Education Readings September 15th

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

Data Driven Into the Weeds

‘Having a data-driven school has been all the rage for a while now, because when you express your ideas, thoughts, and biases in numbers, they qualify as “facts,” whereas judgment expressed in words obviously lacks data-rich factiness, and so should be ignored. Yes, the fact that I am 100% an English teacher may make me about 62% bitter about the implied valuing of numbers over words; I’d say I’m at about 7 on the 11-point Bitterness Scale, and that’s a fact.’

Don’t Spend A Penny On Education Technology Until This Is Clear

‘This ‘keeping up with the Jones” is a familiar practice, especially in anything related to technology. That approach, though, can lead to imbalanced education policy, mediocre edtech programs, and a lot of wasted money. Integrating education technology is a complex thing that depends entirely on local and constantly changing factors.’

Why Students Should Take the Lead in Parent-Teacher Conferences

‘But at schools built on Deeper Learning principles, the meetings are often turned into student-led conferences, with students presenting their schoolwork, while their teachers, having helped them prepare, sit across the table, or even off to the side. The triad then sits together to review and discuss the work and the student’s progress. The message, once again, is that the students are responsible for their own success.’

The Power of Visualization in Math

‘The power of this moment, the change in the learning environment, and the excitement of my fifth graders as they could not only understand but explain to others what the problem was about convinced me it was worth the effort to pursue visualization and try to answer these questions: Is there a process to unlock visualizations in math? And are there resources already available to help make mathematics visual?’

How can teachers introduce forest school principles to their curriculum?

‘More commonly, forest school is part of a bigger educational mix in which pupils enjoy time outdoors perhaps once a week, but the same principles apply: a drive to build young people’s independence and self-esteem through experiencing the natural world. Lili Pluck, forest school assistant at Ashdon, says: “It’s about learning to realise what is around you, appreciate nature and enjoy the freedom, space and sense of peace.”’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

The Internet Is Killing Creativity – And Analog Is About to Make a Comeback

‘In some ways, I think the internet has made it harder to become creative because it encourages us to be interested in all the wrong things. (Note: I differentiate between becoming smarter–educating yourself on every topic ever, which the internet is like freakin’ fantastic at, and being creative. Artistically putting yourself out there.) Why my negativity around creativity?’

Sir Ken Robinson on how schools are stifling students’ creativity

‘While many Canadian educators struggle to find the solution to students’ declining math scores, there’s one expert who says we may be looking at the problem the wrong way. Sir Ken Robinson – education guru, author and adviser – says relentless testing and the push for standardized scores are destroying students’ imagination and talent. He argues that schools are stifling instead of nurturing kids’ creativity.’

Reasons Today’s Kids Are Bored At School, Feel Entitled, Have Little Patience & Few Real Friends

‘Today’s kids come to school emotionally unavailable for learning. There are many factors in our modern lifestyle that contribute to this. As we know, the brain is malleable. Through environment, we can make the brain “stronger” or make it “weaker”. I truly believe that, despite all our greatest intentions, we unfortunately remold our children’s brains in the wrong direction.’

A Haeata student gives her view on modern learning

‘Three years ago when we knew some of our local schools would be closing, my school, Aranui Primary, started what was called “modern learning”. At first it was really weird and we didn’t know what we were doing, but then the teachers got trained in modern learning. Over three years we changed the way we learnt to the way that best suits us so we could self-manage, but not too much depending on how good you were at self-managing. We had stages: Manager, Self-Managed, Self-Directed, and Self-Driven.’

The Troubling Trend to Collect Behavioral Data on ALL Children

‘As school starts, many parents are being bombarded with information about behavioral data collection on their children. A lot of this is tied to the trendy push for social-emotional learning (SEL), and the attempt to connect behavior with a child’s ability to read and do well in school. But it’s troubling to see schools monitoring the behavior of every child so tightly. Children will not have perfect behavior.’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Back to school to see what really happens in the classroom – Nigel Latta

‘In recent years politicians from the ‘right’ have given the impression that our schools are failing – our current Minister is fond of saying ‘one in five of our children are failing’ and that the introduction of National Standards will solve the situation.  ‘We so often hear stories about how standards have fallen,’ said Latta, ‘that you would be forgiven for thinking the sky has fallen in’.’

For New Zealand readers – a few articles to consider before the general election on September 23rd, which will hopefully see the end of national standards and charter schools.

National Standards – which Parties will keep them and which will ditch them?

‘It’s election time again, but before choosing which Party to vote for, make sure you know what their education policies are – and pay attention to what isn’t mentioned, too. This time we are looking at National Standards.’

Election questions are for all of us

Before we settle on which political party to support this election, let’s ask a few questions of ourselves. An election is traditionally an opportunity to ask questions of would-be politicians. More fruitfully, it’s an opportunity to ask questions of ourselves. Questions to candidates will then follow, but the self-examination is actually the more valuable for democratic engagement.

Nigel Latta: The New ‘Haves and Have Nots’ – Time for Moral Leadership in New Zealand

As we begin to focus on the upcoming elections it is surely time to move away from on the personalities of leaders and to focus on the real issues facing our country.

The programme was a serious attempt to get to the core of inequality in NZ and its consequences for us all.Once NZ had one of the highest home ownership figures in the world and we didn’t see examples of extreme wealth. Latta is careful to say he is not against people doing well but he was stunned to learn that over the past decades the gap between the rich and poor in NZ has widened more than anywhere in the Western World.’

Government gets an F for education

‘OPINION: My verdict on the Government’s track record in education is that it is an epic fail.

The reasons for this verdict are many and varied, but I will focus on three main areas:

1. Our student achievement data is declining nationally

2. Ideology is overriding evidence

3. Trust has been completely eroded in the sector achievement data’


Education Readings August 18th

By Allan Alach

Apologies for the absence of readings last week. I was hit by a double whammy – our internet connection went down for 48 hours, and then, as soon as that was restored, my computer decided to go on strike. In the end I had to erase the hard drive and reinstall everything. Being a wise person, I had good back ups so it was only an inconvenience rather than a disaster.

Do you have good backups in place, including some off site? Remember that there are two kinds of computers in the world – those that have had a major hard drive issue, and those that are going to have one… and once you’ve lost your data, that’s it.  Goodbye to all those precious photographs …

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

Digital Natives Do Not Exist, Claims New Paper

But taken as a whole, digital natives might be a myth, argues a paper published in Teaching and Teacher Education. Students who grew up in the digital world are no better at information skills simply because they were born into such an era. The study also presents evidence that these supposed “digital natives” are no better at multitasking either. In fact, assuming that they do may harm their education.’

Fire pits and power tools good for preschoolers

‘While fire pits and real tools aren’t things you’d normally expect to find in an early childhood centre, new Australian research suggests that perhaps they should be.

Exposure to different “risks” within their preschool, including open flames hammers and saws, (yes, you read that correctly!) resulted in preschoolers developing more confidence, safety awareness and better risk assessment skills, according to a new study.

The findings, set to be published later this year, highlight the importance of risky play in a world where helicopter parenting is increasingly common.’

Literate, Numerate or Curious?

‘Here’s an interesting question for your next workshop, faculty meeting, or maybe even a dinner party?

“Would you rather that your children were literate, numerate, or curious?” Pick one, and why?

For many, it’s a tough choice; for most, you want all three. But if you had to choose one, which one would it be? In case you’re wondering, yes this is a leading question, which I’ll get to in a moment. But I for one would want to start my response by first asking exactly what you mean by each of those three words.’

Talking about Creativity Is Fun, But How Do You Teach It?

‘Nothing in education engenders as many bumper sticker slogans as creativity. We want our kids to develop creative minds. But creativity is difficult to measure and so research in this area is scant, leaving us to our own devices. 

One common notion is that allowing students more freedom to express themselves fosters creativity. Along the same lines, many argue that strict educational systems dampen creativity.’

I’ve got something to say by Gail Loane with Sally Muir

‘This book review encompasses just about everything that needs to be known about children’s writing and makes a mockery of the grotesque Wow! national standards-Hattie culture of today. As I go through the review, readers will come across small matters of difference between me and the authors; my preference being slightly less structure and even more emphasis on expressive writing. But if you based your writing programme on the tenets set out you would be doing famously.’

The Squishiness of Writing Instruction

‘The problem with writing is that it’s squishy, probably squishier than anything else we teach. There is no solid metric for measuring how “good” a writer. Can you quantify how Hemmingway, Steinbeck, Chaucer, Kate Chopin, Carl Sagan, P.J.O’Rourke, Mark Twain, James Thurber, and S. E. Hinton stack up each other by measuring how “good” they are? Of course not– even the attempt would be absurd. Ditto for trying to give students a cold hard solid empirical writing rating.’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

Dear Justine Greening: your primary school reading reforms aren’t making the grade

‘How do you dress up the great Tory reading reforms as a stunning success if 29% aren’t at the expected level? Might there be a little bit of a problem that too much emphasis has been put on “decoding” and not enough on “meaning”? After all, the ultimate purpose of reading is to understand what it is you’re reading, isn’t it?’

The idea you can put a number against a child’s ability is flawed and dangerous

Head teacher Alison Peacock sees the demise of levels as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change how children are assessed nationally. But instead of simply replacing the old structure with a new one, she’d like to focus on enabling children to learn in a meaningful way so that assessment becomes “a tool for improvement rather than judgment”.The assumption that you can reliably put a number against what a child is capable of is flawed and dangerous.’

Teaching and Purpose: A Response to Bill Gates and his Purpose Problem

‘I recently ran across Bill Gates’s blog. Gates ironically reflects on what it means to have purpose in one’s life.I say ironically, because many blame Bill Gates for the current push to replace teachers in our public schools with technology—calling it personalized or competency-based learning.Not only will teachers lose their profession and their purpose, a whole segment of society will be displaced—careers shattered.This will drastically affect how and what students learn. Even our youngest children will obtain their knowledge on machines.’

Schools Are Not A Business: Making Them Compete Is Insane

‘The real issue here is having schools compete for students. With this system in place, we will always see people abandoning schools in poor areas and heading for richer areas.

We need to abandon this idea that having schools compete somehow improves education. Looking at the international evidence, it simply doesn’t bear out in reality.

Schools and teachers should collaborate, learning from each other, and work to ensure that every local school is the school of choice.’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Nigel Latta: The new ‘Haves and Have Nots’ – time for Moral Leadership in New Zealand

‘As we begin to focus on the upcoming elections Nigel Latta’s TV programme is timely. It is surely time to move away from on the personalities of leaders and to focus on the real issues facing our country. The programme was a serious attempt to get to the core of inequality in NZ and its consequences for us all.Once NZ had one of the highest home ownership figures in the world and we didn’t see examples of extreme wealth.’

David Perkin’s Smart Schools

 Dreams are where the dilemma starts ’, Perkins writes – dreams about great schools. ‘We want our schools to deliver a great deal of knowledge and understanding to a great many people of differing talents with a great range of interests and a great variety of cultural and family backgrounds. Quite a challenge – and why aren’t we better at it.’ Some, he would say, is because ‘We don’t know enough. ’Perkins, though, thinks they’re wrong, ‘We know enough now to do a much better job’. The problem comes down to this, ‘we are not putting to work what we know.’ ‘We do not have a knowledge gap – we have a monumental use – of – knowledge gap’. Schools that use what we know he calls ‘smart schools’.

In which Piglet looks for a 21st Century Education Part 1

By Kelvin Smythe

(Originally published in Networkonnet)

One day, when Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet were all talking together, Christopher Robin finished the mouthful he was eating and said carelessly: ‘I saw a 21st Century Education to-day, Piglet.’

‘What was it doing?’ asked Piglet.

‘Just lumping along,’ said Christopher Robin. ‘I don’t think it saw me.’

‘I saw one once,’ said Piglet. ‘At least I think I did,’ he said. ‘Only perhaps it wasn’t.’

‘So did I,’ said Pooh wondering what a 21st Century Education was like.

‘You don’t often see them,’ said Christopher Robin matter-of-factly.

‘Not now,’ said Piglet.

‘Not at this time of year,’ said Pooh.

Just as they came to the Six Pine Trees, Pooh looked around to see that nobody else was listening, and said in a very solemn voice: ‘Piglet, I have decided something.’

‘What have you decided Pooh?’

‘I have decided to catch a 21st Century Education.’

Piglet asked, ‘But what does a 21st Century Education look like? Then continued thoughtfully: ‘Before looking for something, it is wise to ask someone what you are looking for before you begin looking for it.’

What follows is something I look at as a kind of written doodle thus subject to continual revision (contributed to by what you have to say). In such a matter it is difficult to be comprehensive or fair; if I tried strenuously to be so, I would probably never get going.

We are, it seems, getting ourselves tied in knots about something called 21st century education – before looking for it, as Piglet suggests, it might be wise to find out what we are looking for.

This could be done in respect to how it might differ from what went before, how it might be the same as what went before, how it might be worse than went before, who is supposed to benefit from it, who is calling for it, does it exist, should it exist, what are its aims and, being education, how much is career- or self-serving bollocks.

I intend this posting to be a search for something called a 21st century education.

As part of that I declare my prior understandings about the concept – a concept because there has never been any discussion about something called 20th century education, it was never conceptualised in that way, so why for 21st century education? The formation and high usage of the concept label suggests powerful forces at work – forces, I suggest, taking control of the present to control the future. Those active in promoting the concept of 21stcentury education are mostly from political, technology, and business groupings, also some academics: the immediate future they envisage as an extension and intensification of their perception of society and education as they see it now. And in the immediate future, as well as the longer term one, they see computers at the heart of 21st century education, which is fair enough as long as the role of computers is kept in proportion as befits a tool, a gargantuanly important one, but still a tool.

Neoliberalism is dominant in current economic, political, and education thought so to understand what 21st century advocacy is about, there is a need to recognise the nature of that philosophy. But because it is neoliberalism we are dealing with a complex of abstract and polysyllabic words that need to be uncovered to reveal their true reality, a control, market-oriented, and anti-democratic one. But it is a Russian doll. Those words do more than cover anti-democratic, control ends; they also express a colossal ignorance of our best education understandings about how children learn, which, however, is not irrational, because that ignorance is partly a self-serving slipped-into ignorance.  And the reference to our ‘best education understandings’ is a highly qualified one, because neoliberalism has been hard at work under Tomorrow’s Schools undermining our best understandings and replacing them with their own, meaning the number of people ‘our’ refers to is a dwindling one.

Children have no choice as to what century they reside in, 21 carries no more significance to how one should approach the education of children than 20. I believe that people in education, or around education, should stop looking over the top of children to look at those before them: the best way to prepare children for the future, no matter the century, is to meet their needs now. Those needs would be along the lines of empathy [of which reading should be seen as a key contributor], fairness, independence, collaboration, creativity and imagination, problem-solving, commitment to democratic principles, critical thinking, ways of thinking [for instance, for science, arts, drama, history, mathematics], key knowledge [everything in education or life is by definition value-laden but that doesn’t mean children should be denied access to culturally important and cohesive knowledge – computer advocates are for skills and spasmodic knowledge based on children’s often passing superficial interest which is paraded as some kind of 21stcentury transcendental insight].

School education is being pressured to inappropriate purposes by groups who claim a hold on the future and from that hold generate techno-panic to gain advantage in the present.

Another prior understanding is that the inappropriate use of computers for learning has contributed to the decline in primary school education (though well behind the contribution of national standards and the terrible education autocracy of the education review office). For all the talk of personalising learning, of building learning around the child, of individualising learning, the mandating question for 21st century education seems to be: how can we build the digital into learning instead of how can we best do the learning? And even further: how can we build schools for digital learning instead of what is best for children’s learning environment? Large open spaces are not the best environment for children’s learning, meaning that in combination with the heavy use of computers to make large open spaces ‘work’, a distinct problem is developing. Computers and large open spaces are being promoted by 21st century advocates as the two key ideas to carry us forward to the education for the 21st century.

In respect to computers, learning about them and using them is both necessary and inevitable, how could it be otherwise, but from that necessity and inevitability comes the responsibility to protect schools from their disassociating effects. The neoliberal advocates of a computer-laden future are putting at risk the potential of human thought, behaviour, and imagination. Their judgement, based on what computers can do, remains undisturbed, it seems, by any understanding of what the best of learning can be. Computers are going to be everywhere, beyond the imaginations of most of us; all the more important to appreciate the decisive contribution of learning beyond and apart from the computer and the need to challenge the social control that pervasive computer use brings to bear on school and beyond.

The use of computers should not become the defining characteristic of what is called 21stcentury education but it has, and an education and social tragedy is unfolding.  The defining characteristics of 21st century education should be the same as the defining characteristics of 20th century education (expressed above) before the neoliberal philosophy took hold.

In the following paragraphs I will refer to trends deriving from the greatly increased use of computers, also the effects of the neoliberal changes to the education system such as national standards, the narrowing of the curriculum, the fear-laden functioning of the education review office, and the government control of education knowledge.

The particular form of learning most associated with computers is inquiry learning. For all the talk of discovery, creativity, and thinking claimed for that approach precious little seems to be forthcoming. Inquiry learning is the main curriculum practice developed to suit computers and neoliberal education. No matter what a teacher does, if it is called inquiry learning, the teacher is safe; the use of any other name puts the teacher at risk – the system likes conformity, even more obedience, and throughout a teacher’s practice and records the authorities are looking for those little signs of deference that communicate the teacher has got in behind.

Despite a lot of cute tricks and manoeuvres, inquiry learning is simply swept up old-style projects using google and computers. It is considerably an empty shell – yes, children are often interested, but what is missing is the development of the vital ways of thinking particular to a curriculum area. An empty learning shell is a prime characteristic of 21stcentury education.

Another 21st century prime education characteristic is the priority of skills over knowledge – meaning for ends any knowledge will do.  As stated above ‘everything in education or life is by definition value-laden but that doesn’t mean children should be denied access to culturally important and cohesive knowledge – computer advocates are for skills and spasmodic knowledge based on children’s often passing superficial interest which is paraded as some kind of 21st century transcendental insight.’

Because the neoliberal education system puts a low value on the arts, drama, and dance there has been a diminution in their quality and quantity, also contributing to that diminution is the cramping effect of national standards which, admittedly, is just another expression of that lack of valuing. In open space schools, which in some respects one would think ideal for the arts, drama, and dance a further diminution derives from the pressure to avoid the noise and activity that typically comes from children’s participation in those activities. The shush factor of the newer open space schools is not as noticeable and inhibiting as in the older ones, but it is still there.  And I miss the independent advisers throughout the curriculum but in the arts their absence is particularly painful. It was a team of art advisers dropping in at odd times that was the crucial stimulus to Elwyn Richardson – oh that they could come knocking again.

Open space schools lack the spontaneity available in conventional classrooms, for instance, allowing the varying of the timetable and being able to carry on with a programme, say for most of a day – a cherished part of the primary school tradition.

A heavy use of paper templates is common in schools today, with iPads providing digital ones, and exerting a decidedly deadening effect on learning. Another deadening effect is derived from an idea imported from America for use in open space classrooms in association with computers, but is also being used in some conventional classrooms as well. It is called ‘the wall’. Its purpose is to have children work independently on activities from a range of curriculum areas but especially the basics. Activities are displayed on ‘the wall’ and a place for the children to sign off when completed. In New Zealand, a direct duplication of the practice has largely been avoided but many classrooms especially open space ones, employ something like it. The crucial pedagogical point is that to avoid organisational confusion and a lot of demands on teachers, the activities provided are routine and a little below the level of challenge for children. If the activities are ability grouped, the activities for the top group are closer to being OK than the lower groups. The practice is unstimulating and limiting in all curriculum areas but especially in mathematics.

Twenty-first century education has also become associated with two harmful language practices – in reading, a trend to more phonics and words in isolation – oh champion; and in writing, on the basis, it seems, that primary children should be prepared for university from early juniors, the emphasis in writing has shifted to the expository and argument and away from children writing imaginatively and expressively. This combined with the use of templates and the asTTle emphasis on using adjectives and adverbs willy-nilly, is resulting in writing in New Zealand schools being smashed.

Another prime characteristic is the way the role of the teacher is defined. The role of the teacher as carried out in the past is first belittled, pouring water into bottles apparently while standing at the front holding forth (which seems quite a trick). And having established that, the 21st century teacher is then defined as being a facilitator (my hunch is that if that facilitator worked out from what to where and how, the facilitator would, in fact, be a teacher).

One of the substantial problems with computer use and learning is the way it encourages or allows teacher to forgo their responsibilities (as I see it) to deepen and extend children’s learning before they go out on their own (so to speak). Learning experiences need an introduction (with all sorts of open questions and activities), gaining of knowledge (interestingly and pertinently), use of that knowledge (with investigation or activities), and a conclusion (presentation and discussion). But the 21st century way is to quickly hand it over to computers and inquiry learning, with the teacher congratulating him or herself on the independence being encouraged.

The reason why the Treaty of Waitangi is hardly touched is because teachers are unwilling or unable to take children into such a topic, to build up the knowledge, to develop a feeling for what happened, and to identify the issues for the children to investigate from there. And a reason why teachers are so fixed on inquiry learning (leaving aside hierarchical insistence) is a lack of knowledge of alternatives. It is important for teachers to know, even if they don’t feel able to change, there are.

Where is the social studies thinking? that is, the comparative thinking based on the interaction of knowledge with the affective.

Twenty-first century social studies is children choosing their own topics or being asked to investigate large, abstract impersonal topics like communication. There is very rarely a true social studies challenge in a topic like that, or a source of empathetic development.

The social studies thinking will be absent.

Where is the science thinking? that is, thinking based on science investigation.

The question: The question that guides the investigation.


What I know now: The child records all he or she knows about the question. If the child already knows the answer, then there is no point in investigating it further. The teacher can also at this stage make a judgement as to whether it is possible for the child to investigate it in the time available. Many topics like volcanoes and dinosaurs lend themselves to study-skills rather than investigation processes.

What I did: This is the vital stage and what differentiates science from point-of-view? It is a step-by-step record of what actually happened; it can be in diary or note-taking form. It records the observing, testing, and trying out of the question. The failures as well as the successes are recorded. Others can read what went on and may suggest ways to revisit the investigation by another route. It may help show others not to go along that path. The child also includes references about those who helped and testing methods used.

And so on.

The science thinking will be revealed.

Where is the language way of thinking? that is, sincerity expressed in writing.

Imagine: the discussion, encouraging but not obtrusive to the child’s thinking; the child knowing how previous writing had been used and that imagination was valued; the art that had occurred or might follow; the urging to intensive observation and accurate expression that preceded the writing by the nine-year-old girl who decided to view the world through the grass not toward the grass:

Small balls of rain fall down and spit up in tiny streaks of white.

Leaves knotted by strings of weeds.

Leaves like cups hold blobs of water.

Drops of water trail down leaves and peak at the top.

Bird’s wings doubles as it flies.

Twigs uneven like a fork.

The dripping tap splits into tracks.

‘Did you find what you were looking for? asked Piglet.

‘Yes,’ said Pooh in muffled tones.

‘But I have decided something.’

‘What have you decided Pooh?’

‘This honey pot is a lot more interesting.’

Continued in Part 2

Education Readings March 25th

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

The forcible conversion of England’s schools to Academies (Charter Schools)

This announcement by the British government has sent shock waves around the country and mass rebellion is developing. New Zealand teacher John Palethorpe, a relatively recent immigrant from the UK, discusses why this is such a giant step into a potential quagmire.

“There is already a growing and vocal opposition to all of the plans outlined above, as well there should. Announcing you’re ditching LEA oversight and support of schools, dumping the need for any school to employ qualified teachers, dropping the National Curriculum, scrapping nationally negotiated terms and conditions and placing schools in a bidding war for new teachers is a huge and complete evidence free attack on the quality and professionalism of education in the UK.”

Forced academisation, shambolic assessment, budgets shrinking, teacher morale in crisis: is this the perfect educational storm?

Another article about the threat to English schools.

“Are we witnessing the final element of the perfect storm for schools?  Probably. This government plans for all schools to become academies certainly suggests we have reached that stage. First of all, a definition: according to one online dictionary, a perfect storm is “a detrimental or calamitous situation or event arising from the powerful combined effect of a unique set of circumstances”. Boy, do we have those circumstances. Unfortunately we have a government totally unaware of what devastation such a storm will have on our profession.”

A Crack in the Dam of Disaster Capitalism Education Reform?

“When the education reform movement kicked into high gear, the promises were grand and the evidence was thin, but now we are beginning to have evidence of how the grand claims have wilted on the vine, and the fruit is rotting all around us.”

Blinded by Pseudoscience: Standardized Testing is Modern Day Eugenics

‘Once again, standardized tests are used as the justification for doing something obviously racist. If anyone said, “We’re going to close and privatize all the schools serving minorities and the poor,” people would revolt. However, when you say we’re doing it because of standardized tests – because of “science” – people just shrug and say, “You can’t argue with that!”’

Why We Don’t Do Art in School (And Why We Should)

“We are now reaping the results of a dedication and devotion to commercialism and consumerism. If we are to evolve beyond a culture that confuses adolescent posturing with political debate, we’ll need to offer our youngest citizens a climate encouraging freedom of thought, imagination and inquiry. We’ll need to grow a new kind of citizenry. And that means we’ll need to invest in the material conditions that will facilitate the release of every child’s inherent creative talent.”

Secret Teacher: our obsession with targets is hurting vulnerable pupils

“The government needs to recognise that there is no such thing as a “standard” child. Children don’t develop at the same rate and the increased pressure for them to achieve more and more at a young age won’t change this. All it will do is crush the confidence of those who find it more difficult, for whatever reason – and jeopardise their chances of ever reaching their potential.”

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

“Growth Mindset, Revisited”

“The growth mindset was intended to help close achievement gaps, not hide them. Renowned psychologist and author Carol Dweck describes her work to help educators adopt a deeper, true growth mindset, one that can show in classroom practice and throughout school systems.”

Watch the first 30 minutes.

When School Leaders Live in the Middle

Won’t happen to me, I said. I can cope. Hah. Famous last words.

“School leaders are faced with stress as part of their daily jobs; however, left unaddressed, stress has the potential of becoming mentally and physically exhausting. School leaders need opportunities for stress reduction as well as the means to predict and anticipate stress in an effort to minimize its effects. This commentary discusses leadership-related stress and offers strategies to minimize and cope with stress.”

The Destruction of New Zealand’s Public Education System

“This government is destroying our amazing collaborative, holistic public education system that recently led the world. They are determined to implement systems that have failed spectacularly overseas. Professional knowledge based on evidence should lead education, not political ideology. What angers me the most is what is being denied to our most vulnerable children when they should be the real focus of spending and any systemic change.”

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Developing talent in young people?

“I have always been curious about the early life of talented individuals so I was interested to access a copy of an article written on the subject by Benjamin Bloom published in 1985. I have  wondered what creative individuals like NZ filmmaker Peter Jackson would’ve been like at school and what kind of school would such creative individuals invent if they were given the challenge?”

What do we all need to be life long learners?

“We need to ask what kind of world our students will be entering. One thing is certain it will not be a predictable one and their ‘passport’ to the future will need to contain fully developed gifts and talents along with the dispositions to learn from whatever experience they will have to face (in the language of the ‘new’ curriculum be equipped with ‘key competencies’). Our current education system marginalizes student’s creativity and talents and this will be worsened with national standards.”

Contributed by Phil Cullen:

High hopes for happy learning

“School is also about learners discovering their aspirations and dreams, with all of these factors not only enhancing learner happiness and well-being, but also making a crucial contribution to their future success in life and work.”

Kelvin Smythe: “Some terrible things have been perpetrated – close to evil.”

I have tried to point out that the prevailing neoliberal political climate in Australia induces our elected ‘masters’ to use totalitarian methods based on fear and coercion to try to force others to do as they want them to do, without reason. Some terrible things have been perpetrated.  Teachers, parents and school pupils appear to suffer the indignities calmly, but all is not well. As a reaction to this quasi-fascist political  mind-set, they is no spirit at the chalk face and everybody suffers….kids, parents, teachers.  The reaction to such low-level, fear-based managerial tactics is such that absolute rejection of high-stakes testing is on the cards. Ethical professionals can only tolerate  so much.
Fellow primary school advocate,  Kelvin Smythe, highly respected Kiwi commentator and former Chief Inspector, had written  “Some Terrible Things That Have Been Perpetrated – Close to Evil’  about  New Zealand circumstances that closely resemble what is happening in its ANZAC cobber. 
With his permission, I have adapted his germane paper to apply directly to Australian conditions. I have merely changed any NZ references to Aussie ones. It suits neatly; and since he is much more erudite that I am, I strongly commend your close and critical attention to his advices.  Interested educators can compare his original paper with what I have done to it to suit Australian conditions.
Some terrible things have been perpetrated – close to evil
Kelvin Smythe
If the media and the Australian people were able to comprehend the terrible things that have been perpetrated on their primary teachers they would be taken aback. And now it is coming to a head. 
If school education is not run in good faith between teachers and politicians then school education will fail – and is failing. Teachers will never be in a position to counter the simplistic, bad faith, distorted arguments of politicians bent on implementing secret agendas. The policies imposed on teachers, when they fail, as is inevitable, will soon see politicians frenetically hide the failures: hermetically sealing off education with propaganda, statistical corruption, and a ruthless programme of Kafkan fear. But because the agendas are so ideologically embedded, further policies from these are reflexively returned to. These will be characterised by more hierarchy, more imposition (only minor details up for discussion), and more levels of bureaucracy.  This is the way we are, as is what follows.
Teachers in the interests of children and their professional integrity are committed to an open-minded consideration of education issues. That means any engagement with politicians  working from a secret agenda, will fail. Teachers will make no headway against the full propaganda weight of the politicians who deal in simplistic messages expressed in abstract nonsenses, lies, distortions, non sequiturs, and evasions. Words have flowed in a near impenetrable disgorgement of arrogance-laden toxicity; their arguments dependent on a fantastically protected ignorance and an unrelentingly calculated slantedness.
Above all, almost all politicians in Australia have protected themselves from any recognition of the holistic in education. The holistic is detested and feared by the current crop of bureaucrats and politicians because it is based on variety, the free exchange of ideas, and democratic processes. It is also detested and feared because teachers following the holistic do not see children’s learning in the basics as mutually exclusive of getting children to think flexibly and imaginatively. The holistic would turn primary education away from ghettoising less able children to an exclusive basics’ curriculum, and what is not generally appreciated, restricting the more able children to largely the same.
If written at a certain level, in describing and accounting for this, few references to education need be made, the issues involved being central to the functioning of all societies: the nature of power and democracy, authority, authoritarianism. (Note: authority is used for the combination of political and bureaucratic power.) In relation to primary school education, power is increasingly being exercised as an end, not for the declared beneficial purposes; authority as an end with other considerations secondary; authority degenerating into authoritarianism using the cover of acting in the public good.
This is necessarily a judgement because authority has, of course, presented what they were doing as intended to meet the declared beneficial purposes. However, the real but undeclared purpose by those currently wielding authority is that power needs to be increased not only for the declared beneficial purposes but also for future unspecified ‘beneficial’ use. This is a formula for degeneration into authoritarianism encouraging authority to play a cunning short game in the interests of an unrelenting long one. The cunning short game providing an excuse for those who want to yield to authority.  
Authority has the power to lie, distort, and propagandise with impunity; to promote delusion based on a default desire to trust authority for the comfort of conforming and thoughtlessness; and to promote delusion relying on ignorance or lack of imagination.
This I suggest has occurred to a devastating extent.
The leaders of groups appointed to be voices for the people, including political parties, are not immune to this process, many becoming oppressors of the people they were put there to represent.
This I suggest has occurred to a devastating extent.
 Authority, through propaganda and status, is able to control the collective will and use it as a blanketing sanction. And as authority gains dominance, and the democratic means to oppose reduced accordingly – easily observable expressions of force diminish, and voluntary compliance to meet authority goals takes their place. Fear of authority is sublimated to allow constructed compliance even co-operation. Moral and ethical challenges, as a result, are no longer posed, conformity to authority entrenched, and democracy cast as inefficient.
This I suggest has occurred to a devastating extent.
Bureaucracies or quasi bureaucratic adjuncts (privatised entities) are the instruments for applying authoritarian sanctions, being able to retreat into themselves to become impenetrable for anyone seeking redress and impersonal for anyone seeking explanation. As well, no bureaucracy has ever abolished itself, only transformed itself, to avoid the heat or to take an even more dangerous form. 
This I suggest has occurred to a devastating extent. 
Primary education is so complex, far more than secondary, that to explain it satisfactorily needs time and a willingness in the listener to genuinely listen. Primary education has the answers to the questions being asked but neither authority nor the media is listening because to listen would give respect and a degree of power to teachers. Authority is also not listening because it is intent on scapegoating teachers so that it can impose its own ideologically-based ‘answers’ for power and ideological advantage.
For curriculum change to succeed there needs to be the opportunity for a free exchange of curriculum ideas and the freedom for teachers to colonise the curriculum – but teachers do not feel free to exchange ideas or colonise curricula, they are made to follow rigidly the official standardised line. A stern eye is kept out for deviancy. There is now, no official national curriculum only national standards. There is only one way to teach, that is in measurable fragments with fiddly objectives of various nomenclatures attached.
NAPLAN’s control of the curriculum brings children’s learning down to a level politicians and bureaucrats  can understand, and provides them with the perfect blunt instrument to control schools and trivialise the curriculum.
And what is an explanation of the holistic?
The holistic curriculum is about a combination of knowledges – teacher and academic; about the interaction of the affective and cognitive; about teaching and learning being organised by broad aims (assisted by criteria that can be considered converted objectives); about those broad aims being an expression of the essence of curriculum areas; about a broadly-based curriculum encompassing the wide range of human experience; about learning being meaningful, exploratory, and challenging (hence the attention to discovery learning and problem solving); about learning being open to the transformational and sensitive to the immanent; about learning being coherent and organic not fragmented and desultory; about teachers having considerable individuality of response within the broad school aims; about children having significant control over what and how they learn; about evaluation practices being proportionate to that which is educationally important (to the holistic); about all learning being quality learning; about attending to individual needs through a combination of class learning set up for individuality of response and one-to-one teaching; about class and school practices, for instance, evaluation, and group learning being learning enhancing (hence the emphasis on observational evaluation and group learning being mainly mixed ability); and about protecting and enhancing the crucial bond and trust between classroom teacher and child.
What parent wouldn’t want this kind of education for their children?
The NAPLAN-based curriculum in being about the measurable, does not fit with the affective; the holistic curriculum in being expansive fits with it perfectly. The NAPLAN-controlled curriculum is instrumental; the holistic curriculum is democratic and participatory. The NAPLAN-controlled curriculum implies certainty and someone who knows; the holistic curriculum implies openness and collective exploration about what is known. The test-based  curriculum because it implies certainty and someone who knows leads to a hermetic system based on fear and dependence; the holistic curriculum because it implies openness leads to continuous exploration based on trust and independence. The NAPLAN curriculum is hierarchical and standardising; the holistic curriculum is democratic and characterised by variety.
Because NAPLAN is about hierarchy, certainty, and standardising – it means no variance and it means compulsion. Because the holistic is about valuing variety, about democratic, participatory relationships – the holistic means the freedom to be holistic not the requirement to be so.
The managerialist restructuring of primary education based on the national standards curriculum is about hierarchy of the sort that functions on the belief it knows; it knows how education works, how it can be organised and standardised into unproblematic and manageable parts, made utterly assured in its mission by the ideas of quantitative academics who also know. A holistic restructuring of education based on teacher knowledge, on commonsense through informed experience, on the value of variety in education, on education as part of life in a social democracy, on identifying the essences of curriculum areas (guided by the competencies), on a commitment to abroad-based curriculum, and on teaching and leadership being significantly an art.
Dominating the current education system is the neo-liberal concept of the need to avoid provider capture. This concept, developed from the ideas of Ayn Rand, interprets human behaviour as based on the pursuit of self-advantage and society being the better for it. The effect has been to hand school education over to those with little or no experience in school education and to make the education system authoritarian by design – power forever shifting upwards. Education is certainly not the better for it.
 These new people are doing terrible things to primary school education, their consciences protected by their ignorance and that ignorance by their arrogance. What use to talk of the holistic to these people, of the subtleties, for instance, of bringing early readers along? They no doubt think we are talking gibberish. Their confidence in their understanding of education – always narrow, fragmented, and constructed for measurement – bolstered by quantitative academics flown in for the purpose. The effect has been the process described by Orwell: the past bad-mouthed, neglected, pushed aside, verboten, and forgotten – to the devastation of the present; and hopelessness of the future.
In what other major agency of state, as a matter of policy, would there be a concerted effort to appoint people to high position with little or no knowledge or experience of that agency’s central function. 
What I want to ask these people is, as parents, would you want your children to attend primary schools as they are presently functioning or to go to schools that are holistically based? Are you so caught up in the bureaucratic madness that you lost your moral bearings? (I suggest you google: Vanessa Redgrave and violin.)
The following long paragraph is an example of the toxic combination of lies, false statistics, and secret agenda referred to. The length of the paragraph is figurative for the growing stain of evil and corruption spreading throughout primary education.
There is the intense political pressure for results encouraging secondary schools to advise children to move into less challenging units; also to use internal exams in a way that virtually excludes failure. And one of the reasons many children can’t do challenging units is because for the last two decades flexible thinking has virtually been excluded from the primary curriculum. There is the intense pressure on primary schools via league tables for ever-improving results which encourages a very liberal interpretation of children’s test performances; there being no moderation policies in place. In other words, the system is set up for corrupted results.This leads on to charter schools producing corrupted results by the same process but even worse because there is no supervision at all by official agencies, just a group appointed by ministry with, of course, no interest in probing rigorously. This corruption of results has a sinister purpose because charter schools are being set up as a platform to denigrate public schools with a view to eventual privatisation of public education expected . As for primary charter schools, they are being set up as lavishly funded private public schools, an oasis of privilege, in a desert of poverty. These charter schools will be able to attract certain children, while being able to exclude others. Some public schools have a 100% turnover of children every three years or even less. Such children will not be accepted into charter schools even in the unlikely circumstance of them applying. The charter schools will have much lower teacher to children ratios and more funding for computers and other resources placing the local public schools at a further disadvantage. The huge unfairness of attracting likely better children to charter schools will have the effect of ghettoising the public schools leaving them shorn of the better performing ones. The role of the government is not to privilege some publically funded schools to the disadvantage of others. This is unfair and morally bankrupt. But calumny on calumny, the corrupted results from the charter schools will then be used to cast a slur on all public schools, to demoralising effect.
The present system is held together by fear and a world view of education based on lies and false statistics. Everything (New Zealand Minister of Education Hekia Parata says is a lie except when she uses the truth to help in the formation of one.

NAPLAN and Rah Rah

Aussie Friends of Treehorn

encouraging adults to think sensitively, to care for kids, to make wise choices….with their hearts in gear, their pens active and their votes available .

Our Wallabies Need NAPLAN

 I started the day by reading this educational gem from NZ’s Minister for Testucation.


Poor New Zealand kids.

Then, within minutes, I read an article in the S.M.H. 07-11-15 p.53 by Darren Kane about the administration of Rugby League in Australia……

“The lunatic is on the grass

The lunatic is on the grass

Remembering games and daisy chains and laughs

Got to keep the loonies on the path

‘Brain Damage’ – Pink Floyd

Brain Damage. Second-to-none song on Pink Floyd’s seminal 1973 work Dark Side of the Moon. A meditation on the odiousness of mental disintegration.

Brain Damage. The lyric, maniacal laughter that rounds out the song’s haunting spectral. But where is the real madness? Decades later, Roger Waters suggested the true lunacy rested not inside the “lunatic “ imagining days of daisy chains, but in keeping the loonies confined to the path. Esoteric stuff. Little wonder the Floyd hit splitsville long ago.

Madness: a disordered mind. Doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results?”


Poor testucators everywhere…..grasping for reasons to keep their stupidities on the path to ???


Phil Cullen  41 Cominan Avenue  Banora Point  Australia 2486  07 5524 6443              

Treehorn: It’s been a long time. Quo vadis, School Learning?

Aussie Friends of Treehorn
encouraging adults to think sensitively, to care for kids, to make wise choices….with their hearts in gear, their pens active and their votes available .
It’s NAPLAN MEASURING WEEK..time for the pundits to write their editorials and letters to the editor with advices on how to improve NAPLAN  scores.
NAPLAN has nothing to do with learning. It has nothing to do with teaching. It has nothing to do with real schooling. It has to do with finding fault and making money. It’s an ineffective, unreliable and invalid device that makes the most of young children’s vulnerability and it deliberately threatens their cognitive development and emotional stability for the sake of a score. 

Treehorn – Still Going?

It’s been a long while since Allan Alach and I issued the first email copy of The Treehorn Express on in July 2011 to combat the stupidity of NAPLAN and its like being imported from New York..  Multi-talented former N.Z. primary principal Allan’s regular Friday readings are now extremely popular around the globe and we also have tried to give inspiration to primary and other teachers through regular and irregular email comments. We’ve been appealing to the hearts of adults. Here are some short extracts from those early days.

Alfie Kohn, widely respected author and educational commentator was asked what he thought of kleinism [fear-based learning]. Part of his response was…

We are living through what future historians will surely describe as one of the darkest in education history– a time when teachers, as well as the very idea of democratic public education, came under attack; when carrots and sticks tied to results on terrible tests were sold to the public as bold “reform”; when politicians who understand nothing about learning relied uncritically on corporate models and metaphors to set education policy; when the goal of schooling was as misconceived as the methods, framed not in terms of what children need but in terms of “global competitiveness” – so that large corporations can triumph.

There will come a time when people will look back on this era and ask “How the hell did they let this happen?” By speaking out, we’re saying that we need to act before we lose an extra generation to this insanity. The corporate-style school reformers don’t have the research on their side. All they have is the power to impose their ignorance through legislation. We must now make sure that the conversation about the how’s and why’s of education are driven by real educators.

In short, we [schoolies] have to take back our schools.”

A march on the capital was being planned at the time. Thousands of teachers and parents then marched on the capital, led by the likes of the Optout Association, NY Professor Diane Ravitch, Matt Damon [actor] and others. They were met by White House officials…all to no avail. The child-bashing, money-grabbing counter-forces are far too powerful up over….and they control us just as efficiently, down under.

At about the same time, Treehorn reported:

“Our Australian PM, when she was Minister, wanted to gain kudos for  her education efforts. Education is always a soft target,especially when one mentions ‘basics’,  ‘failure’. ‘kids on the check-out-counter’, ‘can’t spell’, ‘bullying’….all junk terminologies used by the uninformed. Off to the U.S. for answers she went. At her first cocktail party, she happened to speak to a New Yorker who ran a fear-driven school district that, he claimed was a successful school district. She fell for it.  Her collaborator claimed that the district was better-off because he was there; and that he really enjoyed running tests and scaring the pants off teachers. A very boastful chappie, he was, and, as she was, totally disrespectful of children’s feelings, parents’ concern and teachers’ ethics. Julia bought his scheme.  [We should have sent Bronny. She’d have cost less. All told, Julia is still costing us billions and billions in a lost future of sparkling cognition, creativity,  initiative and financial development]. She became quite determined and, subsequently,  introduced the Klein system of schooling to Australia without any meaningful consultation with Aussie Schoolies. With Aussie Bankers, yes. They paid his way down under. Joel Klein knows best, she claimed! He now proudly boasts of having introduced a “…hard data system into Australia. Come and talk to me about it.”  It’s his. [This is a direct quote. He proudly claims ownership of the Australian system of schooling….and…  NAPLAN operatives can now claim to be devotees or followers, at least,  of the Joel Klein mode of schooling. ]  

Academic measurer Barry McGaw put the scheme together for Julia and measurers continue to run the show.  Collegial, experienced, studious, child-conscious schoolies were not head-hunted nor were consulted. Parents are not allowed a choice in the present scheme of things.  They might prefer their kids to be taught instead of measured.

* Who’s Joel Klein”? He’s a lawyer who likes money. He later left the NY school district [in some chaos] and took a job with Rupert Murdoch. Worth $4.5m a year to Joel. His task is to run a recent acquisition of Rupert’s, the Wireless Generation.

* What’s Wireless Generation? This is a New York company that produces software that  “…tracks student test scores amongst other things.” The  ‘other things’ included digital instruction.  Rupert has said that he can see this investment as a move into “…a $500billion sector in the US alone.”  Yep.

“Kleinism” is the best description for Australia’s present system of schooling. This kind of mechanical, instrumental  schooling is now well on the way in the US and in Australia and, oh, how the money rolls in………to pockets in New York.  We seem to have plenty of money to throw around. Education is now a big business enterprise without any altruistic purpose whatsoever..

That means a very sad future for those who live down under. Just how ridiculously heartless can Aussie adults get?  Nobody cares except, perhaps a million or two Mums and Dads [the opt-out thinkers]  who won’t have a bar of hard data abuse-based testing in schools and are refusing to have their children contest the mechanical tests. They are opting out in droves.  Bully for them. But….there are too many Mums and Dads not caring either whether “the cat calves or the cow die’’, so to speak.

Well over 1200 Treehorn Express copies have been emailed over the past few years…… no avail. Unable to be read in government schools and deliberately rebuffed by red-necked testucating advocates,  some folk like them, just the same. We are proud that the testucators are afraid of them and will not discuss ‘child learning in schools’ openly. . 

Our efforts were directed to changing the hearts of adults towards children. That’s why the communication  was named after ‘Treehorn”.  Poor lad failed to get the attention of adults, even those who were important to him…. despite his obvious need for help. We just wanted adults to think seriously about the world of children and to try to improve their social and emotional condition because NAPLAN is, plainly,  an instrument of child abuse.  No luck. The story of Treehorn became just another children’s story. We overlooked the fact that adults are too busy or too something  to take notice of the social condition of school children. We have failed to this point…as Treehorn had.  Tough. 

Did we think that adults in the antipodes had softer hearts than those who lived in northern climes?  I reckon we did.  But…we were wrong….the contrary prevails.

Allan Alach  is one of  three great musketeers fighting relentlessly for the enhancement of public education in the South Pacific. Bruce Hammonds and Kelvin Smythe  are his companions..  There are few people in the world who go to such great lengths and spend so much time working for children as this trio. Unfortunately for them, the most school-knowledgeable politician in New Zealand is the child-oriented shadow Minister for Education who is in opposition. He  is quite different from Australian politicians. When it comes to schooling and child learning, he knows what he is talking about.  If Chris Hipkins ever becomes part of the NZ government benches, one can confidently predict that  NZ will develop a home-grown system of schooling that would leave the rest of the world in its wake. For sure. 

Australian adults seem too afraid to try to help our kids at school in need of encouragement, not condemnation. . They find other ways of dodging the issue. Our kids can cop it better and sweeter, we big people think. “We had to go through this stuff at school” , so why  shouldn’t they? . Yes. That’s the main excuse. We tend to bash the emotions and dignity of our children around  harder than most because that’s supposed to be good for them. The fact that most of the test-takers will be emotionally and cognitively crippled for life, doesn’t matter. They’ll be tough. 

As radical as it might seem to us down-under bogans, I believe that the following is possible.

1. Each Australian state can create an education system that is unique and productive. The myth of federalism has shown what can happen when one misguided viewpoint [e.g. Kleinism] can control a whole country. Every citizen’s future is in now in jeopardy. It’s very, very serious.

2. Lessons can be learned from other countries whose hearts are with children and with their learning abilities.  e.g. Finland treats its primary teachers, because they supervise the most critical aspects of human development,  as professionally superior to members of the medical and other ‘recognised’  professions. They  train them beyond Masters Degree status and pay them accordingly. There is a climate of progressive learning.

3. We just need a bit of fair-dinkum Aussie spunk to get rid of the stupid bloody nonsense asap.


       Phil Cullen  41 Cominan Avenue  Banora Point  Australia 2486  07 5524 6443