Tuesday, November 24, 2009

National Standards or political dogma

School principals need to have a vision, no matter how undefined, and a set of shared beliefs to propel their imagined waka into an unknown future. Imposed distractions must be ignored.

I am off to the far north this week to share my ideas of the dangers implicit in politically imposed national standards which will take schools attention away from the New Zealand Curriculum.

This blog is an attempt to clarify what I want to say.

I used to be totally opposed to the previous New Zealand Curriculum (NZCF) and all those who 'delivered' it to schools through predefined Ministry contracts. It was an incoherent curriculum; a futile attempt to impose an impossible confusion of strands, levels and countless learning objectives. It was all about accountability, measurement and and efficiency. This all changed for me with the introduction of the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum (NZC).

Since the introduction of the earlier NZCF the creativity of teachers has been at risk as formulaic 'best practices' have been imposed on schools; practices devised by distant 'experts' seeing clearly what is need in their Ivory towers.

Sharing the ideas of creative teachers has aways been the driving force in the work I do in schools. Interestingly the far North was the home of our most important pioneer creative teacher - Elwyn Richardson. It is to such teachers we should be looking to for inspiration. If we are not alert national standards could well be the last straw for such creativity.

We must do everything we can to ensure the implementation of such standards do not distort, distract, or divert us from belief in the creativity of teachers and students.

Let's be clear national standards are pure political dogma. A political interference that has not worked in countries that it has been introduced notably the UK where , combined with demeaning 'league tables' it has all but destroyed their education system to the point that a recent report( the Cambridge Review) is asking their government to introduce a curriculum which looks very much like our own new NZC.

Ironically the Cambridge Review was announced in the same week our government presented its reactionary standards policy.

It seems the Ministry can find few 'experts' to back up 'their' standards implementation. My impression is that the technocrats who work for the Ministry are too busy learning to dance to the tunes of their new masters - and in the process putting their personal integrity at risk. Even John Hattie, once a Ministry favourite, has come out against the standards. Who are their tame experts?

Lester Flockton writes that, make no mistake, the standards are not neutral; they reflect the ideology of those who wish to implement them. Kelvin Smythe has said that 'the standards will become the de facto curriculum enforced by the Education Review Office'.

And what is the rationale for the standards? If it is to find out which children are currently failing (our 'achievement tail')well we know that already through the National Monitoring Programme (NEMP).And we know this 'tail' represents wider issues of poverty beyond the scope of the school to solve by themselves. And we know that it is the quality of teachers that make the biggest difference. This is where we ought to be putting our emphasis. Terry Crooks (of NEMP) has said that the issue is not one of testing it is one of motivation - and motivation depends on the insight creative teachers.

The government is determined to place dogma ahead of creativity and imagination, qualities that are already at risk by a decade or so of Ministry imposed formulaic conforming 'best practices. Elwyn Richardson would be appalled if he were to see what currently passes for creative art, language or student research.

Andy Hargreaves has written about Four Worlds of Change since the Second World War. The first the 60s/70s an age of creativity but all too often determined by the 'lottery' of getting a creative teacher. The Second World was the result of the Market Forces Efficiency model - all those measurable strands levels and objectives. Rationality gone mad - led by the same Ministry technocrats we now are being led by! As this proved impossible this morphed into the Third World with its narrowing focus on literacy and numeracy targets. With targets it is not what you hit that counts it is what you miss because you weren't looking! As a result literacy and numeracy have, according to one commentator, have 'all but gobbled up the rest of the curriculum'. Creativity was now at at real risk.

And then the Fourth World represented well by our 'new' New Zealand Curriculum.
Elwyn, and his creative antecedents would see this curriculum as 'back to the future!'. Creativity and imagination seemed poised to return to centre stage.It was to be the 60s again but this time to be done better through schools networking with each other.

And along comes the National Standards and New Zealand seems set to lose its leadership role in developing a 21st Century education system. National standards have more than a 'whiff of the Victorian Era about them' no matter what the ministry apologists say. At best it is a 'big brother' imposition - 'free market Stalinism'.

All the art advisers, and the like, that add valuable dimensions to student learning and teacher education, are to be replaced by literacy and numeracy advisers - referred to as 'literacy Nazis' in the USA. All so sad and misguided.

This narrow minded approach neglects the power of transformational experiences, the essence of creative teaching, that can turn failing students into learners - the motivation of Terry Crooks. Teaching, Jerome Bruner writes,' is the canny art of intellectual temptation'. The Te Kotahitanga research of Russell Bishop has shown it is about valuing students' voice, identity and culture; about respectful relationships

Guy Claxton in his book, aptly named 'Whats the Point of School', believes that the desire to learn ( he calls this 'learnacy') is as important as literacy and numeracy. Creativity expert, Sir Ken Robinson, writes that 'creativity is as important as literacy and numeracy' and that schools need to focus on finding what every learner is good at and then amplifying their gifts and talents.

Simple stuff and yet the government, without real evidence , is set on imposed their failed national standards. They, of course, say they have developed a better model! it is simplicity disguised as truth - one dimension thinking lacking any real debate. What it will mean is that every student will be tested twice year ( 16 times at primary school). Many will be found below average and will stay there - that is unless our Minister thinks that we can make them all above average with good teaching! Failure will stick and society will pay the price for such idiocy.

I am for standing up against such simplistic educational nonsense. It panders to the public anxiety stirred by the current government for their own ends. It will prove to be giant error no matter the Ministry's justifications. It will not solve the growing disengagement of our students who simply can't see the point of our antiquated school system with its genesis in a past century. The standards are a reversion to the failed market forces model. Standardisation is over - we now live in an age of ideas and imagination, some are calling it a 'second Renaissance; our schools need to reflect such exciting future thinking.

I am for creative teaching - it was once the New Zealand way. We need an updated vision building on the ideas of Dr Beeby ( who developed such ideas in the 1940s) - a creative personalised learning pathway is required for every student.

I am for the intent of the 'new' NZC.

Our students are entering a new millennium - they will need 'new minds', new dispositions, to thrive, to face up future uncertainty and ambiguity, and to solve problems we currently seem unable to face up to. Literacy and numeracy are important but they will not be enough and an over emphasis on them will distort our teaching and sacrifice our very students survival. They deserve better. We deserve better.

With apologies to Martin Luther King, I have a dream of a creative education that releases the gifts and talents of all our students. And, like folk singer Pete Seeger's hymn of the 60s civil rights movement, if we stick together 'we shall overcome some day'.

We will need real leadership. Creative teaching - developing the gifts and talents of all our students is 'worth fighting for'.

Our kids deserve our best efforts.

Kia kaha


Anonymous said...

Do you see creative education as different from what is seen in many primary classroons today? If so what are the differences in your eyes? Was the creative education you refer to ever common in schools? How do we get back to such creativity?

Bruce said...

Great gathering in the far North. Ministry people unable to convicingly express why we need national standards - except that the politicians want them. All teacher groups should refuse to implement them until full consultation has taken place.

Creative eduction helps chidren learn to be who they are - it builds on their gifts, talents and curiosities. Most schooling is teachers getting their students to do what teachers want. This is not creative education - it is teachers know best.

Anonymous said...

Do teachers have the courage to confront the government -even just by insisting on greater time to reflect on the standards. Once they think standards a done deal teachers will have lost and time will show it to be a terrible mistake.

Bruce said...

Put simpy - National Standards are a return to centralised control of education.