The future of our nation depends on our attitude towards children and their schooling
KLEINISM IN AUSTRALIA. WILL IT GO AWAY?
The summer holidays are over ‘down under’, and Australia will commence the new school year under the most peculiar circumstances. We’d like to start a new year of school learning with high levels of confidence in our pupils’ abilities to do as well as they can and with our own usual high level of teacher zest for teaching young people how to go about it. In the long run, we’d like to see Australia at the top of the pole for schooling excellence and our country amongst the leaders of commercial enterprise because of our business expertise in fundamentals and our ability to solve problems, innovate productively and enjoy challenges. Sadly, these fundamental characteristics of a successful schooling system have to be held on hold for some years; replaced by a testing regime invented by a New York curriculum incompetent, teacher-hater, ex-lawyer; once in charge of a school district there.
We aren’t allowed to start the school year down under with high hopes and positive attitudes. We are obliged to maintain the ridiculous; to start as early as possible with heavy preparation and intense practice for our annual standardized blanket testing program called NAPLAN, held each May. Its clone is called NCLB in the US. As educators at the chalk-face, we have no option, no choice, no say. Our system is controlled by testucators, disciples of Kleinism….a fear based system of schooling that was imported in 2008 by Julia Gillard, later our Prime Minister; then federal minister for education. It was one of the biggest mistakes a government representative ever made.
Following the 2007 federal elections, she was charged by her senior colleague Kevin Rudd, new to the job as PM, to reform the Australian education system almost immediately, because his fellow neo-cons were telling him that teachers were making a mess of it and that most Australian children couldn’t spell or calculate. He used serious threatening language in his instructions to the teaching force and to her, to find something better than what we had. The Business Council of Australia and the ‘Four Pillars of Australian Banking’, both organisations of neo-liberal persuasion, roundly approved, despite both politicians being known within their temples of wisdom, as ‘lefties’. It was a peculiar liaison….and became a weird time in our history. Dutifully, she booked her flight to find a place somewhere in the world that had a reputation. Actually, Australia had a reputation itself for being amongst the world’s best at the time, but anti-school fanatics were the preferred mouthpieces of the local press – especially the Murdoch press. No. She didn’t select Finland, South Korea or nearby New Zealand whose schooling achievements were beyond the ordinary. Her first stop was New York. As macabre as the scenario appears, on her first day, she visited Rupert Murdoch, a requirement of all Australian leaders when they travel overseas….. to get their riding instructions. He arranged for her to attend a cocktail party being organized by the Rockefeller Foundation where she was introduced to Joel Klein, a fellow lawyer who, as strange as it seemed to Australians, was in executive charge of a large school district in New York. His system had a reputation. Indeed. It had a really bigreputation – not for learning or teaching or anything to do with the realities of schooling, but for threatening learners and teachers and principals and schools to do as they were told and, if they didn’t measure up to his requirements, they were out of a job or the school was closed. He sweet-talked our Julia into the effectiveness of this sort of approach to school leadership and,…..within minutes…..Australia had a new system.
She didn’t request a study of the effects of high stakes testing on schooling, nor check the credentials of the New York operators. She was conned, big time. Rupert and Joel Klein rubbed their hands with glee, because they were in the publishing, programming business, worth billions.
Not long later, Klein openly boasted to the world that his test-based scheme was well established in Australia. He was correct. Although it is based on fear and deceit and child abuse, Australia still has it. The big boys, of the kind that were at the cocktail party, will not allow our government to have any other kind. Their colleagues in the BCA and banking fraternity keep vigilant. That’s clear. Julia felt that she had found the ultimate touchstone of school control, and was able to persuade the Australian banking community to pay the cost of a visit by her ‘pin-up boy’, as she called co-lawyer Klein, to speak to them in their own fortresses in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. Despite some ethical uncertainties which she later modified by capturing the ‘approval’ of the principals of all Australian schools with a very swift, cunning and deceitful maneuver. They had to carry the can for professional ethics, once they pronounced their approval of kleinist naplan. Indeed, they dutifully suspended their professional ethics and still do….adopting an attitude that disappoints proud principals of the present and past wondering how this happened to organisations that were once stalwart and proud of their protection of children’s rights. Federal and state education bodies, once citadels of wholesome schooling, succumbed to the use of fear and the abuse of mental health of children for whom they are supposed to be responsible…..and….as Aussies say: “She was in with Flynn”. No blood on her hands.
She established a special unit called the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority a sort of third level of government power, a sort of bundestag that now completely controls schooling; and she made sure that it was staffed with expert measurers whose experience in schooling and teaching and learning was severely limited. This incongruous mis-match between knowledge of testing and knowledge of learning between people running the show, has had profound consequences. After all, whoever controls the schooling system, controls the country’s future. The outcomes of constructing testing devices that contain inbuilt pupil dislike and distaste for particular school subjects and for school itself …and doing so in a most rigid manner….has had effects that run counter to the faith that she and ‘pin-up’ Klein had in improvement of PISA and NAPLAN raw scores. They flopped, failed, flunked all neo-con expectations as schools are doing in countries that are overdoing the fear base; and, it must be noted, run counter to the expectations of parents for schoolies to do the right thing. Despites their attitude to childhood, they’d like their kids to do well. Australia, after eight years of kleinism is heading downhill fast.
The last few years in the US and in Australia have clearly demonstrated that no schooling system can progress while its most outstanding features at the chalk-face, each capable of gynormous damage, include
Fear of failing
Abuse of mental health.
all deliberately imposed by forces beyond the classroom. Office-based testucators of known kleinish measurement calibre have no idea of what happens in the classroom. They just mass-produce tests, send them to schools, gather the data, pat themselves on the back, blame teachers when things don’t go so well.
But, hold! Now, a breath of fresh air. A hopeful start has been made in the US education circles, our major mentors, in December 2016, by reducing the ponderous effects of centralised control. Releasing states from their fearful obligations is a small step, but it is a step in the right direction. Maybe, one day, control of the learning act will seep down through the numerous know-it-all hierarchies to the real learning centres in all countries where the teaching/learning experts reside, now being wrecked by the corrupting influences of kleinism – fear, deceit and abuse.
Down under, we’re notoriously slow to examine the effects of imports from up over. The big boys there and here do not like it, when educators reveal the truth….that the problem lies within the testing itself. We can’t expect any improvement to learning in our schools in 2017. Both places have a devil-may-care attitude towards children and their schooling; and basic timidity prevents us from sticking up for kids.