EDUCATION: by Marcus L'EstrangeNews Weekly
"Educational Left" - how it failed schools
, April 21, 2001
Marcus L'Estrange summarises the ideological follies, and worse, inflicted on Victorian schoolchildren by years of leftist nonsense.
Polls showing that an overwhelming majority of Victorians are convinced that the State's schools fail to teach even basic skills properly; public concern over the drift to private schools, over discipline standards, and over massive teacher stress: these things need to be addressed by the State Education Minister and the various teachers' unions. But will they be?
As a State high school teacher and a member of the once-great ALP, I believe Victorians have every right to be concerned. But sole blame should be sheeted home to the "Educational Left" (EL), not to the hard-working coal-face teachers who have to administer the EL's loony policies.
The key leaders of the EL in Victoria, who are now back in the saddle, are Joan Kirner, Bill Hannan, Lindsay Connors, Ann Morrow and Jack Keating.Other blows
Of course other major blows to State education occurred: the Kennett Government's decision to slash State school funding relative to needs; the Howard Government's decision (now partially reversed), with ALP support, to transfer $700 million from the poor schools to the rich ones. Yet even greater blows to working-class education have been inflicted by the Education Left leadership and its supporters, of whom only a handful actually teach.
1. The EL decision to withdraw meaningful, effective, sanctions against non-performance of set work and bad behaviour.
I believe that to teach a class effectively, a teacher needs to establish quickly a set of non-negotiable rewards and punishments. To the extent that he is able to do this, a teacher is effective. Rick McLean ("Class Discipline a Lost Cause", Education Age, April 2, 1992) is an excellent essay on the end result of the EL's decision to abolish meaningful sanctions against "yobbo" behaviour.
A minority of "yobbos" should not be allowed to wreck most students' education prospects. To State school parents I say, ask your children how much time is wasted in class by these "yobbos" and you will be stunned.
The Herald Sun's articles "School class storm" and "Teacher fury over Year 9 wild bunch" (both published on October 10, 1998) should be prescribed reading for our EL leaders. They brilliantly demonstrate the end result of the EL's decision to abolish meaningful sanctions against bad behaviour, and its total inability to reconcile rights and responsibilities . Under the Left too many teachers have become glorified crowd controllers.
2. The EL's decision to allow and even encourage students to go from one year to the next (social promotion) without having to do any work or reach any measurable standards.
This means that far too many students leave school almost completely unemployable. Many of the students are often given pass marks in subjects they have no idea of, simply in order to get rid of them.
This results in many schools becoming entertainment centres for bored adolescents and the issuing of misleading end-of-year student reports.
3. The EL's decision to forbid streaming within subjects and to outlaw the concept of academic excellence has resulted in massive contradictions.
The Australian (May 27, 1989) summed it up well:
"In Victoria, teachers must ensure the maximum development of all, but produce equality of outcomes. They must cater for individual differences, but no child is to be allowed to sustain a faster pace than her age-peers. They must ensure equity, individual, differences, excellence and full development of each child and still produce sameness."
Good teachers try to ignore this nonsense but their efficiency, frame of mind and health are undermined by this nonsensical EL policy. They should heed Bob Carr's biting comments on the EL's (and others') education policy:
"I do not want to see Australians become the poor white trash of Asia. But our survival in a mercilessly competitive world hinges, in large part, on what we do to achieve equity and excellence in education."
4. The EL's decision to remove a clear and meaningful curriculum in favour of a vague one.
There is now no real curriculum in Years 1-10, apart from the vague, process-without-content nonsense that goes under the name of "frameworks" or whatever new fancy "flavour of the month" name it has.
I believe that the EL's program - equality of outcomes, process learning, child-centred learning and group learning nonsense - is a certified dŽb‰cle. As a result of it, no-one really knows what is being taught. Students end up often illiterate and semi-literate, weak in geography, in grammatical rules, in current affairs, in simple arithmetic and in their knowledge of historical, literary, artistic and political figures.
Even to contemplate English, history, mathematics and languages as being of equal value with Mickey Mouse subjects like dance, is madness. The EL should note the recent comment of teacher and author Thea Astley:
"If our son was starting again, I think I'd have to send him to a private school because, by and large, the teachers are more responsible for what they offer ...
"To me it's a disgrace that many of the universities are running remedial English classes."
In essence, the EL curriculum cuts off all too many students from their cultural heritage. The EL decision to limit greatly all external assessment , and to scrap rote-learning skills, simply means we now have no idea of what many students know or do not know.
Victorian Treasurer and former Opposition Leader John Brumby summed it all up well:
"Typically, the kids who are being failed by failing schools are Labor kids in Labor areas."
Mercifully this situation is better overseas. The Blair Government has rejected the worst excesses of "outcomes" education in favour of students memorising times tables, doing mental arithmetic and sitting in rows with the teacher at the front of the class.
5. Where does one begin or end in discussing the EL's shining "achievement" - the VCE (which many believe stands for "Very Cruel Experiment")?
All I can do is repeat what I wrote in The Age on June 8, 1990:
"While the VCE has some good points in theory, in practice the primary aims of the VCE are to reduce the dole queues by keeping kids at school longer, to hide the serious slide in standards and to enforce mediocrity."
If you look at the hundreds of millions of dollars lost, the anguish caused, by constant changes to the VCE, you would weep.
Rather than give working-class kids a chance, we ended up during the Cain-Kirner era with a ruling-class VCE, a middle-class VCE and a working-class VCE. The type of VCE you did depended on your parents' wealth. And this from a Labor Government!
6. I believe the EL's education policies are not just boneheaded. They are evil as well.
They are the product of Kirner's (and her supporters') New Class, sub-Marxist aims - Marx himself, a great man in his way, must be turning in his grave - of not just taking over key positions in the education industry, but ensuring that public school kids get a thoroughly rotten education. These aims guaranteed that New Class kids would get a crucial head start by going to private schools or selective State schools. As was written in The Australian on November 19, 1988:
"Overall, the achievement of the Left is remarkable. Having got into dominant positions in the middle class themselves, they are determined to stay there at all costs and to reduce to nil if possible any competition from the working class."
To the EL, I say: I cannot forgive or forget the massive harm you have done to the education prospects of many working-class kids.
In essence, the end result of all the EL's policies, over the past 30 years, is this. After 100 years of compulsory schooling, we have ended up with an education underclass, and with the fact that a large number of working-class kids will stay working-class for the rest of their lives.
Why didn't Kennett get rid of the EL? Simple. What better way to destroy State education than let the Left do the job? After all, the Left has had 30 years' experience. So there's no need to rein it in. Far better to let Labor carry the electoral can.
Many are worried that the universities have been greatly lowering their pass marks for decades. No doubt they have. Yet the dumbing-down started in Australian schools in general (and Victoria's schools in particular) long before, as standards were watered down to keep more students at school and to reduce the youth dole figures. This process affected the "universities", many of the faculties in which are now not real faculties at all.
As a teacher, I felt great pressure to pass students who didn't hand in even the set work, let alone work of any quality. No doubt other teachers felt the same heat.
The latest EL/Australian Education Union initiative, of wasting members' money on expensive Women's Weekly advertisements that appeal to parents to support more spending on public schools, is largely a waste of scarce members' dues.
Much better to remove the EL from the corridors of power, restore discipline, introduce a meaningful curriculum, abolish social promotion and reduce paperwork. Then and only then will experienced teachers, good students and funds pour back into the once-great State system.