Kelvin Smythe “Some terrible things have been perpetrated – close to evil.

In my recent paper “Belief Systems, Control Systems, Response Systems”, I tried to point out that the prevailing neoliberal political climate in Australia induces our elected ‘masters’ to use authoritarian methods based on fear and coercion to try to force others to do what they want them to do, without reason. Some terrible things have been perpetrated.  Teachers, parents and school pupils appear to suffer the indignities calmly, but all is not well. As a reaction to this authoritarian political mind-set, they is a lack of spirit at the chalk face and everybody suffers….kids, parents, teachers.  The reaction to such low-level, fear-based managerial tactics is such that absolute rejection of high-stakes testing is on the cards. Ethical professionals can only tolerate so much.

Fellow primary school advocate, Kelvin Smythe, highly respected Kiwi commentator and former Chief Inspector, has written “Some Terrible Things That Have Been Perpetrated – Close to Evil’ about New Zealand circumstances that closely resemble what is happening in its ANZAC cobber. [In any country that conducts high-stakes tests, a dullness consumes school activities as Matthew Arnold warned us.]

With Kelvin’s permission, I have adapted his germane paper to apply directly to Australian conditions. I have changed any NZ references to Aussie ones. It suits neatly; and since he is much more erudite that I am, I strongly commend your close and critical attention to his advices.  Interested educators can compare his original paper with what I have done to it.  I gladly share these opinions…..with loud applause for the final statement.



Some terrible things have been perpetrated – close to evil

Kelvin Smythe

If the media and the Australian people were able to comprehend the terrible things that have been perpetrated on their primary teachers they would be taken aback. And now it is coming to a head.

If school education is not run in good faith between teachers and politicians then school education will fail – and is failing. Teachers will never be in a position to counter the simplistic, bad faith, distorted arguments of politicians bent on implementing secret agendas. The policies imposed on teachers, when they fail, as is inevitable, will soon see politicians frenetically hide the failures: hermetically sealing off education with propaganda, statistical corruption, and a ruthless programme of Kafkan fear. But because the agendas are so ideologically embedded, further policies from these are reflexively returned to. These will be characterised by more hierarchy, more imposition (only minor details up for discussion), and more levels of bureaucracy.  This is the way we are, as is what follows.

Teachers in the interests of children and their professional integrity are committed to an open-minded consideration of education issues. That means any engagement with politicians working from a secret agenda, will fail. Teachers will make no headway against the full propaganda weight of the politicians who deal in simplistic messages expressed in abstract nonsenses, lies, distortions, non sequiturs, and evasions. Words have flowed in a near impenetrable disgorgement of arrogance-laden toxicity; their arguments dependent on a fantastically protected ignorance and an unrelentingly calculated slantedness.

Above all, almost all politicians in Australia have protected themselves from any recognition of the holistic in education. The holistic is detested and feared by the current crop of bureaucrats and politicians because it is based on variety, the free exchange of ideas, and democratic processes. It is also detested and feared because teachers following the holistic do not see children’s learning in the basics as mutually exclusive of getting children to think flexibly and imaginatively. The holistic would turn primary education away from ghettoising less able children to an exclusive basics’ curriculum, and what is not generally appreciated, restricting the more able children to largely the same.

If written at a certain level, in describing and accounting for this, few references to education need be made, the issues involved being central to the functioning of all societies: the nature of power and democracy, authority, authoritarianism. (Note: authority is used for the combination of political and bureaucratic power.) In relation to primary school education, power is increasingly being exercised as an end, not for the declared beneficial purposes; authority as an end with other considerations secondary; authority degenerating into authoritarianism using the cover of acting in the public good.

This is necessarily a judgement because authority has, of course, presented what they were doing as intended to meet the declared beneficial purposes. However, the real but undeclared purpose by those currently wielding authority is that power needs to be increased not only for the declared beneficial purposes but also for future unspecified ‘beneficial’ use. This is a formula for degeneration into authoritarianism encouraging authority to play a cunning short game in the interests of an unrelenting long one. The cunning short game providing an excuse for those who want to yield to authority.

Authority has the power to lie, distort, and propagandise with impunity; to promote delusion based on a default desire to trust authority for the comfort of conforming and thoughtlessness; and to promote delusion relying on ignorance or lack of imagination.

This I suggest has occurred to a devastating extent.

The leaders of groups appointed to be voices for the people, including political parties, are not immune to this process, many becoming oppressors of the people they were put there to represent.

This I suggest has occurred to a devastating extent.

Authority, through propaganda and status, is able to control the collective will and use it as a blanketing sanction. And as authority gains dominance, and the democratic means to oppose reduced accordingly – easily observable expressions of force diminish, and voluntary compliance to meet authority goals takes their place. Fear of authority is sublimated to allow constructed compliance even co-operation. Moral and ethical challenges, as a result, are no longer posed, conformity to authority entrenched, and democracy cast as inefficient.

This I suggest has occurred to a devastating extent.

Bureaucracies or quasi bureaucratic adjuncts (privatised entities) are the instruments for applying authoritarian sanctions, being able to retreat into themselves to become impenetrable for anyone seeking redress and impersonal for anyone seeking explanation. As well, no bureaucracy has ever abolished itself, only transformed itself, to avoid the heat or to take an even more dangerous form. 

This I suggest has occurred to a devastating extent.

Primary education is so complex, far more than secondary, that to explain it satisfactorily needs time and a willingness in the listener to genuinely listen. Primary education has the answers to the questions being asked but neither authority nor the media is listening because to listen would give respect and a degree of power to teachers. Authority is also not listening because it is intent on scapegoating teachers so that it can impose its own ideologically-based ‘answers’ for power and ideological advantage.

For curriculum change to succeed there needs to be the opportunity for a free exchange of curriculum ideas and the freedom for teachers to colonise the curriculum – but teachers do not feel free to exchange ideas or colonise curricula, they are made to follow rigidly the official standardised line. A stern eye is kept out for deviancy. There is now, no official national curriculum only national standards. There is only one way to teach, that is in measurable fragments with fiddly objectives of various nomenclatures attached.

NAPLAN’s control of the curriculum brings children’s learning down to a level politicians and bureaucrats can understand, and provides them with the perfect blunt instrument to control schools and trivialise the curriculum.

And what is an explanation of the holistic?

The holistic curriculum is about a combination of knowledges – teacher and academic; about the interaction of the affective and cognitive; about teaching and learning being organised by broad aims (assisted by criteria that can be considered converted objectives); about those broad aims being an expression of the essence of curriculum areas; about a broadly-based curriculum encompassing the wide range of human experience; about learning being meaningful, exploratory, and challenging (hence the attention to discovery learning and problem solving); about learning being open to the transformational and sensitive to the immanent; about learning being coherent and organic not fragmented and desultory; about teachers having considerable individuality of response within the broad school aims; about children having significant control over what and how they learn; about evaluation practices being proportionate to that which is educationally important (to the holistic); about all learning being quality learning; about attending to individual needs through a combination of class learning set up for individuality of response and one-to-one teaching; about class and school practices, for instance, evaluation, and group learning being learning enhancing (hence the emphasis on observational evaluation and group learning being mainly mixed ability); and about protecting and enhancing the crucial bond and trust between classroom teacher and child.

What parent wouldn’t want this kind of education for their children?

The NAPLAN-based curriculum in being about the measurable, does not fit with the affective; the holistic curriculum in being expansive fits with it perfectly. The NAPLAN-controlled curriculum is instrumental; the holistic curriculum is democratic and participatory. The NAPLAN-controlled curriculum implies certainty and someone who knows; the holistic curriculum implies openness and collective exploration about what is known. The test-based  curriculum because it implies certainty and someone who knows leads to a hermetic system based on fear and dependence; the holistic curriculum because it implies openness leads to continuous exploration based on trust and independence. The NAPLAN curriculum is hierarchical and standardising; the holistic curriculum is democratic and characterised by variety.

Because NAPLAN is about hierarchy, certainty, and standardising – it means no variance and it means compulsion. Because the holistic is about valuing variety, about democratic, participatory relationships – the holistic means the freedom to be holistic not the requirement to be so.

The managerialist restructuring of primary education based on a test-oriented curriculum is about hierarchy of the sort that functions on the belief it knows; it knows how education works, how it can be organised and standardised into unproblematic and manageable parts, made utterly assured in its mission by the ideas of quantitative academics who also know. A holistic restructuring of education based on teacher knowledge, relies on common-sense through informed experience, on the value of variety in education, on education as part of life in a social democracy, on identifying the essences of curriculum areas (guided by the competencies), on a commitment to abroad-based curriculum, and on teaching and leadership being significantly an art.

Dominating the current education system is the neo-liberal concept of the need to avoid provider capture. This concept, developed from the ideas of Ayn Rand, interprets human behaviour as based on the pursuit of self-advantage and society being the better for it. The effect has been to hand school education over to those with little or no experience in school education and to make the education system authoritarian by design – power forever shifting upwards. Education is certainly not the better for it.

These new people are doing terrible things to primary school education, their consciences protected by their ignorance and that ignorance by their arrogance. What use to talk of the holistic to these people, of the subtleties, for instance, of bringing early readers along? They no doubt think we are talking gibberish. Their confidence in their understanding of education – always narrow, fragmented, and constructed for measurement – bolstered by quantitative academics flown in for the purpose. The effect has been the process described by Orwell: the past bad-mouthed, neglected, pushed aside, verboten, and forgotten – to the devastation of the present; and hopelessness of the future.

In what other major agency of state, as a matter of policy, would there be a concerted effort to appoint people to high position with little or no knowledge or experience of that agency’s central function.

What I want to ask these people is, as parents, would you want your children to attend primary schools as they are presently functioning or to go to schools that are holistically based? Are you so caught up in the bureaucratic madness that you lost your moral bearings? (I suggest you google: Vanessa Redgrave and violin.)

The following long paragraph is an example of the toxic combination of lies, false statistics, and secret agenda referred to. The length of the paragraph is figurative for the growing stain of evil and corruption spreading throughout primary education.

There is the intense political pressure for results encouraging secondary schools to advise children to move into less challenging units; also to use internal exams in a way that virtually excludes failure. And one of the reasons many children can’t do challenging units is because for the last two decades flexible thinking has virtually been excluded from the primary curriculum. There is the intense pressure on primary schools via league tables for ever-improving results which encourages a very liberal interpretation of children’s test performances; there being no moderation policies in place. In other words, the system is set up for corrupted results.This leads on to charter schools producing corrupted results by the same process but even worse because there is no supervision at all by official agencies, just a group appointed by ministry with, of course, no interest in probing rigorously. This corruption of results has a sinister purpose because charter schools are being set up as a platform to denigrate public schools with a view to eventual privatisation of public education expected . As for primary charter schools, they are being set up as lavishly funded private public schools, an oasis of privilege, in a desert of poverty. These charter schools will be able to attract certain children, while being able to exclude others. Some public schools have a 100% turnover of children every three years or even less. Such children will not be accepted into charter schools even in the unlikely circumstance of them applying. The charter schools will have much lower teacher to children ratios and more funding for computers and other resources placing the local public schools at a further disadvantage. The huge unfairness of attracting likely better children to charter schools will have the effect of ghettoising the public schools leaving them shorn of the better performing ones. The role of the government is not to privilege some publically funded schools to the disadvantage of others. This is unfair and morally bankrupt. But calumny on calumny, the corrupted results from the charter schools will then be used to cast a slur on all public schools, to demoralising effect.

The present system is held together by fear and a world view of education based on lies and false statistics.


 Phil Cullen [……..about kids, for kids, no one else] 41Cominan Avenue Banora Point 2486   07 5524 6443   0407865999



If the business of schools is LEARNING. …….. DEFINE “LEARNING” in one sentence.   {Ask your friends at the Conference.}


Ask yourself :  “What part do our emotions play in learning?”

THEN  Make sure you read ‘Dangerous Ideas’ by Derek Hedgcock  in THE TREEHORN EXPRESS next week-end.


One thought on “Kelvin Smythe “Some terrible things have been perpetrated – close to evil.

  1. Pingback: Derek Hedgcock : Dangerous Ideas | The Treehorn Express

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