My Epiphany Moment. A story.

REVIEWING NAPLAN                                                                                                                                       RESPECTING KIDS


Treehorn [Everychild] was the hero of a book by Florence Parry Heide: The Shrinking of Treehorn. When he was severely afflicted, worried and puzzled, the adults closest to him – parents, bus-driver, teacher, principal – preferred to ignore him. They had other things to do. The conclusion to the book is dramatic. He had lost faith in all adults. Then, when his skin started to turn a violent green, he had adjudged by then that adults don’t care about school kids in particular …..and the book concludes : “Treehorn sighed. ‘I don’t think I’ll tell anyone.’ he thought to himself. “If I don’t say anything, they won’t notice.’” 

Do you know how your child feels at NAPLAN time?  Do you care?



 Dressed in my finest academic regalia on a visit, this photo was taken in 2014,  I am standing at a door that links two classrooms at Edge Hill State School, Cairns where I had served as a Primary School Principal in the 1960s.

Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 9.51.08 PMI am pointing at the spot where, in 1968,  I was standing when I made a momentous decision. I call it my ‘Epiphany Spot’….where the truth arrived.

I was testing  Year 3 with a Maths test of numeration.

There were two classes and I stood at the door [obscured] between them.  I gave tests as often as I could until this Epiphany Moment. I had been doing so for years and had a cupboard full of all sorts of tests for all sorts of occasions. I thought that it was expected of me, so I wanted to do it properly.  I became the most testing fixated principal in the country, I’d reckon.  I’d test anything to which one could attach a number.

 I was always uneasy that the pupils didn’t try harder to do well at all tests; and often angry that my remonstrations fell on deaf ears.

 I talked issues like this over, regularly, with my colleague from a neighbouring school, whose opinion I valued. He was very casual about testing. I thought it was an important schooling function. He used to  suggest to me that, if testing was getting me down, I should give it up.  Well, in those days, principals just didn’t do that sort of thing. Weak and compliant, we thought that our Inspector and the whole department would come down on anyone who did that sort of thing,  like a ton of bricks.  Like Eichmann we dared not question. We did as we were told.

 Standing in this doorway, I was able to watch a group of children from behind. Two of them, Jacqui and Peter,  were about the smartest pupils I ever had met and they competed with each other with great intensity. Peter beat Jacqui by one mark on my test. During the hiatus while the pupils gave the results of the test to their teacher to record,  I saw the tears run down Jacqui’s face as she reached for a book from under her desk to read during the pause in testing. It was a book called Voss by Patrick White that had been set at the local high school as a text that year. She was in Year 3.

 I said to myself, “That’s it. There’s somebody stupid in this room and I know it’s not Jacqui.”

 I mumbled something like, “I did not join this profession to make kids cry” to the teacher as I left the room and later told the staff that there would be no more blanket testing at Edge Hill School while I was around. I had earlier started to wonder why we did such tests anyhow, why I was so intense about testing when I believed, at the same time, that primary education was, far and away, the greatest of all caring professions.

 My thinking moments changed to considering the differences between assessment and testing and evaluation and appraisement and teaching. I needed to sort myself out. Here I was:  professing to be a teacher, a lover of learning, a pillar of a thinking community and I was violating the sensitivities of children, defying the  conventions of confidentially and of morality, treating kids like robots; while, in other situations, I was constantly preaching that primary education was  the most intense, busiest, most noble caring profession the world had ever seen. There has to be a special  word for a hypocrite, like that. I didn’t want to be one and was ashamed of what I had been doing.

 l did a complete 180. I remain ashamed at what I had done before this ‘moment’ and I am disgusted that, almost fifty years later, there are some colleagues around who are administering tests and do not think about what they are doing.

I now hate and detest unprofessional regimes of testing like NAPLAN. I certainly would not allow it in any school these days. There’s something crazy, stupid, cruel about having a love for teaching and giving silly tests. Clearly incompatible.  The damage that NAPLAN tests  do is inestimable.

Phil Cullen  41 Cominan Avenue  Banora Point  Australia 2486  0               

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