Friday, June 17, 2011

Time for moral courage -will the real leaders stand up!

I have been impressed with the writings of Kelvin Smythe and, with his permission, I have selected some of his thoughts to shareHe is calling for moral courage to be shown by principals and teachers in the face of  increasing authoritarianism - of a state imposed regime of education that has little to do with what most teachers  hold dear to them.

Teachers , increasingly, now live in surveillance culture where compliance is becoming a way of life. 

 There are courageous schools who stand against such impositions while others show a growing corrosion of character and fall into compliance mode -who go along to get a long. And, worse still, there are a few who see current doctrinal  directions as as worthwhile!

It is time for teachers to organize themselves ( Kelvin provides valuable ideas to consider) and to make a moral stand. What is needed is for a few people to notice what is happening and refuse to tolerate with impositions that will eventually destroy the creativity of the students they teach. Such people need to care enough to link up with others and to take  steps to confront those who would wish to destroy the creativity of our schools.

The appointment of the Student Achievement Practitioners SAPS ( an appropriate name) have tremendous implications for schools if they wish to value the creative diversity of their communities, teachers and  their students. It is ironic that a Government which believes in initiative, enterprise and personal choice  should introduce such a 'one size fits all'  standardised approach - free market Stalinist. Schools are to be run by  a political ideology that has long since passed its use by date. Political superficial populism and Orwellian 'double speak'  is to replace  a democratic and liberal education -an holistic approach that New Zealand was  once highly regarded for. Now we follow the United Kingdom, American Australian down a path that has nothing to do with creativity and innovation.

How long can schools stand by and be part of it all. 

Kevin writes:

'As Orwell explained, because people feel they are such decent, honest, hardworking people, they think that they couldn’t really be caught up in something immoral. But as Orwell further explained, immoral organisations depend on decent, honest, hardworking people fronting for that immorality.

Sophie Scholl, who has had a German film made of her short life (1921-1943), was brought to my attention by Clive James in his monumental book of essays, Cultural Amnesia.

Hans, her brother, did his best to keep his sister out of the White Rose resistance group, but she insisted. They managed to distribute a few handbills before, inevitably, they were captured. Hans and Sophie, from a well-educated German family had glittering Nazi futures, were a few of the very few Germans to protest the treatment of the Jews. Throughout her interrogation, the Gestapo offered her a choice of freedom if she recanted, a choice not extended to her brother. Plans by the Munich party office to publicly hang them were scrapped for fear of the resultant publicity. She walked bravely to guillotine, glanced up at the steel, said not a word, put her head down and was gone.

She had borne witness to goodness against evil, and in doing that provided a point of idealism for her country to begin regeneration.

The real damage is done,’ she had said, ‘by those millions who want to survive. The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own weaknesses. Those who don’t like to make waves – or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature.’

In some ways, these people she speaks of are, to some extent, all of us, but there are still some who will rise to her challenge.

But what of those people who go beyond acquiescence to active participation and become the willing executioners of our ideals? History is replete with such people, and perhaps it is wrong of me, but for them I feel a sharpening bitterness'.

In another posting Kelvin continues:

'I remind readers of Sophie Scholl (from the last posting) of the way she was witness to goodness against evil, and in doing that provided a point of idealism for Germany to begin regeneration.

I have a tremendous feeling of urgency about all this.

It must happen now or it might as well never happen'.

Those schools that have stood out from national standards – yes their numbers will reduce in the face of a brutal use of political power, but those that remain are witnesses for all schools who oppose national standards but, for one reason or another, have been unable to stand out.

We must support these stand-out schools both locally and nationally in a number of ways. They are witnesses for the best in education, for our education heritage and, no matter what happens, when these bad times are over, their example will be crucial for education’s regeneration.

How we respond will be our measure and the measure of the organisations that represent us'.

Lets hope we have the equivalent of Sophie Scholl leading some of our schools.


Anonymous said...

I agree that their seems to be an increase in being told what to do from our Minister and the MOE. I agree completely that they(National Standards) are an utter waste of time etc, however - as a principal we also have to listen to our community, our Boards and also, to a degree, "toe the line". I take my hat off to those schools and principals who have spoken against the National Standards and are opposing their implementation as best they can. This involves a tremendous amount of work, educating of Boards and community and risk taking.
However, I am growing tired of people "on the outside of principalship" having a go at us about not standing up against things like National Standards. From where I sit, it seems much easier to write an opinion piece on "real leaders standing up" than it is to be a principal these days. Not only do we have the Minister bagging us, now it seems we have commentators who have long since left working in schools feeling they can also have a go at us as well. Drawing comparisons between Nazi Germany etc and what is happening in education in NZ is deplorable in my opinion.
I wish someone would present a well balanced argument rather than the emotive rhetoric we are blasted with every day.
I commend all school principals who have the courage to lead their school as best they can each and every day - we are all real leaders, no matter what others may want us to believe.

Bruce said...

If things are a 'waste of time' then something needs to be done?

If school principals simply 'toe the line' then they are more 'managers' than 'leaders' in my definition of a leader.

Tired as you may well be outsiders commenting such individuals will continue because there is an important moral issue here - not though if you do not see anything to worry about.However it seems you do?

I always find it interesting that those who aren't school principals ought not have the right to comment. Schools do not belong to principals - they ought to belong to the wider community.

Plenty of 'well balanced' argument in the NZPPF March Magazine to think about.

The story of anyone like Sophie Scholl, who stood up to imposed authoritry, is worth thinking about.

Our moral dilemma isn't of the same degree but it still has to be faced up to. Thank goodness it isn't Nazi Germany. At least we won't lose our heads!

Anonymous said...

It is about time principals like 'opiki' realized it doesn't take courage, or leadership, to go along with the status quo.

Schools, and teacher organisations, need to work with each other along the lines Kelvin Smythe suggests, or join in with Perry Rush's ( Island Bay) group. Or form local groups for mutual support.

And keep up the good work. We need people like yourself, Kelvin Smythe, Lester Flockton and others to give courage for principals to be real leaders able stand up against anti educational political ideology. An ideology that has been shown to fail wherever it has been implemented.

Allan Alach said...

Contrary to Opiki, I believe that we all must continue to fight with everything we've got, whether that's tiring or regardless of the head wind we have to struggle against.

Benjamin Franklin said "We must all hang together, gentlemen, else, we shall most assuredly hang separately" as he signed the US Declaration of Independence, and this is extremely relevant to our situation.

We need all school communities, BOT, principals and teachers to stand shoulder to shoulder against the standards and the underlying (and yet to revealed) ideology. This is our best defence, or else, as Franklin says, we will be picked off one by one. Read Kelvin's latest post, where he publishes a letter by Pat Newman, if you don't think that is going to happen.

Communities (especially parents) need to be well informed about the whole curriculum, and about what and how children are doing . The National government cleverly targeted their lack of knowledge by raising fears that their children were failing - hence the very inaccurate '1 in 5 children are failing.' How about, to use the same dubious data, saying that 4 out 5 are doing very well?

Informing our communities about all our successes is vital, to show that NZ schools are indeed leading the world in providing a full education, rather than the narrow '3Rs' focus of the government. It's my experience that parents really want their children to have a full breadth of educational opportunities.

Competence in the 'basics' which is another variation of the '3Rs' that was current a couple of decades ago, provides the key skills for the rest of the learning to occur. That's not rocket science, and in my experience, parents (including BOT) are very receptive to this explanation and its been interesting to observe the softening of the BOT's attitude towards standards as we've promoted all the wonderful things that happen around the school.

I take issue with Opiki's statement about outside commentators who "have long since left working in schools feeling they can also have a go at us as well". It is the long years of experience that gives you, Kelvin and Lester, the wisdom to see the dire trends facing us and the authoritative voice to bring this to the forefront.

I guess we could could use the analogy of a sports coach, who observes the game from the sideline, sees things that the players don't see because they are too engrossed in the game and the moment, to see the bigger picture. The coach then brings his/her knowledge and experience to developing the way forward. We need the input of you commentators for exactly the same reason. We're too busy on the day to day stuff to really have time to look at the 'big picture'. Keep it up, we need you!

Bruce said...

Well said Allan. You have to wonder why people like Kelvin, Lester and myself ( and others) keep on doing our best to keep the dream of a creative education alive? It is because we have 'seen the promised land' but now see it receding into the distance with the imposition of a shallow populist political agenda. It is still a dream worth pursuing. What are the alternatives? Teachers delivering what they are told to and then to be checked up on by SAPS and ERO!