Deep beneath Texas

The scene is a steel bunker, somewhere under Texas. Vader, Voldemort, Moriarty and Gary are meeting to discuss the neoliberal takeover of education. It was Vader’s turn to bring the cake.

Moriarty: Nice cake, Vader. What do you call that?

Vader: It is a Swiss roll [sucks breath through mask]

Voldemort: Gee, it’s my turn next. I might get a Swiss roll too.

Gary: Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Can I get a progress report from everyone?

Vader: Well the whole charter school / free school jazz is going well [sucks breath through mask]. We’ve got the U.S. and U.K. deep into it and one of our shadowy think tanks in Australia is on the case [sucks breath through mask].

Gary: Good, good… Just wondering something. We want to privatise education so that big corporations can make money from running schools, right? So why this free school model? I mean, they don’t turn profits and they’re still centrally funded.

Vader: We have to go one step at a time [sucks breath through mask].

Gary: But… like… Private schools already exist. It’s not like they’re unheard of. Why not just privatise all the schools if that’s what we want to do?

Vader: Well poor kids couldn’t afford to go [sucks breath through mask].

Gary: Why do we care? Why don’t we just dish out the money that currently goes to schools directly to parents as vouchers?

Vader: [quizzical expression]

Gary: And about those poor kids – don’t we just want them to be obedient servants who will work as baristas and so on?

Vader: Yes. That is the plan my master [sucks breath through mask].

Gary: So what’s with all this college readiness business? Why do they need to go to college? [Pause] It’s really not good for me but I’m going to have another piece of that Swiss roll [reaches for Swiss roll]

Moriarty: It really is good. I think it’s the best cake we’ve had.

Gary: Steady on… Now I also think there’s something else to resolve. Voldemort, how’s the pro-Microsoft, pro-Pearson, pro-Apple, pro-edtech-industrial-complex going?

Voldemort: Really well boss. We have more systems using computer testing. We’re rolling out computer marking. We have the OECD all up for assessing 21st century skills so our companies will be able to use that to sell their kit. We’ve got up this whole narrative about kids being able to search the net for any knowledge they need, making them dependent on tech.

Gary: Huh. How do we square that with being slavish followers of E D Hirsch’s Core Knowledge agenda? You know, the idea that we should be teaching a core body of knowledge and that things like 21st century skills don’t really exist?

There is an awkward silence

Moriarty: I am not sure about that but the Hirsch thing is going well. We’ve got him presenting at shadowy think tanks. And he’s captured the minds of our blogging foils.

Gary: OK, but about core knowledge – Are will not supposed to be filling up kids with rote, disconnected facts about dead, white, male, European, upper class men?

Moriarty: Yes.

Gary: Well, I’ve been flicking through the core knowledge sequence and there are units on mesoamerica and the Underground Railroad. What’s all that about?

Moriarty: OK. But it’s very facty…

Gary: Alright, alright. Look, on another matter, I want you all to apply yourself to putting the prefix ‘neo’ to as many of our conspiracies as possible. Right? It sounds kinda ominous like in ‘neoliberal’ or ‘neoconservative’.

Vader, Moriarty and Voldemort signal their assent. Vader is fiddling with his phone.

Vader: It appears that a Mary Bousted from a Teaching Union in England is claiming we are responsible for onerous marking policies and workload generally and that we accept no link between poverty and school performance [sucks breath through mask].

Gary: Really? I didn’t realise those were ours. But they’re bad stuff so we’ll take them.

Vader: OK. I’ll add them to the list.

Gary: Anyone got anything else? No? Well I’d just like to thank Lord Vader for bringing along such a nice cake this afternoon – a ‘Swiss roll’ was it? – Moriarty’s up next week.

Moriarty: No I’m not – it’s Voldemort



8 thoughts on “Deep beneath Texas

  1. While I certainly think there is an often incoherence in the way some approach educational debate and that some even hold positions that could only be described as ‘doublethink’ the reverse is also true. I could point out that far more charter/free schools (even large numbers of private schools) have progressive approaches to education than traditional. I’m thinking of the schools such as ‘High Tech High’ etc. that are often pushed as the future of education.
    In taking a, dare I say, neoliberal solution to solving these problems (parents as informed consumers with their children as products) we are only going to see this path continued as we fall down a rabbit hole of innovative and flashy promotional material. You don’t get your school on the news for doing their best in traditional subjects taught in an effective traditional way, you get on the news for doing something that ‘breaks the traditional model’.
    The solution has to be through systemic free public education.

    1. In a couple of weeks’ time the results for NZ’s external examinations will come out. Some schools will be in the papers about them. It will be largely private schools and the big inner city state schools that behave as if they are private. It won’t be the progressive ones though.

      That’s the sort of advertising that you just can’t buy. It is the sort of advertising that brings in parents.

      The other really good advertising in NZ is how well your sports teams do, and in particular your rugby 1st XV. That too is dominated totally by private and traditional schools.

      To the extent that parents can choose schools, and to a large extent they can here, the NZ example is that parents choose predominantly “traditional” schools.

      The private schools, who most actively have to sell themselves, have some highly “progressive” features, but not so much in the classroom. (In fact they are usually actively regressive in favouring old-fashioned percentage exams over the national NCEA partly internally assessed system.)

      I see no evidence at all that flashily promoting anything that “breaks the traditional model” is bringing kids to NZ schools.

      The government is very keen to bring in Charter schools, many of whom are supposed to alleviate poor results in challenging areas. They are often fully engaged with progressive teaching styles. Mostly, they don’t make much difference at all. Some get decent results, but they tend to be highly selective about intake, which makes it hard to tell what is driving the success (they are also expensive, due to their small sizes).

      Systematic free public education would strengthen the hand of progressives in NZ.

      1. My context is Australia but I must say it has been a very long time since I have seen any marketing for private schools that highlights traditional teaching methods. Even the schools with the boater hats are keen to highlight their newest toys and facilities and how they are completely changing how education is conducted. Of course at the same time they will highlight their ATAR results, how their first XV has done (to highlight how well rounded they are) and say something about a tradition of excellence etc. but they definitely will not claim they utilise traditional teaching methods in the classroom.
        Some schools are pushing for other exam systems (IB, Cambridge etc.) but for the most part these are really just more advertising gimmickry to create product differentiation than these schools having a more traditional philosophy.
        Obviously I disagree on your last sentence. People willing to improve the system is what is going to improve society’s results. Not people running away to look after themselves and others that are more or less the same as them. Increased stratification is only ever going to lead to poorer results overall.

      2. Yes, private schools advertise the newest toys and facilities. I said that.

        But in the classroom, I bet they are as traditional as any. I’ve just spent a while looking at their web-sites, and they look just what I’d expect. (For reference, I taught at quite an expensive school. They talked a good talk about individual learning etc, but they didn’t deliver on it.) If their websites don’t tout it front and centre, then all the talk of “enquiry based learning” is just advertising fluff.

        And, by the way, you have any proof of your assertion that having a fully public system would raise standards? Evidence, that is. Because in general competition raises standards, so you have to overcome a great deal of doubt on my part. I’m not in favour of charter schools, nor increased stratification, but I’ve never really been sold on getting rid of private schools to increase learning. It’s such a dead issue in NZ that even the teachers’ union (PPTA) has stopped worrying about it.

      3. I acknowledge that there would be a fair amount of lip service to progressive education from private schools that doesn’t eventuate but I would argue that this is no different from the private sector. There would be just as many traditional teachers there.
        The benefits of competition are often over sold. Especially in a field like education where raw outcomes are largely a function of prior achievement and SES levels and nothing to do with the quality of the instruction at all. To me, the problems caused by ‘ghetto’ schools are always going to outweigh the benefits to the few in a highly successive school. Hence why a systemic approach is going to lead to more benefits overall than a sink-or-swim competitive approach.
        The best evidence I could find in a quick search is the OECD report that found a correlation between higher stratification and lower results but I have seen more detailed ones.
        It is only a dead issue to those that want to stop debate because it makes them uncomfortable with their own hypocritical choices. I know our union was told many years ago by the Labor party to stop talking about it because it alienates middle Australia.

      4. Sorry having another look at that OECD report was about SES stratification not school stratification. I will attempt to have a better look.

  2. Is Mary Bousted actually arguing that teaching “experts” with little practical experience are a new feature? Because my father isdisparaging of the ones he faced — 60 years ago, when doing his training.

    It’s also a nice touch that she is proud to be in one “Blob” but viciously against another “Blob”.

    1. I think her slavish obedience to the progressive cause above the teachers and pupils is clear. The other unions are no better on this. However, the idea of ‘experts’ with no practical experience is a nonsense – most of the bloggers/tweeters who favour a traditional approach are people with experience. It is the progressives who push the likes of Ken Robinson and Sugata Mitra out there, who conversely have no experience. I think she has just taken a range of criticisms and shot them out there in a scattergun approach hoping that something sticks!! It’s desperate.

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