Treehorn Goes International

As I have written previously, it’s not possible to for me to maintain the Australian focus that Phil brought to Treehorn, nor is it possible to match his contributions, either in frequency of postings, or in the depth and extent of his knowledge. On the other hand, Phil’s efforts have established Treehorn’s role in the anti-GERM battle, especially from the viewpoint of Treehorn, on behalf of all children affected by GERM, anywhere in the world and it is important that this continue.

It seems to me that Treehorn would best be served by going international, providing a way to children (via adult contributors) to share their issues with their own local versions of GERM. Every infected country has its own issues, and it is very easy to become bogged down with these, thus limiting awareness of the issues faced all around the world. It has become very apparent to me that the similarities with GERM in each country are far greater than local variations, and I believe that sharing experiences can only increase our collective power. Given the huge power of the ‘deformers’ (money talks), this is very necessary. Benjamin Franklin’s comment to his fellow revolutionaries is apt:

“We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

I will be emailing educators in many countries to request that they write the occasional article on some aspect of GERM in their backyard. However, in the interests of openness, I encourage anyone who is interested to contribute, either as a one-off Guest Author, or as part of a series of  occasional articles.

If you are interested please send a message via the Contact Page.



Pride in Primary


Queued in alphabetical order, I was the third to walk through the door to the Queensland Legislative Council Chambers up to the podium where I was introduced to Queen Elizabeth II by name. As she hung the Medal of the Order of Australia on my lapel, someone announced : “For services to education.” Her Majesty asked, ‘In what kind of education are you interested?”

I’d been hoping that she’d ask something like that, so I puffed out my chest and said “I’m a primary school teacher, Ma’am.” That was all.

I did not realise it at the time, but, here I was telling the most important lady in the world that I was more important than she was.

I was a teacher.

I could feel that way at the time, because primary schooling was trying to do the best that it could by its pupils. High stakes, fear based examinations had been tossed in the rubbish bins some years before and the western world was working together to learn more about the art of teaching per se. England led the way, USA tried to package the best from England; while Australia and New Zealand was copying the best of both worlds.

We had a distinct advantage and the next thing we knew, folk from up-over started coming down-under to check the various amalgams that freedom-to-teach-and-learn had produced. The interchanges between all countries were extensive and frequent as was the delivery of professional literature of the time. Teachers from down-under were being warmly welcomed in all parts of the world because their teaching abilities were valued highly. We knew what we were doing.

We were very, very proud of our efforts. It has now been shown that the school products of this era of professionalism have provided society with the comfortable life-style and communication devices that it now enjoys, undreamed of at the time. We did the job well. Classroom experience and curriculum expertise were valued. Ordinary, every-day teachers were able to climb to decision-making positions that existed for the enhancement of classroom learning behaviour. Every serious teacher and experienced administrator wanted children to love learning for its own sake. Most importantly, teachers’ professional freedoms and ethical principles were respected by all. No witless, inane Minister for Education nor any other puffed-up politician would have dared to tell us how to teach, nor subject us to the abuses that our colleagues of today have to endure. Our principals, our professional groups and our unions and all of our superiors would stick up for us.

What has happened to our principles?

Phil Cullen

The Oxygen of Homeschooling.

Distinguished Guest Writer

Ken Woolford

Ken Woolford is a strong advocate for learning at home and the importance of the family in developing effective, enthusiastic, long-life learning skills. Ken was the Principal in the NT, who sent back the boxes of testing material when it arrived at his school and who, with wife Suesi, tried to open their own school in Toowoomba but were ‘outrageously stomped on’. Then, back in the classroom, he says. “ I continued my twice a year one hour conferences out of school time [in their homes if necessary] with parents although it was not appreciated by fellow teachers who were happy with the 15 minutes a family in school time, where ‘the parent came to listen to US’.

I knew that the concept of ‘non frigid’ education needed to be ‘sold’ and to be ‘sold’ again. I also believed that parents needed to be shown that I believed that their role in their children’s education was prime and paramount. I worked very hard at this for over ten years. I found that as long as I could maintain this type of conferencing my behaviour management challenges in class virtually disappeared.”

Home schooling, as an operation, seems to run counter to the trust that we put in compulsory attendance at a school within our reach. I have always thought that the provision of public schooling at no cost to parents at a place called ‘school’ in reasonable proximity to a pupil’s home was the greatest invention of mankind; and that laissez-faire and Treehornish parents should be forced to send their children to a school. I’m not so sure any more, so I admire the kind of activities that Ken Woolford and his friends undertake and they way that they help each other with well organised meets nd activities. Being forced to report each day to a building where the delivery of earnest pupilling pedagogies and extension of individual learning desires are fraught with stress and tension in the prevailing national quest for mediocrity, does not seem to justify the compulsion. It breaches our faith in long held beliefs of what universal education should provide.

Schooling under politically-controlled regimes of heavy testing, driven by politically-imposed modes of teaching and rigid curriculum requirements, threatens the welfare of children. I have never ever heard in almost 70 years of close contact with schooling, so much disquiet and dissatisfaction for NAPLAN schooling as I am hearing now. Plainly, there are too many unhappy schools on the Australian landscape. Home-learning has to be a healthy alternative….

Phil Cullen


The Oxygen of Homeschooling

Ken Woolford

Phil Cullen asked me to write something about Naplan. I would rather write about trees. Trees give us oxygen. Naplan sucks… the oxygen from us.

Millions of words have been written and spoken about the uselessness – worse, the deadening hand – of Naplan; and of course, of that wonderful ‘up-size’ to Naplan – My School. We know that not only was the knife slipped in via Naplan, but it was then slowly twisted using My School. Newspapers loved it, and it will only be when the corpse has all but bled to death that the media will finally see there is money in denouncing Naplan. But I know the politicians will be one step ahead – they’ll denounce it the day before the papers do!

Meanwhile, professional educators,- who have spent generations telling parents that their best interests lie in trusting them, the educators, and have stood by, wringing their hands and weeping “We can do nothing about this intellectual abuse of children – we are constrained by our employer, the State”, -now turn to these same parents and say “You must save your children from Naplan”.

But parents who have been disempowered for decades, who have seen their own parents disempowered by education systems, are not likely to know where to begin. And if they were to begin, and eradicate this atrocity, would the ‘professional’ educators not then step in and demand a resumption of their uber powers over the very children they had abandoned?

What a supreme cock-up! Parents depowered, educators castrated, children left hung out to dry. How and why did this happen? Well, the media loved it from the word go. Fear sells papers. Then, of course, the “rescuers” – politicians, publishing companies and ‘advisors’ – all rushed in to restructure, reorganise and yes – you guessed it – make lots of money.

Our kids are getting dumber! But IQ’s are going up. They need more homework – but homework makes zilch difference. We need to get back to basics, but what basics are you talking about? Oh – you mean the basics that are simple to teach and test and leave most kids brain dead?

Here in Australia we have had, for the last 25 years, the most highly trained and experienced teacher force in our history – but these teachers are apparently now too dumb to run a classroom. They need C2C (at least in Qld). It’s like telling surgeons they can only operate using manuals supplied by bureaucrats in Canberra, who have copied them from diagrams in the Pyramids (they’re old- they must be good).

I know who is behind the last 20 years of education policies – they’re people who cannot come to grips with the concept of evolution. We move on folks. Our speech patterns have changed from 50 years ago. We won’t go back. Our cars, planes, computers, clothing, literature, food, hairstyles, almost everything, have changed from the 60’s, and they in turn changed from the 20’s etc., etc., etc. (apologies to the King and I). Get your feet out of the mud and get with it.

Now let’s focus on how to help the families – yes FAMILIES – who need help. The ones who are most likely to have children which statistics tell us are most likely to end up low down on the well being scale. Forget the families whose children are statistically likely to be at or near the top. Naplan suits them beautifully. So does My School. So does practically anything!!

The less advantaged need different types of education. They do not need negative comparisons shoved in their faces from age four. Their parents do not need explicit report cards to inform them that their children are not ‘making it’. These families need a game they can win from the start. It’s not the game that allows 20% of children to look marvellous, 20% to look OK, 20% to be just acceptable and 40% to be branded l-o-s-e-r-s. Naplan does that. So does My School. It tells that bottom 40% that they are l-o-s-e-r-s if they do not start playing the same game as the w-i-n-n-e-r-s.

What the hell, though – the policies win votes, sell papers and make more money for the very rich. And politicians, newspaper owners and the rich all really care about YOUR child. We don’t need an educational diet appropriate for each child. We just need to make everyone digest what the w-i-n-n-e-r-s are digesting and then EVERYONE will be WINNERS.

Except for the 40% or 50% of kids who cannot digest that diet. I guess they’ll have to stay losers. But really – it’s their fault. They had the opportunity. They had Naplan. And My School. It’s not as if they weren’t told. Or teachers were not given the C2C to ‘fix’ them.

After almost 40 years working in schools and universities I now work with homeschoolers. International and long term research indicates that homeschooled children tend to do better scholastically and to grow up to be happier adults. Researchers think it’s because parents tend to educate ‘with’ their children and adjust the learning to suit the child. Parents also seem to interact and talk a lot more with their children than teachers are able to. And parents who home school tend to contextualise children’s learning – all good stuff.

The home school families I work with do NOT Naplan their children, or compare them with other children. They are similar in attitude to the Finns.

Many of us accept that we can learn a lot about education from the Finns. I think we also need to take a serious look at homeschoolers. Professional educators in this country often feel uncomfortable with homeschooling families. But then professional educators could not stop Naplan. Or My School. Or C2C. Homeschoolers have. The Finns have. I wonder who we need to be copying?

So – look at practices that enhance children’s chances. Most people who do even a small amount of professional educational reading (parents and teachers) know that current government education policies are myopic. They sound tough, so get politicians voted in. But they are still myopic. Current atrocious education policies will do little- if any – damage to the advantaged in our society. They do massive harm to the disadvantaged.

My advice, then, to those families that can see their children going under in Naplan fixated states or countries – don’t waste time. Get out. Move to Finland or start homeschooling. Your children’s chances for a better future can only improve. Finland has heaps of forests and homeschooling will give you more time to enjoy the trees… and the oxygen they provide.


A useful follow-up to this discussion is “Schooling The World” ….


Last week, I spoke with a Dad who was genuinely concerned about his daughter in Year 3 at a Gold Coast State School. “She is very distressed about her results in the NAPLAN Mathematics tests.” he said. “ She feels that she is a failure and does not like Maths any more.” I recommended that he drop a note to the principal to say that he did not want his daughter to do the tests. He didn’t think that he should. She’s caught up in the network. Poor little girl. This is early March. She has nine more weeks of this kind of ugliness. Education? What a price !!

Where have all our principles gone?


NAPLAN and Didactic Teaching


Phil Cullen

The redneck testocracy, now in control of schooling in Australia, has firm beliefs about teaching and learning.

  1. Fear is the best motivator to force children to learn.
  2. Learning should be measured only in numbers.
  3. High-stakes Testing causes the most fear and distress to children.
  4. Didactic Teaching is the easiest way to distress children.

These sorts of political misology, fundamental to the requirements of Kleinism imported from New York in 2008, are unacceptable to most teachers; but Orwellian hectoring and clownish tyranny, bordering on fascism, maintain the status quo and will continue to do so for some years unless parents do something about it. No matter which of the right-wing major parties in Australia takes control at the September elections, all that can be expected is more of the same

Chris%20Pyne[4]Chris-carp urges a ‘robust’ curriculum and a return to ‘explicit instruction pedagogy’ while Peter-prat regurgitates all that Her Immenseness, Australia’s thoughtless agent for Klein, demands….e.g. Reading blitzes, ‘top 5 by ’25’ all by numbers….all the inanities provided to her by specious academic ‘experts’ and testucating school-knowledgeless sciolists.

The former professes didactic teaching for all as the answer to something-or-other that needs straightening; while the other supports it by his continued naplanning. If either knows what the future looks like, they should tell the teachers because their main task is to prepare generations of children for an unknown future. Let us assure both that teaching a group of anxious youngsters is a very complicated and skilful operation. Teachers cope in outstanding fashion with a curriculum that is forced on them by folk who pretend to know more than they do.

Post-election, Chris intends forcing one form of instruction selected from his list of two known strategies: 1. Didactic and 2. Those Other Sorts. Parents need to consider his proposition very seriously. First, extract the electionese; then consider visiting a school…with a measuring stick.

Measuring stick? Imagine a continuum about the width of this page with hundreds of check-points across the page. Each check-point represents a particular teaching strategy ranging from the most didactic [sermon] on the left to the most maieutic [ basic child inquisitiveness] on the right.

Imagine, in the middle of this continuum there is a large group of strategies that represent group activities.

The teaching strategies towards the left are usually called ADULT-CONTROLLED [Didactic] while the ones on the right called CHILD-ORIENTED [Maieutic].

This continuum represents a huge range of teaching strategies that can be used for descriptive purposes between the two ends. If one notes the amount of teacher control, one can classify the kind of style by noting the ‘presence’ of the teacher . How does the teacher use the space – dominate, share, hard to find. Why? As you move from Year 12 to Year 1 with your observations, do you feel that, as the [generic] teacher is moving away from ‘the stage’ to an encouraging inconspicuous presence as learning traits emerge from the learner?

Most teachers use a range of such strategies during the course of each day. They can bounce forward and backward through dozens of them in the course of the day. It is likely that you will see more of the left-hand kind in a high school; and more of the right hand end In an infants school, a day-care or pre-school centre.

To force, by political control and domination of learning, the use of one kind in preference to professional judgements is specious, corrupts ideological and pedagogical purposes and ruins children’s cognitive growth. However: [SMH. 28-02-13 ‘Old school is way to go, says Pyne’.]


Think very seriously about the NAPLANing of Year 3 children. Aged 7 and 8, they will be just starting school in many western countries.

At that age, they prefer to play; they are very curious; they prefer to be happy; they like handling things in preference to paper-and-pencil drills; they are thrilled and motivated by achievement; learning is active ad celebratory; they are easily distressed by not doing well at something or ‘beaten’ by somebody else….and, at this stage of their life, the enrichment of their creative talents is vital. They are very fragile little human-beings….being treated abominably.

Each grows and develops at a different rate in every little thing they do, but, once each year, at NAPLAN-time during the first few months, Australian politicians and their testucating functionaries insist that each little Year 3 child must contest a one-size-fits-all testing procedure that interferes severely with normal, professionally-based teaching routines and natural intellectual development. NAPLAN treats children as lifeless wooden pieces to be pushed around for political purposes. It’s probably the greatest cognitive threat known to humankind. It is cruel, damaging and unnecessary.

For success in such contests between individuals, classes and schools, good scores are imperative. Teacher and school reputations are at stake…. in the high-stakes class.

Didactic forms of instruction [Apostles : Chris and Peter] involving rote-learning, plenty of heads-down sit-still practice, as well as overdone repetition and tension building become part and parcel of NAPLAN test preparation…..all following two years of learning joy for Year 3 children! That’s the kind of classroom life for Years 3,5,7,9 under the command of didactic zombic structuralists.

A healthy Australian knowledge economy competing for a place in world affairs is being seriously threatened at its foundations.

Mum and Dad, don’t you think that Australia needs to call a halt to the NAPLAN pestilence and start thinking from the child’s frame of reference…as Finland did thirty years ago? You like your kids, don’t you and are concerned for their future aren’t you? You can be sure that neither side of our present-day political kakistocracy gives a rats. Our unfortunate kids have to suffer in the future because care-less politicians have control in both major parties.

Say NO to both of them…..unless they say NO to NAPLAN.


I know of no greater sin that the oppression of the innocent.” [Gandhi]

Mr. Pyne. You make me sick. I’m a TEACHER and your sickly efforts o debase my chosen profession and hurt my loving pupils is despicable. I do hope that you lose the election and have to return to your former occupation. If it is an honourable one, as mine is, you are a disgrace to it.” [Vicki Kovacich]


Phil Cullen

March 9th  2013

Educational Readings March 8th

The corporate dream of online education via streamed video instruction (Khan Academy) should be well known. The next version of this lunacy has been developed by News Corp (yes, Murdoch’s empire) under the oversight of one Joel Klein, the self appointed expert in raising children’s achievement through stringent testing regimes. Klein’s name will be well known to Australian, as it was his influence with then education minister (and now Prime Minister) Julia Gillard that resulted in the scourge of NAPLAN being imposed on primary schools.

Klein’s latest brainwave is the development of an instructional program for tablets, such as iPads, and New Corp’s own product.

‘Amplify is creating exciting new curriculum offerings that reinvent teaching and learning in English Language Arts, Science and Math. These products combine interactive, game-like experiences with rigorous analytics that align to the Common Core Standards, all driven by adaptive technologies that respond to individual students’ needs as they evolve. These new learning experiences are being developed by a team at Wireless Generation, together with some leading partners such as Lawrence Hall of Science and Lapham’s Quarterly.’

Hold your nose and read more about it


I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

 Have a good weekend.


This week’s homework!

A Civilised Society

OK, so this isn’t a reading. However it is a must watch for anyone who wants (needs?) to know about the neo-liberal takeover of New Zealand education in 1990. The battle we are presently fighting started way back here and the ‘spin’ (to be polite) that was used to justify this is a serious threat to one’s sanity. There are lessons here for other countries as well.

‘This documentary looks at the new right ideology that transformed public education in the 80s and 90s and the schism it caused with teachers. Interviews with parents, teachers and unionists are cut together with archive footage of treasury officials and politicians advocating that schools be run as businesses. There are vexed board of trustees’ meetings, an infamous deal between Avondale College and Pepsi, and teachers take their opposition from the classroom to the streets.’

‘Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.’ (The more things change, the more they stay the same.)

Whoo-Hoo! Occupy the Schools

An article by US educator Susan Ohanian (another excellent person to follow) about the Common Core Standards, that are frighteningly similar to New Zealand’s National Standards. This sentence, in particular, should send shivers up the collective spines of New Zealand teachers:

‘Lots of school watchers believe the sole purpose of the Common Core State (sic) Standards is to drive the national test which has been on the corporate agenda for more than two decades.’

The significant difference is that New Zealand is developing an online system (PaCT) to rate each child’s achievement from ‘data’ inputed at regular intervals by his/her teacher. This has the potential to be far worse than a test regime. One would also have to wonder whether New Zealand is being used as the guinea pig for this approach to testing, before it appears in other countries. As a small country, with only one unified education system (unlike the separate states in Australia and USA, for example) it would be much easier to develop and trial this online system here. Watch this space.

Schooling the World

Must be video week….  Here’s the trailer to a movie that needs really demands to be watched. Have you ever really thought about the drive to bring education to the world? Just whose definition of education is being used?

‘If you wanted to change a culture in a single generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children.’


‘Generations from now we’ll look back and say, ‘How could we have done this kind of thing to people?’

Occupy Your Brain

A blog article from the Schooling the World site:

‘The problem with this scenario should be obvious:  who gets to decide what the world’s children will learn?  Who decides how and when and where they will learn it?  Who controls what’s on the test, or when it will be given, or how its results will be used?  And just as important, who decides what children will not learn?  The hierarchies of educational authority are theoretically justified by the superior “expertise” of those at the top of the institutional pyramid, which qualifies them to dictate these things to the rest of us.  But who gets to choose the experts?  And crucially, who profits from it?’

How George Orwell might explain school reform

Are we moving towards an Orwellian future?

Sugata Mitra: Slum chic?

7 reasons for doubt

While TED Prize Winner Mitra has indeed demonstrated some intriguing things about the way children can learn technology, we need to beware of seeing him as the way to the future, following on from a previous TED Talks ‘star’, Salman Khan. The reformers will leap on anyone whose message can be subverted to their needs.

Principal: ‘I was naïve about Common Core’

Here is an honest and open disclosure from a New York principal. All credit to her. I wonder how many Australian and New Zealand principals would have the same courage and integrity to do likewise? I wonder how many have the educational insight to see behind the surface fluff? I will happily publish any letters from down under principals along this theme.

A Letter to Mr Pyne

Last week I linked to an article where the Australian Liberal Party spokesperson on education was quoted as calling for a return to didactic teaching.

He said, “we would immediately instigate a very short term ministerial advisory group to advise me on the best model for teaching in the world, how to bring out more practical teaching methods based on more didactic teaching methods, more traditional methods rather than the child-centred learning that has dominated the system for the last twenty, thirty or forty years…”

Here’s the response from a large number of highly qualified Australian academics, not that Pyne and his fellow ignoramuses will be open to any research based evidence. This article has value for educators all over.

Rearranging The Deckchairs

‘What if the so-called “world class” education systems that have been so painstakingly under construction in countries like the UK and the USA turn out to be very similar to the Titanic?

  • Made from the very best materials
    * Designed by the best architects
    * Constructed by the very best craftsmen and builders
    * Crewed by the very best professionals
    * Fundamentally flawed in their basic concept
    * Completely doomed through unfitness for purpose and disastrous leadership.’

How Children Succeed – grit, curiosity,


the hidden power of character.

Excellent post by Bruce Hammonds, reviewing the book of the same title.

“Schools these days seem to becoming focused on closing the ‘achievement gap’ by means of tests centred around literacy and numeracy  ‘but what’,  Paul Tough asks,’ if we’re wrong?’”


Big Shoes to Fill

As you will have read, Phil is reducing his involvement with Treehorn, although he will still appear in print from time to time.  His decision is understandable, as he does have a life to live, outside of banking his head against the NAPLAN wall. His frustration at not being successful in provoking principals and teachers into taking action is also understandable, as the situation is similar in New Zealand. Phil has asked me to fill his shoes, to take over the prime role of looking after Treehorn. I’ve got two problems with that; his shoes are too big for me and his steps far too long! Phil’s knowledge and experience puts him in another league for any mere mortal to follow; however all I can do is my best to follow in his footsteps.

While I’ve been lurking in the background on the Treehorn blogsite for 18 months or so, I’ve not really been to the forefront, apart from my weekly educational readings. It’s time to break cover and risk boring you with a biography.

I worked as a primary teacher for 20 years in a number of primary schools in New Zealand, all bar one of these being in lower socio-economic areas. In 1992 I decided it was time to move to principalship, and worked, as principal, in four schools over that time, spending the period 2002 to 2011 as principal of a high socio-economic school. I’m restrained from identifying this school, however capable ‘googlers’ will no doubt be able to find the answer.

In November 2008, GERM arrived in New Zealand, following the election of the centre-right National Party and its coalition party, a rag tag supposedly libertarian outfit called ACT. This version of GERM came bundled with the usual rhetoric: schools and teachers were not good enough, children were not achieving, parents were not being provided with accurate data on how their children were achieving, and so on. Get the picture? Classic fear mongering politics aimed at frightening parents into worrying about their children’s education. I’ll unpack these claims in future posts.

National’s ‘solution’ to the ‘failures’ of New Zealand education was the establishment of National Standards of ‘achievement’ in literacy and numeracy, or, to be more precise, reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. Yes, folks, the old 3Rs. These standards were to be set for each year level, starting from 5 years olds with the ‘achieved’ mark set at about the 66% level i.e., considerably above average for the age. As I was to discover in coming months, this notion of ‘raising the bar’ was imported from eastern states of the USA, with the magical belief that a higher bar would bring higher ‘achievement.’

Over the following couple of years I watched developments with increasing concern, exacerbated by my frustrations at the lack of concern shown by my principal colleagues, who failed to smell the same rats as I did. Health issues put a stop to all things education in the second half of  2010; however once I was back in harness in February 2011 I started doing some digging, to learn more about the National Standards regime.

The more I dug, the more unsavoury information I found, and I began seeing evidence that there was a very tight link between New Zealand and overseas variants of GERM. Once I learned about the McKinsey & Company reportHow the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better‘ everything started to fall into place. Here was the source of the ‘data’ being quoted by the government to ‘prove’ New Zealand primary school education was failing, derived, of course, from PISA test results. Coincidentally it seems that many other countries mined the same data to draw similar conclusions, to justify ‘reform’ in their countries. This was the start of my discoveries and much more was to turn up in my browser over the next few months.

The more I discovered, the more concerned and angry I became at the con job being foisted on New Zealand schools, especially as there was much less angst from the great majority of principals and teachers than I would have expected (Hence my sympathies with Phil’s frustrations.) There was, in fact, a degree of acceptance and ‘we can cope,’ which was in stark contrast to the results of my research.

I reached the proverbial crossroads in April 2o11.

“I went down to the crossroad
fell down on my knees
I went down to the crossroad
fell down on my knees
Asked the lord above “Have mercy now
save poor Bob if you please”

One was to sell my soul to the devil and to meekly fall into line to implement everything as required. The other alternative was to take up the pen and start to fight. There comes a time when people have to stand up for their beliefs and this was mine.

‘All the money you make will never buy back your soul.‘ Bob Dylan

So that’s what I did, fully mindful that I was potentially loading a gun that would later be pointed at me.

Six months later, this was indeed the case.  Even the local newspaper was keen to assist with the gun, having somehow managed to dredge up a throw away comment that I’d posted on someone else’s blog 18 months earlier. This comment, in fact, was so buried that I resorted to asking the newspaper where it was. Some people sure must have trawled very hard to dig up dirt on me!

Needless to say, the resultant publicity over this comment, which even featured on a Radio New Zealand national radio programme, didn’t go down too well with my employing Board of Trustees, not one of whom shared my  forebodings about the grim future facing New Zealand education. The possibility that at least one member had dirt on his/her fingers over the newspaper article, and other discontent,  sure didn’t help.

Things took another turn however, when my health deteriorated again and I realised that my time as a school principal was over.big shoes

This didn’t, of course, have to mean that my days as an educational activist needed to cease as well; in fact it meant that I was now freed of employment pressures, and free from further attacks. My health kept me fairly quiet in 2012; however my brain is slowly coming back (myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome is very debilitating) and so I’m able to start writing once again, just in time to step into Phil’s shoes.

Allan Alach

Why Am I Going to D.C.?

Treehorn Express:

A tribute to every NAPLAN victim who is ignored by those who are expected to care.


Distinguished Guest Writer

Peggy Robertson

Peggy, of UNITED OPT OUT NATIONAL, is a most enthusiastic opponent of high stakes testing who plays a major role in the organisation of a four-day gathering of parents and teachers in Washington, D.C. on April 4-7. They’ll be there in their thousands as they were last year. The press release tells us that the administrators of the public education advocacy group bullhorn
UNITED OPT OUT NATIONAL are hosting the second annual event on the grounds of the US Department of Education in Washington, DC on April 4-7, 2013. “We ask all of those in support of teachers, students and public schools to attend. The third day will include an organized march to the White House.

The event is a four-day gathering of progressive education activists endeavouring to resist the destructive influences of corporate and for-profit education reforms, which began in previous administrations and persist with the current one. We cannot and will not stand silent as the threats to dismantle our system of public education continue. These threats include the erosion of the teaching profession, excessive use of standardized testing, mandated scripted curriculum, the absolute disregard of child poverty, and reforms which disproportionately impact minority communities.

We ask that you join us, stand tall, and meet your responsibility as citizens to be heard above the din corporate influence. You will have the opportunity to hear speakers and converse with public school advocates from across the country, including Diane Ravitch, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, Stephen Krashen, Brian Jones, Deborah Meier, and many other students, teachers, and community members (visit the link below for full schedule details).

Do not miss this free and unique opportunity to connect with like-minded public school advocates. Come gather information and strategies that can be used to fight corporate education reform in your own community. Join us and make your voice heard.”

Peggy Robertson has taught kindergarten, first, second, fourth, fifth and sixth grade, beginning her career in Missouri and continuing in Kansas, for a total of ten years. She was hired by Richard C. Owen Publishers in 2001 to serve as a Learning Network Coordinator and spent the next three years training teacher leaders and administrators in educational theory and practice in the state of Colorado, as well as around the country during the summer months. In 2004 she was hired as the Literacy Coordinator by the Adams 50 School District in Westminster, Colorado. While working in Adams 50 she mentored teachers and administrators and supported them in the writing and implementation of school development plans. She earned her master’s degree in English as a Second Language at Southeast Missouri State University. She currently is an instructional coach at an elementary school and devotes the rest of her time to her work at United Opt Out National. Her blog can be found at . Contact Peggy .

Why Am I Going to D.C.?

Peggy Robertson

DOE FINAL BWThis is such an emotionally charged question.

I am going because I feel as though I am on a mission that chose me and I am simply one of the vessels to help it reach its destination.

I am going because I watch my sons watch me. I see them examine the choices I make. I see them watching me refuse to back down and demand the truth out of all that life brings forth. I cannot let them down.

I am going because I have been told all of my years of teaching to simply “shut my door.” Simply shut my door and do what is right for children. This is not enough. I open my door wide. I scream to the world what I am doing for these children – I scream that I am giving them what they are rightfully owed – a whole and equitable education. I scream to the world that I am allowing them to make choices, give input, become a part of their learning experience and become empowered by their voice and their ability to make a difference in this world. I do so because it is the truth and because it is important to model for other women who have spent their lives believing they must stay quiet, be agreeable, and do as they are told. I am not one of those women and deep down, no women are that way – I hope to help them find their voices.

I am going because my community around me is dying on the vine. And there are a few fellow activists here working with me to determine how to make the vine grow – not just upward – but outward and inward and in ways that were never imagined before in the public schools. We have hopes to not only preserve public schools but improve them and create democratic schools – which is what should have existed all along.

I am going because I am surrounded by the truth. I cannot turn from it. And I am determined to expose it and wake the masses up. I am determined to help those who cannot speak for themselves – the children, the families, and the educators who live in fear of losing their jobs.

I am going because I have seen too many children harmed by these mandates. I remember them. I wonder what happened to them. And I wonder what else I could have done to help them.

I am going because I selfishly need to surround myself by those whom I consider to be a part of my community. I need their support, their guidance, their knowledge and their love.

I am going because every time I speak to a fellow activist I find myself growing a bit stronger – and this strength turns to action.

See you in D.C.,



Make sure you visit and surf its sub-sections. This remarkable organisation is one that needs replication in all GERM countries to get rid of the immoral, unnecessary, curriculum destructive, wasteful, high-cost Standardised Blanket Testing regimes. Standardised Blanket Testing is a scato-meme that is a deleterious accident of history, threatening the general progress of each country’s knowledge economy. SBTs of all kinds have to go.

Let’s send genuine down-under wishes to Peg [ ] and her wonderful friends.

Phil Cullen


Best wishes to our colleagues up-over from parents, teachers, students down-under


The Good Guys – PENA, TESA & SAY NO to NAPLAN – and every Teacher, Parent, Student available in Melbourne meet

Wed. March 6 6.30 p.m.

VICTORIA UNIVERSITY Flinders Lane, Melbourne, Room FLB01

to organise a campaign to BOYCOTT NAPLAN TESTS


Educational Readings March 1st

 Treehorn Express:

A tribute to every NAPLAN victim who is ignored by those who are expected to care.


Educational Readings

By Allan Alach


 I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

This week’s homework!

Is It Time We Threw Standardized Testing Out the Door?

‘Teachers and parents across the country [USA] are banding together to protest high-stakes testing.’

The end is nigh, people. May take a couple of years, so keep up the activism. The tipping point (Gladwell) will come. Politicians listen to voters when they see their jobs on the line.

Assessing Creativity (via Bruce Hammonds)

‘We can assess creativity—and, in the process, help students become more creative.’

However we can’t mandate creativity through standards, nor measure it with rubrics, so I don’t fully agree with some points in this article. How do we avoid subjectivity? What’s creative to one person may not be to another?  What is quality anyhow?  Your thoughts?

The lesson you never got taught in school: How to learn!

Good point. This article is especially useful for secondary and tertiary students.

In Praise of (English) Teachers

Warm fuzzies all round.

What’s worth learning?

Another valuable article from Marion Brady:

‘Sensible education reform begins with a serious, society-wide dialogue about what’s worth learning. It’s a dialogue we’ve yet to have.’

Educators outside the USA need to play close attention to this, given that so much of GERM originates in the USA, slavishly followed by our politicians. Of particular concern is the unbelievable emphasis placed in the USA on textbooks, derived from a view of education as the learning of facts/information (the pitcher method ‘Open your mouths, kids, and I’ll pour the information down your throats.’).

As Marion observes, the immediate concern is the debate of what should be included in the textbooks, or, to put it another way, how should learners’ minds be controlled?

“School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is.” Ivan Illich “

Old school is way to go, says Pyne

Following directly on from Marion’s article is this piece of wisdom from Australia:

‘Child-centred learning should be abandoned for a return to more explicit instruction driven by teachers, the Liberal education spokesman, Christopher Pyne, says.’


Yes Chris, the 19th century was wonderful. The poor knew their place and didn’t challenge the status quo. Poor Australia – stuck with Labor and NAPLAN on one hand, and the Liberals, NAPLAN, and a dinosaur on the other.

Going Public Documentary 

Given that most of the education agenda in Australia and New Zealand is imported in prefab form from USA, Nancy’s project is well worth supporting with a donation!