Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Ministry of Mindcontrol is also the Ministry of Truth.


Guest Blog by Allan Alach

I had hoped to be able to write an education focussed article for once, but in today’s political climate, education is way off the agenda.

So we are now are in the next phase of the battle against national’s standards (which is what they really are), following the imposition of charters on to non-compliant schools by MiniMind, a.k.a Ministry of Mindcontrol a.k.a Ministry of Education.

It seems, from the reports of MiniMind threats to schools up north, that Orwell’s label “Ministry of Truth” (Minitrue) also be applied to MiniMind, to give us MiniMind & Minitrue.

For those who don’t know the story, on Friday September 10, two principals of small schools received a telephone call from a regional Ministry of Education official over the ‘disclaimers’ each school’s Board of Trustees (elected groups of parents to govern schools) had added as a protest against the forced inclusion of Ministry of Education defined targets in their school charters.

This Ministry official apparently told both principals that the disclaimer had to be removed by Monday or else a limited statutory manager would sent in to each school. The stories recounted by both principals are very similar. The Ministry, on the other hand, deny such phone conversations took place, or that the threat of limited statutory managers was made.

Two very different stories here. Someone is telling ‘porkies’ (a big lie - from the English rhyming slang 'porky pies', which rhymes with lies.)

Who do you think it is? The two principals who separately related their recollections of the phone calls, or the Ministry of Education, wearing their Minitrue hats?

Let’s take, at face value, the Ministry denial, that limited statutory managers are not being sent in to schools who are fighting national’s standards, and the forcibly imposed charter targets.

Why then is the Ministry approaching people to train them for a statutory manager’s role, with November 21 being mentioned as a possible date? What’s the significance of November 21, apart from being the Monday in the last week of the election campaign? I see that Kelvin Smythe has also picked up on this. Please note his advice over the use of the phrase ‘disclaimer.’

Looking at developments over time, connected with this planned strike against schools in the last week of the election campaign, we can discern a degree of increasing anxiety at higher levels that all is not running to plan. Have you noticed that the Ministry’s statements and actions keep changing? That what is acceptable one week, is not acceptable the following week? This makes it even more vital that we all hold fast until the election, at the very least.

Tragically, the Ministry of Education has been diverted from the role of supporting and developing education to becoming the policing arm of government. The aggressive attitude of the Ministry towards schools, regardless of their positions over national’s standards, is very disturbing. Note also that the government (and Minister of Education) is being very quiet on these moves against schools, leaving the Ministry to take the ‘bully boy’ role. Anything to do with the coming elections by any chance?

I am sure that many Boards of Trustees will have noticed that their national organisation, the New Zealand School Trustees Association (NZSTA), is extremely quiet over all this. Given that a significant proportion of their member school boards are under extreme pressure, one would think that this association would be providing support and guidance. Not a sound, it seems. What does this tell us about the political allegiances of the movers and shakers in key NZSTA positions? All we need to know, actually.

This year has seen many key people leaving the head office of the Ministry of Education, for unspecified reasons. It is very easy to speculate that these departures are linked, and that many people, those with principles, have walked out. We can also speculate that there are Ministry employees, both in the head office, and in regional offices, who are very uncomfortable with the position that they now find themselves in, but who cannot afford to quit. Horrible situation, and we need to have empathy for these people.

There is a third group however; those who are actively and enthusiastically implementing any aspect of the Ministry’s agenda, and especially those who have been appointed as Student Achievement Practitioners (SAPs.) What an appropriate acronym!

These ‘quislings’ have come from an extensive background of experience in education. Many are former principals who have now joined the Ministry’s version of East Germany’s Stasi secret police, tasked with ensuring that schools comply.

Kelvin Smythe, in his typical ‘take no prisoners’ manner, has addressed the role of SAPs in this posting SAPs being turned into goon squads.If you’ve not read this article, now would be a very good time.

Recently the Labour Party released their education policy for the coming election campaign. This policy has taken note of the concerns raised about national’s standards, and, if elected, Labour will make these standards voluntary, do away with the requirement to send data to the Ministry of Education ( no league tables) and switch the focus back to the achievement bands detailed in the New Zealand Curriculum.

This is essentially a move back to the pre-national’s standards situation, although Labour have covered their bases by maintaining a focus on ‘raising achievement’, as Labour education spokesperson Sue Moroney writes in this Waikato Times article,

Labour will set high expectations for each student according to his or her individual ability – we call it "Reaching for the Stars." We'll also make sure parents get clear and regular feedback on their child's progress against the New Zealand curriculum. We know that children achieve more when their parents are actively involved in their education. That's why Labour will require schools to report in plain language to parents about how their child is achieving, what progress they have made and agree on what the next learning steps are.
Schools will be required to use nationally recognised assessment tools and teacher judgment to inform parents, so they can be actively involved in their children's education.

Any move away from national’s standards, the rhetoric such as “raising the bar and aspirational achievement”, league tables, and the underlying school effectiveness agendas, is extremely welcome. While it needs to be acknowledged that there were political considerations involved on the drafting of this policy, it is also very clear that the battle for education has a long way to go, in order to excise every little piece of the ‘raising achievement’ cancer, so that a child’s true educational development becomes the focus, not just better “reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic.”

Recent correspondence with many people overseas, such as Phil Cullen in Australia, and those behind the United Opt Out website in the USA, has proven beyond doubt that national’s standards, and all that lie behind these, are part of an international agenda. This has come as rather a big shock to our USA colleagues, who were stunned to find out that both Australia, and New Zealand, two countries held in very high regard in US education circles, were being taken down the standards road.

To illustrate this, here is a comment from Yetta Goodman, internationally recognised authority on reading:

How sorry to hear that the country that has been a model for curriculum that is constructivist and supported teachers to negotiate curriculum with their students since at least the 1930's is being influenced by the U.S. And your model produces better results (international tests) then most other countries. You are often listed in the the attack on schools in the U.S.

re: test scores as one of the highest scoring countries in the world. I remember when we were in New Zealand years ago, the curriculum being presented at that time was being circulated for a two year period so parents could respond to it as well as educational professionals. Please resist the imposition of high stakes tests. New Zealanders have all kinds of ways to evaluation/assess their students in their classrooms. Your pedagogy has been influential in establishing holistic teaching experiences for students in the U.S.?

Your post should help us all realize that the testing impositions used to make high stakes decisions are not simple issue just plaguing the U.S. The issues are global and we need to understand the underlying causes for such international responses to the education of our populations. We heard so many similar issues as are being raised in this blog being stated at the European Reading Association in Belgium this summer.”

The next two months will be crucial for the school experiences of today’s school children, for children still to start school, and those yet to be born.

National’s standards are a side road on the journey to a much worse destination!

What can you do?
Share these links with others

Write to:
  • The Prime Minister
  • The Leaders of Labour, Green, Maori, and Mana political parties
  • Your local member of Parliament
  • Your local newspaper
  • The New Zealand School Trustees Association.
Talk to as many people as possible:
  • Two hundred thousand concerned voters will stop this.
Are you prepared to take up the battle? Are you able to debate from a very informed position?

If not, why?
  • Too busy?
  • Different priorities?
  • Head in the sand?
What’s the worst that could happen?
Tragically, many of us will be able to say “I told you so.”

Let’s not go there.

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