The Aussie School Culture.

Treehorn:           Why can’t we kids have a test-free, pupil-centred, achievement-oriented, holistic-learning-based-curriculum?
Testucator:        Australia has established a profit-based, stress-laden, teacher-squirming, unreliable test program, thanks to Murdoch & Klein piled on top of our 1880’s exam-based system  We won’t change it. We aren’t allowed.
Treehorn:            Why can’t you replace tension with challenge, fear with encouragement, ritual with creativity, teacher-bashing with professionalism, subject-hate with love-of-learning, time-wasting-tests with shared  evaluation
Testucator          None of your business. You do as you are told.

The Treehorn Express

The Aussie School Culture

Australia holds tenaciously to the 18th century beliefs that standards of school performance are always low and that they can only be raised by diligent attention to the passing of examinations and tests, that fear of failure is the greatest of all learning motivators and that better ‘results’ can be achieved by publicising the differing standards between schools to make the poorer achievement ones feel bad about it.

The basic belief is that children go to school to pass tests.

These beliefs are now set in hard, undrillable ACARA concrete.

I’d like to talk about how this kind of schooling culture,  that developed in Australia after Governor David Wenham landed here in 1788. As convict folk wanted their children to be schooled, the British traditions for elementary schooling were strictly observed : dame schools, charity schools, Sunday schools and common schools, as well as schools for the privileged. They became part of the landscape, funded by the Gov.  We were British.  Labouring families’ children at school  were  tolerated, and access to more privileged schools became competitive…even  for the lower classes to enter state-owned  public model schools. We are a competitive lot.  Physical and mental  punishment was excessive, as was the use of examinations  to help defend the privileged against easy access of the poor to the learning places….all part of British schooling. As compulsory schooling became the norm,  there developed a pedagogic purulence  that schools could do as they pleased with children, and that parents should not interfere with any of the processes used. That’s maintained today with testing routines. Ignoring the wishes of parents is now standard practice

Open or Closed System? Schools have become increasingly closed systems, despite the rhetoric and ballyhoo about being community-centred. Australian adults treat their isolation from decisions affecting their children’s rights to an energetic learning system with casual indifference.  They just don’t care, it seems  and, by following the schadenfreuders-gone-rogue, they certainly endorse the naming of this newsletter after little neglected Treehorn. Not too many adults care about kids at school, like Treehorn,  and teachers are too busy preparing them for exams.

Aussie children have no known advocates……none, for sure, in positions to do something useful.

Sorting Out  A system of schooling that relies on the passing of examinations to distinguish and sort out the younger population into ‘hopeful’ and ‘hopeless’ for selection by the leaders of industry has become an entrenched part of our culture.  Through the 19th Century, Australian children were sorted out by tests at the end of primary schooling, then again at leaving age at about the level of present Year 10 when most children left school; while survivors were allowed to head towards the access examinations set by University lecturers.  It was perfectly natural for the requirements of universities to determine what should be taught in schools all the way back down the school curriculum to upper primary.  This schooling methodology seeped into the Australian DNA, unchallenged during the 18th and 19th Centuries. Our system was dominated by universities which only cater for those few who passed all their examinations. These examinations determined the kind of schooling and the kind of teaching, usually of the inefficient didactic, direct instruction kind because the didactic dominance attached to these styles, it is believed, produces better examination results.

The Quiet Ones It is not part of our nature to question. Teaching is a profession inhabited by calm, uncomplaining,  nice people.  Acquiescence, obedience and patience is a job requirement. This is the way things have always been; the way that the Gov who supplied all the goodies,  wanted them.  Teacher attitudes have now been twisted  to suit those who love to test and examine; and because exam preparation is a piece of cake when compared with teaching children how to learn and achieve. Teaching Learnacy a complicated professional esoteric activity.  The use of only didactic instruction techniques do not need quality teacher preparation either. Passing examinations is now our total schooling, so adjustments to the existing schools-as-test-factories is tightly secured. Success means passing examinations. Teachers are easily persuaded  to just instruct students how to pass exams, not teach pupils how to achieve by embracing learning. Again, now standard practice.

Our Aussie DNA also assures us that hating Maths or Grammar or Latin or Writing is a normal aspect of schooling.  We are comfortable with knowing that most kids will hate school or parts of it before their 12 years incarceration is finished. It’s just a bit of a shame. It’s okay, but….. Listen carefully, if you get the chance,  to the emphasis on the word ‘HATE’ as used by many pre-Year 12  drop-outs at the end of their dubiously useful  years of contesting exams and tests.

[There is a field of thought that children should exit school at Year 12 with a far, far greater zest for knowledge than when they entered school and that it is the business of schools to ensure that. The sort of views propounded by the likes of  Bill Bassett, Alby Jones, Hedley Beare, Henry Schoenheimer and yours truly [if I may add my views to those of real Aussie giants] together with a caste of thousands of True Blue Kid-carers now seem to be regarded as subversive.  Pollies, captured associations and all sciolist data-miners don’t like us.  Right? So sad.   [By the way..  Sciolist: One with only superficial knowledge who assumes a privileged position.]

The predominant school of thought is that children go to school to pass examinations….and little else. A sub group of this school has the peculiar erroneous belief, of British Grammar origin,  of course, that private schools push children through exams better that public schools do, despite the evidence. We’re a weird mob. ]
Standardised That’s  Australia. Our schooling  system is an accident of history when it could have  become a lighthouse to the world of learning and achievement. We are  too afraid now of our system glauleiters to try to change things. The desire to test and examine, to compare results, to make judgements, no matter what, is part of us. [As a test-fixated principal, I was amongst the most crazed of testucators ever. My bible was Fred Schonell’s “Diagnostice and Attainment Testing” which ended up dog-eared from over-use.  In a wonderful Epiphany moment, while blanket testing a couple of classes, I dropped blanket testing like a hot potato…on the spot… when I realised what abominable stress I was causing.] We talked about standards in those days rather than achievements and learning.  We still do. We bordered on being test-crazy. We still are. We preferred not to think outside that paper-bag.  We were cruel.  We used Standardised Blanket Testing [e.g.NAPLAN] as a nasty weapon. We now steer clear of positive intergenerational thinking about schooling as a state activity. In Keatingesque terms, we are all ‘shivers’ looking for a ‘spine’ to climb onto.

Control We are so well controlled that we dare not listen to alternatives views nor encourage thinking about a system of learning that might be better. We approve of any alteration that we believe will bolster results in tests by accepting schemes that claim to do so.  A scheme might cost billions of dollars. We know that it is unethical and unproductive and that it has been a pup  ‘sold’ to our leaders, but that doesn’t deter our us from our aim to maintain our 18th Century British traditions of schooling. Gather scores and numbers and other nuts in May and fiddle with the kinds of judgements made.  It is just so apparent;  and future generations will certainly rue the day when their cognitive capital was attacked by our zombic functionality of 2015 or thereabouts. We can dream of the days of yore when kids were loved and their work respected and they appreciated the dignity of their accomplishments no matter how small. Now we just operate according to an expensive political chacanery on behalf of various test-based industries that have taken advantage of the casual indifference of parents and teachers.

Money  There can be no money crisis while NAPLAN is allowed to continue. Let’s go back a couple of years….
“An ambitious attempt to lift literacy and numeracy skills has failed, according to a report to Federal Parliament by the Australian National Audit Office.
The audit found a $540 million scheme introduced by the Rudd government  made no discernable difference to the results of the schools taking part. An analysis found that NAPLAN made little, if any, difference. Under the scheme, $322 million in reward payments  were made to the states. Yet analysis of the NAPLAN data from 2008 to 2011 ” indicates that the program is yet to make a statistically significant improvement in any state.’ Teachers know that children who have fallen behind by age 15 will struggle to keep up and ultimately ‘disengage’.”  {Courier Mail 01-07-12]

So What? Despite this sort of evidence and with full knowledge of the forms of child abuse used to obtain the results, we test-anglophiled Aussies have stuck to our guns. It’s our tradition! Give it to ‘em….those silly little Treehorns.  It’s our way of life. Don’t pander to kids or parents. . Toughen them up. Yes. We have  heard  about some countries, like Finland, that emphasise ‘Learning’ per se and their achievements have been remarkable while happily poking their tongues at the use of tests ….but heck…that’s that a place way up near Commie Russia.

During the middle of the 19th Century post-war British folk started to have second thoughts about the bang-crash–wallop forms of schooling. So did the Yanks.  Schools started to become places where children’s rights and needs were respected and teachers fostered learning from things like using childhood curiosity, courage, self-discipline, exploration, risk-taking, experimentation, rigour, sociability, ethical practices, imagining, reliability, industry. It was just great to be alive during that period. Schooling and learning meant something. Since  learning how to learn the essentials can’t be tested with a pen and ink, public examinations disappeared from elementary schooling and children entered secondary schooling with a real passion for learning; but it was difficult for post-primary schools to adjust  because schooling at this level was focused on subjects that had their own internal and internecine problems.

The Future We are undoubtedly heading down the path of countries that do not care about consequences. We will continue to invade the privacy of young individuals for nefarious purposes, raspberrying their families as long as we can produce test scores.  Australia’s British schooling heritage has to prove that it has the kind of Grammar School  muscle power that works on the defenceless.
The down-sized sciolist polemic promoted by NAPLAN is becoming more deeply entrenched in our otherwise once-proud Aussie culture every day. It is growing, mycelia-like through the fabric of social discourse and damning our future to mediocrity. Its totalitarian modus operandi is an uncivilised way of treating our young.  Sadly, it is now the Aussie way.  

Parents Opt-out Some parents are objecting. The numbers of those saying ‘NO’ is growing, but it will take a while for our determination to care for kids like Treehorn, will overcome our historical inclination to be nice and ‘go with the flow’ of mediocrity and politically-inspired child abuse.

Wise Parents are Opting Out

Add our entrenched ancient British Grammar School style culture to other market-driven ideologies, with the corporatocracy encouraging us to spend millions on failed American packaged-deal, teacher-proof kits, labelled products [e.g D.I.] and digital testing machines and you have a clear future of mass cognitive decline and national depravity…..sure and certain. At least the machines can be used for a better purpose.

We are now living in  the worst period in the history of Australian schooling, run by sciolists who just don’t know nor appreciate what they are doing. The future looks glum. Why do we waste time pretending to talk about intergenerational exchanges from an engrained, mechanistic, ‘lay-down misere’ British-Grammar-school-established culture?


Phil Cullen 41 Cominan Avenue Banora Point 2486 07 5524 6443

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