DISTINGUISHED GUEST WRITER
CHARLES DICKENS, NAPLAN,
AND THE CORPORATISATION OF EDUCATION
Charles Dickens is not the poster boy of the economic rationalists. With the advocacy of canonical tests by the ‘back to’ movement one would expect the Dickens name to be dropped occasionally. This elective silence is for good reason. Dickens’ portrayal of the education system of the Industrial Revolution should be an embarrassment to the education ‘reformers’ of this country. In six or seven pages of ‘Hard Times’, Dickens satirises the stupidities of his era as only Dickens can and, in doing so, satirises the recent ‘reforms’ of the Australian system.
Unfortunately for our children, the satirised stupidities form a catalogue of the vacuous and irrational reforms re-introduced by corporate rationalists of the US, Australia and NZ. The introduction of the reforms has been made possible through the indifference of parents, the indifference of educators, and the bullying culture infecting education nationally.
The predominant philosophy of Dickens’ time was Utilitarianism, the idiot half-brother of economic rationalism. There is little difficulty in finding similarities between these self-serving dogmas with their self-serving notions of wealth-based intelligence as a reward for the ‘fittest’.
The first chapter of ‘Hard Times’ comprises one of the most comprehensive critiques of rationalist-based education since the well-planned emergence of the corporatisation movement of the early 1990’s. Dickens words of the 1850’s are an unnerving reminder of the destructiveness and arrogance of those who count their worth, and the worth of others, in monetary terms.
Dickens clearly loathed the forerunners of such rationalist strategies as Naplan and the National Curriculum. ‘Hard Times’ commences with the words of Thomas Gradgrind:
‘Now what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but facts.
Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else.’
‘Facts’, of course, are easily tested and are easily controlled. The teaching of thinking and the nurturing of imagination, which Dickens called ‘fancy’, were not on the agenda. Some excuse could be made for Thomas Gradgrind as he would not have been aware of Einstein’s injunction; “Imagination is more important than knowledge”.
A personal anecdote may be appropriate here. Several years ago, I attended a seminar conducted by a member of the committee responsible for the development of the national curriculum.
She stated that the committee had decided that, in the younger grades, the teaching of drama, dance, singing and art would be allocated 4 minutes a day.
However, by the end of year three, every child would be able to explain the meaning of ‘onomatopoeia’. Chilling stuff. Even more chilling was that the 70 or 80 ‘educators’ sat in dumb silence in response to this expression of petty triumphalism.
Thomas Gradgrind’s Naplanism is well established by these lines:
‘…….Thomas Gradgrind. With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket sir, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to.’
Thomas, like the ACARA spokesperson referred to previously,
‘….seemed a kind of cannon loaded to the muzzle with facts, and prepared to blow them (his pupils) clean out of the realms of childhood at one discharge’
Sissy Jupe is the next character introduced by Dickens and the juxtaposition of the mechanical mind of Gradgrind and Sissy Jupe’s generous and innocent nature is disturbing. The Gradgrinds of education have gained the ascendancy in this country.
Sissy Jupe, the daughter of a circus trick-rider, is asked to define a horse and she is unable to do so. A classmate, Bitzer, is able to deliver the definition and so receives the praise.
Readings of commercial texts designed for the subject of English as defined by the national curriculum reveal an obsession with definition. One year 9 text has over 80 definitions of parts of speech, figures of speech and so on.
Language is culture; thousands have died to resist the imposition of foreign languages conveying foreign cultures. Who then, would go to the barricades to die for the definition of a verbal noun?
With a little imagination it is not too difficult to see C.O.A.G, A.C.A.R.A., and their minions receive a mention in the extract below. Gradgrind’s continuing admonition of Sissy Jupe is in these words,
‘You are to be in all things regulated and governed’ said the gentleman, ‘by fact. We hope to have, before long, a board of fact, composed of commissioners of fact, who will force the people to be a people of fact, and of nothing but fact.’
Dickens’ relevance is further established through an attack on subject-centred education. His vehicle for this attack is Mr McChoakumchild, an educator and part of a mass produced cohort ‘….. lately turned at the same time, in the same factory, on the same principles, like so many pianoforte legs.’
Mr McChoakumchild’s expertise included ‘Orthography, etymology, syntax and prosody, biography, astronomy, geography and general cosmography, and the sciences of compound proportion, algebra, land-surveying and levelling, vocal music and drawing from models……’
The pertinence of the above is palpable. The education profession is as vocal as ‘pianoforte legs’. There is a same-ness in silence.
Re-establishment of subject centredness has been accomplished, ensuring that ‘one size fits all’ has returned and standards are a function of the child’s birth certificate.
Birth certificate based education in the form of placing children in grades reveals the fundamental ignorance of those who profess to educate children with ‘one size for all’ teaching technology and practices. These papier mache ‘educators’ are out of touch with the reality that a grade number is a better indicator of difference rather than sameness. For example, when teaching a Grade 8 class, expect an eight year range in ability. Some will be above the (mythological) grade 8 average, and some will be below it. About 2 or 3 will be ‘average’, but good luck with the quest to find an average child.
A propagandist word now appearing frequently is ‘rigour’. We need ‘rigorous’ teaching of a rigorous curriculum to return to the rigorous Golden Era.
A scratch on the surface of rationalism reveals that rigour means a teacher standing in front of the class teaching the same content to all students at the same rate.
Given what we have learned in the past 50 years, this style of teaching is irrational, ideologically based, selfish, and out of touch with reality.
A final question – did Charles Dickens have a crystal ball?
Probably not. He was remarkably successful in portraying social injustice, and this portrayal could be seen as relevant due to our failure to emerge from the Industrial Revolution.
Fossil fuels destroy our environment and fossilised conceptions of education destroy the child’s power to think, imagine and develop fully as an adult.
We have deserted our Sissy Jupes.
41 Cominan Avenue
Banora Pint 2486
07 5524 6443