Thursday, 2 June 2016

New Zealand's Golden Era of Schooling

There's Comfort In Ticky-Tacky

It's not pleasant to be confronted with your own ignorance.  Nevertheless, it is said that confession is good for the soul.  We hope so.  

The other night we watched a NZ taxpayer funded documentary that had all the Trabantish air of superior breeding.  It was about the New Zealand government education system.  Now, we all know this behemoth to be a limping, wounded beast.  But that would be tolerable if the future of the beast looked better than the past.  Alas, some no-name documentary maker assured us not only that the beast was truly gangrenous, but that its glory days were long gone, never to return.

The glory days were the nineteen seventies, in case you missed it.  Well, we most certainly did.  As we mentioned, it is not easy to be confronted with one's own ignorance.

The documentary maker has apparently made dozens of the things--all of which were funded by the well-fleeced taxpayer, and all of which we thankfully missed.  But Bryan Bruce has a commanding screen presence.  He speaks with that avuncular air of a man comfortable in his role of Lord of the Manor, but nevertheless managing to convey an undertone of masterful, menaced authority.  He is not one to be contradicted.  The way he sees things is the way things infallibly are: why else would he be the aristocratic lord.

One blogger, Duncan Greive has had the temerity to offer up a critical review.  We hope his life insurance is up to date.

Last night TV3 screened a “special report”, “written, directed and produced” by Bryan Bruce, the veteran of dozens of documentaries over the years, many of which he has fronted with a familiar, bleakly beseeching on-camera presence.

This one was called World Class? Inside NZ Education – A Special Report, and was comfortably the most asinine of those I’ve seen from the man, a windy and handwringing collection of reckons and I thinks which saw him jet around the world to have confirmed for him what he had already decided – that our education system is f***, and neoliberalism is to blame.  It was a rambling, incoherent mess of a product, at once disdainful of testing and reliant on it, dated in its construction, sloppily assembled and wilfully misrepresentative of both the intent and reality of the teaching systems it assessed.
One gets the distinctly uncomfortable impression that Mr Greive thinks that World Class in the title of the doco was an attempt at sarcasm.  Hardly cricket, Mr Greive.

The central, suppressed proposition in the doco was that egalitarian cookie-cutter sameness was and remains a virtue.  Apparently, that's what schools in the 1970's had.  And that's what made them superior.  It was a golden age.  All schools being like "little boxes on the hillsides, little boxes made of ticky tacky" is a great virtue to the formidable mind of Bryan Bruce, who lauds the era when all schools were "essentially the same”

Once we had Tip Top bread--back in the seventies.  It was the only bread we had.  It was purely refined, white, soft, and sponge like.  Not only did it dissipate in the gullet like watery cake, it had one other great virtue--everybody ate the same bread.  It was a golden age.  But today--what a mess.  You go into the supermarket and there is a plethora of breads--different sizes, shapes, packages, prices, textures.  And Vogel's reigns supreme.  But it gets worse.  Not only is there bewildering variety in the bread department--but, worse, some people can't afford Vogels.  It's too expensive.  Thus passed the Golden Age of bread, much like schools.

In Mr Bruce's world it remains a terrible indictment to have some schools with superb academic results and pedagogic performance, whilst others lag behind.  Such a system is reprehensible because it is.  It just is.  Far, far better to have all schools made of ticky tacky and all the same.  Strangely, in no other area of human activity or endeavour is such an outcome celebrated.  But, to be fair, Bryan Bruce is smarter than the average bear, so explanations are beneath his dignity.

Mr Greive makes another critical observation about the doco:
There is a shocking absence of hard data from the documentary, particularly for an area which has, over the recent times, produced such a volume of it. Similarly, the evolving nature of education is barely touched – charter schools in particular were nearly entirely absent, despite being one of the biggest stories in education over the past 20 years. The only time we enter one is briefly in Harlem, where some poor sap tells us that the “authoritarian” teaching Bruce says he witnessed is an attempt to get these impoverished kids to read and write, which the teacher says is essential before you attempt to learn “critical thinking”.

Seems fair enough, right? “It’s an argument I’ve heard before,” says Bruce, “but I don’t agree.”
Well, that's it then.  The Lord of the Manor has declaimed.  It's far better to have all schools equal in failure, like Harlem's.  There is safety and comfort in numbers.  Egalitarianism is a beautiful thing.

Especially if you are Lord of the Manor and you can look down on the poor rubes.

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