The battering of schools by a mega-meme.

“The Plowden Report was an official study, not a brain-fart exchange by two testucating child-mind-bashers at a booze-up in New York.”

“Joel Klein and Julia Gillard would have been tarred and feathered and rail-roaded out of town if they had tried their fear-based stunts then.

Mega Meme-Storm Continues

Devastating Damage

A meme is a vogue-word that covers the description of  an idea or a movement or a behaviour or a style that seems to have come from nowhere, but establishes itself in a culture, then self-perpetuates or mutates or adjusts. Some are strange. Some last longer than others. Think of torn jeans, tattoes, rock music, rap, bad language, school examinations, standardised testing’.  Someone starts something somewhere and it spreads.

Education systems get more than their fair share of memes that are sometimes called ‘fads’. Their origins can be traced and their upkeep can be followed but, in the worst cases, their obliteration can be slow. Others, like zest for learning, mini-skirts, good manners and child-centred learning disappear too fast!

A time line of useful and destructive educational memes can be drawn by any enthusiastic historian, which I am not. I have lived through some extreme ones and they were devastating. Within the limits of my experience – the post-war period to this point  in time-  a little over 70 years – this latest destructive Meme – NAPLANISING – for want of a better term,  has been the worst and most destructive, by a long shot. Why?  Because it aims directly at the mental health of children in a very deliberate way to try to force them to engage in robotic swotting behaviour of the most damaging kind.  It’s also a serious threat to responsible government, because it is killing the magic of learning and potential leadership of international negotiations.

The best meme in this  70 year period was described as ‘child-centred schooling’ or ‘open learning’ or ‘freedom to learn”.   It’s disappeared now, but when it was in vogue, the times were just wonderful and the school atmosphere was magic.

MEME-STORMS,

This is a short personal story about welcomed and unwelcome memes that would be of little interest to present day testucators. The oldies, the has-been educators,  might find something of interest. Let me start at the beginning. I was the most test-focussed primary school principal the world had ever known, and I would never have taken much notice of the crack-pots of the time who were talking about ‘freedom to learn’, ‘integrated days’, ‘alternative schools’, ‘subversive teaching’, allowing children to talk to each other in class, to think beyond the set syllabus, to enjoy learning, even to enjoy school…and all that nonsense of the post-war fifties.  Apart from monthly and terms tests I held tests of Arithmetic [Tables, Mental, Notation, Sums and Problems – as they were called] every Friday and I was working on some Grammar tests when I joined ‘them’.  I ‘heard’ spelling of every child in the school each day, over the intercom.  I was ‘test crazy’….until a little girl cried in front of me, when her main academic rival beat her on one of my monthly tests. I woke up there and then.  I hadn’t joined the teaching profession to make children cry; and I  realised that I must have been upsetting the real learning of hundreds of others in the scramble for better test scores.   Even though my inspectors liked what I was doing and I kept getting promoted, I knew that there was something better that I should be doing, but, despite duodinal ulcers, Bells Palsy and the rest, I couldn’t figure it all out.

I was born at the right time, as it turned out.  It was, almost suddenly,  the sixties; and I was right age to sort myself out. I was in the mood; and the books of the era were the most thought provoking ever. I read voraciously as did my divergent mentor and neighbour, principal Oscar Bell.  Miss Walker, owner of the largest bookstore in Cairns said that we were her best customers,  Cuisennaire was in vogue as was ‘individualisation’, structured reading using S.R.A. packaged reading kits [Shhh!], Reading in Colours, Reading for Understanding [a divergent thought at the time]. Piaget’s theory of social development was No.1 on the charts and  was even discussed at those inservice gatherings at the pub each Friday. He was a hero. Classrooms started to become ‘child-centred’ rather than ‘subject-centred’.  It was the sexy sixties.  Things were changing.  Joel Klein and Julia Gillard would have been tarred and feathered and rail-roaded  out of town if they had tried their fear-based stunts then.

Then came 1967 – The Plowden Report. It’s Golden Jubilee year this year.  50 years. Things started looking up. It was the time when “the hot knowledge of the practitioner and the practical administrator were put into practice”. Its messages are still ignored by testucators even though it was the best thing to hit England since the railway.  It was an official study, led by Lady Plowden, not the outcome of a brain-fart exchange by two testucating child-mind-bashers at a booze-up in New York. Child-centred education looked like being here to stay, putting into  practice what the war and  post-war experiences had taught those at the chalk-face.    I managed to visit the more notable LEAs in England…Bristol, Hertsfordshire and the West Riding of Yorkshire. Oh, what a feeling! The zest for learning was incredible. Sir Alec Clegg [https://alecclegg.com/plowden/and Eric Hake were absolute masters of the craft, sharing their experiences with a former test-freak from down under!  Magic.  It was 1970 and Australia was already opening its doors to welcome better ways of doing things in the classroom.  South Australia, the A.C.T. and W.A.  were quick off the mark and went so far as to completely alter the architecture of their classrooms to allow for more activity, more cooperative teaching, more opportunities to use the full range of strategies between the didactic to the maieutic that teachers used, to suit the subject and the pupils.

Children were treated as pupils not students.  Openness started to become a state of mind and not just an architectural term. Teaching and learning hugged each other in meaningful progress. What a wonderful period for a teacher to have lived. Wonderful. Wonderful to be a teacher in such times, under such circumstances.

Then came a severe questioning of what was going on in schools in ‘back to basic ‘terms, led by the fake press [especially The Bully in Australia], in the late 70s. It was mischief-making by casual observers of classrooms where children could wander around, talk to each other and share.  The uninitiated thought that it was chaos, because the children were not spending the day, sitting in their seats looking towards the chalkboard and reciting things. This meme-storm, originating  from a low-level series of  academic ‘Black Papers’ [1]in England that hit our shores with the intensity of a Category 5 cyclone. The press made the most of it with special magazine issues, nation-wide TV debates, public meetings, government inquiries and the like. Queensland was a special hot-spot because of its maverick style of governance. The unease was tactile until a special government committee [Ahern 1978-80] tidied up the mess and substantiated the kind of progress being made in teaching and learning terms.  Teachers , in those days, stuck to their guns when their professional ethics were threatened. Despite the appearance of classrooms, they knew what real learning was.

If school leaders of 2008 had remembered any part of this Back-to-Basics Super-Meme, they would never had allowed NAPLAN anywhere near the front gate of their school when it was proposed. .

The ease of influencing political decision, however,  as crazy as they were in the pre-Ahern period, gave heart to groups of moral crusaders who had been hanging around on the sidelines, waiting to clean out the teaching profession  of social justice adherents,  child-centred advocates, readers of subversive books and viewers of doubtful films. All of these atrocities were caused by state school teachers. Schools were promoting immorality. This gross meme had its origins in the U.S. in a large numbers of ‘Southern Baptist’ type institutions but especially the John Birch Society, a bulwark of conservatism and the the Moral Morality, run by Jerry Falwell[whose son is now an advisor to Donald T], a moneyed-up,  extreme right wing group that had established clones in Australia {Committee Against Regressive Education, Society to Outlaw Pornography, Council for Community Standards, Community Morals in Education, Campaign for Responsible Education, Conservative Club, Evolution Protest Committee  were some]. In Queensland, moral crusader Rona Joyner took command of schooling and of the cabinet and managed to ban M:ACOS, a social science program for primary schools and a commonwealth-sponsored social education project,  SEMP, in secondary schools. The teaching profession was a close-knit ethical unit in Australia at the time and the agitation disappeared…as did the Queensland dystopic government.

Then the smarties from the emerging discipline of business administration thought that they knew more about the various kinds of administration, even schooling, than those who’d practised it for ever and had excelled at the academic pursuit of the specialty. These managerialists were allowed to take over the band-wagon.  While it is said that everyone has the right to be stupid, but politicians abuse the privilege. Ours got it all a-about-f and played havoc with the basic principles of organisational structure. They tried to stick square pegs in round holes. Didn’t work, but, as usual, they kept it up. They appointed sciolists and pretenders into important positions and they  buggered things up, big time. The managerialists thought that the possession of a degree meant that the possessor knew more about everything than anybody without one. They thought that a well-prepared CV was a form guide and that the thespian skills demonstrated at interview time meant that he applicant could do anything.  Plumbers were put in charge of nurseries and, worst of all, testucating measurement freaks were put in charge of schooling. The managerial movement of the 80s and 90s was a calamity for Australian education. It was a meme-storm  of hurricane proportions. ‘Debbie’ would be a puff of wind by comparison. We have yet to recover. Maybe never. But. One day, after the cyclonic damage is being tidied up,  in the long distant future ,there is a slight chance that we will have education departments run by the teaching fraternity with curriculums and curricula  knowledge based on children’s needs. One day.

MEME-STORM. CAT.5

We couldn’t stop the Cat.5 meme-storm of 2008. It’s still raging.  Its destructiveness is legendary.

In political terms, what sort of government spends millions of dollars on an abject failure and then spends millions more to continue it?  Our political representatives surely test the standards of stupidity with casual indifference.

  

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1. All five Black Papers – supported by the right-wing press – attacked the concepts of comprehensive education, egalitarianism and progressive teaching methods. They deplored the lack of discipline in schools and blamed comprehensivisation for preventing ‘academic’ students from obtaining good examination results. ‘Education in England: a brief history‘ by Derek Gillard.

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