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education

Digging

I’ve been at a school of late, getting a sense of things.

On this particular day, many of the older kids have decided to spend lunch time in the sandpit, a place usually reserved for the littlies. They begin to dig deep holes until they are past the sand and into the earth below. The ‘problem’ boy is getting left out and desperately wants to explore the depths. But now all the spades have been taken. Melt down time. ‘Have a look in the equipment room.’ ‘They’ve all gone.’ He despairs and I go and find him a broken piece of plastic- that’ll do. A moment of parenting. He starts digging. Clay is found and possible flecks of gold. ‘We’ll need to screen it.’ These kids know about gold mining. Water is brought and the clay dug and washed. A teacher hovers – is this quite proper? Thankfully she goes. The clay is soaked in buckets of water. The problem boy has also discovered a layer of clay and is joined by another. Now he is part of the group. Dirty hands, dirty clothes. Seeking.

But the bell goes. The whole lunchtime has provided a wonderful topic for writing, and/or the clay could be used for a pottery session. But no, the task is a, ‘Be inspired by an achiever’ exercise, with quotes from Steve Adams and Richie McCaw and whoever… ‘Dream your dreams’ or ‘You are the dream’. Write an ad for Nike based on this neo liberal garbage. Conveniently forget that for every ‘success’ there are millions of ‘failures’.

This late capitalist propaganda is extraordinarily prevalent. Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book was nothing compared to this. And who’s controlling it? Who’s promoting it? Who’s telling the schools to indoctrinate the kids with this celebrity shit?

And now the new fad, predictive analytics, the gathering of metadata to predict the troubled kids before they turn up, so that ‘support’ is available (‘support’ meaning some psychological snake oil about stress and anger levels). George Orwell was onto it, but couldn’t imagine the tools now available. Freire’s basing of education on what people know, on their world, has become a distant dream.

It’s time for the bureaucrats and the teachers to get back into the sandpit and join the kids in digging for gold.

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The coming election – the real issue

NZEI meeting

Kate Fulton (Green Party), Michelle Lomax and Damien O’Connor (Labour) – photo Rory Paterson.

I attended the first candidates’ meeting, called by the local branch of the NZEI – the primary and preschool teachers and support staff union. The candidates were asked to present their relevant policy, followed by discussion. Only Labour and Greens were able or willing to attend, which made for a focused event.

Both parties have been listening to NZEI and they both promise a funding boost, are both against charter schools, are both keen to see support staff properly recompensed, are wary of the Community of Learning model (COLS), which could turn into managerial rather than board of trustee governance at the local level and were suspicious of COOLS (Communities Of Online Learning) as being a way of undermining the teaching profession. I would be paranoid about a Ministry that comes up with such dumb acronyms. Damien O’Connor, sharing that paranoia, saw National as being determined to break down the solidarity of the teachers union.

In the discussion, the teachers yearned for greater autonomy for schools to deal with the issues they are facing, rather than having to jump through the myriad hoops held up by agencies supposedly there to help. Often these agencies will simply restate what is obvious to the teachers, offer no solutions and instead make for further form filling for already hard-pressed teachers. They wanted smaller class sizes for obvious reasons. There were reports of having to deal with ever increasing numbers of special needs children and families in crisis – caused by increasing identification of special needs but also caused by poverty. Homelessness is not an issue on the Coast, but the meeting had to consider how a teacher deals with a student who has spent the night in a car.

As the discussion continued, I realised that what educators are faced with, and what we are more generally faced with, are the results of the ideology of managerialism (the organisational model of neo-liberalism) being applied to the education system. It has been similarly applied to health and social services, including housing.

Managerialism was first practised by Nissan Car Manufacturing (it is sometimes called the Nissan Method) and involves stressing the production line (in car assembling that involves speeding up the line – that way you get greater output) until it breaks down. When it does so, you apply some further resources at that spot. It also involves just in time resourcing rather than having to warehouse raw materials. The focus is on outputs (that’s where you get your money and earn your profits) rather than inputs. In manufacturing it increases efficiency and therefore profit. Workers are stressed but expendable. The whole system runs on anxiety and greed.

When applied to education, health and social services, it sets up intolerable tensions. In the past, these systems have focused on inputs: What do you give a student? What does a family require? What makes for health? But suddenly it is about the numbers achieving a national standard, the number of operations, social housing as a precise output, number of social work cases processed…

In education, teachers and parents have resisted the methodology, but nevertheless, the attempts to impose it continue and produce stresses which can overwhelm – someone told me that at the moment, two principals resign every week. National Standards (measurable outputs), Charter Schools (let education become a market), under resourcing, imposing a managerial model, performance pay, bulk funding have all been imposed or attempted to be imposed by National. Mangerialism has now penetrated all areas of society as an ideology, including government departments. It has become the only game in town.

Of course, some technical adjustments within managerialism are useful, but the real issue is to get rid of the ideology and that now requires a revolution. Only when that revolution is proposed do people become energised electorally.

So far, that’s not happening and the election, while still important, is promising to be a relatively dull affair.

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