Education in a Democracy

I seem to have retained some computer complications. If you did not receive Allan Alach’s ‘Readings’ yesterday, you will find them on this site.  You will enjoy them. Apologies. Phil

The Treehorn Express

Opinion soaked in knowledge & experience.

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Reliable Anecdotes of Reality

Treehorn is the hero of an easy-to-read, sad children’s book, “The Shrinking of Treehorn” by Florence Heidi Parry. She cleverly exposes adults’ couldn’t-care-less attitude towards the needs of children, even when the circumstances of mal-treatment of children are patently obvious. Treehorn found that parents, teachers and principals only pretend to care. His principal ignored his problem but was still able to say, “You were right to come to me. That’s what I’m here for. To guide. Not to punish, but to guide. To guide all members of my team. To solve their problems.” And Treehorn kept shrinking.

When he started to turn green, his mother told him to comb his hair before the Smedleys arrived for bridge.

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The comprehensive Whitlam Institute research into the ‘impacts of high-stakes testing’ reveal, once again, the cruel nature of NAPLAN and the disregard that political controllers of schooling have for the health and welfare of children at school http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/naplan-is-the-pain-worth-it-20121125a1mf.html Note how quickly Messrs Garrett and Pyne dismiss the findings, ignore the report’s conclusions and immediately shift the blame to teachers.

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Education in a Democracy

Paul Thomson

Paul Thomson is the Principal of Kimberley College, Brisbane. He is a firm recusant of Orwellian hectoring in general; and an uncompromising resistor of emetic attempts by NAPLAN control freaks cum testucating sophists to dominate his professional behaviour. In short, he hates bullying and he cares for his pupils.

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Career educators were inadvertently gifted weapons of control following the Fitzgerald inquiry in Queensland. We all know that there will always be opportunities for those who corrupt well-intentioned legislation for their own self-centred purposes. Codes of conduct and lowered standards of proof were gifts to the ambitious servants of the elite who sought and seek control of all schools.

In 1982, I was principal of Kimberley Park State Primary School which I opened in 1985 as a multi-age school. I first incurred the wrath of my Regional Director in that year when I refused to cover up the assault of a child. A further transgression was noted when I refused to sack a teacher I employed as a teacher’s aide at her request. ‘The Department’ wanted her to write the curriculum for Japanese to be implemented state-wide.

My relationship with the State Controller was not enhanced when I began to speak against the gathering clouds of economic rationalism with its fetish for measurement, its factory language and its ‘tick and flick’ assessment of teachers. I also rejected an endorsement of the neo-Darwinist notions of the elite whom governments and their departments chose to serve.

From 1992 to 1995, I was exposed to some shabby treatment – including one year when all 7 teachers transferred to Kimberley Park for the following year had pronounced personal and professional problems. I was lied to about the availability of deputies that the growing school required and warned about my anti-testing position.

In 1995, I decided to make a complaint of systemic bullying against ‘the Department’, and was mentored in this process by the Public Service Ethics Unit.

The Queensland Teachers’ Union was later to describe the result of the inquiry as ‘the biggest flogging the Department received since 1869’.

My mentor then advised me in these words: ‘You’ve had a win. Now whatever you do, get out. They will make your life a misery. The positive from this is that two investigators had the courage to refuse instructions to find you guilty of numerous misdemeanours.’

He also advised me of my status as a whistle-blower under the protection of the CJC (Criminal Justice Commission).

Attempts to fulfil the prediction of a miserable life came thick and fast. A few incidents are listed below:

  • I was charged with failing to respect the views of others when I protested against a federal pre-election distribution of bonus funds to private schools.
  • I was investigated after registering concern about the bullying behaviour of a deputy principal.
  • A warning of potential demotion was based upon my failing to pay an account for $14.50 in time to receive a 10% discount.
  • An official warning was sent to me after I bought a floral tribute on the occasion of the death of a teacher’s mother. The reason offered was that this could be construed as a fringe benefit.

During the period from 1995 to 2000, my opposition to standardised testing grew, and I openly opposed the forerunners to NAPLAN at principals’ conferences. Many supported me quietly, but no-one spoke out. At one three-day conference designed to endorse the thoughts of the Controller-in-Chief, I stated at the end of the conference that I wished to be recorded as a dissenting member of the conference on the grounds that I had been called away from my school to mouth the words of the Controller and his minions.

The campaign of vilification, isolation and harassment intensified from 1997 onwards. Some examples:

  • I was charged with conflict of interest because, during a raid on my office one Monday morning, one of the Controller’s grovelers (in my absence) found a private school brochure on my desk.
  • The investigators subsequently appointed took my intellectually handicapped daughter into a room, shut the door, and asked her:
    • ‘Have you ever seen your father drunk at home?’
    • ‘What does he talk about on the phone?’
    • ‘Does he have any plans for next year?’
    • ‘Has he ever taken school paper home?’

In a most unusual move, a chief investigator from outside the Education Department was appointed – from the Department of Health. His nickname in the Health Department was ‘Dirt Dog’.

Such were the frequency and intensity of the investigations that I was able to claim, with little effort, legal expenses as a tax deduction under the clause : ‘Expenses necessarily incurred to earn a living’.

The Controller was particularly offended by my campaign to establish a [State] multi-age high school with alternative testing strategies. Kimberley Park Primary was frustrating enough for the Controller-in-Chief. It was a very successful school and certainly the most visited in Queensland by interstate and overseas educators. The Curriculum Branch of Education Queensland loved us. Parents asked the obvious question – ‘Why can’t we have continuity?’

Continuity came in the form of a low fee, private school in 2000, and investigations of me continued – about 14 since I opened Kimberley College. Threats of jail, removal of the board and threats to sue the College have been part of the game. The delay of permission to move to our permanent site until Christmas Eve, 2002 gave us three and a half weeks to establish a school in a paddock by the river. We opened a week late.

And so to some impressions:

  • I had no support from principals nor from Principals’ Associations
  • The CJC was of no assistance
  • Whistle-blower legislation is thoroughly ineffective.

Was it worth it?

My absolute answer is ‘yes’. I have neither known the taste of boot polish nor lived in the shadow of the epithet that teachers are ‘…men amongst boys and boys amongst men.’

My school community – about 95% of our 650 students are from the state system – is very supportive of our practices and philosophy and are well informed of NAPLAN issues.

In 2012, 125 of our 139 families withdrew their children from NAPLAN testing.

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A SCHOOL KID’S WISH : May the fleas of a thousand camels invade the crutch of each and every testucator and NAPLAN supporter; and may their arms be too short to scratch them.

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PLEASE NOTE Because of computer problems The Treehorn Express has experienced some serious delays. Deep apologies. Please be patient.

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Phil Cullen  AM,FACE,FACEL,FQIEL
[Gold Medal :ACEL]
41 Cominan Avenue
Banora Point 2486
07 5524 6443
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