being scarred for life because of this relentless, ridiculous contest. That’s schadenfreude – pleasure from children’s stress and sickness.  Good schools shouldn’t  indulge in it.

The pandemic nature of the malady imitates that of the Standards Debate of earlier years started by school-ignorant ‘Black Papers’ academics in England. Supported by corporations and some educational bodies who did not understand and did not bother to check, the whinging for ‘better results’ spread around the globe and lasted for a few, very intense years. ‘Back to Basics’ was the cry. The media enjoyed the period. Their clientele increased enormously. A major publication [The Bulletin] spent two full issues on the topic with the title : “Australia’s Educational Scandal:  We’re turning out Millions of Dunces.”  ABC TV conducted a nation-wide debate on school standards, involving a number of academics from Perth to Townsville that was to last two hours, but the time was extended. It became very serious, with devastating consequences. This bash-schools-and-teachers meme laid a useful platform for further assaults on schools about the way that moral and sex education was handled, for instance, then something else, then something else. Politicians and the media found that schools were very soft targets indeed. The weakened work force was deprogrammed, silent and compliant, … so… the 1990 managerial parvenus were able to command gelatinous departmental heads, duplicitous ministers, battered teachers unions and compliant teachers groups to restructure Australian education systems on non-school models….on crazily shaped organisational paradigms that have persisted until the present day. Some of the most useful models of  quality control that public schooling ever had, were down-sized and outsourced. Highly experienced supervisory talent, for instance, was made redundant, replaced by medusan blooms that grossly weakened the previous attention given to conversations about teaching and learning. This seriously affected  professional renewal and improvement. Workable school-based curriculum development also got the chop; and consideration for humans as humans, with typical robotic responses expected by those who measure, sadly, prevailed.

There is a word for such a pandemic malady –MEME – the acceptance of an idea with accompanying symbols and practices that are transmitted from one to another. Memetics is a field of study, of recent origin, that explores the evolution of memes.

Little seems to have been done in a memetic sense to identify the ways in which educational memes, as units of cultural transmission, infect the airways. Social contagions such as beliefs that ‘standardised testing improves teaching and learning’ join fads like tattooing, wearing long ‘shorts’ or short skirts, nose piercing, which all spread like a virus through populations. They spread as all viruses do, and seem to be uncontrollable; and, usually,  we don’t seem to understand ‘why’ nor ‘how’. They just happen and we don’t care. We can be pretty sure, however, that this ‘fear-based, high-stakes testing’ meme won’t go away as earlier ones, which had no financial raison-detre, have done. The sources of this present day contagion are known and it’s also known that the MO has nothing to do with teaching and learning. Previous memes have contained educational concerns per se– both negative [e.g.‘Back to Basics’] and positive [e.g. ‘open schooling”]

This meme is different from previous educational ones in the sense that it is a profit based, deliberately-organised fad. The others just faded away as the population came to its senses. This one certainly did not    arise from any public concern. It couldn’t have, since there was no reliable empirical evidence nor academic punditry to sponsor any reason for  this strange meme [‘Tests improve standards’]. Those who think that it has anything to do with school improvement have been hoodwinked.

Memetic social movements, as distinguished from fashion fads, can be halted … but…only it seems when enough good people demand that the nonsense stop. We can bury our heads in the sand or stand up for what is right and just and pleasant; and, thereby, we can be an example for our children by resisting the forced acceptance of this profit-based, anti-social, schooling-destructive virus :  blanket testing.


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Phil Cullen AM,FACE, FACEL

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