Spreading progress or regress by memery. Pt.2

Treehorn  Express

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Spreading School Progress/Regress

Part 2: Memes~ “Ready. FIRE!  Aim.”

What is the Aim of Scato-Meme 2008?

It was, I think, Professor Galbraith, who recently said something to the effect that one of the advantages of living in the same world as the United States was that one could see some of the horrors that might attack one in the near future and this has proved to be manifestly true in the field of education.

It was the Americans who popularised the objective test whose value no one can deny. But, it was also in the United States that such testing so deteriorated as to produce knowledge in pellet form tested by underlining, blank-filling and ticking alternatives and we, in this country, have recently made progress along this unfortunate path. There is a cult of management which is getting a firm grip on our schools; a head without headmasterly qualities can and does get kudos for posing as a manager. There is the whole business of education technology which when ill understand is used to drive home the kind of knowledge which fills the mind but does little to strengthen it. And now Robert Lowe’s lamentable technique of payment by results which did half-a-century’s damage to this country is to come back to us from America in the form that they have labelled “performance contracting.”

This was 1972 – yes, 1972. Sir Alec Clegg, a practical practising educator from the West Riding, was commenting on the effects of blanket testing on reading in England’s schools. A vicious scato-meme had been developed by the non-school academic authors of The Black Papers, the first two of which appeared in 1969, written to demonstrate their superior intellectual knowledge of the nature of man and childhood by citing crude dichotomies between ‘traditional’ schooling, which was good; and ‘progressive’ education which was bad. When boiled down, the academics could not understand what was happening in a classroom in which all chairs and desks did not face in the one direction with all occupants using paper and pencils for a full day. They thought, as many parents thought at the time, that the disarray indicated a lack of learning rigour. Their ex cathedra manifestations, based on their own adherence to sit-stilleries, spread across the Atlantic; and Americans handled them in the customary manner:- The testing of minimal competencies took off …….and has remained as part of their schooling psyche ever since.

This UK/US meme theme, based on the tawdry ‘Black Paper back-to- basics’ stridency was expressed through their  ten commandments the first two of which state…

  1.  Children are not naturally good. They need firm, tactful, discipline from their parents and teachers with clear standards. Too much freedom for children breeds selfishness, vandalism and personal unhappiness.
  2. If the non-competitive ethos of progressive education is allowed to dominate  our schools, we shall produce a generation unable to maintain standards of living when opposed by fierce rivalry from overseas competitors.”

The papers were described by Education Secretary Edward Short as “…scurrilous documents, quite disgraceful…the publication of which …was one of the blackest days for education in the past century.” That didn’t worry the testucators of the period. Here was their chance.

  America’s dominance of educational thought and its predilection for hard data, ensured that all English-speaking countries followed this testing theme rather that the school-based Plowden 1967 Report’s  messages of good-will and sound advice, which had recommended that schools should attempt to broaden a child’s vista of learning and achievement through a fondness for learning and achievement. Passive school folk just lay low.

This black scato-meme that lauded discipline, competiveness and testing, spread across the Pacific. So, ACER, the Marilinga of Australian schooling, undertook “The Australian Study of School Performance” in 1974 by seeking “…to measure performance in reading, writing and number work of 10 and 14 year-old students in normal schooling throughout Australia.” Measurers don’t like to miss too many chances. The vision of Plowden was being crunched in Britain and its former colonies.

As is the wont of measurers, only negative scoring results were emphasised in the ACER’s Report to Schools.  A measurer’s code of conduct doesn’t extend to the encouragement of  teachers to be pleased with their achievements.[e.g. “On the average, one child per classroom (at 10 year-old level) and one child in 100 (at 14 year-old level) is unable to read the simplest of school books.” said the report.  In these pre-remedial teacher days of large classes, one would have thought that this result might be celebrated.] The measurement hacks’ negativity caught  on, and a Standards Debate of monumental proportions was initiated. TV documentaries, newspaper editorials, The Great Debate raged. Journos loved it. Publishers of The Bulletin made a killing.

This particular ‘back to basics’ movement then grew tired and irrelevant in Australia by the end of the seventies, but it left a legacy. The reputation of the teaching profession had suffered and it has remained a soft target until the present day. The maintenance of professional ethics has proved difficult, and is now nobody’s concern.

“Back to Basics”, “3 Rs”, “Standards”, and similar sterile movements arise in all societies from time to time.  Robert Lowe’s “Payment by Results” [now resurrected and called ‘merit’ pay] introduced in 1861 all but destroyed school standards in Britain until they were rescued by the efforts of Kay-Shuttleworth and Matthew Arnold. However, it did lead to the entrenchment of public examinations. There have been shorter periods of back-to-basic movements every few years since, enlivening internecine disagreement between crash-bang-wallop, didactic-teaching testucators and child-centred learning-based educators. While the aforementioned differences of opinion have been notable and are fine illustrations of how a malicious scato-meme can dominate any discussion, there is a profound difference between those of yester-year and the source of the present NAPLAN. This  national standards fascist-style hegemony, the manifestation of the meme, had its origins in profit and its introduction by political clout, through which it continues to be powered. It did not travel by the open discussion route as did its predecessors. It spread to our southern shores by totalitarian political manipulation and fiat to the benefit of greedy publishers.

The spread of this most toxic educational scato-meme that the world has ever known has now found a safe-house in Australia and New Zealand. It was moved into residence in 2008 in Australia, by a conspicuous politician with more clout than most. It has taken permanent residence. This assertoric belief that ‘blanket testing in a school culture of fear enhances learning’ is now the prevailing orthodoxy of South Pacific school systems as it is in the USA…..and it exists only  to satisfy greed for money. No school-keen educator of any complexion has had anything to do with its forced introduction in Australia, New Zealand, U.S.A. or the U.K.. It is a scandal.

Fear of the kind that NAPLAN generates, has no place in any school; in any social institution that caters for children.  The whole world knows this. Our little part of the world is too frightened to do anything about it and no politician has shown enough spunk to contest its existence with any gusto. Greed rules.  The rich get rich….richer…richer.

That is the predominate AIM of the 2008 scato-meme. There’s money to be made out of it.

Maybe parents should be told.

More soon.

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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
http://www.essential.schools.org               http://www.joebower.org
http://treehornexpress.wordpress,com/bridging-the-ditch/
http://allthingslearning.wordpress.com

Phil Cullen AM,FACEL,FQIEA,FACE
41 Cominan Avenue
Banora Point  2486
07 5524 6443
treehorn@bigpond.com

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