Time for a post industrial way of thinking

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There are so many conundra in education.

For example: if we believe that all people should be supported to achieve their potential, then why do we continue to accept a concept of ‘strength in unity for collective bargaining’ which prefers to reduce the points of individual excellence to the blunt object of a bludgeoning of creativity.

If we really do believe in the uniqueness of the individual, and the efficacy of differentiated curriculum, and accepting the broad spectrum of humanity and human behaviour, then why do we still see a uniform policy as a key measure of positivity in public perception of our school?

As teachers who are so aware of the ability of Twitter to transcend linear control of the message, why do we still blindly buy the idea that an Australian government will fall sheeplike, into the production of a facsimile OFSTED or NCLB:  with or without apples and meat-cleavers.  Why is there the huge trust differential?  Faced with a vodcast from a Director General and a similar message from a union official, why is it almost automatically accepted that there is a huge trust differential based on who is seen as the member of the ‘boss ‘class.

Teachers are the people who provide the interface. Teachers will always have the ability to make this interface as productive as possible with the most valuable and transcending resource being their own engagement with the ideal of, in its purest sense: ‘being a teacher.’

Yet, we still expect that those people who have progressed to any ‘higher up’ level are, by their demonstrated aspiration: ‘not to be trusted’

The depressing sight of men, in the great depression, fighting each other along the hungry mile to catch a token for a day’s work. There are good and strong reasons why people have had to band together.  When we have a vastly different ability to connect, though, let’s look beyond the ‘bust or ban’ strategy which seems to have delivered so little for our young people in terms of an innovative educational setting.

In a world wide web world,  the ability to connect leads us closer toward a proposition where we can develop an international meta language related to answering the question:  “Beyond culture and religion, what are the things we all need to agree upon if humanity is to be sustained for the benefit of all?”

We can have enormous diversity yet a tight commitment to some fundamentals.

I was so relieved to have someone tell me this week that they had an optimism that our communities would actually be intelligent enough to see beyond the hype of league tables in education, if they were created.  Is it reasonable that we take action to prevent the gathering of data which allows feedback which lots of parents seem to be interested to know.  Our communities have access to so much information these days in every area of their life.

In a web 2.0 world, is it reasonable to adopt an activist stance which is predicated on a perceived need for teachers to advocate on behalf of an unknowing and helpless public.

And, have we asked them?

9 Responses to “Time for a post industrial way of thinking”

  1. jonesytheteacher Says:

    Why the conundra? Politics.I think the word you’re after is politics (or is that too reductionist?) For teachers, organised representation in a collective has had immeasurable benefit for a rank and file not functionally empowered to negotiate the intricacies of awards and working conditions. While the course of action taken on their behalf may not always please all of the members all of the time, the general feeling is that they trust the instincts of their representatives. And trust that the members of the wider community will eventually see that the choices made by the collective group of professional teachers is of benefit for them and their kids. Just like, I suppose, the unilateral policy decisions made on behalf of teachers, by their employer, like DER, are decisons that teachers have to trust as being for the collective good of education.
    Trust and honesty. Trust and honesty (sadly) are ethereal. Trust and honesty should be unconditional. But we live and work in a world where both are traded as cheaply as sub prime mortgages. And the greatest trafficker of mistrust and dishonesty is the media. The commitment to publish league tables by the tabloid media will (I repeat, will) see the snapshots turn into potshots. We know it, because truth is destroyed by dishonesty, and the tabloids disgorge half truth, “comment” dressed as fact and dishonesty daily.
    Honestly, I haven’t heard one teacher say we should ban the annual data snapshot that NAPLAN is. Not one. They fear, though, that this one measurement tool will become the source of division and destruction in the wrong hands. By straining results through selective filters, it is enevitable that in the minds of the tabloid commentariat that public education is second rate, and far from advocating for support and encouragement, the headlines will scream for heads. Simplistic – yes, because thats how the tabloids offer their work. Bland and overchewed for easy digestion. I once heard a tabloid paper described as “a simple paper, for simple people”. And in a world where spin is king, the only leverage many in the rank and file see as their empowered choice is to turn off the tap at the source, hoping that this gives someone with more influence over the dishonesty dealers time enough to act and ensure that the data won’t be misused.
    While it is fine to argue that we live in enlightened, liberated times where the power to communicate, collaborate and advocate is universally accepted, the image of ordinary teachers trying to hold back the tide of untruth and dishonesty, Canute style, is not a warmly shared vision by the collective. We have a responsibility and great opportunity to express our concerns to our own school community,and mobilise there, but the notion of being “cogs ground to dust beneath the bigger wheels” makes the likelihood of this action doomed to heroic failure.
    So I guess its all a point of perspective. Your personal locus of control determines whether you see the debate as a fight for self determination and the protection of equality and egalitarianism in public education, or something else.
    Politics. It has a lot to answer for.

  2. Jan Green Says:

    I think the word trust and the emotions it highlights is not the issue here. Trust is frequently bandied about as, if and when it suits. And who exactly do we trust?
    Rightly or wrongly, unions have a place in our society, and if we choose to belong to a union, then we choose to accept, although not necessarily agree with, decisions and positions. That is essential in a democratic society.
    The people who are really caught in the middle of the “will we, won’t we” NAPLAN debate are Principals. Gently gently, so they believe, comes the pressure from above and from a myriad of directions but ever downwards, particularly for those who have funding from the National Partnerships. Like bulldozers keen to raze the landscape comes the pressure from below. The pressure from either side is steely, cold and unrelenting. There is no differentiation, perceived or real, here.
    What decisions will the Principals make and what impact will those decisions have on the short term and long term future of the students currently in their care? What decisions can they make and still maintain positive, meaningful relationships? What support will they receive if they choose to buck the system? What support will they receive if they choose to buck the union? What support will they receive if they choose to buck staff decision? What support will they receive if they choose to buck the government?
    And specifically, its the secondary principals who find themselves facing brick walls in every direction. At this point it would seem more than 90% of primary Principals have indicated compliance and will conduct NAPLAN. So where does that leave their secondary colleagues?
    So how do Principals “Plan School” after the middle of May when relationships are strained at the very least?
    Divide and conquer comes to mind.
    I think your statement that teachers are being asked to adopt an activist stance on behalf of an unknowing and helpless public is glib, superficial, one-dimensional and somewhat offensive to teachers and to our students. Its the students that matter, its the students whose interests are at stake, its the students who unltimately bear the brunt of misinformation and its the students whose future and wellbeing we need to protect. Sure, opinions are formed by the public and the effect of these opinions can be quite domino-like, but ultimately it always comes back to our students and the impact on them.
    I find it disturbing in this instance however, that the so called “rank and file” has actually not been consulted and so the concept of a fair go within a society that values equity, integrity, deomocracy and negotiation is funadamentally flawed.
    So what are we fighting for?
    I might say, self preservation at this point.

  3. James.B Says:

    I’d like to raise two things that this blog has commented on.


    You wrote:
    Why do we still blindly buy the idea that an Australian government will fall sheeplike, into the production of a facsimile OFSTED or NCLB?

    While describing it as ‘sheeplike’ can be seen as overly provocative, there are many people (teachers being some of them) who believe that American/British (Some call it Western) ideologies eventually become part of the Australian discourse regardless of their critique. One only has too look at the sweeping ideological changes towards market liberation by Thatcher and Reagan that was eventually accepted and implemented by the Howard Government. An ideology that has now become firm Australian rhetoric, so, if this has transcended so successfully, couldn’t you than argue that its more than possible that Neoliberal educational policies such as OFSTED and NLCB are around the corner. Especially when our Education Minster is a big fan of the UK education system. Surely, there is a reason to be concerned? and possibly pre-emptive?

    I worked in the UK system only two years ago, I was a bit concerned about a program that placed people with no Educational background and only 6 weeks training into schools as teachers. I was even more concerned when I was asked to be their mentor, being only three years out myself, I was very hesitant. Now, we are seeing it in Australia. Its called Teach for Australia. Its only in Victoria at this point, however there are plans to expand. I have voiced my concern through a variety of mediums (one of them being twitter) about how this will damage the reputation of the teacher, devalue their role in society and ultimately hinder the educational benefits to students. Was I wrong to voice my concern? Was I wrong to ‘advocate on behalf of an unknowing and helpless public’.


    You wrote,

    ‘that they had an optimism that our communities would actually be intelligent enough to see beyond the hype of league tables in education’

    Hype? The Students of Mount Druitt High School 1997 would certainly not of seen it as hype when a Tabloid newspaper labelled them ‘The Class We Failed’. Based on figures very similar to the league tables that are going around now the DT decided that it would discriminate an entire class. Are we wrong in being vocal that we DON’T want this to happen again?

    Transparency is vital within contemporary public schooling, however, irresponsible reporting of simplistic testing results is not.

    Teacher are taking an activist stance because they (as critical individuals) believe that what is happening is not right. Not because they want to shield a helpless public. I don’t believe its about trust.

  4. Roger Says:

    Thanks for the comments James.

    While we often refer back to the awful DT front page in 1997, it’s interesting what is reported in Wikipedia. (Scroll down a bit)


  5. Jan Green Says:

    I think if the discussion is to be about the contradiction between 21st Century schooling and a perception that unions are still operating from a position that hasn’t changed since The Depression; where its about “strength in unity and collective bargaining;” where we can successfully demonstrate how prohibition is an antiquated and unworkable concept; then your argument has legs.
    True enough that we value creativity for our students, Bloom in his taxonomy gives that authenticity, but yet when it comes to finding creative solutions to problems that affect the wellbeing and potential outcomes of students, we fall back on an outdated paradigm to voice concern.
    Its time to find a different, better way forward; a way that directly focuses on our students. I don’t know what that may be, but discussions such as these are important in creating that all important synergy.
    However I stand by my points that the current climate surrounding NAPLAN is stressful, unnecessary and quite likely a lose-lose situation. I don’t believe that we can create new directions, new meanings, new understandings this time. Too many people have a high degree of personal integrity tied up within and beyond the argument of NAPLAN, MySchool and league tables.
    As a school leader I have to provide support to everyone, but wonder where the support will come from when I make my decision about whether or not my school will conduct NAPLAN testing.

  6. Roger Says:

    My post sought to highlight the condundrums, or conundra, which exist in the rhetoric which surrounds educational planning and policy debate.
    It also asked a question related to the reasons why there is a massive pre-disposition to accept the decisions of one set of politically motivated people over another.

    I agree with Jonesy that politics has a huge role to play in the positions which a whole range of people adopt in these disputes.

    Surely it has to be acknowledged that politics also has a huge role to pay in the positions taken by unions. The factionalism across the range of left to right influences at state and national level on executives of unions has led to quite rapid shifts in various policy positions and re-negotiation of the various positions that the parties to ‘alliances’ may take, according to the unfolding nature of what is happening.

    Then, when we add to this the world wide campaign to re-invigorate union membership, the NSW ‘blitz’ model now being promoted nationally, and the tension for leaderships of a range of organisations to take policy positions which meet a range of needs, it is clear that ‘politics’ is very much a driver in industrial relations.

    A quick search can find a very long list of current and past MPs at every level who gained their seats via union representation and favourable pre-selections.

    Another search can see that reports of the position taken by industrial bodies, even in matters as recent as the current debate about NAPLAN, can vary widely.

    The following piece is interesting, for example.

    Yes, politics exists, and my point is that it is not simply the province of elected ‘politicians.’

    And my final comment related to whether or not we have taken the time to canvass the opinion of the parents of the students who it is believed will be the beneficiaries of this action. We talk often of community engagement and student voice. I was just wondering how much of the current advocacy was being done on the basis of the expressed views of what parents want.

  7. kmcg2375 Says:

    The answer to the parent question is that very little research/investigation has been done into what they want, from assessment, or from curriculum and pedagogy. Very little research has been done on students’ opinions either, despite them being a somewhat important stakeholder here. Despite this, however, people are always very quick to make claims about ‘what parents want’.

    To be fair to the teaching profession, however, surely there must come a point at which the people who have expertise in curriculum and assessment SHOULD be the ones to call the shots. This means teachers, teacher educators, and educational leaders – NOT politicians, or (I’m sorry) PARENTS. Certainly school communities have to work for social growth, and parents and students have needs and desires that must be met. But I fear that a simple approach of ‘let’s ask parents what they want’ will not necessarily yield a well-informed or educationally sound response. Please don’t mistake this for ‘parent bashing’! What I’m thinking of here is the example of mandatory A-E reporting…this was a reaction to parents’ claims that school reports were too jargonistic, and while those concerns certainly needed to be responded to, the reductive nature and massive backwards step of imposing A-E reporting was a destructive, educationally un-sound response, and not one that was in the best interests of students.

    I would argue that this situation was similar. If you did ask parents, I’ll bet they would say that they want NAPLAN to run (though this is just my suspicion, not evidence based). Does that mean it should? Are parents a more important stakeholder than students here? Are the (perceived) individual needs greater than (perceived) social needs? Should stakeholders be entitled to have a say when they are ill-informed about the decision they are involved in?

    The international research on the destructive power of league tables is staggering. In fact, there is also a lot of debate about the way we do literacy testing via NAPLAN. I recall a lot of opposition by English teachers at least when ELLA/NAPLAN was first introduced…in the end everyone was asked to just shut up and play nice ‘for the sake of the kids’, despite having grave concerns about how the data would be used. We were asked to ‘trust’ politicians and ‘the boss class’, and we carried out the testing in good faith. Good faith that has been betrayed.

    I have a lot of sympathy for school leaders, SEDs etc who are caught in the middle here. But I agree with Jan that emotions invoked by the word ‘trust’ are unfair to play on here. Because you are basically saying that if I personally don’t agree with running NAPLAN, then I, Kelli, DO NOT TRUST YOU, Roger, personally. That’s just not fair. This isn’t personal. I don’t hate or even mistrust the ‘boss class’.

    (despite the fact that all of these Principal’s rolling over and agreeing to run NAPLAN indicates that really, I should ‘mistrust’ them…!)

    The fact is that leaders face pressure from above and below, and pressure from above wins every time. Teachers know that. It is up to school leaders to balance the demands of a bureaucracy that must exist to ensure equity, but which at the same time damages the delivery of quality teaching because of the political nature of the beast.

    It is a conundrum. The important thing is to not take the criticism from teachers, or the directives from leaders, personally. All of our hands are tied on this one I’m afraid. And the unions have be the ones to fight the good fight, because the community must hear our message and school leaders just aren’t in a position to speak against their bosses on behalf of the teachers who oppose the misuse of NAPLAN data.

  8. Roger Says:

    Thanks for comment Kelli..In terms of asking people, this was a pretty big project in NSW http://bit.ly/96hc7G

  9. The nature of the beast « Kelli McGraw Says:

    [...] Roger is bang on when he says that there are so many conundra in education. [...]

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