[Maintained by NZ Educator, Allan Alach]
Spreading School Progress/Regress
Part 1 – Adopting memes
There are periods in the history of schooling when an innovation or teaching movement gathers momentum and spreads around the world in pandemic fashion. It follows the pattern of fashions and styles that mark the spread of oddities such as crew-cuts, long hair, mini-skirts, kaftans, ‘long’ shorts, tattoes, rap music. The popularity of particular fads, fashions and avant-garde social notions is so noticeable that their existence is irrefagable, whether they contribute to human welfare or not. There is an identifiable reaction by the population. It lasts for an indeterminate period and then it goes away, leaving some remnants.
These movements are called memes. Although difficult to nail empirically, they can be identified, described and categorised in cultural terms.
Some memes have a positive outcome for the population that welcomes them. Child-centred education, for instance, developed in bomb-ravaged Great Britain during WW2 when children were schooled under difficult circumstances, having to undertake learning activities in all sorts of places, with wide mixtures of ages in class groups, with subjects losing their strict boundaries, and by using material that was left lying around and by supporting each other in all learning activities. Although steeped in the strict traditions of David Copperfiled & Tom Brown schools and their stern adult controlled classroms, Britons warmly welcomed this open approach to schooling: starting with the child as the base for learning instead of the subject. Such a dramatic social change had never occurred before.
The Good Teaching Super-meme Outcomes were so positive and so successful in achievement terms for the post-war progress of Britain’s scientific, technological and industrial pursuits, that other countries wanted to copy this open style education. It obviously worked. In the immediate post-war period, teachers were, to a large degree, left alone to teach their class; with official and professional encouragement to be different, to be brave, to try strategies beyond the traditional, not to set a limit on pupil achievement. Progress was not inhibited by labelling achievements in bits of the active, live, locally based curricula. LEARNING per se was ‘in the air’ through all age-groups, and became pandemic. Educators, officials, researchers and scholars flocked to England to examine the phenomenon that was causing this light of learning, shining from LEA [Local Education Authorities] lighthouses at Bristol, West Riding of Yorkshire [Sir Alec Clegg], Hertsfordshire [Eric Hake] and others.
The 1950-1970s’ liberal-style schooling became the most exciting, most progressive and most productive period in the history of schooling. Never before had teaching-learning strategies influenced the architecture of school classrooms. Instead of rows of locked-in single rooms with fixed desks facing a chalk-board, schools were deliberatley patterned for multiple ages and groups and teachers to experience family-style learning, with space for creative activities, for special withdrawal and other spaces so that children could be active learners, using as many of their senses as possible. The shape of the building catered for open-minded, multi-strategic teaching styles.
Unfortunately, educators labelled the movement; and some tried to ‘package’ parts of it. It was labelled ‘open plan’, ‘open area’ or ‘multiple area’. Those teachers whose personal development and professional reading were limited – the remnants from the pre-war influences – were frightened by the extra work, planning and preparation and more active teacher-pupil interaction required. They called themselves traditionalists and were uncomfortable. It was, however, – put simply – good teaching.
As a super-meme, it spread because the professionalism of teaching around the world had grown enormosuly during this period and sound ‘care for kids’ ethics were observed. Teachers started to share their excellence; and a world in which respect for children would become each nation’s boast, looked like becoming a reality.
However, something serious happened about 1985. What happened?
Another meme – a business-based meme – a scato-meme came from left-field. Managerialism infested the work-force – businesses, corporations, public service, government enterprises.
The Managerial Scato-meme Managerialism had found credence in tertiary studies. MBAs, as entres to large corporations and businesses became very popular as courses of study. ‘Business Studies’ invented an esoteric language and invented the myth of standardised control techniques. Influential appointment-makers were conned into believing that generic forms of leadership and administrative skills could be applied to any organisation irrespective of its ethos. In their bogan view, all structures were similar…so…. the world set about putting plumbers in charge of garages; the kind of operation that would place an Admirable Creighton, a butler, in charge of the Dirty Dozen instead of Major Reisman [Lee Marvin] or vica versa. Management clones were assigned to leadership roles and tried to usurp the codified bodies of knowledge and know-how that on-the -job experience brings to efficiency and effectivenss. It just doesn’t work that way. The managerial scato-meme deliberately devalued experience as an administrative factor.
This managerial scato-meme has created monumental mess-ups that are now part of history. Lawyers, Army Officers, University Professors, Railway Managers and the like have been appointed to run school systems in various parts of the world; and the systems have regressed. With the best will in the world, nothing useful can happen when this scato-meme is followed. The vital ingredient is missing. Then, some authorities have to introduce big-time gimmicks, such as charter schools, middle schools, LOTE, anything, to indicate that they are doing something useful. The messes compound.
The acceptance of this managerial scato-meme has now placed all school authorities in Australia in vulnerable positions. When another scato-meme in the form of unexamined and uncontested education change was introduced to Australia just for the sake of change in 2008, there were no gate-keepers to insist on professional behaviour. Copied by a lawyer from another lawyer’s school district in New York, a fear-based blanket-testing-riddled school system was able to be introduced with little murmur. Scato-memes conjoined. Educators were overwhelmed by testucators.
Our unfortunate Australian pupils, parents and teachers are left with NAPLAN – the monumental blunder. There is a sad future for Australia if allowed to exist.
Links: www.literacyeducators.com.au http://saveourschools.com.au www.networkonnet.co.nz http://leading-learning.blogspot.co.nz
http://primaryschooling.net http://www.marionbrady.com http://www.dianeravitch.com http://susanohanian.org
http://alfiekohn.org http://www.essential.org http://opttoutofstandardizedtests.wikispaces
Phil Cullen AM,FACEL,FQIEA,FACE
41 Cominan Avenue
Banora Point 2486
07 5524 6443