A few thoughts

The Treehorn Express


An Ordinary Classroom

It’s an ordinary Australian classroom of, say, Year 3s, aged between 7 and 8 years of age. Treated as special young human beings in most other modern cultures, where they start formal, mainstream schooling at the same age [7 years], we start preparing them for a life of testing and pressure for the next nine years of schooling.

Why not ? It’s a tough world that they have to face, we reckon…….as if they didn’t know.

Fellow carers in various other professions, who indulge in statistics, tell us that the average class of 30 primary school kids, when they arrive at the school door each day, will contain….

  • 10 who have had some sort of major trauma already in their lives.
  • 6 who have been the victim of domestic violence.
  • 7 who have been the victim of sexual violence.
  • 3 who are very poor.
  • 12 who have an identifiable learning difficulty.
  • 10 who have not spoken to any adult, except their teacher, during the past 24 hours.
  • 30 who just want some love and consideration; and help in their quest to learn things that will be important for them.

So….. we hit them at Year 3 with NAPLAN practice tests that the big end of town wants them to do; and pressure them to get better at tests of things that many will eventually hate, for four months of each school year. Great help. We are in accord about this, aren’t we ? Doesn’t make teaching any easier, does it

Phil Cullen […..still hoping that someone will take notice] 41 Cominan Avenue Banora Point Australia 2486 07 5524 6443 cphilcullen@bigpond.com

Neoliberalism – the new religion

Treehorn Express

Neoliberalism – The New Religion

Neoliberalism as an economic device has been around for about 25 years. It impacted on world politics at about the same time as managerialism’s organizational rearrangements. It has proven to be an unhappy marriage.

The meaning of “Liberalism’, in this case, images the Australian meaning ….a conservative, anti-Labour political movement that represents the interests of business….and not in the literal sense of free-wheeling. The addition of the prefix ‘neo’ or ‘new’ to the maxim presents it as an ideology, a pious revival of ‘free’ enterprise, ‘free’ trade, ‘free’ competition, ‘free’ rights to make as much money as possible. It has been described as a capitalistic desire to turn the world into one big shopping mall where anything at all can be bought and sold…..goods, children, workers, smaller businesses, ‘even a whole country’. If a government enterprise makes a profit or has the potential to do so, such enterprises [railways, bus services, schools] should be privatised for profiteering purposes. The principle of Gekkoism – ‘”Greed is good” – is the guiding light.

Rearranged governmental management aka managerialism, based on academic modelling that removed ‘experience’ from administrative requirements, made things a lot easier for favoured ticket-holding sciolists to rule the roost and reinforce neoliberal acquisitions.

Democratic principles were replaced by the profit-motive during the period.
Profit before people. Profit before social services. Profit before environmental welfare. Profit. Profit. Profit.
Leads to : Men before women. White before black. Right-wing before Left-wing. Sycophancy before experience. Adults before children. Bureaucrats before Mums. Testing before learning.

These neoliberalism’s ideals are now entrenched in the basic activities of all major political parties: Labor and Liberal [Aust.]; Republican and Democrat [US]; Labour and Conservative [UK]. There is no real difference between parties, no choice for voters. No party will stand up for kids or treat them as human beings; and it shouldn’t br such a difficult political activity. Kept under control, the back-bench silent majority in each place has no clout and lacks the gumption to try too hard.

“Just as Wall Street has captured corporate America, so has it captured Washington. Few mainstream politicians on either side of the aisle have much interest in fixing things, since they get so much of their financial backing from the Street. Unfortunately for them, the fringes of their parties – and voters – do care.” [Rana Foroohar :Time Magazine July 21 2014. P.15]

I’m not so sure. In Australia? Our fringe-dwelling pollies don’t show much sign of caring, although it would double their votes. Their excuse is that the forces are too heavy. The party bonds are too tight. It is obvious that their counterparts in neighbouring New Zealand care a lot more about schooling ,and will try to ‘fix things’ this year. God bless them. Interesting, don’t you think, that two small countries on opposite sides of the world – Finland and New Zealand – will lead the world in their advocacy for affective and effective schooling?

Despite the serious efforts that Australian schools make in order to cope with the neoliberal politically-based wrecking of a needs-based, affective, achievement-oriented curriculum, there seems to be little indication that things will change during the next decade unless the back benches of the major parties, all of the minor parties and the independents step in. This writer thinks there is a chance for backbenchers to uphold the dignity of a possible democratic regime, slim as it may be. To date however, these ‘fringe dwellers’ have been asleep in the benches [of the house] and in the trenches [of the party room]. They have failed to take an interest in what is happening to Aussie kids at school. The higher-order politicians are busy arranging the local culture for higher profits for their neoliberalist sponsors by using children as inanimate robots; and the backbench mortals in the various political parties let them get away with it. Morally childless, they don’t care much about kids. They are probably not even au fait with what their party’s policies do to kids.

The issue is extremely serious. Australia shouldn’t wait until the social-strain theory becomes a reality, as it has in ages past. The imbalance between the cultural goals of schools and the needs of the greedy is profound. The moral deviance of kleinism’s fear-based schooling has gone too far. It is causing the fabric of a genuine democratic country to disintegrate. Margaret Clark agrees.

The mid to lower levels of Australian society have been sucked in….and say nothing….not even the mushroomed parents kept in the dark. Banking and large corporations, the High Priests of Wall Street are confident that their financial accounts will keep improving, as long as the fringe-dwellers of all political parties and every-day mums and dads remain silent.

I rant , like our observant and child-concerned teacher aide who seriously cautioned parents to pay more attention. Just the same….

Please let me take this further.

The religious fervour of neoliberalism dominates the lives of every Australian….whether they realise it or not. It is a form of religiousity that is an outcome of the profit-based ideology of the mega-rich. We mere back-benchers and ignorant citizens confirm by our actions and lack of action, that that is the way that things must be. All Australian politicians not only believe in the neoliberal articles of faith based on the leifmotif : PROFITS BEFORE PEOPLE; it has seeped into their very being and has become their battle-hymn. Check these cartoons. Get the messages?

polyp_cartoon_make_poverty_history 5106820591_486cef7dfd_b
polyp_cartoon_make_poverty_history 160306Bell512

bramhall-world-higher-education polyp_cartoon_oligarchy

SL EDU. Am Art WallStreetOneWay-thumb-510x473

We have all been conditioned to ignore the aspects of social justice exposed by cartoons such as these that highlight the requirements of neoliberalism: that all should learn, work and slave hard to maintain the superiority of the rich in all aspects of decision-making; that issues of equity are ignored when it comes to basic human rights like worthwhile schooling; that better care is taken of charter schools than for neighbourhood schools; and that the parents of most attenders at high-fee schools make poor judgements in their selection. These and other issues within the moral/political/ education trinity are now part of the value systems of most Australian people; and, to our great discredit are entrenched in the mores of those who run the schools , where Australia’s future is located.


Neo-liberalism in action is akin to the catholic church in action. Their modus operandi deserves comparison. As a practising catholic, proud of it, I can say this without bias or disrespect. The pope in Wall Street is infallible in matters of political policy. His regular encyclicals and thoughts control the daily agenda of all western countries; and other countries as well.

His political cardinals [first class], holding high office in very important political positions, report to him when the opportunity presents itself for a papal blessing; and he issues papal bull to them at appropriate times, personally, or through his high priests in his news-media temples situated in strategic locations around the globe. His word is sacrosanct. Deviation is punishable. .

His Immenseness can change the liturgy in a wink without notice or question; and even the faithful naplanners [i.e. a branch of the trapped monks] way down under will obey. Supplications for more testing, more charter and independent public/private schools will intensify; and some of his cardinals [ 2nd class], splendid ministers of his faith, will added to the pleas “More packaged D.I., more fear, more robustness, more phonics.” Such ministers are exceptionally gifted, vociferous advocates. Beatification in their after-life is assured. The bedevilled child-loving, papa-respectful congregation will bow their heads and just wonder.

This religious kind of network is much, much larger and probably more efficient than the admirable [Weber-ish] bureaucratic organisation of the catholic church. It encompasses millions and millions of buddhist, moslem, shinto, christian, atheist, agnostic, sikh and all other arrangements of a religious nature who accept the Gekko mentality that “Greed is good…..no matter what the cost to human dignity or morality or caution.”

His infallibility dogma is aggressive and It is virtually impossible for those who care for kids to stand up to his crusading army of lobbyists, big-time donors and media units dwelling within his ministerial offices. Their purpose is clear. Round up more neolberal true-believers.

We all – christian, moslem, jew , atheist – despite the frightening, hopefully far-removed, overtones, are expected to accept all the tenets and political ploys, politely; and just not bother to care too much about the probable future.

Australia’s choice is between our basic christian love for children….or….neolibs’ love for money. The conditioning processes have forced us to become consubstantial with our children’s persecutors. It’s very sad, but it is a fact of life.

Phil Cullen [. former acting- pope /evening manager of Pavilion of Holy See, Brisbane Expo, 1988; former ‘Old Boy of the Year’, St. Edmunds Christian Brothers’ College, Ipswich]
41 Cominan Avenue Banora Point, Australia 2486 07 5524 6443 cphilcullen@bigpond.com

Teaching Strategies

Treehorn Express

Teaching Strategies

A Practitioner’s View
Phil Cullen

Any observer of a primary school in action will see a number of different teaching strategies in use during the course of the day.  Many are planned to suit the topic in hand and many spontaneously arrive as particular circumstances arise. There is an enormous assortment. Let’s arrange the kind of  strategies that you might see……

Didactic                                                Group                                                  Maieutic


Adult Controlled                                   Inter-active                                           Child-centred


This continuum is meant to represent individual gradations of teaching styles stretching from didactic styles of teaching to the maieutic.  Between the two extremes, there are hundreds of techniques. In days past, folk would refer only to the use of ‘traditional’ techniques [the left-hand end of the continuum] or ‘progressive’ [right-hand]. It was a mindless distinction, and gave little credit to those who were skilled at strategies located anywhere on the continuum. Good teachers understand the use of all techniques. They move up and down the gradations at different times of the day.

Try this. Visit a school on a Sunday or any holiday. Try to identify the prevailing strategies used in each classroom from the arrangement of the furniture and equipment . If all desks face in orderly rows towards one end of the room, you can be assured that adult-controlled didactic strategies prevail. Think twice about sending your children to a school that has all its desks facing in the same direction. This  statement is not  intended to rubbish the technique itself, even though the furniture setting indicates that didactic chalk-talk methods, overloaded with boredom,  are used for most of the day.  Of course, didactic strategies have to be  used at some stage during the course of each school day; when the teacher needs to be dominant or needs to explain matters in a general fashion or has to use the ‘board’.  As a constant or prolonged  pupilling device, however, such methods are limited in their effectiveness.

With pride, I would claim that my generation was the first in endless decades to remove the screws embedded in static desks, firmly attached to the floor, all facing the same way. It was the ‘enlightened sixties’.  Slow as we were to learn and confined by bureaucratic and exam-based procedures, we adjusted our cojones and went for it. We had started to take the child as the point of reference, and tried to come to terms with the differences between children. We started to recognise the need for active participation and conversation and laughter and fun and freedom to enhance genuine learning and healthy cognitive development..

Until then,  pupils, subject to explicit, direct instruction, in almost every classroom in the country, were expected to sit still on a  chair or a form, all day, every day, for a full year….for twelve years! Yes. The style that schools are now being encouraged to return to.

Didactic Strategies

The left-hand extreme above represents the sermonising strategy. Priests and Ministers use this technique regularly during their weekly instruction at church, when they talk to a large group of sitting people. A good test of its efficacy is to stand outside a church on any Sunday morning at the completion of a service, and ask members of the congregation what the sermon was about. Never-the-less, sermonising is a legitimate, oft-used, didactic-teaching technique in classrooms, and some are better than others at using it. Instructional techniques at this end of the spectrum are favoured where there is a large group to be instructed or when one is preparing a class for a blanket test and wants each one in the class to be at the same level.  On such occasions, there is little choice. ‘Jug to mug’ process of instruction are favoured. Add plenty of practice and a fear-of-failure to the class culture and approved scores will be ejected at the same time on test day…..sometimes with the morning breakfast..

Usually, there is no place for the expression of emotions or basic humanity. Didactic techniques are  usually gradgrind/hard-grind that expect clear, formal, testable outcomes.

A didactic strategy can be improved upon as a teaching technique if a chalkboard or whiteboard is used… or an OHP or a Power-point presentation or a computer program or some other appropriate teaching-aid. Just listening has limitations; so, as one moves along the continuum towards the right , learning-attention is increased. Eyes and hands join the ears.  Packaged schemes, often described as ‘teach-proof’, can be used by the instructors. I used to love the SRA Structured Reading kits!

In my own time as a student-teacher, we were instructed in ‘school method’. All were didactic techniques; and the textbooks of the time emphasized only adult-controlled methods. We were obliged to practise our blackboard writing as often as possible. We were instructed on how to write on the black-board while keeping alert for misdemeanours that might be committed behind our backs. [In many authorities at the time, left-hand writers were not employed as teachers even though they had an advantage. As they moved across while writing, they did not stand in front of the screed.] We also learned not to repeat the reply to our questions because children must learn to remember what we tell them. I don’t recall learning much more than this from our lecturers. Direct teaching was the only mode, it seemed. We learned some useful tricks of the trade from teachers at our practising schools, but were  never taught to use a variety of teaching strategies. We should have been.

When the study of the use of all teaching strategies is combined with the knowledge of teaching and learning research as revealed by Dunkin, by Gage, by Biddle and others [i.e. about what really happens in the teacher-pupil exchanges], the topics used at teacher-preparation institutions became more academically rigorous. They became ones of high academic calibre, practicality and of prolonged practice-based study. I think.

As one describes teaching techniques, using the above framework,  moving from left to right one can also see that teachers are moving off the stage and, as pupils are allowed to talk to each other, the pupils start to believe that they have more control over their learning. Group practices are brought into play. There is an enormous number of group settings [5. Learning in Small Groups] and, as we move along further, the teacher’s role starts to become one of confidence trickster. They ‘set up’ the learning exchanges. As they move more to the right, pupils undertake learning with greater enthusiasm because they start to believe that they have control, that learning is their business; and they want to learn more about the topic-in-hand and share personal achievements with their teacher and others. Learning becomes personal. Evaluation is a serious part of it. The act of learning per se becomes important. Each has a different way of ‘doing it’.

The desire to learn is a natural thing for pupils and has been from birth.  When they feel that they have control over the choice of what they are learning, the world is theirs. As for teachers, they are teaching learnacy at the same time as they are pupilling knowledge because child-centred efforts are more effective than any other kind. The two-way exchange, called ‘pupilling’ is a serious affair. I will teach; you will learn. It’s why schools are established.

As pupils and teachers  move along the continuum of teaching strategies towards the more affective end [repeat AFFECTIVE],  the strategies become much more complex and demanding. The school day usually provides a healthy mix.

Let’s now consider consider the maieutic styles, keeping in mind that true learning resides in each individual. It has to emerge. It cannot be forced with the likes of fear of examination failure, heavy didacticism and  other crippling personal, stress-ridden  distortions. The emergence of learning confidence through true learnacy techniques is paramount. The teacher’s pupilling task is to draw it out and refine it.

Maieutic Strategies

Maieutic strategies convey midwifery roles to teachers; and the strategies towards the right-hand end of the continuum imply that a child’s natural desire to learn is helped to manifest itself as the child develops. The teacher is there at the birth of learning of something new and nourishes the child’s personal control of it. Learnacy is part of a child’s psyche from birth and its development is the real business of the concerned teacher. The pupilling processes accelerate cognitive development with genuine concern for achievement. As one moves to the right along our continuum, [towards ultimate Emile-type activities] the methods become more inter-active, more pupil centred. The pupil starts to take centre-stage. Since there has to be close one-to-one contact as much as possible, this style of interaction requires intense effort. It is extremely physically demanding and mentally challenging on the teacher. The smaller the class, the greater the interaction and more purposeful the learning and sharing of effort. Smaller classes do not mean easier teaching, as smart-alec, ‘ne’er-do-anything’ critics are wont to espouse. The closer one gets to one-on-one pupilling the more intense the interaction becomes and the greater the learning outcomes.

There are schools that try to operate on the premise that pupils should believe in full control of learning.  It’s a hyper-version of confidence trickery. When pupils feel that they are learning what they want to learn, even though the teacher has ‘set them up’, the world is their oyster, so the classroom becomes learning-attractive and achievement-effective in every sense. I have only ever visited one school that verged on the extreme right-hand maieutic strategy. It was a splendid infant school in a suburb of Bristol, England [Sea Mills] where quality teachers performed extraordinary confidence tricks. The children really believed that they were doing what they wanted to do. They arranged their own curriculum – what they wanted to learn – and the school took it from there. Extreme? Yes. Successful? Yes. Popular with parents? Outrageously so. Children learn?  Amazing achievements.

Higher up the school, one has difficulty in imagining a present-day Huntingdale Tech., Victoria, kind of secondary education where attendance at classes is completely voluntary…a school that really believed that “Learning resides in the individual. It is a voluntary act.” and it shaped its curriculum to suit…..no graduating examinations….advice offered  to post-school occupations and institutions [e.g. Universities] when requested?  The laws of compulsory education insist that children attend school….and say nought about attendance at classes.

Some people used to think that the term ‘open education’ or ‘alternative schooling’ referred to these child-centred activities to the right and, because some classrooms appeared as if there was little adult-control and too much freedom…children allowed to walk around and talk to each other… they did not like it. The term ‘open’ however was meant to apply  only to school architecture , in places where teachers shared large spaces. The use of ‘open’ as a learning descriptor was a monumental misuse of the English language. Use of terms such as  ‘traditional’ and ‘progressive’ teaching styles, ‘direct’ and ‘child-centred’ instruction are sterile terms when used in a classroom context. It’s a plain, fair-dinkum pupilling place with the pupil in the middle of the teacher’s eye. Critics just did not appreciate the distinction, nor the terminology, nor what was happening in  schools. Still don’t.

If official judgements are based on misused terminology, the future is bleak.


Phil Cullen [….still looking for more humanity in the classroom]

41 Cominan Avenue, Banora Point Australia 2486

07 5524  6443



Education Readings July 25th

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at allan.alach@ihug.co.nz.

This week’s homework!

Is Education as We Know it On its Way Out?

Your thoughts?

“Call me old-fashioned, but in my mind, I still feel teachers have their place in the world. Setting aside other considerations, there is something intangible that a one-to-one interaction with a teacher brings that cannot be replaced. Every person I’ve ever met has a story about at least one teacher who played a significant role in shaping who this person is. Not all teachers are the same, and it is telling that every person mentions this one teacher who made an impact.”


How One Designer Bridged the Gap Between Play and Learning

How can we reflect this in primary schooling?

“When we talk about playing and learning, we naturally think of children’s museums. Most major cities offer some experience like this, where kids are able to get their hands dirty, and — shocking! — learn something at the same time. The museums — at least the good ones — are always both engaging and interactive in a way that’s fun for kids, but they’re also fun for grown-ups too. As we’ve been reporting for our series on play next month, it got me wondering: What goes into creating great museum experiences, and how do designers go about them?”


Leonard Cohen on Creativity, Hard Work, and Why You Should Never Quit Before You Know What It Is You’re Quitting

Not strictly educational but I’m sure you will be able to make the connections. This is a gem.

“Before I can discard the verse, I have to write it… I can’t discard a verse before it is written because it is the writing of the verse that produces whatever delights or interests or facets that are going to catch the light. The cutting of the gem has to be finished before you can see whether it shines.” 


Ray Bradbury on Failure, Why We Hate Work, and the Importance of Love in Creative Endeavors

On a similar vein to the above article …

“I can only suggest that we often indulge in made work, in false business, to keep from being bored. Or worse still we conceive the idea of working for money. The money becomes the object, the target, the end-all and be-all. Thus work, being important only as a means to that end, degenerates into boredom. Can we wonder then that we hate it so?”


An Open Letter to My Son’s Kindergarten Teacher

This is good!

It concerns me a bit that you are going to require him to “With guidance and support from adults, explore a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers.” I appreciate the guidance and support from adults, in fact I expect it, but I’m confused about him publishing his writing. You see, he can’t write.”


This is educational ‘innovation’?

If you still have any notion that the OECD/PISA manipulation of education has any beneficial features, this article should put an end to that. More madness …

“The ability to measure innovation is essential to an improvement strategy in education. Knowing whether, and how much, practices are changing within classrooms and educational organisations, how teachers develop and use their pedagogical resources, and to what extent change can be linked to improvements would provide a substantial increase in the international education knowledge base. Measuring Innovation in Education offers new perspectives to address this need for measurement.”


Stuck in the past?

UK academic Steve Wheeler:

“… there is conflicting evidence that technology has actually delivered any significant change to the pedagogy practiced in school classrooms. The answer to the question for many schools, is that technology brings very little change to the way teachers educate. The mass production pedagogy model stubbornly persists, and personalised learning seems far from the reach of many young people.”


Marion Brady: We Need the Right Kind of Standards, Not CCSS

Another excellent article by Marion.

“School subjects are just tools—means to an end. We don’t tell surgeons which scalpels and clamps to use; what we want to know is their kill/cure rate. We don’t check the toolbox of the plumber we’ve called to see if he (or she) brought a basin wrench and propane torch; we want to know that when the job’s done the stuff goes down when we flush. We don’t kick the tires of the airliner we’re about to board; we trust the judgment of the people on the flight deck.”


This week’s contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

The Neuroscience Behind Stress and Learning

Bruce: “The real oil about brain friendly learning”

“The realities of standardized tests and increasingly structured, if not synchronized, curriculum continue to build classroom stress levels. Neuroimaging research reveals the disturbances in the brain’s learning circuits and neurotransmitters that accompany stressful learning environments. The neuroscientific research about learning has revealed the negative impact of stress and anxiety and the qualitative improvement of the brain circuitry involved in memory and executive function that accompanies positive motivation and engagement.”


Classrooms Flooded with Devices

Article from New Zealand with relevance all over!

‘“It is increasingly important,” says the ministry’s “head of student achievement” Rowena Phair, “that school leavers have the skills to succeed in the digital age”. A student with their own device can “learn any time and anywhere”, and “connect and collaborate” with students and experts outside the school. Plus there are loads of great educational resources online. That sounds fair enough, yet there’s something naggingly familiar about some of the rhetoric. Sixty years ago, Skinner said his Teaching Machine offered “vastly improved conditions for effective study”. Last month, a report from the ministry-backed 21st-Century Learning Reference Group told us that digitally-based education “can significantly improve learning outcomes”’.

But is that really true?


Edutopia – a great site for creative teachers

Posted by Bruce on his blog.

A site that regularly supplies us with interesting ( and practical ) links is Edutopia. Edutopia is a site set up by George Lucas of Star Wars fame. I recommend you joining their  newsletter – add your e-mail on the Edutopia site.”


Chipping Away: Reforms That Don’t Make a Difference

‘A sculptor was once asked how he could start with a big block of marble and create a beautiful statue of a horse. The answer: “I just take my hammer and chisel, and I knock off everything that doesn’t look like a horse.”’

‘Among a plethora of bad ideas being shoved at educators today, here are five myths that we should knock off:’


From Bruce’s oldies but goodies file:

Educating for Creativity

Bruce: “An oldie – always good to read/listen to what Sir Ken has to say.”

“It is a shame that schools, secondary schools in particular, have such fixed routines that ensure their students receive an outdated fragmented view of learning and in the process that deaden the human spirit.”


Linda-Darling Hammond: Lessons for New Zealand from America

Bruce’s comment: “Perfect pre –election reading” (New Zealand has a general election on September 20, which we hope will bring the end of GERM in New Zealand).

“‘The Flat World and Education’,  a book by Linda Darling-Hammond is a must read for educationalists and politicians who want to develop an alternative to the technocratic style of education that has been slowly destroying the creativity of students and teachers  in New Zealand and, in turn, the social fabric of our increasingly troubled society.”


Learning is about constructing meaning.

An oldie:Wise words from Dame Marie Clay.

“I was pleased, many years ago, to read an article by Marie Clay in which she wrote about the importance of the creative arts in the learning process. All too often, as soon as children enter school, early attempts to write and draw are subsumed by a sect like obsession with literacy. It may be time to redress the balance? In earlier, more creative times, it was common to see ‘language experience’ and ‘related arts’ approaches to learning.”


This week’s contributions from Phil Cullen

Corporal Punishment

Australia, under the Tony Abbott led government, is returning to the 19th century in many ways. This includes suggesting that corporal punishment has a place in 21st century schools. Say no more …


People are Funny Cattle

Aussies Friends of Treehorn

People are Funny Cattle

No harm
We sure gave him a bad time, didn’t we? Corporal punishment which has not been dispensed in any Australian school for many decades hit the headlines when it was mentioned in passing by a famous Australian ‘educator’ who has the ear of the Minister, the print-press and television shows. This expert is so well known, that you know who he is without his name being mentioned, don’t you?

His opinion is more highly regarded by political power-brokers than anyone else in Australia at the present time, it would seem. He has been featured in newspapers, TV shows, magazines and been the subject of endless letters to the editor, because our sanctimonious commentators don’t like to think of our school children being hurt….physically, that is.

People are funny cattle. They can lambast an inexperienced, but noteworthy school critic, yet tolerate the insane cruelty perpetrated on a million school children every year, the kind of cruelty that damages a child for the rest of its life; remaining constantly silent about this annual child-bashing catastrophe! Australia has developed a mind-set that treats its children in an extremely casual way. Just as one cow said to the other “Mooooo.”, the other replied, “I was just about to say the same thing”, they’ll scream blue murder about a bruise on the bum, because it’s easy to talk about and has a compliant audience; but ignore the emotional assault on our children’s psyche because those elected to power tell them that it is okay to ignore this sort of thing.

confusedMass emotional assault on school children is now a fact of life in this place. It is government sponsored, and operates deliberately under an avalanche of gimmicks that just don’t work. Each is a cover-up, a diversion from the reality of achievement-based, purposeful schooling. Each tries to disguise the Naplan damage. If the Klein-based schooling system, started in 2008, is not now bordering on chaos, it is certainly confusing. Leunig, once again, illustrates the confusion.
While a smack on the bum draws more attention than more serious damage……

I’m the one in the middle…..

Not understood! The secret springs of action
Which lie beneath the surface and the show
Are disregarded; with self-satisfaction
We judge our neighbours, and they often go
Not understood.
[Thomas Bracken]
Phil Cullen [……quoting

Not understood, we move along asunder;
Our paths grow wider as the seasons creep
Along the years; we marvel and we wonder
Why life is life, and then we fall asleep
Not understood.

Not understood, we gather false impressions
And hug them closer as the years go by;
Till virtues often seem to us transgressions;
And thus men rise and fall, and live and die
Not understood.

Not understood! Poor souls with stunted vision
Oft measure giants with their narrow gauge;
The poisoned shafts of falsehood and derision
Are oft impelled ‘gainst those who mould the age,
Not understood.

Not understood! The secret springs of action
Which lie beneath the surface and the show,
Are disregarded; with self-satisfaction
We judge our neighbours, and they often go
Not understood.

Not understood! How trifles often change us!
The thoughtless sentence and the fancied slight
Destroy long years of friendship, and estrange us,
And on our souls there falls a freezing blight;
Not understood.

Not understood! How many breasts are aching
For lack of sympathy! Ah! day by day
How many cheerless, lonely hearts are breaking!
How many noble spirits pass away,
Not understood.

O God! that men would see a little clearer,
Or judge less harshly where they cannot see!
O God! that men would draw a little nearer
To one another, — they’d be nearer Thee,
And understood.

Thomas Bracken

Peter Green; “Dancing into the Apocalypse’.

The Treehorn Express

Peter Greene is a classroom teacher who resides at Curmudgucation  [http://www.curmudgucation.blogspot.com]. It’s a first rate site conducted by a classroom teacher. in the U.S. who has given me permission to change any American references to Australian.

Australia blindly follows whatever the US wants us to do, so Peter’s comments apply directly to Aussie teachers. The reformist scato-meme [that Pasi Sahlberg calls GERM] now infests most of the English-speaking world because Messrs Murdoch, Klein, Pearson and their money-hungry ilk, speak English.  It’s the same dog….a mongrel bitch…. different leg-action.

Peter describes himself as “ A grumpy old teacher trying to keep up the good classroom fight in the new age of reformy stuff.”
You might like to check out the original article in Allan Alach’s latest ‘Treehorn Readings’ or on Curmudgucation or on Bruce Hammond’s blog. You will be interested in the interesting side-band articles in each one.
Thank you, Peter Greene. May lots and lots of Aussie teachers join you in this crusade….or start their own.

Dancing into the Apocalypse

Peter Greene

I’m writing this now so that I can read it to myself when the first day of school rolls around. Sometimes you have to be your own motivational speaker at the start of the new year.


Why the World of Public Education Has Never Been Worse, and Why I’m Excited To Be a Teacher Anyway

How Bad Is It? 

It is almost breathtaking to step back and try to take in the wide array of forces lined up against the great traditions of Australian public education.

State parliaments are re-writing the rules of employment to end the idea of lifetime teachers, and an entire organization has been set up to replace them with an endless cycle of barely-trained temps.

Data miners are rewriting the entire structure and purpose of schools to focus on gathering data from students rather than actually educating them, treating them as simply future marketing targets.

A far-reaching network of rich and powerful men is working to take the public education system as we know it and simply make it go away, to be replaced by a system that is focused on generating profit rather than educating children.

Teachers have been vilified and attacked. Our professional skills have been questioned, our dedication has been questioned, and we have been accused of dereliction and failure so often that now even our friends take it as a given that “Australian schools are failing.”

One of the richest, most powerful men on the planet has focused his fortune and his clout on recreating the education system to suit his own personal ideas about how it should work and what it should do. He’s been joined in this by other wealthy, powerful men who see the democratic process as an obstruction to be swept away.

We have been strong-armed into adopting new standards and the programs that come with them. These are one-size-fits-all standards that nobody really understands, that nobody can justify, and that are now the shoddy shaky foundation of the new status quo.

And in many regions, our “educational leaders” are also part of the reformster movement. The very people on the state and local level who are charged with preserving and supporting public education are, themselves, fighting against it.

All education is now slave to standardized testing. We live in a bizarro world where we pretend that test results tell us everything from whether a seven year old is college material to whether teachers (and the colleges at which they studied) are any good. The future of teachers, schools, and students themselves, ride on these tests that, when all is said and done, measure nothing except the students’ ability to take these tests.

Tony%20Moanie%202[2]The Prime Minister agrees with most of the forces lined up against public education. At his best, he has simply stood by while public education has come under attack; at his worst, he and his administration have actively implemented policies to break down our public education traditions.

It is true, as some folks like to say, that public education has been tossed about by the winds of one edu-fad or another. Anyone who has worked for more than ten years can rattle off a list of Next Big Things that have come and gone while teachers closed their doors and kept working.

But this is different. This is worse. This wind comes with more political power, more widespread support, and more power to do real damage than anything before. If these people achieve all their goals, what’s left will be a system that looks nothing like the American public education system, and teaching as a career will be done.

So Why Am I Not Bailing Out?

First of all, none of what I’m saying here is meant as criticism of people who have left the profession. You can’t do what you can’t do, and when you reach your limit, you have to make the choice you have to make. Not all of us have the same kind of strength, and we do not all face the same level of challenge. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can say why I still think it’s worth the fight.

There has never been a tougher time for public education, and that means there has never been a time when teachers have been needed more.

Education can’t run on autopilot any more. I don’t mean it shouldn’t (though that has always been true), but that anything resembling an autopilot or inertia or just a gravitation in the right direction has been busted, shattered. Public education will take its direction from the people who fight to get their hands on the steering wheel. Teachers need to be in that fight.

Someone has to look out for the students. Someone has to put the students’ interests first, and despite the number of people who want to make that claim, only teachers are actually doing it. The number of ridiculous,  time-wasting, pointless, damaging, destructive policies that are actually making it down to the pupils themselves is greater than ever before. Somebody has to be there to help them deal with it, help them stand up to it, and most of all, help them get actual educations in spite of it.

I don’t want to over-dramatize our role as teachers, but this is what professionals do. Police, lawyers, doctors, fire fighters– they all go toward people in trouble. They run toward people who need help. That’s what teachers do– and teachers go toward the people who are too young and powerless to stand up for themselves. And for professionals, the greater the trouble, the greater the need.

The fact that public education is under attack just means that our pupils, our communities, need us more than ever.

Is There Hope?

Yes. Yes, there is.

The new high stakes test-driven corporate status quo runs on money, and money is not infinite. Particularly when resistance picks up and the ROI isn’t looking so great. The big bold reformster programs all have one thing in common– they have not produced any sort of success. Well, two things– they also all required a big boost of money and “advocacy groups” to even happen in the first place.

The naplanners of Australia are not going to win and neither are we going to simply set the clock back to twenty years ago. Our education system, our schools are going to be different, changed. And we will deal with that, too.

The naplanners are tourists, folks just passing through for a trip that will last no longer than their interest. They’ll cash in their chips and move on to the next game. But we’ll still be here, still meeting the challenges that students bring us. They’ve committed to education for as long as it holds their attention and rewards them; we’ve committed for as long as we can still do the work. They think they can sprint ahead to easy victory; we understand that this is a marathon.

I don’t care if this is a passing storm or the apocalypse. I choose not to meet it huddled and hoping that I’ll somehow be spared. And while we keep defaulting to battle metaphors, I’d rather not get into the habit of viewing every other human as an enemy that I have to combat with force of arms. I learned years ago that you don’t wait for everything to be okay to do your dance and sing your song; you keep dancing and singing, and that’s how everything gets closer to okay.

We can do this. We will do this. And our pupils will be better for it.

The poetic pic of our leader was supplied by an Aussie teacher
Phil Cullen  [….. relying on teachers to getup&getatem] 41 Cominan Avenue Banora Point  Australia  2486    07 55246443   cphilcullen@bigpond.com
Aussie Schoolies Only
CryingWhat kind of child abuse produces this reaction?
Corporal punishment ?   [Refer : Kevin Donnelly]
  Emotional distress?      [Refer: Christopher Pyne]

Education Readings July 18

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at allan.alach@ihug.co.nz.

This week’s homework!

Creativity is rejected: teachers and bosses don’t value out-of-the-box thinking.

“Unfortunately, the place where our first creative ideas go to die is the place that should be most open to them—school. Studies show that teachers overwhelmingly discriminate against creative students, favoring their satisfier classmates who more readily follow directions and do what they’re told.”

“It’s ironic that even as children are taught the accomplishments of the world’s most innovative minds, their own creativity is being squelched.”


Poverty and the Moral Imperative of Education

An important article by Peter Greene, dismantling the neoliberal claim that education is the cure to poverty.

“This is the “education fixes poverty” mantra. If we get everybody through high school prepared for a good job (defined in many PD sessions as “a job with an above-the-poverty-line” wage) then nobody will be poor and everybody will be healthy and happy and successful. There are two huge problems with this argument.”

“Failing school does not cause poverty. And it’s not even right to say poverty causes failing school. The high level of failure among students living in poverty is a sign that our schools are not meeting the needs of those students.”


Sweden’s School Choice Disaster

Neolibs – take careful note…

“Advocates for choice-based solutions should take a look at what’s happened to schools in Sweden, where parents and educators would be thrilled to trade their country’s steep drop in PISA scores over the past 10 years for America’s middling but consistent results. What’s caused the recent crisis in Swedish education? Researchers and policy analysts are increasingly pointing the finger at many of the choice-oriented reforms that are being championed as the way forward for American schools. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that adding more accountability and discipline to American schools would be a bad thing, it does hint at the many headaches that can come from trying to do so by aggressively introducing marketlike competition to education.”


Great technology requires an understanding of the humans who use it.

“MIT BLOSSOMS, one of the most exciting and effective uses of educational technology to help high school students learn math and science, doesn’t boast the latest in artificial intelligence or adaptive algorithms. Its secret weapon is, rather, a canny understanding of human psychology—both students’ and teachers’. Technologically speaking, its basic model could be executed with an old television and VCR.”


How can schools feed student appetites for sourcing sustainable produce?

“Thankfully the workshop leaders were undaunted by the challenge of slowly unpicking the jargon to help students understand why it’s important to think about how their meals got to their plates. From food miles and Fairtrade to the environmental and health benefits of becoming a vegetarian, no aspect of the journey from soil to supermarket shelf was unexplored. At the end of the class, the penny finally dropped. Asked what they can do to source more sustainably, the response from pupils was emphatic: “Grow my own vegetables,” shouted one girl. “Buy foods locally,” offered another.”


This week’s contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

Transforming School Culture Through Mutual Respect

Bruce: “Importance of valuing mutual respect.”

“A pivotal aspect of fostering mutual respect among teachers, students and staff is adhering to the following eight expectations, which I’ve witnessed fundamentally change the way schools function.”


Study: Too Many Structured Activities May Hinder Children’s Executive Functioning

Bruce: “Over structuring results in students missing out on social skills – is this happening in NZ classrooms?”

“When children spend more time in structured activities, they get worse at working toward goals, making decisions, and regulating their behavior, according to a new study.

Instead, kids might learn more when they have the responsibility to decide for themselves what they’re going to do with their time. Psychologists at the University of Colorado and the University of Denver studied the schedules of 70 six-year olds, and they found that the kids who spent more time in less-structured activities had more highly-developed self-directed executive function.”


From Bruce’s oldies but goodies file:

The transformative Power of Interest : Annie Murphy Paul – Dan Pink and Carol Dweck

Bruce’s comment: “I really like the message of this blog. There has been a recent Education Review Office Report on Secondary school achievement saying the most impressive school was one where the school tailored the curriculum to students’ interests e.g. linking maths to information technology. Seems obvious to me. Personalised learning is the pedagogy of relationships.  We need to focus on what students are thinking – they are too often a neglected resource ignored by teachers to busy teaching to listen to student ‘voice’..The blog below is about the transformative power of interest.  The future is about learning not education. Education is what someone gives to you – learning is what you do yourself. We need to focus on ‘teaching’ students ‘how to learn’ – to ‘seek, use and create their own knowledge’ as it says in the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum.


Children as scientists

Bruce: “An oldie – something written in 1947 which is reflected in 2007 New Zealand Curriculum”

“I recently came across an extract from an article called ‘Children are Scientists’ written in 1947 by Herbert Zim. That we haven’t yet created schools based on assisting students research their own questions and concerns just goes to show how much ‘our’ curriculums, what ‘we’ think is important for them to learn, has ignored the source of real motivation for students to learn.”


More ‘Magic’ of Teaching

Bruce: “Evolution of computer use in classrooms by a creative South Island principal”

“It would seem to me that if we want to develop a creative education system, able to develop the talents of all students, then we need to listen more to those teachers who have gifts they could share with others. All too often ‘we’ think that all good ideas come from ‘on high’ but hopefully this myth is losing its power as current curriculums are being found wanting – ironically by the very people who introduced them.”


The killing of creativity by the technocrats.

In this posting Bruce references an article by Kelvin Smythe about “St” John Hattie.  This is a must read, as Hattie and others of his ilk threaten true holistic child centred education.

“As I visit classrooms I have become increasingly concerned about the use of a number of strategies as defined by John Hattie and promulgated by the contracted advisers spreading the word about his ‘best practices’. Somehow, just because Hattie has amalgamated every piece of ‘school effectiveness’ research available ( mainly it seems from the USA) his findings, it seems, ought to be taken for read. The opposite ought to be the case – we need to be very wary of such so called ‘meta research.’. More worrying however is that the approaches he is peddling is pushing into the background the home grown innovative creative learning centred philosophy that was once an important element in many classrooms. Overseas experts aways seem to know best – or those that return with their carpet bag full of snake oil.”


This week’s contributions from Phil Cullen

Want to improve teaching? Ask a teacher

“The media has been full of complaints about poor-quality teachers. But does the answer really lie in choosing teachers with better academic marks? Teacher Chris Fotinopoulos is not convinced.”


There are many ways of being smart… Headteacher writes to pupils saying not to worry about exams.

“You might hope that every school would want pupils to work their very hardest – and pass any exams with flying colours.

But one primary head has decided there is more to life than educational achievements, and has written to her final-year pupils to tell them not to worry about their results.

Headmistress Rachel Tomlinson and her head of year six, Amy Birkett, told children that there are ‘many ways of being smart’ in the message, which was included with their Key Stage Two results.

They asked the 11-year-old pupils to remember that the scores ‘will tell you something, but they will not tell you everything’.”


Ground-breaking News

Treehorn Express


First Country to Care about Curriculum

Scrap National Testing


New Zealand Cares for Kids


New Zealand is having its election on Saturday, 20 September. The two major parties are the National Party and the Labour Party. The National Party is currently in power.

The Labour Party has released its educational policy.Click link:

 NZ Labour Party Policy

The National Party had introduced National Standards, a series of tests that have the same deleterious effect on the school curriculum as does NCLB in the U.S., Standards in the U.K., and NAPLAN in Australia. The crippling effects on each country’s curriculum direction have been profound; and has allowed various kinds of gimmickry, such as Charter Schools, to develop. Serious Kiwi educationists, proud of NZ’s great heritage in the conduct of schooling, have had enough.

The policy states that Labour will:

  • scrap National Standards and return schools’ focus back to teaching the full breadth of New Zealand’s internationally acclaimed curriculum.
  • simplify ERO reports so that parents have access to quality, reliable information on their school’s performance.
  • repeal legislation allowing for the establishment of charter schools that don’t have to employ qualified, registered teachers.

This is the first major political party in the world to express its concern about curriculum devastation caused by Standardised Blanket Testing. Wonderful news.

If your politics is non-aligned; if you care about kids at school; if you care about the mental health of children generally; you will wish the NZ Labour Party all the very best. God bless its efforts.

World educators wishes them well. There will be millions watching with fingers crossed.

Phil Cullen […..praying for NZLP] 41 Cominan Avenue Banora Point Australia 2486 07 5524 6443 cphilcullen@bigpond.com

Education Readings July 12

By Allan Alach

Here’s this week’s mixture of articles. Expect the next issue when it arrives, as I’m off to France at the end of the week.

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at allan.alach@ihug.co.nz.

This week’s homework!

A Close Look At Close Reading

“David Coleman and other proponents of close reading clearly don’t have respect for students or the learning process. Common Core’s emphasis on deep analysis of text and close reading is an inappropriate and misguided approach to reading instruction that will discourage and dispirit many students.”


Why the World of Public Education Has Never Been Worse, and Why I’m Excited To Be a Teacher Anyway

Another Peter Greene blog, written about the USA but with obvious relevance all over.

‘A far-reaching network of rich and powerful men is working to take the public education system as we know it and simply make it go away, to be replaced by a system that is focused on generating profit rather than educating children. Teachers have been vilified and attacked. Our professional skills have been questioned, our dedication has been questioned, and we have been accused of dereliction and failure so often that now even our friends take it as a given that “American schools are failing.”’


The Brave New World of Twenty-First Century Learning (A Retort)

“A central tenet of twenty-first century education is the child-centred approach – which boils down to placing the needs, interests and personal background of our students above the syllabus. The problem with trying to ‘measure’ memorization skills (by looking at test results, for example) is that it seeks to measure an outcome that is not the top priority in 21st century teaching (marks / grades / results), using a methodology that is outdated (tests / exams / memorization tasks). It’s a bit like estimating the age of the earth: now that we have better methods, we can use better means of measurement in order to gain better evidence and arrive at better results.”


The Struggles and Realities of Student-Driven Learning and BYOD

New Zealand Labour Party – take note.

“The reality is that while some teachers have found powerful ways to use mobile devices — both those owned by students and those purchased by the school — teachers at schools in very low-income areas are often battling a persistent student culture of disengagement. Many students have learning gaps that make it hard for them to stay interested in grade level materials and little desire to be in school at all.”


To Close the Achievement Gap, We Need to Close the Teaching Gap

US educator Linda Darling-Hammond – another one to add to your follow list.

“Countries where teachers believe their profession is valued show higher levels of student achievement. Nations that value teaching invest more in high-quality professional learning — paying the full freight for initial preparation and ongoing professional development, so that teachers can continually become more capable. To recruit and retain top talent and enable teachers to help all children learn, we must make teaching an attractive profession that advances in knowledge and skill, like medicine and engineering.”


Why so many kids can’t sit still in school today

“Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist and the founder of TimberNook, a nature-based development program designed to foster creativity and independent play outdoors in New England, suggests yet another reason more children are being diagnosed with ADHD, whether or not they really have it: the amount of time kids are forced to sit while they are in school.”

“In order for children to learn, they need to be able to pay attention. In order to pay attention, we need to let them move.”


This week’s contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

This week’s collection from Bruce all come from his oldies but goodies file. Bruce has been writing on New Zealand educational issues for many years and was one of my main inspirations in my school principal days.

On Knowing – Jerome Bruner

He comments “Love Jerome Bruner – best quote ‘teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation.’

“Schools are special communities where students are challenged ‘leap into new and unimagined realms of experience’ so as to ‘open new perspectives’.


Einstein, Darwin, da Vinci & Mozart et all – lessons from the Masters. Based on the book ‘Mastery’ by Robert Greene.

“As teachers we need to focus on what it is that individual students are interested in. It was an interest in nature that drove Darwin, an obsession with observing that drove Leonardo da Vinci and an interest in magnetic force as a five year old that drove Einstein – Darwin , Einstein and da Vinci became obsessed with the search and the process of creating.”


The End of Education: Russell Hvolbek — February 06, 2012

“I argue that as we absorb the socio-economic values of our age, an age ruled by business, we have drifted away from what we in the educational community should be doing: teaching students to think, to see, to read, and to write. Education as a dwelling in the human experience of reality is ending. As with the Roman Empire, it is ending with a whimper, not a bang. The root of the problem is that we have absorbed the socio-economic and intellectual values of our age, an age ruled by business and science.”


L.I.S.P. New Zealand’s lost research!

This innovation in Science teaching was superb and it was a real tragedy that it was lost in the rush to standards based instruction.

“Learners must actively construct, or generate, meaning for themselves from their own experiences. No one can do it for them. Knowledge is constructed from within. Learners must take a major responsibility for his/her own learning behaviour. Without some appreciation of the learners existing framework of ideas successful teaching becomes difficult.”


Sharing the wisdom of creative teachers – the agenda for the future.

Very relevant, given current New Zealand government education policies, that mirror GERM policies from the USA and UK.

“Learning from other teachers, both within and between schools, is the most powerful form of professional development. Every teacher respects and appreciates the reality that any such advice is based in contrast to many current advisers who , more often than not ,  give advice about things they have never put into practice. That school leadership has not taken advantage of expertise between schools has meant that wisdom and an opportunity for teacher leadership has been lost.”


Derek Hedgcock : Dangerous Ideas

The Treehorn Express

Derek Hedgcock, a primary school principal with a penchant for expressing what schooling and teaching and their many layers are all about, deals here with the most important aspect of classroom behaviour that there is : the stability of emotions in the teaching/learning process. It forms a trilogy with the two previous Treehorn Express articles. In the first, I tried to point out that the deliberate political damaging of children’s emotions, part of the forlorn attempt by compromised testucators to gain better scores on blanket tests, is cruel and nasty…a product of the shared neoliberal ideologies of our Liberal and Labor controllers . Kelvin Smythe then pointed out the dreadful evils that have been perpetrated by these tormentors in the name of ‘school reform’, and especially by their defilement of the curriculum. Derek here explains that there is no excuse for this politically based defilement, nor for the hard-hearted, ignorant dismissal of the supremely important connection between learning, its durability and childhood emotions.
“Learning is a form of memorised behaviour that is shaped by experience and is entirely determined, in its durability, by emotional connectivity to its stimuli.”

Dangerous Ideas

Derek Hedgcock

I vividly recall from my school principal days, the need to counsel a pupil about the dangers of leaving his classroom to seek refuge in a large urban park, adjacent to the school. The park was a notorious “stranger danger”, no-go area of which the local children were well aware. The school community was constantly vigilant and therefore it was unusual for a pupil to venture into the park at all. However, as this child was relatively young and new to the school, I spent some time detailing the relevant safety issues, with particular emphasis upon the “stranger danger” risks that existed, along with the hazards associated with taking a dip in the lily ponds.

Despite the thoroughness of my counsel, it was obvious that I was not making the required impression that might convince the boy to cease his escapades. His repeated response in broken English was something like…. “That place not dangerous!”

Perhaps now, I should reveal that the eight-year-old lad in question was Sudanese, had spent almost two years in a refugee camp in Egypt, prior to his family’s sponsorship to Australia. In his previous life, he had witnessed an older sibling hacked to death with machetes and no doubt had drunk water far more foul than the turtle infested lily ponds in which he was delighted to “swim”…. He couldn’t swim a stroke. Danger is, I then realised, a concept of variable relativity.

It also reaffirmed to me, that there are certainly dichotomous viewpoints of the very same thing. It got me thinking. At the time, I was applying scientific principles of the physiology and psychology of human emotions in lieu of the traditional “behaviour management” approach, common place in our schools. It was necessary, even more so in this case, to abandon rational argument, and apply an emotion based trigger to alter this boy’s extremely powerful emotions-charged view of the world. In short, unless there is some form of emotional connection that overcomes the emotional connections of prior learning, little if no behaviour change occurs.

Emotions determine what we learn and what we forget. It makes sense that there has to be some mechanism of mind and body that sorts the trivial from the salient, the ho-hum from the bass drum, the urgent from the later-will-do….

That mechanism is emotion of which there are basically seven; universal across all the human species…. anger, fear, surprise, happiness, contempt, disgust and sadness. These are considered to be the background or landscape, against and through which our lives constantly exist.

Unless an event or part of an event elicits an emotional response that is more significant than those prior, during or after, memory of that event or its components will not endure. In fact, awareness itself will fail to arise unless emotional salience exists in relation to the incident.



There is little excuse for educators not to consider the significance of emotions to learning, now that the science is out and unequivocal in its explication of this essential principle of learning.

For that’s what learning is…. a form of memorised behaviour that is shaped by experience and entirely determined in its durability by emotional connectivity to its stimuli?

So… learning has a duality. There is both a physical- metaphysical interdependency that comprises emotional connection AND salience, before an enduring lesson will be formed and manifest itself as behaviour.

Memory is a manifestation of learning. Behaviour is the only tangible evidence of learning. Emotion determines it all.

Gardner described intelligence as a bio-psychological potential, a view very close to my own and perhaps the most concise and accurate definition I have encountered. However, intelligence does not qualify learning in any formal school sense. On most if not all systemic, school-based tests of learning, the Sudanese lad would have failed. His NAPLAN scores were low indeed. Did he have the capacity to learn? Certainly! It was amazing how quickly he learned to speak English. He had certainly learned what danger truly can be and accordingly, in the nicest possible way, put me in my place in that regard…. “There no man with machete, no crocodile in water…. That park not dangerous!”

This to me was a salutary lesson and accordingly an emotional experience.

The most significant of all learning qualifiers is emotion. To have this young man change his behaviour, it was necessary to resolve the emotional trigger, the button that was firing the flight response causing him to seek refuge in the out-of-bounds park. After all, he had sought refuge before and in far more dire circumstances. He could fight; proven the day he sorted out a racist, a year seven bully with great physical skill and panache! What was it that stirred his emotions and why was he running away, seeking solace in a lush, verdant parkland the local kids thought to be so dangerous, they did not go there? Let’s think about it.

3 Ss

There are three genetic imperatives we all possess….. Succour, Success, Survival…. the 3 S’s.

We all crave acceptance in the company of others. We all aspire to succeed at least some of the time. We all need basic comforts and sustenance. Whenever one or a combination of these imperatives is compromised – real or perceived – a flight or fight response arises according to the emotional state associated with that compromise. The states prevail within the scope of the seven human emotions…. fear, surprise, happiness… etc, singly or in combination. The behaviour defaults arise from those states. For example, racism is most probably a combination of fear and contempt, which when exercised might bring happiness to some!

I have already illustrated the significance of prior experience and the relative assessments we each make with respect to any given context. Sheltered,middle-class, middle-aged Aussie male conception of danger varies widely in comparison to that of an eight-year-old, Somalia refugee male. My three genetic imperatives had never been as severely compromised in my life, as had his. Both beauty and ugliness are in the eye of the beholder…. a fundamental by which all educators might do well to hold dearly when they apply policy and practice!

Further to these salient three, there are I believe, three dimensions across which we all traverse with mixed degree of attachment, from context to context and from role to role in our daily lives.

These dimensions, I propose as …. Social. Novelty, Convention.


…… Imagine this….

Way back on an ancient, prehistoric African savannah, a family group meted out their existence, in competition not only with neighbouring family groups, but also against large predator cats, vagaries of the weather…. Within the group an individual had a strong disposition to keep the group together, socially convivial, insightful, cohesive…… Another individual was disposed to trying new ideas, always tinkering with rocks and sticks to invent more efficient weapons, hunting tools, cooking methods…. Another individual was disposed towards remembering the weather patterns, the habits of plants and animals, the pathways to favourable locations at key times in the annual climate cycle…

Would the group’s survival be compromised if any one of these dispositions weren’t preserved genetically? Which of these dimensions of emotional connection could be lost to the human species by way of natural selection? …. I like to socialise and maintain family cohesion…. I enjoy experimentation and challenging the status quo…. I love to keep to the rules and help others to do so as well…..

Alternatively, is it fortunate that natural selection has preserved these dimensions of emotional connection to the extent they are recognisable traits among us all to this day?

Some classroom teachers never bother to open windows each morning because they are required to close them again before afternoon departure. If you’ve ever entered such a classroom in North Queensland, on a summer’s day, after lunch when thirty or so kiddies have returned after madly running about and their tummies have begun processing the sardine sandwich that made up lunch…. you will accept that any class group is indeed a heady mix… a primordial broth?

Beneath that obvious layer of complexity lies a simple dynamic. There is a variance of dispositional mixes across the three dimensions of emotional connection.

Some children most obviously consider school a social experience. They are there to be with their friends and, at the extreme boundaries of this dimension, are those who know the most detailed trivia about the other kids in the class and those across the school population.

Some children find it surprisingly difficult to conform to “the rules”. They display an amazing propensity for innovation and variation from routine, not simply because they have had poor training at home, but more so, because they are innately possessed of a dispositional character for looking at the world outside the box. They are usually the first to notice an unexpected visitor to arrive at the classroom door, gaze constantly outside with fixed attention upon any novelty that presents itself….. the busiest bees in a bottle they are.

Some children will respond with…. “Why are we doing reading now Miss? It’s not afternoon yet!” They know where everything is kept and most willing help tidy up. They do not cope well with alterations to routine.

Each post schooling vocation has an inbuilt requirement for a bias towards one of these dimensions of emotional connection…. however…for example…. not a good idea when approaching to land in a large passenger aircraft to have the captain announce…. “We are approaching to land. We will be on the ground in about five ot ten minutes and I am going to try a new way of landing… something never attempted in this particular aircraft ever before…..”


  • When pupils are confronted by a learning expectation, imposed by the school at some systemic level or another…. how much of the emotional aspects that underpin learning are considered?
  • Does the current, so-called developed, world trend in education adequately consider the ancient roots of our species as emotion-dependent-for-learning individuals?
  • Do schools and their shakers and movers ever give due consideration to the significance of emotions to learning as a fundamental, human behaviour?
  • Do school curriculum designers and enforcers give due regard for the emerging scientific knowledge and understanding of how our species’ mind and body functions undertake learning – the most fundamental of all human behaviours?

Or conversely, do they adhere to anachronistic fundamental, security-blanket, power conserving, freedom constraining, self aggrandising, miserly-wealth accumulation indulgences that are not at all about education in its purest opportunities and liberating forms?

Should the powerful, who currently hijack education for their own self-serving interests, ever, ever consider that, among the teaching profession, there is a significant proportion of individuals possessing a dispositional preference for the Novelty dimension of their emotional connection. Furthermore, should the imposers of fear based compliance, recognise that the Novelty dimension is the one most liable to spawn creative innovation… the very essence of an ever expanding diverse knowledge based economy…. the very thing that may best guarantee their hegemony in a rapidly changing, global economy?

Should not our political “masters” ensure the Novelty dimension is nurtured as least as equitably as the other two, if for no other reason than to ensure our national 3S’s remain robust?

Would the designers and enforcers of NAPLAN and/or correspondingly restrictive, scripted curriculum impositions, not be better agents of education efficacy and fairness, were they to consider the emotional aspects of learner behaviour and the emotional aspects of teacher behaviour? Shouldn’t they resile from such Kleinsian platitudes as…. “Failure is something with which we all need to cope…. Failure is part of life’s journey” etc, etc”?

Just as I considered the park a dangerous place whilst failing to consider another’s perception of danger, is it not reasonable to assert that NAPLANers hold scant respect for the perspective of others who are less empowered to compensate their fears or relegate them to a form of relative triviality within the ordinal scope of their, as yet unknown and un-encountered, vicissitudes of future lived experiences?

Should they understand that because learner variation exists across emotionally connective dimensions as a compelling, ineluctable, genetically inherited disposition, only modified and ameliorated by nurture as opposed to coercion, that one-size-fits-all assessment and instruction strategies are morally reprehensible in an age when scientific discovery reveals more just and diversely accommodating alternatives for education to explore, apply and refine?

Should the powers that always want to be, and the bureaucratic wannabes, understand that both the Social dimensions and the Novelty dimensions of emotional disposition to learning and connection to any learner’s world, are equally as salient as the Convention dimension? In fact: without an equal measure of all three, the human world as we know it, will descend into chaos?

Do they comprehend as convention- compliance mongers, that they in fact rely upon the influence that the other two dimensional dispositions bring to the world?

Same emotional landscape, same buttons, same dimensions of connection apply to us all.

They are not only the architects of the demise of others who have a right to a fair and proper EDUCATION, but also inadvertently, the makers of their own downfall. Perhaps they may, one day, come to realise that the very button that drives their own power mongering and greed (greed; borne of fear) … the Success imperative, with extremely limited disposition to connect to others who function outside the Convention dimension….. They may realise, then, their own self imposed peril?

Somehow, I doubt it! They keep the pressure on the wrong button.

Because their Convention disposition has served their Success perception well: because their narrow, self-obsessed view of what comprises fear has seldom strayed into the perceptual realm of those less fortunate or privileged : because their knowledge of learning as a behaviour remains in an age of uninformed and cloistered hegemony of but one dimension, as opposed to a balanced dichotomy of the physical and the metaphysical (Gardner’s bio-psychological)…. NAPLAN and its ilk are the only idea they have.

That’s why it is so dangerous!

By the way…. the Sudanese boy ceased his flight induced escapades once his default, fear button was identified within the Success imperative. Another boy in his class teased him repeatedly about his language inadequacies, especially when came reading time. The teaser displayed perceived compromise regarding his soccer prowess which by comparison with that of the Sudanese boy, was obviously inferior. Same button, similar fear based, fight/flight response pattern, variable perceptual context.

When the whole class was made more aware of the Sudanese boy’s life experiences, empathy and sympathy prevailed as is almost always the case among young children who remain largely untainted by the bigotry and racial biases of adulthood. When the boys were encouraged to help each other by imparting their skills by mutual exchange, the Success button was restored and escapades to the park ceased. Yet another layer of peace descended upon the school community.

Education is the way to social harmony. Emotional connectivity is an essential element of learning stimuli. Emotional wellbeing is the essence of beneficial learning.

In this day and age, there is no excusing, whatsoever, the emotions based ills that NAPLAN and its brethren perpetrate upon modern education!

Phil Cullen [….for kids. They have feelings too.] 41 Cominan Avenue Banora point 2486 Australia 07 5524 6443 cphilcullen@bigpond.com