Bridging the Ditch

Featuring the occasional email conversation between Phil Cullen in Australia and Allan Alach in New Zealand, as they work together to restore quality child centred education to the two countries.



We seem to have dropped the casual correspondence ‘across the ditch’. I’ve been wanting to express some mundane feelings that I am entertaining at the moment following a nostalgic return to a couple of old haunts over last week-end.

My daughter is an ardent anti-Coal Seam Gas activists, so the three of us – she, wife Edna and myself –  decided that we should attend a Rally being held on the Darling Downs at a little place called Nangwee, due west of Toowoomba, where I spent a few years in my first one-teacher school and where the gas-mining magnates have now rudely decided to drill some gas wells. They have open access to one of the richest blacksoil parts of the world.  It was an amazing event, very confronting, thought provoking and democracy rattling.

nangwee%20school[4]I dug out my old photo  album before we left home showing my old chocolate coloured ediface on stumpsimage[2] in the middle of extended nothingness….now a productive cotton-field.

Beforehand, I decided to ring Mary , one of my pupils at the time and arrange to have a cuppa in the nearby town [Cecil Plains]. She remembers me for the right reasons. Mary was one of a family of five who rode to school on two horses. I have a photo of two of her siblings climbing up the support for a strainer post to mount one of their steeds. I recalled to her the lines from the popular Australian poem, by John O’Brien: “The Old Bush School”.

Down the road came Laughing Mary, and the beast that she bestrode

Was Maloney’s sorry piebald she had found beside the road;

                                              Straight we scrambled up behind her, and as many as could fit

                                            Clung like circus riders bare-back without bridle-rein or bit,

                                             On that corrugated backbone in a merry row we sat –

                                                 We propelled him with our school-bags; Mary steered him with her hat –

                                                And we rolled the road behind us like a ribbon from the spool,

                                                “Making butter,” so we called it, to the old bush school.


Mary is a great-grandmother now. She’s 77 years of age. She’s old, isn’t she? I taught her sixty-six years ago. What a spine-tingling thrill it is to catch up with former pupils! It’s a thrill that many experienced educators have been through, catching up with the lives of former pupils and thinking that, maybe, one played an important part in it. It’s a very special kind of thrill, indescribable really, to share time with a special kind of person….your old PUPIL.  After so long.

 How old, I ask you Allan, has one got to be, before one can give up this love of primary schooling and its multitude of wonders that lead to these kinds of sensations?  It’s such a fantastic, wonderful , highly professional discipline.  One is tempted ask  the present-day sciolists,  know-it-alls and tin-eared, testucating measurers now in control of schools: How do you get your kicks?

On Saturday evening, we over-nighted at Chinchilla, now a CSG mining town. I had another one-teacher school outside Chinchilla called Baking Board, the first railway siding to the west of town. It was a centre for a railway navvies gang; five or six navvies’ houses lined up along the road parallel to the railway line.  I had 37 pupils, some from nearby properties, here in six grades. It was a small building with six long desks and forms. It was very crowded and on cold days, we had to shift all the desks on one side to enable the door to be closed.


Low and behold, who do I catch up with while dining at the RSL Club that evening, but Bernard, a 74 year old former pupil from Baking Board! He had become a very successful business-man. Since we had managed to pass the Scholarship examination together and I had followed his progress for a while during his boarding school years, we had a lot to talk about. His attachment was such that he had bought the land [800 acres] surrounding our old school and had instructed the CSG Company, to whom he has leased it, not to bulldoze that area where the school had been. The only evidence of its existence was one of the front gate posts.

The week-end is now a highlight of my life. Nostalgia! Bring it on!  But then…

We toured the nearby gaslands on our way home. That’s a very sad story about the rape and pillage of precious farmland. Not as sad nor as dangerous as NAPLAN, I argue with my daughter, but another sample of debauched democracy and the enormous political power of large corporations. I wondered if there was a Social Justice Party somewhere that I could vote for.

The present lot, on both sides of the house, are very dangerous people without any notion of fairness for all.

The experience gave  me an opportunity to reflect on what has happened to primary schooling since I served this useful/ wonderful kind of apprenticeship.

I’ve been more fortunate than most. I was able to experience the effects of the Scholarship examination under all sorts of circumstance; always teaching other grades at the same time and ensuring that all the latest trends were handled well. The Scholarship was an exam held at the end of primary schooling, used to determine who was allowed to continue with their schooling at secondary levels. The number of successful candidates allowed to progress was adjusted each year, depending on the amount of money that the state government was prepared to release for Grammar School subsidies. It controlled every aspect of primary schooling even to the construction of special schools, called Intermediate Schools. There was no way in the world that, if your Inspector of schools, the guardian of the full curriculum, had already visited you, that any of the ‘airy-fairy’ subjects like art or music or phys. ed. received any attention. These days, NAPLAN has even more disgusting impacts on child development through such narrowing of curriculum offerings.

One would think that school authorities would have learned to apply our growing knowledge of school learning to every aspect of schooling and that deliberate unprofessional activities of the GERM kind would not happen these days. Our finely tuned ethical standards would not allow us to run testing factories instead of learning centres, would they? wlEmoticon-winkingsmile[1] Huh. What ethical standsrds?

And well may as many parents as possible visit a Year 3,5,7 or 9 class during the next 16 days; especially May 14, 15,16 and judge the levels of learning for yourself.

I only taught a single grade for one year, and that was a Year 8 during the year that primary schools did not have to contest the Scholarship exam. I wish that I had been a more creative teacher for that year but I had been testucated beyond redemption. I had been moulded into a test-crazed principal who took longer than I should have to wake up to myself. I would like to apologize to the Marys and Bernards of this world and hundred of others who had to tolerate my unthinking belief in assigning scores to almost everything and raving to everyone about the results. There is no place for such behaviour in a place where learning is supposed to occur. There is no solace in knowing that a few million children are now being officially treated abominably under present government control, itself operating according to the designs of the mega-rich; and only a few folk even give a stuff.

 It took me a long while, slow learner that I was; but hundreds of basic experiences have now empowered me to care for kids to a greater degree that I would have under normal circumstances. I retired officially in 1988 and the past 25 years have seen a growth in my detest for the despicable things that are now being done to school children under the name of REFORM. It’s as rotten as movement as I have ever experienced…and I have experienced a helluva lot since I left my last classroom. A study of the growth of GERM is a part of the discipline of scatology.

Two test-distressed little pupils helped to make me wake up and I am now saddened by the great teaching-learning opportunities that I had missed earlier when I ran a test-based classroom. The departmental focus on severe testing had prevented me, I can argue. I was a departmental servant, after all. However, I was lucky enough, at the time, to have an enlightened colleague who kept asking me why I was doing what I was doing and why was I perpetuating the useless, unnecessary and the downright debilitating. When I was inspecting schools, I asked many teachers the same question about things that seemed to have no real relevance to the learning act. The answer, unfailingly was: “Because you [the department] expect us to.”

When I now see all those wonderful classroom teachers in their exciting classrooms with ‘learning in the air’, I get jealous. I wish that I had done that.  A secret. When things were on that up-and-up learning curve of the 1970-80s with quality outcomes on so many fronts, and I was visiting a learning school [One bloke called his school a ‘Living Learning Laboratory’ and had the name emblazoned on the entrance to his school] with young teachers who knew what classroom learning meant and were prepared to have a go, I used to feel so happy and would hum the John Paul Young tune: : “Learning’s in the air. Every where I look around….” It was great. That was the age of learning – the 70s-80s.

Things were looking great…..THEN….. the Graduates from the Harvard  School of Business and other factories introduced managerialism to the schooling enterprise where it was a total misfit. One of its worst features was that it greatly devalued school experience. Restructuring concepts spelt the beginning of the end of teaching kids how to learn. Good ideas and good people were downsized and multi-skilled, activities outsourced. No education authority, that I know of, undertook  restructuring or reforming by looking at what happens in the everyday classroom and ‘thinking upwards’. Things are always …always…. reshaped from the top down.

Exciting learning places are disappearing from the landscape and we know why.

I have been  so privileged to be involved with primary schooling during the exciting changes, trends and edu-memes of the past 60 years: Integrated Day, Individualised Education, Multi-aged learning, Class Size , Excellence in Education, Assessment of Performance, Thinking, Standards Based Education, New Maths., Accelerated education, Cuisenaire, M:ACOS, Moral Education; SRA and other structured material that all made serious impacts on the conduct of schooling. Some were iffy, most were useful. I know that the short period of the 60s-80s, that encouraged serious learning that produced pupils who, as creative, zestful thinkers who , with thanks almost, have provided the world with the kinds of creature comforts, modes of communication and access to knowledge that we had never imagined possible. Thoughtful experiences were not obvious  in every school, but most. This was a period of intellectual development and professional enlightenment.  The 60s to 70s kids created a wonderful world.

We  are now back to the maintenance of mediocrity of the 40s and 50s kind. Too many schools now just ‘go with the flow’. Water flows downhill trying to find a lower level in which to stagnate.

I have experienced many kinds of trends. The present form of testucation, that violates professional ethics and threatens the chance for kids to extend themselves, is dangerous and Australia will take a long, long time to recover from NAPLAN’s impact. It has replaced serious education.  It’s an invention of the  devil. It is touted as necessary to provide a series of useless number to the Peter Garretts of this world that tells them nothing of use. He boasts that he needs to have numbers from ridiculous tests so that he can make decisions about the style of schooling that he likes.

I don’t have much time left on this globe. I never, ever thought that I would see education run by corporate wolves, dictating their terms to passive principals whom I have always regarded as the protectors of the curriculum and the energisers of the lively spirit of learning in schoolroom settings. In my earlier days I wrote a lot about the significant and crucial role that principals as maintainers of professional behaviour were expected to play. I now live in a time when professional ethics, once focussed on care and concern for the basic welfare of children at school, no longer apply. Principals ignore them. Their organisations openly support blanket testing like NAPLAN and their inactive unions just whimper a little bit. I’m very saddened by this.  I did not think that I would ever see the day.

In the eighties, I was fortunate to work with a group of five super-experienced former school principals. Between them, they had experienced every kind of primary school in the state to its outer-most limits. We formed the decision-making centre for primary schooling in the state of Queensland and established a net work of firm links that were necessary for the promotion of improved classroom learnings. It was working well and we all shared a similar dream of schools as happy, sparkling, holistic learning centres. Then, crushed by managerialism, weakened further by sciolists,  schooling became an easy prey for money-hungry test publishers.  We have now had to join that disappointed group of child-caring enthusiasts, who must watch Australia’s economic, cultural and social future sink lower and lower. It is happening and its noticeable. It’s an experience that none of us wanted to endure.

Thanks for being such a good cross-Tasman buddy, Allan. You have been most patient with my rapid-fire way of doing things. I reckon that New Zealand is very fortunate that you and Bruce and Kelvin

live there. I am absolutely sure that NZ will be the foremost authority in the world if your Chris Hipkins becomes the Education Minister and sticks to his guns. He could become the saviour of the world down under. Our lot just don’t know what they are doing. Wish I was back at Nangwee or Baking Board ignoring ignorant politicians and caring for kids.




Yakabooboolee – greetings to thee of another tribe.

This has been an extraordinary week on this side of the ditch.

NAPLAN RESULTS RELEASED Generally, the results reveal that NAPLAN is as useful as tits on a bull – so to speak; and that old adage: “ We have failed in our task, so we’ll redouble our effort.” now applies. [More practice, kids!] In this state of origin contest, my beloved state of Queensland did poorly, finishing, according to the press, with its brilliant description of state education: ”third last nationally”. That covers it. That’s how we describe schooling in this part of the world. But, hang in there. Queensland is going to do a ‘Beetle Bum’ and, with traditional bananaland zeal, slip forward through the bunch. Accidentally confirming its grammatical placement, the Minister promised, “Have faith in the fact that the Government and me as minister, are absolutely dedicated to making sure that we keep improving.” Then, the Courier Mail’s” expert expert on Queensland education, who resides in the staff room of a far-away St.Custard’s grammar school in Victoria said that cellar-dwelling is endemic to Queenslanders. [He wouldn’t know about Rugby League SOO in that far-away land.] You know what ? The QTU, the QASSP, the QCPCA representing teachers, principals and parents said nothing…. as they usually do….but it probably wasn’t worth saying anything, anyhow. Who cares? [‘No bugger’, says Treehorn]

Teachers between the Tweed River and the PNG border can look forward to some energetic educational processing between now and next May. Who cares? They will be told through hard-nosed prescriptive units that they have to improve ‘outcomes’. ‘Outcomes’ is a fad word that is used when you don’t know what you are talking about, don’t know what it means but feel that you have to say something as if you did.

McCHARTER SCHOOLS FOR QUEENSLAND With the brilliant oxymoron title of “Independent Public Schools”[Yep, we’re cellar dwellers in the use of titles, too], it was announced that 26 of them will start next year. Such a silly name but the public would not appreciate the word ‘charter school’ nor welcome any if it knew more. Whatever name they are called, Allan, you Kiwis know more about school autonomy than most. The political gimmickry that goes with this latest fad on this side of the ditch, ensures that they will be replicas of Klein’s New York charter school model. Who cares?

I reckon that I would like to run one. Indeed, when at the chalk-face, I used to dream about such a circumstance and used to discuss the idea regularly with a colleague from a neighbouring school over a pint or two.

Autonomy ? I wonder what would happen if one or more of the principals [would need to be child-centred and learning-disposed one, of course] decided not to conduct NAPLAN tests. I’m sure I would, you would, Kelvin and Bruce would, Paul Thomson has. I would only take on such an ‘Independent’ school if I was given total freedom to exert my professional conscience like that… live up to its independent title.

APPA-NZPF CONFERENCE What a fizzer. Months ago when I heard that some of the world’s education giants were coming down-under for an international conference of the world’ best and most chalked school leaders[aka Primary School Principals], I was ecstatic. The Conference organisers obviously knew a thing or two about the ‘who’s who’ of the academic-education world. This would be one of the most momentous occasions on the world’s educational calendar during the world’s most troublesome times for school kids. They would command the front page of Australia’s print press, TV and Radio New. It would be an absolutely wonderful week. We parents, grandparents, teachers and the general public would be presented with challenging daily topics that we could discuss. Alas.

Not a single solitary word so far [It’s Friday and finishes today] nor could I find any mention in any of the major Australian newspapers nor heard a whisper anywhere!!! Did anything appear over there?

What does this mean?

Isn’t the public interested in important schooling problem? ….not interested in ‘learning’ nor how principals lead learning in their schools. This was the topic of the conference.

Did the organisers organise a regular supply of information to various parts of the media adequately ? [I was concerned when I had not read anything by Thursday morning and sent an email to Norm Hart, President of APPA. Despite his busyness, he responded within the hour and said that they had issued press releases on Monday and Wednesday.]

Was the conference deliberately ignored by the press?

Did the political embargo of teacher opinion apply to the conference? [As fascist as the embargo is, it’s a bit rich to apply it to overseas guests…but nothing is sacred where NAPLAN vs Learning applies.]

Were our normally open media outlets instructed by ‘powers-that-be’ NOT to publish any material? Cover-up?

TEACHER STRIKE Queensland teachers have declared a strike day next month for higher pay. While they certainly deserve a much higher salary than they receive, I often wonder if Unions are even slightly concerned about the plight of pupils and if their members would refuse to administer NAPLAN for purely professional reasons. S‘pose not. I was a keen unionist…Conference delegate, chairman and secretary of a number of branches, founder of an Area Council in the Far North etc. We thought that it was part of our duty to do as much as we could for school children’s welfare. Gone.

PETER GARRETT RESPONDS One of Queensland’s outstanding and most respected High School principals, Les O’Gorman was trying to arrange to talk to his local member, Craig Emerson who is also a Minister in the Gillard government. I think that the Minister genuinely wanted to learn more about the effects of NAPLAN on schooling from a no-nonsense reliable source. In one exchange Les referred to The Treehorn Express.. The Minister sent the letter of Les to the Minister for Education, Peter Garrett, to whom I have been sending The Treehorn Express. The ninc who wrote the reply from from Peter Garrett to Craig Emerson said, “In contrast to the evidence based approach to the development of NAPLAN testing , the positions expressed in The Treehorn Express newsletter in relation to NAPLAN are largely opinion or anecdotal and are not supported by evidence.”

Of course they are. The unfortunate measurement freak must carry a ruler everywhere. What did he think a newsletter was about? If he had ever been in a classroom he would know that the opinions and anecdotes expressed through Treehorn, have more substance than the NAPLAN results. They are reliable, at least. Does he or she or Peter G. take heed of highly-respected statisticians like Professor Margaret Wu who supplies hard evidence as to how the use of NAPLAN as a measuring stick to compare schools and authorities is a nonsense, indeed fraudulent. I hold that Prof. Wu’s truism as an opinion and didn’t really need any confirmation. I share it with the opinions and anecdotes of really outstanding practitioners and academics in Australia, New Zealand, USA, UK and other places where evil high-stakes blanket measuring exists.

Les, by the way, wants to take up the point mentioned in the Minister’s letter that “NAPLAN tests are intended to complement the existing range of school based assessments.” Les retorts “I would respectfully suggest that NAPLAN has supplanted school based assessment and, as a result, has stifled the teaching and learning process.”

An amusing part of Minister Garrett’s reply was that OECD that provides the wonky PISA tests, reports that Australia has ‘a well-conceptualised framework for the assessment of student learning’. That’s their opinion. Australian measurers who helped construct the PISA tests [of doubtful validity – just an opinion] are congratulating Australian measurers who construct the NAPLAN tests. That authenticates everything!

These measurement crazed roosters are sure living up to the claims made in Worth a check for me, now that NAPLAN results have hit the fan.

NO PYNE REPLY I am getting anxious for a reply to my request and questions of 9 September.

1. Please supply evidence that “student outcomes have gone backwards over the past ten years.” I’m anxious to learn which outcomes, of course. If he is referring to NAPLAN scores he could be correct. They are sure to go backwards while national blanket testing drives the love for learning from our kids’ personal motivations.

2. What i meant by a ‘robust curriculum’…more threats?

3. Will ‘principal autonomy’ allow them to comment according to their best professional judgement? Embargo lifted?

4. Is the term ‘teacher quality’ somehow connected to testing in the mind of a politician?

Heavens, Allan, so much is happening none pleasant – that I have written you a letter in the style of a Treehorn Express letter. Sorry. You know I often ponder on the perspicacity of Florence Parry Heide to describe a little boy’ dilemma as representing the plight of almost every known school child. Brilliant. Nobody does give a stuff about their classroom welfare do they?

I thoroughly enjoy your articles and your comments, Al Pal. Mary Mackay is a widely read teacher like yourself. Agree? She is a beauty, isn’t he? I love her selections. You both keep a bloke on his toes, don’t you? Then Bruce Hammonds selects some pearlers, apart from his own. Love it. Primary schooling is such a big, wide, wonderful world, isn’t it?




June 28


I am sorry that I have not been in touch for a while.

Isn’t is amazing that, in each of the GERM countries, there is so little examination or public conversation about ways of helping  children to learn?  AImost every Australian schooling conversation held on the radio and TV is all about testing and failing and bad schools; and all descriptions use test results.  I have just listened to a radio program decrying the ‘statistical’ revelations that Northern Territory aboriginal children’s NAPLAN  performances are not ‘as good as’ those in Queensland and Western Australia. Their ‘pass rate’ was very low. OMG!  There’s education-talk for you. Fancy describing learning activity in such terms. “They beat ya!” The NT Minister spoke of the extreme social circumstances that ‘walkabout’ children enjoy and that most of these children handle about three different languages with little effort…not part of NAPLAN.  Fancy their ‘failing’ paper-and-pencil tests! Disgusting.

Such descriptors used all the time are ones of measurement and not of schooling. Surely school folk will lose more of their integrity if they don’t wash their mouths out.

Wouldn’t you think that principals and teachers would know better? Wouldn’t you think that they would have something to say about the kind of language that is being used?  I s’pose that most of them are, by now, real testucrats.  Ms. ‘Pavlov’  Gillard is pleased. “They’re talking my language.”  “They’re dribbling.” The execrable scatomeme that ‘fear-based schooling is the best kind’ is now so widely approved in so many schools and in so many places, that we have to call those folk who believe it and blindly enact testing procedures, ‘testucators’. It fits. [Once again, Allan, I’ve misplaced the name of the bloke who invented this term.] Their nose-rings are visible.

I have lost a lot of faith in principals as curriculum and teaching/learning leaders; as keepers of the dream, respectful of professional ethics. The public and so many teachers now see principals as whimpish conformers and it hurts to think that this is happening. It seems that they have little to do with ‘educating’ little folk in the essentials of learning;  and they ignore the basic principles of ‘pupilling’ as the school activity. There is little public discussion on the place of the individual’s pupil in the learning act nor as a human being, subject to pressure.  Principals have become part of the push to prevent children from living a happy, purposeful life. Are they gagged that much? The child is treated as a performing animal and so the schools teach each one to perform as circus monkeys and donkeys do. Teachers can make a noise when they want a respectable salary….but the public pays them what it thinks they are worth…and their professional ethics have been shot to pieces, hasn’t it….because of NAPLAN?  Yes indeed. First things first, guys.

Would you believe that some testucators in Australia want to leave parents out of the testing regime?  That’s the level to which professional ethics has descended. It seems as if diagnostic testing material will be made available via the  internet and some are afraid that parents will be able to access it! That should knock the notion of shared evaluation for six.

The worst feature of present day political control is the introduction of gimmicks and fads, some of which cost billions and whose main purpose is to provide distraction from teaching teachers to teach better and pupils to learn better.

There’s not much interest in those sorts of things.  I use Queensland as an example because I know it best and am more than a little familiar with its administrative history over the past 40 years. I recall the unplanned  introduction of pre-schooling following quickly on one of Joh’s electoral success. It became a real mess. The Liberals had the introduction as part of their election platform because of heavy pressure from one of its most influential members, an Infants’ Mistress. Within a week of the election results, the Treasurer/ Deputy Premier called Education officials to his office and told them to get cracking forthwith. He told them to start some pre-school classes in some of the spare rooms in some of the larger schools. Money was no object. His enthusiasm was able to be contained, but the outcomes from over-reactive planning was probably more disastrous and messy that his original [use the empty classrooms] idea. For one, some pre-school units were built so far from Year 1 classrooms that principals needed ‘a cut lunch and a change of horse’ to visit them.

Wastage of time and money fads have in recent years have included gimmicks such as Prep Year, transfer of Year 7 to secondary schooling, middle or muddle schooling, core curriculum issues, none of which have helped in any large scale teaching/learning/achievement effort. None.

The biggest and most expensive will be the introduction of Charter Schools. In Queensland, they are to be described by the oxymoronish term: Independent Public Schools. If lessons can be learned from elsewhere, especially from New York from which we copy all things gimmicky, they will prove to be as divisive and as useless for schooling purposes as…………….[Finish the sentence]. It is said that they will enhance local governance, provide opportunities for innovation, a locally tailored workforce  [?], increased financial flexibility. You betcha.  We used to say that about almost everything applied to school administration that might prove touchy.

I was once privileged, Allan,  to be a special guest at the annual general meeting of a board of a school district  near New York. The district consisted of a group of schools, close to each other, each ‘independent’ and ‘innovative’…a charter group, in a way. The meeting was so much like the AGM of my old schools’ P&C annual election that I felt quite at home. None of the claptrap that mission statements try to tell you about local governance and the rest. Ergo. Why the hullabooloo?  There such an enormous amount of bullshit about what ‘new schemes can do’….and seldom ever do.  Would independence be maintained if a school council decided not to have NAPLAN tests? Imagine. [Refer: Kimberley College which IS independent, but was subjected to threats.] What if that creative NZ principal of yours who is chucking out your national tests and concentrating on the Vygotsky approach ….to “….reduce the compliance culture and increase creativity.” What a hero! Could he come across the ditch and bite some of our principals?

For the life of me, why can’t some education minister somewhere observe the ethos of public schooling by

  • using a common starting age for convenience. Seven years of age seems to be the most common and most useful when little people’s brains are better tuned.
  • have six or seven years of warm one-teacher, child-centred class teaching in the primary schools before easing into subject-centredness.
  • concentrating on learnacy [learning how to learn] through the essentials of learning.
  • treat learners as pupils learning to evaluate their own progress as they fearlessly accept learning challenges. They’ll become self-propelled students at some time or other, or for some special interest or other. While at school, they are pupils.

Gosh. These four ideas seem so innovative in this day and age.

Did you enjoy NAPLAN’s meme song, “I’m Never Gonna Give You Up” ?  I can see JG singing it at an APPA conference. Its members remain loyal to the cause. APPA approves of ‘rigorous testing’. “The floggings will continue….” Heil.

Best wishes.



June 5
Yakabooboolee from Takaka, Golden Bay (top western corner of the South Island).

If I had to pick one place in New Zealand, to recommend to visitors, Golden Bay would be it, without any hesitation. Having family here gives me a great excuse to visit!

Life has got eventful in New Zealand, with some major gains made against the government’s educational agenda. The government has very successfully succeeded in bringing parents in alongside teachers, in protesting government policies. Further, there are two education unions here, the PPTA which covers secondary teachers, and the NZEI for primary teachers. These two groups have struggled to see eye to eye over many years, however the government has also succeeded in bringing them together as well. Just to really add icing to the cake, the media are also starting to question the government, at last foregoing the “John Key Admiration Club” that they’ve blindly supported for the last 5 years or so.

So what happened? As is consistent with following the overseas agenda, such as espoused by the McKinsey report ( I strongly recommend everyone reads this) the government moved, as part of budget 2012, to increase class sizes, resulting in significant number of teachers facing losing their jobs at the end of the year, on the basis of the ‘class size makes no difference’ argument, and that the answer is ‘teacher effectiveness.’

McKinsey states this, as does John Hattie in his research that used meta analysis to draw conclusions. Kelvin Smythe has destroyed Hattie’s claims on his Networkonnet website, and other university academics have also waded into the fray. I guess the comparison could be drawn that as Joel Klein is the patron saint of Naplan, John Hattie fills the same role here. Unlike Klein, he does have some background in education research, although how much he knows about actual teaching and child learning could be challenged, I suspect.

I digress – anyhow the government’s release of this class size increase went belly up. Their justification was that the $40m saved from staffing could be diverted to ‘improving teacher effectiveness.’ Seems that they fell for the spin that parents would want better teachers rather than smaller classes, if given the choice. Dear Leader John Key said as much in parliament. Ha. As a principal, the most frequent question I was asked by prospective parents was ‘What are the class sizes?’   Note – I wasn’t asked ‘How effective are the teachers?’ In fact, the second most frequent question was ‘Will my child be happy at your school?’ Again, note- nothing about “Will my child achieve?’

So this announcement didn’t go down too well at all. Worse was to come, however. With much mud being thrown everywhere, and blame being shifted at equal rates, the minister was forced to reveal that the staff ratio adjustments also included dedicated technology education staff in our intermediate schools for years 7 & 8 children (11 to 13 years old) and the first couple of years at secondary school. Schools, on receiving this information, ran projections and found that some larger schools would lose up to 7 teachers!

Seems that the Ministry of Education (including the minister’s sister, who is a high ranking official, and the recently appointed Secretary for Education – flown in from England to facilitate the introduction of charter schools)  failed to model this, and that the minister and cabinet also failed to thoroughly examine this before proclaiming it to the public. A real furore broke out, and for once, the media got stuck in as well. The minister, after being put on the spot in parliament, then ‘found’ a contingency fund of up to $20m, to be used in the transition stage, so that no school would lose more than 2 teachers. However her attempt to put a positive spin on this in parliament crashed and burned when she proclaimed this as ‘good news!’  Sacking teachers to increase class sizes (i.e. ‘frontline staff’) was never going to go down with parents, and this is what has resulted.

So, a victory, a big one. While the staffing reductions will go ahead (humble pie is not on the government’s menu), the government has lost this battle. Everyone knows what is happening, and parents across the country are unhappy, even those in higher socio-economic districts.  This is the first major win for those of us battling to save New Zealand primary education and hopefully will lead to bigger things. Pollsters, even those from the right side of politics, are starting to predict a change of government in the next election in 2014, and this debacle will, I feel, help to build the snowball of discontent as it rolls down the hillside.

Are we seeing the light at the end of the tunnel? The Labour Party, for once, came out with a definite statement – they will restore staffing when back in power.  We still need to make progress on the narrowing down of children’s learning to typical 3Rs nonsense as you’re seeing in Australia, and as is also happening elsewhere. Given the recent draft Common Core Science Standards in USA, I anticipate that our ‘me too’ government will raise this in New Zealand before too long.

Other developments here:

The National Standards that were imposed on our primary schools a couple of years back don’t apply to private schools, and nor will the class size issue. Given that about half of the cabinet send their children to private schools (including Dear Leader, who justified this back in 2005 because of the smaller class sizes….. can he spell hypocrite?) I wonder why that could be? A clarification for Aussie readers – private schools play a very minimal part in NZ education and only children of the ‘deserving classes” (i.e rich) go to these.

A requirement of the National Standards regime is that schools had to report on ‘achievement’ in the 2011 year, and that these reports had to be with the Ministry by May 31 or fingers would be slapped. While the Minister and Ministry are maintaining that there is not intention to produce league tables, the information is readily available to media under the Official Information Act, and so league tables are inevitable. How long will it be until they appear? What will the general public’s reaction be? Wait until the next instalment…

What will we do when we win the battle of Ragnarok and save our kids?



May 25

Yakabooboolee. Greetings. Allan

I was truly impressed by your recent ‘bridging the ditch’ letter and your “Week-end Readings’, Allan.  One must expect that only the serious few educators and some inquisitive ones  will read them, sadly, but it is sure worth the effort. As I may have mentioned, a copy of a voluptuous centre-fold from a girlie magazine [did I tell you that story?] might dispose some to open Treehorn more than they do. I’ve put photos of kids on the site. They don’t attract attention. Not many adults like children. Ask Treehorn, himself.

I was truly thrilled by the reaction of the general public to the Literacy Educators’ “Say NO to NAPLAN” efforts. I understand that Professor Margaret Wu spoke, at the launch of the website, of the ‘Margin of Error’ that tests like NAPLAN reveal; and emphasised that the margin should be mentioned in reporting to parents, and on Julia’s’ MYSchool’ website. It isn’t.  At present, all that measurers should say to the parents of most Year 5 pupils, for instance, is that : “Your child’s reading level is between Year 4 and Year 6.” She’s right. That would be the truth, more reliable than the errant bullshit now provided.

The document “Say NO to NAPLAN” received reasonable press around Australia, the best being the Gold Coast Bulletin which did a two-page spread head-lined “NAPLAN Inc  The Super School Test that is Making a Killing for Business – and our kids sick.”  If professional organisations were not so well controlled, one should expect that the first two articles by Margaret Wu and David Hornsby would be repeated in almost all professional journals. Perhaps they will be.

Did you see the list of 100+ academics who signed a succinct and telling statement as to why they dislike NAPLAN? Things are looking up for the kids. They might get back to learning for the full year…soon [I hope].

I don’t think that there was a sudden increase in parents saying NO, but there was sufficient interest for the kids to take heart. I get so mad when I think of what grown-ups are doing to children and to their enthusiasm for learning …. and…how good at fracking [i.e. pumping toxic material into schools to tear apart the soul of firm basic learnings that are in place, so that they can release destructive, high-level, toxic, test-publishers’ foul gases] ordinary human rights, especially the ‘Rights of the Child” [as expressed in UNESCO documents], some governments have become. Our Aussie one, not restricted to the present party-in-power …the whole of coward’s castle, it seems…has a tendency to encourage or approve of a fascist form of totalitarianism using its storm-troopers to effect . If the official Opposition had any democratic leanings, it would have objected to NAPLAN years ago, so it is not blameless.  When our government changes next year, as it will, all we can expect, it seems, is more of the same sort of the totalitarian control of schooling now in place.  I have heard of verbal abuse of principals and of threats made to those who do not want to administer NAPLAN tests. For sure, principal are not allowed to reveal their professional opinions to their school community nor are they allowed to tell parents that they can say :” NO.”  Quite a number of principals have told me that they dare not ‘say anything’. It’s not worth it to dissent. The floggings will continue until morale improves.

Of course, if teacher brave-hearts would stand up for kids in a genuine fashion, they could put an anti-NAPLAN government in power. Think of the numbers. Think of the electoral influence each teacher has.

Then, maybe, an effective Australian government will openly discuss issues related to schooling, pronounce learnacy’s expectations and obligations, starting from the environment of the child, will trust the teachers to teach; and use the teachers who have truly been-there-and-done-that to guide operations. Some countries do this; and they are the post progressive on the globe. Australia is too keen on the horse-and-buggy, big whip mentality and blindly follows the orders of the mega-bucketeers. It’s downhill all the way.

There must be something special about totalitarian control that it can replicate its worst features amongst followers so easily.  I can almost hear Adolf cheering as he approvingly surveys Australia, New Zealand, U.S.A. and the U.K.

I digress, Allan. Sorry…I tend to do this. It is just that I get so disappointed and disgusted by what is going on. I expected, truly, that Australia would be way, way up there with school learnings and with quality curriculum [i.e. guiding children through appropriate learnings – not stupid prescriptive documents] outcomes..we might have even caught up to New Zealand….by this time! It was headings this way until managerialists and sciolists took over. You can lay London to a brick that we will all be below the USA very soon in all school achievements….and that’s bad news.

Those wonderful Literacy Educators have produced an attractive car-bumper sticker that says in bright red-on-yellow, “NO to NAPLAN”  My supply arrived on Tuesday, the first day of the NAPLAN tests, at about 2.30 p.m.  I stuck one on the back of my car and headed for the local primary school to park my car in such a position that most mums and dads and grannies picking up kids would see the sticker, hoping that someone would ask me about it.  No response as it slowly dawned on me that some might have thought I was just a dirty old man sitting there to perv on the young mothers. I left.

On the next day I attended a lunch at the Kedron-Wavell RSL Club in Brisbane, a large place with an enormous car park. It was a bi-annual lunch for retired Secondary Principals and Senior Officers. When I went inside, I must have left my car door wide open. Fortunately one of the guys spotted it as he approached the building. He noted the anti-NAPLAN sticker and the NSW number-plate and reckoned that the car could belong to only one person…so he closed and locked the door for me. The sticker brought me luck!

Must finish Allan. Thanks for keeping in touch.



May 10

Yakaboobolee Phil

Strange times we live in. Maybe the cosmological theories of multi-universes is correct? There sure seems to be two education universes running parallel to each other. One of these is based on evidence and research and experience gained over a couple of hundred years of far-seeing educators. The other one is dominated by prejudice, biases, ulterior motives, etc, that has no regard for research and evidence, nor any interest in learning about what actually works in the other universe – in fact you’d suspect they didn’t even know the alternative existed. We know, actually, that this universe is deliberately pretending that the other one doesn’t exist. ‘Maybe if we ignore it, it will go away?’

This head in the sand approach has much in common with other forms of fundamentalism, where belief is allowed to override evidence, and where ‘heretics’ are made unwelcome. In the case of our corporatised universe, this fundamentalism is expressed by an unquestioning belief in the misinterpreted economics of  Adam Smith, and his disciples, particularly St Milton Friedman. The market rules, got that?    Everything must be focussed on growing the economy, and, more significantly, in increasing the returns to shareholders who have invested their capital – that’s straight out of Adam Smith. The ‘head in the sand’ really appears here – it doesn’t take the proverbial rocket science to see that it is impossible to grow economies for an indefinite period. The world’s resources will run out at some stage, with oil possibly leading the list. The same applies to corporate profits – the time comes when the existing profit making streams no longer provide for continued growth. In order to satisfy the shareholders, corporates need to find new areas to exploit and develop, and this is where we return to education.  There is ample evidence that shows that corporates e.g our friend Murdoch (the one who has recently been deemed incapable of running a multi national company) who is on record as seeing education as a very profitable venture. Profit has no morals, it seems.

Anyone who follows the development of GERM (great acronym – Global Education Reform Movement, for those who are familiar with this) across the world will undoubtedly have noticed a few trends – mainly that the rhetoric from the politicians and other pro-testing, pro-standards advocates, is almost identical in each country and that the ‘noisiest’ advocates are in England, Canada, United States, Australia and New Zealand.  The fact that these countries are the last bastions of the English speaking, white ruled world is not coincidental, nor is the fact that the lead for all this originates in the USA.

I hope readers have heard of the right wing, corporate controlled pressure group called ALEC, who have their tentacles in the highest level of USA politics, especially the Republican side. ALEC (who develop policy and legislation for states) have their tentacles in many pies, including education, and a read of their education policy makes it very obvious who is behind all this – the big corporates, such as the Murdoch empire (including that well known and highly regarded, very erudite educationalist Joel Klein) and the Pearson Group, along with other education companies like McGraw Hill. It is indeed tragic to see Australia and New Zealand falling over themselves to toe the USA line. We’ve not moved far from the 1960s and Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt’s declamation of ‘All the way with LBJ.’

However it is pleasing to note that the anti campaign in USA and Australia appears to be gaining traction. Sadly I can’t report the same from New Zealand yet. Given that this country is a few years behind Australia in the implementation of behaviourist standards based instruction (we shouldn’t honour this by calling it education) I guess it’s not surprising that the public and parents are not yet starting to protest.

Keep up the battle, Phil. This is the 2012 version of the ANZACs going out together to battle the foes!




April 29

Yakaboobolee, Allan,

What a pity that New Zealand is going down the GERM path too….with us. It’s not hard to see what will happen……VAM, pay some teachers more than others, prevent principals from speaking out loud or giving a professional opinion, principals losing their ethics by immorally endorsing fear-driven tests for self-preservation, charter schools, bright young school graduates not taking on teaching at any price…all recipes for disaster….all crazy ideas that were worked through centuries ago.  My heart really bleeds for children who have attended school since 1990,  when the wreckers moved in, both in your country and in ours. Imagine the  captain of the Titanic [1990 vintage] saying, “We’ll be coming to a halt soon. Please get ready for a dip in the beautiful briny waters of the North Atlantic.” That’s what happened. NZ was always a lighthouse country for educational activities that led to intense but productive learnings that sure paid dividends.  Its reading programs [e.g.Marie Clay] were standouts; its leadership roles were conspicuous too [but apparently too much for the managerial freaks who have no idea of human behaviour nor of the arts of administration] who could only outsource, downsize and play organisation/managers’ games that wrecked the public service and schools system….and so it goes. It continues.  They just don’t realise that there are people with feelings that occupy their managerial boxes. Your leaders like Kelvin Smythe [Primary] and Arch Gilchrist [Secondary] who understood teacher behaviour and classroom activity, were miles above any other country’s in their methods of jurisdiction; and that Director-General [???help me…senior moment…Newling or something like that ???] whose papers I have somewhere or other in my archives were all regarded as world-class. They understood what ‘administration’ [peopling boxes] meant vis-a-vis managerial style organisation [just drawing boxes]. It must be humiliating for Kiwis to have worked with really big giants and now have pygmies cracking managerial whips to the beat of brain-dumb politicians.

I am looking forward to the reaction to the Literacy Educators Coalition’s launch in Melbourne tomorrow. The presence of folk like Prof. Margaret Wu, Richard Gill [Opera giant] and, I heard, Michael Leunig the political cartoonist and poet, should draw attention. Already, there have been standard responses from Peter Garrett’s [Federal Minister] office and from the DG of Western Australian saying that NAPLAN is good for schools…as if they’d know. Paul Thomson, Principal of Kimberley College a school of renown on the outskirts of Brisbane is going down for the function and is expected to speak….probably telling how the parents at his school collectively boycotted NAPLAN last year; and how the storm troopers moved in on him, despite his school’s independence. Kimberley College is a multi-aged school through to Year 10. It’s growing fast because of its reputation and despite its being way out in the bush…so to speak.Take a look at its web-site if you get the chance. I love his ‘Waffos’.

Practice in many schools is in full swing here. Exams are in a little over a fortnight, so it’s panic stations. The Private sector seems to undertake much pratice than public schools do. If the authorities again publish the doomsday list of those found cheating; and if they investigate how time was spent on practising efforts in all schools, the most obvious form of cheating, the list of cheats will be encased in a book thicker than the Macquarie Dictionary. My gym-mate, Year 1 teacher at a private school was required to supervise a Year 3 Practice Test last week, under the normal strict procedures that are to apply on the big day.( What a way to run a school…heavy-handed practising for the big  terror-assault ! ) She couldn’t help anyone….but she did. A little lass, chronic dyslexic, who could not distinguish three-letter words was crying. She had no idea of the words. Her condition is so severe that she could and should have been excused from taking the tests and this option had been offered to her father. He responded by saying. “She’s a sook. It’ll toughen her up!” The poor girl. My friend Janet whispered, contrary to instruction and, under real conditions, worthy of mention in the cheat list: ”You can guess, you know.” The little pupil grabbed her pencil and marked all the bubbles [or whatever they mark] down the side of the paper as fast as she could…but then..jumped up and said “I’m finished!”…frightening the daylights out of the deeply concentrating others, nearby. You can bet that there will be stories like this from everywhere. Might make a good book, “How to handle NAPLAN.”

It’s sickening to hear that it is now established that, when a child changes school, the NAPLAN scores are recorded. It now a part of enrolment rituals. I remember helping to brand cattle when I was teaching in the bush. The poor cows squealed in pain…and they wore the brand forever. It didn’t help them to get fatter.

I am told that the Schools Authority, a wing of the Queensland Department, which helps schools to cheat by supplying practice items and advice, has issued a dictum that forbids principals from saying anything contrary to NAPLAN policy. I’m not sure. I hope that it is not true. If it is, Hitler would be proud to have had such a unit working for him. My God, it is sad, Allan, isn’t it,  to hear of such shenanigans going on in places we once loved and felt good about.

A thought. I often wonder how I would have handled NAPLAN in one of my one-teacher schools of 37 pupils in 6 grades, if I had a Year 3,5,7 in the room. I’m buggered if I know how I would handle it. I taught a scholarship class almost every year, but that seems to have been a piece of cake [only one grade to get my knickers in a twist about] compared with having three grades to ‘use’ to prove my worth in the district of half-a-dozen or so other one-teacher schools. We collaborated then. Today we’d compete. Big ethical difference, don’t you think?  My school’s better than your school. Wait ‘til they publish the scores! I really feel so sorry for teachers of a number of grades in small schools where inter-district jealousy is a cultural feature; and, because of intrusive tests, have to teach differently from  teach according to general progressive multi-aged principles.  If those educrats who propound the virtues of blanket testing haven’t been there and done that or don’t appreciate multi-gradedness, they won’t comprehend what I’m talking about. Their ignorance of school conditions will ruin the learning potential of thousands and thousands of country kids. Rule by sciolists and other pretenders stinks.

Okay. Nuff said. Before I go, I must tell you a secret. You can mention it in our Bridging column if you wish. I found the article from The Australian that I detail in Treehorn today, by accident, today. When I read that Australian teachers  at the AEU conference in 2010 intended boycotting NAPLAN, I was absolutely amazed and I went way up over the moon. I found it hard to believe that Union members would vote unanimously to stop publication of League Tables that threatened children’s morale.  My teacher-belief system, as strong as it was – sometimes sceptical, I confess – went into over-drive. How wonderful they are. I had read the paper and presumed that they had taken this stance for professional reasons only. I recognised one or two in a photograph for whom I had a high regard and, for a moment, thought that they must have had a word to say on behalf of kids. I was just so thrilled by this display of professionalism  that I went to Mass to thank God for what they had done. True. That’s all I did at Mass. Edna and the kids didn’t rate on this special day. Now, I never ever so this sort of thing. I seldom if ever, go to church during the week and I never ever go just to say ‘Thanks, God”. I’m usually asking. But…to think that good old Aussie teachers had gone to such length on behalf of kids !!! I was looking down on Cloud Nine. from a great height.

But then, I hadn’t taken much notice of that sentences…”Julia Gillard…stared them down.”  I then and have since felt like a proper dill; as I  do now by revealing my geriatric naivety….so bloody silly of me…but open confession… I should have known. I trusted too much. I had, before this newspaper article appeared, been bitterly disappointed by the Australian Primary Principals Association who had succumbed so easily to her stare [I guess] and breached the ethics of child care by taking notice of her blatant NY-gained stupid ideas. I didn’t think that principals would be such pussy-cats; and I thought that they understood the basic tenets of evaluation. Those that I had known would have tested her domination. even tossed her out of the room, I still believe. I thought that every-day classroom teachers were making up for their blunder.  Oh heck….

That’s enough.  I must watch ‘Miniscule’ if it is on. Do you get it on TV? It’s a really funny two or three minute show. It’s really silly. No real story; just delightfully crazy. It probably makes more sense than GERM, NAPLAN, Standards, VCLB etc.

I hadn’t thought of that, before.

Onya, Allan. Thanks for your patience.



April 28

Hi Phil

Yakabooboolee to you from this side of the ditch. Great word – a kind of secret code for all the warriors taking arms against the standardisation of education in order to provide corporates for a way to increase profits.

Thanks for your comments about the small part I’m playing in this increasingly global battle. I guess I’m turning into an electronic post office, distributing wonderful articles written by articulate and informed educators around the world.  This use of the technology to hold hands across the world is our most powerful weapon. No longer can the corporates and politicians play the ‘divide and conquer’ game. Recent news from the anti-testing lobby in the USA gives us all hope that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t a train coming our way.

At the moment we are clearly battling a multi-national attack on education, especially in the so-called ‘anglo-saxon’ countries of England, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. (That’s food for thought in itself. Why these countries?) However the process can be, and is being, reversed through the use of modern technology to coordinate the fight back.  Treehorn is playing an increasingly powerful role in this battle – all power to him in this! It’s been great to read about the coming protests in Melbourne.

As readers will know, the present New Zealand government is hell bent on taking our primary school education system down the standards road. This, in spite of the nearly overwhelming evidence from overseas against this, shows that the whole programme has nothing to do with education. We did have big hopes, last year, that principals, teachers and parents would fight back against the national standards, but this hasn’t happened. It’s all looking pretty gloomy as we head towards a system in 2014 where all children’s ‘achievement’ is tracked on a central database, which will also set up the basis of VAM here. New Zealand parents don’t have the right to withdraw their children from this, so there’s a glimmer of hope that once this realisation spreads, a protest movement may get off the ground.

There’s an upside, of course. Through this campaign I’ve made many overseas contacts, and at the top of the list is the relationship with you – I can scratch your back too!  One outcome is that my vocabulary keeps getting extended by new words that you use so effortlessly! Sciolist is my favourite – what a beauty!  The same goes with your knowledge of educationalists over the years. I thought I was well read…..   I have to confess that John Goodlad was new to me, and so that’s another book on my ever lengthening reading list. That, i guess, brings me to another upside of all this. Those of us who are pro-child are being challenged to really dig deep into our knowledge, philosophy and experiences, in order to articulate both our objections and to promote alternatives.

When the dark ages end, as they will, the framework for the move back to enlightenment  will be very well thought out.  The tricky part is that since the dark ages began in 1990 for both our countries (coincidence….. yeah, right) the numbers of  ‘well seasoned’ educators who have substantial pre-1990 experience are beginning to drop. So much knowledge and skill could be lost, as happened in the actual dark ages. Preserving this has to be one of our main tasks, in the same role that the Arabs played 1400 years ago. This is another area where the internet has so much to offer.




April 16

Hi Allan,

Yakabooboolee. ……Greetings to a friend from another tribe.

Please let me explain this term. I found this word when I was teaching in a small one-teacher school [Baking Board it was called] near Chinchilla, on the western Darling Downs, Queensland in the early fifties. I was in my early twenties and one of my close friends used to greet everyone with ‘Yakabooboolee!’ whenever he saw you in town. It was just a nonsense word that he had made-up and had no meaning nor origin. All the young folk in town started to use it just to indicate that they came from Chinchilla. I remember walking down the main street in Brisbane one busy period, a year or two later, and I heard “Yakabooboolee!” come from the other side of the street. I could see no one I recognised, so I stayed where I was for a while and one of our football [Rugby League, of course] team caught up with me. The word was also used by our team as an invigorator, in much the same way that Billy Moore used “Queenslander!” to gee-up their State of Origin team many years later. [That’s ozzie-talk, of course.]

1970 saw me travelling overseas on a University of New England award, to study classroom practices. This was during the infancy of the Open Area or Open Plan or whatever one wanted to call it….era.  At the time, thoughtful albeit jealous Americans were impressed by what British educators were doing, especially in the younger years of primary schooling and I commenced my trip in Los Angeles studying how one particular group was going with its copy-catting. Observers of British primary schooling had noted the tremendous joy and endeavour and achievement levels that came with caring and encouraging children to love learning more and more, when pupils’ individuality was recognised and respected. This was 1970. The Plowden Report had been written in 1967, one of the most influential descriptions of life in a learning-centred environment the world had ever seen [up to the Cambridge Primary Review of 2009…a bloody beauty, right?]; and few other countries could understand  exactly what was going on….but whatever it was,  worked. Care and respect for young individuals works wonders, it seemed.  I suspect some Americans wanted to package the idea…they have a propensity for this …like the SRA Reading Kits, Maths Kits, RFU kits, Science kits of the time…but “individual freedom to learn as much as one can” was not a packagable item, nor a testable one for that matter. The movement emphasised  and totally respected the importance of recognising individual differences amongst children. We were not used to this. We had spent over a century of seating kids in serried rows, chalk-talking at them for most of the day, bang-crash-wallop, shut-up-keep-quiet,  plenty of testing, plenty of making sure that kids knew what failing meant and the dreaded consequences of it. We celebrated the  success of brighter scholars and made sure that the not-so-bright knew that they weren’t so bright, were not welcome and should leave school asap. They were of no use to anyone except, in my home town, for the coal mines, railway work-shops, as city council labourers, counter-jumpers.  I found out after I had left school how bright most of the early-school-leavers were. Some were amazingly successful in life. The exam system had been especially cruel to them and, to my everlasting shame,  I prolonged such shabby treatment when I became a teacher because, I think, it was expected of me. I did as I was bid.

There are some left-over schooling bogons from that period, now in positions of importance… even running schools…. who believe that fear works and ‘didn’t do me any harm…get rid of all this letting kids do-as-they-like ideas’. Frighten kids with tests and they’ll wet themselves with enthusiasm to try to pass tests. That’s why gullible politicians of the same mind-set introduced NCLB, National Standards and NAPLAN.  I wonder how we can scare them?

When am I going to get to the Yakabooboolee bit, you ask. Hang in there.

My colleagues and I in Queensland were fortunate at the time. Professor Bill Bassett of UQ had visited England and America during the late sixties and, upon his return, wrote “Each One is Different”. The Education Department purchased a copy for each school. I suspect it was largely ignored…”more academic waffle”. We missed a wonderful opportunity for discussion on what schools should look like at the time. I was a beneficiary, however, of Bill Bassett’s experiences. When I won the award I consulted with him and he recommended that I spend some time at I/D/E/A – Institute for the Development of Educational Activities – just off-campus from UCLA where John Goodlad, probably the world’s most distinguished schooling scholar was applying his efforts to school renewal, democratic schooling, school and teacher improvement. You’ll know his great work A Place Called School [1984]. I first read of his work from his co-authorship of The Non-graded Elementary School [1959] with John Anderson. The I/D/E/A team consisted of very high calibre practice-based and research-oriented doctors with some energetic students. Dr. Ken Tye had developed an organisation that performed remarkable work with publishings, work-shops, consultancies and instituted a “League of Co-operating Schools”; a bunch of school principals from  about a dozen LA elementary schools. I was able to visit them and attend their meetings. Its basic notion was to try to introduce the  child-centred learning culture of the British infant school into straight-laced American schools. Boy-oh-boy, was this a rich experience?! It taught me so much, especially as I later visited outstanding LEAs in England whose child-oriented classrooms were legendary….Bristol, Hertsfordshie, Oxfordshire and Yorkshire.  I was just so lucky.

The folk at I/D/E/A had such a high regard for Bill Bassett that I was given regal treatment. On the second day,  I walked into a crowded meeting and said, “Yakabooboolee!” Strange behaviour, they thought and queried what I meant by it. I told them that that is was an Aboriginal word that meant “Greetings to a friend from another tribe.”  I’d concocted that idiocy the night before. They swallowed it and after trying for most of the day to pronounce it, they welcomed me with it  daily for the rest of my stay.

Now that I have spent all that time explaining the meaning of one word, Allan, you must be wondering what I’m writing about. I just wanted to thank you for sending all those articles. If the readers of Treehorn have read them all. they will be so much richer for the experience. [There have been so many mind-bending efforts.  Thinking is so important as part of the teaching effort, isn’t it? ] Your energy and professional enthusiasm is astounding, Allan. No bull. I am learning so much from you.

What do you think of printing this sort of letter exchange, Allan … in a Diane [Ravitch] and her friend Deborah fashion but with our own kinda down-to-earth style ….and then, maybe, with bad language, blunt criticisms, brick-bats and bouquets and all recorded in a side band of ? Someone might read it just for fun….and maybe learn. I know I’m learning and you are……



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