Learning from Conferences

The Treehorn Express

Treehorn’s story : Open attachment.

[Maintained by NZ educator Allan Alach]

National testing, such as NAPLAN and National Standards, ensures national mediocrity.”

Learning from Conferences
One has to wonder. What do we learn? Do we attend with a desire to learn…or to socialise….or to catch up with cobbers and share ideas with colleagues? We pay a lot of money to attend them. We expect to come out professionally richer and happier, whatever our reasons.

Apart from four APPA Conferences, I’ve been to quite a number of others and, at this present time, I am wondering what I recall from them. Which ones ‘changed’ my thinking perhaps.
Some conferences were very large; too big to be useful.  The AASA [American Association of School Administrators] at Atlantic City welcomed 35,000 participants – the population of Cairns, where I had lived the year before. I can only recall how well things were organised. Nothing else.  Another of similar size was the NAESP [National Association of Elementary School Principals] at Denver. The real value in this conference, for me, was a 4mat workshop that I attended for a few days beforehand. It was based around  the notion that the hemispheres of the brain process things differently. We participants examined two parts of each hemisphere: – 1. Imaginative [Why?] 2. Analytic [What?] and 3. Common Sense [How?] 4. Dynamic [What if?] sensitizing us to the personal pupilling adaptations that pupils use as they share and construct meaning in their lives with the help of child-oriented teachers. Not much use for NAPLAN-approving teachers.

I’ve attended ACEA [now ACEL] conferences in Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and Sydney. In Perth, ACEA members continued the conference while visiting educational institutions in Singapore and Penang.That was a useful experience. The Melbourne conference was memorable as it was held during the Standards Debate, the scato-meme period that arose from the 1975 Black Papers and lasted for over a decade. It can and should be compared with the present NAPLAN debacle as there are some very common features.  Teachers were under attack as they are now, but not from government sources as they are now. The attack came from academics who knew little to nothing about schools. ACEA invited one of them to be a keynote speaker: Lachlan Chipman, a Wollongong academic, because he was chairman of ACES [Australian Council for Educational Standards] a self-styled crusading group of tertiary level protectors of school standards which treated the Black Papers with devoted biblical affection. In accordance with these beliefs, they maintained that ‘children were not naturally good…too much freedom…a non-competitive ethos will produce a generation unable to maintain standards when opposed by fierce rivalry from overseas competitors…etc..etc.” [Back to Drastics, Pp18-20] using the rhetoric now used by NAPLAN measurers and testicators, their apprentices and politicians.

Without supplying his Victorian hosts with a pre-copy of his speech, Chipman gave teachers such a venomous charge that his comments made the front page of every major Australian newspaper; and Education Departments in every state were busy with ‘Ministerials’ for a few weeks.  His description of teachers at a public rally as “….a foul-mouthed rabble of sloppily dressed and grubbily obese unionists….It is difficult to exaggerate just how bad some of these teachers are. Many are incapable of spontaneously generating a grammatically well-formed sentence…..Secondary teachers especially in government schools, represent most of the worst, and few of the best, of the output of the universities” and he then went on to insult them. {Speech available}

In a calmer manner, an earlier Brisbane ACEA Conference featured Richard Carlson of the University of Oregon at Eugene. At the time he was renowned in managerial circles for his easy-to-follow design that featured the differences between the administration of a business organisation and a state-sponsored one; and how each tries to ‘control’ its clients. He referred to them as ‘Wild’ and ‘Domesticated’ Societies. Wild organisations, like supermarket businesses, try to attract clients and exploit public attitudes as adroitly as they can.  His illustration and description of domesticated societies featured schools, gaols and insane institutions whose clients have no choice over being there. I adapted his design for personal use, and it did help me to tolerate some of the less palatable operations that a school leader and other public service administrators must endure or manipulate. It made me think about the level of freedom that I was allowed and what my profession meant to me; how far I could push the envelope and how.  I changed the Carlson design to a school-based model and came to appreciate the differences between being ‘wild’ or ‘domesticated’ within the same professional framework and my place in it:-

If you are a ‘schoolie’, in which quadrant do you operate? What does the level of client-control mean to you and the way that you do things?  If you lead learning, how much ‘control’ do you have?


     So a conference sometimes alters the mind-set of participants and sometimes spreads ideas that benefit school clients. If a conference is about activities of a domesticated organisation, have you ever heard of its organisational elite pronounce its professional ethics and views, in a loud voice during or after the conference?   Union conferences usually do. They issue demands; professional groups seldom  demand; they usually indicate their view on professional grounds if  it believes in its ethics firmly enough. One day they might demand attention for the maintenance of such ethics. They don’t usually.

    Just think. The professional face of our down-under primary principals’ valiant attempts at leading learning in schools over the past four years in the face of child-hostile governments, could be revealed this week. Most of them dwell in the     bottom-right quadrant in uneasy comfort. The public pretty-well ignores them, and testicators make the most of their domesticated compliance. 2012 could be a marvellous year for primary school pupils, principals’ principles and for the South Pacific’s future.  Just don’t bet on it.

“The country that encourages a love for learning in a climate of freedom leads the world.”
THIS TUESDAY’S FEATURE : http://primaryschooling.net/?page_id=1896
     This article deals with the morality of school principals’ supervision of fear-based, standardised blanket testing in any of the GERM countries?  What does one do when one is expected to lead such ‘de-forming’ activities?
Horace Mann said, “Public schooling is mankind’s greatest invention.” This article explains why.
Kelvin Smythe said, “…without classroom experience, it is beyond the capacity of the human mind to understand primary teaching.”  While teachers become more and more experienced and competent with pupilling acts, the nature of political and bureaucratic beasts has not.  Smythe continues, “Because these characters do not understand primary teaching, have no ideas of their own, they borrow from overseas, thinking themselves so sophisticated in the process, so in the  know;  they also become so obsessive, so keen to exact revenge on teachers, they are willing to impose on teachers one alien indignity after the other.”  This article explains the intellectual and intestinal rigour required to understand the nature of primary teaching’s pride in their job. Testicators, measurers and political ‘experts’ just don’t have the experience, the demanding intellect nor personal mettle to internalise its requirements. They prefer to be the bullies.

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One thought on “Learning from Conferences

  1. I am a teacher in QLD and am very pleased that I was pointed towards your blog. As I skimming through it just now, came upon the comment from Bantick about parents demanding that teachers do more to ensure their children succeed. I would like to turn that back on parents and make some demands of my own. I demand you feed your child nourishing, well cooked meals, I demand you make sure your child goes to bed at a reasonable time and sleeps, I demand you read to your child and have books about them, I demand that you don’t scream and fight in front of or near your child, I demand you spend good quality time with your child and listen to his/her problems, I demand you check your child’s health regularly, I demand you take your child to cultural things and expand their horizons, I demand you become a life long learner yourself and open your mind more, I demand you wash and clean your child and teach them about good hygiene and good manners……Surely, this isn’t much to expect of parents and it would certainly go a long way to helping us in our jobs.

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