Michael L Drake
the abuse of state power in moulding the minds and morals of New Zealandâ€™s children
the abuse of state power in moulding the minds and morals of New Zealand’s children
© Copyright Michael L Drake, September, 2009
Published by Wycliffe Christian Schools 43 Pilkington Road Panmure Auckland 1072 New Zealand
Copyright Notice: This book is Copyright © Michael L Drake, September, 2009. All rights reserved. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study, research, criticism, or review, as permitted under the Copyright Act, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, or otherwise, including photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author. A note about copyright: Those who feel tempted to copy pages from this book despite the fact that to do so is illegal should prayerfully consider Romans 13:1-7, 1 Timothy 5:18 and Exodus 20:15. Scripture quotations: Scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION; © Copyright 1973,1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. About the Author: Michael Drake is Principal of Carey College in Auckland and has over 40 years experience in education: in consulting in the establishing and management of schools, in curriculum development, in teacher training and professional development, and in teaching in state and private schools at pre-school, primary and secondary levels. Thanks: Particular thanks go to the staff of Carey College and to many teachers and schools who have encouraged me to publish and supported me in all sorts of practical ways over the months of writing. Terminology: i. In New Zealand there are two types of state school: there are the “ordinary” state schools, and integrated schools. The latter are sometimes mistaken for private schools, but the Education Act very specifically identifies them as state schools that must, among other things, teach the state curriculum, whereas private schools are free to teach their own curriculum and are quite distinct from both sorts of state school. Throughout this book integrated schools are included in the term “state schools” unless the context indicates otherwise. ii. “Curriculum” with a capital “C” is used in reference to the new New Zealand Curriculum; otherwise “curriculum” with a lower case “c” is used. ....
The man-moulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out a posterity in what shape they please. ~ C S Lewis The Abolition of Man 1943
Contents..................................................................................................................................... 5 Preface ....................................................................................................................................... 7 1. Children of the State ............................................................................................................ 9 From Knowing to Believing................................................................................................. 10 The Impact of a State Monopoly.......................................................................................... 11 Moulding Children............................................................................................................... 12 Lost Humanity...................................................................................................................... 13 2. Democracy or Dictatorship................................................................................................ 15 Democratic Government Needs Consent ............................................................................. 15 Transcendent or Relative Good............................................................................................ 16 Constraining the Power of the State..................................................................................... 18 Protecting the Rights of New Zealanders............................................................................. 20 3. What Is a Safe State? ......................................................................................................... 21 Ineffective Intervention........................................................................................................ 22 Unleashing Totalitarianism on Children .............................................................................. 23 “Community Schooling” is Totalitarian Schooling.............................................................. 24 When Meaningful is Meaningless........................................................................................ 25 Parents Can Take Back Control........................................................................................... 26 4. Rights Need Protection, Not Imposition ........................................................................... 27 No Duty to Dictate Conformity............................................................................................ 28 Standards that are Not Meaningful....................................................................................... 28 Teach Nothing, Learn Nothing, Experience the Right Process............................................ 29 The Incompetence of the State to Determine Standards ...................................................... 31 Reporting Standards in “League Tables” ............................................................................. 32 What About Incompetent Parents?....................................................................................... 34 What About an Incompetent State?...................................................................................... 35 5. Subverting Parents ............................................................................................................. 37 Acquiescence Empowers the State....................................................................................... 37 Isolating Children from Parents ........................................................................................... 38 Replacing Parents................................................................................................................. 39 What Happens when the State Decides Parental Competency?........................................... 41 The State’s Interest in Marriage is Illustrative ..................................................................... 42 Education Is Best Without State Provision .......................................................................... 43 6. Buying Control.................................................................................................................... 44 Nationalising Private Schools .............................................................................................. 45 Who Gains from Compulsory State-Paid Schooling?.......................................................... 47 The Hidden Extension of State Control ............................................................................... 48 Expanding the Curriculum to Control Life .......................................................................... 50
Financial viability .................................................................................................................52 7. The Despotic Use of Regulation .........................................................................................54 Failure of Precrime Testing ..................................................................................................54 Regulation for Uncertainty ...................................................................................................57 Constraining Cultic Conformity ...........................................................................................58 Changing Children’s Beliefs.................................................................................................59 Will Virtues Do Instead? ......................................................................................................61 A Moral Education................................................................................................................62 Regulation by Voucher .........................................................................................................63 8. A New Curriculum for Social control................................................................................64 Being Connected...................................................................................................................65 Redefining Knowing and Learning.......................................................................................66 Sexualising the Young through Group Knowing and Learning............................................67 Only Groups..........................................................................................................................68 Abstaining from Reason .......................................................................................................70 Inspiring Ignorance ...............................................................................................................71 9. National Unstandards .........................................................................................................72 Reading Together for Individual Assessment.......................................................................73 The Consistent Necessity of Outcomes Instead of Knowledge ............................................74 Unstandards of Naked Nonsense ..........................................................................................76 The Problem of Problems .....................................................................................................77 Buzzing Along with the “Brmmm, Brmmm” of Metacognition...........................................79 10. NCEA: Nine Years of National Standards......................................................................80 Hiding the Truth about Marking Incompetence....................................................................81 Hiding the Truth about Student Ignorance............................................................................82 Hiding the Truth about Cheating ..........................................................................................83 A Lottery for Marks ..............................................................................................................85 Ensure No Student Excels.....................................................................................................86 11. School Religion ..................................................................................................................88 State School Religion............................................................................................................89 The Religion of State Education is Incompatible Christian Education.................................90 Beliefs Shape the Content of Education ...............................................................................91 People Have Personal integrity the State Must Protect.........................................................92 Which Good is to be Protected?............................................................................................93 Epilogue: Free the Children ...................................................................................................95
Some really fundamental things about the state schooling of New Zealand children have been changing: decisions about children’s education no longer rest with parents, what is taught is now more about what children should believe than knowing what other people know or have known, and schools that once aimed at growing children into adults who would make their own decisions about the society they would live in now aim to mould children to state-designed “outcomes” in which individuality and choice are controlled. The Child Moulders began as part of a submission, here substantially revised and expanded, to the New Zealand Law Commission regarding its review of Private Schooling in 2008/2009. While working on the submission it became clear that the assumption is often made that a state education system is always a good thing, especially the one we have in New Zealand. Yet when we look at what is happening in our schools, there is a lot that should concern us, and all the more so when we realise how what is going wrong fits a pattern long predicted. Many New Zealanders will be perplexed by the idea that state education is not such a good thing. Most of us were raised in it, benefitted from it and see a generation of children happily engaged in it. Lots of good things do happen in the state education system; lots of children do enjoy enriching experiences in it, and graduate from it ready for tertiary study and life in their communities. Thousands of teachers serve in it with enthusiasm, skill and good-will. But over the last 50 or so years there has been a gradual but radical shift in what the state school system does, the way it does it, and, most radical of all, what it is going to do next. In The Child Moulders I examine the way the state is using, or rather abusing, its power, aiming to mould children to a shape of uniformity that fits frighteningly closely to the warnings of generations of writers such as J S Mill, George Orwell and C S Lewis. They foresaw a monopolistic state education system that would become despotic, one that would firstly control the minds and beliefs of children on its way to controlling their lives. They foresaw a day when the state would control the thoughts its citizens. Solzhenitsyn experienced it. Where we are on that slide to state control readers will need to judge, but that we are on the slide is inescapable. There are numerous organs of our omnipresent if not omnicompetent state that intrude into family life and play a significant role in moulding children to the state’s pattern, but The Child Moulders looks only at the state education system. My hope is that this generation of New Zealand children, and future generations, can be free from despotic moulding of their minds and lives, and at the end of The Child Moulders I offer some ways parents, teachers and the wider community can secure such an education for their children. Most basic to that is the need to give parents choice, and for parents to take control of the content of what is taught and the ways it is taught. If, as is likely, the state will not change, parents need to take their children back into their nurture and give them a variegated education rich in knowledge, skills, faith and freedom from the one-shape-fits-all state mould. Bring the cloning to an end! As I am a Christian I write from a biblical point of view. To write from any other perspective would be dishonest, and in any case I would not want to. But discussion in The Child Moulders is pragmatic, evidence based, and accessible to anyone with sense and objectivity. I am principal of a Christian school, so obviously I am convinced that faith in Christ is foundational to the best education for children. While I would want every child to be blessed with a Christian education, I also have a more basic hope that I expect will resonate with a wider community: it is a hope that parents can be given real choice in the education they secure for their children, and a hope for the restoration of what was once called a “liberal education”, an education in which a time-tested 7
heritage of knowledge, ideas, inquisitiveness, culture and skill is passed on to children, in which diversity is encouraged, and in which “outcomes” are undetermined by the state, open and free. State schools have seized control of the moral development of the nation’s youngsters, with a commitment to use state religious concepts and practices in creating a new social order. It is a huge experiment, based on overtly anti-Christian ideas, that will leave a generation of youngsters in a shameful mess, and since it is the state that has made this decision, parental permission is not being sought. Five key ideas are running in parallel. The first is that there is no such thing as right and wrong – there is only acceptable or unacceptable “relationship”. The second is that a good education will produce a society in which all relationships are acceptable. This shifts the focus of schooling away from learning knowledge to “outcomes” of experience and social training. The third is that there is no truth, so there can be no heritage of knowledge and wisdom to pass on to children who must make their own knowledge. The knowledge and wisdom of parents and past generations is made worthless and is hidden from children. The fourth idea is encapsulated in the term “holistic education”. Rightly recognising that education encompasses more than academics, educators wrongly claim that the state school must control and deliver the totality of a child’s “intellectual, physical and spiritual education.” This gives traction to the fifth idea: the state is best. Not only must children be compelled to have a state education (in state schools or state-licensed schools), parents must be denied choice and control, and be sidelined with superficial consultation. The Bible makes clear that as God is Creator and Sustainer of everything and every age, so there is a body of knowledge that is true and valuable, and there is an absolute standard of morality to which he holds us all accountable. It makes parents responsible for children’s education. But of equal yet often overlooked importance is the eschatological hope with which the Bible would shape our view of the present: the present is not only built on the past and measured by God’s unchanging standards, it is temporary. This corrupted creation is terminal, and we and our children are called to live not for the present alone, but for God and for eternity. We are God’s, and while he calls us to live for him now, we do so with the sure hope of living with him for ever. In contrast, the state claims total sovereignty over everyone, demanding that we and our children live with one aim, the greater good: satisfying the state’s demand for oneness without God. Our education system has been shaped to an amazing degree by Greek thinking. From what it is to “know”, through concepts of spirituality and the idea that man can master himself, his world and his destiny with sufficient learning, to the place of values and virtues in the education of children, all rest significantly on the ideas and philosophies of the Ancient Greeks. The Greeks got at least one thing right: a person’s beliefs are at the heart of education and life. When the Rabbi and Apostle Paul visited Athens at the height of its now faded grandeur, he saw how religious that great society was, and declared, The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ 1 If we care for our children and treasure their integrity as individuals, we can do no less than restore control of children’s education to parents and give to children an education that equips them with knowledge and ideas they can rely on and use, instead of enslaving them to their own immature ideas and limited experiences. And we can do no better than give them an education founded on and leading to a faith in the God who has made us and is near to each one of us if we (and our children) would seek him and perhaps reach out for him. Michael L Drake September 2009 1
1. Children of the State
You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you with ourselves. We convert him, we capture his inner mind, we reshape him. Power is tearing human minds apart and putting them back together in new shapes of your own choosing. ~ George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty Four, 1949
On any normal school day around three quarters of a million2 New Zealand children head for schools where they can expect to be taught by dedicated, enthusiastic and highly motivated teachers. Most will encounter a range of activities and experiences, some mundane but most engaging and enjoyable, that are parts of a national curriculum designed to help them become happily integrated into a multi-ethnic national culture. Apart from the more than 30,000 who are truant3, almost all will be attending schools that are part of a national system of 2,300 state schools. The importance to the nation of this state school system, developed and maintained with pride by successive governments since its inception in 1877, can be gauged by its present cost to government of over $7,500 million4 a year. Children spend up to 13 years in state schools. In that time they receive over 13,000 hours of planned and structured teaching. What do they learn? Parents and children rightly expect that in going to school children will gain knowledge and skill. And they do, although not all of it as a result of teaching the curriculum. They also leave school with a whole lot of other learning that shapes their character and lives, learning parents may be quite unaware of. Much of that “other” learning is also carefully planned and taught, and it has become so important to the state over the 130 years of its schooling, that it has taken centre stage. Schooling used to be about passing on the knowledge, skill and experience of an older generation to a younger one. No longer. The Curriculum that becomes compulsory for all state schools from 2010 has no specified content. It has replaced passing on knowledge and skills with changing children’s beliefs as the central core of teaching. It has changed the meaning of “knowledge” from facts and ideas individual children can master to sharing the experiences of groups. It no longer focuses on giving children knowledge and allowing them to grow to maturity with individual integrity. Its focus is on moulding children to fit a national pattern of the ideal child, a dependent member of a peer group. In a part of the New Zealand Curriculum called a “Vision Statement” the Ministry of Education sets out what schooling should achieve: it should prepare children for a life-long 2
In March 2009 there were 745,000 students in New Zealand schools according to Education Counts, Ministry of Education, Wellington, School Roll Summary Report March 2009 http://tiny.cc/ziWO4 3 New Zealand Herald 10 June 2009 4 From Budget 2009 http://tiny.cc/Ujdtu . “Primary and Secondary Schooling” are said to cost just on $5,000 million in 2009/10 http://tiny.cc/LUVXk but this figure does not include any apportioning of Ministry of Education and related costs.
dependency on more learning, it should conform children to society, and it should enable them to contribute to the economic growth of New Zealand, ensuring they “secure a sustainable social, cultural, economic, and environmental future for our country.”5 The success of state schooling is to be measured by how well children contribute to national economic growth. Children are to be moulded according to the pattern of the state to become components of the state.
From Knowing to Believing Just 18 years before New Zealand boldly made state schooling “compulsory, free and secular”, J S Mill warned that “A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another … it establishes a despotism over the mind.”6 That warning went unheeded here. In the middle of the last century, C S Lewis similarly warned, “The man-moulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out a posterity in what shape they please.”7 That warning too has gone unheeded here. We now have a state education system that is exciting, stimulating, popular and moulding children to its own shape. The curriculum taught in state schools has kept pace with changing times and developing educational theory. Today’s schools present stimulating, media-rich environments that contrast dramatically with classrooms of the past. Lessons involve activities and out-of-school adventures that were not even dreamed of in 1877. In keeping with the state’s commitment to modernity, the New Zealand Curriculum8 that becomes official in 2010 has been launched with public consultation, teacher re-training and glossy publicity. Yet state education has always dragged with it the spectral shadow of state control of the minds and beliefs of the nation’s children, and never more overtly so than with the new Curriculum. Among the most striking developments is the comprehensiveness of change. Every aspect of the curriculum prescribed for state schools has changed. Its aims, content and methods are all different from what once characterised education. One of the most radical changes has been in the content of state schooling. Once what was to be taught was prescribed and what children believed was personal. Now there is no prescription of what is to be known but there is a very narrow prescription of what is to be believed. Once a child had to know what the state prescribed and could develop a personal faith or religious perspective. Now children must believe what the state prescribes (what it euphemistically calls “values”) and can know whatever. When I started teaching 40 years ago, the aim of a state schooling was to pass on to each child a sound foundation of objective knowledge and skill. That foundation, it was expected, would enable children to grow as individuals, becoming part of a variegated adult society in which the state protected individual rights and life, but in which people made their own choices about the nature of their participation in wider society. Social order grew from the choices people made about how they wanted to live their lives – and they were held morally accountable for those choices. The state existed then as the servant of its people, and education as the servant of parents and children. By giving explicit expression to the new aims that have been gradually introduced over recent decades, particularly the aim of securing a “future for our country,”9 it is evident that the imposition of a social order has become the state education system’s focus. Social order is of course desirable. But instead of social order growing from the free choices of people, it is now to be imposed by the state, and the education system is the vehicle by which it will be imposed. Instead of schooling that equips children with knowledge upon which they can draw, in maturity, to make decisions about the society in which they would live, the state school system now prescribes the shape of society and gives an “education” that conforms children to that mould. Children and education are now the servants of the state. 5
The New Zealand Curriculum: Vision http://tiny.cc/pMa1S J S Mill On Liberty and Other Essays OUP Oxford 1991 pp117f. 7 C S Lewis The Abolition of Man Harper Collins London (1943) 1978 p38 8 Henceforth usually “Curriculum” with a capital “C”. 9 Vision 6
New Zealanders look with justified horror at school systems in totalitarian states of the past and present where uniformed ranks of children are herded into institutions to be indoctrinated into a narrow view of the world and their place in it, forced to replace traditional loyalties, beliefs and morality with the state’s authorised culture, and infused with selected and adapted bits of knowledge that rob them of the vast breadth and variegated heritage of facts and ideas common to mankind. Nothing is more threatening to a controlling state than freedom to know. Those schools are often served by dedicated, enthusiastic and highly motivated teachers. Many such teachers implement training and curricula about which they have some reservations but which they nonetheless employ because that is what is expected of them. Any questions they have will be silenced by their advisers, managers, or colleagues, or by fear of isolation and stigma. There will be some who stand against the flow, and teach with an integrity that respects children’s individuality and the freedom to think and be different; to learn beyond the boundaries authorised by those in control. Most teachers in those schools however will share their state’s aims and methods, and employ them to the best of their abilities. For all their benevolence and innocence, we rightly regard those teachers as misguided and part of a system that abuses the children in their care. This however is not a description of a foreign education system serving a despotic regime. It is a description of New Zealand state education.
The Impact of a State Monopoly Since 1877 school enrolment and attendance have been compulsory in New Zealand. Education is not compulsory – just going to school, and to a state school at that. Parents who want to choose a different way of shaping their children’s thinking, knowledge, skills and beliefs can only do so with a licence from the state: either they have to have a licence to teach children at home or the private school they want to use has to have a licence. In New Zealand, education is not a right protected by the state but a national duty controlled by the state. The first element of a totalitarian education is state compulsion exercised over all children. That fits New Zealand all too well: only 4% of children10 (30,000 children – about the same number who are truant each week from state schools) attend private schools. Compare that with our nearest democratic neighbour, Australia, where over a third (33.6%) attend non-state schools.11 Our state school system is a compulsory monopoly. It matters little whether the service provided by a monopoly is good or bad, whether the education provided by this monopoly is benevolent or evil, or whether its intentions are right or wrong. A compulsory monopoly is by definition repressive and tyrannical. Another element of totalitarian education is manipulation of knowledge. Despotic states invariably confine children’s knowledge to “official” versions of truth through censorship and rewriting everything from science and history to literature and music. In such states every individual is not only dependent upon the state for induction into a body of politically correct knowledge, but for the meaning given to that knowledge from day to day. Although New Zealand’s School Journals, children’s readers, and local text books are overwhelmed with politically correct role-modelling and ethnic awareness, New Zealand has too entrenched a culture of shared knowledge and access to information for such manipulation to gain complete traction. Yet our state education system does limit what children can know with three dramatic and almost unbelievable educational ideas that shape the Curriculum. First is the idea that nothing can be known in any objective way, that knowledge cannot be passed from those who know to those who do not know, and that knowledge has to be made up by children from their experience. As a result the Curriculum has no prescription for what content is to be taught in state schools. Second is the idea that individuals cannot know, and that only groups can know. As a result the Curriculum makes children dependent on groups to know anything, and it makes children dependent on groups to continue to know anything. Third is the idea that what groups do know is temporary and always changing. As a result what children “know” can never really be tested, and children are to be 10 11
Education Counts Private Schools and the Law / Issues Paper 12 Law Commission, Wellington 2008 p28
declared educated if they have taken part in the process of schooling irrespective of any objective knowledge they may or may not gain or retain. In a free state, such an education might well be offered by some group of innovative thinkers, a fringe cult, or a colloquium of lunatics. And in a free state parents would be free to choose such an education for their children, or to reject it in favour of something different, and perhaps more rational. But not in New Zealand. The 96% of children enrolled in state schools have to be taught that way once the Curriculum becomes compulsory in 2010, and the 4% who are licensed to be different will still have to demonstrate that they are being taught to the same “standard”. Parents have no choice; children have no alternative. This too is tyrannical. What internationally respected educator Dr Michael Irwin has said of the previous national curriculum applies just as pointedly to the new one: We have a virtual monopoly of schooling and a far-reaching government curriculum which is to be mandated for all state schools and which seeks to force on all children particular and contentious views about the nature of humanity, how our society should be understood, and the way in which people should live. 12
Moulding Children Despite its presumptions, our state is not yet omnicompetent, but it has proved irresistible in changing the education it provides from imparting knowledge to children, to moulding them to what it calls “outcomes”. In the preface to the Curriculum, Secretary for Education Karen Sewell identifies this as our second13 “outcomes-focused curriculum” which, she claims, “sets out what we want students to know and to be able to do.”14 There is a subtlety here that is not immediately obvious: unlike traditional ways of curriculum writing, this “setting out” does not list what should be taught. As already noted, there is no content of knowledge listed in this curriculum. As the Curriculum unfolds, it becomes plain that “what we want students to know” is not a body of knowledge in a traditional sense, because according to the foundational ideas of this curriculum, nothing can be known in that way. Instead, “what we want students to know” is a range of experiences from which students are to create their own temporary and untestable knowledge. As will become clearer in reading the following pages, “what we want students to know” is not a description of what is to be taught, but a process that will mould students to the state’s pattern of what children should eventually be like. Hence its proud boast that it has replaced the teaching of knowledge with “outcomes” education. Nearly 70 years ago, C S Lewis predicted values or beliefs would cease to be what motivated parents and teachers to educate their children, much less to ensure their children’s education had rich content. Beliefs, he said with perspicuity, “will be the product, not the motive, of education.”15 That is exactly what the new Curriculum prescribes. With equal insight Lewis described how teaching would change: [Previously, teachers] did not cut men to some pattern they had chosen. They handed on what they had received: they initiated the young neophyte into the mystery of humanity which over-arched him and them alike. It was but old birds teaching young birds to fly. This will be changed. Values are now mere natural phenomena. Judgements of value are to be produced in the pupil as part of the conditioning. 16 Lewis could not have been more accurate: not only are traditional values to be discarded by children, the values that they are now to live by are those “produced in the pupil as part of the conditioning” experienced through group discussion and peer pressure. The result can only be unbridled selfishness: “When all that says ‘It is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains.”17
Michael Irwin From Virtues and Vices to Passionate Values Independent Christian Schools Fellowship, Auckland, 1999, p13 The first was in 1992 14 The New Zealand Curriculum: Forward http://tiny.cc/S6YTn 15 The Abolition of Man 16 ibid 17 ibid 13
Lost Humanity For Lewis, this not only dehumanises the learners, it strips the teachers of their humanity, and of any beliefs or values that have meaning: I am not supposing them to be bad men. They are, rather, not men (in the older sense) at all. They are, if you like, men who have sacrificed their own share in traditional humanity in order to devote themselves to the task of deciding what ‘Humanity’ shall henceforth mean. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’, applied to them, are words without content: for it is from them that the content of these words is henceforth to be derived. … It is not that they are bad men. They are not men at all.18 Lewis did not hold out much hope for what this sort of education could produce, caustically commenting, “We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”19 It would be the “abolition of man.” By that Lewis meant people would be stripped of their humanity. He saw the teachers he was writing of as already dehumanised in that way: “they are not bad men. They are not men at all.” No one who has more than a passing knowledge of teachers in the state schools of New Zealand could doubt their commitment to teach for the good of children, and to do it with enthusiasm and sheer hard work. In over 40 years I have been teaching it has been rare for me to find teachers who do not express a love for children and a desire to help shape their minds and lives in a fitting way. True, there have been some who were incompetent, lazy or ill-suited to the task, but they have been few. For all the politics and posturing that goes with teaching as a unionised “profession”, the majority of state school teachers retain something of that quality once known as vocation or calling. There are many who continue to teach knowledge, giving children facts but not just facts; giving them a rich inheritance of the stuff that is real and true and that can be passed on from the mature to the immature with benefit. There are many teachers who will continue to uphold traditional standards of right and wrong and teach children that morality is not what they determine but what should determine their conduct, what should guide and will judge their choices. There are many whose aim in teaching is the nurturing of individuals who, equipped with knowledge and transcendent morality, will make free choices in adulthood and shape a society unconstrained by cloned conformity to the state’s present preference, or to the selfish shifting values of peer groups. There are also teachers who are better than the ideas of education they ostensibly adhere to, better than the curriculum they are committed to teaching. Like some of the teachers in Lewis’ day, they cannot wholly embrace the model of education before them, “not because their own philosophy gives a ground for condemning it (or anything else) but because they are better than their principles.”20 They too will do better than the state intends. But the already universal and overwhelmingly enthusiastic acceptance of the New Zealand Curriculum in state schools demonstrates that such teachers are the rearguard of sanity. To collaborate with the curriculum is to capitulate; besides which, the new teachers in state schools are graduates of training in the Curriculum: they can do no other than teach it. They teach now and they will teach in the future with enthusiasm, hard work, and a commitment to the destructive idea that the good of children is to be found in moulding them to the shape of a state prescribed state. Of such teachers Lewis says, “They are, if you like, [teachers] who have sacrificed their own share in traditional humanity in order to devote themselves to the task of deciding what ‘Humanity’ shall henceforth mean.”21 In the same decade Lewis published The Abolition of Man George Orwell published Nineteen Eighty Four. By then the horrors or the Nazi fascist state were becoming things of the past to a west basking in peace and growing affluence, a West still to awaken to the equally horrific impact of communist totalitarianism in Eastern Europe and Asia. Orwell’s hero, Winston greets readers with a message from a time when uniformity and conformity meant personal loneliness. It is a world of loneliness despite the managed community because in Winston’s world individuals dare
ibid The Abolition of Man p 20 ibid 21 ibid 19 20
not express anything personal. Adults and children chant the mantras of the state while they live together but live alone: To the future or to the past, to a time when thought is free, when men are different from one another and do not live alone— to a time when truth exists and what is done cannot be undone: From the age of uniformity, from the age of solitude, from the age of Big Brother, from the age of doublethink — greetings!22 When the state mandates what is thought and taught freedom and individuality are necessarily destroyed. It cannot be otherwise, for the state that deems itself to have the right, power or wisdom to shape children’s thinking is a state that claims to know better than its individual citizens, better than the parents of the children being taught. As Ivan Illich has said, “The ideology of obligatory schooling admits of no logical limit.”23 Children are no longer children of their parents: they are children of the state. Even if the state gets it “right” and enforces what every citizen would freely choose – which clearly it cannot do – it gets it wrong because to force each child to conform to one pattern of thought and action is to merge each child into the amorphous blob of state childhood. Orwell’s prediction of what it would be like in the Soviet state proved to be so horribly right, and was just as true of every subsequent totalitarian state: “a nation of warriors and fanatics, marching forward in perfect unity, all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same slogans, perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting—three hundred million people all with the same face.” Our state school system mandates what is thought and taught, its children shout its slogans, and they begin to wear the same faces. In the form it has now taken, state education is stripping children of their personhood, it is dehumanising teachers, and in a final denial of what makes for a good education, it is now consciously displacing any semblance of family responsibility for educating children. It is not just the compulsory institutionalisation of children; it is not just the forcing on children of a curriculum devoid of content; it is not just the teaching of children to abandon their parents’ morality and replace it with their own creations; it is the deliberate replacing of families by the state’s schools that is reducing families to mere suppliers of children for the state. In one of its most revealing statements, the new Curriculum claims it “engages the support of (students’) families”24 for schools. Schools were once meant to help parents educate their children; now parents are being recruited to help the state educate “its” children. J S Mill’s statement on the state education, made in 1859, is worth repeating in full: That the whole or any large part of the education of the people should be in State hands I go as far as anyone in deprecating. All that has been said of the importance of individual character, and diversity in opinions and modes of conduct, involves, as of the same unspeakable importance, diversity of education. A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another, and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, a priesthood, an aristocracy, or the majority of the existing generation; in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by natural tendency to one over the body. An education established and controlled by the State should only exist, if it exist at all, as one among many competing experiments, carried on for the purpose of example, and stimulus, to keep others up to a certain standard.25 Mill’s point is that the state should not be providing education; but if it nevertheless does, it should do so only as an alternative.26 Education in the hands of a state monopoly must by its nature contrive to suppress individuality and mould every child to the same dehumanised pattern of uniformity and conformity in the service of the state.
George Orwell Nineteen Eighty-Four Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1976 (1949) p26 Ivan Illich Deschooling Society Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1978 (1971) p17f 24 The New Zealand Curriculum: Principles http://tiny.cc/QpIj3 25 On Liberty and Other Essays 26 Mill was of course inconsistent, and went on to advocated state schooling despite these caveats! 23
2. Democracy or Dictatorship
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. ~ Micah 6:8
It is self-evident that the state has an interest in the education of its youth, for education, viewed in its broadest sense, is that which equips and shapes the child with knowledge, skills and faith used in community life, both as a child and as an adult. Not that education alone moulds the man or the woman: children and adults alike make choices and experience limits that arise from their nature as people, and which cannot be explained in terms of mechanical determinism, whether that be of the past or present, material or immaterial. Yet the education of each child, be it of whatever sort, does impact on the character and conduct of each child, and thereby on the character and conduct of the society the state protects and from which the state is enfranchised. The stateâ€™s interest in education (or anything) cannot be separated from the question of its franchise. In a totalitarian state, the state asserts ultimate authority; it enfranchises itself and its citizens who have no function other than serving the common good which is defined one way or another, overtly or in Orwellian doublethink and newspeak, as the good of the state. In a democracy, the stateâ€™s mandate to exist and to govern is dependent upon appointment by and the consent of the governed.27 The stateâ€™s franchise to govern reflects the actual relationship that exists between the state and its citizens in a representative democracy. That relationship can be discussed in terms of a social contract that has developed as an accident of social evolution, or in terms of some other philosophy, but the origins of the state do not necessarily define the existing relationship of the state to its citizens. Christians posit the existence of the state and government in the providence of God; Marxists in Hegelian dialectic; Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau in the state of nature; but whether citizens bring into the state natural rights, or acquire rights and responsibilities from God, or posses nothing more than the antithesis of the latest economic conflict, what actually exists in a representative democracy is a government dependent upon the consent of the governed.
Democratic Government Needs Consent In New Zealand the people elect representatives to the House of Representatives from whom the government of the day is drawn. There is no question that the government has power to govern: it does not have to refer every decision to citizens for a vote. It can even make some unpopular decisions provided it retains the general consent of the people it governs. But a democratic government that has lost the consent of the people to its government has lost its representative mandate, and can only continue to govern by assuming totalitarian powers. A representative government is enfranchised to govern representatively. 27
In fact many in a democracy effectively claim to enfranchise themselves as well as the state, and expect the state to serve their interests and whims with selfish disregard of others: but that is another issue.
It will not do to take refuge in a formal constitutional construction, as if in New Zealand the Queen governs, and the government of the day has no power beyond advice given to the sovereign. Constitutionally, our sovereign governs on the advice of her government. Yet the last 300 or so years of British, European and American government has demonstrated beyond any doubt that neither monarchy nor republic can sustain democracy without being democratic: whether we elect or inherit our head of state, her government depends upon the consent of the people. In practical terms, heads of state in democracies are mandated to govern by the people they govern. Government in the name of the crown in a democratic monarchy is in practice government enfranchised by the people. So far as the education of its youth is concerned, a representative democratic government cannot act with disregard to its franchise without assuming totalitarian powers. Short of outright revolution, any tendency to totalitarianism is likely to be manifested gradually, appearing first in one sphere then in another until spheres of democratic freedom are in the minority. Thus the state can assume totalitarian control of the sphere of education without being despotic in all its activity. Yet the democratic state’s responsibility for the education of “its” youth is a responsibility to represent the people in the education of their youth. To a greater or lesser extent the democratic state answers to its citizens and exists as their servant, and the good of the state is found in the good of its citizens, seen as people having individual integrity. The good of citizens corporately in a democracy is a result of individual good, whereas in a totalitarian state the good of citizens corporately defines individual good. In practice, all states other than a theocracy hold in tension the good of the individual against the good of the community. In a biblical view the state’s mandate to govern is mediated through its citizens who are neither absolute nor the ultimate source of authority. In God alone is to be found the source of authority; by God alone the state exists; and to God alone the state and its citizens all ultimately answer. Therein too lies the answer to the question as to what is good. In a biblical view, good is what God says it is. Thus to murder is not wrong merely (though truly) because it harms another person and the community, but above all else because it offends God who has declared murder to be wrong. Murder is a particularly apt illustration because the Bible reveals God as not only declaring murder to be wrong, but giving a reason: because man is in God’s image, to murder is to defile God. In other words, God’s reason for prohibiting murder is explained in terms of it being first and foremost a defilement of God, and only in a subsidiary, though nonetheless significant, sense a defilement of the victim and of society. Jesus’ oft quote summary of God’s law, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” only has meaning because it is subsequent to and dependent upon the prior command to “Love the Lord your God.”28 In the application of God’s prohibition on murder, the state has no need to attempt to balance the “interests” of the murderer, the victim, and society as a whole. The question is not one of balancing interests but of right and wrong before God. When a state whether by omission or commission rejects God from its structure, existence, governance and morality, it abandons the possibility of transcendent standards. Despite all the efforts of western democracies to validate morality in terms of humanity and rights, it is reduced to attempting to balance the vested interests of states against states, of states against individuals, and of individuals against individuals; or more often in contemporary western culture the balance revolves around artificially constructed groups based on ethnicity or “needs”.
Transcendent or Relative Good Appeal may be made to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNUDHR), for example, but that declaration can only be binding on those who submit to it: it has
Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
no transcendence and no intrinsic morality.29 Murder can be outlawed, but only so far as it can be demonstrated to be against the interests of the individual or group or society. What happens if the society as a whole finds Jews offensive or the aged a burden to themselves or unwanted children (born or unborn) an unbalanced obligation? Murder can even be deemed an expression of love: is it not more loving to kill the new-born disabled child whose life, by the standards of the killer, will be without “quality”? Cannibalism can be deemed repugnant in our culture but in another defined by ethnicity it is natural and a protected right (especially if the ethnic cannibal group is more primitive and therefore in contemporary sociology more valid).30 If loving God is stripped from the frame of reference, loving your neighbour has no stable or reliable meaning. A godless state is reduced to balancing interests and rights in a whimsical and variable manner that ultimately does little to restrain the powerful or protect the weak, much less provide for consistent justice. That in practice we enjoy a history of many states, including our own, consistently restraining evil and nurturing good is something for which we should indeed be thankful, but it would be a mistake to attribute such good to the outworking of a commitment to balancing rights and interests of competing social groups. Pious appeal may be made to balancing rights and interests, but there are few decisions of government in which those balanced are mutually content. Almost invariably, what is called balancing is in reality asserting the rights or interests of one group or individual over others. That is not an evil: it is in the very nature of government. If mutually happy compromise could be found in every situation government would not be necessary: mediation would replace government and hugs would replace voting. It is in the nature of people, regardless of the political and social constructs that may be popular at any particular time, to regard people as people. Behind whatever fashionable rhetoric is appealed to, in reality good government depends on the manifestation of what can only be described as humanity. We can reference government to rights and relationships natural or created; we can claim authority transcendent or man-centred; we can make decisions for interests local or universal; but dependence upon those alone will invariably fail in the domination of a despot, gang, tribe or other interest group. When the humanness of any within a state is lost, despotism is loosed. The “abo hunts”31 of not so distant Australian history, the Jewish holocaust, the Stalinist purges, the Argentinean “disappearances”, the New Zealand tribal wars, were all made possible because the equal humanness of some was denied; and all ended when regard for the integrity of people was counted as too precious to be surrendered for some imagined greater good. Where people are accorded individual integrity, democratic government works. When people are denied individual integrity, democracy fails, and as modern history demonstrates, fails with incredible speed and awful abuse. The Bible asserts that an awareness of and commitment to people’s integrity is rooted in the creation of all people in God’s image,32 and in the implanting of an awareness of God33 and people’s humanity in the soul and conscience of everyone. Secularists must scratch elsewhere for an explanation of the inevitable demand of people that they be regarded as moral beings of personal integrity. It is rare to find even among evolutionists a commitment to the concept that people are just animals. That commitment would justify the removal of law, the denial of moral constraints, and the letting loose of pure mechanistic evolutionary revolution. Instead, those claiming people are but higher level animals, invariably seek to offer animals the same sort of integrity they want to sustain in people. They tend not to reduce people to the level of animals. For all but a few, there exists a residual concept of people as distinct from everything else. 29
It is all too evident that many states that are signatories nonetheless fail to implement those rights, let alone those who are not signatories; and that in any case the United Nations is largely impotent to enforce its standards on those who will not invite them into their territories. 30 Despite the postmodern insistence that all cultures are equal, there is an outspoken view among social scientists that indigenous cultures are “more equal” than others. 31 I in no way condone such a disgusting term: I use it because that is what the de-humanised hunting of Australians was then called, a hunting justified on the “science” that Aboriginal Australians were the evolutionary link between animals and real humans. That aboriginal New Zealanders (Mäori) were treated differently from the way Australian Aboriginals were treated can be directly attributed to the huge missionary influence on colonial New Zealand, an influence that insisted Mäori were people in God’s image. 32 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27. 33 “For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” Romans 1:28
Democracy depends on and begins with the integrity of people. Totalitarianism depends on and begins with denial of the individual. That is not to deny that potentates may dress their totalitarianism in religion. Leaders, be they presidents, kings, popes, imams, pharaohs, fuehrers, prime ministers, Caesars or whatever can deify themselves, be deified, or act as if deified. Yet in the providence of God such evil can be generally recognised even if for a time a society or state or international communities must be burdened by abuse. It was not without significance that God told Israel that when it put into practice his Ten Commandments, the nations around them would recognise that those commandments were good.34 Hence multitudes who give little honour to the God of the Old Testament nonetheless cite the Ten Commandments (or the last six of them) as a just and good basis for law and moral conduct. It is not even enough then to have a religious point of reference. Many abusive states have a religious point of reference, a god or gods they openly espouse or implicitly commit to. While a biblical theocracy establishes good and righteous law giving expression to transcendent values, an unbiblical “theocracy”, whether dressed as Christian or otherwise, is dependent upon one or more man-centred reference points. To have genuinely transcendent values, to have a basis of social order that is not dependent upon the power and policies of a momentarily dominant leader or gang, or the commitment of a sufficient number of people to a felt humanity, we are dependent on there being a true God outside of our universe, and at that a true God who makes himself and his values known. It is unquestionably good then that God has made himself known and knowable through creation and the Bible.35
Constraining the Power of the State Yet even a biblical state – or rather, especially a biblical state – fears the corruption of those in power and insists on constraints that balance power rather than interests. The United States declares “In God we trust” but depends upon a carefully crafted and protected balance of power in its three arms of government. That such a fear of corrupt power arises more from the deistic humanism of the “founding fathers” than any biblical world-and-life view makes the point even more significant: with or without God36 a free state depends for its freedom upon significant and transparent constraints on government. When restraint of power and evil gives place to balancing interests or rights, totalitarianism is stalking in the shadows. In practice then a state must reference its interests either to transcendent standards made known by God from outside of our universe, or to some variable person,37 group or principle that holds the consent of governed and government for a time. When it comes to identifying and acting upon the state’s interest in the education of its youth, the nature of that interest and the actions that follow must be determined within either a transcendent or temporary frame of reference. In a biblical framework, the interest of the state in education can be evaluated with relative ease because the Bible addresses the issue comprehensively. That is not to say there is an “education” section of the Bible that can be accessed mechanically, but it is to say that through the various books of the Bible clear principles, directives and liberties regarding education of children
34 Deuteronomy 4:5-8 “See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” 35 Romans 1:19,20: “Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. Acts 17:24-28: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” 36 The god of the Founding Fathers’ deism had a superficial resemblance to the God of the Bible, but was a god who lacked imminence and involvement in the day to day life of his creation; he was a god who had set up a universe and stood back from it to watch natural laws unfold. A biblical world-and-life view sees God as imminent, not only involved in day to day life, but holding individuals responsible for actions taken and choices made, or in simple terms, upholding the standards he sets. 37 Be that “person” a real person or a god constructed in the image of persons.
can be exegeted and systematised with great benefit. The Bible's framework for the education of children nonetheless needs to be extrapolated and codified to be useful. In an unbiblical framework, the presuppositions that hold sway for the time being shape the interests of the state and how those interests will be pursued. It is therefore critical that a state that resiles from totalitarianism, whether it be biblical or non-biblical, must base the identification of its interests and the pursuit of those interests on a clearly enunciated statement of its framework, on the continued informed consent of its citizens to that framework, and on a balance of powers (rather than of interests or rights) in administering that framework. The shift from balancing the powers of government to balancing rights is a subtle subversion of safe government. A balance of power restrains government and protects the people governed; balancing rights vests government with arbitrary and unrestrained powers, with the state inevitably usurping to itself the source of rights and the duty to advance rights it values over the rights it despises. Government in which powers are restrained is government able to serve; government in which rights are balanced is government able to enslave. Only a government restrained in its powers is able to protect rights equitably, while a government, like ours in New Zealand, seeking to balance rights is a government in the bud, if not in the full flower, of totalitarianism. Intriguingly, Robert Letham hints at a necessary dependence upon the Trinitarian nature of God for there to be a balance in society. For, he argues, societies based on a monolithic god tend towards monolithic dictatorships. A balanced society is dependent upon God, as he has revealed himself, delighting in and eternally seeking the interests of the other Persons of the Trinity: Since God seeks the interests and well-being of the other, whereas in sin we seek first our own interests, only a Trinitarian-based society could achieve in a very proximate fashion an appropriate balance between rights and responsibilities, freedom and order, peace and justice. 38 Whether or not that is accepted, it highlights the necessity that in governing a safe society the good of others has precedence over self-interest. Restraining and balancing powers is essentially concerned with protecting the good of others not immediately involved in government; balancing rights brings self-interest to the fore in government, with the powerful overwhelming the weak. Each of those protections against totalitarian education discussed above is deficient in contemporary New Zealand. In the United States the framework and its administration are transparent and accessible. The constitution provides the framework to which all making and application of law must conform, and the carefully crafted three branches of government provide significant constraint on the abuse of power. In New Zealand however, our constitution is much less transparent, and in view of the historical abolition of an upper house and the diminished if not merely nominal powers of the Sovereign, the checks and balances on abuse of governmental power are reduced to an election every three years in which minorities can hold the balance of power. That is not to argue for a written constitution, an upper house, yet more electoral reform, or change in appointment of the Head of State â€“ those are debates for another forum. But it is to argue for a very clear enunciation of the principles upon which the state will define its interests in education and upon which it will advance those interests. Sadly, the state in New Zealand at present is transparently equivocal in this regard. It has claimed to champion the needs of children and the rights of parents, never more so than in signing and constantly referencing its schooling and policy making to the UNUDHR, asserting the prior right of parents to determine the education of children and to have choice in education, while at the same time it has increasingly denied such choice and subsumed the rights of parents and the needs of children to what the state has deemed its interests. The remedy, short of constitutional reform, is to insist on the priority of the stated commitment to parents and children. Among the conventions that constrain the state and protect individuals in New Zealand today is the concept that citizens are free to do whatever the law does not prohibit, whereas the state and its servants may only do what legislation expressly permits: For private persons, the rule is that you may do anything you choose which the law does not prohibit â€Ś But for public bodies the rule is opposite, and so of another character 38
Robert Letham The Holy Trinity P & R Phillipsburg 2004 p11 (italics are his)
altogether. It is that any action to be taken must be justified by positive law … The rule is necessary in order to protect the people from arbitrary interference by those set in power over them. 39 This is a necessary condition of a free democracy, and the exact inverse of a totalitarian state in which there are no private persons, in which people as organisms of the state may only do what the state expressly permits, and in which anything the state does it has a right to do by virtue of it being an action the state has taken.
Protecting the Rights of New Zealanders This has significance for education. Firstly, it is a reminder that the freedom of parents to choose the sort of education given their children, and in fact the freedom to educate their children, resides in constitutional and democratic conventions. It is one of those matters afforded “royal protection … [one of] the Rights and Privileges of British Subjects” as so fittingly put in Article three of The Treaty of Waitangi. We may appeal to the UNUDHR as evidence that we do not hold that freedom on our own, but the UNUDHR does not accord that right to New Zealanders, as they possess it independently of the UNUDHR. Secondly, that democratic convention requires the state to specifically legislate for the constituent elements of the education it is to provide. For example, the act and content of teaching must be specifically legislated for before any state teacher can legitimately teach. Private teachers do not need such empowering legislation; state teachers do. Yet having legislated as to what is good for state teachers to do, it becomes extremely difficult for the state, especially its agents, not to apply that legislation with deliberation or by accidental osmosis to private teachers and schools. Thus the freedoms of parents and private schools are denied as unintended collateral damage from the operation by the state of its education system. The culture of state education is of that sort, the assumptions behind present legislative review and reform in education are of that sort, and as a result many of the recommendations of the Law Commission40 are precisely of that sort. Thirdly, that royally protected democratic convention should restrain the present proclivity for state activity in education in New Zealand to be shaped by regulation, crown offices and crown officers. Reporting for the Crown on the well-intentioned but illegitimate actions of a British military police force, Calcutt QC asserted, “In our society, it is for Parliament and not for investigators, however genuinely and well-motivated, to decide if and when, and in what circumstances, the interests of an individual should be subordinated to the interests of society as a whole.”41 That remains true if “educators” (or any other organ of the state) is substituted for “investigators”. Yet almost all of the state’s decisions in education are presently made by agents or agencies of the crown. For example, Parliament may delegate, and indeed has delegated, the responsibility to determine the curriculum that shall be taught in state schools. Yet the design and implementation of that curriculum will subordinate particular individual interests to the state system of education without there being any express intent of Parliament to do that. Parliament may in fact have been innocently unaware of the despotic manner in which its licence to provide schooling is and will be interpreted and applied, but the restraining of individual freedoms should be only as a direct result of legislation that has that express intent, and not as a result of decisions made under delegated powers. As Turpin and Tomkins comment, “The requirement of the rule of law that express legal authority must be shown for interferences with individual rights … is diluted in substance when the legal power is conferred in very wide terms which do not have to be particularised before the power is used against the individual.”42 A free state protects its citizens’ rights and restrains its own powers, which in the sphere of education means it will protect the freedom of parents to choose their children’s education and protect the integrity of individual children. A despotic state will dictate and control education.
Laws J in R v Somerset County ex p Fewings 1995 cited by Turpin & Tomkins British Government and Constitution (6th Ed revised) CUP Cambridge 2007 p82 40 Private Schools and the Law “Issues Paper 12”, Law Commission, November 2008, Wellington 41 cited by Turpin & Tomkins p83 42 p80
3. What Is a Safe State?
New Zealand is small and thus, unfortunately, only a few key people need convert to a loony doctrine for it to have national influence. ~ Michael Matthews, Challenging NZ Science Education, 1993
The manner in which the state asserts its control of education is an indicator of the safety of the state. In New Zealand only the principal Act and its key areas of enforcement are enacted in public, and constitutionally subject to the influence of public submissions. Even that can be subverted. The amendment to impose compulsory teacher registration43 was introduced into Parliament only after all public debate in the Select Committee stages had finished, preventing any public scrutiny or submissions. Extensive use of regulations to control education, as shown later, is also an effective device for undermining public awareness and democratic restraint on government. In asserting that the state’s interest in education is self evident, we are forced back to the framework in which that interest is asserted. If the state is a totalitarian one, the state’s interest is defined by the state, and there the matter rests. Any subsequent action or lack of action is justified by the fact that the state has acted or not acted, and its so-called “interest” in education is in reality a mirage. Only in a state that serves its citizens, whether that be a democracy or theocracy, can the interests of the state have any practical meaning. Thus, while a democracy without God is a house built on a swamp rather than on sand – let alone on a rock44 – consideration of its interest in education can be made in a pragmatic manner, presupposing the continuance of the democratic principles it confesses. So long as that state does not sink into the swamp of its own inconsistent and transient philosophies and morality, it can function, and the ways in which it functions can be considered fruitfully and be constrained and guided by its people. In a democracy the state’s interest in the education of its children must be considered – can only be considered – in terms of how it protects and nurtures individual children within their families rather than in terms of some imagined transcendent state good. The more the state claims to enhance the common good at the expense of the individual good the more it tends to totalitarianism and the less democratic it becomes. The more the state balances the rights of the individual against the rights of the state by asserting the rights of the state over the rights of the individual, the more despotic it is. So while the democratic state with a rights-based 43 The 1996 Teacher Registration Bill was eventually passed as the Education Amendment Act 1996. The original Bill provided for the voluntary registration of teachers, but after the Select committee reported back, a further amendment making registration of teachers compulsory was passed and eventually enacted without public debate. 44 “‘Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.’ When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” Matthew 7:24-29
franchise has an interest in the education of its youth, that interest is protected and promoted by protecting the right to freedom of education independent of the state. An education determined by parents independently of the state’s aspirations, values or control, is a truly free education. In asserting the right of parents to “prior choice” in the education of their children, the UNUDHR is simply sating the obvious: if the free state must protect choice in education, not exercise it, the choice must rest with the natural (and I would argue, God-given) protectors and nurturers of children, their parents. The interest of a democratic state in the education of its youth rests in the freedom to educate according to choice, rather than in state intervention or licence.
Ineffective Intervention Having an interest does not necessitate intervention. There are many things in which the state has an interest but in which it cannot or should not intervene. The state has an interest in the continued functioning of the sun from which necessary energy is derived, and while the state may be able to manage and shape the ways in which that energy is accessed and utilised it is impotent to manage the sun itself. The state may have an interest in the racial harmony of its population, but it ought not, at least in a free democracy, prescribe or proscribe particular patterns of racial intermarriage: its interests notwithstanding, the state must here remain passive. Does the state’s interest in education necessitate or even permit intervention or must the state remain passive as to the education of its youth? Almost universally contemporary western society affirms intervention and with little restraint, although it proffers little by way of rational justification either philosophic or pragmatic. As to the latter, there has probably been no state in the history of western democracy that has known such consistent and monolithic state intervention in education as New Zealand, yet only a fool would suggest such intervention has produced Utopia, and those much wiser than fools will struggle to find unequivocal evidence that state intervention in education has produced any direct benefit to the state at all. As to the former, the various but seldom admitted Marxist-socialist concepts of state benevolence, supremacy, and ownership of children and productivity that underpin New Zealand’s present education system may satisfy the faith of purists but are devoid of any substance beyond conviction. Must the state then remain entirely passive as to the education of its youth? Not at all. While intervention in education is neither justified nor effective, protection of education is a vital and proper function of the state. The state should be active in protecting parents and children in the education of their choice. A democracy has no choice but to restrain itself and other busybodies from intervention that by its very nature leads from a denigration of recognised human rights to totalitarianism. State intervention on the scale presently experienced in New Zealand does result in indirect benefits of sorts for the state: the vast state-generated education economy is an economic benefit, and having all youth march to the same tune of conformity and compulsion is seen by some as a benefit. But when the stated objectives of state intervention are considered – variously referenced to some form of educational benefit for children – there is no evidence that those objectives are ever fully reached, or when partially reached are reached as a result of state intervention. As the age at which children can be freed from compulsory education has crept from 12 to 15 to 16 (and potentially now to 18) there is absolutely no evidence that children are as a result better prepared for entry into adult life. There are now more dependent adolescents and adults, a proportionally greater prison population, and higher levels of illiteracy than ever before. It is a correlation that cannot be too easily dismissed: it is a pattern to be found without exception in other free states at various points of history. Each time New Zealand has advanced the age of compulsory school attendance, the reason for the change, if not the claimed political justification, has been a surge in unemployment for which the short cure has been to retain a year’s supply of young labour at school on the pretext that with more education they will be better prepared to fill the jobs that did not exist at the time.
Unleashing Totalitarianism on Children Once the state is ceded powers to prescribe educational standards and outcomes, restraint of its powers is accidental. There is no principled restraint: if in principle it has power to prescribe what children will learn and do, there exists no principle that sets boundaries as to what it can prescribe. There is no practical restraint: if the state has the control of some of a child’s education, there is no practical reason why the state should not have all. National culture, the inertia of a school system that resists but does not prevent change, and the sensitivities of parents, may all act as temporary restraints, but they do not last. When an education system is driven by academics committed to state control, child “specialists” denigrating parental competence, and educational “experts” creating an artificial mystique about ordinary learning, as in New Zealand today, increased state control is irresistible even if it does not advance with the speed ideologues desire. Who dare face public opprobrium resulting from challenging the Children’s Commissioner? Which teacher will risk career opportunities by challenging the expert pronouncements of the Ministry of Education or its visiting advisers? Will any parents want to be known in the community as the ones who “risk” their children’s welfare by denying them the experiences common to state socialised children? Once the state is responsible for prescription it cannot be content until its prescription is universally applied, or to put it another way, until it has totalitarian control. If the state has the mandate to prescribe the standards and results of education, there is nothing in principle to restrain increasing enforcement, and everything to promote it. Because no prescription of the content of education can ensure that the prescribed content is universally taught, and because no prescription can guarantee the desired learning outcomes no matter how closely the prescription is followed, such prescriptions inevitably fail. A state bureaucracy established to control or suppress the democratic freedoms of people (even when disguised as providing education) will never abandon a failed prescription, for to do so would acknowledge that the state had erred. If failure cannot be admitted, and if the prescription cannot be faulted, then the cause of less than desirable results must rest with the implementation of the prescription. The remedy will always be to make the prescription more specific and the enforcement more imminent. It follows that failure of educational prescription necessitates greater enforcement and more stringent prescription. To cede any prescriptive power in education to the state is to cede total power in education to the state. Having determined that a certain content or outcome of education is “good”, the state must ensure it is delivered to every child. In reality, there will always be inequitable outcomes to education: some children will learn more, advance more or have greater advantages than others. Equitable delivery of the “good” must fail, and the state will then feel compelled to try even harder for conformity. Consider the incompetence and manipulation involved in the Numeracy Development Project (NDP) running in New Zealand for the last nine years. Described as one of the largest professional development projects ever run in New Zealand, the government has spent over $130 million45 on the project that has resulted in a dramatic reduction in the mathematics achievement of New Zealand children. In 1994 an international study46 ranked New Zealand 14th in the world for children’s mathematics achievement, with only Norway, Iceland, and Portugal among western nations scoring lower. After nine years and millions of dollars, New Zealand is now ranked even worse, at 23rd. Over those nine years, an entire generation of this nation’s primary school children47 has been abused with mathematics teaching that has left them worse off on the world scale than the previous almost-bottom-of-the-western-world generation. Not surprisingly, state school apologists have an explanation. They claim that when a new approach to teaching is introduced you get a short term reduction in achievement: “It reflects what
Based on a ten year project (so far) at a figure of $13 million per year reported by the Minister of Education in 2006 The Third International Mathematics and Science Study It takes 8 years to progress through the primary school system (including Intermediate schooling at years 7 & 8). Children who started school with the introduction of the NDP have known no other mathematics teaching.
happens when there’s a very strong emphasis on a new teaching approach.”48 They prophecy an “expected” improvement by 2010: “Often when you get a major project like this coming in you can get a short-term effect … I’d like to think that in … time it will self-correct.”49 Ten years is hardly short-term! They have no evidence of course that such an improvement will come; it is a theory based on a theory about teaching theory. This is a deceit, a justification after failure: they never announced that the project would be a failure for the first nine years. When the NDP was introduced, no one told the children or their parents that they would be abused by teaching that would not work for them. On the contrary, the NDP was touted as the answer to poor mathematics teaching, the sure way to lift New Zealand’s world ranking. That is why the government committed such vast sums of money to it. They promised success, and when they produced unmitigated failure, they claim that is what was really expected, but that success will come in time for a new generation of children. What comfort does it offer a generation of children to be told by those whose promises have failed that their education in mathematical incompetence has paved the way for improved results in the next generation? In any case, the claim that a remedy to failed teaching practice will produce a short-term failure of nine years of child abuse before benefits can be seen is preposterous. Those nations which displaced New Zealand, pushing us from 14th to 23rd in the world, did not need nine years of failure. Their changed teaching methods produced the immediate improvements that lifted them past New Zealand, that gave their children improved mathematics abilities, that took them from below our level of failure to way above it. If the state knew the NDP would fail for nine years, it lied when it introduced it. If it did not know it would fail, it is lying now when it says failure was inevitable for nine years. What they told us then was wrong, what they are telling us now is wrong; where does that leave their promises?
“Community Schooling” is Totalitarian Schooling The way in which the NDP has been manipulated has far too close a resemblance to totalitarianism for comfort. A totalitarian approach to education premises that every action of the state is valid, and engages apologists to promote justification for whatever it does. A totalitarian state, in other words, publishes propaganda to give a semblance of validity to what otherwise would be seen to be wrong or even foolish. How else can one describe the justification offered for the failure of the NDP? How else can one describe the machinations of the state education system in imposing failure on a generation of children while at the same time boasting about its wonderful new teaching? Consider too where prescription of the standards and outcomes of education has led Germany. It is staggering, but not inconsistent, that one of the most effective institutions of the Nazi era survives essentially unchanged in modern Germany. In 1938 Hitler banned home schooling and insisted all children be educated in “Community Schools.” The chilling poster to the right reads, “Adolf Hitler’s youth attends Community Schools.” The aim of the schools was to ensure every child was taught to the same standards and achieved the same outcomes. Schools were a major vehicle for delivering the policy of Gleichschaltung, integrating the individual into the community, or as it is called in our school system, socialising. It worked in Germany in the This poster 1930s as history makes so sadly clear. Yet today Germany still outlaws homeschooling and requires every school to teach the same curriculum: private schools are allowed, but only if they conform every child in their care to the state prescription. Presently there is a well documented exodus of German families migrating into neighbouring Austria to escape the school system and now a German family has claimed political 48 Terry Cooks, co-director of the University of Otago’s Educational Research Unit in Education Review Volume 14 No 2 January 23 2009 p8 49 Glenda Anthony, associate professor in the Centre of Excellence for Research in Mathematics Education, Massey University in Education Review
asylum in the United States on the basis that Germany prevents them choosing the values and standards of their children’s education.50 They claim that the state prescribes teaching that offends their “evangelical Christian beliefs.” Uwe Romeike withdrew his children from their community school complaining of lessons and text books containing obscene phrases, curses and blasphemy: “The lessons are neither Christian nor value neutral … In reality, the children were being educated in an anti-Christian worldview.”51 When asked to comment on the plight of the Romeike family, Lutz Gorgens, German consul general for the Southeast United States where the Romeikes are seeking refuge, said, “For reasons deeply rooted in history and our belief that only schools properly [sic] can ensure the desired level of excellent education, we (Germany) go a little bit beyond that path which other countries have chosen.”52 In 1938 Germany went a bit beyond that path which other countries had chosen with Jews. Today it seems they do it with evangelical Christians. The German consul, by arguing that only state schools can properly ensure the “desired level of excellent education” demonstrates that even in a state genuinely horrified by its Nazi history, once the power to determine “the desired level of education” is ceded to the state, there is no restraint on its tendency to totalitarianism, and as in the 1930s, it is a trend that is denied by those who should be most alert to it. Remarkably, the German constitution entrenches the right to establish private schools, ostensibly to prevent the imposition of another Gleichschaltung, yet by insisting on the same curriculum there is no practical difference between the conditions that control schooling in 2009 and those of 1938. What is taught is unquestionably different, at least for the moment, but the principle of state control is identical, and is open to the same rapid corruption that prevailed seventy years ago.
When Meaningful is Meaningless If the state is accorded a role in education beyond protecting parents in the exercise of their natural right, or as the Bible asserts, their God-given right and responsibility, to choose the education of their children,53 resistance to the state has to be illegal, and good parents are made criminals for doing good to their children. In a state like ours, or for that matter in contemporary Germany, the benevolence of those who shape, control and deliver state education is generally well intentioned, albeit misdirected. Having only one system and one standard is totalitarian, even if the system and the standard are generally thought of as “good”54 and have been imposed out of good but misguided motivation. A benevolent dictatorship is a dictatorship nonetheless and is dependent on the dictator for maintenance of its benevolence. A Ministry of Education that has the power to determine what is “good” for every child is a dictatorship, one that in New Zealand today lacks only one small change in law to force its determinations on every child and every school. The apparent necessity to legislate for a common education, and the concomitant force loosed on a community to ensure conformity, demonstrates unquestionably that the standards chosen by the state are not accepted by the whole community. Compulsion is not required when the state has secured free consent. That of course pertains to all legislation: as a rule criminals do not agree with the laws that constrain them. But in a democratic education there can be no suggestion that it is criminal to teach a different content or use different methods. The power of the state is properly loosed on thieves, murderers and drug-peddlers, but when that power is loosed on those who want to think differently and have the freedom to educate their children to think differently, the state has become tyrannical no matter how good its aims or how benevolent its posture. When the New Zealand Law Commission declares, “We consider that the state has a duty to ensure that the education provided is meaningful, and that it would be abdicating its duty by failing
Associated Press 31 March 2009 cited by The Washington Times 5 April 2009 http://tiny.cc/1cOb8 Yahoo India News 5 April 2009 http://tiny.cc/DpxpC 52 A P in Washington Times op cit 53 cf UNUDHR Article 26 (3) 54 So far as the New Zealand national curriculum is concerned, we deem it to be far from good, even from a secular-humanist perspective, let a lone the Christian one to which we are committed. 51
to provide some definition of what amounts to … an ‘education’”55 I believe it is motivated by good. But that desire for good does not justify the excess of usurping the role of parents. It leads inevitably to the very next sentence in the Commission’s statement, “Giving effect to the right to education justifies the state having a supervisory role in ensuring that an ‘education’ is indeed provided by all schools in New Zealand.” That is identical to the position adopted in Germany under Hitler and apparently maintained with the force of persecution in Germany today, a position that must extend the state’s intervention not only (as the Commission asserts) to all schools both state and private, but to homeschoolers and anyone else who wants to opt out of the state’s dictatorship. Critical to these assertions is the arrogant myth, apparently adopted uncritically by the Commission, that the state gives effect to the right to educate. It does not. In 1877 New Zealand passed an Education Act that took from parents (and from parents’ chosen churches) the right to educate. Every development of education law in New Zealand since 1877 has entrenched that confiscation of parental responsibility. Today’s Education Acts56 do not grant to parents and private schools the right to educate: they restrain that right, and vest it principally in the state. In 1877 the state took away the right to educate, and now the state claims benevolently to give it, conditionally, to those from whom it was taken. The late Edwin G West, Professor of Economics at Carleton University, USA, amassed a wealth of research demonstrating “that government intervention in the education systems of the UK and US has been utterly destructive.”57 He found that today’s literacy rates are lower in the UK and USA than before compulsory free state education was introduced. He showed that the aim of those who promoted free, compulsory, state education was not improved education but the moulding of the minds of the young in state-forced social engineering. As here in New Zealand, “with increasing state control of the curriculum and the detail of schooling in the UK, their objectives have surely been achieved with pitiful results in terms of educational outcomes.”58
Parents Can Take Back Control No one has to live with this. Parents, teachers and community leaders can retake control of education, can reject the state monopoly, and can take responsibility. Challenge Members of Parliament to protect the right of parents to have real choice. Call for the repeal of the compulsory state education to bring state despotism to an end. Insist children are taught knowledge, ideas and skills of value. Support teachers and schools that will not mould children to the state’s prescription. Take children out of school and home-school them or provide cooperative tutoring. Find a room, a basement, a hall or a corner in the local library and start a school. One of Auckland’s most respected schools was started in the basement of the first principal’s home, and many still run in church halls. If learning and parental choice are priorities, a clearly focused school needs little to function well and none of the glamour of elitism or the accoutrements of snobbery. James Tooley, Professor of Education Policy at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, England, has found parents around the world are making the choice to get a good education for their children when state schools are, like ours, failing. Parents “are abandoning public schools en masse to send their children to budget private schools that charge low fees of a few dollars per month, affordable even to families living on poverty-line wages.”59 “These schools may not have ‘frills’ in the sense of the luxuries that are on offer in other … schools… But they are far and away superior to those provided in the state sector, and that is the relevant criterion for comparison.”60 The evidence should inspire those who are working for school choice … stories of parents’ overcoming all the odds to ensure the best for the children in Africa and Asia, stories of education entrepreneurs’ creating schools out of nothing, in the middle of nowhere. If India can, why can’t we? 61 55
Private Schools and the Law “Issues Paper 12”, paragraph 3.9, p12 There are two principal Acts: The Education Act 1989 and the Education Act 1964 Government Failure: E. G. West on Education (Tooley & Stanfield eds) iea Newcastle 2003 http://tiny.cc/KlHmk 58 ibid 59 James Tooley, The Beautiful Tree 2009 60 James Tooley Private Education Benefits the Disadvantaged Newcastle University http://tiny.cc/Om2NN 61 James Tooley “Private Schools for the Poor” Education Next Fall 2005 http://tiny.cc/QonD8 56 57
4. Rights Need Protection, Not Imposition
“There’s daggers in men’s smiles.” ~ Shakespeare, Macbeth, 1606
There is a significant logical inconsistency, born of political imperative, that constructs a need for the state to give effect to “rights”. If there exists a right to an education, it is argued, the state has to give effect to that right by providing education. But the inconsistency of this can be seen in the Law Commission’s appeal to the UNUDHR’s statement that “everyone has the right to education” as its justification for controlling schools. If the fact that everyone having the right to education requires the state to provide it, control it, and make it compulsory, then the state has a mandate to force every New Zealand adult to enrol in a state school and be forced to conform to a “meaningful” education. The UNUDHR’s right is not limited to children. Yet the Law Commission, in concert with socialists everywhere, inconsistently applies this principle to children but not adults. Let us hasten to acknowledge our thankfulness for such inconsistency: may we never know the adult “education” and “re-education” classes of totalitarian states, but we should ask, if it is not proper for the state to protect the rights of adults in this way, what makes it proper to protect the rights of children with such powers? The UNUDHR asserts numerous rights, such as to marriage, freedom of religion, international travel and so on, which thankfully the state sees no need to give effect to by controlling, prescribing or enforcing. Imagine a state that decides who it would be good for each person to marry, and enforces its benevolence. It takes little imagination to picture a state that decides which religion its citizens should be free to practice and enforces that freedom. It is more difficult to imagine a state that forces its citizens to engage in state financed, state organised international travel. But is that any more difficult to imagine than a state that claims to be giving effect to the right of parents to choose the education given to their children by prescribing what that education will contain, where it will take place, and who will provide it, then taking those children by force of law from their parents and institutionalising them to give meaningful effect to their rights? A state such as ours that consistently asserts support for the rights listed in the UNUDHR – the right for parental choice, and the right to an education – can protect and even foster those rights without prescribing, providing or enforcing. To give effect to the rights of parental choice and education, the state needs neither to provide nor compel: it merely needs to protect. Imagine a state where parents were genuinely free to choose the content of their children’s education, a state where children were free to think differently, a state that protects children and parents from private or public institutions that attempt to assert control over the thinking and education of children. Imagine a state with a diversity of education and thinking. It would be called a democracy.
No Duty to Dictate Conformity Such a policy as that advocated by the Law Commission makes inevitable the state dictating that private schools conform to the state, and ultimately that no family opts out of controlled schools. Presently the Law Commission is proposing that private schools continue to be free to choose their own curriculum, but their commitment to defining “meaningful” standards for private schools is a definition of the curriculum to which they must adhere. How could it be otherwise once the state is ceded a “duty” to enforce standards? Any private school adopting other standards is necessarily depriving children of what the state has declared good, irrespective of the actual goodness of those standards. So private schools must conform to any state declaration of what constitutes good schooling. It is equally inevitable that home schooling be made illegal, for it will soon be seen that it is not merely the content or techniques of schooling that must be controlled to ensure the state’s “standards of education” are met, but the very context of state education must be a school as an institution. Once the state determines that it must supervise children’s learning, it must corral children in an institution where state servants can give effect to such supervision. That has been amply demonstrated in ERO reviews of home schooling, and to a lesser extent in private schooling, for decades in New Zealand. Despite it never being a valid consideration in law, hundreds of homeschoolers have been abused by the ERO demanding they explain how their children, in view of their not attending school, can be effectively “socialised”. There has never been a legal basis for investigating the “socialisation” of children. Nevertheless it used to be a question printed in the guidelines and forms used by the ERO in reviewing homeschooling, and even found its way into reviews of small private schools, especially those teaching in a religious perspective. It has taken years of challenge to have that question removed from the normal review process, although it is still pursued with disturbing regularity. What this illustrates is that state agents considered the school process itself, and a secular school process at that, as an essential part of good education. An education that lacked a secular school experience was deemed, and is still deemed by many zealots, to be an education that does not “meaningfully” educate for the good of the state. So entrenched is the concept that the state owns the education of children, no less a figure than Principal Family Court Judge, Peter Boshier, can discuss the welfare of children on that basis. In a passing comment that he clearly regards as not contentious but is used by him as a basis for an extensive paper on the care of children, Boshier comments, “Families are given the primary responsibility for providing [protection of children], although some aspects, such as health care and education, are generally accepted as being the domain of the State.”62 He regards it as generally accepted that education is the realm of the state and not of parents. The primary responsibility may be nominally attributed to parents, but in reality, education having been confiscated by the state, it is anchored firmly with the state.
Standards that are Not Meaningful The inevitable morphing of standards into a single holistic standard is illustrated with clarity in the Law Commission’s statement: it speaks of a duty to define education, and of justifying supervision of schools, because it believes the state should insist education is “meaningful”. While parents might imagine discussion of standards relates to competency in reading or maths, knowledge of history or literature, or skill in writing or painting, the Commission has inserted a term favoured by those who want to wrest control of schools away from parents: “meaningful.” All standards are subsumed under this single vague subjective “standard”. Even if we can determine what “meaningful” means, it immediately raises the question, “Meaningful to whom?” The new Curriculum insists it be firstly meaningful to children, whose measure of meaningfulness is the degree to which they have enjoyed school. The same curriculum specifically encourages teachers to determine meaningfulness secondly in terms of children’s 62 Judge Peter Boshier The Care of Children Act 2004 - Does it Enhance Children's Participation and Protection Rights? Speech to Children's Issues Centre, 6th Child and Family Policy Conference, St David Street, Lecture Theatre, Dunedin 7 July 2005 published by New Zealand Family Court http://tiny.cc/McKGE
participation in group activities. Parents might imagine a meaningful schooling was one in which knowledge is passed on to children, but the national Curriculum expressly makes that illegal. The Curriculum is equivocal in the way it discusses learning, but its failure to specify any content, as well as the meanings infused into the language used, the pre-service and in-service training being given teachers, the pedagogy specified and the context of educational philosophy in which it is written expressly excludes the concept of passing knowledge from someone who knows to an individual child, and insists knowledge is a group experience. As the Curriculum becomes legally binding from the start of 2010, it follows that to teach in conflict with the Curriculum by advocating individuals can acquire knowledge passed on by someone who knows, will be illegal: as state servants, state teachers can only legally teach what is expressly permitted, and to teach anything else is to break the law. Needless to say, many teachers will sensibly continue to pass knowledge on to children despite the Curriculum.63 The change in terminology is not accidental: state schools no longer have any “syllabuses”. A syllabus is a prescription of the content to be taught. There can be no syllabus when there is no specified content. But a curriculum is a statement of the syllabuses that together make up a course of instruction, along with a basic description of the way in which those syllabuses are to be taught. A curriculum without syllabuses is a general statement of nothing to teach and how to teach it. The way the Commission uses the term “meaningful” strips it of any identifiable meaning at all. If not examined too closely, a call for meaningful education sounds good; who after all would advocate for an education without meaning? Yet in the newspeak of educational dictatorship, that is exactly what is advocated. By using a term as amorphous and fluid as “meaningful” to empower the state to set standards, anything the state decides is meaningful becomes the standard. Because the state has deemed something meaningful, it is by definition meaningful even if without any discernable meaning. Hence it can challenge parents about the socialisation of their children or schools about conformity to group activity goals or the infusing of the belief system the Curriculum refers to as “values education”. Even if the state can avoid the obfuscation of terms such as “meaningful” and prescribe superficially objective measures of competence, such “standards” become in practice, meaningless. As Course Director for the Early Reading Inservice Course (ERIC) in 197664 it was my duty, among other things, to train teachers in the so-called objective measurement of reading ability. This was to be done through scoring a child reading a passage of prose.65 This enabled an apparently precise score to be determined: a child reading with an accuracy rate below 95% was deemed to be reading at the wrong level (“inappropriate” had not come into vogue in 1976). That seems like the sort of objective standard that might be attractive to the state, or to any other dictator. But Professor Clay, who designed the methods being taught, required that a child only be tested on “familiar text”. It was not at all unusual therefore to find children “reading” while actually looking at the picture66 and paying no attention to the text. Instead of reading they recited memorised text, and if they did it well the observer dutifully scored the “reading” as “accurate”.
Teach Nothing, Learn Nothing, Experience the Right Process Consider the repeated mantra of the Ministry of Education in New Zealand that mathematics competency is not about getting the right answer but using the right process. According to the Ministry, “Expecting students to get the right answers … is no longer the prime goal of mathematics education.”67 Mathematics now involves children “seeing their world from new perspectives” and exploring “relationships in quantities, space, and data and learn(ing) to express these relationships in ways that help them to make sense of the world around them”68 but with no requirement or necessary expectation of getting right answers. 63
Both the place of teaching knowledge in the new National Curriculum, and the issue of making common practice illegal without necessarily policing it, are discussed later. 64 This was a secondment to the Ministry of Education 65 This was by way of a “Running Record” as developed by Prof M Clay and still used extensively in schools today. 66 Some have even been observed holding a book upside down or sideways, but being able to recite the text accurately, were scored as “reading” competently. 67 National Education Monitoring Project: Mathematics Ministry of Education Wellington p9 68 Learning Areas The New Zealand Curriculum http://tiny.cc/QKvfS
Tests of children’s accuracy in computation compared over the last 50 years demonstrate quite simply that today’s children are not as accurate as previous generations. But the Ministry asserts that today’s children better understand their mathematics (though there are no test data available to demonstrate that), and are more fluent in the processes of mathematics (although there are no test data available to demonstrate that either). The Ministry therefore reports that mathematics teaching today is better and children’s mathematical ability is better than that of previous generations, even though today’s children can not consistently get the right answers that yesterday’s children got. Or to put it simply, once the state has the power to define standards, it will inevitably demonstrate (to fools, bureaucrats and the gullible if not to those with common sense) that what it has done and what it does meets those standards. It has no other option: it cannot admit it is not reaching the standards prescribed as a justification for its seizing control. Consider reading standards again. For the last 40 to 50 years teaching phonics as a means of giving children reading skills has been ridiculed and banned from classrooms. The argument was that children might learn to pronounce words phonetically, but that did not give them understanding. In place of phonics then, understanding was to be taught, but taught to children who were deprived of the means of recognising words. They were expected to “understand” words they could not read. Two solutions were promoted as the magical way to teach children to read: the first was to replace the learning of 40 or so alphabetic phonemes with memorising many hundreds of sight words; and the second was to have children use pictures to guess what the words on the page might be. So bizarre was that idea that we taught teachers in the ERIC programme to count as accurate reading a child’s reading of a word wrongly if it made sense.69 It is hardly surprising then that while Otago University and the Ministry of Education claim children can “decode demanding text quite accurately,” (my emphasis) they report that children still cannot comprehend what they are “reading”: “over the last eight years … there has been no improvement in comprehension.”70 In the mean time, in our own schools we taught phonics, and once children could accurately pronounce every word they came across (usually by about the age of 5½) we could teach them to understand what the words said. As a rule they could read commonly available print material (ie not just children’s literature) fluently, with understanding appropriate to their age by the age of six. Six year olds could, as they still can in our schools where we continue to use phonics, read their Bibles aloud fluently, and comprehend what they read with a level of understanding at least appropriate to their age. Yet the ERO told us we were failing to teach children to read! Similar convulsions pervade NCEA in which taking part in a process has become the criterion for awarding numerous standards. Assessment tasks are made simple (according to the NZQA these include picking up paper in the playground and talking on the telephone71), or are assessed with “guidance” so detailed, as to ensure children who have taken part get their pass mark. Yet schools that do this too openly get into trouble! NCEA is awarded as if students have gained some level of skill or knowledge when in reality they have been taking part in a vain attempt to “construct knowledge” with litter and phone conversations.72 The new Curriculum is similarly infected with constructions of learning that will result in parents being told their children know something or have learnt something when the curriculum actual declares knowledge unknowable in any conventional sense, and learning by individuals impossible. Instead, when parents are told their children have learnt something to the standards given in the Curriculum, what will be meant is that they have taken part in a group that has been exposed to some experience. Even the teaching of technology has become irrational. John Keenan, assistant teacher at Rangiora High School denounced calls for “a return to basic skills training (that) places an emphasis on the development of manual skills rather than on an awareness of the process.”73 Instead of teaching “mastery of technique” in woodwork, metalwork and computing, he says students need to be educated “to look beyond the task and identify social and moral outcomes.” 69 Technically called “substitution”, so long as the word made sense in the sentence, the word said could have no relationship to the word printed, but still be counted as “accurate reading”. 70 National Education Monitoring Project Focus 2009 July 2009 71 Sunday Star Times 17 May 2009 http://tiny.cc/lV54l 72 The problems with NCEA are covered in more detail in Chapter 10. 73 Education Review Wellington June 8 2007 p6
Why enslaving pupils to incompetence in techniques should help them focus on social and moral outcomes, even if these should be primary goals of technology education, is a mystery. In fact, teaching students to work with mastery is basic morality, and learning skills that can be relied upon is a desirable social outcome. In concert with the irrationality of the new Curriculum, his focus is on process not knowledge or skill; or rather, on knowledge as a process. Why is a particular set of knowledge and skill not to be taught? Because, he says, “multicultural and feminist theorists” have established that all process is of value. It does not matter any more what you know or experience, because any process or experience has value. Since it does not matter what a student knows, or what a student experiences so long as the student goes through a process, he argues “If technology is taught and resourced properly we could eliminate all other subjects.” By suspending rational thinking we arrive at this: If we must teach nothing so that students learn nothing, we might as well do nothing in technology, and have nothing to do with all other subjects which are in any case nothing.
The Incompetence of the State to Determine Standards It is not that there is something intrinsically wrong with standards or trying to set them. What is at fault is ceding that responsibility to the state. Not only is the state, by its very nature as a political organism, technically incompetent to set standards of education that have meaning. It is by its nature unable to set standards to which it will itself answer unequivocally. The present Government is committed to establishing new national standards of schooling: for all there is to commend its plan of making schools and teachers publicly accountable, it is a commitment doomed to failure. It must fail, because the state itself will measure and interpret the standards it writes and applies in its own schools; and since those schools exist on the mandate that only the state can give an education to an acceptable standard, it will necessarily find ways to demonstrate that the standards it actually achieves meet whatever standards it prescribes. If standards are applied with totalitarian force to private schools as well as to state schools, private education will become state education overnight. Private schools answer to parents. Private schools must satisfy parents that they are teaching well. Although under present legislation private schools in New Zealand must demonstrate that they are teaching as well as equivalent state schools, there is still legislative freedom to ignore the state curriculum and its standards. The drive for national standards could change that, for although it is proposed that the standards only apply to state schools, once established in state schools the temptation to extend them to private schools will be all but irresistible. Standards do not exist in isolation from the curriculum. There is a range of reasons why state schools initially resisted the Government’s plan for new standards. Not least is the resistance of state schools and teachers to being made accountable for their teaching. The imposition of government standards is effectively the imposition of a curriculum, but it is not just the potential change in curriculum and pedagogy that is disturbing the state sector: it is the accountability that this change threatens to introduce that it finds so objectionable. Nevertheless at the heart of any debate on standards is the issue of curriculum: “The new standards,” the New Zealand Principals Federation (NZPF) initially argued, “undermine and contradict the New Zealand Curriculum.”74 The Federation has correctly pinpointed the issue: standards are the curriculum. But the Federation, as with most observers, had mistakenly expected the Government’s demand for standards to result in objective measurements and reporting of individual students’ knowledge and abilities. Initial resistance to the state’s new standards faded as soon as the true nature of those “standards” became plain75 (only to be revived again for a different reason, as discussed below). The Government’s rhetoric had raised the expectation that the “standards” would compromise the Curriculum’s prejudice against defined content and skill. In the event they do not: they very effectively reinforce the Curriculum’s myopic focus on process without objective knowledge, and as a result, opposition to the standards dissipated as quickly as it had formed. Those standards are discussed in detail later, but sufficient to point out here that whatever the Government intended, the 74 75
Federation Flyer - Minister's Statement on League Tables - NZPF Response (emailed newsletter) 9 April 2009 The Draft Standards were published in May 2009.
state apparatus was able to ensure the outcome conformed to current practice. Nothing changed, except that there is now an additional layer of propaganda reinforcing the state’s concept of “meaningful” education, a new obfuscating process for reporting to parents, and an additional mechanism for ensuring schools conform. To define standards is to define the curriculum. To impose standards on all schools is to impose a curriculum on all schools. When the Law Commission speaks of the need to ensure education in private schools is “meaningful” it is, despite its protestations as to the need for private schools to have independence from the state curriculum, calling for the imposition of the state curriculum and its standards on them. Parents and children do not need a state standard of reading to know whether or not children can read. They can tell that whether or not schools tell them the truth or lie about it. If a child can pick up a book and read it to a parent and explain what it means, the child knows and the parent knows the child can read. If the child can not do that, it matters not a tiddlywink what the school and other organs of state education say. To ensure parents have the right of prior choice in education, a choice must exist. Instead of a single state imposed standard, choice requires a range of options, a choice of standards. The choices available at the senior secondary school qualifications in New Zealand today are a result of private endeavour, not state intervention. As well as the state designed and obfuscating NCEA, there are private alternatives with significant international credibility: two of the better known are Cambridge International Examinations, and the International Baccalaureate. To maintain acceptance in the wider community of students, parents, universities and employers, those qualifications have to be completely transparent as to the formation, evaluation and reporting of their standards. Before parents or students choose one or the other, they can examine the curricula (including standards), the processes, and the integrity of those qualifications. In such a context, thousands of parents and students are choosing private qualifications ahead of the state’s. It is hardly surprising then that over the last decade the state, from Ministers of Education down through their entire bureaucracies, has endeavoured to discredit those qualifications and dissuade parents and students from choosing them. A democratic state will accord to parents and students the protection of their right to choose and get an education they value, an education measured by standards they have chosen. If our present Government really wants to make the reporting of standards in its own schools effective, all it needs to do is insist that every one of its own schools does what every private school does:76 spell out the standards to which it teaches, identify the independent agency it chooses to measure and report on those standards, and make that reporting happen. The better solution is, however, for the state to resile from its meddling in education. Its role is to protect parents and children alike so that they can pursue an education of their choice. Every step towards compulsion, even the apparently benevolent step of trying to enforce standards, is an abuse of power, an abuse of parents and an abuse of children, and, except in the creative minds of some bureaucrats and politicians, doomed to failure.
Reporting Standards in “League Tables” Opposition to standards again broke out as the NZPF expressed alarm that the results from reporting National Standards would be published. This could result in parents and the public in general being able to see which schools were best achieving the standards.77 The Federation protested that if people know what standards are achieved, it will enable schools to be “unfairly compared with each other,” and “could be used potentially [sic] to publicly exercise a culture of blame and shame for schools.” The Principals want all reporting and discussion to be confined to each school’s “community” without any comparisons to national achievement. Apparently, if teachers and schools are held accountable for their standards of teaching, it will be a bad thing. Far better, the NZPF seems to be arguing, to keep the results of assessment secret. Better for whom? 76
Even those private schools that choose NCEA, are engaging an agency that is external to and independent of their school. We may, as I do, question their choice, but parents and students alike know what the standard purports to be and that someone other than the schools themselves will be measuring and reporting on those standards, albeit with NCEA they have chosen a system that has consistently demonstrated a propensity to corrupt its standards through over-reliance on internal assessment. 77 NZ Herald 4 July 2009 http://tiny.cc/N7pTI
Superficially, the evil the NZPF is railing against is what is called “league tables”: schools ranked according to test results. Yet why should parents not know which schools are getting the best results? But more fundamental here is the way in which the Federation is attempting to control parental choice and democratic government. The Federation claims that the Government “does not have a mandate” to change the state education system because what the Government wants to do is “populist”.78 Pardon? If the elected representatives do not have a mandate to decide what the state does, especially when it is clear it is what the people want, who does? The answer according to the NZPF is that they do. If the plan goes ahead, they say principals will refuse to obey the law and will withhold reporting of results.79 If the country will not capitulate to the demand of principals that they control what information is made available and how it is used, principals will use their position of power and privilege to coerce submission. In response Education Minister Anne Tolley at first asserted the Government’s commitment to the freedom of information and choice that is at the heart of democratic government. Of measuring and reporting standards she said, “Parents want them, they have a right to them,”80 but then backed-down and agreed to suppress the information for three years. There are real issues with league tables. One has to do with the unreliability of comparisons based on insufficient data,81 and there are multiple influences on achievement not accounted for in league tables. Yet for that to be a real danger to informed parental choice, parents have to be both narrowly focused and incredibly stupid. Harvey Goldstein of London University’s Institute of Education reports that after parents in the UK have looked at league tables (which he considers useless) they make their school choice based on other information, not league tables.82 Another issue is the way the publication of data influences changes in what is taught to ensure children gain the knowledge and skills needed to get better scores. In England publication of results saw schools begin teaching children how to read in courses that replaced the “literacy projects” previously taught that were not teaching children to read.83 But this was seen as detrimental by teachers committed to outcomes education instead of schooling that equipped children with knowledge and skill. The NZPF claims that “Focussed discussion involving data to inform teaching and learning is vital.”84 Yet by demanding that such discussion takes place in secret with no national comparisons it demonstrates its intent to resist change. Ernie Buutveld, NZPF President explains, “overseas experience shows that teachers will teach to the standards and prepare children better to achieve where the measurement becomes so important.”85 Ernie, that just might be the point: get out of your professional cocoon of “we know best” and start teaching knowledge and skill to standards parents want! According to Buutveld, “The worst thing that you can do as a principal is to promote the use of data to market your school thereby undermining schools” that are failing children.86 Sounds like a great idea to me! With the arrogance shared by all public servants who forget they are not employed to govern, Buutveld claims “principals must resist at all costs any pressures to narrow the curriculum. Our duty to NZ children is to maintain the purity and intent of the” Curriculum. Wrong. The duty of principals is to serve. The only people who can be threatened by change resulting from the publication of assessment information are those who want to control schooling to ensure children are moulded to their plans. Choice is blocked by keeping data secret. Here is how Principal of Laingholm Primary School, Paul Heffernan, who is responsible for his school’s teaching of the national Curriculum’s “values” of excellence, equity, participation, integrity, and respect explains – with irony that has too much of an edge for warning not to look like threat – his submission to the legal requirements of his employment: 78
Principals Federation news release 3 July 2009 ibid 80 ibid 81 see Goldstein, Harvey and Leckie, George (2009) The limitations of using school league tables to inform school choice. Journal 79
of the Royal Statistical Society: Series A
ibid (That the most common influence is “the child’s opinion” [cf http://tiny.cc/LF01i] does raise issues of parenting styles and intelligence hardly invalidates the publication of data in the first place.) 83 http://tiny.cc/LF01i 84 Principals Federation news release 3 July 2009 85 Ernie Buutveld “Government Plans for Schools Won’t Tell the Full Story” New Zealand Herald 9 July 2009 http://tiny.cc/Ecfvb 86 Federation Flier #11, 11 August 2009, by email
We are going to teach the easiest test we can find. We are going to re-teach and re-teach baby. … We will even fudge the results big time. My school is going to be top school on the league table so that my community will know I run a brilliant school. Parents will flock to my door. To hell with anything creative. And don't say this won't happen. It sure did with NCEA.87 One of the risks of a free society is that good information can be wrongly used, but at least in a free society the wrong use of good information is open to scrutiny, debate and informed choice. Although in a free society there is a risk information will be misused, in a closed and secretive society that risk becomes a dangerous certainty. For assessment against National Standards to have any value, the data must be published. They are not national standards if results are hidden secretively in each school and discussed only under the manipulation of each school’s principal. The Independent Schools Council (ISC) in the United Kingdom demonstrates how simple it is to place league tables in a sensible context. It advises, “School league tables can be misleading, particularly for parents who are looking to find the best school for their individual child.”88 But the ISC does not withhold the data: it publishes it, publishes its advice on how the data can be used, and trusts parents to make their own independent informed choice. If the NZPF were committed to respecting parents and parental choice, it would do the same instead of engaging in bullying to retain its control of the curriculum while hiding from accountability.
What About Incompetent Parents? The inevitable question arises however, as to those parents who fail to make choices that secure a good education for their children. What is the state to do with incompetent parents? The question presupposes the state is competent to determine who is a competent parent and who is not; and it assumes that the state is competent to replace the education provided by incompetent parents with its own education. Both presuppositions are wrong and lay a foundation for abuse. The question, “What about incompetent parents?” sings the song of tyranny, for in a free society the prior right of parents to choose their children’s education can never be subject to a test of competence. If it is, it ceases to be a right based on being a parent and becomes a privilege granted by the state. Testing competence after the fact will inevitably lead to testing competence before the fact: in other words, it must lead to licensing parents to have and nurture children, as if the parental rights and responsibilities are not natural rights or God given responsibilities. Who can determine “competent parenting”? What standards will be used? Who will police parents and rectify failure? Once the state becomes the arbiter of competent parenting, what will restrain it? The fact that the state cannot ensure children are educated, even when it takes them from parents into its schools, has already been noted. That is why in New Zealand although attendance at school is compulsory, no one has yet been foolish enough to make education compulsory, albeit that in effect is what is suggested in proposing minimum standards be made compulsory. Some will say that a parent who fails to teach his child (or have his child taught) to read is incompetent. As much as we want every child to learn to read, there is no way, even in a totalitarian state, that such an aim can be fully accomplished. The New Zealand state, exercising totalitarian powers to the extent it forces children to attend its schools and receive teaching to state standards, fails to teach thousands of children to read. If by the standard of ensuring children learn to read parents can be declared incompetent, the state is more so. Parental competence cannot be safely tested by the state, much less provide a basis for state intervention in the education of a child. Clearly there are situations where it is right for the state to intervene when parents make choices that are criminal. “But public policy should not be based on a mistrust of families.”89 Neglect and abuse are not the result of parents exercising a recognised prior natural right or Godgiven responsibility. There is no prior right to choose sexual abuse or theft or murder. What makes those activities criminal is legislation based on recognition that the action is so wrong there can never be a legitimate choice as to whether or not the action is taken. 87
New Zealand Herald 31 August 2009 http://tiny.cc/rQxkl http://tiny.cc/Zy5Og Charles L Glenn “What the United States Can Learn from Other Countries” School Choice ed Salisbury & Tooley, Cato Institute, Washington 2005, p81 88 89
When it comes to education however, it can never be argued that the choice to cause a child to study or not to study Wuthering Heights or the volcanic cones of Auckland or the interface of cultures when Cook visited Tahiti, can be regarded as a matter of criminal law. Further, educational choices that might well offend some are perfectly valid for others. In a biblical Christian view, so great is the necessity of teaching children in the context of a comprehensively biblical faith, we consider failure to do that to be a great evil. But we are more than aware there are others who regard our context of teaching to be a great evil. It would be an even greater evil for the state to take sides and enforce one view or the other as a matter of competency. (While that is exactly what the New Zealand state does when it uses the force of the law to demand all education given to children be of an entirely secular nature90 unless the state has licensed parents to teach or get teaching differently, that should not be used as a precedent for continuing a trend towards totalitarian control.) Some will find a highly structured education, imposed on a child, as essential while others will choose a laissez-faire structure in which children are free to choose what educational experiences they want, and how vigorously they pursue them. A parent who chooses an education in which the child does what he wants at home or in the community is not making a different choice from a school which chooses the same child-centred learning experiences. The location of such choices does not make the choice in one place educational and in another parental failure, if education is deemed to be the gaining of knowledge, skill and experience. Only where education is deemed to be about the control and systemisation of children in a totalitarian educational system will the location be critical.
What About an Incompetent State? The Alternative Education (AE) programme funded by the state sees thousands of children (over 3,000 in 2003, a 355% increase in the five years the programme had by then been running91) deemed to be “alienated from the school system” given activities meant to end their alienation with what the Ministry demands must be “educational success”. Most AE programmes are run by private providers, although children are officially enrolled in and recorded as attending a school they never actually attend. There are hundreds of private providers who take children into the bush, engage them in community activities, provide vocational and life-skills lessons, and offer character building adventures for these children. The documentation for AE is a truly wondrous collection of Orwellian newspeak. AE children, who have qualified for AE by being truant from school for more than two terms, or by being expelled on multiple occasions, or by simply being uncontrollable, are said to be “alienated from the school system”. They cannot be alienated from school of course, because that would mean alienation from schools established by the state as a necessary “good”: by definition what is “good” cannot be “not good”. Nor can failure be attributed to any person (be it child, parent or teacher) because such culpability would also circumvent the necessary “good” consequence of taking part in a state-provided “good”. Some force from outer space perhaps has insinuated itself in the “system” making aliens of otherwise integrated organic units of the system? In reality they are disobedient, non-compliant and wilful children who have learnt there are no effective repercussions for their rebellion within schools where everything that happens is by definition “good”. That some AE children have behavioural issues related to lack of reading and numeracy skills and such like is not denied. That many AE children are really pathetic individuals in need of compassion is not denied. We teach such children into our own schools with a genuine concern to help. But for all that, they would not be in AE if they were obedient, compliant and teachable. The state insists these children receive “educational success”. Since the state’s curriculum is the state’s definition of education and sets its standards of success, the state’s ERO properly evaluated these AE programmes in the light of the Curriculum: There was variation in curriculum coverage with an emphasis on life skills, literacy and numeracy. ERO notes that, compared with the mainstream, this variation may have 90
Education Act 1964 s 77 “the teaching shall be entirely of a secular character.” Alternative Education Report Education Review Office, Wellington, 2004 http://tiny.cc/Zxye1 2003 is the most recent date for which we could find figures. 91
determined the choices for some92 students with a possible narrowing of the range of future career opportunities, at least in the short term.93 In other words, after bumming around our communities and forests asserting their selfishness and enhancing their self-images while legally deemed to be attending schools they never go to, and suffering the abuse of a deceitful “system” that is similarly deemed to be doing them “good” while giving them nothing in the way of knowledge or skill, these poor children end up with “educational success” that leaves them just where they started a year earlier. The state smugly praises itself for invisible outcomes at an annual cost of more than $11,500 per child – $34.5 million in 2003 – for doing what it would prosecute parents for doing. I am not suggesting these children should be abandoned, nor am I advocating troublesome children be left to run riot. But if parents were to be held responsible for the conduct of their children, and if they were to be protected by the state in providing motivation, discipline and guidance to their children, many of these children would be better off at home learning life and family skills and being held responsible for their behaviour and work-attitudes instead of being taken into the unreal world of privileged tax-payer funded adventures. Compulsory schooling gets in the way of families and communities holding them responsible for their conduct and offering them suitable learning. It is important to grasp that if a family chose to educate their own children in such a way without state funding, to keep their children home and give them life skills, they would be regarded by education officials as failing to provide an appropriate education when their only failure is to substitute parental care and supervision for the management of a “private provider” hired by the state. If the same family however is paid by the state to provide exactly the same education to others’ children, it would be a legitimate private provider. There are even state schools in which children have a freedom to choose that many would deem unacceptable if located in homes instead of schools. If the educational choices exercised by the state and accepted as legitimate are so broad, there is hardly scope for making such choices criminal when made by parents. Neither competence nor choice in education can be a valid basis for the state identifying criminality. Competence, preference and choice are never criminal in a free society: only the actions that arise from choice can be criminal. Simply put, anything that is done to a child or that a child does while in the care of the state that is regarded as criminal might also be regarded as criminal when the child is not in the care of the state. But if something can be legitimately done to or by a child while in the care of the state, it must also be legitimate when the child is not in the care of the state. Sexual abuse at school is properly a criminal offence, and is equally properly a criminal offence anywhere else. But despite the offence they each cause many parents and teachers, neither free choice child-centred education nor directed knowledge-centred education can be criminalised in any democratic context, whether it takes place at home or at school. In any case, state intervention to overcome parental failure fails in practice. The New Zealand school system is as impotent as any school system to overcome the influence of a failing home. All the research indicates that schools largely fail to improve children who do not come from homes that encourage learning. True, a few are helped, but most children who have what schools would regard as incompetent parents, fail to become competent by the school’s standards, and eventually replicate the pattern of their parents. Schooling cannot overwhelm the styles of parenting in which children are raised, whether they be good or bad, competent or incompetent, by whatever standard, without the support and cooperation of parents. Even if the impossible became reality, and some competent person or agency able to determine parental competence were to be discovered, the state is impotent and incompetent to do anything about it through schooling. There may be other ways in which the state can help parents that do not necessarily presuppose state intervention. For example, it can protect the free association of people and provide conditions in which charities, individuals and groups within the community can provide assistance that respects individuals and families. But no matter what standards are used, no matter who makes the determination, the evidence is clear: schools cannot significantly alter the influence of parents who oppose the school. 92 It is fascinating that the ERO could not quantify this failure, since it was able to provide detailed statistics on everything else reported. It appears to be old-fashioned obfuscation: “some” means a few (unlikely or they would say so) or “many” or “most”? 93 Alternative Education Report
5. Subverting Parents
You can’t expect parents to make these choices. How on earth would parents know which schools are best? … You can’t expect ordinary people to know where to send their children. … parents have no qualifications to make these choices. Teachers are the professionals. Parents are the worst people to bring up children. They’ve no qualifications, no training. ~ [Sir Humphrey Appleby] Jay & Lynn, Yes Minister, 1981
Can it be argued then that since schools cannot overwhelm the impact of bad parenting, they cannot overwhelm the impact of good parenting? Sadly, and demonstrably, no. The presupposition of any discussion of bad or good, incompetent or competent parenting, in relation to schooling, is that of compliance and cooperation. Where the state has the power to determine what constitutes good schooling, it necessarily defines good or bad parenting in relationship to compliance or noncompliance with the state’s determination. A bad or incompetent parent is thus one who is in opposition to the school, and whose children take that opposition into the school. The opposition can be moral, behavioural or intellectual: if the parent and the child do not support the school, the school can change little, and the normal outcome will be replication of parental morality, behaviour or thinking. But parents who comply, are by definition complying with the school’s programme; where that programme includes changing children to a model that differs from their parents’, the compliance of the parents paves the way for the school to change children to its model, to mould them to its shape.
Acquiescence Empowers the State The power of totalitarianism lies in the acquiescence of individuals. In the context of state education, good or competent parenting is parenting that supports the school even when that support compromises parental choice, standards, morality, belief or conscience. Of course, it would not be totalitarian if parents had genuine choice as to how and where to educate their children. With such choice parents would support their school and cooperate with it so long as their aspirations were being met and their beliefs upheld. But where the state is a monopolistic supplier, which it is for those parents who cannot choose an alternative because of economic or other practical reasons, and which it will become for all parents if the state compels what it defines as “meaningful” or “good” education in private schools, the only choice parents have is to comply or oppose. Such schooling is totalitarian. Parents who hold to a different morality, behaviour or way of thinking (as, for example, “religious” parents who must send their children to a secular school), must acquiesce to the school, and encourage their children’s compliance, to remain “good” or “competent”. Even such rearguard action as they might mount in the limited time children are directly under their care at home cannot be undertaken in a way that undermines the school since their children’s safety at school as being seen to be good children from good homes depends on there being no manifestation of opposition.
Criticism of parents for doing good to their children is not at all far-fetched. There is a multitude of parents who over the years have been rebuked by schools for such things as teaching children to read or how to do some mathematical calculation. Sometimes the rebuke is for teaching a method, such as phonics, that the school does not favour, with the preposterous accusation that such learning can harm children. Just as often parents are rebuked because children who are so taught no longer fit their group.94 How dare parents give their children knowledge and skill that makes them different from the mob into which they have been herded by the kind state school! The good parent cannot remain truly good when children are receiving the “education” of such schools, for good parents must either forgo giving their children the good that is in their power to supply, or by lovingly providing that good to their children, oppose the school and expose themselves and their children to discrimination. So while schools cannot significantly overwhelm the influence of oppositional parenting, they have freedom, power, and the consistent ability to overwhelm the morality, behavioural practices and patterns of thinking in children of parents who, though differing from the school, submit their children to the school without opposition. Research consistently indicates schools influence children when the learning, standards and attitudes children bring to school fit the school, and they fail to influence children when children do not fit.95 Many parents will argue that their children, though attending schools that teach to standards different from their own, practice their standards outside of the home. Thus though children cannot infuse their studies and school activities with their religious beliefs and practices, they can practice their religion in other contexts. For most that is a significant compromise, for there are few religions that do not call for the infusion of their belief system into all of the activities of the believer. But in any case, it is fundamental to totalitarianism that isolation of individuality is a precursor to the execution of individuality. First make individuality a private matter, then increasingly isolate it by making the legitimate private context ever smaller until children and parents are reporting to the state on each other’s behaviour in the home. The Roman Caesars at first allowed the practice of public religion of all sorts, so long as Caesar was publicly worshiped. Differing public religion was then banned, before even private difference was banned.96 Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s writing graphically recounts how Soviet totalitarianism imposed its control even on the secret thinking of the individual. Freedom to think was, after experiencing in the Gulag what the state declared to be “good” education, freedom to think the thoughts of the state. As a result, the state is empowered to change the children of “good” parents while it remains powerless to change the children of “bad” parents until it takes those children away from “bad” parents and farms them in institutions where the state supplants the parental role.
Isolating Children from Parents The genius of John Dewey’s “democratic education”, upon which all contemporary western compulsory state schooling is founded, is in its conscious creation of a context for conformity that separates children from parental choice. Dewey acknowledged that it did not matter what children studied so long as they engaged in a common experience that isolated them from what parents really wanted. That is something the New Zealand school system has been slow to realise, but is finally implementing with the new Curriculum which prescribes where schooling will take place, how schooling will take place, but makes what will be taught an irrelevancy. Dewey described democratic education in this way: “Education is a social function, securing direction and development in the immature through their participation in the life of the group to which they belong. … Education is a social process.”97 94
It is of course possible for parents, as for teachers, to teach error, and it is also possible for a child to be taught something out of sequence in a way that can hinder future learning: a good school will work with good parents to respond to parental interest and gifts so that parents can genuinely contribute to children’s learning. But rebuking parents for teaching children is untenable in a democracy that posits the responsibility for nurturing children and the responsibility for their education with parents. 95 Eg Crooks & Caygill New Zealand’s National Education Monitoring Project … University of Otago 1999 http://tiny.cc/hiaf4 96 In one of those quirks that makes history so delightfully intriguing, it is not without irony that a formalised adaptation of Christianity became the compulsory religion in a state that had vigorously suppressed Christianity. 97 John Dewey Democracy and Education (Section 7: The Democratic Conception of Education) 1916
Effectively his classroom democracy requires conformity to the group and rejection of the family. In neither his democratic classroom nor in his democratic society could there be freedom to choose what the group rejected, or freedom to dissent. His democracy defines its morality in terms of what was meaningful for the group and good for the state. Education becomes a matter of experiencing conformity with a group that is distinct from the family and isolated from family values. Dewey argued that his form of a democratic society could only arrive with the breaking down of the values and world-and-life view children inevitably acquired from their parents (and other non-school institutions). To achieve that he promoted what we have today: schools in which children from diverse families are forced to conform to the group, where diversity is extinguished through loyalty to the group, and protection of group values, group practice and group thinking becomes the greater good. That means for schools to be successful in the education of children there can be no real parental choice. It was the freedom of parents to choose the type of education their children had, at home or at a school, and if at a school, at a school which supported their family values, that Dewey successfully opposed. If the only choice parents have is whether or not to support children’s conformity to compulsory state schooling, they do not have a free choice, and despite Dewey’s diabolical corruption of the term, they do not have a democracy. Cooperation with any school is necessary for the school to function. If, as in New Zealand today, the state effectively defines good parenting as cooperation with compulsory state schooling, parents the school system regards as “good parents” must surrender the education of their children to the state. The definition of good parenting as being cooperation with the state school is not necessarily exhaustive at the moment, but it is increasingly so. Presently there are other aspects of good parenting the state demands, but while cooperation with the state school is not a sufficient condition it is certainly a necessary one in the state’s definition of good parenting. Ostensibly, it is only conformity to the state system that is demanded, but it takes only a passing familiarity with the pronouncements of state educators to realise they consider all private and home schooling as contrary to the public good: if you do not send your children to a state school the quality of your parenting is in question. As the state school increasingly assumes even greater spheres of responsibility – presently extending to what food children eat; what character building outdoor experiences they should have that threaten their safety, regularly injure them and occasionally kill them; and how much sunlight they can be exposed to – attending a state school increasingly tends to be the only criterion of good parents. All other criteria that might once have been considered in evaluating good parenting relate to things the schools increasingly commandeer as their responsibility. Unrestrained, schools replace all the functions of the home except procreation. Sadly, even procreation is being removed from the home as stable families are becoming increasingly rare and as families are redefined into sufficiently extended groups as to separate child rearing from child bearing; but thankfully, despite sex education that is congruent with high levels of sexual activity among children, schools have not yet included experience of procreation in their programmes.
Replacing Parents The euphemistically labelled EOTC (Education Outside the Classroom) is a significant sphere of what was once parental responsibility now captured by schools. For the most part it has nothing to do with imparting knowledge or skills of the sort traditionally taught in schools. There is a place for field studies, which are technically EOTC, but such studies can be undertaken with out significant risk, or for the most part without any greater time outside of the classroom than a few hours at a time. All schooling involves some risk. Children have hurt themselves with pens and pencils, but the risk is minimal, and using pens and pencils helps children master legitimate curriculum content. The risk of injury while visiting a Botanic Garden to learn about plant species and environments is incidental to the educational task. But the risk in kayaking or camping is an essential part of activities in which the risk is chosen as a vehicle for changing children.
The emphasis on the most significant part of EOTC, adventure education, is on endangering children’s safety with the objective of social change. According to the Ministry of Education: The purpose of adventure education is to enhance self-concept and improve social interaction. Adventure education is based on activities that create challenge and excitement by deliberately exposing participants to elements of risk. The risks could be physical (injury), social/emotional or material (gear/equipment).98 “Social interaction” and “self concept” are now subjects state schools are obliged to teach,99 and they are to be taught by putting children “at risk” – a euphemism for putting them in danger of injury or death – for social change. The danger of hurting children physically or emotionally (or socially, whatever that means) is an official Ministry path to social change. In an incredibly callous construction, the Ministry puts the risk of damaging equipment on the same scale of concern as endangering children. This agenda for social change results in hundreds of children being injured in their “learning processes” each year, and, sadly, a small but growing number of children being killed in schooling meant to build their self-concept and social interaction. I can only express my very real sympathy for those schools, teachers and parents – some of whom I know and deeply respect – who have suffered the unspeakable horror of school deaths. But children only die in adventure education when they have been deliberately put in danger, albeit with charitable motivation and apparently prudent but insufficient risk management. When that danger is part of state compelled education and a state mandated curriculum, it is nothing short of appalling abuse. Following one school fatality, the school’s deputy principal explained to me that his school would continue to provide adventure education and continue to oblige children to take part in it because risk helped build character and now that everybody was fully aware that the risk was real the education would be more effective. Theoretically parents have a choice as to whether or not their children take part in camps and adventure education – but it is a rare parent and an even rarer child who can withstand the pressure to be part of the class activity, or carry the subsequent stigmatisation of staying at school while peers have the time of their lives in a camp, kayak or canyon. The reality is that if a school runs such an activity, parents and pupils alike will be under great pressure to take part, and never more so than under the new Curriculum where the individual child’s identity and values are captive to the school-managed peer group. It is clearly legitimate for parents to take their own children on adventure activities, or freely choose to engage others to undertake such activities for them. Many parents take growing children on camps and activities that involve various degrees of risk. My wife and I chose to take our children camping, tramping, canoeing and surfing – and there were injuries. But no one forced us to do that, and no one forces parents in the community to do that, as do schools with their students. Nor does anyone force families and their children with their varied interests, aptitudes and characters to be exposed to identical dangers, as do schools with their students. In family activities some children experience greater risks than others, but those who have lesser adventures and are nurtured with different activities do not suffer a consequential deficiency in their characters: it is part of what contributes to wonderfully diverse characters. Parents are best placed to manage adventures (or to do without them) that respond to and cater for the individual children God has entrusted to their nurture. So why are schools so committed to leaving their classrooms and exposing children to risks that may even kill them? There are three reasons. Firstly and fundamentally, schools see their role as Dewey designed it: the breaking down of parental influence and values. One teacher explained why children should be taken on a school camp with the words, “Unless we take them away from their parents and have them together for several nights we will never be able to replace their parents’ influence.” That leads to the second reason for schools forcing children to experience identical dangers: conformity and bonding are essential factors in establishing a group dynamic that replaces families with groups. Nothing bonds groups together better than shared fear and achievement, which, incidentally, is why it is great for families to do stuff together! The state can only control if it can break down individuality and family influence. 98 99
Ministry of Education http://tiny.cc/VIxDW The Health and Physical Education Curriculum, Ministry of Education, 1999
The third reason is pragmatic: it is easier for modern parents who spend little time in shared activities with their children anyway to have the school organise what parents might otherwise be doing – and to blame the schools when something goes wrong instead of having to shoulder the responsibility of nurturing their own children for themselves. Schools are replacing parents because that is what schools want and what parents find easiest.
What Happens when the State Decides Parental Competency? In 2006 the Children’s Commissioner Dr Cindy Kiro published her aim of having the state invade the privacy of every family, monitoring and reporting on every child from birth. Her aim is to have the state write a developmental plan for each child, “owned by the child”100 which the state will hold parents responsible for implementing, even though parents will have no choice over the plan. This is rather bizarre, for “ownership” of such programmes can only be accomplished, according the driving philosophy of “ownership” of education and motivation, by having the owner help write and commit to the programme. How newborns will do this is obvious: the state will supply a surrogate self to do it for the child. Dr Kiro proposed a “named professional” for each child, responsible for ensuring the state’s plan would be followed. Some might wonder if parents might be better suited to this task? I unhesitating affirm only parents are suited to this task – the state should butt out! The Ministry of Health’s B4SC (Before School Check) programme, launched in 2007, has been described by the Children’s Commissioner as a step towards her plan. Parents are told that the B4SC is to help them make sure children are ready for school, but the Ministry’s secret handbook states its aim is to engage children in a permanent “therapeutic relationship” with the state, and that parents are not to be told about that aim or be given details if their children are assessed as at risk. Even the assessment is to be carried out using the subterfuge of a questionnaire parents are to be told will not be used for such an assessment. According to the Ministry of Education, “The questionnaire is not used to diagnose or label the child.”101 Yet the SDQ questionnaire used specifically identifies restlessness or lack of cooperation (in a four-year-old being interviewed by a stranger mind!) as a basis of categorising a child as “abnormal” and “at risk”, an assessment not to be divulged to parents. In this equivocation “categorising” is deemed to be neither “diagnosing” nor “labelling”. This commitment to secrecy is reinforced by the statement: Although partnership between the health professional and the child and family/whanau being assessed is a fundamental principle, this does not mean that every detail of information gained, or the practitioner’s judgment about that information, must be shared immediately and in full with those being assessed.102 This is, by any democratic standards, an abuse of power. Imagine for a moment, if you can, that the Children’s Commissioner (or any other supposed servant of the people) is right about some standard of parenting. In a democracy she can present the evidence and attempt to encourage agreement and a change in practice; or she can impose her choice on all families for all children by using the force of the state. The latter is tyrannical. When the Commissioner is judged to be wrong by almost 90%103 of the people she serves (as was and remains the case with regard to safe corrective smacking of children) her preference is enforced only by asserting the state knows best. That is tyrannical.104 100
http://www.occ.org.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/2939/CC_Newsletter_Summer2006.pdf Education Gazette 11 May 2009 p10. 102 The B4 School Check: A handbook for practitioners Ministry of Health, Wellington, 2008 p2 Interestingly, this quote appears to indicate it is the parents being assessed rather than the children since it is obvious information would not be given to the four-year-old children. 103 Results from the referendum on smacking showed 87.4% opposed the Commissioner’s irrational opposition to smacking. That is higher than the 80% opinion polls had previously suggested. 104 In the debate on smacking, the issues arises as to the assertion that smacking is unsafe for children. Without entering that debate here, a democratic state can only prohibit what is always harmful. It is thus able to outlaw smacking that harms, but not all smacking, as the evidence is unequivocally that not all smacking is harmful: most adults were smacked and have not become abused (except so far as the invalid circular argument is used by some asserting that smacking is itself abusive therefore anyone smacked has by definition been 101
The Ministry of Health aims to enrol 80% of four-year-olds in its B4SC programme. If however, the programme has validity, if it is good for children to be enrolled in it, how can the state restrain itself from forcing all children to enrol once it has intervened for some? If the state is the arbiter of children’s good, if enrolment in its programme is a good to be dispensed by the state, then the state must ultimately force all children into its programme. To do less would be to either abandon some children to what it considers incompetence, or admit that its standard is not the only valid standard: it can do neither. The tendency of such thinking leads ultimately to licensing of parents to conceive, bear and nurture children. After all, if it is right for the state to demand all children attend school from the age of six (as at present in New Zealand), what makes six such a valid point for state intervention? Surely preschool children need the same “protection” of their right to education: the contemporary pressure, enormous as it is, to voluntarily enrol children in pre-schools must ultimately give place to compulsion. There is no reason why three and four year old schooling should be voluntary while six year old schooling is compulsory. Once that is admitted, how can the state validate its supervision of four-year-olds and not new-borns? It is only another small but very logical step to licensing birth. A school in Auckland recently told a mother she should not have any more children.105 The principal of the school rang the pregnant mother to tell her that her daughter was having difficulty at school as a result of the mother’s pregnancy, and for the good of her children’s schooling she should ensure this pregnancy should be her last. That may appear staggeringly audacious and rude, but it is consistent with the role of a principal in a system where she has been ceded the right, in place of parents, to make decisions about the nurture their of children.
The State’s Interest in Marriage is Illustrative If state intervention is justified to protect educational rights, all other rights would also need similar intervention. For example, protection of the right to marriage and family life would impose on the state a duty to intervene in and provide supervision of marriages and families. The distinction between licensing and supervision needs to be recognised: presently the New Zealand state acts reasonably to protect people and secure justice by licensing marriages. That ensures illegitimate or genetically unsafe marriages are not entered into. The Act is very specific: marriages shall be licensed unless prohibited on the basis of evidence.106 In other words, the licensing regime works, not on the grounds that marriage is a privilege accorded by the state, but, as asserted by the UNUDHR,107 a right independent of state benevolence. The licensing protects the right to a safe marriage; it does not grant it. If the regime of control over education were to be applied to marriage on exactly the same basis (the state wants to intervene to “protect” the right to marriage) the result would be that all people of marriageable age would be taken from their homes and their parents’ control, placed in state run institutions for training and trading according to state standards, married off to partners of the state’s choosing, inducted into family life according to the state’s curriculum, and regularly inspected and reported on by the Marriage Review Office to the Ministry of Married Life. There is the making of a good movie there, but not the making of a good democracy. Yet why do so many who find such intrusion into that aspect of family life repugnant accept without hesitation exactly the same level of intrusion in another aspect of family life, the education of each family’s children? In a democracy where marriage is licensed the state nevertheless does not set standards for the conduct of good marriages, nor does it send state agents into the homes of married people to ensure they are experiencing marriage in a manner that is meaningful to individuals or beneficial to the state. Of course, the state legitimately intrudes when a criminal offence, such as the abuse of a person, is likely to have happened, and requires that the dissolution of marriage which it has
abused irrespective of any lack of harm and any moral or behavioural good arising as a consequence) or abusive as is claimed is the occasional danger of smacking. 105 This is one instance we have been able to verify: it is unlikely to be unique and must become more common as the despotic nature of state schooling runs its course. 106 Marriage Act 1955 s28 107 Article 16
licensed be tested. None of this constitutes supervision or control of what happens within marriages. Licensing and policing are different from supervision. So it must be for education: a prudent and just democracy will restrain certain individuals, on the basis of criminal conviction, from educating other people’s children. But it cannot do more without assuming powers in conflict with the stated principles of freedom to think, freedom to parent, freedom to choose the education of a child, and freedom to be different. The state may legitimately intervene when a criminal offence, such as the abuse of a child, has happened, or to restrain evidentially dangerous persons from abusing a child, but it cannot send agents into the homes of families to ensure education of a family’s children is meaningful or beneficial to the state without assuming despotic powers of a police state. There is no question that good people want to do what is good for children. But that motivation can push good people to do what is not good. Observing a family, good people may be of the view that some way in which that family cares for its children could be done better, but good people will restrain themselves from intervening for anything short of criminal abuse. Good people may think a family should be vegetarian, play different sports, be alert to the failures of the political party they support, or think differently about Mäori colonialism, but good people will not intervene and will agree that no matter how good the motivation, such intervention is not good. No matter how good the motivation, it cannot be good to force one way to think, one body of things to know, one curriculum of experience, one method of schooling on every child. To impose one method of schooling is to impose one method of parenting, for education of children is a function of parenting even if it has been delegated to or seized by a school.
Education Is Best Without State Provision We have become so used to the state providing schooling that it is commonly assumed free, compulsory, state schooling is an unquestionable public good. Yet any other service that failed so many children would be rejected. Anything else that demanded more money but refused to be evaluated publicly would be bankrupted. Anything else that took children from families, moulding and abusing them in such a way would be resisted. One reason it is hoped state schools can be reformed is the assumption they once did a great job. In fact there is no evidence this is so, and significant evidence to the contrary. True, for the 130 years of state schooling most children have learnt. But the evidence shows, when it is looked at, that not only would those children have learnt without compulsory state schooling, many of the children now failing at school would have been more successful without compulsory state schools. As already noted, E G West shows that in both the UK and the USA literacy was higher before compulsory, free, state schooling was imposed. Drawing on the work of specialist historian of literacy, R. K. Webb, West reports that “in 1880, when national compulsion was enacted, over 95 per cent of fifteen-year-olds were literate. This should be compared to the fact that over a century later 40 per cent of 21-year-olds in the UK admit to difficulties with writing and spelling.”108 West also found actual participation in formal education was not improved by compulsion, even among the poor or “lower classes”. When state schools were first introduced in England, poor parents continued to prefer paying for private schooling. As early as 1858 one official report found that the average school attendance of working-class children was six years,109 extraordinarily high for the time and equivalent to what the New Zealand 1877 Act would make compulsory. When compulsory attendance was introduced in England in 1880 it could not be honestly argued its aim was to get children to school who otherwise would not attend. Levels of literacy and school attendance – and even juvenile offending – have never been better under compulsory, free, state schooling than they were prior to 1870.110 The highest standards of education have been achieved and will be achieved when parents are free to choose an education they believe in and are willing to invest in – with the protection but without the provision, much less the compulsion, of the state. 108
West p38 West p36 see E G West “The Spread of Education before Compulsion: Britain and America in the Nineteenth Century” in the Freeman: Ideas on Liberty July 1996, Foundation for Economic Education reprinted in Government Failure pp34ff 109 110
6. Buying Control
He pays for the one convenience of a better dinner, by the loss of some of the richest social and educational advantages. He has lost what guards! what incentives! He will perhaps find by and by, that he left the Muses at the door of the hotel, and found the Furies inside. Money often costs too much, and power and pleasure are not cheap. The ancient poet said, “the gods sell all things at a fair price.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson The Conduct of Life 1860
The state that intervenes in education faces a conundrum over the issue of providing funding for private schooling and home schooling. The absolutist state regards itself as the only agency that can properly educate. So long as it permits private education it permits something it regards as less than good for children: its ultimate goal and natural tendency must be to extend control over all dissent until nothing is private. Should it starve private schooling of state funding in the hope of forcing submission and dependence, or should it help those “poor children” suffering what it believes to be the abuse of parents in private education and at least pay some funds to entice a closer relationship with the state? Purists resile from state funding of private schools with fundamentalist zeal. In New Zealand, the state teachers’ unions are vociferous in opposing every cent of tax money going to private schools, paradoxically as they demand teachers in those schools come under their control. Yet despite popular myths to the contrary, it is the unions’ closest partners in politics that tend to be the most likely to extend increased funding to private schools. For example, the Labour government that came to power in 1935 instituted a raft of subsidies and was on a path of continued support for private schools when in 1949 a National Government came to power and closed off further development. The reason is simple. For all the debate about fairness and equity, the private schools of the affluent can survive without state funding,111 and the votes of those schools’ supporting parents are unlike to be bought by the little more the state might be willing to pay in school subsidies. On the other hand, the poorer parents in the poorer private schools have traditionally been supporters of the parties most closely linked to the unions (as will be explained shortly) and the most likely to be disillusioned with the parties they have traditionally voted for when they see their schools increasingly falling behind their state competitors. As a result governments most committed to increasing state control are the most likely to increase state subsidies – but with conditions! Yet that is exactly how those independent schools can be brought under the control of the state and become state schools. Excuses have to be made publicly when governments increase subsidies to schools, while in reality it is just those subsidies that fulfil the commitment to state absolutism. 111 Recent events in Auckland notwithstanding! The demise of Corran School for Girls cannot be attributed to a lack of state funds, its rich asset base, captive niche market and high school fees all making state subsidies a less than critical factor in the educational and business management of the school.
Simply put, the more money the state pays private schools (and home schoolers) the more they become dependent upon the state and the more susceptible they become to pressure for compliance. Whether the state makes its payments overtly conditional or only implicitly so, what it pays for it demands control of. And the more money received, the less able a school is to withdraw from its addiction, so committing it to new demands for compliance and submission. In the words of an Associate Minister of Education herself, “Accepting government funding also means accepting that Government will want a say in how that money is utilised. In my experience, government assistance nearly always comes with a catch – Government interference in daily operations.”112 With few exceptions, state funding is a multi-lane express-highway to state control, and the failure of the despotic state to use it more effectively is a result on the one hand of the inability of zealots to see past the money they want for themselves, and on the other hand the need for pragmatic politicians to appear benevolent when in fact they are the main beneficiaries of their benevolence. Generally, they genuinely think children will benefit: and so far as it is their normal belief that the state is the best judge of what is good for children and offers the best education, making private schools so increasingly dependent upon the state that they become state schools is, for them, the ultimate benevolence, albeit simultaneously a self-serving one. State funding buys control, but there is a philosophical barrier to an absolutists educational system paying private enterprise. Enigmatically, this inhibits the purists from seizing the opportunity state funding offers for eliminating private education. In the last 50 years most private schools in New Zealand have become state schools as a direct result of state funding, yet the purists still fulminate against those schools and in their fundamentalist blindness fail to use the enormous leverage offered to close down the remaining semblance of independence. Not only do they fail to bring these newly nationalised schools under control, they are keeping those remaining private schools wanting to join the state from doing so!113 Is it that despots are so addicted to power that they cannot see when they are gifted a coup unless they have engineered it themselves? The direction state funding will take the state and the schools it funds is evident in the most recent reform of state aid. The National Government has announced a revival of the 1996 programme then called Targeted Individual Entitlement. This was introduced as a sort of voucher system aimed at assisting a small number of children from low income families to attend private schools, but is now to be called a “Scholarship Programme” and will pay for 50 children a year to attend private schools from 2010.114 Before it was phased out by the Labour Government when it came to office in 2000, each year 160 children received up to $7000 a year in fees paid by the state on condition that the school was teaching the national Curriculum. The trade-off was consistent with the state’s presumption of knowing best what was “good” for a child’s education: even a private school could give “good” to a child so long as it was the state’s “good”, the state’s curriculum. The only thing that was surprising about this was that it has taken so long for the state to out itself and demand its curriculum be taught if a school gets its money. In effect the extension of benevolence to private schools guarantees the demise of their independence. In New Zealand that has seen an entire school system that was founded on a religious commitment to separation from the state made part of the state system.
Nationalising Private Schools The history of those schools and the broader interface of state and private schooling in New Zealand illustrates how totalitarianism is the inevitable consequence of ceding to the state the right to govern any aspect of the education of its youth, irrespective of the politics of those in government. In the real world, the working-out of philosophies of state and education suffer fluctuations between obvious energetic change and relative inaction that at any point in time might obscure the actual relentless shift from private to state education. The turning points in New
Hon Heather Roy, Seeking the Best for Our Children speech, 18 July 2009 http://tiny.cc/J447m I refer here to the present moratorium on further integration of private schools: just as schools were lining up to become state schools, under pressure from the statists, the state said, “No more!” 114 Hon Heather Roy Letter to Private Schools 5 August 2009; cf http://tiny.cc/dszkc 113
Zealand hang on two Acts of Parliament, almost exactly 100 years apart: the Education Act of 1877 and the 1975 Private Schools Conditional Integration Act. Provincial Government was abolished in 1876, and with it the financial support of those local governments for some local schools. Colonial education was founded by missions and private entrepreneurs. The religious schools (protestant and catholic) were established by and large with a commitment to sacrificial support as an expression of faith, but such commitment often immediately gave place to a demand for government funding. Almost as soon as some schools opened their doors the government was put on notice that it was expected to now pay! Provincial Governments had almost exclusively supported protestant schools, marginalising Catholic schools in a stance that probably reflected English colonial fear of Catholicism and is twin, French colonialism. Thus when the 1877 Act established a national system of “free, secular, compulsory” state primary schooling, many present-day commentators, especially those vainly hoping to find some loophole in the secular clause that might allow for religion in schools, claim the secular clause was more about ending sectarianism than establishing true atheistic secularism. Only primary schools were affected by the “secular” clause. State secondary schools have never been secular by law; in fact, throughout most of the last century they almost all maintained a protestant ethos (although never with a Christian world-and-life view pervading the curriculum) and conducted assemblies with Bible readings and biblically aligned principals’ talks from which Catholic teachers and pupils were usually excused. It has been asserted there were no Catholic principals of state secondary schools until after the 1960s. The truth is that ending sectarianism featured significantly but not exclusively in the general debate in 1877 and in the aspirations of many. Two other issues also featured: the social and political separation of Catholic and protestant communities, and the issue of the extent to which education was by nature religious. The latter was well understood by almost all parties of the day. Although there were many protestant speakers, including some in Parliament, who saw education as necessarily religious, Catholic spokesmen were especially outspoken on the issue, demanding they be “free and funded” (free to teach independently of the state and funded by the state) to teach in a religious context. In 1871 the Catholic Bishop of Dunedin, Patrick Moran, gave voice to this position: I am an advocate for religious education. I am opposed to the mixed or secular system, and I am opposed to the system that exists in this province. I demand for the Catholic body help from the state to educate their children in their own way.115 In principle it was also the position of many protestants, and was debated forcefully with those proposing an atheistic secularism. During the parliamentary debate on the 1877 Bill, Mr Bowen MP said, “Honourable members will see, on perusing the bill, that all the instruction that is to be given is absolutely secular, and that no religious teaching whatever will be allowed.”116 The eminent Inspector General, G H Hogben subsequently stressed that this was held “to exclude the use of parts of the Bible, either as literature or for the illustration of moral principles.”117 But the reality was that much of the public debate centred on the ending of sectarian division between protestant denominations because the assumption, proved true in the event, was that the “free, compulsory, secular” school system would be a “free, compulsory, protestant” school system. For the next 100 years Catholic schools educated Catholic youth: between 50% and 75% of catholic children attended Catholic schools, with the proportion of Catholics in state primary schools seldom rising above 5%. While there were huge debates about introducing religious teaching into state schools, the place of “Bible in Schools”, and the “fairness” or otherwise of taxing those who paid for private schooling but received little or none of those funds in return, the division remained until 1975. It has been argued that at least until the First World War state primary schools were distinctively protestant rather than truly secular. Be that as it may, the effect of the 1877 Act was to entrench two school systems in New Zealand: a definitively Catholic private one, and a protestant-flavoured state one, with a handful of independent schools on the sideline.
Cited with various sources in Rory Sweetman A Fair and Just Solution Dunmore, Palmerston North, 2002, p24 Moral Instruction and Training in Schools: Report of an International Enquiry, London, 1908 117 ibid 116
By the 1960s however the Catholic schools were in a parlous state. The church could no longer supply teachers from religious orders who would work for less than a pittance, capital resources had been exhausted and school buildings run down, and the standards of teaching were becoming so bad that the Catholic newspaper the New Zealand Tablet which from its foundation had been an advocate for Catholic schooling led public criticism of their schools. The Church would not pay for its convictions, and parents were reluctant to pay more than their church! The situation became so bad that the Bishop of Christchurch closed all “primer classes”118 in Christchurch’s Catholic schools in 1965. If the state did not intervene in some way, it faced the prospect of the complete collapse of the Catholic school system, with thousands of children suddenly having to be placed in a state school system that could not possibly cope. The practical economics, along with the huge voting lobby Catholics presented,119 made reform inevitable. It appears therefore that pragmatic politics rather than principled reform saw the introduction of a scheme to nationalise Catholic schools. Until 1969 when Norman Kirk, leader of the Labour Opposition, announced, apparently without consulting his party, that Labour would pay 50% of private (ie Catholic) school teachers’ salaries, Labour had stood firm against state funding. A week later Labour announced an education policy that advocated protecting a free and proper choice in education, echoing the 1940’s labour Minister of Education, Rex Mason, who had delighted in “the diversity that schools independent of the State are capable of introducing in to New Zealand education.”120 Kirk’s announcement stunned his party, but stirred extensive and outspoken public opposition, which probably contributed to Labour’s narrow loss in the following election. Paradoxically that paved the way for the returned National government to increase state funding, including paying 20% of private school teachers’ salaries, rising to 35% over seven years.121 Both parties were now committed to aiding the Catholic schools. By the time Labour was again in power, the need to do something radical was irresistibly obvious. The solution was the 1975 Act which offered to nationalise private schools, allowing them some provisions that were deemed to preserve their “special character”. Among the conditions was a requirement to teach the national Curriculum. A further point of interest cannot be passed over without comment. In 1960 a young Auckland politician who would one day be Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon, overthrew the prestigious sitting Labour member, Bob Tizard, partly on a platform that asserted both “That the individual does not exist for the State – rather the State for the individual” and, in speeches to Catholic school groups, that increased state aid to private schools was necessary. His maiden speech included a cry for more religion in schools: “What kind of country is this which perpetuates an archaic, eighty-fouryear-old enactment which hampers the introduction of our children to the Christian religion at the time when they are best capable of absorbing it?” 122 A substantial majority of private schools, including over 260 Catholic schools, and a handful of others, took up the offer over the following five years. To some degree or other they could all keep their religious exercises, appoint some teachers on the basis of religion, and teach some religious classes. But all became state schools, committed to teaching the secular state curriculum, and employing teachers appointed by a state regulated selection process, many of whom did not share the religion of the school.123 Dependence upon the state eventually meant capture by the state.
Who Gains from Compulsory State-Paid Schooling? Both the compulsion and state-payment were instituted to compel the poor to attend school. As in the UK where compulsion was introduced seven years earlier, it was argued that if the poor 118
More or less equivalent to today’s years 1–3. On the one hand over the period various catholic groups attempted to organise block-voting, sometimes solely on the issue of catholic schools; on the other hand there was a fluctuating but real fear of Catholicism in the wider community: some analysts question how influential all this was, but influential or not, it was a factor politicians had to take account of. 120 1945; cited by Sweetman, p30 This seemed to be pitched at gaining Catholic support without providing any significant new money. 121 Muldoon, The Rise and Fall of a Young Turk, Reed, Wellington, 1974, various pages 122 The official curriculum has not always been known as the “National Curriculum”, but there has always been a curriculum statement of one sort or another to which Integrated Schools and all other state schools are committed. 123 In subsequent years a trickle of protestant and other schools integrated, until a Labour government, having satisfied its poor catholic constituency, blocked further integration of what it deemed privileged private schools. 119
were not compelled to attend school and if the state did not pay they would not be educated. Regardless of the fact that the poor were attending schools, paying for them and gaining high levels of literacy before 1877, if the idea of compulsion and state-payment has any traction, the children of New Zealand’s poor would now be succeeding at school. But they are not, and particularly so for Mäori. It has become a matter of national shame and sensitive debate that rates of school failure, truancy, suspensions and dropping-out are shockingly high and that all are significantly higher for Mäori than non-Mäori.124 In government-speak, Mäori boys are “over-represented in the lowest performing literacy group of students and under-represented in the highest achieving group.”125 39% of Mäori have no formal educational qualification,126 and only 15% of Mäori school leavers have university entrance compared with 36% of the total population.127 Mäori make up a third of all students in decile128 1 and 2 schools,129 and are a significant proportion of the 340,000 New Zealanders who are illiterate graduates of compulsory schooling, and the 780,000 with literacy and numeracy “problems”130 who learnt in compulsory state schools. Debate rages about the causes of this failure of state education – does the problem lie with families, social conditions or with schools? All the evidence points to the fact that when given choice the poor access education effectively without compulsion, so poverty and social status cannot be the key factor. Parents perhaps? But why should there be parental support for schools that capture children and force them to take part in a schooling parents have not chosen and does not give satisfactory results? Because whatever causes can be identified, the reality is that compulsory state schooling fails children in decile 1 schools at a huge rate. In fact, success in compulsory state schools is exactly aligned with the decile rating of students,131 with decile 1 students almost never reaching the achievement levels of even decile 2 students. Compulsory statepaid schooling does not help the children of the poor. Clearly it does not help the children of the affluent who have always accessed and continue to patronise high-fees elitist schools, arguably as much for collateral reasons as for the high standards of education provided. That leaves middle-New Zealand as the only group who benefits from compulsory state-paid schooling. Not that middle decile students are advantaged educationally because, as already noted, compulsory state schooling results in students achieving at levels directly related to their decile rating – in other words, even these students are achieving at a lower level than before schooling was made compulsory. But for their families there has been huge economic advantage throughout the 20th Century, for those families were best placed not only to use the funds freed-up from the school fees they would otherwise have been paying, but with state schools assuming responsibility for children though most of the day, women in these decile groups were freed to bring a second income into the family home. Would those children have been educated without compulsion and sate-funding? Assuredly. But families would have been left with less discretionary spending power and more traditional family structures. Compulsory state-paid schooling is an educational failure that has provided middle New Zealanders with social and economic advantage, but at cost of becoming dependents upon state benevolence and control.
The Hidden Extension of State Control One of the most effective ways of increasing state control in anything is to increase dependency upon the state or the commodity the state provides. Funding schooling (public and private) achieves that, as does making state education something that is never finished. If the state can promote lifelong dependency upon a commodity for which it is the monopoly supplier, it induces lifelong control. Accordingly one of the mantras of totalitarian education is a call to lifelong learning. 124
Education Counts December 2007 http://tiny.cc/VPgct ibid 126 Rob McLeod Maori (sic) in the New Zealand Economy Te Papa Treaty Debates 29 January 2009 p5 127 ibid 128 A socio-economic index for schools with 10 the highest and 1 the lowest http://tiny.cc/V3LGu 129 McLeod 130 http://tiny.cc/EmRwc 131 http://tiny.cc/V3LGu 125
What is not always immediately apparent is that life-long learning is not a goal, it is the goal. John Dewey advocated it as the only goal as far back as 1916: “The aim of education is to enable individuals to continue their education … In our search for aims in education, we are not concerned, therefore, with finding an end outside of the educative process to which education is subordinate. Our whole conception forbids [it].”132 Here Dewey argues that there is no purpose in education except continuing education. At first look the concept of lifelong learning, as with any despotic propaganda, appears reasonable: who would for a moment imagine that a person could get to a point where no further learning was needed. But that is the point: no one ever thought learning was not lifelong. Until very recently, schooling was not considered lifelong: it was expected that in school students would learn a set of knowledge and skills upon which they could rely in life and work and, if needed, further formal study. The knowledge to be gained could be specified, the skills to be mastered could be listed, the student’s mastery could be measured, and achievement could be encouraged and rewarded. The school was seen as having a limited part to play: it had a competence to contribute a particular part of an education, but not a total education. However, no one can specify what knowledge is needed or skills required for “the next stage of learning” because no one actually knows what that next stage will be. Replacing the aim of mastering a body of knowledge and skill with the aim of preparing for the next stage of learning replaces achievable and measurable standards with, at best, more unfulfilled needs that only the education system can satisfy. By stressing life-long learning as the new goal of education, the state and its cadres not only create dependence but another essential of totalitarianism, uncertainty. The European Commission pontificates on the lifelong learning to which it obligates its states with the following: “People’s skills must be constantly renewed to enable them to meet the challenges of ever-evolving technologies, increasing internationalisation and demographic changes. Nowadays, lifelong learning is key to jobs and growth, as well as to allow [sic] everyone the chance to participate fully in society.”133 No knowledge is involved here, only continuous renewal enabling participation in evolving technology, internationalisation and social change. Nothing is certain except the need to keep participating in change; nothing is stable or of anything but temporary value. Once education is managed in terms of life-long activity, it is a small step to manage it in terms of “life activity”, or simply “life”. What once was called “formal education” saw education in terms of the delivery of certain knowledge and skills through a variety of limited structures and periods of time. But by removing those limits to provide for life-long learning, the fact that every activity of life involves learning to some degree or other is made part of formal education, making institutional provision and control of life and learning a logical next step. Since the state has mandated itself to manage education, and since education is then defined as life, the state empowers itself to manage increasingly greater chunks of people’s lives under the pretext of educating them. Count the number of government propaganda films showing on television each night in New Zealand. They are called “advertisements” but they do not advertise any product. Instead they aim to educate people about drinking, smoking, eating, driving, having sex, nurturing children, emotional management, attitudes to others … There are scores of these state-think messages every week, each aimed at educating for conformity. It is not that many, if not most, of these messages are generally accepted as “good”. What is at issue is that the state, by publishing those messages, assumes responsibility for determining and controlling “good thinking” whereas its just function is in providing sanction and reward for actions of people so as to protect the integrity, safety and security of its citizens from the wrong actions of others. For example, certain sexual acts, such as rape, are clearly a matter for state sanction, but acts that fall short of criminal offence (such as using or not using a condom) fall into the area of belief, preference and individual choice: the state can only involve itself in “advertising” its standards by assuming the right to manage the thinking of otherwise free individuals. The anti-smoking education campaign is a good example of the state gone despotic: so long as the state will not make smoking tobacco a criminal offence, it has no place educating people not to 132 133
John Dewey Democracy and Education (Section 8: The Aims of Education) 1916 http://ec.europa.eu/education/lifelong-learning-policy/doc28_en.htm
do something that is under law their right and choice. If, as it appears, there is a risk to smoking tobacco the state may well impose a requirement that the dangers of the product be properly advertised, and limit sales to those of sufficient age as to discern the risks being taken, as it may regulate any other legal product or service that carries risks. It is an argument outside the scope of this discussion whether or not tobacco products should be classed as illegal drugs; but so long as they are legal, the state has no legitimate role in educating against lawful activity.
Expanding the Curriculum to Control Life Schools themselves exponentially expand the scope of their syllabuses to control more and more of children’s lives in preparation for lifelong educational control of lives. When the state’s interest in education extends into all of life, as it must once it encompasses any of life, life becomes education. The future of life-long learning is a society in which learning in conformity to the group is the goal of existence. Perhaps even state boundaries can be broken down in an international community in which all difference or individuality is absorbed in the harmony of a world sharing learning experiences in preparation for the next learning experiences. Or not. It has become fashionable to speak of “holistic education”, the idea that education must address the intellectual, physical and spiritual needs of a child. There is nothing particularly new in this, but as a mantra of state schools and their teachers it is both radical and an inevitable outcome of state totalitarianism. Having forced children into its schools on the pretext of educating them, the state now demands control of the whole education of children. When the data shows that such things as literacy levels have not improved under compulsory state schooling, the cry is taken up that education is not just about learning to read (although it would help if that was included) but it is about the “whole child.” Church and home are now to be absorbed into the state school, and the state is now, quite consciously, attempting to provide what it calls “pastoral care” in place of protection and justice. Any challenge to the arrogant assumption that the state school is the only institution that can educate the whole child is decried vehemently. But education and compulsory state schools are not the same thing, never have been, and by their very nature never can be. An education that aims to give students a limited, specific body of knowledge and skills does not purport to give students all the knowledge and skill or personal and social development they will ever need. Schools of choice never claimed to do more than offer students a specific set of knowledge and skills. A student who left school with a qualification certifying particular knowledge and skill had accomplished something, knew he had accomplished something, and could demonstrate it to others, be they parents, employers or providers of further education. In the past, school graduates always knew more learning was needed, whether work-based, provided by an educational institution, or accessed from within their community. But they took two critical things to their next stage of life and learning: a recognised level of acquired knowledge they knew had meaning, and a basis of knowledge and skill upon which to build future learning. Students who leave school with a “qualification” that says no more than that they have to carry on learning not only lack accomplishment, they are equipped for future learning with nothing more than uncertainty. Being prepared for future learning is not a measurable standard. If learning is defined, as totalitarian education systems want to define it, as taking part in corporate learning experiences, the student has no real aim for the next stage of learning apart from further group experiences. His aim becomes participation instead of mastery, and that participation is of unknown content and context until it takes place. Uncertainty is the essence of totalitarianism, for in such a construction the only value that has ultimate validity is what happens at the hands of the educator. Thus in a totalitarian education system, whatever experiences a student has are valid for the moment because they have been provided by the system, but give nothing that can be carried forward apart from dependence upon the system for more experiences. The design of new New Zealand Curriculum will create such uncertainty and dependence. All concepts of transmission of knowledge are expressly excluded, and the aim of each successive level is to prepare students for the next level of lifelong learning. The overall “vision”134 of the 134
Nightmare might be a better term to use
Curriculum is this: “Young people who will be confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners.” They do not have to know anything, and given this curriculum they may well be ignorant; they do not have to be able to do anything, and given this curriculum they may well be incompetent; but they will exude confidence based on ignorance and incompetence, they will be connected to the mob that validates what is left of the individual, they will be involved in their gang irrespective of what it does, and they will be lifelong dependents upon state education. Even when the Curriculum addresses its so-called “Learning Areas”, it can do no more than prescribe activity leading to more activity. For example, the summary of the “English Learning Area” describes what happens, not what will be taught: “In English, students study, use, and enjoy language and literature communicated orally, visually, or in writing.” No knowledge mastered, no skills acquired, no competence expected; only the activities of studying, using, and enjoying. How can there be communication when no meaning can be communicated? That is revealed in the way in which lessons are structured and (when they exist) examination questions are set. Where once the transmission of meaning was considered not only possible but the very reason for writing and reading, assignment and examinations questions would ask the student to explain what an author meant. But now that meaning is deemed impossible to communicate, students are asked, “What is your response to this text?” Just as the author’s meaning cannot be discerned, the student’s meaning cannot be communicated either: so as long as the student engages in the activity of expressing a response to what has been read, the student must have read and learnt to the desired level. Recording a response, irrespective of what the response is and irrespective of any sense communicated in that response, activity is learning and participation is passing. As this overview is developed, the Curriculum specifies with overwhelming perspicuity that learning English involves learning the language. It does prescribe a vague growth in “skill and sophistication” in the use of English, but defines that in relation to learning to “deconstruct and critically interrogate texts in order to understand the power of language to enrich and shape their own and others’ lives.” Deconstruction and interrogation of texts involves discarding any sense of what the text plainly means (since meaning cannot be communicated and the “plain” meaning is an illusion), and rearranging the knowledge created by the reader in the reader’s mind to validate a meaning the reader now gives the text in relation to the reader and the reader’s world. Or in simple terms, deconstruction and interrogation of the text means responding to the text in a way that fits a meaning that has relevance to you even if that is not what the text says, and could well be something the author never meant nor, in his context, could ever have meant. The English curriculum, for example, has just two skills that are to be taught at all levels: “Students need to practise making meaning and creating meaning at each level of the curriculum.”135 Children learning English create their own meaning and make a “personal response” to what they have read. As for writing and speaking, constructivism asserts children cannot pass knowledge on to others any more than they can gain it from others. So they make knowledge for themselves in what they write and speak with no expectation that it will do anything for their listeners or readers other than offer them an opportunity to respond by creating their own knowledge. This constructivist mumbo-jumbo is summed up in the Curriculum as continuing practice in “making and creating meaning” as children “engage with texts.” The discerning reader will already have worked out where this goes: each of the learning areas, we are told, is of value for its present experience and because it provides “pathways to other learning.” The University of Otago’s teaching objectives are interesting in this context, for although Objective Five has equipping students for lifelong learning as its focus, Objective One states: Current interest in the development of generic learning skills can distract attention from the central role of the mastery of a coherent body of knowledge on which the generic learning skills can be built. Advice the University takes from the employers of our graduates tells us that employers assume mastery of subject matter as they begin their search for the special skills and attributes which they need.136 135 136
English The New Zealand Curriculum http://tiny.cc/DMM4T http://hedc.otago.ac.nz/tlp/viewObjective.do?id=37&cms=public_access.los.otago.ac.nz
With the independence the university presently retains from direct state control, it is able to assert what is obvious to anyone with common sense: students need to learn an identifiable, predetermined body of knowledge. The university gives two very good reasons: people need to know what acquired knowledge and skill is signified by the qualifications it awards, and people need knowledge that has substance to be able to learn more. But if “the state has a duty to ensure that the education provided is meaningful, and that it would be abdicating its duty by failing to provide some definition of what amounts to … an ‘education’”137 that duty must eventually be made to bear upon the university, with the same results with which it is now being felt in schools. So long as content and the body of knowledge to be taught is openly described, and no one is forced to attend the institution offering it, people have choice, which is the very reason Otago University goes to such lengths to make its aims and its course content so transparent. The university wants people to choose what it is teaching. Independence from state definition of “meaningful education” ensures a freedom of choice and thereby a free education. A burgeoning state dictatorship will challenge those freedoms, will achieve control by replacing them with the always elusive goal of lifelong learning, and will maintain control by engendering uncertainty through ever-changing experiences. The very fact that the university finds it necessary to so stridently justify such a basic aim as imparting knowledge is more than sufficient evidence it is under pressure to abandon that aim and replace it with “development of generic learning skills”. Once the state has been given or has seized the authority to determine what constitutes “meaningful learning” it must demand conformity to its definition, otherwise it accepts that those who choose other than the state’s defined and dispensed good can be safe with what the state has determined is bad. Any freedom, at any level of the system, not only denigrates the state’s definition of good, it undermines the state’s authority at every other point in the system. If any educational choice is taken captive by the state, it cannot rest until all educational choice is taken. The only safe locus for determining any definition of “meaningful education” is the home: the state’s commitment to nurturing an educated youth must protect the independence of parental choice, not supplant it.
Financial viability Another mechanism for subjugating private schools is the introduction of a “financial viability” test for schools. In its Issues Paper the Law Commission appeals to the practice in all Australian states to require some sort of financial viability test for licensing private schools.138 It is tempting to see this as nothing more than a cynical extension of state intrusion into the affairs of private schooling, but there is more to it. The Law Commission’s discussion of financial viability arises from its difficulty in specifying with any precision the meaning of “suitability” in the existing criteria for licensing private schools in New Zealand. Financial viability appears to be a more objective criterion, and is therefore resorted to without any evidence that it actually tests anything to do with the provision of schooling.139 One of the essentials of totalitarianism is the appearance of objectivity, and the financial viability test is a classic example of something that is utterly irrelevant to the objectives but has the appearance of objectivity. A financial viability test is nothing more than a manifestation of viral totalitarianism. The more controls insinuated into people’s lives the greater comfort the state takes in its despotism. The financial viability of a school has no relationship to the quality of education given. There have been many “poor” schools providing great education, while there have also been many “rich” schools that have failed miserably. Our own school140 has been widely acknowledged for the excellence of its education.141 Since state schools invest about three times what we do on the 137
Law Commission op cit p52 139 Of the examples cited by the Law Commission, only Western Australia’s links its financial test to ability “to provide a satisfactory standard of education”; but for all its posturing Western Australia’s standard is untestable, as there is no direct link to financial viability and quality education. 140 Carey College, in Panmure, Auckland (see www.careycollege.com ) 141 Such diverse bodies as the Education Review Office and Cambridge University have endorsed the excellence of the schooling offered at Carey College. 138
education of each child, the quality of their schooling generally ought to be, by the standard of financial viability, astronomical better than ours. We suggest it is not necessarily so. As James Tooley has pointed out some of the poorest schools in the world are able to achieve outstanding academic results because parents, teachers and children are committed to learning.142 Most smaller private schools in New Zealand begin with near total dependence upon volunteers and donors. In many cases it is as they seek greater viability they depart from their founding objectives, which are usually narrowly focused on religious and academic objectives. Viability requires a stability of income (usually only available from increased fees or from the state) and increased community acceptance (usually only available from having buildings, resources and a curriculum that looks like state schooling). The business model of financial viability replaces the service model of benevolence, sacrifice and parent-prescribed goals as schools sell out their founding faith and distinctives to permanence, status and conformity. Such is the high cost of funding viability. The reality is that most private schools in New Zealand, even the well established ones, are not financially viable. They depend upon bequests, volunteers, subsidies, fundraising and prayer. Such things are not the constituents of any business plan that prophesies viability. In business-viability terms such schools have been doomed from the outset of their decades of successful schooling. Application of a viability test to such schools will establish only two things: firstly, that if they keep running as they have done, they will keep running as they have done; and secondly, that they are more controlled by the state than if they did not have to report such stupidity to the state. Whatever “financial viability” might mean, such a test has no obvious immediate effect on the education of children. Presumably, a financially viable school is to be considered by the state as safely educational. But is a financially unviable school educationally unsafe? Does the fact that it is going bankrupt mean that only half of every lesson is taught? If it does mean that, there are adequate tests in place to remedy the situation: parents will not accept half lessons when they are paying for the whole deal, and in New Zealand the state presently has the ERO at its disposal to manage its redundant interests in what is actually taught. This is just another type of precrime test, in which the potential crime is either to precipitate a situation in which children will need to change schools, or to fail in business. If it is a precrime test of business failure, I wish the examiners all the best.143 If their precognition is good enough for the job, they will very quickly be given a mandate to test all businesses and we will have the happy state in which no businesses fail. Further, if their precognition is that good we will have the banks lining up to invest in the schools they pass because their prophecies will guarantee investor returns. If, on the other hand, the “crime” is not in the cessation of business but in the cessation of schooling, where is the crime? State schools fail far more frequently than private schools: the last 100 years has seen the closure of a far greater proportion of state schools than private schools. If, within a system that is by law the bench-mark for private education, state schools can be allowed to close, private schools too must be allowed to close. The most dramatic educationally significant thing that can happen as a result of a school closing is that children need to move to a different school. This is not only a normal occurrence in most children’s lives, it is something that is so important for the state that it forces most children to change schools at prescribed intervals (at the end of pre-school, year 6 and year 8). What is unusual about the recent collapse of Corran School for Girls in Auckland is not that children will change schools, but that for many of them it will be the first time they have ever changed schools. As a school that has run seamlessly from year 1 to year 13, its girls have never had the state mandated experience of changing schools. The state should welcome the collapse of Corran, for by making the girls change schools for once it is socialising those previously privileged girls with experiences that bring them closer to ordinary children who experience multiple school changes. A financial viability test has nothing to do with education and everything to do with control. 142
Cf page 26 Surely no one in a right mind will accredit the Ministry of Education to precrime test business viability, although the image of ministry officials as inert zombie precogs floating in a mystic miasma (you need to have seen the film to understand this) is strangely appealing and frighteningly close to the truth. A new precrime unit will need to be established. With this merging of fiction with fact, we would like to nominate Tom Cruise as an experienced expert able to lead the unit, but we are not sure where proven business precogs to assist him can be located.
7. The Despotic Use of Regulation
A day without a dark cloud. Almost a happy day. ~ Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, 1962
A much more overt mechanism of control is the use of regulation, law making by a state council, agency or officials. The power of regulation is three fold: regulations can be made and changed virtually instantly, they can be made with a minimum of public scrutiny and awareness, and they engender an uncertainty that gives officials de facto powers of control. There is a place for limited government by regulation. If legislation defines the parameters of public interest, say in the annual observance of a symbolic holiday, regulation can be used effectively to set the appropriate date each year. Regulation can also be used effectively to manage crises, declaring an emergency, or listing some hitherto unknown disease as an immediate public danger. But when it is used to define public interest or policy, or to define something as a crime or not a crime (except during emergencies), or to impose unbearable burdens as a consequence of otherwise free choices, regulation becomes a weapon of despotism. Long before he became President of the Law Commission, Sir Geoffrey Palmer wrote, “Regulations should be used as a rapier rather than a broadsword. Unfortunately, the tendency in New Zealand has been to resort to regulations first, thereby avoiding the need to think about more creative approaches.”144 He mused, “I often wonder whether our penchant for regulations has done us much good.”145 But his Commission proposes more! Regulation is used extensively in the control of education in New Zealand. It is appropriate that regulation govern the management of the state’s own schools, and in determining aspects of non-compulsory services supplied by the state within the parameters specified in legislation, such as the dates of examinations and start of the school year. But it is also used extensively in ways that would be the envy of any totalitarian state. Professor Tooley notes that regulation is not only despotically intrusive, it invites subversion and impinges most upon those it professes to protect: The aim of the regulatory environment should be not obstruction, but facilitation. …Regulation impinges at all levels, and because of its all-pervasiveness and pernickety detail, it leaves open the way to corruption and bribery. The most disturbing feature is that those in elite institutions can simply ignore regulations that they don’t like: it is those serving the poor who are most affected by them.146
Failure of Precrime Testing Who may teach in private schools is controlled by regulation, and with a high-handed disregard for any separation between private and state schooling. Legislation requires that 144
Geoffrey Palmer Unbridled Power? OUP Wellington/Oxford 1979 p97 ibid 146 James Tooley The Enterprise of Education Liberty Institute, Delhi, 2001 p 23 & p26 145
registered teachers be of “good character, fit to teach, and satisfactorily trained to teach.”147 The Teachers Council is given carte blanche to determine what those terms mean, and it does that by regulation. Not only does the Council determine what those terms mean, it then applies its interpretations on teachers seeking registration. Here we have a classic case of those who make the law police the law. Sir Geoffrey once warned of this evil: The famous English legal writer William Blackstone wrote in 1765: ‘In all tyrannical governments, the supreme magistracy, or the right both of making and enforcing the laws is vested in one and the same man, or one and the same body of men; and wherever these two powers are united together, there can be no public liberty.’148 By that standard, whatever else the Council may or may not achieve, it is achieving tyranny. It may not be the “supreme magistracy”, but in its own jurisdiction it makes and it then enforces the rules, and does so at cost to public liberty. It does not work, of course. There is no way pre-testing can determine who will or will not commit crime. The movie Minority Report149 might be fictional, and its warning about social control graphic, but its precrime investigation is fundamentally what the Council is supposed to engage in to protect children in schools. Here is a list of some of the people the Council’s precrime testing has determined were of good character and fit to teach: Barry Bloomfield, principal of Huntly West Primary School, convicted of fraudulently using school funds for private purposes, including paying a friend $17,000 for teaching never done, and selling the school’s fences and pocketing the money. Still registered by the Teachers Council as of “good character and fit to teach.”150 Ian Wilson, retired principal of Lucknow Primary School, Havelock North, convicted of child pornography. Still registered by the Teachers Council as of “good character and fit to teach.” Gary Bell, relief teacher at South Otago High School, Balclutha, jailed for drink driving. Previously registered by the Teachers Council as of “good character and fit to teach.” Stephen Shone, Gisborne teacher, jailed for sexual violation and assault against five teenage girls, all his pupils. Still registered by the Teachers Council as of “good character and fit to teach.” Leslie Hay, principal Glentunnel Primary School, Canterbury, jailed for sexual assault of three boys under the age of twelve. Previously registered by the Teachers Council as of “good character and fit to teach.” Malcolm Spark, “ex teacher”, jailed for publishing and possessing child pornography and internet grooming “hundreds” of girls as young as eight. Previously registered by the Teachers Council as of “good character and fit to teach.” Shane Rahui, “former teacher” jailed for possession and distribution of child pornography. Previously registered by the Teachers Council as of “good character and fit to teach.” Heremia Smith, head of Maori-studies, Glenfield College, convicted of sexual assault and sexual conduct with girls (all pupils) under the age of 16, sentenced to home detention. Still registered by the Teachers Council as of “good character and fit to teach.” Derek McCarthy, teacher, Weymouth Primary School, convicted of sexually molesting a nine-year-old boy. Previously dismissed from Mt Carmel Primary school for related conduct. Previously registered by the Teachers Council as of “good character and fit to teach.” The list could go on and on. Almost 1300 pre-tested and registered teachers have faced the Council over allegations of serious misconduct between 2002 and 2008.151 Precrime vetting does not stop teachers who will offend against children getting into the classroom. Precrime vetting does not protect children. Precrime vetting does not work, and compulsory registration of teachers does nothing useful except extend intrusion and control. Yet I predict, that instead of this useless bit of 147
Education Act 1989 s124 etc. Palmer p4, citing Blackstone Commentaries on the Laws of England 1765 p142 149 Steven Spielberg 2002 150 As at 18 May 2009 for each example. 151 The Southland Times 8 January 2009 p2 148
state compulsion being repealed, it will be extended to include the owners and/or managers of private schools. The Law Commission has suggested that in its Issues Paper, and in the unlikely event it has enough restraint to say that without substantially compelling evidence, powers of the state should not be extended and therefore does not recommend private school proprietors be vetted, someone else will. But I predict that the Commission will be unable to resist applying a “good character” precrime examination to private school proprietors or owners. Without total control there is no control, and once controlling part of the education in its community, the state must control all of it. The only people who can legally teach children in New Zealand are those who have been precrime vetted, licensed by the rules and whims of this useless quango euphemistically called a “council”. Among the requirements it arbitrarily imposes on teachers who want to teach a curriculum that differs from the state curriculum in private schools is that they are trained in the state curriculum. In an odd mutation, s124 (3) (a) (i) provides that a teacher whose registration has expired must be familiar with the state curriculum. But all other sections merely require that they be “satisfactorily trained to teach” and the Council’s insistence that this be in the state curriculum is its own invention. This would simply be “dumb” if it were not such an obviously overbearing attempt to force the teaching of the state curriculum in private schools in despite of their legal right to teach their own curriculum. Apart from the elimination of difference this is intended to impose, there is a long string of reports from the ERO giving evidence over and over again that the training the Council is making compulsory is of such a poor quality it does not even prepare first year teachers for entry into teaching.152 The Council insists that teachers in private schools be trained by the state to teach state content they are not going to teach and state methods they are not going to use with training the state itself says is failing. This is nothing short of a despotic use of power to force every teacher into the state’s mould. To add insult to injury, the Council also imposes a range of “ethical” standards and educational beliefs, many of which, as we have submitted to them without even receiving an acknowledgement in reply, are offensive to our faith and practice, and almost all of which represent a very narrow pedagogical and constructivist philosophy. The Council is required to not only determine who is a “moral” person, but who will act morally in the future. It undertakes this impossible task by imposing standards that are in conflict with the entirely legal morality of a variety of sectors of the community. It requires, for example, teaching in the context of both multicultural and bicultural contexts, and excludes the monocultural contexts that many religious schools, in full compliance with their legal rights, are established to uphold (be they Muslim, Jewish, Christian153 or other). This highlights the foolish inconsistency of this despotic education system: it demands everyone be open to everyone’s values while it insists on exclusive commitment to its own values to the exclusion of values everyone is supposed to be open to. Such immoral restriction as to who parents may choose to teach their children is made possible by empowering the Council to rule by regulation. It makes arbitrary laws without the checks and balances that are fundamental to a democracy. Even the state knows it does not work. According to the Ministry of Education, in 2006 there were up to 10,000 unregistered teachers in state schools.154 That means that over 20% of teachers employed in state schools155 were illegals. The Teachers Council demurs somewhat – they put the figure at “only” 5,000 or 10%, although they admitted they are only guessing and have no way of finding out the true numbers until new legislation allows them to match their records with state pay records. While the Teachers Council bullies private schools into training their teachers in a curriculum they will never teach, and into registering for no practical purpose, it fails to control vast numbers of teachers in state schools. Belgian legal scholar Jan De Groof and Professor Charles L Glenn of Boston University, examining the impact of regulation on school choice in Western nations found: 152
Eg http://tiny.cc/rATlg For the monocultural context of a biblical Christian education see such passages as Galatians 3:26 “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, … There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” 154 Education Review Wellington April 17 2009 p4 155 In 2008 there were 50,950 teachers employed. (Teaching Staff as at April 2008 Education Counts http://tiny.cc/RwXbT ) 153
The most crucial issue – beyond the fundamental right of parents to choose a school for their children – was the right of the school or its sponsoring board to select staff on the basis of criteria specific to the distinctive mission of the school rather than to some universal standard established for all schools.156 New Zealand fails on this “most crucial issue.”
Regulation for Uncertainty Apart from a host of other regulations restricting the freedom to educate children according to parental choice, state officials (mainly from the Ministry of Education or the ERO) regularly intimidate private schools with proclaimed duties purported to arise from regulations that in fact do not exist or are being misinterpreted or wrongly applied. In fairness, the range of regulations applying to schools is reminiscent of the miasmic wetland jungle in a horror movie – even the officials may be genuinely lost in it at times. Yet far too often officials have been found using the pretext of regulation to place schools under duress to conform to whimsical preference. One Auckland private school was recently reviewed by ERO on the basis of its failure to meet a range of standards that do not apply to them. Notes made by the review officers indicate a clear bias against the school’s perfectly legal pedagogy and ERO’s illegal determination to apply irrelevant state school standards as a basis for the Review Report. ERO subsequently agreed that the review was incorrect, sent a letter of apology – and left the school with an unchanged Review Report based on a biased review. Despotic control does not depend upon the significance of any particular duty, but in creating a sense of danger. Schools can wrongly be threatened, as they have been recently, with deregistration over as simple a matter as marking attendance registers half an hour later than the official prefers,157 but the cumulative effect of little offences and big brother watching creates a context of fear and submission that predisposes conformity on much larger issues, even when there is no legal duty to conform. For their part, schools are often so unsure of the real extent of their obligations I regularly find them fearful of officials for no other reason but that they are uncertain as to what powers the officials have and what obligations they may be discovered to have unwittingly failed to fulfil. Add to that officials who can wittingly or unwittingly impose ultra vires duties and you create two of the essentials of totalitarian control: uncertainty as to duty and fear of officials who police those unknown duties. The greatest despotic use of regulation however is in defining the nature and content of education. Parliament has consistently withheld itself from defining the curriculum in anything but the broadest of terms. The reason is obvious: the state cannot undertake this task with any degree of success. No democratic parliament could resolve questions as to how much literature should be studied at a particular level, what particular authors and works should be read, or which particular family values should be reinforced. Yet instead of recognising that what parliament cannot do in a democracy, parliament’s servants cannot do in a democracy, it delegates those undemocratic duties to the organs of state and empowers them to regulate without either public or parliamentary scrutiny at anything but a superficial level. Of course, Ministers and departments must report to Parliament, and there is scope for parliamentary investigation, scope which is sometimes used. But as Sir Geoffrey Palmer has pointed out, “Parliamentary review of regulations in New Zealand is little short of derisory.”158 The reality is that for the most part, as is so evident in the imposition of the new Curriculum, the agents of the state run unimpeded by those they are technically responsible to. So long as it answers to the electorate, Parliament will never be able to list with any popular consensus or practical precision the constituents of a “meaningful education”, or the characteristics 156
Glenn p86 Regulations made under the Act oblige state schools to mark attendance registers at certain times, but they do not apply to private schools. Nevertheless we have been bullied with the threat of deregistration if we do not mark our attendance registers in concert with state schools. Even if it was actually a requirement to be attendance-marking-clones of the state, under present legislation failure to fulfil such a duty cannot be legally used to deregister a private school. 158 Palmer p171 157
of a “well adjusted citizen”. Yet that is exactly what it has empowered the Ministry of Education to do: the new Curriculum has been developed under and will be enforced by regulation. Among the many evils in imposing the new Curriculum by regulation is the future risk to which this particular regulation exposes good schools. There is sufficient conventional terminology used, albeit such terminology is given new definitions, to give the impression to a superficial reader that conventional teaching of knowledge and skills is envisaged. As I consult with client schools I find significant numbers of teachers, especially older teachers, in denial over the meaning of the Curriculum. They either insist on reading it without reference to the constructivist context or the Curriculum’s overt redefinition of conventional terms, asserting that nothing has changed and the new Curriculum requires them to continue teaching as in the past; or they simply treat the new Curriculum as nonsense (which it is) and say they will ignore it as they keep teaching in conventional ways. Totalitarianism need not demand instant compliance. It can be far more effective to entrench a standard then pick off dissidents one by one. These teachers are exposed to such elimination at some time in the future when anyone from advisers to ERO officers points out their “incompetence” in implementing the new Curriculum. Schools that have a school-wide culture of teaching differently from the Curriculum are equally exposed to future official determination that they are non-compliant. Making any curriculum a necessary condition for state approval exposes those who teach differently to immediate sanction and future oppression:159 to do so by regulation is of the essence of un-democratic government.
Constraining Cultic Conformity One of the features of regulation that makes it attractive to despotic state agencies is the ease with which it integrates into the propaganda of despotism. Extensive public consultation has taken place in the development of the Curriculum, but you will look in vain for any significant differences in the philosophy and content of what was at first proposed from what has been finally imposed by regulation. In the process however, vast numbers of teachers, probably even a majority, have been persuaded by way of their involvement in “consultation” that a “good” curriculum has resulted and that their ideas have contributed to it. That is in the nature of this sort of consultation. According to Richard Epstein, Professor of Law and the University of Chicago, participating in such consultation can lead to decisions to subscribe to “a public good that is ‘good’ only in the sense that it is created and supported by the state. It could easily be regarded as a public ‘bad’ to the extent that it allows individuals with one point of view to take over the system at large.”160 Consultation that has a pre-determined outcome conforms participants to a pre-determined point of view: the state education system has been taken over. Such conformity is engendered in part by the consultation that has consisted mainly of an unmanageable volume of booklets, charts and presentations extolling the virtues and suitability of the Curriculum: only after teachers have been baptised in the Curriculum are they asked to complete evaluation forms. The forms themselves are a mechanism of control: by determining what particulars can be responded to, and the context of the responses, and by limiting most responses to a predetermined selection, the response process is more indoctrination of the person making responses than the gathering of constructive comment. There is never any discussion, for example, as to whether or not values should replace morality, only which particular values from a predetermined list will be included. The values listed in the draft are the same as those in the final version: an extraordinary result if the diverse community that is New Zealand has really had constructive input. Either the Ministry prophetically happened upon a handful of values that the entire community regards as sufficient and necessary, or they sucked everyone in. The presuppositions that underlie the particulars of the curriculum are never discussed, only the particulars themselves. I well remember a week-long residential science curriculum writing 159 The distinction here is between a present regime or officials that need not be intentionally despotic and some future official or regime that could be much less benign. 160 Richard A Epstein The Role of the State in Education New Zealand Business Round Table, Wellington, 1996. At the time this lecture was delivered, Epstein was James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago.
workshop I took part in at Lopdell House in Titirangi, Auckland, in the 1970s. We were “involved” in a Ministry of Education initiative to write a new science syllabus (either pre-Form 1 or Form 1– 4). At one point I asked why we were teaching science in the first place. There was a stunned silence. Nobody could offer a consistently rational reason for including the teaching of science in the school curriculum. That is not to say there is not one: I happily contend for the teaching of science on the basis, among other things, that creation displays God’s glory, and that to serve him in it and live in it we need to understand its wonder, its structure and the way it works. But this particular group was unable to express a consistent rationale for what we were engaged in, a failure resulting from the inconsistent epistemological framework in which they were trying to work. Not one of this nationally selected group of educators was willing or able to accept that without a transcendent framework for education, all curriculum work was pragmatic and whimsical. When I suggested that if we did not know why we were teaching science, we could not know what to teach, the silence continued for a while, until I was taken aside by an official and told, literally, to shut up (“We all know why we are teaching science” was the remarkable riposte) and to get on with the task the Ministry was paying us to do: write a syllabus. The resulting syllabus reflected the state’s starting point: whimsy and conformity. Effectively designed consultation in a totalitarian system will provide either overwhelming support for the official position or such a range of responses that a consensus is meaningless. In any case, the survey style of consultation is secret: the responses made are not published or debated, but “collated” by the state – and invariably confirm the original official position. No one is surprised, but most feel “included” and acquiesce. The innocent assume their dissenting views have been taken into account, but have been sidelined by the majority. The rest of us take a more sceptical view of any report the state publishes following its own secret research amazingly discovering that an overwhelming majority of people support the state’s original design. The ultimate in totalitarian research is of course to not bother asking people what they think because the state knows already, and if asked people would never say anything but what they know they are supposed to say. Research sections of the state agency simple report what the research, if conducted, would have found; or at best, run research on small samples. Watch this space in New Zealand. Every totalitarian state agency in modern history has used these techniques, and in every case as the deception becomes more and more obvious, dissent becomes more and more likely to stigmatise those who will not conform to the mindless march of the clones. Silence is safe. Consultation then is not a discussion of what those consulted might think is needed; it is an induction into and a confession of the position an individual is induced to take after he has been told what the group is already committed to by the state. Such management of thinking is more cultic than consultation. The stage is set for the same sort of cultic consultation to take place with parents as schools implement the national Curriculum from 2010. Parents are to be “consulted” about the values the curriculum mandates: The Curriculum states “The specific ways in which these values find expression in an individual school will be guided by dialogue between the school and its community.” Parents are not to be consulted about which values will be taught, only about how the mandated values will be “expressed”. No one will be asked to agree to the replacement of morality with Friedrich Nietzsche’s “values”.
Changing Children’s Beliefs Although the curriculum defines values as “deeply held beliefs about what is important or desirable” it prescribes what will be believed. It claims these “deeply held” beliefs are “widely held”, and thereby justifies the imposition of those beliefs on everyone. This is simply a subterfuge. “If values are commonly held, why is there a need to prescribe them in the Curriculum?”161 There are many beliefs that are both deeply held and widely held that the state has rejected and will not permit in any form or shape (popular racial and gender-role beliefs being prime examples). 161
Steve Thomas Virtues First “The Press” 20 April 2005, reproduced by Maxim Institute http://tiny.cc/JDPmJ
Similarly the claim to respect “other values”, let alone the aim of teaching children to respect them, is transparently deceitful: there are some values/beliefs that will never be respected – and rightly so. There is no general benevolence in the Curriculum’s values, there is no acceptance of diversity, there is no respect of difference. “The teaching of values in this fashion essentially sees the task of education as the transformation of society, instead of for its intrinsic value as the disinterested study of the best that has been done and thought.”162 The Curriculum specifies a small selection of beliefs to which all children are to be conformed and by which society is to be transformed. The national Curriculum is to induct the children of New Zealand into an official national belief system. For the first time in New Zealand’s history, we now have a compulsory national religion, and the only consultation to which parents will be invited is a discussion on how that religion is to be expressed in their local school. The belief system of values is radically different from a conventional moral system. Ten years ago, Michal Irwin commented: Since Nietzsche introduced the world ‘values’ in its current meaning, many writers have spoken of personal values but not of truth, of beliefs but not of facts, of an individual’s attitudes but not of right and wrong. … The key new notion is that the value attached to a thing or concept is essentially an individual calculation. Values are something ‘which the individual has chosen or possess rather than something which the individual seeks or responds to.’163 The only thing that has changed in the intervening ten years is that values are now deemed to be something the group has chosen or possesses, rather than an individual calculation. By constraining the discussion to Nietzsche’s anti-moral values, the state is conforming everyone to that construction. Discussion of values as a curriculum theme by its very nature conforms everyone taking part to the denial of individual morality and to necessary conformity to the whims of the group. It does not matter therefore what decisions are made by groups of parents “consulting”: by taking part in the consultation parents inescapably endorse the idea that group values replace personal morality. One might ask what is the point of consultation? What is the place of consultation in implementing the teaching of values that are already specified by regulation? The answer of course is that the consultation with parents, as it was with teachers, is a device to publicly obligate parents to buy-into the new values education. Having taken part in the consultation, which parent will dare stand against community acquiescence to teach the values of the curriculum even though everyone will know that the values to be taught were already defined before the consultation took place? The purpose of such consultation is to conform parents to the mob, and to conform the mob to the despotism of the Ministry of Education. Some might object that during the consultation phase with parents, schools will be able to define variations and place particular interpretations on the values to be taught. That is true: but it is also utterly futile. In the first place, it matters not a dot that one local school defines the “value” of “excellence”164 in one way and another in another. They will only be able to modify it within the parameters specified in the Curriculum, so they are conforming to the dictates of the state even when they appear to be making independent choices. Quoting Thomas J Sergiovanni, A Ministry of Education guide to implementing the National Curriculum says: Visions (principles and values) cannot be routinely mandated ... Instead they need to be discovered or forged as a consequence of everyone learning, problem solving, striving to reach a higher moral level of operation and finding sense and meaning … This process promotes learning.165 But more importantly, the Curriculum itself specifies that the real meanings of values are what a group of children gives to them, and that those meanings are temporary and fluid. In other words, 162
ibid Michael Irwin From Virtues and Vices to Passionate Values Independent Christian Schools Fellowship, Auckland, 1999 p2. The quotation he uses is attributed to Habgood, J (1990), “Are Moral Values Enough?”, British Journal of Educational Studies, vol. XXXVlll, No. 2, May. 164 One of the values specified 165 Preparing to Lead Curriculum Change—Vision, Principles and Values undated p7 163
the process of “consulting” parents can define what particular values mean to their group at that time, can result in those meanings being written into the school group’s mission statement or whatever, but if in the classroom children choose to give a different meaning to those values for the children’s group at that time, the parental choice means nothing more than that the parents have been deceived, and have helped set up a context in which their children will be taught to replace parents’ moral standards with the temporary lusts of their children’s peers. Dr Geoffrey Partington has shown how values teaching has been used to corrupt children in two carefully managed stages: In the first stage students were told that the values they had received from families and churches were merely matters of opinion from which they were entitled to diverge, since right and wrong, truth and falsity are arbitrary distinctions, and students would show independence and initiative by diverging from traditional values. Once students were emptied of these traditional values, stage two began and they were assured by the same teachers that some things were really right and some so wrong that the whole class should write to the government to protest about them. Moral relativism can be a tactic used in preparing for a corrupt moral absolutism, and this possibility must be guarded against.166 As discussed above, C S Lewis warned of the day when beliefs would cease to be what motivated teachers and became the product of teaching. But for all the similarities values teaching now has with the manipulations of the White Witch in Lewis’s The Lion, the With and the Wardrobe, the way in which the product is moulded more resembles the machinations of George Orwell’s 1984. New Zealand’s Ministry of Education has become our Ministry of Values. Once we left behind a moral world, we had no option but to treat values in a value-free way because what is right for one is not necessarily right for another. As the older moral world has faded, then its virtues have faded with it. In the twilight of its dissolution, we are left with values.167
Will Virtues Do Instead? Seeing the immorality of values education, some state Integrated Schools with a Christian Special Character have refused to write “values” courses and have substituted “virtues”.168 If such a commendable move is to succeed however, the idea of “virtues” has to be defined in a radically unconventional way, for it is the Greek and not the biblical concept of virtue that is expressed in lists of virtues to be inculcated into pupils in an attempt to nurture good people and a good society. It will be a surprise to many that the Bible has very little to say about virtues,169 “but it clearly speaks of moral excellence and goodness in connection with the character of God.”170 If virtues are to be conceived of as “the moral norms that are enduringly right for all people, in all places, and in all times”171 then we are really speaking not of virtues, nor of values, but of moral goodness. If that is what is intended by substituting virtues for values, then the schools are making a bold move. But why not simply say that the school will teach a traditional, or transcendent, or biblical, morality? For some the reason will be the common failure to distinguish between morality and moral deeds while for others it will be the constraint of having to be seen as working within the Curriculum. While lists of “values” are mere contrivances of a personal moment with no enduring moral base or lasting validity, lists of “virtues” could make appeal to a transcendent foundation in God and lasting moral excellence in his unchanging nature,172 but invariably do not. Because the state school starts with the compulsory Curriculum, and to remain legal must be able to demonstrate conformity to that Curriculum, there is a real danger it never escapes from a foundation limited to 166 G Partington et al Social Studies in the New Zealand Curriculum – a Submission on the Draft Education Forum 1995 http://tiny.cc/pfOaK 167 David F Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Post Modern World Eerdmans, 2008 p147 168 eg Middleton Grange School in Christchurch http://tiny.cc/QquHQ 169 cf Colossians 3:12-14: “Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” 170 Wells p146 171 ibid 172 cf Wells
children’s whims and society’s beliefs. A school that says it “actively seeks to draw out of its pupils virtues common to humanity and particular to the Christian”173 is doing exactly that, no matter how appealing its list. A morality that is right for all people everywhere whether found in pupils or not, whether common to humanity or not, is missing from such a list, as is God himself. Aristotle shaped the modern concept of virtues as good things to add to your life so that if sufficient are added they overcome or balance the evils in a person and make him good. “We may safely assert that the virtue or excellence of a thing causes that thing both to be itself in good condition and to perform its function well.”174 Medieval theology developed this by constructing a list of seven virtues, still recognised in many churches, in the hope that as practice can make a child skilful, it can make a child virtuous. That “takes too little account of the way sin has intruded into all our virtue, perverting it. It is not practice we need, but radical, supernatural transformation.”175 In the words of C H Spurgeon: Honesty, sobriety, and such things, may be very good amongst men—and the more you have of them the better. I exhort you, whatsoever things are lovely and pure, and of good report, have them—but they will not do ... All these things put together, without faith, do not please God. Virtues without faith are whitewashed sins. … Without faith, with all the virtues of purity, with all the benevolence of philanthropy, with all the kindness of disinterested sympathy, with all the talents of genius, with all the bravery of patriotism, and with all the decision of principle—“without faith it is impossible to please God.”176
A Moral Education A truly moral education is one that teaches children there is a right and wrong that applies to them as it has always applied to people everywhere and as it will always apply to people everywhere. It is a morality that demands right is done because it is right, and should be recognised and rewarded because it is right. It is a morality that demands wrong is not to be done because it is wrong, and should receive its “reward” because it is wrong. True, those who have no transcendent perspective may not be able to offer a rational argument for such a morality, but as millions who have gone before them, they can nonetheless espouse it and pass it on to their children with great benefit. For they too – and this truly is common to all humanity – live in a world that has moral structure: we have not broken down this structure, nor dislodged God from maintaining it. It stands there, over against us, whether we recognise it or not. We bump up against it in the course of life and we encounter its reflection in our own moral makeup. And from all sides a message is conveyed to our consciousness: “Beware! This is a moral world you inhabit!”177 Those who have a biblical perspective can go further: they can practice and pass on a trustworthy and stabilising morality, not merely because of its impact on others (although that is important); not merely because of its impact on children themselves (although that is important too); not even because of its impact on God (because we do not have one in that sense!); but because it is what God wants and what pleases him. It therefore brings him glory, our first aim as people he has made, cares for and holds to account. And because it is what God wants it works best in the society and universe he has created and sustains. A morality that derives from the Bible’s revelation of God who has moral perfection, who makes known his moral will, and who is also a God of grace able and willing to help us in our moral imperfection, is a morality of lasting value and everlasting security. Morality has always been taught as part of the state secular schooling system of course. The values of secularism while not always overtly stated imbued the curriculum. Even in that secular context however, there existed a residual traditional morality that was seen as an inheritance of accepted right and wrong that transcends generations, providing a motivation and a context for education, rather than a radicalising outcome. Now at least the religion of state schools is out in the 173
http://tiny.cc/QquHQ Aristotle The Doctrine of the Mean http://wsu.edu/~dee/GREECE/MEAN.HTM 175 Wells 176 C H Spurgeon “The Sin of Unbelief” The New Park Street Pulpit Volume 1 1855 The Banner of Truth Trust London 1963 p21 177 Wells 174
open, but that is about all that can be commended in the fact that one of the three main strands of the new Curriculum is to teach children to abandon the morality they have inherited and replace it with the temporary, capricious choices made by peer groups from time to time, unrelated to the wisdom and experience of the past, much less to any transcendent standards of right and wrong. Without a context and a framework for the formation of conscience and character, isolated values which the government thinks are generally “Good Things” do not produce good people. In fact, in isolation, they are likely to become politicised buzzwords, or empty phrases that do not mean much. … Raising children of character who know the difference between right and wrong is not a matter of cherry-picking values and then imposing them on all schools because it seems like a good idea.178 As Aristotle made clear, inculcating virtues aims not only at making a man good (a futile hope), but at making him perform his allotted function well: “The proper excellence or virtue of man will be the habit or trained faculty that makes a man good and makes him perform his function well.”179 Aristotle’s aim was not individual moral freedom, but ensuring a man performed his role as decreed, conformed to his prescribed social function. Here lies the ultimate irony: whether values or virtues, the pretence of personal freedom they offer is in fact a path to “functioning well” for the greater good. Truly moral education equips children with standards by which to make personal choices and within which to accept personal responsibility. However, values and virtues formed by the group or the state or even the church, turn children into mechanistic atoms of the group or the state or the church, with no personal responsibility. Values education, for all its posturing about choice, is a mechanism for social control. Morality without transcendence has become an advertising slogan: “Just do it,” with the mantra of the self-centred tacked on: “Who cares?” The only constraint is this: be part of the group. Thus is morality trivialised. By making values central to the Curriculum, the Ministry of Education is casting every child from the same mould, its mould, a mould of conformity and dependence. Choice and difference are stripped from parents and children alike and all become non-persons. The state is everything.
Regulation by Voucher It has become popular for advocates of school choice to promote the use of vouchers – an entitlement to state funds parents can transfer to the school of their choice. But what the state pays for it will control: with every voucher there will inevitably be regulations about how those funds can be spent, which regulated schools can be used, and what curriculum will be taught. The Swedish system of vouchers is held up as an example, and there is no doubt it has increased choice, standards and variety in the Swedish education system.180 But every school in Sweden at which a voucher can be redeemed must, as the Executive Manger for Education in one Swedish Municipality explains, “follow the national curriculum, the Swedish school law, and other decrees.”181 “Independent schools must be approved by the government in order to conduct activities. The National Agency for Education is the supervisory authority. Only approved schools are entitled to redeem [vouchers].”182 In perfect conformity with this formula for conformity, Sweden now plans to ban homeschooling “because a child’s education should be ‘comprehensive and objective’ it must be ‘designed so that all pupils can participate, regardless of what (the) religious or philosophical’ views of parents or children (are).”183 Vouchers are just another tempting bait to entice parents to sell their children into state control. State-paid schooling and regulation go together like the proverbial horse and cart.
John Fox Isolated Values Do Not Character Make Maxim Institute http://tiny.cc/0ztAr Aristotle, The Doctrine of the Mean 180 see http://www.teachers.tv/video/35159 181 ibid 182 http://tiny.cc/OSMB9 183 http://tiny.cc/5AHwu 179
8. A New Curriculum for Social control
They scorned the folly of the teachers, and lamented the frenzy of the scholar. ~ S Gossen, School of Abuse, 1572
In every state education system there comes a time when prescribing the content of what is taught is replaced with a “New Curriculum” that inevitably prescribes behaviour. Sooner or later there will always be a “New Curriculum” that is a prescription for social outcomes rather than acquisition of individual knowledge. We are at that point in New Zealand today. This is hardly surprising, for the western system of state controlled education for the benefit of the state, founded on Dewey’s design for a radically new “democratic society”, is not really much different from any other state system of education in history. When a state gets involved in education it is always ultimately to make sure individuals are properly prepared to contribute to the greater good. There are at least five discernable periods of curriculum change in New Zealand following the 1877 Act. Ewing identifies three of those up to 1970.184 He asserts the term “new” was first applied to “new education” in the 1920s. The third of his periods included the “new” science syllabuses and resources of the 1960s and 70s I was involved in helping write. There followed progressive revision of syllabuses until the present comprehensive reform. Each stage of change has involved a deliberate, well expressed reduction of content and an increase of what has become known as “outcomes.” The culmination of that trend in the new Curriculum was clearly signalled by the Ministry of Education in 1998: “In New Zealand, the shift from a content-based curriculum to an outcomes-based curriculum indicates this change of focus.”185 “Outcomes” education makes no attempt to define what will be taught. Instead it attempts to define what the result of teaching will be. Content-based teaching aims to provide children with a body of knowledge and skill upon which they can build their lives and further study, a foundation upon which they will make choices about life and learning that are theirs, in a world that will have a shape and direction teachers make no attempt to predict and claim no ability to forecast, let alone determine. Content-based learning aims to equip children for open-ended life and discovery over which the educator has no direct control. Outcomes education is exactly the opposite: the content and skill acquired is incidental to conformity to a pre-determined outcome. The teacher’s aim is to control the future by conforming every child to the outcome chosen by the state. Irwin argues that outcomes education “gives succour to those who seek to control.” He rightly admits that “some outcomes do lend themselves to definition and description, but others do not,” but objects, we have abandoned the view that education is essentially open-ended, that we cannot predict the effects it will have on individuals and shouldn’t try to do so because all children 184 185
J Ewing The Development of the New Zealand Primary School Curriculum 1877 – 1970 NZCER Wellington 1970 p281 Assessment for Success in Primary Schools Ministry of Education, Wellington, 1998.
are different and react differently even to the same experiences. The present view seems to be that education is closed and predictable.186 In its early stages, the gradual introduction of outcomes education appeared to be reasonable. To begin with, knowledge-based prescriptions were replaced with behavioural ones: instead of aiming, for example, to teach children to read, the aim became “children will be able to read” a certain level of text. A description of what children could do at the end of a course of instruction replaced a prescription of what would be taught in that course. But outcomes of that sort were still essentially related to knowledge and skill, and could therefore never be considered truly outcomesbased. Compare that to the new Curriculum’s religious “vision”: “Our vision is for young people … who will seize the opportunities offered by new knowledge and technologies to secure a sustainable social, cultural, economic, and environmental future for our country … who will be confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners.” This politically narrow visionary outcome has to do entirely with the politicisation of attitudes and activity that have no necessary relationship to knowledge or skill. Social, cultural, economic and environmental sustainability is so ideologically cultic that it cannot be claimed it is a majorityheld belief. It escapes classification as classical Marxism only because Marx failed to see the revolutionary potential of environmentalism. It is certainly neo-Marxist. It is so fuzzy that nobody will be able to judge for themselves if they are achieving it: only the visionaries in the Ministry of Education will be able to validate progress in vision fulfilment. One South Auckland school has spent hours in staff professional development on this in “an ongoing consultation process … with a series of cottage meetings, parent forums, surveys, and parent evenings with presentations.” We are told it “led to a deeper awareness of the appropriate channels available to facilitate dialogue and clarify understanding.” This was “consultation” to get people on board, not to get responses for change. It is not consultation at all: it is an exercise in propaganda. As for the clarity, they managed to translate the curriculum’s vision into the following semi-religious, poorly punctuated mumbo-jumbo: We are continuing the journey fuelled with the knowledge that we are making a difference and committed to extending the pathways further. We will continue to construct clarity out of confusion to get out of the pit to seek the eureka moment and to look for further opportunities, fresh ideas, and tackle the future with confidence so that our life long learners will have the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values necessary to meet the challenges of the 21st century.187 The Ministry’s vision has become a school’s hallucination in vacuity.
Being Connected What exactly does “connected” mean? The Curriculum’s explanation includes being “… connected to the land and environment,” and being “members of communities.”188 Among other things, then, “connected” means “connected” (which is meaningless), and at that, meaninglessly connected to the land – a minority religious concept many will find offensive. As for being “members of communities”, membership of a community is the starting point for every child in a family, and by definition continues to be the case for every child forced into new relationships in school, which makes it better than a self-fulfilling aim: it is a description of children’s existence before, during and after schooling. Such outcomes are so enigmatic that there can be no certainty as to when they are attained by any individual. The objectivity of mastering certain knowledge and skills that can be seen and measured by any observer no longer exist. The outcomes of this curriculum can only be evaluated by the specialists who design and implement it. Neither children nor parents will have any standard to aim for, any assurance of progress or attainment, other than the mysterious and whimsical declarations of the priests of the state religion. Certainty is replaced by uncertainty, and 186
Irwin op cit Clevedon School http://tiny.cc/80LlY 188 Other bullet points in their definition are: “Able to relate well to others, effective users of communication tools, and international citizens.” If these fuzzy statements have any meaning, it is intended to be either so broad as to be pointless or so narrow (which we suspect) as to be non-inclusive, non-accepting, and non-valuing of other beliefs. 187
independence surrendered to dependence. The subjectivity of outcomes education makes it a mechanism of social control. Outcomes education’s aim is not the education of children who will make independent choices and pursue unpredicted avenues of life and learning. Its aim is not to produce children who will retain and enhance individual integrity, responsibility and creativity over which neither the teacher nor the state has control. Its aim is to produce citizens who “are connected” to the prescribed outcome and group irrespective of what they know or what skills they may or may not have; whose individual integrity is taken hostage to what the system decrees is the greater good; who are responsible to the group rather than to God, their own consciences or transcendent morality; and who, divesting themselves of personal beliefs invest themselves with whatever badge of conformity is fashionable, whether that be brown shirts, red scarves, school uniforms or “widely-held values”. School uniforms in themselves need not be any more despotic than brown shirts and red scarves are in themselves, but used to engender a group identity based on commitment to transient group or school values in contrast to parental beliefs or transcendent morality, they become a controlling mechanism whereby a child’s acceptance by the all-supreme group is measured and rewarded. School uniforms declare unequivocally that the child belongs to the school, too often to the exclusion of parents and family. Uniforms are always about identity and control: separating individual identity from natural affinities, conferring acceptance, conforming the individual to the group, and by making continued cooperation with those in control a condition of the continuing right to wear the uniform, thereby exerting continuing control. That is why they are essential to any effective military organisation and why they should be regarded with great caution in the context of a genuinely free education. Outcomes education aims to have every child fit the prescribed outcome. It aims for a predetermined pattern of social uniformity ignorant and uncomprehending of individual knowledge or skill (which is why there is no necessity to prescribe the knowledge and skill to be taught any child). It is cloning not schooling, totalitarian not democratic, child abuse not education.
Redefining Knowing and Learning Teaching a knowledge-based curriculum always fails the totalitarian state. Every totalitarian state in history has replaced knowledge with social ideals in its education of the masses. Those totalitarian states that have lasted have educated a civil-service elite in knowledge and skill, securing their loyalty and conformity through privilege. But the masses, including those particular policing agencies used to enforce conformity, are kept either ignorant or enchanted, never knowing. Even so, the security of an educated elite can be more than a little precarious during revolutionary change, as the intellectuals and civil-servants have found in totalitarian states as diverse as Stalinist Russia, Maoist China, Nazi Germany and a host of modern Middle Eastern, African, and Central and Southern American states. The diversity is more apparent than real: whether politically of the right or left, whether funded by drugs, war, or slavery, and whether led by a real dictator, or an oligarch’s or tribal figurehead, they are all expressions of a socialism that makes the state, the elite, or some other “common good” more important than the individual. A traditionally liberal education encourages individual children to master a broad knowledge of the universe in which we live. It teaches facts, concepts and ideas, and relates them to the world and culture. It is both open ended and personal. It is open ended in the sense that it starts with a prescription which is known to provide a sound foundation, but has no defined end point apart from leaning as much as possible about as much as possible, albeit with a gradually increasing specialisation in response to gifting, calling and opportunity.189 It is personal in the sense that while it might begin with a foundation of facts known in common with classmates, the more particulars that are mastered from the available universe of knowledge, the more each individual’s mix of knowledge is specific to that person. The more a person knows of the universe, the more
189 Psalm 111 provides a wonderful biblical context and incentive for such learning: “Great are the works of the LORD; they are pondered by all who delight in them. Glorious and majestic are his deeds, and his righteousness endures forever. He has caused his wonders to be remembered.” vv2-4
differentiated he becomes from any potential mob and the more likely he is to think and act as a free individual. A broad education in knowable content frees a child to be a person who thinks and acts with individual integrity. That, in its turn, makes enslavement to the state’s control increasingly impossible. The state’s hope for transforming society through state controlled education always fails so long as the focus is on content and knowledge. It is patently obvious that New Zealand has not yet attained to the pacific democracy Dewey’s schooling was meant to produce; but it is equally obvious to anyone who has read Dewey that he insisted content must go and social aims must prevail. “Dewey always maintains that the custom of inculcating knowledge and ideas of the past – usually through books – is both harmful and useless.”190 Even if it does not comprehend that, a state committed to social cohesion in which the good of the state at cost to the good of the individual is definitive, can only respond to the failure of its system of induction and indoctrination (that is, compulsory state schooling) by increasingly denying individuals knowledge and increasingly enforcing conformity. Only in a state that posits the good of the state in the good of the individual can individual knowledge and wisdom be valued. In the end, a state that sees its provision of education as the key to social harmony must, for both philosophical and pragmatic reasons, replace schooling in content with schooling in social outcomes. Of course, that too will fail, if the expectation is that individuals will spontaneously conform. Individuals will become dependent upon the group, and will conform to the group, but the state’s behavioural goals will be as readily corrupted by group whims as are parental goals unless an additional layer of coercion is applied. No amount of education in social goals produces unforced social conformity. We have had more than ten years of a national Health and Physical Education syllabus that was, among other things, aimed at reducing teenage suicide, drug abuse and pregnancy. Ten years on we have more of each of those. Children may, as a result of implementing the syllabus, be more experienced in “socially critical” group discussions, but they are also more experienced in self harm, drug abuse and sex as a direct result of the peer pressure facilitated by the syllabus.
Sexualising the Young through Group Knowing and Learning Sex education classes for eleven-year-olds now ask them to decide (in a group activity of course: a brainstorming session is prescribed, followed by a vote) when they should begin having sex.191 The law says children of this age are to be protected from having sex: they are simply too young to evaluate the issues involved. Sure, some children in the past had sex, but everyone knew it was wrong. Now, right and wrong have gone. Here is the discussion starter for eleven-year-olds: Should I have sex? What do you believe? What are your values? Sometimes there is no right or wrong answer. It depends on what you and your partner want, and feel is right. Some people believe only married people should have sex, some people believe it’s O.K as long as you care about each other and are committed to each other. Some people feel that it’s O.K to enjoy sex regardless of whether you’re in a relationship. Some people choose not to have sex at all. All these choices are normal. YOU WILL NEED TO WORK OUT WHEN YOU BELIEVE HAVING SEX IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO FOR YOU.” (Their capitalisation.) Instead of being told it is wrong and is not a matter they can properly decide for themselves till they are older, children are enticed to set their own group agendas. They are then told about contraception and how to “protect themselves” when they do have sex, and given a hand-out “How Can I Have Sex Safely?” They even get help on checking their eleven-year-old bodies for STDs. Consequences are minimised with the advice that they can do things differently next time: Learning how you feel about sex, and what’s right for you can take time and you may make a few mistakes along the way as you work things out. Don’t feel too badly if you’ve done 190 191
Curtis and Boultwood An Introductory History of English Education Since 1800 University Tutorial Press, London, 1964 (1960) p248 Year 7 Part 3 resource pack supplied to schools by Libra http://tiny.cc/jf0Zt
something you regret, just REMEMBER YOU CAN ALWAYS CHOOSE TO BEHAVE DIFFERENTLY IN THE FUTURE.” (again, the emphasis is theirs)192 Then the eleven-year-olds role-play deciding whether or not to have sex, with scenarios like this: “A really cute girl/guy is coming on to you and you think that maybe tonight’s the night. Should you go ahead? Why/Why not?”193 If this is not actual abuse of children, it is certainly no way to inhibit sexual activity, and it will not reduce youth pregnancies and STDs. The “outcomes” will not satisfy the state, which already prescribes contraceptives to these children on request. How long before the state makes it compulsory for eleven-year-old girls to take contraceptive drugs? If that seems far-fetched, note the state’s pressure to inoculate girls against cervical cancer they can be exposed to through multiple sexual partners. Not only did the state distribute to schools a DVD that taught numerous errors of science194 intended to indoctrinate children with the need for inoculation,195 a number of schools illegally passed to the Ministry of Health school rolls or lists of girls whose parents had not returned consent forms or had declined to permit inoculations. The Ministry then brought additional pressure to bear on those families. The Privacy Commission is rightly investigating this,196 but that it happened at all is an indication that at least some of the state’s present employees regard it as their duty to obligate parents to have their children medicated by the state irrespective of their legal rights. As the state becomes increasingly intrusive in its claim to own the education of children, it will become increasingly obtrusive in its claim to own the health of children, and in fact to own the bodies, lives, loyalty and libations of children. The shift from content to outcomes, the shift from educational outcomes to social outcomes, and the shift from social outcomes to social compulsion is the only way a state education system can move. The state must either protect the right of parents to choose what education their children receive and protect schooling that liberates individuals from group control by giving them knowledge, or it must increasingly control. Protection or control: there is no mystery about the direction of New Zealand’s state monopoly. New Zealand’s newest “New Curriculum” to be made compulsory in 2010, is a prescription in which indoctrination into social cohesion is the aim. With no content prescribed its terminology is deceitful, hiding new definitions of learning and knowing that make content of learning accidental and irrelevant. Its major emphasis is on creating a new, transient morality. Its outcomes will be a state generated addiction to experience and ever increasing dependence upon the state to supply it. But its greatest vice is its annihilation of the integrity of individual children. In 2003 the New Zealand Council for Educational Research set out the foundations for the new Curriculum. Here is how Jane Gilbert, Chief researcher for the Council, explained learning in the 21st Century: “The traditional idea of knowledge as something that is linked to ‘truth’, to ‘the facts’ and so on … is being replaced by what Lyotard197 refers to [sic] knowledge’s ‘performativity’. … By this, he means that knowledge is important now, not because it is true, but for what it can do, for its usefulness.”198 Truth is excluded. Facts are excluded. The only thing that matters is the made-up idea of “performativity”. In plain language, the process of classroom activity replaces learning and knowing. This is a design for a curriculum in ignorance.
Only Groups The new meaning of knowledge is spelt out even more clearly in Gilbert’s list of “key features of knowledge” (italics are hers): 192
ibid ibid 194 For example it pictured viruses penetrating cell walls (not found in human cells) and “eating up” cells! 195 I make no attempt here to assess the rights or wrong of inoculation. The issue is simply that the state has made a concerted effort to subvert parental responsibility and choice. 196 http://tiny.cc/OzinF 197 Jean-Francois Lyotard, French postmodern philosopher died 1998 198 Jane Gilbert “New” Knowledges and “New” Ways of Knowing: Implications and Opportunities in “Educating for the 21st Century” NZCER Wellington 2003 p5 193
“Knowledge is a process, not a thing” It “happens in teams, not in individuals” It “does things, rather than just ‘being’” It is “developed to be used, modified, and quickly replaced and destroyed” It “develops as and when it is needed” This explains why so much group work happens in schools: no child is expected to learn anything as an individual. Only groups can learn. When the national Curriculum is fully implemented, a child’s school report telling parents the child has achieved some level of learning will mean that the child’s group has “learnt” something. There will be no evaluation made of the individual’s learning because individuals cannot learn. But even more important, the “learning” the group has experienced is no more than a shared process. So what the school report will really mean is that the child who is said to have learnt something has done nothing more than share in a group activity. Since the new Curriculum is based on the idea that knowledge cannot be measured, it cannot be found in an individual, and as an individual acting independently of a group is a meaningless non-entity, exams in the senior secondary levels will continue to be replaced by assessment of group activities. As discussed above, it is increasingly easy to gain credits from internal assessments based on group activity. NZQA have announced another reduction in exams to follow their systematic discrediting of the exam idea. It will not be long before individuals who achieve at cost to group activities will be stigmatised. According to the philosophy of constructivism that shapes this approach, no knowledge can be gained, it can only be created. Such creation is done by the group; it is never an individual thing. As Gilbert explains above, “it is developed”. She makes it clearer when explaining how knowledge is gained: “Learning … is generating knowledge, working it out for yourself, not storing knowledge developed by other people.”199 It might appear that by referring to “yourself” Gilbert is allowing for an individual working things out and generating knowledge, but the “yourself” here refers, as always, to the group. An individual has no meaning outside of a group. Foundation Professor of Science Education at the University of Auckland, Michael Matthews, has demonstrated the folly of constructivism in his specialist field of science teaching: Science, and science education, can play a powerful role in the general improvement of culture … if it is seen as seeking the truth about the world … if it inculcates an attitude of humility before the world: The world judges our claims to knowledge of it, we cannot just construct whatever suits our fancy, our interests, or our culture, and call it knowledge.200 An exclusive focus on generating knowledge means children must not be given the accumulated wisdom of the past or share in the discoveries of the present. There is no heritage of facts and information from pervious generations or community of contemporary wisdom. Not even a teacher can instruct because a teacher has nothing of value to transmit to the group. In reality, this is probably true of many younger teachers who are trying to put this idiocy into practice, because as those who have been educated in this framework, many have neither a pool of knowledge to pass on to children, nor a means of accessing the pool of knowledge of past generations, let alone a foundation of knowledge and skill with which to explore the unknown. There is no truth older than the group’s present experience: “Learning is primarily a group activity, not something that happens in individuals.” In this framework it becomes an evil for an individual to use knowledge outside of the group. Professor of Teacher Education at Massey University John O’Neill claims that individual use of a group’s knowledge is reprehensible “private exploitation” of what is owned by the group.201 O’Neill’s “group” is in fact the state. Here is one of the country’s leading teacher-trainers claiming private use of knowledge perpetrates an evil against the state. This is Orwellian in both its audacity and its demand for subjugation to the state. Conform, cooperate or be vilified. Mind, being vilified is better than being sent to a Siberian slave-labour camp. 199
Gilbert p24ff Michael Matthews Challenging NZ Science Education Dunmore, Palmerston North, 1995 p14 201 Education Review Wellington 6 February 2009. 200
John McAleese, Principal of Howick Intermediate School, says that the Curriculum means, “schools now can focus more on the process and less on subject matter content.”202 McAleese argues that this process must involve handing over to children the decisions about what to learn, how to learn and how fast to learn. What the group perceives as its current “needs” determines the process they will engage in. For him too “learning” is defined as going through the process of making these choices: there is no content to be mastered. In this schooling for fools, teachers cannot teach. Instead “teachers spend less time preoccupied with ‘subjects’ as they … work in partnership with students as guides, advisors and facilitators of (choice making).” There is a final reason why, according to this intellectual-abuse outlined by Gilbert, there can be no prescription of a body of knowledge children need to master: “Learning is something that you do when you need it.” If a child, or more precisely, if a child’s group, can see no immediate need for something, the group cannot be expected to do it (always, “do”, never “learn”). Such a need is exclusively a perceived need. No outsider such as a parent or teacher can impose on the group because the group’s needs and knowledge are vested exclusively in the group. Education adviser Bruce Hammond explains why there can be no planned curriculum content. Since learning, he says, “is a process of students creating their own ‘knowledge’ … led by the interests, questions queries and concerns of the learner,” a curriculum cannot plan what students will learn.203
Abstaining from Reason While the new Curriculum was being developed, Senior Lecturer at the University of Otago College of Education, Helen Trevethan listed the aims of teaching science but made no reference to knowledge or skill. She asserts that a parent wants science teaching to “engage (children’s) interest, equip them for future learning, and enable them to see science as relevant.”204 I suspect that most parents want their children to learn something in science lessons; to enjoy them by all means, but to come away from them with increased knowledge of the created world and the way it works. Trevethan says that “validity and purpose” is given to children’s experience of science by participating in it, and she looked forward to the new Curriculum that will give children “the opportunity to engage in more thinking and less remembering.” I suspect that children, like their parents, want something more than enjoyment in science lessons. Children love to learn; that is, until a school system that exalts process in place of learning subverts them. It may well be that one day those children will want not to remember lessons that engaged them, validated them, and left them ignorant. Even more revealing are her aims as a classroom teacher. She wants resources, support in implementing the curriculum, to provide “interesting science programmes” and “time to teach”. Not only is there no mention of imparting knowledge or skill, the children do not even get a mention! This is how teachers are being trained for the new Curriculum. Fifteen years earlier, Michael Matthews, warned that this constructivism, then gaining dominance in New Zealand schools, was “inherently relativistic and discounts subject-matter competence.”205 With specific reference to science teaching he warned, “Its overriding aim is for learners to ‘make sense of living things,’ rather than ‘learn about living things.’” Matthews traced the beginnings of this irrational approach to teaching back to the 1980s when it was introduced into the science syllabuses, culminating in the 1993 Science in the New Zealand Curriculum national syllabus. There, he pointed out, “making sense of the world [replaced] gaining knowledge of the world.”206 But, as he also pointed out, “science does not strive to make sense of the world, it strives to find out the truth about the world.” Making sense of the world would, he argued prophetically, give place to “making sense of experience of the world. This is a Kantian
Middle Schooling Review #3 April 2007 p1 “A Unified Pedagogy” in Good Teacher Magazine Term One 2007 p10 204 Education Today #1 Term 1 2007 p6 205 Challenging NZ Science Education back cover 206 p81 203
slope down which many constructivists, and others, slide in their journey to complete relativism, solipsism and scepticism.”207 So it has proved with the new Curriculum.
Inspiring Ignorance To show how this works the Ministry of Education published what it called “Inspirational Exemplars”. One was a series of four Social Studies lessons taught to Year Nine students at 208 Penrose High School. Instead of the teacher deciding what students needed to know, they were shown a set of photographs and over one and a half lessons the students formed questions about the photos based on what they already knew. In following lessons they made a presentation from what they already knew in answer to their questions. The lessons were “constructed with six common features.” Acquiring knowledge was not on the list. When it was finished, the lessons were considered successful because students participated, not because there was any evidence they had gained knowledge. According to the teacher, although the students learnt nothing new, by participating in a process that presented what they already knew, they demonstrated “learning that was owned by the students and was therefore … authentic.” Just how convoluted the thinking is that regards this as learning can be seen from the teacher’s final reported remarks. What he calls “authentic learning”, learning in which children have participated in production but gained no new knowledge, was a result of focusing on the “learning outcomes” in the curriculum. He comments that the curriculum’s “Aspects of Learning” relating to these lessons were “written as a learning outcome, ‘The students will know...’, ‘The students will understand...’, which means you have got something clear to articulate what you need them to know.” Yet at the end of the lessons the only “knowledge” or “understanding” they had was group participation. According to the foundations described by Gilbert, the new Curriculum cannot contain any prescription of knowledge to be taught because knowledge cannot be transmitted, much less prescribed. The only permissible prescription is what a group decides it needs at the moment. This results in inordinate time being spent by teachers (now called “facilitators”) manipulating the group of children they are “teaching” to motivate them to want what the teacher wants. To do this, teachers must of course become part of the group: everything is now done from the perspective of “we” and “us” with the facilitator learning (that is, going through a process) along with the children. What futility! This approach is expressly specified in the Pedagogy section of the Curriculum: Students learn as they engage in shared activities and conversations with other people, including family members and people in the wider community. Teachers encourage this process by cultivating the class as a learning community. In such a community, everyone, including the teacher, is a learner; learning conversations and learning partnerships are encouraged; and challenge, support, and feedback are always available. As they engage in reflective discourse with others, students build the language that they need to take their learning further.209 The teacher has nothing to offer but shared conversations, in which the group builds language for … more shared conversations (“learning further”). Again I say, what futility. It is not only the teachers who are demeaned by this group process in place of learning from others. As the individual has no meaning apart from the group, the dignity of each child as an individual person is stolen. Children now have dignity only as group members. There are no people left, only groups.
p82 Education Gazette 19 June 2006 http://tiny.cc/6yg7I 209 http://tiny.cc/4r4no 208
9. National Unstandards
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. “I don’t much care where—” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat. “--so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation. “Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.” ~ Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865
Earlier brief comment alluded to the new National Standards intended to “clearly state the expected level of achievement of each child” to be reported to parents in “clear and direct, plain language.”210 This is not the place to examine the Standards in detail, but they do illustrate the way in which a state education system validates itself and subverts normal expectations. While the announced intention of introducing National Standards was to specify levels of achievement, relate those to individual children, and report achievement to parents, each of those three intentions has been subverted by the way the Standards have been written even before they are put into practice. Hence I have called them “Unstandards”. There is a Standard each for Reading, for Writing, and for Mathematics. Each is broken into a separate behavioural statement for the end of four of the eight years of primary schooling,211 so although reporting is to be regular, unless the final version has more standards, parents will only get “regular” reporting meaningfully referenced to these Standards four times during each child’s entire eight years of primary schooling. With each statement exemplars are given to guide teacher assessment. There are no quantifiable specifications of what must be known or achieved to meet any standard. Nowhere is any greater skill specified than descriptions of engagement in activities. In many cases, even in mathematics, there is an imposition of outcomes requiring conformity to a narrow socio-political perspective. The absence of objectivity that should be found in anything properly called a standard is not immediately apparent when reading the Standards. Although in the Reading and Writing Standards there is some reference to the Curriculum’s Learning Progressions which include knowledge about reading and writing,212 assessment of the Standards completely ignores them. Nothing has to be known to meet the Standards, and there is no requirement specified for accuracy in the Reading and Writing Standards. Although the Mathematics Standard includes some activities that involve calculation, as will be explained below they are not necessary for achievement of the Standard. In the Mathematics Standard there is reference to the New Zealand Curriculum Levels, but they are 210
“Minister’s Introduction” in National Standards and Reporting to Parents Ministry of Education, circulated undated in May 2009 Years 1, 4, 6 and 8 212 In the Material for Teachers notes are included in the Reading and Writing Standards (but not in the Mathematics Standards) referring to the Draft Literacy and Learning Progressions (ie curriculum) which include specifications of knowledge and skills, but at no point are those “Progressions” related directly to the assessment of standards. 211
not used objectively. Nowhere is there any measure of accuracy required to meet the Mathematics Standard. The concept of assessment based on specific testing is clearly excluded. It is required that “Evidence from a range of sources should be used when making judgements as to whether a student meets a particular standard,”213 which is explained in this way: “Teachers will continue to use their professional judgement, drawing on data from multiple sources, to make sound assessments of students’ progress.”214 That means that no specific data is needed and teachers can choose what fits to validate their “judgements”. What constitutes a “sound judgement”? One made as a “professional judgement”. What constitutes a “professional judgement”? One made by a professional. What constitutes an assessment? Whatever a teacher decides. Teachers can make up the results so as to demonstrate their successful teaching, and need have no hard data to establish their accuracy or integrity. Will teachers cheat? While not calling it cheating, one of New Zealand’s leading specialists in educational assessment, Emeritus Professor of Education Warwick Elley says, “There is much evidence” that teachers will “‘bend’ the rules to ensure better outcomes.”215 This, he says, is especially so when teachers are expected to work “within the guidelines of the vague expected outcome statements.” The assessments will be a farce. Not all adjustments to standards are barefaced cheating. For many years marks in some schools have been changed by the schools to allow for “cultural disadvantage.” I was teaching in Otara when the Progressive Achievement Tests (PATs) were introduced. With many of our students having English as a second language, and almost all coming from homes in which reading English was not a strength, the scores of our students fell well below the national norms. It became common practice to change the marks by adding points to make up for the fact that these children were disadvantaged in reading English. It is regarded as compensating for the ethno-centricity of the English reading tests. How there can be an “English” test that is not English-centric is never explained. That students who are not familiar with English and the culture with which it is entwined cannot do well in an English test is regarded as discrimination and something to be corrected by changing their scores. As a result the schools were able to report children had a level of reading competence that simply did not exist. Such practices continue to be extensive, and will add to the invalidity of any standards tested and reported by teachers or schools. The idea that teachers will “continue” to assess as they have always done is critical to the imposition of these unstandards. When the idea of national standards was mooted as part of an election manifesto, many if not most imagined that some sort of formal objective assessment would be required. That was among the reasons discussed earlier for the widespread objections by teachers to the concept. Now, as the Standards are being introduced, teachers are being reassured that things will in reality continue as previously. Teachers will be able to continue to assess and report as they have always done, except that there will be a new vocabulary to describe the old assessment process. Then there were no national standards, and now there will be nothing new apart from the words used by teachers. This has been a significant factor in the now greater acceptance of the Standards, but it would be a mistake to see this, as is often portrayed, as a matter of teacher work-load. It is a matter of educational methodology that sees learning as a process. So long as teachers are free to form their own opinions as to what learning is taking place according to what group activities children take part in, National Standards are no more than another great piece of state propaganda that looks good, does nothing, and reports less.
Reading Together for Individual Assessment Although the Year 8 Reading Standard includes a short list and examples of some basic conventions of print and language techniques, the actual judgement tasks can be completed without reference to them. The Standard identifies types of “texts that students will read largely by 213 Material for Teachers Professional Elaboration, Draft Reading and Writing Standards Ministry of Education, Wellington, undated, distributed May 2009, p 2 214 National Standards and Reporting to Parents 215 Elley “Standards that will fall short” Education Review Vol; 13 No. 49 Wellington December 19, 2008 p7
themselves.”216 To form “judgements” about a child’s reading four exemplar questions are listed that can be asked of “students after they have read the text together.”217 This may mean after the teacher and an individual student have “read it together” or it may mean after the teacher and a group have “read it together”, but two things stand out: the Standards do not include any assessment of the actual independent reading skills and knowledge, and assessment is to be based on a shared reading situation in which the child being assessed can read vicariously. Other children or the teacher can supply any or all of the words and meaning of what has been “read”. Reading the book in a group (which can include the teacher) is consistent with the philosophy of “performativity” underlying the national Curriculum, and its concept that learning only takes place in groups, but it does not assess how well a child can read through a book on his own and understand it. Assessment of an individual child’s ability to read on the basis of such activity is consequentially utterly invalid, unless, as the Curriculum requires, only groups can know and do – in that case an individual can do and know only as a component of a group, and any assessment purporting to be of an individual is really an assessment of the group seen through the individual. If the child can express the group’s understanding, he has succeeded at reading even if he never actually read a word for himself. Two texts (articles from School Journals, not actual books which is what children of this age should be able to read) are given as examples in the Year 8 Reading Standards. In both, more than half of the text, usually half of each page, is made up of pictures. In fact, once the gist of one of the narrative texts has been explained, the story can be followed just by looking at the pictures. In any case, the child does not need to have understood anything of the story to answer two of the four suggested questions. Try it for yourself: can you give a reasonable response to the following two questions even though you have not read the text? 1. What can you infer about Nancy and her husband from their decision to stay and resist German occupation? 2. What do you think are the qualities of a hero or heroine? The other two questions require responses that indicate some awareness of the group’s idea of the story but do not require reference to anything in the text or to any of the conventions of print or language techniques that are supposed to be what “students will draw on” to “respond to and think critically” about their reading. No actual reading skill apart from responding, and no knowledge of the way literature works apart from thinking, is evaluated. Such a “judgement of reading standards” is a sham. Yet in reporting to parents schools will deceitfully advise that children have reached a standard of reading that is made to appear objective.
The Consistent Necessity of Outcomes Instead of Knowledge This is consistent with the concept of state education in two ways. Firstly, state education by definition is achieving the standards of state education, so its perception of its task is not to change what is done to meet new standards, but to change the standards to conform to what it is doing; and secondly, because state education must increasingly focus on social outcomes to validate its existence, any standards it uses must be referenced to group activity and not the individual components of the group, the children. Once the state has determined that it knows what is best for children’s education, not only must it monopolise both the determination of what is good and the delivery of that good, anything it does by way of educating children must by definition be good. It follows that it must and will find a way to demonstrate that what it is doing is good. Thus the introduction of National Standards is a challenge to the state education system only so far as it has to work out how to manage the idea without changing what it already knows is good for children, that is, what it is already doing. The National Standards have been introduced with remarkable speed: the efficiency of the Ministry of Education is more than evident in the way it has managed to transform the concept of objective individual standards into subjective group outcomes in such a short time. Knowing that subjective group standards are good because that is what it is presently committed to, and that 216 217
Our emphasis. Our emphasis.
individual objective standards are bad because that is what it has already rejected, the state system had to change the standards to fit its present practice. The result of the valiant but vain attempt to impose National Standards is that teachers will continue to do what they are already doing, and the state will continue to validate the standards it is achieving whatever they might be. Social outcomes are similarly a necessary result of a state monopoly on education. A contentrich education in which knowledge and skill are imparted is an open-ended education: the more knowledge and skill that is gained, the more individualised subsequent learning becomes and thereby the more free it is from the control of others. But a state system demands universal participation: since participation in state education is regarded as the greater good for the whole community, the state must constrain any tendency that allows for individual activity outside of the system and enhance anything that engenders increased dependency. Since knowledge and skill by their very nature tend to free individualsâ€™ further learning from the control of or undue dependency upon others, they have no lasting place in a state education system. Knowledge and skill must either be abandoned by a state education system or, as in ours, be redefined to mean a process of group engagement, dependency, and control. The significance of this can be illustrated with reference to post-graduate university study. A PhD student will have begun university study with first year courses that have well defined prescriptions of the knowledge and skill to be mastered, a mastery demonstrated in relatively objective testing. A foundation of knowledge and skill, passed on from the more experienced and more knowledgeable, will form a foundation for post-graduate research into relatively uncharted fields of learning. By the time a student begins a PhD, there is no general prescription of knowledge to be gained: there cannot be, for every individual student will be breaking new ground suited to each individualâ€™s gifts and calling, and the opportunities available. But that does not mean a PhD will be awarded because the student can demonstrate that after two or three years of participation in research he has been a participant in research. Rather, a course of study that specifies knowledge and content that can be published, tested and checked, will be agreed with a supervisor, and external examiners appointed to test that knowledge and content. Any social outcomes of PhD research, such as being accepted as a member of a research community, will be dependent upon demonstrating the acquisition and effective dissemination of knowledge. If universities ever become committed to outcomes education, PhDs will be awarded to all students who engage in the process of research (regardless of the level of knowledge they begin with, and despising any knowledge they may incidentally gain) and become dependent upon the group for the enriching experience of ongoing research without anyone gaining any quantifiable knowledge. An open education begins with a prescription of what should be known and mastered, leading to individuality and educational opportunity. A totalitarian education withholds knowledge (or as in our state system which claims knowledge can neither be imparted nor resident in an individual, then substitutes experience but still calls it knowledge) and limits future educational opportunity to further group participation and dependence. Only the latter can serve the interests of a state that has ceded to itself the determination and delivery of educational good, for individuals who are free to pursue genuine educational opportunity are free to pursue it without either the control of or dependency upon the state which has determined it alone can provide that education. The state must either protect the right to education or provide a despotic substitute: it cannot do both. Either the state protects the right of parents to choose an education for their children and protects the freedom of children to learn with unknown outcomes, or it subsumes those rights and freedoms to specified outcomes of social conformity with increasingly limited individual knowledge and opportunity. Of course, even some parents can find security in outcomes education instead of knowledge based education. Whether the prescription is made by parents or the state, either the contents of education are specified and the outcomes unpredicted, or the outcomes are specified and the content unpredicted. I unhesitatingly encourage parents to choose a knowledge based education for their children, one that parents will increasingly surrender control of to their children as those children become adults equipped and able to take up the unpredicted outcomes of such an open education. That, like schools, some parents may for a time fail to secure an open ended education for their children does not have the lasting impact it has with schools. As children become adults they are 75
freed from the dominion of parents, and can make their own educational choices. That can never happen when the state school makes the choices, because becoming an adult does not free the individual from the dominion of the state, or its life-long learning. That the choice of education given children must remain the parents’ is fundamental to a truly democratic education of children. The state that provides and controls education instead of protecting it however, cannot allow for such open outcomes, for if it does, the new generation once educated, being independent of state control and state education, will demonstrate by that very independence that the state is not the sole provider of good education and will demand they have the same freedoms for their children as their parents secured for them. The state has to prescribe outcomes instead of knowledge if it is to retain its status as the determiner and deliver of good education. No matter with what aims it begins, a state education system must ultimately commit to outcomes education: control can only be sustained by making each individual dependent upon the group, so the aim of education becomes, instead of individual knowledge, group activity and group dependence. It was thus inevitable that the imposition of National Standards would be transformed by the state system itself from an objective measurement of individual knowledge to a subjective description of group participation.
Unstandards of Naked Nonsense The pattern of state endorsed ignorance seen in the Reading Standard continues into the Writing Standard (relating to the writing of English rather than to handwriting, although the Standard does include the underwhelming expectation that by the end of Year 1 “Students will write most letters and numerals legibly.”). It is worth summarising the seven “inclusions” expected of children at the end of year 8: clear logical structure; relevant content; engaging features; complex and grammatical sentences; paragraphs of related ideas; complex punctuation; expressive, academic vocabulary. Here are the first few lines of the example of what students at the end of year 8 “will write largely by themselves”, with punctuation and spelling reproduced as given: Dear Editor I think all cats in New Zealand should be exterminate Feral Cats should be neutered and when they all die. We can have a hakiri not a tangi. Cats arekilling machines. They should not have been brought to Aotearoa by the Pakeha settlers. … One wonders what they would write if they did it entirely by themselves. The punctuation is certainly complex, albeit rather unhelpful; the content is expressly one-sided if not racist, so presumably expresses relevancy; the uninformed bigotry of the whole composition undoubtedly engages the reader; the vocabulary includes a sprinkling of indigenosity, making it academic; although most paragraphs have some sentences extraneous to the paragraph’s topic, it is formatted in paragraphs; but I am not so sure about the complex grammatical sentences, especially this one with its expectation of germinating birds: “If Cats are allowed to munch up Manu our forests will die because many seeds need to pass through a birds digestive system before it can germinate.” On the other hand it does seem that most 12-year-old children working together might be able write to this level of expectation. Mockery aside – and sadly this Standard is as inviting of ridicule as the naked emperor in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes – it is critical to realise the Standard is never intended to specify a measurable level of skill, but a process by which students “think about, record, and communicate experiences, ideas and information …” The piece is commended because the student has “create(d) this argument … deliberately stated his opinion and carefully chosen language”, not because of the accuracy or quality of English writing, much less for the validity of his argument. Expressing opinion and choosing language are the processes by which learning is defined. Neither the opinion nor the language have quality apart from the fact that they are personal expressions and choices, but it is that which makes them valid in this concept of learning. Once the state has
declared that its monopoly on teaching is definitive of what is good for children, the state must design assessment procedures that validate whatever it does, even to this degree of naked nonsense. The Mathematics Standard also continues the charade. By the end of Year 1 children should, according to the Standard, be able to count (well, no, actually they “will be able to apply ‘counting all’ strategies”) and arrange things. With such an unpromising start it is hardly surprising that by the end of Year 8 there is still no requirement for accurate computation. As noted earlier, the Ministry of Education’s standard is that “expecting students to get the right answers … is no longer the prime goal of mathematics education.”218 Here the Ministry lives up to its aims. There are five “performativities” expected under the main standard that students “solve problems or model situations”. To summarise: apply flexible multiplicative and additive thinking; find relationships and represent them; measure things; sort shapes and numbers; visualise and represent transformations of shapes. So what does this look like translated into exemplars? One of the examples given of a “rich mathematical task and descriptions of student thinking [exemplifies] what is required to meet this standard”. It requires that students engage with the problem, “If a toddler is 90 cm tall on their [sic] 2nd birthday, how tall will they [sic] be when they [sic] are 13?” Despite the fact that there is no mathematical or rational basis for such prophetic certainty, two children in the example read graphs and internet reports to come up with completely irrelevant data, and use “dot plots” to compare boys and girls (not an answer asked for). One uses a calculation (multiplying by 2) to come up with an answer, and throws in an irrelevant average calculation (the only mathematical calculation in the whole exemplar harder than recalling the two-times table). “Multiplicative and additive thinking” are not just complex ways of saying multiplying and dividing. They exemplify the concept that children’s mathematical learning at this level will be the activity of thinking along the lines of multiplying and adding. It is the process, and at that the process of thinking to solve problems, not the accurate computation of mathematical solutions, much less the acquiring of factual knowledge or replicable skill, that is regarded as learning. This raises the spectre of a generation of children who think in the state approved pattern with neither accuracy nor skill, but in tuneless concert with all their unskilled and inaccurate peers. Of the remaining ten Exemplary Problems given, two require multiplicative or additive thinking, but not necessarily by means of conventional calculation. The strategies used “might include, e.g., use of equations, algorithms, or empty number lines.” In both examples the calculations are correct, but there is no guidance as to how to assess the answer if it is not correct. Considering the Ministry’s quite explicit direction that “the right answer is not the prime goal,” we have to assume this Standard can be meet, at least substantially if not completely, without getting the right answer. It could be even worse if correct calculation is required: problem solving activities require considerable time on the problem part with minimal computations. In a conventional mathematics assessment, a number of calculations can be covered in the time only one problem-solving solution can be arrived at. Making a number of calculations of the same sort as in a conventional mathematics assessment enables an occasional mistake to be balanced against generally consistent accuracy: if four similar calculations are required a child can make one mistake and still score 75%, indicating ability to replicate the calculation accurately. But if only one calculation is tested, and if accuracy is required, one mistake and the entire standard is missed. If in a problem solving assessment accuracy is not required, it is not a reliable assessment of mathematical ability; if accuracy is required too few items will be tested and it remains an unreliable assessment of mathematical ability.
The Problem of Problems “Problems” have always been part of courses in mathematics. Back in the 1950s the standard arithmetic text books would have a few “problems” at the end of every chapter of calculations to see if students could apply what they had learnt. But the emphasis has moved from applying
National Education Monitoring Project: Mathematics Ministry of Education Wellington p9
knowledge and skill in solving problems to solving problems without first gaining knowledge and skill. This has created incredible confusion. The Mathematics Standard for Year 8 sums up all learning as “achieving … in contexts that require them to solve problems or model situations.” This fits the overall design of contemporary education as engaging children in solving universal problems. In the old arithmetic days, everyone realised that the “problems” section was a little artificial and engaged children in activities that did little to plumb the depths of life’s issues but did check the application of the basic arithmetical operations just learnt and practiced. Having learnt and practiced the operation of adding, children could be asked, “If Jill has one basket of 24 apples and one box of 16 oranges, how much fruit does she have altogether?” It was not life-changing stuff, but it was practical. Now education is conceived of as having to involve life-changing problem-solving, the problems pitched at children are invariably at a level way beyond either their conceptual or ability levels. The “rich mathematical task” in the exemplar alluded to above is exactly of this sort. Predicting the height of a 13 year old when the height at age 2 is known is in fact an impossible task. Predicting the likely height of that toddler eleven years on is a complex statistical operation contingent upon a vast range of factors that vary from population to population. The only way to engage twelve-year-old children in activities requiring the knowledge and skills of post-graduate statisticians is to either simplify the problem to a level of mathematical and scientific idiocy, as in this exemplar, or to convince the children that their uninformed, immature opinions have validity, as in one of the Reading exemplars that asks children, following a shared reading of a text about spraying a city with insecticide, to “Compare the impact on our native bush of the painted apple moth with that of possums.” That Reading exemplar is remarkable for two reasons: firstly, it requires a level of sophistication twelve-year-old children have not reached, one that our Science Teacher has said would be appropriate for a Senior College examination; and secondly, it requires the child be assessed to the Standard by comparing what he has read with something the question acknowledges he has not yet read! Leaving that complication aside, the problem with problems is firstly the concept that real-life problems are within the comprehension of children, and secondly that the solutions to the world’s problems are to be found in the supposed innocence of children. It is for this latter reason that “problem solving” has become such a pervading feature of all modern curricula, including our new national Curriculum and these National Standards. Behind it is the idea that the troubles of our world arise from adults, and if children in their innocence are given the opportunity to sort out the world before maturity corrupts them, we will have an unblemished world. That sort of thinking can be found in John Dewey and a host of other influential romantics. I reject it on biblical grounds: children are not pools of innocence from which perfection can be sucked. Only in God can such perfection be found and only from God can the solution to the world’s problems be sought. What some call childhood innocence is nothing more than inexperience and a simplistic solution-set that goes with it. I, and I suspect a host of other sensible people, also reject it on pragmatic grounds: anyone who works with real children knows they have neither the understanding nor the maturity to be given adult problems to solve. Let the children be children. They learn to solve problems by first being given the knowledge and skills that are a foundation for life, and adding to that the experience of growing up with the instruction and example of adults who apply such knowledge and skill in real life. More conventional educators speak of rightly looking for children to be able to apply what they have learnt. That thinking goes back to the old Arithmetic books and beyond. But for application of knowledge to have any hope of working, two things are needed: children need knowledge before they can apply it, and the application has to be within their immature scope. In the contemporary approach to education in which no knowledge is or can be transmitted to children, applications (problems to be solved) cannot be linked to any particular knowledge or skill base, because no base of knowledge or skill exists. Problem solving becomes the vehicle for group activity that is defined as knowing. That inevitably results in the setting of problems for children to solve that demand a level of maturity, insight, and wisdom children do not have, so teachers are then able to step in and manipulate children’s thinking. Children do not gain knowledge in this exercise, because there is no knowledge content in the activities; they gain no problem solving skills because they have not 78
solved any problems but have simply done what their teachers have “guided” them into; but they do finish up with an arrogance matching their mythical ability to put the world to rights. What blithe romanticism postulates a new-age child who can solve problems without analytical skill? Are our classrooms really filled with youngsters who, left to their uninformed intuition and non-analytical impulses, can solve the problems of life? Of course then we must free them from disseminated knowledge and analytical skills. Welcome brave new world where immature, vacated minds create Utopia! Or is decision-making and problem-solving perhaps dependent upon and not contrary to what is being discarded?
Buzzing Along with the “Brmmm, Brmmm” of Metacognition The teaching of knowledge and facts is consistently ridiculed as belonging to a less enlightened age. Instead, “metacognition” – an obfuscating term alluding to knowing that you are thinking – is the buzz word. One secondary school principal told a Principals’ Forum children need to be affirmed with the assurance they are thinking! Children used to gain a sense of success from acquiring new knowledge and skill in their lessons. That will no longer work because, as he asserted, “Thinking skills are to be taught instead of, not on top of [knowledge of facts].” But in the absence of “facts” all they now have is metacognition, so “Children need to have the affirmation that they have thought … and have contributed to a group discussion.”219 The lampooning of teaching facts is zealously pursued by caricaturing instructional teaching as Dickensian. The “outmoded teaching of facts” is mythologized as mindless inculcation of data (in much the same way as the state’s narrow prescription of values is to be unquestioningly insinuated into children’s thinking with the 2010 National Curriculum). But such libelling of generations of good teachers who engaged children’s interest and minds in a love of their subjects and mastery of factual content is not only a travesty: as E G West has demonstrated, it was not even characteristic of the nineteenth century schools Dickens satirised. Dickens was an unashamed advocate for “compulsory, ‘comprehensive’, unsectarian and state-provided education”220 and masterfully distorted the true picture to advance those aims. That sort of teaching was rare in the nineteenth century, it was even more rare in the twentieth century, and allusion to it is a mere contrivance to stigmatise that great and lastingly valid pedagogy: equipping children with knowledge and ideas by way of the wise and mature responsibly instructing the young and ignorant. In any case, mesmerizing children into a state where they imagine they are thinking and applying thinking skills without any factual knowledge with which to think is … mindless. It is like sitting children down in the middle of the motorway of life, telling them to make car noises, and drive somewhere with the assurance that when they get somewhere they will be able to go somewhere else. If they “brmmm, brmmm” loudly enough by thinking about their thinking they can pretend they have truly learnt something of value and are safe from the real world pounding along with disdain for anything ignorant enough to be found in its path. With metacognition replacing facts, children are callously moulded into doomed, inert possums in the headlights of life. Former head of NZQA David Hood claimed it is only a tyrannous minority that holds an outmoded preference for teaching knowledge and skill. With a contempt for democracy typical of the bureaucrats who tyrannise our country, he declared, “we must be careful about giving those people too much say.”221 So he justified the totalitarian imposition of a one-model-fits-all qualification structure on the nation. Last century was marked by dictators who knew what was best for the political structures of nations (or claimed they did). This century seems destined to be marked by dictators who know better than “ordinary” people what is best for the education of children and the social structures of nations (or claim they do). It matters not at all whether a minority or a majority is committed to the being different, he who removes choice is the true tyrant. The dominance of problem solving and thinking skills in the Standards is symptomatic of an education system that is foolishly inverted: it starts with an expectation of maturity in the immature, and ends with immature arrogance, ignorance and dependence, carefully manufactured by compulsory state schooling, validated by National Standards, and imposed with tyranny. 219
Principals’ Forum University of Auckland, 18 August 2009 West Government Failure p50 221 The New Zealand Education Review April 20, 2001 220
10. NCEA: Nine Years of National Standards
Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out, in the gateways of the city she makes her speech: “How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?” ~ Proverbs 1:20-22
There is no need to guess how national standards for primary schools will be manipulated. Years of confusion, failure and outright cheating in national standards in secondary schools makes very clear what will happen in primary schools. Since 2002 when the National Certificate in Educational Achievement (NCEA) became the national standard for senior students in New Zealand, standards have been fudged, falsified and failed. In 2008 the NZQA, who administer the qualification, reported that over a quarter of school-based assessments they checked were wrong.222 A staggering 71,000 grades (27.5% of those checked) were invalid because the tasks were too easy, teachers “gave too much direction”, or wrong answers were marked as correct. Not that even valid tasks were very demanding: in 2008 more than 2,000 students gained NCEA standards in picking up litter in a group,223 despite that being a “standard” that six years earlier had brought Cambridge High School into public odium. More than 36,000 students attempted “easy” standards such as “talking to a friend on the phone, role-playing applying for a benefit, answering a phone survey, filling in a passport application or reading Wikipedia”, and picking up paper,224 yet more than half failed even that. 18,000 students who tried to pick up paper (in a group) or talk on the phone (in a group) or find information on Wikipedia (in a group) failed and never got a grade; they were never checked by NZQA. Nearly 5,000 students who did get a grade and were checked should not have got their grade. 23,000 students out of the 36,000 who tried cannot complete such simple tasks as picking up paper. Despite this, the secondary teachers’ union, the PPTA, wants the first level of NCEA made easier. They want fewer assessments because “the system is too demanding for students.”225 What a terribly sad picture of standards of education in state schooling all this presents even before we examine the implications it has for assessing national standards. How is picking up paper in a group a standard for educational achievement? How much easier can it be made? I have to own up: I once gained a qualification for talking on the phone. I was an eight-yearold cub-scout and earned a badge for being able to phone my cub-scout leader. Mind, they dropped the qualification soon after that because by the 1950s talking on a phone had become underchallenging for an eight-year-old. Now 15 and 16-year-olds can get NCEA for using a phone – I do not know whether that should be described as disgraceful or pathetic. 222
Sunday Star Times 28 June 2009 http://tiny.cc/FU1lF Sunday Star Times 17 May 2009 http://tiny.cc/lV54l NZQA suggestions, quoted by Sunday Star Times 225 New Zealand Herald 4 September 2008 http://tiny.cc/26YbK 223 224
How bad was the cheating? Here is a summary put together by the Sunday Star Times from the NZQA reports: Biology teachers accepted “vague generalisations and incorrect answers” and “incorrect answers [were] being ticked correct”. One student, asked why rats were pests in biological communities, was marked correct for answering “they smell bad”. Another gained marks for writing “the lungs inhale nasty stuff from cigarette smoke” in a standard on biological processes. Biology and health teachers had let students bring textbooks or notes into tests. English teachers gave out detailed templates for students to write their test answers on, meaning students “could essentially copy answers”; they wrote such long comments on students’ creative writing that the work could be deemed invalid; some let poor grammar slide, or set overly simple writing tests such as asking Level 1 students to write a note excusing themselves from school. Science teachers were warned “too much direction is still being given” in practical assessments, which could make the students’ work invalid; most of the tasks they set in astronomy standards were deemed invalid; they also gave too much information in test questions. In “many cases”, graphics assessments fell short of the national benchmarks; some geography and physical education tests were also too easy. Mathematics teachers also set overly simple tasks, such as asking students to read clocks rather than calculate time, or using “just a rectangle” to test whether students could calculate area. Some also gave too much helpful information in questions.226 Yet what is even more shocking is the attitude of NZQA who refused to fix the errors. NZQA knows that more than 25% of assessments it has looked at are wrong, but children with those results have not been told and results have not been corrected. Children have false qualifications which NZQA knows are false and that when presented to employers or tertiary institutions will deceive. It is not as if these results were an aberration relating to a particularly poor year of marking. It was the second year they had checked in this way with the same level of errors.227 In fact, NZQA “usually finds problems with about one-third of the papers it checks,”228 but minimises the problem by faulting their sampling system rather than the way in which grades are assessed. By changing the sampling method they found only 27.5% problems instead of the usual 33.3%. If NZQA can find a “better” sampling method, the results will look better even if the level of cheating stays the same.
Hiding the Truth about Marking Incompetence Bali Haque, the deputy chief director of NZQA has coined a whole new language of obfuscation that makes Sir Humphrey Appleby in the Yes Minister television series look like an amateur. In Bali-speak, the “disagreement rate” was “potentially problematic” and there would need to be a “couple of years” to fix “the skewed results.”229 It is not the types of assessment or the way in which grades are awarded that Haque says needs fixing, but the way statistics are gathered. The results of checking assessments are plainly not good. John Morris, Principal of Auckland Grammar School asks, “Is it fair, is it transparent? It’s obviously unreliable, therefore it must be invalid” – and that must be obvious to anyone who can pick up paper. It means, says Morris, “You’ve got a whole generation of kids who have been dealt wrong results.”230 But no. Haque says the problem lies in the fact that NZQA asked teachers to send in samples they wanted checked. In future years NZQA will use random sampling. He claims that teachers who were giving children too much help or giving tasks that were too easy asked for those assessments to be checked. According to Haque the assessments teachers had not sent in are the ones in which there is no cheating, so that random sampling will produce better statistics even if the 226
Sunday Star Times 28 June 2009 2008 was 1.2% better that 2007, but that is such a small difference as to be statistically irrelevant. 228 Sunday Star Times 28 June 2009 229 ibid 230 ibid 227
cheating stays at the same level. Haque wants us to believe that the honesty of teachers who were cheating and wanted to be caught out has skewed the results. In chorus with Haque, Vice-president of the Secondary Principals Association Patrick Walsh says such a high level of invalidity is “not that bad.”231 Claiming that NCEA is a “high trust model” Walsh says, “if you think teachers are professional and honest and credible” then NCEA is working. In other words, although the evidence is that teachers are cheating, we must change the way we think about teachers. Think about them as honest and by definition there can be no dishonesty: despite the evidence, the results will then look valid. Such a system “is keeping itself honest” according to Walsh. Others might disagree. Even the Minister of Education is repeating Sir Bali Appleby’s line: I was extremely concerned that last year's results were similar to the previous year, and I have questioned NZQA about this. They explained that the original problems with sampling would take a couple of years to fix and said that we should expect significant improvements next year. That’s what I will be demanding.232 Yes, Minister. Haque also has a creative solution to NZQA’s research highlighting the tendency of schools to inflate internal assessment for NCEA. This exposes foundational problems with NCEA itself. NZQA has discovered that not only do many schools tend to give students higher marks for internally assessed work than they get in exams, schools with the worst exam results do it most. As the New Zealand Herald puts it, “poorer schools appear to be giving students higher than expected NCEA marks for internally assessed subjects.”233 In what must be one of his most extraordinary statements – and he makes a lot of them – Haque says this is possibly the result of the poorer schools having better teachers! If you get past the disgraceful implied criticism of teachers in schools where students succeed in examinations, there is a really important point being made here. Foundational to NCEA is a blind belief that exams are bad and course work for which teachers have given children answers is the best indicator of learning. That may sound silly, because it is silly. You cannot pass an exam without knowing something and having some skills. True, exams do have weaknesses too, but a pass in a properly written exam does mean you can write good answers without help. NCEA course work is just the opposite: you do not have to know anything or having any independents skills. All that is needed is to do something the way you are told at the time.
Hiding the Truth about Student Ignorance Another extraordinary Haque statement is a warning that criticism of NCEA will harm New Zealand and its children: “If people are going to knock NCEA, then it’s really dangerous for our schools and our country, because we can’t actually afford to simply be saying to students we’re not going to recognise your learning.”234 In other words, criticism should be shut down, not because the criticism is invalid but because, although the criticism might be valid, it will harm our national reputation and might tell students their “learning” is not valued. The first objection sounds like something right out of 1984. As to not valuing children’s learning, the issue is that too often there is no learning to value, but NCEA credits are still given. Of course, not all NCEA passes are gained by cheating. Many teachers do challenge students to show real learning and real skills. Many assessments are rigorous and tested with integrity. But assessments do not have to be rigorous. Because “help” can be given, and as NZQA reports often is, grades that any student achieves have no more value than a mark achieved with “help”. No NCEA grade can have greater value than the cheapest grade. When NCEA was first proposed, there were to be no exams. Exams came into NCEA because the public would not buy into a system that gave qualifications without exams, even though it is now possible to get NCEA without sitting a single exam: 71% of all entries are from internal 231
ibid ibid New Zealand Herald 26 March 2008 http://tiny.cc/gAefd 234 New Zealand Herald 21 October 2006 232 233
assessment.235 Since exams and course work evaluate completely different things, there should be a huge disparity between the scores if NCEA is being run as designed. But by its present posturing, NZQA demonstrates either an abandonment of the constructivist theory behind NCEA or an equivocation that will ultimately lead to discrediting examinations and, as has always been intended by its designers, side-lining exams as an assessment tool in NCEA. NZQA is either confused or deceptive in trying to link exam results to results from “assessments” done with teachers. For once Bali Haque is right: if teaching is about helping children do something with no examination or test to follow, in an NCEA approach the “best” teachers will be those who are best at helping children cheat. In the meantime, NZQA insists that its standards should result in internally assessed marks and externally assessed marks being very close. They are not always, and the difference is greatest in poorer schools, schools with lower academic records. Since NZQA claims both sets of marks should be closely linked, there should be a much smaller gap between the two in schools that have the best teachers. If Haque is right and the poorer schools have the best teachers, then the two sets of scores should be closer in the poorer schools than in the higher decile ones. They are not. So that raises the question, how do children get better marks in assessments teachers help with than in exams where teachers cannot help? Even a student who fails NCEA “picking up paper in a group” could answer that. How does school-based internal assessment work? New Zealand Herald writer Chris Barton explained how his daughter achieved credits in mathematics: “My daughter gained two maths credits last week by sitting a practice test the day before the real test. Both tests had identical types of questions (but with different answers) and students who failed were given the opportunity to resit a third test.” 236 A generous critic might stretch credibility to the point of arguing this was not cheating but helping children learn. Mind you, it would take a very generous critic and very simplistic concept of learning, but such is the rationale behind NCEA. But the real issue is that, even without the cheating, there is no guarantee that any student who has “achieved” can actually remember and do the operation “tested”. If a student is given a qualification on the basis of what she has done, she need never get tested on what she knows or can do. For example, anyone teaching mathematics at any level knows too well that a student can be shown how to work a particular operation and will successfully replicate the steps involved so long as there is nothing else to think about. But take the student back to that operation after a week of studying a different operation, or slightly change the context of the question, and a student who is only “doing” without “knowing” is lost. NCEA assessments are normally completed as soon as the teacher thinks a student is ready: the assessment for that little experience is given in complete isolation from any wider context. There is no certainty the student has lasting knowledge or skill. It is at this point that examinations prove their worth. In an examination a student is presented with a wide variety of mathematical problems, must select the right operations for each problem, and use that operation with accuracy. This can only be done with learning. A student who passes an examination of this sort demonstrates, not what she has done in mindless repetitive practice, but what she is able to do based on learning and skill. It must be clear from this that no amount of deceit by NCEA advocates will ever overcome the reality that an NCEA qualification gives no evidence about what a student knows or can do.
Hiding the Truth about Cheating It is fundamental to NCEA that students must achieve: they cannot fail. To fail a student is to discriminate against the student. In my training for NCEA one thing was constantly repeated: every student has a right to succeed and failure is the responsibility of the teacher. If a student is failing the teacher must find a way to ensure the student receives what is his right: a pass. So when students cannot pass an assessment, they must be passed by some other means. In 2000, and again in 2002, NZQA published its guidelines for ensuring students never fail. Regularly republished and still on their website, it is a simple, straightforward list of ways teachers and students can cheat: 235 236
Sunday Star Times 28 June 2009 New Zealand Herald 21 October 2006 http://tiny.cc/YUNuQ
When some students do not achieve the standard, a teacher may choose one of the following strategies: 1. have the student complete the whole task again 2. set a new assessment activity 3. continue teaching the skill and offer another assessment activity later 4. talk to the student to elicit evidence that may not have been provided in the activity 5. have the student provide further written evidence from the same task, for example, by developing an answer further 6. use evidence from work during the teaching programme, where this is valid, authentic and meets the criteria Schools have asked about students who miss assessments because they are absent, especially where the assessment has taken place in class over several periods. The principles are clear: 7. teachers make assessment decisions based on the evidence students produce. This means the assessment conditions and assessment activities may vary. 237 The first officially authorised way to cheat is to give the student the same activity after the original marked one has been shown to the student and the correct answers explained. But there are many students who will still not be able to pass with that help, so teachers can use method 2: give a different, easier activity. While method 3 looks like conventional teaching, method 4 is exquisite: talk to the student, get him to tell you things that he never wrote down (and probably will never be able to write down) and use that to give marks for what was written down that was not worth the marks! Method 5 is not much better: add to the answer after the test is finished and has been discussed. But those are really quite complicated assessment ideas. Method 6 is much more straight forward: if a student cannot pass a test, just look at the class work and if the answers are there somewhere in what has been written down, copied or assembled by a group but never learned, award a pass. Official NZQA cheating method 7 is without doubt however, the most notable: if a student misses a test, a pass can still be awarded because assessments are to be made on what is produced and not on what is not produced. In the words of NCEA Assessment trainer Cheryl Harvey, “The counting up of errors to decide the standard has not been at all helpful and is a very negative approach.”238 So a student who misses a test gets assessed on whatever else is available “that has been produced.” We know of a student who not only missed a test, but missed half the course through illness but has still been awarded credits based on the class work that was produced in the first few weeks of the course. The philosophy behind this has two main principles: firstly, that it is discriminatory to fail to give a qualification to every student; and, secondly, that the real purpose of assessment is not identifying the skill level of a student. According to Harvey, assessment is not a test of anything, but a “process in which teaching points emerge.” She explains, “The (assessment) task is only a way in for students. … The activities are supposed to help not hinder students and if they are hindering then obviously some adaptation is required.”239 So the purpose of an assessment task is not to evaluate the skill or knowledge of a student but to help that student gain the qualification. If it becomes apparent the student is not going to pass, “adaptation” of the task is required to guarantee a pass. The reason “guidance” can be given to enable a student to write a correct answer in an assessment is that NCEA is about process not content. Once a qualification meant you knew or could do something. Now it means you have been through a process. According to constructivism, credits earned on the basis of what students know are invalid unless they gained that knowledge through a process called a “learning programme.” Put simply, Einstein would fail Level 1 NCEA unless he took part in the class activities (which could be anything from a physics experiment to picking up paper). What is more scary is that a student who has been through a learning 237 NCEA Update NZQA 11 May 2002 http://tiny.cc/X8ZO7 (The list is published with bullet points; numbers have been substituted here for ease of reference.) Most recently: http://tiny.cc/XmLOX 238 English on Line 4 June 2002 http://tiny.cc/3Qu70 239 ibid
programme must by definition be able to be “passed”. NCEA is about process not content. So while Einstein would fail if he did not take part in a group activity even though he knew so much, a student who does not actually learn anything that he can remember or use later must be “passed” because he has been through a learning experience. And it is at that point that the standard “no one fails who has done the process” kicks-in and the student who by definition should pass is made to pass by being given the answers (sorry, I should have said, “Guided to the answers”). It is wrong to rely on internal assessment for a national award. Leaving aside issues of integrity and the idiocy of passing every student irrespective of what they know, it is simply impossible for any consistency of standard to be achieved in assessment without a single external body marking every item. NZQA achieves this with its examination marking by ensuring every item to be assessed leaves the school and goes through a controlled marking and moderating process. If internal assessment is so good, why do teachers not mark their own students’ examination papers? The answer is obvious. Until every piece of school-based work is marked by independent, external markers, internal assessment for NCEA will remain meaningless. As a result, every NCEA certificate is meaningless.
A Lottery for Marks Yet even then, the results would be unreliable, because NCEA is based on the idea that there are no meaningful standards by which knowledge and skill can be marked and measured. The constructivism that has bewitched New Zealand schooling asserts nothing can be known in a way that can be shared or quantified. So instead of measuring what students know, NCEA mainly sets out to measure what students have done or the processes they have experienced. In a concession to public expectations and recalcitrant teachers who will not buy into constructivism, a minority of standards begrudgingly attempt to measure knowledge. Most however focus on what students have done or “engaged in”. So instead of a “standard” consisting of a prescribed range of skills and knowledge that is demonstrated with creativity to a specific degree of accuracy, we get such meaningless standards as “has engaged in writing”, then for the next level of credit “has engaged in writing effectively”. To achieve another standard, in history, students are expected to have accurately identified “historical facts and ideas”. To get merit they show they have accurately identified “a range” of historical facts and ideas. To get excellence they must have identified “a wide range” of facts and ideas. Elley has explained that standards based assessment fits where clearly defined content is being tested.240 He uses the example of graded spelling lists: whether or not a student has mastered a particular level is able to be tested objectively. Chris Barton summarises Elley’s critique: But for subjects like English, science, maths, economics and history there are no clear, onedimensional ladders for students to climb, making it impossible to define clear standards. What you get is vague, open-ended descriptions open to a wide range of interpretations. … In subjects where there are networks of knowledge, few black and whites and lots of shades of grey, standards-based assessment simply doesn’t work.241 That means, says Elley, “In order to describe what a student knows or can do in history for example, you have to be able to describe so many aspects of their knowledge …” It cannot be done. But for NCEA, based as it is on constructivism, that does not matter. Instead of a standard being a measure of what a student can replicate and apply creatively, it is reduced in many if not most cases to a report of what a student has done. Add to that the expectation of NZQA that all children can succeed at everything, so that no standard can be written in a way that discriminates between those who know and those who do not. This is the outworking of the constructivist theory that if a child has taken part in a course without learning anything prescribed, he is equally qualified with those who have learnt a specific body of knowledge and can apply their learning in a variety of situations. Granted, not all courses and teachers have fallen prey to such poor teaching. But any qualification is only as good as its weakest part, and as NZQA has so publicly confessed, NCEA 240 241
New Zealand Herald 21 October 2006 ibid
has a very high percentage of weaknesses, not least the reported frequency of the wrong marking and its knowledge-voided standards. In such a miasma of mindlessness is it any wonder that some teachers up the marks, while others cannot work out what mark they should validly give? A certificate that credits a student with achieving meaningless standards in which a third of the marks do not even match the meaningless standards, in which students in certain schools are consistently getting higher marks than deserved, and which has such low expectations that no student who has attended class should fail irrespective of unaltered levels of ignorance, is not much reward for ten years or more of schooling. Even without the cheating, there remains the problem of achieving consistency of marking with “standards” that are completely meaningless. In an experiment on internal assessment that exposes the impossibility of consistent marking in internal assessments, experienced teachers awarded one NCEA sample essay circulated as a “test case” everything from “Not Achieved” to “Excellence”. It is clear that what grades a student receives is not dependent on the quality of her work but on who marks the work. Here is what happened: In 2002 a student from an Otago High School appealed against an NCEA Assessment. That was because this school had just awarded an “Achieved” to the student’s written essay when at a previous school she had been awarded “Excellence” for an earlier essay. With the student’s permission, the essays were circulated on an English Teaching mailing list to which seven teachers replied, three awarding the appealed piece “Achieved”, three awarding it “Merit” and one “Excellence”. However, when 20 English teachers from ten schools in the region assessed the second essay, half awarded it “Achieved” and the other half failed it (awarded “Not Achieved”). A similar spread of awards was given to the essay originally awarded “Excellence”. In addition, two teachers applied the “standard” that is stipulated in the NCEA criteria and determined that the work should be, according to the criteria, “Not Achieved”, yet awarded the piece “Achieved” regardless. They knew they were not applying the “standard” properly. And a clear majority of teachers agreed that marked on the basis of conventional examination marking, a mark of 75%-83% would be expected for the essays. Simply put, for two essays that would have been awarded 75%-83% in an examination, the NCEA student has a 16% chance of being “failed”, a 33% chance of being awarded a basic “pass”, a 38% chance of gaining “merit” and a 13% chance of earning “excellence”! It is clear that far from providing an objective standard against which fair assessments can be made NCEA assessments are a lottery. The qualification and the grades are awarded by chance.
Ensure No Student Excels There is a fundamental problem with the timing of internal assessments. An assessment of written English (say, Writing 1.1) is scheduled in many schools for the beginning of the year. Most students, assessed for this in Term 1, are assessed before they have that year’s intellectual maturation and educational development. As a result they are given a grade for their NCEA certificate at the end of their Year 11 that purports to represent their end-of-year abilities, but that in reality reports on a few weeks’ of work at the beginning of the year. Effectively, either their assessment is lower than it would be had it been based on an end-of-year examination, or the standard for Year 11 has to be dropped to just above Year 10. Advocates for NCEA argue that in a standards-based assessment, all that is being assessed are particular skills that have just been taught. But that assumes in written English (for example) a few weeks’ teaching can impart all that will represent competence at the end of the year. It ignores the impact of a year of growing up. It ignores the impact of other studies and the spill-over of experience and skill from other teaching. Standards-based assessment stupidly claims the skills evaluated can be totally isolated from everything else. Standards based assessment measures students against a pre-determined description of an isolated bit of experience. So long as the pre-determined stuff is done in the pre-determined way, you pass. Students do not need to be able to use knowledge and skill in different ways or apply what they know to different fields of knowledge and skill. If every activity has been completed, pass; if any single item is incomplete or missing, fail.
In English, for example, Standard 1.1 requires students to write a composition that meets all of the following parts of the standard: Expresses ideas; Uses an appropriate writing style; Shows some awareness of structure; Is without intrusive errors. A student who does brilliantly at three of those criteria but misses one, gets a fail. No matter that he got 75% or more correct – he missed one part of the standard, so he fails the standard completely. It gets worse: a student attempting Excellence may have completed the Excellence parts of an activity without error, but on the basis of a small error in an Achieved part of the activity in the same task, may fail to be awarded even “achieved”. Translated into sensible English it means a student who made one small error in a basic operation, but accurately completed all the other tasks is “failed” because of that single error. Under a sensible marking system he would be penalised for the error and might get 90% or 95% instead of the 100% of which he was capable – but to give him 0% excels only in stupidity. To play it safe, many students do not attempt merit or excellence standards, settling for a mediocrity that gets them some marks in place of the pursuit of knowledge and excellence which might get them no marks. Something else stands out: standards are supposed to be objective, but despite being narrowly prescriptive, standards such as English 1.1 are entirely subjective. Who decides if ideas are expressed or not? Who decides what is appropriate? What constitutes an awareness of structure? When do errors become intrusive? These are not standards at all. They are of course valid criteria. They are the sorts of things competent English students should be able to demonstrate. But as standards they are a prescription for injustice at best and deceit at worst. Further, in NCEA, students can be awarded their certificates based on experiencing different bits of a field of knowledge but never having a unified view in which the various bits are integrated into a whole. A briefing of school principals by the Vice-Chancellor of Auckland University in 2008 advised that the Engineering School was having to run summer schools for first year students because their knowledge of physics was so fragmented they had no adequately unified concept of physics upon which to begin university studies. By isolating prescribed experiences from each other, standards based schooling makes it highly probable there can be no integration of knowledge. Hence “passing” English 1.1 can never mean a student can write an essay in any other context – according to constructivism no one can be certain of that. So students are given little bits of experience in isolation from all the other bits. What is more, students choose which bits they will do, even in an exam. In this smorgasbord schooling, one will choose only dessert, another all meat and another only vegetarian – but all get the same qualification. Not surprisingly, once they understand how the system works, many student choose bits of courses they think are easiest to pass in. So a “pass” in English means nothing about a student’s overall English knowledge and skill. It simply means he has chosen a combination of bits of English he could complete assessment tasks in. For some students it means they are able to choose to “learn” tasks in which they are already competent. That certainly makes teaching easy! With deliberation and repeated public affirmation NZQA has set out to produce with NCEA a generation of New Zealanders who have no tested knowledge base, no ability to demonstrate independent skills or creativity, and who are dependent on their masters for life. The only thing an NCEA certificate indicates is that a student has at some time done that task but it does not tell you how many attempts it took to complete the task or how much help was being given by a teacher. Each bit of knowledge or skill is so isolated from the others that there is no comprehensive measure of a student’s knowledge or abilities. Even if the standards accurately reported what students learnt, there is no cohesive framework within which that learning can be used. There is no assurance students can combine the various compartmentalised bits of learning. NCEA has been likened to an Olympic Games where students do unrelated bits of various events – all at their own rate, perhaps never completing any one event – then claim the "right" to stand on a victory podium sufficiently broad and low as to accommodate all-comers. One contestant may swim 10 metres of a race and get out of the pool without finishing, go on to climb over (by whatever means at whatever speed) a couple of hurdles on the athletics track, then stand momentarily with not too much wobble on the gymnastic mat. She gets the same award as those who completed and excelled in their events.242 242
The metaphor was suggested to me by Glenn Stewart, a teacher at Carey College.
11. School Religion
Equal educational opportunity is, indeed, both a desirable and a feasible goal, but to equate this with obligatory schooling is to confuse salvation with the Church. School has become the world religion of a modernized proletariat, and makes futile promises of salvation …We permit the state to ascertain the universal educational deficiencies of its citizens and establish one specialised agency to treat them. We thus share in the delusion that we can distinguish between what is necessary education for others and what is not, just as former generations establish laws which defined what was sacred and what was profane. ~ Ivan Illich Deschooling Society 1971
One thing New Zealand state education is finally getting right is its open acknowledgement that the education of children inevitably and necessarily embodies moral and spiritual dimensions. While the new Curriculum’s values-education is a repugnant and dangerous denial of any external or eternal standards of right and wrong, and is set to disinherit children of their parent’s beliefs, it is nonetheless gratifying to see this owning of the fact that education inducts children into a belief system. Secularism itself is a belief system, posited on the concept that either there is no god or if there is, that god is not involved in giving life meaning. Secular schooling imbues every lesson with that concept. For most of the 130 years New Zealand has imposed secular state schooling, everything to do with the state school curriculum has been shaped by the concept that knowledge is neutral and that facts can be comprehended independently of any belief system. As has just been demonstrated, that is a myth, in that such a secular view is itself a belief system. Sir Walter Moberly has rightly remarked: If in your organisation, your curriculum, and your customs and way of life you leave God out, you teach with tremendous force, for most people and at most times, He does not count … It is a fallacy to suppose that by omitting a subject you teach nothing about it. On the contrary you teach that it is to be omitted, and that it is therefore a matter of secondary importance … And you teach this not openly and explicitly, which would invite criticism, you simply take it for granted and thereby insinuate it silently, insidiously, and all but irresistibly. 243 In the same stream of thought the late Edward J Murphy, Matthews Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame, asserted: Basic faith is the principal determiner of educational content, and people seek to teach or have taught that which they believe to be important ... In every educational system or philosophy there is posited an ultimate source of knowledge, and there are fundamental presuppositions which largely determine the particulars ... Invariably, one will see God as the source of knowledge and meaning in the universe and in events, or one will see himself 243
Moberly, Sir W H The Crisis in the University SCM London 1949 p55f
or a particular collection or grouping of individuals as that source. Thus, all educational philosophy will be God-centred or man-centred. The pretence of religious neutrality in state schools has prevailed for over a hundred years. Not any longer. The secular state system has boldly gone where it has never gone before: the state is now to openly teach children what to believe, and to shape their lives on those beliefs.
State School Religion This moral/spiritual stirring has not gone announced. The infusion of Mäori culture into the curriculum and life of the state school over the last 25 years has signalled the shift to non-Christian spirituality. It has been a symptom of it, and a vector for it. Mäori culture is commendably unashamed in holding a unity of spiritual and material perspectives, so much so that for Mäori any idea of teaching language, history, or cultural practice isolated from the spiritual realm is ludicrous. To integrate Mäori anything into the curriculum or school life is of necessity to give that curriculum or school life a spiritual dimension that must be acknowledged. So although the spiritual dimensions of other subject areas have remained largely hidden and not talked about (like a family that pretends the relative in disgrace does not exist), a form of Mäori spirituality has been taught and observed in state schools for decades. The most recent Health and Physical Education Curriculum directs all state schools to evaluate and minister to students’ “Hauora/well-being”.244 At first glance the idea that children should be “well” is hardly objectionable; that is, until the curriculum’s statement is read. The curriculum requires schools to teach, as part of Health and Physical Education “the values and beliefs that determine the way people live, the search for meaning and purpose in life, and personal identity and self-awareness (For some individuals and communities, spiritual well-being is linked to a particular religion; for others, it is not.)”245 This is “Taha Wairua”, which is “The spiritual essence of a person … their life force. This determines us as individuals and as a collective, who and what we are also where we have come from and where we are going. [It is] a pivotal part of our heritage.”246 This is not a requirement to teach about various beliefs in different cultures, but a requirement to teach children to participate in and be committed to the specific religion expressed in Taha Wairua. In contemporary Mäori religion, as in its new-age twin, the spiritual dimension of well-being is intimately linked with the rest of creation: it is essentially pantheistic. For the green movement Hauora/Well-being becomes a vehicle for deifying the environment; for the teacher it becomes a vehicle for destroying any concept of unique individualism in the image of God, making each child subservient to the state’s elusive “good of the community”. It is not clear whether Mäori culture was a vector for or simply a partner in the introduction of new-age spirituality, but its congruence with other pantheistic spiritualities can be seen in the University of Vermont Center for Health and Wellbeing’s definition of “wellness” as being a process of looking within and exploring one’s values and beliefs in order to discover a source of inner strength and serenity. Spiritual wellness encourages a lifelong development of a personal relationship with a Higher Power in the Universe. Inner peace is also important in dealing with life changes, challenges and the present moment. The form of Mäori spirituality that has predominantly been taught is normally non-Christian or at best syncretistic, but Mäori spirituality need not necessarily be anti-Christian. In 1987, Mäori Member of Parliament the Honourable Mrs Tirikatene-Sullivan, spoke of her heritage of Christian Mäori culture when she described her own cultural background as essentially Christian: I am specifically referring to the generations of Mäoridom of my grandparents and parents. There was an assurance in those Christian teachings and the lifestyle that developed from that focal point … I have referred to the strength of Christian faith that has underpinned so much of Mäori society over the past 150 years. Those who would strive to replace that
Health and Physical Education in the New Zealand Curriculum Ministry of Education http://tiny.cc/bvWZ6 ibid 246 Framework Online http://www.framework.org.nz/square_house_concept_taha_wairua.html 2002 245
with ideologies which are alien … are culpable of exploiting unmercifully a people ravaged economically after three decades of ineffective social policies. 247 Another indicator of state school religion is the provision of “chaplains” in the state’s schools. State secondary schools have never been bound by the secular clause, and have exhibited no difficulties or inhibitions in moving the once traditional Christian leadership of school principals into the realm of “guidance counsellors” who, with whatever claims to neutrality they profess, nevertheless engage children very distinctively in the resolution of moral and spiritual issues. But now primary and secondary schools have “chaplains”. According to the Churches Education Commission half of state primary schools and over 20% of state secondary schools now have chaplains on their payrolls.248 The religion of state schooling goes further: in 2006 the official journal of the Ministry of Education, the Education Gazette, advocated mystic sessions in classrooms as a means of bringing social harmony to schools.249 The Gazette encouraged schools to establish “Circle Time” which it said was “spreading like wildfire” among schools, partly because “parents in some ways don’t have time for their children.” In “Circle Time” children sit around in a circle and discuss “personal issues” in group therapy with a strong emphasis on resolving emotional and spiritual problems. “Circle Time” is, at one level, typical group therapy (although why all primary school children need such therapy is not explained). “You talk together as a class and can express your feeling and get people to help with your problems,” inculcating a problem-centred, therapy-needed model of life. But it goes beyond that. In England it is sometimes called “Magic Circle” because the idea of the circle is one of mystically empowering children, but New Zealand sensitivities to “magic” in schools have apparently caused a more subtle approach. In India, Jenney Mosely, promoted by the Gazette as the expert on Circle Time, was far less coy. She told the Indians that Hindu “philosophy is the same as the philosophy of the whole Circle Time model – about integrating the spiritual, emotional, academic and physical beings.”250 This is religion promoted by the Ministry of Education for compulsory state schooling that the Education Act demands be secular. The postmodern hunger for spirituality, and the postmoderns’ willingness to own a spiritual dimension that quite consciously does not always align with the rationality of the passing scientific age, has undoubtedly encouraged this “outing” of religion in secular schooling. Without the widespread spirituality postmodernism has made a comfortable companion in our present culture, it is difficult to imagine the Ministry of Education promoting such an overt spirituality as is expressed in the national Curriculum. It would have been impossible last century.
The Religion of State Education is Incompatible Christian Education It is not the acknowledgement of a spiritual dimension to schooling that is alarming however. It is that the state’s commitment to spirituality is narrowly focused and exclusive. It demands two things: acceptance of a particular form of spirituality, often linked to Mäori spirituality as if that necessarily arises out of the Treaty of Waitangi, and commitment to the “values” it has decreed are “widely” but not universally held. All the talk of open mindedness is overwhelmed by the requirement to “respect” the official form of spirituality being promoted and the requirement to teach the state-chosen beliefs, including the way in which those beliefs are determined as mandated in the Curriculum. The requirement of the Curriculum that children determine their beliefs by group loyalty displaces any other belief system. So too does the Curriculum’s insistence that the beliefs children shape and attach themselves and their groups to must always be viewed as fluid and temporary. The “outing” of state school spirituality has two faces: it rightly acknowledges a spiritual dimension to all learning, and it wrongly removes choice by imposing on every child the vacillating beliefs of peer groups. The foundation for a biblical education is in the first statement of the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”251 It conflicts at every point with what is being promoted 247
Parliamentary Records, 24 June 1987. See Mäori Culture in a Christian Worldview Drake 2005 NZPF Federation Flyer No 6 – 28 April 2009 249 Education Gazette, Wellington, 5 June 2006 250 The Hindu 12 April 2003 http://tiny.cc/M2ptb 251 Genesis 1:1 248
through the national Curriculum and National Standards when they demand knowing without reference to God, believing without acknowledgement of God, and choosing values without submission to God. A biblical approach can never be accommodated to a state education system that claims to have the right to determine what is a “meaningful” education, and the necessity of supervising the education of all children. If meaningfulness is to be determined by the state, there is no room for it to be determined by one greater than the state. The very idea of “accommodation” of a biblical perspective to a secular one is excluded by the Bible which demands that the non-negotiable starting point is seeing God as Creator and Lord. If anything is to be accommodated it is that everything else being considered and taught is accommodated to the overarching and unifying belief that God created and sustains everything studied. Yet the state that denies the supremacy of God, that denies the lordship of Christ, and that insists the education of youth falls within its control, can never accommodate itself to the Bible’s directive: “See to it that no-one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”252 There can be no accommodation of one to the other. Either the thinking of the state or the thinking the Bible takes the other captive : “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”253 Biblical education and state education are irreconcilable. Further, responsibility for the teaching of youth within a biblical belief system is expressly vested by the Bible in parents.254 Even though the state pronounces agreement with the prior right of parents to choose the education of their children, and professes to uphold the UNUDHR codifying that right, the state that has abandoned its duty to protect the right to an education by substituting a duty to provide and supervise it, can never be satisfied with the biblical concept that the education of children is a parental responsibility, a responsibility that cannot be surrendered to or usurped by the state. Once such a state has determined it determines what is best for children, there is no room for parents to determine anything. The main goal of a biblical education is to teach children to glorify, serve and enjoy their Creator, whereas the main goal of the national Curriculum is to condition children to serve the greater good of the state. Within a biblical framework there is the explicit requirement that children respect and serve the state as an outcome of serving God who ordains the state;255 just as there is a clear biblical requirement that children love their neighbours256 as a derivative of loving God. But serving God takes precedence.257 In a biblical education God always has precedence over the state, but in a state education system the state demands and compels precedence.
Beliefs Shape the Content of Education The content of education is similarly determined by beliefs that are in conflict with each other. The Bible declares that it is only as God is reverenced and known that any fact is properly understood or able to be wisely used, for as King Solomon said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom.”258 Every aspect of teaching must therefore be in obedience to God and never primarily in subjection to the state, and every subject must be considered and taught from the viewpoint that God is God. To try to know anything without this perspective is to distort what is true. When, for example, we study history, it should be to see what God has been doing and how he regards the response of men to his law and providence. A secular education must regard history merely in terms of human relationships and accidents, if indeed it can study history at all. The 252
Colossians 2:8 2 Corinthians 10:5 254 For discussion of this see Schools Need Christ Drake 1985. Among key references are: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Deuteronomy 6:6,7; and “Fathers, do not exasperate your children: instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4 255 “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Romans 13:1 256 Matthew 22:39 257 “Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must serve God rather than men!’” Acts 5:29 258 Proverbs 1:7 253
teaching of history in a contemporary secular pedagogy denies that children can meaningfully access the facts of the past or formulate principals of conduct that describe others’ choices, and as a result the teaching of history becomes vicarious role-playing of stereotypes read back from children’s experience into the so-called myths and stories of the past. For example, if studying Ancient Egypt children are seldom asked to examine Egyptian religion, ideologies, learning and literature, and their relationship to the actions and achievements of a distant people, looking for universal paradigms that might guide us into the future. Instead a typical approach is to have children pretend to be a slave or a pharaoh for an hour or two, reading their limited and over-valued experience and contemporary values back into the past, critiquing the ancients’ lack of modern political correctness while validating the children’s own prejudices and ephemeral values. This may be “Social Studies” in which children construct a “knowledge” of ancient Egypt that no one else can relate to, one the Ancient Egyptians themselves would never be able to recognise; it is certainly not History. Or, as another example, when we study mathematics it is to see how God has ordered and sustains creation by his personal action (not by laws vested in creation itself), how he has equipped man with accessible processes by which to understand and manage that creation, and to learn to use the tools of mathematics to serve God more faithfully. Remarkably, secular mathematics teaching is presently still held captive to the classical Greek construction that posits in man deistic mastery of a seen and unseen reality through mathematical description and manipulation. The New Zealand Curriculum is structured to engage children in group activities for the creation of knowledge and beliefs, based on the concept there is neither an existing body of knowledge nor the ability of anyone to pass it on. A Christian education is based on the concept that there exists a distinct and “knowable” body of knowledge, all of which is already known to God exhaustively; that parts of that body of knowledge are already known by man imperfectly; and that what is known is a treasure to be passed on to our children as their heritage. In arguing that as we learn what was not known we do not invent new truth, but discover what was previously only known to God, the Christian teacher is in diametrical and irreconcilable opposition to the “meaningful” education the state wants to compel. A Christian approach is not the only education shaped by a religious perspective that must of necessity be in conflict with an increasingly dominant state system of education. Every belief system that posits a confidence about life’s activities, including learning, in a god or gods or transcendent moral impetus must of necessity be in conflict with a state that posits the determination of morality and meaning in either the state’s or children’s creation of knowledge and beliefs.
People Have Personal integrity the State Must Protect From a biblical perspective everything a child learns is about God, what he has made and what he governs. It is about God who made everything, who sustains and directs it by his power and wisdom, and from whom we derive our being.259 In particular, a biblical view of education regards each child as created in the image of God, thereby being imbued with a dignity and identity that can never rightly be taken captive by any group in the way the New Zealand Curriculum insists upon. The question asked of God by the Old Testament Psalmist and taken up by the New Testament writer of Hebrews, “What is man that you are mindful of him?” is answered in both places with, “You made him a little lower than the angels and crowned him with glory and honour and put everything under his feet.”260 Or, as it is put in Genesis, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”261 The concept that people have personal dignity that sets them apart from creation – that recognises human distinction from animals – while explained in biblical terms as each person imaging the personhood of God, is grasped at by the vast majority of people who nonetheless reject the Bible and its teaching. The concept of “human rights” of any sort, much less “universal human 259
Acts 17:24-28 Psalm 8:4; Hebrews 2:6 (The Hebrews text makes it clear that a Christian perspective builds on the general view of man created in this glory-crowned regency over all other created things in the ultimate acknowledgement of Christ as the perfect and supreme Sovereign.) 261 Genesis 1:27 260
rights”, is exactly that. That they are regarded as human rights distinguishes them from animal rights and tree rights and rock rights. The contemporary secular world has finally awoken to the need to care for the whole of the creation.262 The Bible has always insisted people are responsible for nurturing and using the creation with care, but even within a secular context, the concept of human rights demands people be seen as having a particular dignity as people. The state can defile the integrity of people in a multitude of ways. With regard to the education of children, six stand out: the state can replace protection with provision; dictate personal beliefs; conform individuals to a greater state good; suppress personal knowledge; oppress the poor; and bind children to group validation. Each of those six evils is a characteristic of New Zealand’s state education system. It does not matter whether personal integrity is to be found in the Bible’s concept of people in God’s image, in rights affirmed in New Zealand law or United Nations declarations, in personal awareness of our humanity, or in our constitutional heritage and the Treaty of Waitangi: people’s integrity is defiled by systemic attributes of our state education. While the integrity of every child in a state school is abused, none suffer more than the children of the poor and lower socio-economic groups, among whom Mäori, our “Treaty Partners”, feature. Say what we will about contributing factors – and there are many – the bottom line is that compulsory state-paid schooling is not educating those children or treating them with dignity. The children meant to be most helped by state education are the children most failed by being used as laboratory mice in a doomed social experiment. Replacing the protection of the right to choose and shape an education by providing education defined and compelled by the state defiles people’s integrity. Telling parents which beliefs and moral standards the state requires all schools to compel children to believe defiles people’s integrity. Making the good of people dependent upon the supposed greater good of the state, instead of recognising that the good of the state depends upon the greater good of its people, defiles people’s integrity. Denying the existence of and access to personal knowledge by limiting knowledge to group experience makes each person nothing more than an organ in an impersonal organism. Grafting children’s consciences and loyalties onto groups other than their families, so that they look to those groups for morality and security, instead of protecting children’s freedom to think and believe and find personal identity apart from groups is abusive. Whatever benevolence may have given birth to and succoured state education in New Zealand, it has given birth to and still succours an evil that is poised to destroy the freedoms and liberties the state is meant to protect.
Which Good is to be Protected? A democratic state protects the right of parents to choose the education of their children, and conceives of its role as protecting the integrity of the individual. A totalitarian state compels individuals to state conformity and dependence on the state. A democratic state serves its citizens and sees its own greater good in the good of the individual people it serves. A totalitarian state holds its citizens captive to the greater good of the state, treats people as a mirage, and regards individual integrity as pointless and meaningless. Any state education system by its very nature must tend towards totalitarianism because to justify its existence it must claim to know best. Since it knows best it will compel patronage with all the zeal at its disposal. It can allow no place either within the system or outside of it for any education that embodies difference or frees children from dependence upon and submission to the system pontificated best for children. Ultimately a state education system will seek the overthrow of every alternative, and until it achieves that it will repeatedly make forays into the freedom of parents and children seeking to be different. It is the unquestionable task of a democracy to protect parents and children from the despotism of a dictatorial state system of education. It is unlikely we can expect to see the state withdraw entirely from its futile and despotic commitment to providing education. We can therefore expect to have to fight repeatedly for the safety of parents and children who choose a different education. But so long as the state professes a commitment to democracy, we should expect of it, and may continue to demand from it, protection to choose a different education. 262
Even to the point of deifying creation.
The prominence the Curriculum gives to beliefs, let alone the way in which it prescribes those beliefs are to be manipulated and inculcated, offers a litmus test to the democracy of New Zealand: with an overtly belief-laden curriculum, will the state permit parents to choose something different, or will it compel all parents to submit their children to an education the state has determined is meaningful? Only if parents and private schools are protected from state regulation of the education given their children, protected from the supervision of state agencies, and protected from the imposition a prescribed curriculum (whether in generalised or specific form) can New Zealand demonstrate that it has not surrendered its fundamental democratic principles, principles embedded as far back in our constitutional history as Magna Charta and expressed in the Treaty of Waitangi and more recent human rights legislation. While any state system of education is an evil the state should withdraw from, in practical terms we can expect that the state will continue to run schools and attempt to supplant parents. But it can, and so long as it claims to be democratic it must, permit parents to choose differently from the state, it must permit people to think and be different, it must allow minorities to be themselves, and it must protect other ways of educating children. J S Mill’s condemnation of state education as “a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another” establishing “a despotism over the mind” is incredibly pertinent.263 If the state provides education, it inevitably does so despotically. The only way a state education system can be restrained is if it exists as one of several alternatives. If a state education system is good enough, its example will impact on any other systems: there will be no need for compulsion. If people choose to go elsewhere for their children’s schooling, they demonstrate that the state system is not good enough. By resorting to compulsion, the state system demonstrates it is not good enough to pass the democratic test of freedom to choose. As a result it makes second rate education compulsory, suppressing both democracy and learning. The Law Commission, in quoting J S Mill affirms, “There are good reasons why the state should not have a monopoly on providing education.”264 But the imposition of state standards on all schooling, such as is proposed by the Commission when it recommends the state compel compliance with its ideas of meaningful education, is the imposition of a monopoly. When the state defines the only acceptable education it has swept everything educational into its monopoly. It is not without significance that the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 makes no attempt to vest New Zealanders with rights, but to “affirm” that those rights exist, section 2 stating: “The rights and freedoms contained in this Bill of Rights are affirmed.” Among those rights are, “the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief, including the right to adopt and to hold opinions without interference,”265 “the right to manifest that person's religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching, either individually or in community with others, and either in public or in private,”266 and the right “to enjoy the culture, (and) to profess and practise the religion (of a) minority.”267 Those rights are abrogated by any act of compulsion by the state that interferes with the education of children. The state is reduced to two choices in pursuing its interests in the education of children: protect or provide. It must either protect parental choice and ensure that choice is real, or it must provide education and impose its choice on parents and children alike. The state must be either democratic, and protect choice, or dictatorial and impose compliance. The state must either protect children and parents or absorb them. The state must either protect parents and children’s freedom to think and act according to their own beliefs or it must dictate what the minions of the state will believe and do. Whether the state seeks to honour God or whether it ignores God but still seeks to uphold personal dignity and human rights, the outcome with regard to children’s education will be the same: the free state will restrain itself and everyone else from imposing on parents any regulation in determining what will be taught, when it will be taught, how it will be taught and where it will be taught to children. 263
On Liberty Issues Paper p10 265 s13 266 s15 267 s20 264
Epilogue: Free the Children
Sometimes, government is the obstacle to the people. ~ Mohammed Wajid Peace High School 2000 268
What sort of a mindset has seized our nation when we are willing for our children to be schooled by those who say they will not pass on knowledge or skill? The scandalous plan to use schools to change children’s beliefs, to keep children from gaining knowledge at school, to prevent them being taught skills, to make them dependent upon groups, and to tell parents their children are “learning” when they have gained neither knowledge nor skill, will abuse children on a level unprecedented in our history. Every child in every school implementing the new Curriculum will be abused and their parents deceived. The minority of children who do gain knowledge despite the way they are taught, or who are taught by those who reject child moulding pedagogy, will become a privileged elite. The rest will form an ignorant mass moulded to the state’s ideal “outcomes”, blighted by happiness-inducing school experiences that have left them bankrupt of the knowledge and skills they need to live and function in society as free individuals. What sort of mindset has seized us that accepts without reform over 100 years of the state replicating generations of unskilled unemployable poor and high-dependency families as an “outcome” of a state school system that has never helped them, and that has left them – not withstanding the dedicated efforts of teachers, a handful of whom who are still committed to passing on a heritage of knowledge and skill – less educated, less skilled, and more dependent than before compulsory free state schooling was imposed upon them? The first chapter of the book of Proverbs paints a picture of teaching that results in wisdom, discretion and discernment. It is teaching that requires discipline and instruction; it is teaching that requires parental responsibility and motivation; it is teaching that loves knowledge as treasure to be won with diligence and sacrifice. These are of the essence of education that is being denied children in New Zealand schools. We can, we must say, “No!” We must draw a line in the sand, as it were, and say, “We have already come too far: we will go no further.” Parents and teachers can reject the nonsense being imposed on them and their children, can refuse to participate in consultation that is nothing more than manipulation, and insist on children being taught and tested on real knowledge and skill. It is time to say “No!” to any more constructivism, to say “No!” to group activities in place of teaching knowledge, to say “No!” to the new National Curriculum, to say “No!” to self-centred immorality posing as “values”, and to say “No!” to deceitful standards. We can leave our children to the child-moulders of uniformity, or we can give them an education of lasting value. We can sit back and watch the monolith of state schooling mould a generation of children, or we can encourage and support those parents, teachers and schools who choose to have no part in the state’s child moulding. Children deserve to be given schooling that 268
quoted by James Tooley The Beautiful Tree Cato Institute, Washington, 2009 p18
nurtures knowledge, diversity, freedom of conscience and choice – and if we cannot find such schools we should start them. James Tooley has reported how literally tens of thousands of really poor parents around the world have started their own schools that teach with methods, content and morality they believe in – and get better academic and social “outcomes” than their neighbouring state schools. They look at their children with sufficient love, and regard them as having such value, that they just get on and do it. As noted earlier, Tolley has said, “If India can, why can’t we?”269 I have been helping start schools in New Zealand for nearly 40 years. It can be done and it works. One of the critical things is having two or three people who share an ideal for children and are willing to work and sacrifice. Write down what you want for your children, and go get it. If a good school is out of reach, or if home is the preferred institution for education, independent or cooperative home-schooling is an option. Thousands of New Zealand families do it. Since parents have the prior right to choose an education for their children, private schooling or home schooling (or as some prefer, “home education”) is a right and not a licensed privilege. So some parents might need help – great! That is exactly what good parental choice is about. To choose does not mean parents have to do it all; it simply means parents decide and parents secure through their own tuition, or from someone else they have chosen and trust, what they are committed to having their children learn. If you do not have the knowledge and skill needed to teach or to get a school started, look around your community, your church, the internet. There are people who will help, who want to help and who can do it with you. Above all, get rid of the pretence that education of children is morally and religiously neutral. To give children a Christian education – whether at school or at home or in a shared situation – is to give them the key to life now and eternally. To give children an education in which the Bible shapes all knowledge and understanding, morality and aspiration, is to lay a foundation for a life of godliness, individuality, social responsibility, personal freedom, and integrity. To give them an education in which Jesus Christ is trusted for life and honoured in life is to impart to them the greatest treasure we can know. To help children to look to the Holy Spirit for grace and guidance and to depend upon the providence of the sovereign God is to prepare them for responsible, creative service in the community. To challenge children to honour and serve God from the heart in every thought, word and deed is to give them life! It needs to be said again that a Christian education is more than having a religious component attached to a secular curriculum or having a “special character” aspect of a school that nonetheless teaches the national Curriculum, or having prayer, praise and evangelism as a school’s distinctives. It is to have a curriculum in which the totality of its methods of teaching, the content of teaching, the aims of teaching, the moral shape of its teaching, and its serving of parents, are all derived from the Bible; where teachers and parents alike shape their lives and nurture with submission to Christ. It is one in which it is impossible to separate faith in Christ and recognition of God’s sovereignty from any fact, any lesson, or any activity. And it is one that sees every thought, every word and every action as something God will evaluate with his unchanging righteousness and holiness. This is not the place, nor is there space here, to further unfold the scope of God’s challenge to parents to not exasperate children, but to “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord,”270 or his direction to children to listen “to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching”271 – which implies parents are taking responsibility for educating their children. Nor can we further explore the depth of God’s word to Solomon: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”272 Suffice to say that to give children a Christian education is to give them the best, and to do less is to fail them Yet reform of schooling on its own will not be enough to save our children from the ignorance and incompetence of state schooling. If schooling is to be restored to serving parents by helping with the education of their children, there needs to be a return to the sorts of families that can be supported by such good schooling. We used to have families: parents and their children who lived together, did things together, learned together, nurtured together. One of the reasons the middle 269
see p26 Ephesians 6:4 Proverbs 1:8 272 Proverbs 1:7 270 271
classes once progressed with compulsory state-paid schooling – the only sector of the community to consistently benefit from it273 – was that they enjoyed a close, cohesive, culturally rich and well focused family life. Schools could, and did, support the morality children brought from home, and had little effective opportunity to teach school-defined “values” in conflict with their pupils’ homes. Children exposed to variable teaching nevertheless had books at home, family and friends with knowledge and experience to share, and parents who discussed the issues of learning and the world with them. Such families were the centre of the “holistic” education once supported by schools, now monopolised by them. Today’s middle-class homes often have little more than a mirage of family life. Children and parents may live in the same “home”, but they seldom live together. One of the key influences has been the increased affluence of parents: they can now buy opportunities for their children they themselves never enjoyed. But in buying those opportunities they can too easily sell their children out of parental nurture and guidance and into the slavery of endless indulgence. It is normal for many parents to purchase one or more “opportunity activities” for their children every night of the week. As a result parents are now doing more for their children than with their children, and family life is little more than passing out largesse and transporting children from one activity to the next. Homes are now places where parents and children each have a space none dare intrude upon, a room where empty people retreat from the imagined dangers of personal interaction, and in isolation escape into virtual worlds through their own cell-phones, computers and TVs. Parents have become little more than providers, and children prizes about whom parents boast but over whom they exercise little control and even less influence. And by insisting everything of value – from knowledge to morality – is vested in children’s peer groups, state schools and the new Curriculum pander to and entrench parental abandonment of children to self-centred instant gratification in which children deny or are denied any concept of consequences and responsibility. There are other influences besides affluence of course: the post-World War II collapse of traditional ethics, the sexual revolution and fragility of contemporary marriage (if couples even get as far as marriage), new spiritualities and the scepticism of post-modernism. But whatever the causes, the result is that a vast and largely misunderstood distance separates the world-views, culture and ways of life of children and adults. Sociologist Patricia Hersch has so effectively described the disappearance of families: in the silence of empty homes and neighbourhoods, young people have built their own community … an amorphous grouping of young people that constitutes the world in which adolescents spend their time. Their dependence on each other …cements the notion of a tribe apart. More than a group of peers, it becomes in isolation a society with its own values, ethics, rules, worldview, rites of passage, worries, joys, and momentum.274 If parents are to reassert their right to choose the type of education they secure for their children – as they must – they must also reassert their responsibility to nurture children in families. And the state must protect such family life without attempting to provide or control it. We can do no less and no better than to turn to the Bible for both the model and the means of securing true family life. In Christ alone is life to be found – life for children, life for adults, life for families, and life for the state: Jesus (said), “I am the way and the truth and the life.” You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free … so if the Son (Jesus) sets you free, you will be free indeed. ~ John 14:6; 8:31,36
See p48 Patricia Hirsch A Tribe Apart Random House, New York, 1999 (1998) p21
by Michael L Drake the abuse of state power in moulding the minds and morals of New Zealand’s children The Child Moulders examines the way state schools in New Zealand are using a novel curriculum to create a new social order and are seizing control of the moral development of the nation’s youngsters. The foundations of this revolution are in a morality without right or wrong, in teaching experience as if it is knowledge, in a focus on the “outcomes” of schooling instead of on its content, and in compulsory schooling that demands control of every child’s entire intellectual, physical and spiritual education. Yet it is not too late for parents and teachers to say “no” to the silly pretentions of state schooling and the new curriculum. There remains a small window of opportunity to restore to children education that enriches them with knowledge, skill, ideas and diversity. Michael Drake’s career has spanned over 40 years of teaching at all levels of state and private schooling, more than half of it as Principal in a variety of schools. He is founder and Principal of Carey College, a year 1-13 Christian school in Auckland where he still teaches a range of courses every week. He has worked for the Ministry of Education in teacher training and writing syllabus and support materials, and for over 20 years has been a consultant to independent schools throughout New Zealand providing support in starting and managing schools, curriculum, and staff training.