Education Readings April 27th

By Allan Alach

Due to the recent sad loss of Phil Cullen, sometime in the next few weeks I will put this website into hibernation. All past articles, especially the many gems written by Phil Cullen, will still be visible but I will stop adding any more education readings. Instead these will be available on Bruce Hammonds’ LEADING AND LEARNING website.

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

Hattie’s Research is False

Here’s a three part series from Kelvin Smythe, addressed to New Zealand University Vice-Chancellors, that comprehensively deconstructs John Hattie’s so-called ‘research’. As Hattie and his acolytes have done, and are still doing, great damage to holistic education, all teachers need to be aware of the falsehoods in his findings. Other educationists have also found similar issues.

‘My concern is that none of the variables in his research are validly isolated or under control, resulting in an academic shambles that, in being left unexposed, has had devastating consequences for teachers and children around the world, and especially New Zealand.’

Times tables – the phony, proxy war between traditionalists and progressives

‘These are tablets from Mesopotamia. They show a multiplication table and a practice tablet by a schoolchild. A practice that has been going on for millennia.And sure enough, the ‘times-tables’ wars have erupted again. This time, however, it has become a proxy, even phony, war between traditionalists and progressives, which in turn shows that both sides are often wrong-headed. It’s a litmus test for the whole debate.’

How to spot education research myths and read research properly

“I think it is useful for teachers to analyse and read articles, but more to get a sense of the enormous complexity and variables at play rather than trying to find a silver bullet that says ‘look, this works’ because science is incremental; we keep on building, one study will never be enough, there will never be a single study that shows this finally worked.”

How to Stop Killing the Love of Reading

‘But when I see what my kids do in school for “reading,” it doesn’t really look like reading. I ask them what books they are reading in school, and a lot of times they give me a blank stare. What they do in reading, they tell me, is mostly worksheets about reading. Or computer programs that ask them to read passages, not books, and answer multiple-choice questions.’

The Future of Education: How To Get Ready

‘I am not sure what education or the world for that matter will look like in 20 years, but I know that as educators we have the opportunity to shape what the future will be and the power to make it what we want it to be, which is, hopefully, a better place for our kids.  I implore you to join me in dreaming, in speculating, in being different, not only because it is so exciting, but because our kids deserve it.’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

A playful approach to learning means more imagination and exploration

‘Play in education is controversial. Although it is widely accepted that very young children need to play, as they progress through the school system, the focus moves quickly to measuring learning. And despite the fact that play is beneficial throughout life, supporting creativity and happiness, it is still seen by many in education as a frivolous waste of time, and not really relevant to proper learning.’

Here’s What Happens When Every Student Gets a Personalized Learning Plan

‘All students can learn; however, not all students learn in the same way or at the same pace. Acknowledging this fact has driven the recent shift toward personalization in education.’

Imogen Stubbs laments ‘awful treadmill’ of UK education system

‘Stubbs is a fan of the ideas of educationist Sir Ken Robinson, who gained international acclaim for his 2006 TED talk Do Schools Kill Creativity? She despairs of the “utilitarian” approach to arts subjects and hates the jargon of the modern exam system with its “texts” and “assessment objectives”.’

How Small Steps Can Create Outdoors Experiences In Schools

‘It started with a school garden at Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School. The garden did so well that students built another garden. Then they added native plants, where seventh-grade students learned lessons in data collection as they counted pollinators. The students wanted more pollinators, so they added a beehive. The bees made honey, and the kids used their sweet surplus to learn about the economics of commodities…’

Curriculum wars: coming to Aotearoa?

‘To grossly simplify, it’s the argument between ‘knowledge vs skills’. To personalise it, it’s E.D Hirsch vs 21st Century Skills. Or in the New Zealand context, it’s Elizabeth Rata and Briar Lipson vs Jane Gilbert and Frances Valintine. And I think it’s mostly a good thing that we’re starting to talk about this.  Sure, polarising rhetoric can be unhelpful, but it’s a disservice to our students not to think seriously about curriculum, and part of that means expressing and teasing out differences.’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

The killing of creativity by the technocrats.

Bruce Hammonds has also found fault with John Hattie:

‘Somehow, just because Hattie has amalgamated every piece of ‘school effectiveness’ research available ( mainly it seems from the USA) his findings, it seems, ought to be taken for read. The opposite ought to be the case – we need to be very wary of such so called ‘meta research.’. More worrying however is that the approaches he is peddling is pushing into the background the home grown innovative creative learning centred philosophy that was once an important element in many classrooms. Overseas experts always seem to know best – or those that return with their carpet bag full of snake oil.’

The forgotten genesis of progressive early education

An example of the pedagogical knowledge that is totally foreign to the Hatties of this world.

‘Since ‘Tomorrows Schools’ ( 1986) teachers would be excused if they thought all ideas about teaching and learning came from those distant from the classroom – and more recently imposed by technocrats and politicians. This was not always the case. Progressive ideas that helped New Zealand lead the world in education, particularly in reading, were developed by creative early education teachers who were well aware of the modern educational ideas of the time.’

Education Readings April 13th

By Allan Alach

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

Individual Testing is Killing Teaching

‘And it lead to each individual child in every class being tested individually. Each child’s strengths can be identified, and the gaps they have can then be specifically targeted. Teachers knew what each child needed, and could pass comment on this first hand to their parents or caregivers, through the wonderful National Standard reports that were sent home twice a year. Great.

Except that it is unmanageable.’

Stop Relying on Teachers to Teach Our Kids to be Good People!

‘I’m a big fan of teachers. Trust me. I am one. So is my wife.

But speaking as a parent, we are asking our teachers to do things we should be doing ourselves. While teachers are glad to help with the development of students, it is not their job to teach our kids to be good citizens. Teachers should be the BENEFICIARIES of us teaching our kids to be good kids.’

‘Kids are born scientists’ – Siouxsie Wiles talks STEM and sexism

‘Kids are born scientists.

What differs between individual kids is whether they see themselves as able to have a career in science, and part of that comes down to whether they have seen people that look like them as scientists.’

What Happens to Student Behavior When Schools Prioritize Art

More wisdom from Sir Ken.

‘The arts classes gave the students fresh enthusiasm for learning, and the walls and corridors were soon covered with displays of their work, which itself created a more stimulating environment and sense of ownership by the children. “Kids do well,” Bott said, “when you design and build a school that they want to be in. Having great arts programs and athletics programs makes school an enjoyable place to be and that’s when you see success.”’

“Another nail in the coffin for learning styles” – students did not benefit from studying according to their supposed learning style

The evidence that debunks learning styles is clear, so why do I keep reading teacher comments that reference learning styles?

‘Their findings, they write – especially when considered in the context of past research – “provide strong evidence that instructors and students should not be promoting the concept of learning styles for studying and/or for teaching interventions. Thus, the adage of ‘I can’t learn subject X because I am a visual learner’ should be put to rest once and for all.”’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

The idea that we each have a ‘learning style’ is bogus — here’s why

Yet another article debunking learning styles. Got the message?

‘When I was at school, a fair amount of time was put into determining our “learning styles.” Teachers told us that some people learn better visually with pictures, whereas others retained information by reading or making notes. To be honest, I never worked out what mine was.

In a survey, 96% of teachers were found to believe in learning styles. But it turns out this theory is nonsense.’

How can we ignite the STEM spark at primary school

‘With the right approach, a teacher can have a positive and lifelong impact on how students think about science.

That’s why Dr Maeve Liston is on a mission to help teachers and parents to ensure that young students engage with science and technology at primary school, and develop problem-solving skills and scientific literacy that will stand to them no matter what they go on to study later.’

Why ‘Follow Your Passion’ Is Bad Advice

‘In other words, follow your passion. There’s just one problem: “‘Follow your passion’ is dangerous advice.” That’s a troubling claim, but it comes straight from Cal Newport’s investigation into “the details of how passionate people like Steve Jobs really got started”, as well as what scientists say predict happiness and fuel great accomplishment.

Newport’s not alone. In recent years, a host of leaders, academics, and entrepreneurs have all come to the same startling conclusion: nearly everything you’ve been told about following your passion is wrong.’

An Expert’s View: Sir Ken Robinson

‘Your new book offers wide-ranging advice for parents as they try to manage their children’s education. If you had to choose one takeaway, what would it be?’

Personalized Learning Isn’t About Tech

‘The key is giving students the decision-making tools they need to shape their own learning experiences Personalizing learning doesn’t necessitate investing hundreds of dollars per child in expensive hardware or applications—but it does require an investment in people and in fostering relationships between them. This investment can be as minimal as a few simple changes in mindset and practice, ones that move away from personalizing for students and toward personalizing with them.’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Together principals can do it

‘It is time they added their collective voices to the debate and this is easiest done by groups of courageous principals, defining what is important, and sharing it with others. And what they decide ought to focus on the needs of their students and communities and not the whims of politicians. Principals are in an ideal position to see the pressures that parents and the wider community have to face up to. They know well that, “it takes a whole village to raise a child.”’

The history of New Zealand’s TOMORROWS SCHOOLS and time for fresh thinking?

A major and well overdue review of the current provision of education in New Zealand has been announced. Cathy Wylie, one of the review team, researched the so-called “Tomorrow’s Schools’ back in 2012, and Bruce summarises her findings in the article. Prepare for change!

‘Cathy answers the questions: What was the real effect of ‘Tomorrows Schools’? Has the New Zealand Schools system improved as a result? And what changes are needed now to meet our expectations of schools?’

Education Readings March 16th

By Allan Alach

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

Here are some links to acknowledge Sir Ken Robinson who is currently in New Zealand.

Sir Ken Robinson: creative thought leader in education

Interview on Radio New Zealand on Sunday 4th March.

Summerhill School: learning as students choose

Sir Ken referenced this school in his interview, so here is an interview with Zoe Readhead, daughter of A.S. Neill – a must listen.

‘Summerhill is an alternative free school in Suffolk, England, started by educational leader A.S. Neill in 1921. The pupils are free to come to lessons as they choose, and students and teachers have an equal voice in decision making.’

Ken Robinson: Government “Standardization” Blocks Innovative Education Reform

“I never blame teachers or schools… But there is this deadly culture of standardizing, that’s being pushed on them, politically. My core message here is that we have to personalize education, not standardize it. That all children are different, and we have to find their talents and cultivate them.”

Do Schools Kill Creativity?

If you’ve never watching Sir Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk from 2006, or if you’ve not seen it for  a while, here it is. Either way, it is a must watch.

Sir Ken Robinson – Can Creativity Be Taught?

Links to many other Sir Ken videos can also be found here.

“Modern ADHD Epidemic is Fiction” – Ken Robinson

‘Our children are living in the most intensive stimulating period in the history of the earth. They’re being besieged with information and coerced for attention from every platform: computers, from iPhones, from advertising hoardings, from hundreds of television channels. And we’re penalizing them now for getting distracted. From what? Boring stuff. At school, for the most part. It seems to me not a coincidence, totally, that the instance of ADHD has risen in parallel with the growth of the standardized testing. Now these kids are being given Ritalin and Aderol and all manner of things, often quite dangerous drugs, to get them focused and calm them down… It’s a fictitious epidemic.’

Moving on :

Does writing by hand still matter in the digital age?

Technology is having an impact on children’s handwriting ability. But what does this mean for learning and development?

‘But what of the role that handwriting plays in learning and development? And with technology changing how we live and work, what place does handwriting have in the modern classroom? These were the questions put to the teachers, academics and specialists in education and technology at the Guardian’s roundtable event on 27 February.’

But is there even a correct way to hold a pen?

‘It’s true that handwriting employs our hand muscles differently from the swiping and tapping motions we use to navigate the online world of today.

But when it comes to scrawling words on the page, the idea of ‘correct’ pencil grasp is actually way older than the iPhone – and science shows that there appears to be more than one way to correctly hold a pen.’

Arts integration: Turning teaching on its head

‘Sometimes the arts are used alongside a lesson being taught – for example, students might turn their writing into a performance and ‘act it out’ or perhaps draw a picture of what they have learned. We consider that in these instances, arts are simply being used alongside other subject areas, and while we like this idea, it is not what we mean by arts integration.  In our view, arts integration is a method of teaching, a pedagogical approach that focuses on the [non-arts] subject being taught, and not necessarily on the art form.’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

Learning from one of New Zealand’s pioneer teacher – Elwyn Richardson

(Author of ‘In The Early World ‘ possibly the best book written about education anywhere. ..)

Bruce’s article here is the perfect follow-on from the Sir Ken Robinson links and shows a way to achieve Sir Ken’s vision. Long before Sir Ken’s rise to fame, Elwyn Richardson took creative primary education to a new and, I suspect, still unsurpassed level.

‘Elwyn expressed concern that due to learning becoming over intellectualized ( and therefore available to be assessed), that intuitive thought was in danger of being neglected. There was, he felt, a danger of learning becoming too conceptualized and that this would result in damaging students’ intuition and creativity. That it would result in the neglect or downplaying of the creative arts.’

Bill Gates Admits His Common Core Experiment Is A Failure

This comes on the heels of New Zealand abandoning their rather similar national standards. Maybe non-educators should stick to their knitting…

‘After spending $400 million on forcing schools around the country to adopt Common Core, Bill Gates has finally admitted that the controversial teaching method is a failure, and significantly less effective than traditional teaching methods. 

Parents and teachers across the nation have been urging schools to dump the toxic Common Core curriculum, arguing that it deliberately dumbs down children and creates unnecessary and complicated methods for working out relatively simple problems.’

Assessment in the early years…

‘A recent story I heard talked about a display that pitted children against each other in a race to be reading at a certain level.  This kind of practice breaks my heart.  I don’t for a moment think that these teachers are doing this to hurt children, but I don’t think they have taken time to think about how the children feel.  How does this shape their view of what reading is or even learning is?   How does it promote a culture of shared learning and journey?  How does it speak to these children about failure and mistakes?’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Here’s a collection of all Bruce’s articles about Sir Ken Robinson.

Out of Our Minds

‘A book to read for all who believe in creative education. ‘Out of Our Minds’ by Sir Ken Robinson. Introductory keynote speaker at the 07 NZPPF Conference to be held in Auckland.’

Importance of Creativity

‘Sir Ken talks about the importance of nurturing innovative solutions in the classrooms – indeed in every aspect of life. Sir Ken is now senior adviser to the Paul Getty Trust and was knighted in 2003 for his commitment to the creative arts and education in the UK.  is set to become the ‘buzz’ word of the future. Sir Ken sees creativity as essential for students as they seek jobs in the future.’

‘Creative Schools’ a book by Sir Ken Robinson

‘A must read for anyone who believes in an education system that aims at developing the gifts and talents of all students. Read this article about Sir Ken’s latest book My plea is for creative teachers, particularly those in New Zealand, to share this with as many teachers and schools as they can because the message is so important.’

The need to transform schools – Sir Ken Robinson

‘One writer school leaders could get behind to give support is Sir Ken Robinson who is well known to many schools. And there are many others. It is also ironic that while Western countries follow neo liberal ideology leading to testing, standardization and privatization Asian counties are working hard to break out of high stake testing and introduce more creativity into their systems!’

National Standards gone – now it’s time for creativity says Sir Ken

‘The previous Nationals  Government was right in believing schools should do a lot better. No student should leave school feeling a failure. The trouble is their approach is wrong, and ironically, with its desire for all students to be assessed against National Standards, is creating ‘winners and losers’ environment and in the process narrowing the curriculum and encourages teaching to the tests. Sir Ken Robinson call this standardization a fast food approach; an  approach that has its genesis in the past industrial age.’

Sir Ken Robinson and Tony Wagner

‘While schools are distracted by ensuring they are seen to do well in achieving / improving their National Standards and NCEA data they are creating the very hyper-accountability conditions that make it difficult for creative teachers.’

Education Readings March 2nd

By Allan Alach

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

Better together

‘Social learning is one of the vital components of contemporary learning and development. None of us lives in a vacuum, and we are better, stronger and wiser when we learn and work together. Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1978) argued that we learn best when we are immersed in a socially rich, culturally relevant environment.’

Secret Teacher: social media makes it impossible to switch off from work

‘Social media and messaging apps are a blessing and a curse for teachers. While it has broadened our horizons and inspired new ideas (thank you, Pinterest), it has also increased the intrusion of work into our personal lives. We are always contactable, and in many different ways. What starts off as a message containing a funny aside or lighthearted remark can quickly become a virtual planning meeting.’

What students know that experts don’t: School is all about signaling, not skill-building

‘There is a massive gap between school and work, between learning and earning. While the labor market rewards good grades and fancy degrees, most of the subjects schools require simply aren’t relevant on the job. Literacy and numeracy are vital, but few of us use history, poetry, higher mathematics or foreign languages after graduation. The main reason firms reward education is because it certifies (or “signals”) brains, work ethic and conformity.’

Storytelling – A way into writing

‘I have taught writing both ways…formally through modelling and experience, and informally through play and storytelling.  The marked difference between the two environments is the amount and type of writing and the level of engagement.  You know those reluctant boy writers everyone goes on about?  Well they don’t exist in this environment.  They access writing at their own developmental stage, they do what they can and feel successful….even better after the initial teacher directed time (which feels more like a narrative) they are free to finish and move back to play.’

What Is a ‘Quality’ Curriculum?

‘Curriculum is a special case, however. Designing and delivering lessons—a.k.a. curriculum and instruction—are what teachers do. Nothing is more central to being an effective teacher (and by that, I mean a teacher whose students are paying attention and learning) than control over the what and how of the work.

Once we’ve totally lost those, there is no profession left. Teachers will be technicians, dispensing pre-selected knowledge using pre-determined methods and materials. Autonomy, creativity and purpose? Gone.’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

The New Zealand Curriculum (2007) – was lost but now is found.

With the end of national standards, it’s time to dig out those dusty copies of the New Zealand curriculum, as Bruce has done in this article.

‘I envisage classrooms as true learning communities of scientists and artists exploring their concerns, the local environment and the wider world past and present. Such classrooms I see as mini Te Papas ( or perpetual science, art, maths technology fair  type exhibits) with every available space covered with displays/exhibitions of quality research, art and language based on the themes, studies, topics and investigations.’

Personalized Learning: What It Really Is and Why It Really Matters

‘Let’s be honest: as an academic term of art, personalized learning is horrible. It has almost no descriptive value. What does it mean to “personalize” learning? Isn’t learning, which is done by individual learners, inherently personal? What would it mean to personalize learning? And who would want unpersonalized learning?’

The Six Must-Have Elements Of High Quality Project-Based Learning

‘The framework is built around six basic elements that the framers believe must be present: intellectual challenge and accomplishment, authenticity, public product, collaboration, project management and reflection.’

The Best Ways to Shift Learning Responsibilities to Our Students

‘Teachers are in the position to foster engagement and develop necessary skills and self-

motivation. Alongside this they can model persistence in the face of challenges to achieve a desired goal. Let’s talk about how teachers can shift learning responsibilities from them selves to their learners.’

Setting pupils ‘incompatible with social justice’

‘Research by the UCL Institute of Education finds that setting by ‘ability’ is a ‘pernicious tool’ that reinforces social hierarchies

Grouping pupils into sets is “incompatible with social justice” as it entrenches the dominance of the middle classes at the expense of disadvantaged children, according to the latest findings from a major research project.’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Kids from Chaos – our achievement tail?

‘I have always thought that it is the lack of authenticity about our programmes that all too often create the various categories of failing students in our society. Such students do not fit into ‘our’ preplanned programmes – success being assessed as students going along with what is offered. ‘One size fits most of the students’ – the rest are sacrificed; standardization only suits standard kids!’

‘Superkids’; the hurried generation!

‘Two basic metaphors have underpinned learning but now we have third. The first (and oldest) is the idea of the blank slate, or tabular rosa.   Much of the current school curriculum developments, imposed on schools, continues this metaphor with its obsession on educational measurement and the need to demonstrate the ‘added value’ the students have gained from their teachers. The second metaphor is that of a growing plant. This is seen best in junior schools. This metaphor is based on providing a stimulating and supportive environment to encourage the learner to grow and to develop their gifts and talents appropriately .The latest metaphor, and one with unhealthy consequences, is that of the ‘super kid’. This has resulted in what Elkind calls the ‘hurried child’. Arising out of an ideology of individualism and competition, this metaphor puts pressure on parents to hurry their children through childhood to give them an advantage in the future.’

Education Readings February 16th

By Allan Alach

If you are a creative teacher who wants to do the best for their class, I strongly suggest you read Bruce’s article (below) “Creative teaching:Learning from the past – John Cunningham teacher 1970s”

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

‘The Cult of Hattie’: ‘wilful blindness’?

Yet another ‘debunking’ of Hattie – got the message yet?

‘Unfortunately, in reading Visible Learning and subsequent work by Hattie and his team, anybody who is knowledgeable in statistical analysis is quickly disillusioned. Why? Because data cannot be collected in any which way nor analysed or interpreted in any which way either. Yet, this summarises the New Zealander’s actual methodology. To believe Hattie is to have a blind spot in one’s critical thinking when assessing scientific rigour. To promote his work is to unfortunately fall into the promotion of pseudoscience.’

Five Ways To Shift Teaching Practice So Students Feel Less Math Anxious

‘Rather than focusing on the algorithms and procedures that make mathematics feel like a lock-step process — with one right way of solving problems — Boaler encourages teachers to embrace the visual aspects of math. She encourages teachers to ask students to grapple with open-ended problems, to share ideas and to see math as a creative endeavor. She works with students every summer and says that when students are in a math environment that doesn’t focus on performance, speed, procedures, and right and wrong answers they thrive. They even begin to change their perceptions of whether they can or can’t do math.’

Why forcing kids to do things ‘sooner and faster’ doesn’t get them further in school

‘Why do some children who learn to read earlier than their peers do so poorly in ways that matter later on? Why do children for whom every aspect of their education, from kindergarten onward, is tailored toward graduating from college often struggle to graduate from college?’

The Joy and Sorrow of Rereading Holt’s “How Children Learn

‘This clearly is a corollary of the point that children learn because they are motivated to do the things they see others do.  They are, of course, motivated to do whole things, not pieces abstracted out of the whole.  They are motivated to speak meaningful sentences, not phonemes. Nobody speaks phonemes.  They are motivated to read interesting stories, not memorize grapheme-phoneme relationships or be drilled on sight words.’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

Creative teaching:Learning from the past – John Cunningham teacher 1970s

‘John wrote “It was the students themselves who effected the changing nature of the classrooms and I had to accept the children as who they are than what I wanted them to be”. Those who visited John’s classroom could not but be impressed with the quality of students work on display and of the way they were able to work independently.’

Teaching: Just Like Performing Magic

‘Education, at its most engaging, is performance art. From the moment a teacher steps into the classroom, students look to him or her to set the tone and course of study for everyone, from the most enthusiastic to the most apathetic students. Even teachers who have moved away from the traditional lecture format, toward more learner autonomy-supportive approaches such as project-based and peer-to-peer learning, still need to engage students in the process, and serve as a vital conduit between learner and subject matter.’

Personalized Learning Vs Personalization of Learning

‘Before she started speaking, I was skeptical because I have seen the idea of “personalized” learning happening in many schools where a student jumped on a computer and based on the information they share, the technology creates a pathway for that student.  Although the technology is impressive, it doesn’t mean that it is good.  Seeing a student completely zone out in front of a screen and letting the computer lead the learning is not where I hope education is moving.’

Technology can hurt students’ learning, research shows

‘Giving school students access to iPads, laptops or e-books in the classroom appears to hurt their learning, new research has found.

However, putting this technology in the hands of a teacher is associated with more positive results.’

Non-Math Essentials for Learning Math

Focusing on these five qualities of thriving classrooms can help foster confident young mathematicians.

‘As a math consultant, I’m in many classrooms, and I get to witness lots of math instruction. I find that there are similar qualities among the classrooms that are really thriving—and those qualities quite often don’t really have much to do with math. There are five non-math qualities I see in the best-run classrooms.’

The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids

(USA): Today’s young children are working more, but they’re learning less.

‘Until recently, school-readiness skills weren’t high on anyone’s agenda, nor was the idea that the youngest learners might be disqualified from moving on to a subsequent stage. But now that kindergarten serves as a gatekeeper, not a welcome mat, to elementary school, concerns about school preparedness kick in earlier and earlier. A child who’s supposed to read by the end of kindergarten had better be getting ready in preschool.’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Control your own destiny – do something!

‘The answer is for principals and schools to work to share their expertise and insights and to develop a group consciousness able to stand up to outside pressures. There will need to be courageous individual principals prepared to start the collaborative ball rolling. I can see problems with so called ‘successful schools’, or the competitive, ‘look at me’ schools, wanting to share, and as well schools who are struggling ‘owning up ‘and agreeing to being helped. But, if someone starts the ball rolling then, as Dean Fink writes, schools can, ‘shake off the shackles of conformity and compliance and imagine and create…. do something. ‘So the answer to stress is to work with others to ‘do something’ and to develop, what Fullan calls, ‘local creative adaptability.’

A new metaphor : Assessment tasks as performance.

“It is somewhat surprising that some educationalists have only just picked up on this way of assessing learning, one used naturally in the real world. The problem is that schools have been diverted from such an understanding by believing in tests, written exams divorced from reality, and an obsession with assessing atomised bits of learning. Such educationalists have not been able to see the wood for the trees. It is exiting to read, in a recent Ministry pamphlet ‘Assessing Key Competencies’ (written by Dr Rosemary Hipkins), that one way to think of assessment is to consider the demonstration of competency as a complex performance’.”

Follow-up to ‘Why School Makes Us Stupid”.


If you missed the clip of the young man’s rant, here is a transcript. Yes. We call it TESTUCATION. He calls it REGURGITATION. Would you really call it EDUCATION?

NAPLAN soon for Australia! That fixes everything!

We flopped last year because the kids don’t like it.

What do we do now?

We could try pupilling in our schooling!


Below is a transcript for my latest rant video called “Why School Makes Us Stupid” which can be viewed on my YouTube channel Freshtastical here:

Why School Makes Us Stupid
By Spencer Cathcart

Does anyone else find it insane how much of our childhood we spend in a classroom?
As soon as you’re old enough to be in a room without shitting your pants…bam! You’re thrown into kindergarten! And from that day until you’re 18 school becomes your full time job. 5 days a week, 10 months a year, for 14 years. And even then it’s still not over! Because if you want a job other than serving fries, well lucky you, you get to spend 4 more years in college or university!

In that amount of time getting “educated” you’d think we’d all be geniuses walking around contemplating Shakespeare’s use of metaphors, while simultaneously calculating the parabola of the sun’s descent in order to figure out the time we should head home to our wife who’s waiting with a protractor to see if tonight we can achieve an obtuse angle in the bedroom, rather than acute.

Well obviously something went wrong because last time I checked our world is littered with dumb people. Like, I constantly find myself being blown away reading emails by how many people lack basic writing skills. Or the amount of people in line at a store who can’t do the simplest math to calculate their change. Yet all these people spent years in school learning all this, so what happened?

Well the problem is that in school we’re not “learning” we’re just regurgitating. We’re only taught what we need to know to pass a test, not pass at life. So for years we repeat this cycle of constantly memorizing useless facts for a grade. And then forgetting it all a few days later since by then we’ve gone and “secure empty trash” that shit from our minds to make room for the next batch of useless information.

Information that today you’d just Google if you really needed to know.

Also, now that I’m an adult I can officially confirm what we all knew as kids. And that’s nearly everything we’re taught has never applied once in my everyday life. And believe it or not I was actually an A student . Yet now when I look back now at my tests and assignments I have no clue what any of this crap is. So if what we’re being taught has no use in our adult lives, then what use does a kid have learning it? I mean there I am, my balls haven’t even dropped yet I’m learning equations to calculate the density of my balls and the speed of the drop.

A big reason why I believe our world is full of so many uneducated people is because school kills our desire to want to learn. Education becomes something we all quickly learn to hate. Which is really sad because you’d think education is something kids should enjoy. When you’re a kid you’re new to the planet and you have a million questions about everything. It’s why we bug our parents all day asking “why this mommy” and “why” that. But once school begins that curiosity quickly fades and we stop asking “why” and start asking “whyyyy”

It also doesn’t help that school doesn’t take consideration into what we want to learn about. Even subjects you didn’t care about if they were taught in a more engaging way you might realized a whole passion you never thought you had, changing your entire direction in life.

To this day I’ll often come across a random subject from elementary school again, like say ancient Egypt and I’ll think “holy shit, how did they build the pyramids? This is mind blowing!”. But back then you didn’t care because it wasn’t taught in an interesting way. And you were so busy memorizing the spelling of people’s names, the years of birth and other random useless facts that you had no time to actually be interested in what you were learning about.

By the way, fuck Shakespeare. Every single year from grade 6 until my second year of university I had a class where we spent some time studying Shakespeare. Why? The writing is over 400 years old! Back then English was almost a different language. It still makes no sense to me to this day. If you want kids to get something out of English class, maybe give them something that’s written in English! Also I am convinced if Shakespeare wrote in modern day English teachers would find the stories disgusting. It would be like reading prequels to 50 Shades of Grey in class. But I guess the lesson here is if you write anything in old-fashioned English then thou can say anything and thee who come hither to question thy writing skills shall be banished from whence thee came.

And that’s a big problem with school. So much of what we’re taught is about the world of our past and so little has anything to do with our present world. And isn’t that the whole point of school, to prepare us for the world ahead of us, not behind us?

Look I’m not against school. I think the idea of school is great. In fact some of my best memories are being around all random weird people you’d meet through the years at school. My issue with school is with the system of how we’re taught. Because how much can you truly learn being surrounded by four walls all day? And then you get home and you can’t even relax because you have hours of homework to do. And it leaves us with no time to clear our minds and think or explore the world firsthand. And isn’t that what education should really be about?

Instead school teaches us not to question what we’re taught, to abide by the textbook, think within the box of a rubric, and do what the teacher says like they are some almighty authority figure! It’s no wonder when we graduate we wear a square on our head, just to make sure everyone knows how great we are at thinking inside the box. It feels like the goal is to raise us to be suitable employees, not suitable people. When you think about it school kind of feels like a giant practice run of waking up at unhealthy hours every morning 5 days a week so we can get used to that 9-5 lifestyle. And then to ensure we transition into that 9-5 life we have to pay tens of thousands of dollars just to go to college or university which puts many people in debt and forces many to start working jobs they hate right away.

Education is the most important part of our lives because it builds the foundation of who we are as people. And I think a lot of the problems with today’s world are a result of our poor education system. Because when your education system creates uninformed people, with no curiosity to learn, who are forced to work jobs they hate to pay debt from school, well it’s no wonder our world is a mess.
– Written by Spencer Cathcart

Being treehorned. School sucks.

School Sucks. It Makes Kids Stupid.

I’m so pleased that I chose the name TREEHORN as the title to the occasional papers that I used to send to like-minded friends. It’s been so prophetic.  He started life as the hero of The Shrinking of Treehorn  by Florence Parry Heide. No adult, even his closest relatives took notice of our young hero when he had a serious problem. He learned, over time, that adults are quite indifferent to the  mental, psychological and neurological welfare of kids[and no-one has taken much notice of The Treehorn Express either!…a dismal failure]. Treehorn himself learned from an early age that the oldies are quite indifferent to children and what happens to them. We can certainly confirm this! Our power leaders don’t care, our operators are timid, our politicians prefer to be nasty to children;  and so,  the population doesn’t care.

Being treehorned comes from the disrespect for children that we all show…some more than others.

A few Aussie teacher-has-beens have now spent quite a few years and tears advocating for a better deal for him and his school friends through The Treehorn Express. It hasn’t worked. A dumb idea. Caring for kids is not part of the Australian Value System.  Treehorned kids have had  no chance against the tide of corporate power, the cult of testucation, the discarding of professional ethics  and the lowdown political game that is played with Aussie children’s lives.  A few of us have tried for almost a decade now to get a fair  go for kids.  It’s been tough combating the notion that our schools should try to kill the desire to learn deliberately, through our present day system of testucation and to do whatever incompetent politicians and their reps want schools to do.  Our schools are places where the concept of child learning is unknown or ignored. Imagine it! We now send our children to politically carnked-up institutions that do not respect what teaching and learning really means and which don’t care much about the proper application of either.  These institutions now exist purely to help the greedy to profit from the mental stress of children who are being taught to dislike learning and hate particular subjects.

Our sad PM, Malcolm Turnbull can plead all he likes for the electorate to value our ‘education system’. We Aussies just don’t give a stuff about it and our adults join with him and his comrades in not caring two hoots what the long-term values of a progressive, intelligent, innovative population can be. We are way off the radar of caring about kids and their schooling and about our national future….and, according to international information, we are moving off the screen completely whereas, once, we were up there with the best. We don’t even bother to ask ourselves what happened last year. Experienced, professional practitioners will tell you in one word : NAPLAN. That’s what happened! Irrepressible, learning-lethal NAPLAN.  It KILLS LEARNING.

The Spencer Cathcart presentation ‘Why School Makes Us Stupid’  below, asks, “If schools don’t know how children learn, why do we have to send our children to them?”  and queries, “Why do adults disrespect childhood so much?”  The presentation, forwarded  by arch-crusader and former super-practitioner Bruce Jones, is provocative. It’s worth giving an hour of critical thought to….  to think about schooling and what it really means….and if Australia is getting it right.

If our education system was a learning one, we wouldn’t have to read articles like this. How did Australia get this way? What’s the solution?  Can we afford to carry on the way we do?

Malcolm should listen to the video; if he is really concerned with the education of our children.   If you should check out the larger Cathcart blog, you will find some other interesting topics in the side-band….

How school makes kids less intelligent.

Success at School vs Success in life

Kids can’t answer basic questions .

You don’t legally have to go to school.

5 reasons why Finland is Global Education Leader.

The Factory of Success – Why school is a waste of time.

A factory Education.

School Myths Exposed.

Are you bad at school because you got an ‘F’?

The Dark Intentions of Public School.

What’s Education for?

10 things students did to pass exams.

Why School Makes Us Stupid

‘If you’ve ever thought school sucks, is a waste of time, or the education system is stupid, then this video is for you.’


Phil Cullen   The Treehorn Express

Ten Contemporary Assumptions Underlying Australian Education

Revisited in the hope that some testucator will challenge any of these assumption…… now that Australian parents are said to be refusing NAPLAN in their thousands; that states are reclaiming their right to take the decisions about NAPLAN’s continued existence; and are likely to take the advice that Butts offered 60 years ago [see postscript below], it is incumbent on us to think very, very seriously …..

Ten Contemporary Assumptions Underlying Australian Education


Freeman Butts wrote the original set of assumptions about Australian education. Since Australia has always followed  the British tradition of schooling with uncontested resolution, the ACER, which sponsored his six months’ survey, had invited him to comment.  Butts was a renowned American scholar, and the Head of ACER, Professor K.S. Cunningham, in defining the cultural differences, opened this definitive treatise with “ …British education starts from the universities downwards, while in America they start with the masses to be educated and work upwards.  The Americans have adopted the view that no stage of education is to be subordinated to the one above.” 

This feature of our schooling system needs to be noted.  Our test-based British/Australian system concentrates on branding primary school pupils’ intellectual prowess by about eleven years of age, so that the elite scholars may progress through a hierarchy of educational trials that find their destiny in the university tradition. The left-over kids don’t matter.  It was, and remains, a most peculiar method of school learning. The notion needed a check-up at the time. It needs a big check now.

“There has been no examination from the ground up of what Australian education is aiming at, where it is going, or whether it is providing an education really suited to, and adequate for the needs of , its future citizens,”  he said.  “Australian education somehow lacks vitality and adaption to its own environment.”

YES. Yes. Freeman

The purpose of the Butts-ACER  project was to sponsor self-examination by Australian educational institutions.  Nobody took any notice, even though the report was read by millions.

Butts made one serious recommendation : Australia needs a great education revival and awakening. It is moribund as it is.


He concluded with the challenge, “Dare Australia build a better school?”  and he encouraged Australians to take the bolder course. He suggested that our universities should stay in their own ivory towers and stick to their own goals of intellectual discipline; and eschew the life of social responsibility as far as schooling is concerned. ”I miss  a widespread  feeling of ferment or dissatisfaction or criticism. I do not see a bubbling up of ideas and experiments. I do not sense that strong professional organizations are constantly at work promoting discussion and exchange of ideas, criticizing practices and theories, and stimulating new procedures and new probings. “

Okay…. these days…. we have tried the Klein additions to the exam-based British system,  and are hell-bent on expanding its top-down British-based bang-crash-wallop principles. Nothing useful has been tried.  I’d suggest that Butts would recommend. these days, that we just drop the whole package asap and get about the business of working out what we want for our children. Start from the classroom up.

He certainly would agree that the contemporary assumptions listed below are being steadfastly maintained. What do you think? Has much changed for the better in the last 60 years? Really?

  1. What is taught and how it is taught in Australia, is decided by one person –  the politically appointed representative of the major party in the federal government.
  2. There is no legislated safeguard against maverick counter-cognitive, imported curriculum innovations [e.g. kleinism, DI].
  3. Historically, the only essential element of the general Australian curriculum is the maintenance of a Kleinlove fear  of failure at annual public examinations and periodic standardised tests of onlythe testable parts of the curriculum.
  4. The end goal of Australian education is to get good marks in the 3-yearly PISA contest for 15 Year-olds conducted by UNESCO of far-away Paris. Three years of mass anguish for results on one piddling test! [It was Julia G., who said, “We’ll must in the top 5 by 25” ?]
  5. Judgements as to the quality of teaching and of schooling itself are made on the outcomes of such mass testing!
  6.  The purpose of fear-based testing is to provide an ordered list of candidates for the selection of the better products by  employers and tertiary institutions. It is unrelated to learning prowess.
  7. There has never ever been any expressed desire by representatives of any major political party for an holistic, integrated curriculum that aims at developing the personal skills and cognitive abilities of all individuals at school.
  8. Simplistic numeracy and literacy skills have a higher priority than learnacy skills, especially of the kind that dispose the whole person towards high individual achievement.
  9. Schools are divided into private and public kinds because it is thought that private schools are better, but they aren’t. [See Cobbold S.O.S. Research]. Until the rigorous Scholarship primary school examination for Year 8s was abolished in the earl 1960s, most children attended church or private schools for secondary schooling.  As part of the British tradition, state secondary education was meagre. It’s efforts with real pupils in need of learnacy are now superior.
  10. The principles of neoconservatism, namely that the will of the big business unions [ like the  B.C.A. and N.F.F.], much more powerful than trade and professional unions, prevail in all major decisions made by every major political party,  affecting the Australian schooling landscape.

“I was thinking” Alice said, very politely,

“Which is the best way out of this wood.

It’s getting so dark. Would you help me, please?”

But the fat little men only looked at each other and grinned


POSTSCRIPT  Freeman Butts conducted his survey in 1954. ACER published it in 1955.  Now, sixty years on, another such  survey would demonstrate to him, that nothing much has changed. Right? At least as far as basic beliefs about the stratification of schooling, trust in didactic modes of teaching, examination-based assessment procedures, the maintenance of a fear of failure, state public schools regarded as low-performance units,  passivity of professionals in the work place and the disinterest of parents are concerned. He would see that we have continued and enlarged the duality of schooling in Australia that is deliberately used to perpetuate class, religious and economic divisions in society.

He would observe. if he was around today, that the dominance of  politics in educational decision-making has grown immensely, which itself, he had observed, contains the ‘seeds of a totalitarian society. He said that he heard little mention of ’democracy in education’ during his visit.

The ACER publication “Assumptions Underlying Australian Education.” was reprinted endless time between 1955 and 1967. For over a decade, it was prescribed reading in almost every education course in almost every university and CAE of the era. As students at the time, some of us got a bit sick of it. Who was this Yank daring to criticise what we did?  We knew that he knew what he was talking about, but we still didn’t like it. We were  grimly conditioned to the pass-fail Grammar School system! What was he on about?  He also carried on with that child-centred learnacy business that our testucating controllers abhor…..

  1.  “The educational programme must take account of the emotional, social, aesthetic and physical needs of learners as well as their intellectual development;
  2.  The curriculum should be responsive to the claims of the learners, of the society, and of the resources of organized knowledge;
  3.   Teaching methods should enlist the interest and active participation of the learners, should take account of their recognised stages of growth and development and should steer guidance and sympathetic understanding of the learner as well promote achievement towards  adult goals of knowledge.”  he said.

We didn’t take any notice……    _________________________________________________________________

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

Meaningless Debates

by David Hood

Retired after 50 years in education

Career includes 25 years as teacher and principal, Department of Education official, senior manager of ERO, establishment CEO of NZQA and consultant since 1996 – working on range of projects with schools, industry, MoE, Te Wananga o Aotearoa. Author of Our Secondary Schools Don’t Work Anymore [1998].Currently on establishment Board of Tai Wananga, a new model multi-site secondary school.

Debates on (New Zealand’s) National Standards, NCEA (New Zealand secondary school qualifications) , and Charter Schools are likely to continue, and to remain largely meaningless, until as a society we ask and seek to address some more fundamental questions:

  • What is the purpose of schooling in this complex and rapidly changing world?
  • What are the understandings, skills, attitudes and values [or dispositions] our young people need to develop if they are to successfully face the challenges of their futures, and to contribute as productive members of our society and economy?
  • What does this mean in terms of curriculum, teaching and learning, and assessment?
  • How will we know when we are successful?

 To answer these questions we need to have an understanding of history.

 Universal schooling was a response to the emerging mass manufacturing economy of the early part of the 20th century. Its design is now universally described as the factory model because in design and process it reflected the characteristics of the assembly line. Children entered the production line in batches by age and at various points ‘quality checks’ applied to test their educability. Selection was its over-riding objective; its purpose to progressively sift out the 12-15% who would become the professionals, administrators and managers, the decision makers for industrial society. At different points on the production line were the ‘purchasers’ choosing different grades of product suitable for their purposes. At the very end of the line, accepting the surviving 12-15% with the highest grade, were the universities.

 Justification for this selective function lay in the beliefs that intelligence is fixed at birth, is innate, and can be measured in precise numbers. The overt curriculum was reading, writing and arithmetic; the covert curriculum was punctuality, repetition and discipline. Thus the majority were prepared to be passive, obedient workers in the factory and other workplaces.

 While schooling now offers a plethora of subjects, and in spite of numerous ‘reforms’ at high cost to the taxpayer, the key characteristics of the factory model remain. We still have an obsession with trying to measure learning and schooling still grades, sifts and sorts students by seeking to attach numbers to them that are limited measures of a limited range of abilities. Is this what we really want out of our education system?

 Around the world, respected thinkers – politicians, business leaders, economists and academics as well as educators – are saying that the factory model is past its used-by date and needs to be replaced. The reasons are many, but include:

  • We live in a world very different from 100 years ago.
  • There has been in a revolution in our understanding of the nature of intelligence; it is complex, and more than just IQ.
  • We are also much clearer in our understanding of how the brain works and how children learn best.
  • Knowledge is no longer seen as individual, fixed, passive and a matter of facts to be regurgitated, but active and constantly evolving. The emphasis is on creating and sharing and utilising new knowledge, and problem-solving and creativity require multi-disciplinary approaches.
  • The workplace is totally different; employees need a much broader range of skills. Over the past decade the biggest employment gains are in occupations that rely on people skills and emotional intelligence, imagination and creativity.
  • Recognition that the current model cannot meet the needs of all students and cannot resolve the issue of the continuing under-achievement of particular groups.

 Among those challenging our current system are Stephen Covey [e.g. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People], Peter Senge and Tom Peters who will be well known to New Zealand business leaders. Peter Senge argues that: “The problem is not measurement per se. The problem is the loss of balance between valuing what can be measured and what cannot, and becoming so dependent on quantitative measures that they displace judgement and learning.” Tom Peters in his book Re-Imagine comments that we need a school curriculum “that values questions above answers; creativity above fact regurgitation; individuality above uniformity and excellence above standardised performance.”

 Every child will be a future parent, voter, citizen, member of the community [local, national and increasingly global] and a worker. The emphasis of the current system is on the last, in the false belief that delivering education in this way, through standardisation and a focus on ‘academic’ learning New Zealand will be assured of a bright economic future. There is however little correlation between a country’s economic performance and creativity and technological innovation, and national testing, and how many external exams and school qualifications it has in the last three years of secondary schooling, or with the international PISA results [which seem to be the basis of the oft repeated claim that “New Zealand has one of the best education systems in the world”].

 On other international indicators New Zealand doesn’t rate anywhere near as highly e.g. child and alcohol and drug abuse, youth suicide and incarceration rates, the poverty gap. These ‘outcomes’ seem to be a clear indication there is something wrong with our education system. Along with those major issues the world faces such as climate change, the environment and rapid depletion of the earth’s resources, we seem to be leaving it to our children to find answers to all of these problems because of our continuing reluctance and apparent inability to deal with them. To find solutions will require an education system that produces young people who understand themselves and others, and the world in which they live; are tolerant and compassionate; and lateral, creative, innovative and ‘connected’ thinkers.

New models of schooling are emerging in many different countries including here in New Zealand. All of them share common philosophies and challenge conventional practice; they also show that poverty and ethnicity do not have to be barriers to success in learning.

 This means a strong focus on every student as an individual, their individual strengths, interests, passions and aspirations, and the nurturing of their mental, physical, social/emotional and cultural/spiritual capabilities [see Covey]. It also means high expectations for every student, a focus on quality work and students applying effort and perseverance.

 The curriculum of these schools is designed to provide rich and varied contexts for students to acquire, develop and apply a broad range of knowledge, understanding and skills; to enable them to think creatively and critically, to solve problems and to make a difference for the better; to give them the opportunity to become creative, innovative, enterprising and capable of leadership to equip them for their future lives as workers and citizens; to enable them to respond positively to opportunities, challenges and responsibilities, and to manage risk and cope with change and adversity.

Some of these new kinds of schools monitor their students for up to 12 years after graduation; they recognise that what students achieve after school is probably a better measure of the value of their schooling than what they did in school.

 Instead of having endless debates about National Standards, NCEA and Charter Schools as if they are separate and isolated issues we need to have a national debate on what should be the nature and purpose of schooling in this complex and rapidly changing world full of messy problems, rather than on what it is now. We need to answer questions such as:

  • What do we mean by learning?
  • What does it mean to be literate in a networked, connected world?
  • What does it mean to be educated?
  • What do students need to know and be able to do to be successful in their futures lives?

 We need to do that rather than continue to tinker with a model that increasingly is seen to be irrelevant, that is itself largely meaningless, and obsolete for today’s world.