A Memetic Scenario

The Treehorn Express

Treehorn story? http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/print.asp?article=11697

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’


A Memetic Scenario



MEME A meme [Robert Dawkins, The Selfish Gene – Oxford Uni. Press, 1976] is an idea, behaviour or style that spreads between and within national cultures where it mutates to suit local circumstances. It can be beneficial or toxic, and tends to reproduce itself quickly. Fashion fads, innovative activities, avant-garde forms of the creative arts as well as beneficial educational memes do not require much assistance to be welcomed by various cultures.

The wearing of tattoos, long ‘shorts’, back-to-front baseball caps are memes. They happen and can be of benefit to sections of a particular industry [e.g. jeans]. They can be pleasant [e.g.  music genres] or destructive [hooning, bullying]. They just seem to happen and ‘take off’ around the world. Memes spread quickly in a bewildering way.

Education memes have shared the spotlight with fashion memes and ‘philosophical’ notions, and can be of benefit or can be really destructive because their outcomes last within our psyche forever. ‘Payment by results’ of the Matthew Arnold era in the U.K. and the Minimal Competency Movement in the U.S.A.  are still remembered as memes that made severe  adverse contributions to society’s welfare. Nothing moved or advanced. Within our times, special memes spread during the  moral crusading period, when the John Birch Society and Moral Majority and their clones tested the easy vulnerability of education systems following the spread of the ‘back to basics’ meme.  On the positive side, child-centred schooling, vis-a-vis subject-centred schooling, encouraged  the use of more effective teaching styles helping the development of personal learning styles with levels of creativity, technical know-how and positive thinking that brought changes to the world that were unimaginable a few decades ago.  One can imagine the difficulty of describing mobile phones, satellites, google, e-books, ipads,  400 kph trains, accepted parts of everyday living for us, to our parents and grandparents. 

Junk-memes, though, need support of various kinds to become accepted by an unprepared public. Deliberate political importation and manipulation have proved to be the most effective method of encouraging a destructive meme that would, under normal circumstances, have a short life. Once established, such memes insidiously destroy educational, cultural and financial progress of a country.  They [e.g.ethnic cleansing, master-racism] are spread easily by totalitarian regimes and domineering autocrats, maintained with heavy-handedness and red-necked support. The ultimate plight of such countries is never a pretty picture. Toxic memes can only be halted by the will of the people, once the toxicity exposes itself for what it is and does.


{ The prefix ‘scato’ has been added because it fits. ]

There are sections of the public, zombified by the stultifying stimulus-response experiences during their own testucation, who like to maintain that other people’s children never learn enough, and are never taught properly. They don’t bother to enquire carefully enough into the nature of schooling. Some of their educational canons crystalize at odd times and promote calls for a move ‘back to basics’.  It’s the kind of meme that comes and goes and seldom lasts for longer than a few years, because of its shaky premises, its suspicious origin and scatological nature.  The present fear-based meme, appropriately called GERM [Global Education Reform Movement], made manifest in Australia through NAPLAN testing  is a mutant of the ‘back to basics’ mythology, but it plays dirtier. In a sociological and scatological sense, it is a very dirty meme.

Precisely stated this scatomeme proclaims….

Testing aspects of learning in an atmosphere of fear and punishment improves the levels of learning and the standards of teaching.

The origin of the previous ‘back to basics’ pandemic meme in the 1970s was a wanton Oxbridge statement called “The Black Papers”. The meme lasted a little while and faded as quickly as it came. This present one started in New York with a lawyer’s peculiar threat-ridden educational nostrum, backed by the  Gordon Gekko credo “Greed is good.” It has no other origin.  It is a sinister meme with sinister motives and damaging consequences for the future of whole populations. Its name is Kleinism.  .


Manipulators follow the first law of menticide by rallying their potential warriors and indoctrinating them on the purpose of the campaign. According to Joost Meerloo [ http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/article.aspx?Volume=107&page=594&journalID=13  ] menticide is “…an organised system of judicial perversion and psychological intervention, in which a powerful tyrant transfers his own thoughts into the minds and mouths of the victims he plans to destroy or use for his own propaganda.

Following a visit to the United States, Australia’s federal Minister for Education, already a fan of the US-based scatomeme, met a like-minded, sweet-taking lawyer who, out of place in any schooling system, had been appointed by the Mayor of NY to take a big stick to his schools. [The lawyer now runs a test publishing business for Rupert Murdoch on a salary of $4.5m p.a.] She lent the fellow-lawyer her ear. Back home, having persuaded friends in her politically-allied  banking fraternity that Joel Klein knew what he was talking about, the fraternity  paid his fare to visit our shores. This secured the control-tower enthusiasm for the scatomeme.  Firmly under the control of the most powerful and influential, our children and their teachers are stuck with Mr. Klein’s legacy. There was no committed, experienced schoolie in sight, during the scatomeme’s establishment.

The next move in the manipulation processes was the coercive persuasion of the front-line warriors – the principals of schools. The scatomeme virus had to be implanted into their mindware …asap. If they judged her intentions on ethical grounds, the scheme was finished. She had been warned by Joel Klein that this group, education academics and other educators were likely to oppose the idea on ethical grounds. She found them, though, to be easy meat. Professional ethics and basic care for kids are easy to suspend when an authority figure exerts muscle. This is no phenomenon. Milgram [Milgram, Stanley “Obedience to Authority; An Experimental View” Harper/Collins 1974] had shown in the post-Eichmann trial days that there is a willingness of participants to follow an authority figure to perform acts that conflict with their personal conscience. While just following superordinate orders violates their deep professional beliefs about the use of fear as integral to the teaching act, they are prepared to suspend the basic elements of their once-proud profession. They  obey instructions.


The likelihood that the profession will renew its beliefs is always a risk to totalitarian regimes.  So, the need to maintain eichmannism is paramount. If some true-blue child-oriented crusaders from within  ‘professional’ organisations decide to test the basic meme that ‘fear is an essential element of the teaching/learning’ act, it could spell the end of GERM-style testing. They would, after all, be supported by many parents and teachers who still believe that evaluation of learning effort is part and parcel of the pupilling effort itself. If these good folk decide to exercise child-care spunk, the publisher-backed scheme is at risk.

Maintenance and control of schooling scatomemes have to be manifold.

  1. Since principals are the lynch-pins to ensure the link between government and schools for the scatomeme’s longevity, there is a likelihood that objections can come from within their ranks. Under normal circumstances there would be many, but circumstances have changed since 2008. In Australia, for instance,  primary school principals tend to look to the Australian Primary Principals Association for leadership and guidance. APPA claims to be the national voice for all Australian primary schools. Julia rounded them up early in the piece. They were ‘Milgramed’ and succumbed to the principles of schadenfruede. Then, after Kleinism was introduced in 2008, the Australian Government Primary Principals Association [AGPPA] with closer links to ACARA [the promoters of NAPLAN testing] than to APPA was established. It claims to represent 5,300 primary schools in Australia.  Established by someone-or-other, financially supported and maintained by the federal government and assuming most of the roles of APPA, it does the same sort of things and is running the same conference. So now, government control of worthy extra-curricular principal opinion is well in place. The dominant twin makes sure.
  2. Parents are also likely to wonder what the dickens are ‘they’ trying to do with their children. No one will tell them the whole truth. Principals are not allowed to express personal opinions in  schools’ web-sites and newsletters, nor are they allowed to tell parents that their children need not do the tests.  Various parents’ organisations, other than SOS, are unwilling to make comment. So …the longer parents are treated as mushrooms, the longer the damaging tests will exist. Hiding critical information is a useful ploy.
  3. Media are so vital to political aspirations. Not conscious of the elements of scatomemes, their origins or purpose, the media can maintain the momentum of the meme; and their setting of the daily conversational agenda means that they must be treated with kid gloves…so to speak. In many cases the non-mention of important incidents can be as influential as editorial comment.  Unethical arrangements, such as the printing of league tables, printing of ubiquitous and ambiguous ‘scores’, their likely association  of ‘good’ schools’ with high marks and ‘bad’ schools with low, with class scores as indicators of teaching ability, have to be maintained.  The Emperor would approve. It’s helps his bulging pocket.
  4. When a scatomeme, such as the one that has led to this political control of unnecessary and unreliable blanket testing, persists for more than a few years, educational fads and gimmicks can divert attention from the critical issue. Chief amongst the gimmickry, because it can be so expensive, is the creation of Charter Schools* [another NY non-school idea]. One gimmicky authority describes charter schools by the oxy-moron Independent Public Schools.  As a government initiative they provide a great opportunity to create dissension and ideological warfare.. Other fads have included the creation of a Prep Year, the transfer of Year 7 to secondary level, establishment of middle or muddle schools, gender-based schools; none of which have any significant impact on pupilling, nor even on improving test ‘results’. Another fad is the peculiar notion that ‘autonomy’ can be granted and then controlled.

In the face of easily transferred scatomemes there is an urgent need to come back to reality and provide fair-dinkum schooling with serious pupilling and high learning aims…. loaded with integrity and honour and honesty and ethics on everybody’s part. If our society forces children to attend school buildings, let’s play the game by them. A sensible starting age for compulsory attendance that respects the early development of children’s brain-power, with about seven years in primary school and five in secondary with the provision of ‘meaningful’ schooling for the last two years free from the tedium of over-examination. Concurrently, a very heavy concentration on teacher preparation, development and renewal will produce learning-literate school leavers ready to face the world properly prepared, not cloned, ‘one-size-fits-all’ robots for which the present schooling scatomemes aim.


*Charter Schools : http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominan-post/comment/7148555/Education-wars-will-intensify-with-charter-schools


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