"Should I give up on ambition?" - the last lucid question grandpa asked me was not a bad question in the circumstances.
Many stories were told at the celebration of “a long life well lived” last week ... the funeral director commented that he had never heard so much laughter during a service ... I blame the influence of the dementia staff who lined up to share much affectionate anecdote of their varied exchanges with that two faced kipper - grandpa
“I know I said you had a huge bottom ... but I didn’t mean anything derogatory ...what I meant was that you have a truly magnificent bottom”
We managed to persuade the chaplain at the dementia centre to act as celebrant – something I suspect grandpa would have been dead chuffed about ... he turned a life time of atheism on its head when he moved into the dementia unit and first set sight on her ample bosom ... and he never missed a Monday service .... negotiating a seat near the front and watching each “performance” with a critical eye...
He confided to me last month that he was worried that the chaplain might be “losing her grip ...” suggesting that she needed to “slip a bit more godliness into her performance ... more vim ...” When I asked what he suggested his solution was to take advantage of the chaplain’s natural gifts.... “It would be so much better” he claimed, “if she could just throw open her robes and ... add a bit more cleavage to her performance”
One of the stories told at Grandpas’ funeral is relevant to our current affection for making schools more businesslike. Grandpa, born in London in 1916 during the First World War, was an only child in a large extended family but due to the depression when he won a scholarship to the Technical College there was not enough money to purchase the overalls required. Instead of going to technical college, at the age of 15 he went to sea.
It is the “.... there was not enough money to purchase the overalls required” thinking that is important here AND it was the recently released New Zealand Child Poverty Action Group Inc. Report Left behind: How social and income inequalities damage New Zealand children March 2008 pdf combined with Stanford University professor Larry Cuban’s book The Blackboard and the Bottom Line Why Schools Can’t Be Businesses that helped me see this.
As Cuban points out school based solutions to poverty and inequality are popular
From reducing crime, unemployment, and poverty, to defending the nation against domestic and foreign enemies, and yes, to preparing future workers for a changing labour market – reformers resorted to school-based solutions. They seldom tried altering socioeconomic and political structures or reducing inequalities (direct public and private intervention to narrow the income gap between the rich and the poor or to reduce residential segregation) when politically vulnerable public schools were available. (Cuban 2004 p164)
The Auckland Homegroup ict_pd cluster workshop for educators held on Friday was awash in the language of the business reformers - much of it so seamlessly integrated that those taking part in the discussions didn’t even realise that their ideas and vocabulary came from business rather than teaching and learning.... we had: effective leadership, visions, timelines, personnel involved, modes of contact, implementation of programme activities, feed forward, lists of key activities, management teams, national programme objectives, leadership and strategic planning, data gathering, alignment of goals, progress reports and programme impact statements, milestone tasks, programme outcomes, case notes, financial statements, disbursement schedules, projections and predictions , efficiency, productivity and mitigation strategies ....I note that we had very little discussion on students and learning.
The unchallenged assumption amongst the educators present at the Auckland Home Group Meeting being that
“Schools are just like businesses. The principles that have made businesses successful can be applied to schools to produce structural changes that will improve academic achievement..... “Cuban 2004 p27
An assumption that is shaping more than the Auckland Home Group Meeting and the direction of the ictpd clusters ... this is an assumption that is reshaping our educational thinking, reframing our educational policies.
This thinking is so entrenched that I am grateful for Cuban in helping me tease out and clarify that when we adopt the business rhetoric of “efficiency and effectiveness” and “productivity” in education, when we describe students as “human capital”.... we adopt a mindset that believes that.... personal advancement comes from individual merit and hard work in school.... we start to believe that schools are a solution to inequality in society.
As a direct consequence of this thinking our educational policies start focusing on removing barriers and enabling access to opportunity in the education system framing this education as the solution to producing the future workers and citizens for the 21st Century.
The Ministry of Education’s overall mission is to raise educational achievement and reduce disparity. Our overarching outcome is to build a world-leading education system that equips all New Zealanders with the knowledge, skills and values to be successful citizens in the 21st century. New Zealand Moe Statement of Intent 2007-2012 p 13
Yet by pretending that the solution to poverty is educational and furthermore resolvable through the introduction of business inspired “efficiencies and effectiveness” into schools, (and I include the push for elearning here) we ignore the social political economic and personal costs of economic inequality – we ignore “.... there was not enough money to purchase the overalls required”..... [Or insert the equivalent from the latest Child Poverty Action Group Report]” and we become complicit in making the working poor’s failure to thrive in our schools “all their own fault”.
When we adopt a business approach to education we butter up the wealthy and condemn the poor.
And despite all our technology the poverty that meant grandpa went to sea at 15 rather than take up a scholarship has not changed.
The most recent report from the Child Poverty Action Group on the real lives lived by many New Zealand children gives us many reasons to challenge our thinking about schools as the solution to inequality and about children as a product ... and to lobby for socioeconomic and political solutions to inequality.
In the last decades of the 20th century New Zealand had the fastest growth in income and wealth inequality in the OECD. Little has been done to improve the situation since then. Child poverty remains a major concern in New Zealand, even after the implementation of Working for Families (WFF). In 2001, NZ ranked near the bottom of the rich nations’ index measuring infant mortality, children’s health and safety, teenage pregnancy, and immunisation. It also ranked bottom in the percentage of 15-19 year olds in full- or part-time education, and in the number of deaths from accidents and injuries.
Despite the better economy and significant increase in paid employment, between 2000 and 2004 the proportion of all children in severe and significant hardship increased by a third, to 26 percent. In 2004, there were about 185,000 children in benefit families in some degree of hardship, with 150,000 of them in significant or severe hardship. While official data is yet to be produced for 2007, this report concludes that little has changed for this group of children who have been “left behind.” Left behind: How social and income inequalities damage New Zealand children ISBN 0-9582263-6-9 © March 2008 Child Poverty Action Group Inc. www.cpag.org.nz