The Treehorn Express
The Right to Give Permission 
SOCIAL JUSTICE FOR KIDS AT SCHOOL
No aspect of social justice for children was considered at the time of the 2008 mad, counter-productive scramble to gather tests scores. Teachers and their organisations, principals and their associations, academics and their learned groups dutifully complied with the arrogant directions ‘from above’. Disfigured by the acceptance of managerialism of the nineties, the various representative groups lacked the professional and ethical backbone to take-on the quasi-Stalinists. Although it was their major duty, caring about kids was out-sourced.
Despite the abundance of research, empirical evidence and learned offerings about the deleterious effects on a child’s mental capacity for learning under stressful conditions, testing has continued….. under suspicious circumstances…..the circumstances being that it continues only because of the financial benefit to a few mega-rich profiteers and is of electoral benefit to some narrow-minded, gullible politicians.
The blanket testing industry is a multi-billion industry, according to its major benefactor, a New York former Australian. In the six years since its inception, his pet NAPLAN has, almost completely, fragmented the school curriculum for Years 3,5,7,9. It’s a cancer eating out the soul of any knowledge-building curriculum, not giving our kids much chance to learn and to like learning. How did it happen? How did our kids come to be treated like little robotic testing machines….with no feelings nor emotions?
1. From the start, school principals, the lynch-pins of any useful reform were isolated, then corralled. Their opinion was not sought; then they were told what was expected of them; an alternative principals association was formed to ‘legitimize’ changes; and coerced to give their ‘approval’ of the hunt for higher test-scores. The school-cash handouts and a chance of some ‘autonomy’ made compliance complete. Now, as NAPLAN’s central operators, they seem to operate with blind indifference. They accept any direction without question.. Their associations give a squawk or two every now and then, but there is no large-scale examination nor serious experience-based view expressed about the effects of high-stakes testing on classroom strategies and curriculum outcomes. Things are not looking too well for stressed kids while principal complacency continues.
Child feelings and the effects of severe testing on their cognitive development have yet to be considered….by anyone.
2. The acceptance that ‘being tough on kids’ is good for them and is part of the process of ‘growing up’ is a stated belief of ACARA; and is oft times repeated by business associates and ‘tough’ parents. A return to crash-bang-wallop techniques won’t do much harm. Despite being a shameful tenet, this has created an atmosphere of support for the cruel mandated tests. Classroom teachers know this and know that they shouldn’t be co-operating – but the heavy, coercive, authoritative chain of gestapo-like government controls are compelling.
A child’s reaction to being ‘toughened up’ has yet to be considered.
3. Principals were not allowed and are still not allowed to inform parents about the general and specific effects of high-stakes testing on classroom performance; nor encouraged to generalise about the kinds of evaluative devices that a school can use to enhance higher levels of learning…..shared devices, parents informative devices, on-the-spot developmental devices. The evidence that test-free achievement-based, learnacy-focussed, happy classrooms using an holistic curriculum, produces higher scores on PISA tests than do practice-practices-practice devices, is kept secret….deliberately hidden. [Unless you are talking about Finland]
Shhhhh – don’t talk about the best ways for kids to learn..
4. People are encouraged to talk in scoring-talk in preference to learning-talk. It’s PISA talk. A class or school or state or country is ‘academically better’ because it made higher scores. Huh! All state and federal ministers as well as shadow ministers, talk in scoring talk. They have great difficulty in describing schooling using curriculum terminology. Their descriptions have to entail NAPLAN or PISA talk. Its the favoured terminology of the classroom ignorant.
5. Teachers who show compassion towards individual kids during the strict exam period …the sorts of exchange that are common during normal classroom activities …are branded, sometimes as ‘cheats’. Their misdemeanours are exposed. They are subjected to local versions of Room 101 . It can be a helluva few days for compassionate teachers to have to supervise the distress and anxiety of their loved ones.
Australia is certainly in a crazy schooling whirlpool with numerous woolly politically-based additions made, merely to divert attention from the main game…teaching kids.
Right? What are you going to do about it? Each Australian school is now a veritable Wellmeadow Cafe. The snail is in the bottle. It’s deteriorating.
Phil Cullen 41 Cominan Avenue Banora Point 2486 07 5524 6443. firstname.lastname@example.org
“it’s impossible to understand a dynamic, systemically integrated world using a static, fragmented curriculum.”