Friday, April 26, 2013

Educational Readings : Hate school -love education!!

By Allan Alach

There was a wealth of excellent articles to chose from for this week’s list of readings. Make sure you watch the “Why I hate school but love education’ video - very powerful and, to my mind, very true. The series of articles about national standards will keep you out of trouble for quite some time - they are lengthy but extremely well researched and presented, and so are possibly the defining statements about the attempts to impose standardised learning in New Zealand.

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

This week’s homework!

In an Era of Global Competition, What Exactly Are We Testing For?

World renowned educator Yong Zhao finds that ‘...the countries with lower scores had students who reported higher interest in the subjects,’ and further,  If the stated goal is to get kids ready for careers, and careers demand confidence, creativity, and an entrepreneurial attitude, then why focus on test scores that seem to produce the opposite effect?’

Don’t Mandate Cursive Writing

‘In their eagerness to drag the schools and children of their states back to the early 20th century, legislators in North Carolina and South Carolina want to mandate the teaching of cursive writing. In this comment, handwriting expert Kate Gladstone explains why the cursive mandate is a bad idea.’

Education Discussion: The History and Evolution of Standardized Testing

While some of this article isn’t that relevant, it does provide food for thought, regardless of whether the tests are used for ranking purposes (summative) or in an attempt to provide diagnostic information (formative).

The break-things-into-bits mistake we have been making in education for centuries – happening today with standards

Dewey’s point is clear even if the writing is dense: so-called analysis of things into bits for the purpose of learning the whole has no basis in cognitive psychology or epistemology. Indeed, as he says just after, it is a case of putting the cart before the horse. Distinctions are made when we need them in the service of understanding. Learning an endless array of distinctions and their names prior to encountering the whole and interesting problems that require analysis yields no meaning and merely verbal knowledge.’

Is It Possible to Measure Creativity?

What do you think? I have my doubts.

Why I Hate School But Love Education

‘As the cyclical and seemingly never ending debate about education rages on, the topic - somewhat ironically, often poses more questions than it provides answers.But what is the value of mainstream schooling? Why is it that some of the most high profile and successful figures within the Western world openly admit to never having completed any form of higher learning?

Pink Floyd 'We don't want your education....'
Indeed. We must not confuse education with schooling. Two different things altogether, yet this is the club used by GERMers to justify ‘deform.’

National Standards and Neanderthals – “They will know what is required …”
Here is a series of three very comprehensive articles about national standards in New Zealand, with much relevance to other countries as well.  This is a superb analysis.

‘It’s pretty clear from the documentation that National Standards ‘double down’ on the directing and controlling aspects of education that have been at the heart of modern schooling since its inception. But there’s a subtler point to be made about what this rhetoric indicates about the actual – as opposed to claimed – role of National Standards.

The role is not, in fact, to enhance learning – or the capacity to learn (‘learning how to learn’). It is about directing learning to achieve a progression within a subject area.’

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Educational Readings - some interesting odds and ends !

By Allan Alach

New Zealand teachers and children have now completed the end of term one and now have two weeks break until next term. I stopped referring to these breaks as school holidays a number of years ago, as this conveys the wrong impression to people who are ignorant of the demands of teaching. Instead this break consists of a week or so for teachers to recover and recharge (this can be viewed as sick leave), while in the second week teachers’s thoughts turn to preparation for the coming term.  Not much of a ‘holiday,’ is it?

This week’s articles are a collection of odds and ends!

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

This week’s homework!

The myth of learning styles

Prepare to be challenged….

Charter schools are not about charter schools

This article by Kelvin Smythe is a superb appraisal of the charter school agenda in New Zealand, and which can easily be adapted to describe similar movements in other countries.

Thanks to Bruce Hammonds for the following links.

Banned TED Talk: Nick Hanauer "Rich people don't create jobs"

Worth watching for the first time, second time, third time ….

Ernesto Sirolli: Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!

“When most well-intentioned aid workers hear of a problem they think they can fix, they go to work. This, Ernesto Sirolli suggests, is na├»ve. In this funny and impassioned talk, he proposes that the first step is to listen to the people you're trying to help, and tap into their own entrepreneurial spirit. His advice on what works will help any entrepreneur.”

I suggest this applies equally well to teachers! What do you think?

Why Rising Test Scores May Not Mean Increased Learning.

‘A rise in test scores leads most people to believe good things are happening in their schools. Not unreasonably, politicians and parents alike infer that students have learned more when test scores go up. But since the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law was passed that inference may be unwarranted. Sadly, there are numerous reasons why rising test scores may not be related to increases in student learning.’

A Dog in the Barn: Parallels in Teaching and Parenting

Reflect on this.
I'm cleverer than you think!!

Moral behavior in animals

Now for something completely different….

Friday, April 19, 2013

Einstein, Darwin, da Vinci & Mozart et all - lessons from the Masters. Based on the book 'Mastery' by Robert Greene.

I listened to an interview on National Radio with Robert Greene about his book Mastery and felt inspired to acquire his book.
Developing an education system premised on developing the talents and gifts of all students has always been my vision. Unfortunately schooling has been more about standardisation and conformity – sorting and grading of students. National Standards with its emphasis on literacy and numeracy at the expense of other areas of endeavour, is the most recent iteration of this standardised approach.

The alternative is an emphasis on personalisation of learning; an education premised on the centrality of developing student creativity - building on the default way of learning innate in all learners.

Although there have been individual teachers who have developed creative classrooms most classrooms could be classified as benign environments where students achieve success by achieving teacher determined objectives.
Robert Greene’s fascinating book, by using examples of masters past and present, illustrates vital lessons about how teachers could develop their classrooms as true creative learning communities. The power he outlines is the process that leads to mastery – one that is available to all of us.
Essentially in whenever we are learning something new at the beginning we are outsiders and the process of achieving mastery seems confusing as we realise how much there is to learn. Many people, living in a world of instant gratification, give up at this point.
If we get past such feelings, and by following the lead of others, by observing, by practice and effort we gain basic skills and in turn gain some success and gain in confidence. As time goes by mastery is developed.
There are three stages in this process. The first is apprenticeship where we are outsiders, watching and learning. The second stage, through much practice and immersion we gain a more comprehensive understanding and in the third we internalise what has been learnt and can apply ourselves intuitively. We have moved from novice to relative expertise.
We all had this intuitive spontaneous way of learning when we were young but it is generally drummed out of us by an overload of information, by a conformist education system, and by the belief that only a few geniuses achieve mastery and that these people have ‘natural talent’ not available to the rest of us
Greene’s thesis is that mastery is a latent power in all of us and that we can reverse bad learning habits and recover from misconceptions about our ability to learn.
Greene shares fascinating insights from a number of ‘talented’ people to show that their success was down to a process we can all access.  The beginning of success is an early identification of areas of interest, an interest that allows them to stand the pain of practice. Successful people rely on desire, persistence and practice rather than reasoning power.
Too many of us simply don’t try. The less we attempt the less chance of failure. It is important to understand that other people’s success is due to their actions not genetics and privilege.
As teachers we need to focus on what it is that individual students are interested in. It was an interest in nature that drove Darwin, an obsession with observing that drove Leonardo da Vinci and an interest in magnetic force as a five year old that drove Einstein – Darwin , Einstein and da Vinci became obsessed with the search and the process of creating. The 2007 New Zealand Curriculum echoes this process by saying every student should ‘seek, use and create their own knowledge’.
Teachers need to reconnect their students with their inclinations - we need, it seems, ‘learning recovery’ and do everything to help students to develop areas of personal interests to contribute to ensuring purpose in their lives.
Teachers need to provide a varied diet of experiences to provide opportunities to attract and engage student’s attention. Creative teachers know this. Real curriculums emerge through shared inquiry not delivered by outside experts.
Once students involve themselves in their own learning they need to value their strengths not their limitations and to value the importance of effort and practice.  Stickablity. Many examples of those referred to in the book who have achieved mastery did so by ignoring their limitations and by building on their strengths.  It would seem important for teachers to assist their students achieve a sense of mastery by doing fewer things well and to allow their students to dig deeply into areas of personal concern so as to produce results of personal excellence.
‘Hardwiring of creative power’ cannot occur in classrooms where students are constantly distracted moving from one task or class to another. Once an action becomes automatic, through experience and practice, students gain the mental space to reflect on their action – to work on areas needing improvement – which in turn brings greater skills and more pleasure.
There is research that shows that anyone who achieves a high level of skill have put in over 10000 hours of focussed practice and this applies to composers, chess players, writers and athletes.
And once skill and confidence is achieved through time and practice then it is possible to move to experimentation and true creativity – learning has become second nature.
Unfortunately schools, as they are currently arranged, values reasoning with word and numbers above making and building. Academic success is valued above practical hands on exploring. Creativity is limited to superficial decorative ideas. As a result many creative students have little opportunity to value their talents and worse still feel disengaged from learning and leave feeling failures.
Greene’s book writes about the importance of mentors in the lives of creative people. A good mentor (or teacher) does not shortcut the learning process but streamlines it. They observe and give real time feedback making practice time more efficient. Ideally, if you are creative teacher practicing in creative activities yourself students absorb from you the essence of creativity. Mentors provide support, confidence and allow students time and space to discover things for themselves. This is in conflict with the deterministic and formulaic teaching models most schools seem to base their programmes on. Mentors also practice ‘tough love’ by providing constructive criticism. Students while needing to be receptive to their mentor’s ideas must also avoid falling under their spell. Students need to cultivate some distance to develop their own unique ideas. A look around many schools shows an unsettling conformity of student learning – even in such a creative subject as art.
Greene’s book explores the full range of human talents including social intelligence writing that empathetic skills are as important as reasoning ones – it is notable that such vital skills are ignored by the National Standards which limit their judgments to success in literacy and numeracy. Those who show empathy mastery are able to immerse their minds in the world of others. An acceptance of every learner’s backgrounds and cultures is a vital skill for teachers.
One feature of creative individuals Greene mentions is what the poet John Keats called ‘negative capability’ – the ability to live through uncertainty and doubts. Current pre-determined school programmes are in conflict with this acceptance of uncertainty. The human mind is naturally creative, it wants to explore but it is easily killed when we grow afraid of making mistakes. But it is equally true that we all possess the potential to recover the potential to be creative which ought to give hope to all teachers.
The secret is to widen the view of creativity and to get learners to appreciate the importance of time and effort. Students need to learn to face up positively to the inevitable failures and setbacks that are part of learning, to learn to cope with uncertainty, and most of all not to give up. Students also need to choose realistic tasks, ones which they have the requisite skills in place, and then to let go of the stifling need for certainty and security. Teachers can do much to encourage such attitudes.
The creative process goes through several stages that students to appreciate. The first is thing is to let the mind absorb ideas without judgement. This is Keats’s negative capability – the need for certainty is the greatest disease the mind faces.
It is interesting to learn that many profound discoveries occur when the mind is not directly concentrating on the problem. At such moments ideas unexpectedly enter the mind. Such chance associations are known as serendipity but this only occurs after information has been entered into the brain. Chance favours the prepared mind. Many creative masters find it valuable to go for walks, listen or play music but when a new idea enters consciousness then it is time for full attention.  As Greene writes discoveries are, ‘like seeds floating in space, require the soil of a highly prepared mind and an open mind to take root and sprout into a meaningful idea’.
In many classrooms, particularly teachers trying to get students to understand maths, we push understanding onto our students that make little sense to them. Students need teachers who listen to them, who understand what they are thinking and feeling, and who see the importance of more fun, less abstract, experiences to feed the minds need for connection. Most importantly such learners need to be given a new perspective about maths to allow them to enjoy and learn. Unfortunately students are taught by teachers whose approach to maths (and other learning areas) is negatively coloured by their own previous experiences.
There is a pattern in the lives of creative people. First there is the initial excitement coming from personal involvement. Then they gather all sorts of information followed by a shaping and narrowing of possibilities but such individuals are not easily satisfied with what they are doing, they entertain doubts but they plow forward.  They might take a break and temporarily work on something else. It seems that temporarily losing the initial excitement provides motivation to look at our work objectively and not to settle too early on an easy solution.
Greene suggests that the key is to be aware of this process, to live with doubts and to work towards solutions. If students think that learning is a simple linear process they will not succeed if they come across difficulty. Time is required, going slow is a virtue but so it seems are deadlines – with deadlines the mind rises to the occasion.
The premise Greene puts forward that if we can get our students creativity involved in learning that they are interested in they will not be so attracted by drugs alcohol and other dangerous activities. If this were the case our schools suffer from an ‘opportunity ‘rather than an ‘achievement gap’.
To become creative schools need to  focus on identifying students’ talents and gifts , to value their ‘voices’, and to ensure all students retain their innate learning identities. To ensure at all costs learners love learning for its own sake, to have open minds, to start out in unstructured manner and then to search and dig deeply about what attracts them.
In all areas of life, Greene writes, ‘we suffer from dead forms and conventions’ that detract from creativity. Schools, as currently structured, come to mind.
When you look at the creative work of Masters, you must not ignore the years of practice, the endless routines, the hours of doubt, and the tenacious overcoming of obstacles these people endured’.
Creativity is not the step by step rational evidence based learning schools often follow; the achievements of the Masters cannot be reduced to a formula but the process they go through is accessible to us all. The amazing abilities of the Masters has been achieved, it has been shown, by minds altered after approximately 10000 hours of practice and hard work. At this point they are able to act intuitively.
For students to achieve such high levels of mastery they need to be provided with qualitatively rich learning experiences where students are inspired to be engaged and where they are able to see personal connections – difficult in  current traditional fragmented school programmes where they are exposed to simplified ideas of reality and conventional ways of thinking. ‘Why’, writes Greene, ‘should any individual stop at poetry, or find art unrelated to science, or narrow his or her intellectual interests? The mind was designed to connect things, like a loom that knits together all of the threads of a fabric’
Greene writes that the greatest example is the Renaissance where the ideal was to connect all branches of learning and where there was no division between the arts and the sciences.  Perhaps today’, he writes, ‘we are witnessing the early signs of a return to reality, a Renaissance in modern form’ with ‘the artificial barriers between the arts and the sciences will melt away’.
Imagine if students were immersed in a creative personalised culture at school rather than the increasingly standardised experience we have today?
Mastery’, Greene writes, ‘is not a question of genetics or luck, but by following your natural inclinations and the deep desire that stirs from within. Everyone has such inclinations…something (that) marked you from birth as unique.’

Imagine if schools were premised on the need to develop the gifts and talents of all learners.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The begining of real education - exploring the environment

What are these plants?
 Earlier this month I was press ganged into being a parent helper to assist with a group  local intermediate classes who were  to walk  a local river track, the Te Henui, from their school to the sea. Their number one focus was to think about the Maori aspect of the environment but also plants of interesting the way. There is a magnificent pa site on the walk.

My role was to provide some 'expert knowledge' to the students in their tasks of identifying native plants on the way.The Te Henui track goes along an interesting patch of virgin native bush as well as extensive introduced plantings.

I was very impressed with the attitudes and interest shown by the students and could see that  future studies featuring bush exploring could be very fruitful. The school is also lucky enough to border the extensive bush in nearby Brooklands and Pukekura Parks. It is obvious that, although  the students were keen to learn about native plants their knowledge was a little thin - hence my involvement.

Too good not to explore.

When the classes reached the are where the pa was the students were involved in a little drama enactment about the pa and how the river Te Henui got its name.This is the kind of experience all students should have to develop a real sense of place.

Bridges - a future science tech study?

The walk continued to the sea passing through plantings of introduced trees . One tree that attracted attention of some of the students was a quince tree noticeable for its fruit. A topic for future research?

I was impressed with the students who were capturing data with their digital cameras or phones. I could see great potential for making use of such photos in future environmental studies. On this trip students were  also collecting photos for a photographic competition which had them thinking about aesthetic considerations.

The power of modern technology was demonstrated to me following my pointing out a Judas tree which I thought was named because this was the tree Judas was supposed to have hung himself on. One student quickly googled Judas tree and confirmed the story.  Things have sure changed since I was a  teacher!

After lunch , shared with the ducks, the students completed their excursion with a choice of activities. They could either make models in the sand or go  to make use  of the skateboarding park ( those who chose this option had had their equipment transported down).

I  watched with great interest the group making sand models. They all chose to depict their impressions of a Maori pa . They applied themselves with gusto and ingenuity and the creativity that arose was impressive.

All in all good day out -and a true learning experience for us all - students, teachers and parent helpers alike.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A new creative agenda for education required

Over the weekend thousands of teachers throughout New Zealand expressed their anger about their dissatisfaction about the government’s plans for education.

I wonder what the public think about it all?

Don’t get me wrong I am pleased that teacher have decided that ‘enuf is enuf’.  The government 'spin doctors' have done a good job spreading the message that schools are failing with their simplistic ‘one in five failing’ – a claim that happily ignores the demeaning results ofpoverty on a growing percentage of New Zealand families. The government’s claim has created in the public mind an unfounded sense of crisis in education.

As well the Novapay teacher salary disaster, while it has gained public sympathy, has distracted attention from the real issue – teaching and learning.

Teachers, it seems, have woken up to the true agenda of the government which began with the introduction of ‘Tomorrows Schools in 1986.

The agenda is summed up in the acronym GERM (Global Education Reform Movement) - an agenda that will, when in place, will lead to the privatisation of education – the beginnings of which are to be seen in the push for Charter Schools. The corporate thinkers behind the GERM agenda see education as a fertile ground for private enterprise. As part of this agenda we have National Standards which will lead to National Testing and League tables all to allow for school comparison performance pay and parent choice. Choice, it seems, for only for those who can afford it. The trouble is that the standards will have the effect of narrowing the curriculum and eventually teaching to the tests.

 Out the window will go creativity in other areas of the curriculum and the shaming of students whose abilities that do not have strengths in literacy and numeracy?  Rather than an 'achievement gap'  there is an 'opportunity gap' for those students from troublesome home environments. This is an issue of equity.

What I would like to see is for teachers to put forward a more positive agenda – one that places the side-lined 2007 New Zealand Curriculum at centre stage – with appropriate revision to place talent development central.

An alternative educational model should be seen as central to the development of New Zealand as a democratic creative innovative country. If we are ever to be seen as a creative country that keeps and attracts talented individuals then education is the key to achieving such a vision
Education needs to be premised on the development of every student’s gifts and talents – an ideal that has never been achieved. This focus on gifts and talents needs to become the focus of the New Zealand Curriculum and in turn all school programmes.
This would truly be a transformational vision and would require all schools to rethink how their programmes, which have increasingly been limited to literacy and numeracy and academic achievement, would be presented. This is not to devalue such important area but to ‘reframe’ them to provide the foundation skills for creating a personalised learning environment; an environment not based on identifying student failure but building on each individual’s unique gifts and talents.
Such an approach would place the challenge of presenting ‘rich, real and rigorous’ contexts to uncover the talents of students. Student inquiry, individually or in groups, would become central and success would be evaluated by what students can demonstrate, perform or exhibit – by showing they can apply what they have learnt.
This is the agenda teachers, and hopefully enlightened politicians, should be presenting to the public.
1 New Zealand needs to be seen as a democratic creative innovative country – a country whose survival depend on making use of the skills and ingenuity of all its citizens
3 Such a vision needs to reframe the current focus on narrow literacy and numeracy so that they are seen as vital foundation skills to ensure all students can ‘seek, use and create their own knowledge’ (New Zealand Curriculum 2007).
 4 Such a vision requires all schools to change radically and for all citizens to contribute their energy towards achieving in contrast to the divisiveness being created by current educational policies.

Now this would be worth fighting for!


Friday, April 12, 2013

Educational Readings - Bill Gates, Michael Gove and passion based learning


By Allan Alach

If you think things are bad in your own locale, read the article about Ohio - suggest you aren’t holding a hot drink at the time.  Looking further, the issue of ‘big data’ is raising concern, not just limited to education. Big brother is getting closer every year.

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

This week’s homework!

Accountability for Mr. Gates: The Billionaire Philanthropist Evaluation
So what with all the testing!

Following on from last week’s readings, here’s Anthony Cody’s evaluation of Bill Gates. Do you think he will earn performance pay?

Wrecking physical ed: Ohio’s P.E. assessment for kids

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any madder, here’s the physical education assessment tool that Ohio physical education teachers must use to evaluate their students. Warning - reading this may be injurious to your health.

In Michael Gove's world who needs teachers?

‘The education secretary's obsession with 'spellings, facts and rules' ignores the professional consensus on child development.’

As bad as things look in Australia and New Zealand, we can be thankful that we don’t have  ministers of education like Michael Gove in the UK. Mind you things may change in Australia later this year, and I wouldn’t rule out a Hekia brain storm in New Zealand...

National Standards and Neanderthals – “They will know what is required …” – Part I

This is a long article. However don’t let that stop you from reading it. This is one of the best overviews of education in general and the destructive nature of national standards that you will find anywhere.

Why we should never return to the three Rs

‘Ongoing calls for a rejection of “intellectual fads” and a return to “more traditional teaching methods” seem to be ramping up in the education debate.

But if these advocates were talking about rejecting advances over the past sixty years in medicine, no one would take them seriously. So why then is it acceptable to champion simplistic and archaic methods when it comes to education?’

The Importance of Failing Well

      ‘A study of intellectually gifted students at a New Zealand high school has revealed one significant factor that distinguishes the highest achievers from the lowest achievers.

      This factor was 100% significant – present in all the highest achievers and absent in all the lowest achievers.

      This factor was their ability to fail well.’

Passion-Based Learning (via Bruce Hammonds)

We need to bring passion back into learning, in teaching and all around. Passion motivates. It makes a way out of no way. It allows students to overcome hardships to achieve a goal that is meaningful to them.’

Those, like Bill Gates, who promote a future of online instruction, are totally ignorant of the human factor, instead seeing children as machines to be programmed.

More U.S. Children Being Diagnosed With Youthful Tendency Disorder

Now for something even more completely different.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Creative Schools – an impossible dream?

‘If children grew up according to early indications, we should have nothing but geniuses’ said Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Notwithstanding the powerful shaping of the young by the culture and home life they are born into as soon as formal schooling starts adults begin the process of determining, with the best of intentions, what is right for their students.

Educators who believe that education is more of a process of creating stimulating environments to allow students to begin the process of helping the young explore what it is that they are best suited for have always been in the minority. Most teachers have little choice to put programmes into place that have been defined by their school, by those distant 'experts' that determine the curriculum and, most invasive of all, by those who determine the means of assessing students learning. When the latter is in the hands of the politicians supported by compliant principals then the possibility of creativity is all but lost.

In a more predictable industrial age this pre-determined education might have been appropriate but in today’s fast moving times it is counterproductive. Today, to thrive, students need to enter the workforce with all their unique range of talents and gifts identified able to provide prospective employers with the creative mind-sets to add value to whatever the tasks are.  Schools need to focus on engagement, to develop a questing disposition, so as to cultivate the imagination and gifts of all students; to help students discover a voice, a calling, or a passion.

We need to think of the enormous human potential currently wasted in a society when schools focus on assessing a narrow range of human abilities.  What is required is a conversation at the national level about the purpose of education for an uncertain future but, instead, the current government seems dedicated to imposing on schools a simplistic reactionary agenda based on assessing student achievement on literacy and numeracy. The glorification of this narrow assessment is eroding a more expansive view of what it means to be educated and diminishes our understanding of how children learn.

The trouble is that as school success is reflected by achievement in literacy and numeracy (narrowing the curriculum and resulting in teachers teaching to the tests) there are few principals putting forth an alternative point of view – a vision based on personalised talent centred schools rather than standardising learning.
Sir Ken Robinson
Not that there isn’t a shortage of well-respected thinkers that schools could refer to as a basis of a real alternative, there is. One such thinker is Sir Ken Robinson who believes that creativity is as important as literacy and numeracy. There can be few schools who have not watched his video presentations on the subject of transforming schools to realise the talents of all students but, it seems, few schools have had the courage to actually implement his ideas. Others who might well be included to support the transformation of schools are United Kingdom educationalist Guy Claxton who believes, echoing Sir Ken, by saying that ‘“learnacy” is as important as literacy and numeracy’, and American educator Howard Gardner who has developed the idea of multiple intelligences or ways of ‘being smart’ Gardner is also critical of schooling that focuses on literacy and numeracy.
Howard Gardner
If Gardner’s ideas about multiple intelligences were taken seriously then all students would be exposed to experiences to enable them to develop their unique set of talents. The eight intelligences are: logical (including mathematics /science), natural history, language, art, physical (including dance), inter-personal, intra-personal (awareness of self/others) and music. It is not difficult to think of important individuals for each – many of whom had difficult times at school. Add to this is the fact that many of our successful entrepreneurs were  also not successful at school – their success being driven by passion for an idea, their  ability to take risks, to make mistakes and by being amazingly persistent.

The trouble is, Gardner has written, ‘attendance in most schools does risk ruining children’ and that ‘schools no longer hold significance for many of them. The real world appears elsewhere’…. and that schools as ‘institutions are becoming increasingly anachronistic’. Teachers’, he writes, ‘must be encouraged – I almost wrote “freed” – to pursue an education that strives for depth of understanding’ ….and the need ‘to assess students in terms of relevant performances’. Gardner sees the challenge as one of of creating a ‘radically different education as too many young people leave school unable to take up meaningful roles in society’. In this respect Gardner is building on ideas first expressed by philosopher John Dewey in the early 20th Cwho believed in an integrated experiential approach to learning.
Hekia Parata
While the current Minister of Education harps on about the ‘achievement gap’ (neglecting to face up to the debilitating effect of poverty caused by the ‘market forces’ policies being implemented by her government) she neglects to focus on the ever widening ‘opportunity gap’ between the ‘haves’ and the growing ‘have-nots’.
And it is just not educationalists that are worrying about the negative effects of current schooling. The late business philosopher Peter Drucker has written that the countries that develop a creative education system will win the 21st century.  Another business consultant Tom Peters, in his stimulating book ‘Re-Imagine’, has bluntly written that Our school system is a thinly disguised conspiracy to quash creativity. We are at an inflection point. We seem to be re-inventing everything – except the school system, which should (in theory) underpin, even lead the rest. The main crisis in schools today is irrelevance. Our educational thinking is concerned with; ‘what is’. It is not good at deciding ‘what can be’.
Peter’s is very critical of our present ways of educating and, although focused on American education, his comments could relate to most education systems across the world. Peters goes on to elaborate his vision for a future orientated education saying that we need:
A school system that recognizes that learning is natural, that a love of learning is normal, and that real learning is passionate learning. A school curriculum that values questions above answers; creativity above fact regurgitation; individuality above uniformity and excellence above standardized performance. A society that respects its teachers and principals, pays them well, and grants them the autonomy to do their job as the creative individuals they are and for the creative individuals in their charge’.
Wayne Morris
 Wayne Morris (of Future Edge) has written, ‘we have an interesting paradox. We have industry commentators saying that, for a successful future, we need people who think, are creative and innovative and yet our education systems seem to be working against this’
Human creativity is the ultimate economic resource’, writes Richard Florida in his book, ‘The Rise of the Creative Class’. ‘Over the past decade the biggest employment gains came in occupations that rely on people skills and emotional intelligence …and among jobs that require imagination and creativity’.  Daniel Pink , in his book ‘A Whole New Mind’,  continues the theme: ‘The past few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind – computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBA’s who could crunch numbers. But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind – creators and empathizers, pattern recognisers and meaning makers. These people – artist, inventors, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers – will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.’ Pink's ideas reflect art educator Elliot Eisner’s concept of helping students explore and interpret their experiences through different viewpoints each providing a ‘net’ to capture meaning. Imagine, for example, ‘seeing’  a bridge through the eyes of an artist, a scientist an engineer, a mathematician, a poet,  a historian – each viewpoint  provides a means of capturing meaning.

Engineering? Art? Poetry?Maths?

At least the opposition party have indicated a return to a focus to the currently side-lined 2007 New Zealand Curriculum (introduced when they were in power) which ought to give school leaders some courage to confront current compliance requirements and to transform schools.    The New Zealand Curriculum asks schools to ensure all students leave with a positive learning identity equipped with the competencies to thrive in an uncertain future. The curriculum asks teachers to ensure all students are seen as ‘users, seekers and creators of their own knowledge’.  Unfortunately it is a bit light about placing the focus on developing every student’s gifts and talents but it does suggest literacy and numeracy are best developed in purposeful contexts.  Notwithstanding this encouragement almost all primary schools continue to dedicate the great majority of their time to literacy and numeracy! It is, as one commentator has written, as if ‘the evil twins of literacy and numeracy have gobbled up the entire curriculum’. Add to this the insidious effect of ability grouping and far too many students currently have little chance of being recognised for their particular gifts.
Inspirational book

For those principals in search of inspiration they need to look no further than to the writings of the late Elwyn Richardson in his book ‘In the Early World’ published in the 1960s. Elwyn’s work was based on valuing his students as artists, expressing their ideas through a range of media, and as scientists exploring their rich local environment – integrated learning at its best. In such environments curiosity and creativity are contagious.
So it seems that the cures for education of the neo conservative reformers (with their obsession with testing, standards, measurement and data and growing agenda of privatisation of schooling) is worse than the disease; and that in any case the proposed cures will not heal the patients. The assessment tail is wagging the dog! Such a demeaning risk averse audit culture needs to be replaced with one based on professionalism and trust as seen Finland a high achieving country educationally that shows greater respect for teachers.
Howard Gardner is clear about the real solution, ‘If we can mobilize the spectrum of human abilities not only will people feel better about themselves and more competent; it is even possible that they will feel better about themselves , more engaged and better able to join the rest of the world community in working for the common good.’ But he adds, ‘it seems easier to thwart gifted and creative youngsters than it is to encourage their flowering.’
Another educator, an expert in developing children’s thinking David Perkins, has written that ‘creative individuals in any field make use of the same cognitive processes as do other persons but they use them in a more efficient and flexible way and in the service of goals that are ambitious and often quite risky’. The good news is that all students can learn the dispositions to be creative and to achieve personal mastery. Unfortunately the predictable formulaic ‘best practice’ teaching that schools have bought into is in conflict with the openness creativity requires. What schools need to do is to encourage students to apply, as old fashioned as it sounds, effort and perseverance – to show what some call ‘grit’.  This also means digging deeply into whatever is studied – to do fewer things well and to encourage students to aim for improving their personal best. A quick look around most classrooms will show a troublesome uniformity in student work even in such a creative area as art. By doing fewer things well students gain the opportunity to acquire the self-discipline, concentration, emotional control, and the shear joy that children learn in the act of creation, that will serve them well all their lives.
The current educational climate has marginalised professional judgment resulting in defensive teaching to achieve narrow imposed targets; hardly the environment to encourage creativity.
Back to Gardner,  by building on the child’s interests and motivations schools might have more success in carrying out what may be their most crucial task, empowering children to engage meaningfully in their own learning.’ An integrated curriculum nourishes Gardner’s multiple intelligences.   EducationalistJerome Bruner wrote, decades ago, that‘teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation’. Students enter formal education curious about the world around them and it is over to schools to ensure this innate curiosity is keep alive. Learning is best developed and nurtured through authentic tasks where individuals are able to acquire skills and knowledge through effort over time with feedback and encouragement from people knowledgeable in the appropriate disciplines. As Guy Claxton titled one of his books students have to see ‘The Point of School’.
Most real-life most problems bear little resemblance to the predictability of school learning (as it is presently arranged). In real life problem are not presented ready-made but must be shaped out of events and information; they are messy, ill-defined, rich with possibilities capable of generating a diversity of responses. If learners persevere and learn the skills necessary to solve them, then classrooms will reflect the idiosyncratic creativity of students across the curriculum.
 Future education cannot be about imposing standardisation, it must be transformed into a personalised environment that takes students gifts and talents seriously – gifts that will serve them well for the remainder of their active lives.

In such creative environments learning is its own reward.
Is it an impossible dream?