Education Readings May 12th

By Allan Alach

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

A Provisional Curriculum For When Walking Is Taught At School

Kelvin Smythe wrote a similar satire over 25 years ago – coincidence?  Good read all the same.

‘To secure the quality and consistency of walking skills in forthcoming generations, it is anticipated that walking will soon be taught by professional teachers in properly equipped educational facilities. The following curriculum has been designed to achieve optimum results.’

Discipline, Punishment and Mental Health

‘In the past 25 years rates of depression and anxiety among teenagers in the UK have increased by 70 per cent. How has society managed to produce a generation of teenagers in which mental-health problems are so prevalent?

Has the depersonalisation of learning and migration to a teacher-centred and curriculum-focused approach to education been a factor in this increase?’

Kids Don’t Fail, Schools Fail Kids: Sir Ken Robinson on the ‘Learning Revolution’

‘Robinson delivered a keynote address in which he spoke to the “learning revolution,” arguing that the shift to personalized learning is a non-negotiable in the United States if education is prepared students for the future, instead of simply the “now.”

So, why then is personalized learning a non-negotiable?’

Dear Friend About to Leave Teaching…

‘As another school year comes to a close, I am once again surrounded by teachers who are ready to give up or change careers. There are always complaints about testing, administration, other teachers, students … the list goes on and on. Each year, it feels like you’re at your wit’s end.’

‘Before you give up and leave teaching, please consider these three things …’

Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play.

‘But if you don’t give a child art and stories and poems and music, the damage is not so easy to see. It’s there, though. Their bodies are healthy enough; they can run and jump and swim and eat hungrily and make lots of noise, as children have always done, but something is missing.’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

Responsibility and Inner Discipline

We hear so much about children’s behaviour in schools . This short PDF  based on the work of Barbara Coloroso would make a good basis for a staff meeting.

‘A major goal of education is to teach students to conduct themselves in an acceptable manner. To do so, students mush acquire an inner sense of responsibility and self-control.’

The problem with tests that are not standardized

Alfie Kohn.

‘Many of us rail against standardized tests not only because of the harmful uses to which they’re put but because they’re imposed on us. It’s more unsettling to acknowledge that the tests we come up with ourselves can also be damaging. The good news is that far superior alternatives are available.’

Why dividing us by age in school doesn’t make sense

‘Dividing children by age in schools doesn’t make sense. After few seconds of skepticism, I took his argument seriously and I realized that the idea of grouping students by age was an assumption I had never challenged before.What we take for granted and see as “how things are“, is often just “how things have been done lately“. The fact that we grow up doing things in a certain way tend to install in us the assumption that that’s the unique way to do them, and that humans have always been doing them that way.’

Be The Change You Want to See By Shifting Traditional High School

‘Great ideas and extraordinary teaching happen in public school classrooms all over the country, but these pockets of innovation often don’t get the attention they deserve. More often the schools held up as models for the future of learning started with a carefully articulated vision around change, a hand-picked staff, and even some startup capital. Changing the traditional approaches to teaching and learning that have been in place for decades within an existing school is extremely difficult work.But passionate teachers and leaders are doing just that.’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Integrated learning at its best!

Flexible thinking in a traditional school – you don’t need flexible learning environments

‘It seems that modern schools require Flexible Learning Environments (FLEs) when what is more important is flexible or innovative thinking. Opunake Primary is one such innovative school which makes use of James Beane’s democratic ideas to empower kids  linked with  a powerful inquiry learning model and mixed age teaching. Add to this their emphasis on presenting student findings through displays, exhibitions, models’ demonstrations and a range of modern media and you have a school worth emulating.’

Creativity – its place in education

An oldie written by Wayne Morris

‘Is it important to our futures that creativity be taught?What place should creativity have in our education systems?Should we teach creatively or teach for creativity?“By providing rich and varied contexts for pupils to acquire, develop and apply a broad range of knowledge, understanding and skills, the curriculum should enable pupils to think creatively and critically, to solve problems and to make a difference for the better. It should give them the opportunity to become creative, innovative, enterprising and capable of leadership to equip them for their future lives as workers and citizens. It should enable pupils to respond positively to opportunities, challenges and responsibilities, to manage risk and cope with change and adversity.”Source: UK National Curriculum Handbook [p 11-12]:’

Superkids; the hurried generation!

‘This hurrying is understandable in an age of increasing speed and insecurity and there is a growing industry ready to provide whatever any parents requires to give their child an academic advantage, non the least the computer industry! Parents often feel guilty if they aren’t providing all they can.Unfortunately most of what is being provided goes against what we know as age appropriate learning.’

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              

My epiphany moment


Don’t forget your local pollies.

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 .

My Epiphany Moment

11849317_1160804897279886_907336653_nI used to blanket test all the kids in the school as we principals were obliged to do–each month or period or term.

I was a real test-freak….I went further than most… did weekly tests in Arithmetic and English Grammar almost constantly. Thinking that they were diagnostic, I’d even make judgements about the results. Silly stuff.

Crying at test time

One day a brilliant little Year 2 only got 3 out of 5 for my Notation test. She started to cry as this little girl is doing.

Mail AttachmentThrough her tears, while the scores were being recorded, she started to read a book that had been set for Year 10. High school !? What’s going on? Something stupid, for sure!

Image result for epiphany moment

I started to think. I didn’t take on this job to use curriculum material to make kids cry!
Am I evaluating or teaching or damaging an outstanding intellect? WHAT am I doing?

The answer was obvious. I walked out of the classroom and never gave another such test. I decided to sort out my thoughts as to the differences between terms like that.

When the mass assault on children’s intellect began in 2008, with the child-abusive, morally bankrupt, corporate NAPLAN photo-source-unkown-forwarded-from-charles-a-e-brandt_thumbtesting, here was a serious mission to be undertaken on behalf of kids. Parents and teachers had been silenced, principals hoodwinked. Children were the victims. Serious stuff.

The teaching and learning world that I had envisioned had been sidetracked. My dreams of unleashed school learning and achieving had been shattered.

Professional ethics had disappeared, most adults didn’t care, teacher opinion was ignored and parents were deceived. Kids needed the voices of professional school educators, but the power of corporate greed has been overwhelming.

Schooling-ignorant data miners have now had long enough. Their damage to Australia’s cognitive capital has been monumental. This school generation does not deserve it.

How do I feel now after all these years? Sad. Very, very sad. Still optimistic.

And… times…..

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

The King Has Abdicated

An oversized, ugly, brutal giant called Naplan walked into a bar with a toad on his head.
The surprised barman asked, “Where did you get that thing from?”
The toad replied. “ I dunno. It just started off as a wart on my backside.”

The King Has Abdicated

“I am no longer comfortable being associated with the discipline of educational measurement.”If ever there was a giant amongst educational measurers of the world, it is Gene Glass, Senior Researcher at the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The seminal mega-research of Glass and Smith into ‘Class Size’ is a study to which any studious commentator refers if ever he or she mentions anything about the efficacy of class size on child learnings. It had an enormous impact on world discussion about class size.

His leadership during the 1970’s Minimal Competency Testing movement was profound. The application of the most misused and misapplied concept of competency aka basics in American history, resulted in state authorities and school districts wondering what schools could do about it. The foolish thought that testing would encourage school pupils to perform better. They used local tests and the SAT : Student Aptitude Test as measures.
Glass described the movement as one would describe NAPLAN : ‘the case of fruitless use of an analogous concept – the minimum lethal dose’ ; ‘bad logic and worse psychology’ ; ‘a return to Payment by Results, abandoned by the British over one hundred years ago’ ‘has nothing to do with science and technology; not with psychology, not with measurement. It has to do with politics’ ; ‘the business of failing students’.Why would such a giant of the measurement profession ‘no longer feel comfortable ‘ with the American version of NAPLAN testing? Without a doubt, the world’s leading measurer for endless years, Gene Glass has been ‘slowly withdrawing his intellectual commitment to the field of measurement’ and has even asked his University to shift him from its measurement program. In the field of education, this decision represents a greater comment on prevailing educational circumstances than King Edward VIII’s did for regal circumstances; or if one of highest test performing schools in the country decided to drop NAPLAN and HSC contests from its curriculum ….that sort of thing.

This is monumental.

It says so much that ought to have an impact on the principles of schooling and the place of measurment in it.He once said, “I favour competence, I prefer classrooms where teachers know where they’re aiming. Sloth is as unattractive to me in children as it is in grown-ups. Bad writing stinks; it’s as ugly as litter. And bad arithmetic is pathetic, and sometimes unfair. But I don’t like the MCM {aka NAPLAN [Aus.]}. It’s bad psychology; it’s bad measurement; it’s bad thinking. It threatens to subjugate what’s easily measured to what isn’t. It is rooted in the fiction that we know what skills in school insure success in life.”

You must read….. “Why I am No Longer a Measurement Specialist”

Onya, Gene Glass. God bless you.


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

I once visited Professor Glass at Boulder. The Ahern Inquiry into Education in Queensland was in full swing, and , as Chairman of the Queensland Primary Curriculum Committee, I wanted to find out as much as I could about Minimal Competence Testing in the United States. Small world, Dr. Barry McGraw whom I knew, then at Murdoch Uni., was visiting Professor Glass to find out more about measurement. Dr McGraw later became Julia Gillard’s captain’s pick to lead ACARA and apply NAPLAN, based on Klein’s New York model, to Australian schools. How about that? Ironic?

Principals with principles

 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 must be difficult for a 2015 school principal with principle these days….to conduct curriculum activities using the best of what is known about learning within an institutionalised context, and also coping every day with the demands of a political whim that actually impairs cognitive development of school children.  The 2008 whim was based on a belief, held more by significant politicians of the time than by any other sector,  that school children learn best when the school climate  is one of heavy rigour and driven by fear of testing results.  So, there is an extraordinary amount of school time nowadays that concentrates on measuring parts of schooling that only testing experts,  employed by such politicians  believe should be taught and tested. Principals are stuck with organising a byzantine system of control that keeps pupils and teachers  in line; and parents in the dark.

As Professor Costa [Calif.StateUni.] states : “What was educationally significant and hard to measure has been replaced by what is educationally insignificant and easy to measure. So now we measure how well we taught what isn’t worth learning.”    School principals with principles are expected to maintain this farce and are expected to hoodwink the public  on the virtues of running schools based on the whims of teaching-inexperienced measurers employed somewhere else.  The logic that teaching a child how to fill in the right bubbles on a piece of paper somehow helps the child to read better, calculate more accurately and develop profoundly in other critical literacy and numeracy skills is twisted logic. It is the kind of logic that a full generation of wise school leaders have had to tolerate.
Many educators believe that the use of such data to make judgements about schools is a sneaky, dishonest  scheme to privatise Australian schools, to undermine Gonski recommendations and to maintain the flow of money to testucating, publishing and computer programming corporations.
It’s a real dilemma for principals with principles. The forces that have no regard for children’s feelings nor parental concerns are very powerful. While a self-respecting principal can call upon his or her professional ethics to deny access to his or her classrooms, it’s a very brave thing to do under the existing political, totalitarian-based regimes since 2008. The hubristic arrogance of lawyer-trained Ministers has been and is so overpowering.  It’s possible only for  principled principals to reform as an ethical, professional group. Even then, they need to be strong to protect school children the way they should be protected.
Sometimes, chances come at Conference time for large organisations which principals and teachers subscribe to, at great expense. No free rides. The really productive ones are those run by subject associations but,  during the coming month or so, there is a number of conferences with highbrow connections:
Australian Council for Educational Leadership –Sydney – “Setting the Learning Agenda. Courage and Commitment to Lead”. [ The title suggests that the likes of NAPLAN, Direct Instruction etc. might be coming to an end very soon.]
Australian Secondary Principals Association –  Attendance at ACEL Conference suggested.
Australian College of Education – Sydney – “Education on the Edge.”  [Sure is. Should be some fireworks. Methinks it’s toppled already.]
Australian Primary Principals Association – Hobart –  “The Heart of Leadership”  [In view of leadership principles involved in the dispensing of NAPLAN tests, – see above- the outcomes of this conference should be momentous.]
Australian Government Primary Principals Association – [No conference. Unsure of its place in the schooling landscape.  Allied with APPA or trods on its toes?  A CIA outpost?]
Association of  Heads of Independent Schools of Australia – Sydney– “Culture, Character, Collegiality. “  [ Jolly good.]
At such conferences, some of the most productive time is spent in rooms, bars, coffee shops and  cafes  discussing the major issues of the day or just ‘chewing the fat’ about major issues affecting Australian schools.  Under such conditions, one would imagine that principals with principles would discuss what they are going to do about NAPLAN and its control over Australian schooling. With the conversions to tablet use, this period of 2015 is super-critical for serious decision-making that can have  its foundations in sessions like these.  Indeed….It’s  time for all schooling-connected organisations to get together. As Professor Kenneth Wiltshire says, “The whole of the NAPLAN plan needs to be put on hold…” [Treehorn 3 Aug.2015] Yes. It’s serious business, that can’t be neglected.
Supposing that conferees were challenged by a comprehensive list of comments and examined them comment by comment,  about  standardised blanket testing provided by Marion Brady of The Washington Post………..
– provides minimal to no useful feedback for classroom teachers;
– leads to neglect of music, art, other oral ways of learning, physical health;
– unfairly advantages those who can afford to pay for out-of-school tutoring;
– hides problems created by margin-of-error computations in scoring;
– penalises test-takers who think in non-standard ways [which the young frequently do]
– radically limits teacher ability to adapt to learner differences;
– gives control of the curriculum to test-manufacturers’
– encourages use of threats, bribes, and other extrinsic motivators;
– uses arbitrary, subjectively-set pass-fail cut scores;- 
– produces scores that can be [and sometimes are] manipulated for political purposes;
– assumes that what the young will need to know in the future is already known;
– emphasises minimum achievement  to the neglect of maximum performance;
– creates unnecessary pressures to cheat;
– reduces teacher creativity and the appeal of teaching as a profession;
– lessens a concern for and use of shared evaluation techniques
– has no “success in life”  predictive  powers;
– unfairly channels instructional resources to learners at or near the pass-fail score;
– are open to massive scoring errors [as has already occurred] with life-changing consequences;
– are at odds with deep-seated ‘fair go’ Australian values about individuality and worth;
– Create unnecessary stress and negative attitudes towards learning;
– perpetuates the artificial compartmentalization of knowledge by field;
– repels a wholesome holistic attitude towards inter-discipline learning;
– channels increasing amounts of tax-money into corporate coffers and special programs instead of general classrooms;
– Wastes the vast, creative intelligence and potential of human variability;
– blocks instructional innovations that can’t be evaluated by machine;
– unduly rewards mere ability to retrieve second-hand information from memory;
– subtracts from available instruction time;
– lends itself to ‘gaming’ – use of strategies to improve the success–rate of guessing;
– makes TIME – a parameter largely unrelated to ability – a serious factor in scoring;
– creates test-fatigue, aversion to subjects and an eventual refusal to take tests seriously;
– is a monumental waste of money and time;
– destroys institutions’ reputation  and that of the profession in myriad and unsuspected ways
Wouldn’t you like to be a fly on the wall if any group  dared to discuss some of these comments….and follow it through??
If significant teacher groups or learned societies should examine a few of these factors seriously……’s bye-bye NAPLAN.
When? 2015?
Phil Cullen  41 Cominan Avenue  Banora Point  Australia 2486  07 5524 6443              

What Started Treehorn?

I’ve always shared beliefs with fair-dinkum schoolies, whose concern for the rights of the likes of Treehorn is serious.  Treehorn is Everychild.

We  believe

1.       …..that there is good in every child no matter how slow, damaged, ill-favoured or despised by others;

2.       …. that children will work to the limit of their abilities no matter how high or low that might be;

3.       ….. that all children matter;

4.       ….. that happy relationships between school administrators, parents, teachers and pupils are all important;

5.       ….. that the life of the child is enriched by the development of its creative powers

6.       ….. that love and encouragement and having fun at school  are far more productive than fear and punishment;

7.       …..that  children need care-based pupilling rather than fear-based hard instruction;

8.       ….. that teachers need as much support as pupils, and thrive on recognition.

Since the 1990s, such beliefs have not been not widely shared.  It would appear that the yen for testing has claimed the attitudes of the majority and that schooling is now akin to the ‘processing of oranges’ [Lorraine Wilson].

So, some years ago, I adopted Treehorn Everychild to express my own feelings and some wonderful, wonderful true-blue educators have joined me by sharing that sort of spreading of the  good word on behalf of the ignored.  Treehorn, the product of the imagination of writer, Florence Heidi Parry, was a little boy with a big problem. Nobody he knew, took any notice.  He showed us how little we adults care about kids at school.  Out of sight, out of mind.  He is in every classroom and we ignore his discomfort.

At times it now seems like a forlorn crusade, having to fight for so long for justice for kids.  Justice for kids is  not on anyone’s  agenda. “We ‘Care For Kids’” is expressed more often with tongue in cheek.  Expressions about children’s learning has been replaced by plenty of talk about about test results;  and it hurts as  you wonder if the kind of former great people who once ran our schools, have been replaced by others, who, wonderful people though they are, seem to have lost the plot and now work hard for a sad purpose.  It hurts because one believes in the enormous dignity and importance of primary schooling and there are now too many operatives who don’t seem to care.

[One major principals’ organisation actually dropped the word ‘primary’ from its title and has never sought to reinstate it. The reasons  were pedestrian and, by doing so, did nothing to enhance the nobility of its existence.]

We all were once so proud of primary schooling’s uniqueness [] because we knew what it stood for….

  • Primary schools introduce a country’s populations to its culture; to its rituals, conventions and rules. They provide the real foundations for a country’s future. Neglect primary pupils and you neglect your country’s future. Teach them how to learn and you will enrich your country beyond any normal expectations.
  • Each primary-teacher undertakes a parent-surrogate role with a large number of children for a full school day for at least a full school year, with few if any breaks.
  • Parents trust primary teachers more than they do most other people. They start to let go of their children’s hand at the primary school gate at an early age.
  • Primary teaching, because of its enormous range of curriculum requirements, is more intellectually demanding than any other kind of teaching and extremely demanding of personal creativity.
  •  It calls for a mega-counselling ability that is more diverse than other carer provides. Statistics indicate that over one-third of an average class has suffered a serious trauma of some kind in their young life. 1 in 3 –domestic violence; 1-4 sexual violence; 1-10 is poor ; and the teacher is the only adult with whom one-third of the class has spoken during the previous 24 hours. Most pupils itch for some kind of loving consideration during the course of each day. Most need it. Which ones?
  • Each teacher must cope with seven major areas of required curriculum learnings and other imposed kinds as well,  while catching up for  the enforced delays imposed on time tables during the first few months every second year..
  • Each teacher, because of the variety of curriculum demands, must adjust teaching styles from their repertoire to cater for the intricacies of the subject in hand, the setting, the resources available, and, in particular, the idiosyncratic  learning styles of each learner. It is an extraordinarily complex task.

It is seldom recognised that

[a] the routines of each school day in such active learning centres are physically, emotionally and intellectually demanding. By comparison, lecturing to a group of fifty adults is so easy, but through extraordinary social circumstances, a university professor receives a higher salary than a Year 3 teacher for lecturing fees;

[b] each primary teacher has a closer, friendlier and more productive linkage with its clientele than most business institutions and yet corporate managers and leaders receive much higher remuneration;

[c] primary teachers serve children in the most remote places imaginable….far from home, friends, interests, favoured pursuits, recreational interests and geographical comfort. No other professional occupation serves the public in places so remote. Children and parents live there by choice. A primary teacher performs a public service that few others bother to appreciate.

If we do not teach our pupils how to learn, the kind of material that we stuff into them  in the lead-up to NAPLAN Testing will be useless.

The public needs to talk to generate some serious discussion about the value of these sorts of things;  and query why ignorant, arrogant, suspicious politicians imposed such extraordinarily  immature and nasty classroom requirements on a profession that serves its country better than any other group does. Despite the fact that some new curriculum material is of social benefit [e.g.. Appreciation of Domestic Violence] does anybody ever ask ‘What does it replace?”  What did NAPLAN test-prep replace?

That this unique profession of primary teaching in Australia succumbed meekly to heavy-handed, time-wasting, anti-child processes in 2008 was a real shocker.  I had always believed that its care-for-kids ethics were stronger than that. All that any representative group of fair dinkum, professional primary teachers needed to have said, at the time, was : ”Lie down you nasty pollie. You cannot expect us to abuse our kids like that. You are trying to destroy our professional ethics by expecting us to be subversive in the way we treat parents, with whom we are normally open and honest; and to create fear and distress for their young children who just want to learn as much as they can according to their abilities.” 

This  2008 “Big Brother” command that NAPLAN must be used to repair the fictitious decline in standards, was the first public indication of a misguided,  embedded,  authoritarian Australian culture for the new millennium. School teachers’ professional ideals are so easily captured. They were the first targets. They comply easily. Others are following.

Orwellian as this social condition is, I’m often tempted to join the timid and compliant….and just quit. It’s an easy way out of social justice responsibilities. But, it’s too hard.  I can’t. Our children and our future are too important. I’m a primary teacher. Aussie kids deserve only the best, not this second-hand New York crap.

Primary teacher, Bill Brown, has suggested to me that my value-ridden outbursts of the liberal/democratic kind, are very lonely. Democratic values are in short supply. The norm that guides the teaching/learning ethic has been lowered and it requires serious discussion about such basic democratic norms if redress is to be achieved. Bill Brown repeats that much more than mere ‘talk’ is needed. The issue requires very serious discussion. Totalitarian control mechanisms of the Gillard-Pyne kind have had their time. But!  There will be no such redress until the need is expressed at the ballot box.

The first move has been made in the Labor ranks that now provides a chance for reasonable people to discuss the school-world of children and their parents….

the first democratic expression of public goodwill towards kids and their parents in seven years.

If Mr. Abbott had proposed this sort of  liberalising, democratic thing …. telling the full truth to parents, it would be a ten-flag event. 

 Maybe he can autocratically  trump Labor and banish all stress-based tests forthwith?

But there are super-confused levels of pupilism [how children learn] caused by school- inexperience at his adviser and decision-making levels. Data-miners with minimal classroom hands-on experience run the show and only know how to test. They believe in number magic…that failure in test performance motivates children to do better. This suits the purpose of the greedy as there is big money in data-mining.

In 2008 there was a large toxic Monarch butterfly that flapped its wings in New York and produced a cyclonic maelstrom in the South Pacific!  Data mining, big time, started.

We now need a larger, more attractive, energising butterfly to create  adequate sensitivity to the need for a large-scale political awakening. Although they hold a superior position, the spin put out by ACARA and by ‘experts’ like the Hatties of this world needs to be debunked.   Bill Brown suggests that we need to heed the advice of folk like Buckminster Fuller when he advised that we should not struggle to change a problematic model, but create a new one that makes the old one obsolete. What do you think?

 Care to try?

Phil Cullen  41 Cominan Avenue   Banora Point Australia 2486   07 55246443   0407865999

Cultural changes

Aussie Friends of Treehorn


Cultural Changes over 70 years

School Culture after School Culture


I went to Teachers College with a group that is holding its 70th Anniversary reunion this week. We all went in different directions from College in that immediate post-war period, but I hung in there with some others dedicating our lives to the primary schooling of young children. I’ve been privileged to have shared such a vocation with other serious teachers for so long. I have never retired from this because there is always something of intense interest going on. Primary schooling has proved to be the most wonderful and exciting of the caring professions. I left the Queensland Education Department in 1988, grateful for the wealth of experiences that it provided and ready to take up more study of primary schooling.

Please allow me to present my view of the 70 years in a special way. I’m prompted by the title of Kate Atkinson’s book : Life After Life , the story of a lass born in 1910 who lives her life over and over again. Finally she lives the life that she wanted to live. Since schooling was my passion and primary school children were my focus, I can divide my time into a School Culture after School Culture with an unfulfilled desire to inhabit, in my twilight years, a schooling culture based on children learning how to learn, each seeking high personal achievement in the essentials [as I see them] with a high desire to want to learn for the rest of their lives….with each child wanting to be a ‘Dick Smith” because they learned ‘how to learn’ at school, an autodidact who wants to learn. Since no one child is any ‘smarter’ at learning than any other, I believe that this is proper and possible, given a mature understanding of what ‘teaching and learning’ is. We need to help the big-end-of-town boganaires how to understand ‘teaching and learning’ as a democratic, nation-building dynamic. Sciolist measurers cannot help. They live in another world. Real, child-focussed teachers can.
[When Dick Smith received an Order of Australian recently, he was proud to reveal that he had been rated as 45th out of 47 in the testing culture of the time……a dismal failure!!! Who would, in the present culture, allow him to enter a private school? He’d be told to stay home for the NAPLAN tests, surely. He’d learned how to learn what he wanted to learn.]

It is not difficult to understand why so many don’t subscribe to the notion that learning how to learn should dominate schooling. Did you know that many of the upper class, estranged from social reality, those who shape our society now, opposed the institution of free, compulsory education even in our earliest days? They thought that it was likely that some of the lower class would grow beyond their assigned social position, by doing a dicksmithery. Such learners can be dangerous because they use their whole brain. What would happen to industry if the lower classes started to think?

I have identified three or four distinct schooling cultures during my time.

When I started teaching in 1946, state secondary schooling was a rarity. I think that there were about ten state High Schools in the state and some “high tops” , secondary departments attached to primary schools, conducted under state department auspices. Earlier in the piece, state high schools were not allowed to be constructed in towns that already had a grammar school. Since school attendance was compulsory for 6 to 12 year-olds….later 14 year-olds, the curriculum was devised to suit these ages. Most pupils left school at age 14 to gain employment. Few went further. As I count the 40 pupils in my Year 6 class photograph, I notice that only 3 of us survived to the Senior end of schooling. In today’s terms, that’s a large ‘drop-out rate’. While the keen observer will say that there is a much higher voluntary ‘drop out’ level of learning essentials these days, we know that it is close to the truth and we know the reasons why. The numbers of ‘on the spot’ drop-outs are prolific and they are finding other things to do…..bullying, experimenting with drugs, hooning….anything to get away from the NAPLAN tests’ reminder that they are boofheads.

1. When I started teaching it was a pure Jug-Mug culture.

The nature of teaching was completely ‘chalk-talk’, ‘jug to mug’, direct instruction from the first year at school to the final year in the prevailing culture up to about the 1960s. Classrooms were designed for this ‘ jug-to-mug’ instructional principle. Long desks and forms faced a blackboard with a large space between the desks and the black-boards reserved for the teacher only. Pupils were allowed about a metre square of space in which they sat for up to five hours per day, on backless forms. Some rooms had a podium across the room in front of the blackboard for the teacher to be more domineering and controlling. In some rooms, the seating was arranged in grandstand style with participants looking down on the instructor and the blackboard. Pupils were expected to learn how to pass tests, using a pad and pencil only. The very young used slates. Easier to lick. Each grade level was expected to concentrate on those subjects that were examined at the Scholarship Examination that marked the end of primary schooling. Art, for instance. was not an official school subject for many years. In my neophyte years, art, music, physical education and other airy-fairy non-paper-based examinable subjects were dropped once the Inspector left the school on his [yes – male,only] annual visit.

Inspectors as the regulators, monitors and advisers of the system’s requirements visited schools and conducted tests of their own construction, on which many judged the abilities of the children, the teacher, the head teacher [as we were known] and provided an assessment of the school itself. When I started inspecting, I refused to give such tests neither did I rate the school. I tried to describe the climate of learning that, I opined, each school offered.

From 1875, when Queensland’s Department of Public Instruction was first commenced, through to to 1946 when I started teaching, not much had changed. The system was based on British traditions of adult-dominated instruction linked with vigorous fear-of-failure testing. When one visited a school during this period, only the voices of teachers dominated the airways. It was a rigorous culture, designed to install conformity and obedience in order to prevent children from developing idiosyncratic cognitive styles which were too difficult for us to lead and monitor. Then, the system culture started to change for the first time in over a century. It started in England. It was difficult for sciolists and left-brained folk to handle at the time. .

2. A Freedom-to-Learn culture was emerging.

Supported by notable thinkers of the day, Sir Alex Clegg, Eric Hake, Edith Biggs, Marion Parry and the like, teachers endeavoured quite seriously to profit from their analysis of their wartime experiences. Did a classroom need to built according to one stifling teaching mode? Children seemed to have learned better in open spaces using anything available as teaching aids and helping each other to learn, to talk to each other and discuss. England had had a useful war, schooling-wise. Apart from anything else, they began to question themselves Unfortunately, Americans became interested and, after studious examination of British schooling, they approved and tried to package it and name it… they tend to do. We Aussies, as usual, listened more to American educators who had started to describe schooling in arcane terms like “open” aka “progressive”, like “traditional”, like ‘integrated day’. Because classroom changed from being “sit-stilleries” to active learning, serious Australian school architects took up the challenge. The shape of schools changed dramatically to allow teachers and pupils opportunities to indulge in tasks in all kinds of learning environments in which children were comfortable and active in their learning pursuits. These were exciting times, but many parents and others, products of the Jug-Mug culture, were perplexed when they saw pupils talking to each other in learning sessions, studying in pairs and in groups, measuring, constructing, painting, reading, studying on their own, sitting or lying on the floor to write, laughing in class, using the room during lunch breaks.

It became apparent during this period that schools can be a pretty soft target for exploitation and political hoo-haa. . Moral campaigners flexed their twitching muscles and claimed the right to punish those who tried to teach children how to be human. M:ACOS. Their network of alphabetical groups had special tactics designed to influence political decisions, that I describe in my USG monograph Back to Drastics, a prophetic title, as it has turned out to be. They were remarkably successful. They used tactics [group phone call, letter-writing, hanging around parliament for a spare ear, concentrating on pollies’ wives etc.] that could be used these days to have the likes of NAPLAN banned, but religious bad-ass biblical fervour has greater fire power for a social conscience than caring for kids’ emotional and educational welfare. Again, the products of the bang-crash-wallop Jug-to-Mug years [us] don’t believe that the effects of a very deliberate emotional abuse scheme such as NAPLAN show too much. Physical and sexual abuse in schools tend to capture more media attention than does extreme stress, sleeplessness, crying, vomiting, hatred of school subjects and of school itself, all built-in to a political stunt forced on teachers. There is no doubt that NAPLAN’s reliance on the use of fear as the only motivator for learning, leaves deep and lasting scars for a lifetime. The destruction of a child’s self-worth is close to criminal behaviour. Sadly, adults just don’t seem to care. The story of Treehorn illustrates this well.

This 1960s to 1980s period was the most exciting in the history of schooling in all western countries and produced more scholars than in any other period of world history. There was a distinct change from heavy handed chalk-talk adult modes of domination to more productive maieutic child-centred strategies. It paid off in spades. The advances in the sciences and technologies were spectacular and the creative arts, especially down-under, equalled or surpassed many other countries. The new century looked like having a truly focussed learning culture in which all individuals, no matter what their social status, genius, mental or physical health could seek to learn as much as they possibly could. A platform was being laid for the future that augured well. Attention to the creative arts was phenomenal. Music leapt from drum and fife bands to full orchestras in primary schools. Art leapt from crayons and plasticine to the use of the world’s resources. Learning and the quest for high achievement was a feature of school because children liked learning.

3. Then managerialism hit the fan and spread its contagion.

Its onset was the craziest cultural period of all – the 1990s. It was cunningly installed by Harvard-influenced University business study graduates. The late 1980’s ‘reforms’ in Queensland were imposed on schools in a subtle, well organised, underhand way. ‘Schooling’ disappeared from lexicon of departmental proceedings. We were outsourced, down-sized and multiskilled on all fronts just for the heck of it, with no discussion on how it would effect kids . Any resistance was shut down or hidden. Schooling became a confusing mess. A new ‘standards’ meme was invented, this time a New York invention, and the big end of town fell prey to stupid gossip.

The Inspectorate and school divisions were closed down in 1990….schooling was tossed out with the bath water and ‘organizational method’ took over. Kids didn’t matter. Inspection of schools by real experts, the only reliable method known to man for auditing the progress of every school and every teacher …experienced experts working with fellow professionals……clout with knowledge, compassion and humanity , disappeared in favour of money-making fear-based tests.

4. The money-making culture started.

Australian practitioners were so confused by internal arrangements that they dropped the ball when rookie Kevin Rudd and his hip-attached Deputy decided, on the advice of the big-end of town, to radically alter schooling in Australia. When Julia called on the emperor for riding instructions in New York, she met a sweet-talking maverick who ran a school district whose operations were entirely based on fear. Teachers lost their jobs if their blanket test class results were poor. Principals lost theirs, if the school’s results were poor. Schools were closed if test results were beyond rescue. Pupils became mental wrecks with fear of failing and all sorts of shenanigans ensued.

Never mind, Joel Klein the test king introduced his scheme to Australia, following his persuasive style at meetings of the large banking and corporate institutions, then undertook to manage the Murdoch testing empire. He was on a good thing. Millions per annum. The testing business is big, big, big. The sale of testing material and, now, tablets for fast delivery of tests and allied programs will help the emperor to accumulate billions of dollars, according to what he tells us. Parents are hoodwinked into believing that the tests are somehow magical and are necessary. The government of the day refuses to publish that parents have a choice. It is never asked of them as a democratic government would do. They have to find out for themselves.

This money-based system of conducting a school system leads to divergent operations that make no education sense: charter schools aka public-private schools as a pretence for school autonomy, shifting year levels between primary and secondary schools because the test culture can be maintained easier, using NAPLAN results as an entrance requirement even between state schools.

It also reveals a level of political skulduggery of a new kind. The cost of conducting NAPLAN tests in the future is hidden in state and commonwealth treasuries. It must be in the billions of dollars, but did not deserve a mention in the budget presentation, and no one seems to know , if one enquires. It’s a really crazy business, and is allowed to exist because of our traditional fixation with blanket testing at various levels of schooling are part of school routine.

We need a deep and thorough conversation about kids at school. How do they learn and achieve? NAPLAN has shown that it damages children’s enthusiasm and cognition and deep social calamity. It is downright dangerous.
We need to develop a learning culture.

A river of fear has flowed through school syllabuses for centuries.
The task of this century is to try to stop the flow.

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