Thursday, 8 November 2007

Recipe for indoctrination

The new one-size-fits-all education curriculum to be enforced on New Zealand children has been released. It's a dog. Literacy, numeracy and the inculcation of knowledge are given low priority. Socialisation and "biculturalism" are given higher priority. Kerry Williamson at The Dom summarises:

The Treaty of Waitangi - dumped from a draft curriculum just months ago then reinstated after protest - is to become a guiding principle in the way New Zealand children are taught. It will join reading and writing as core subjects, along with issues such as ecological sustainability and climate change... "This curriculum represents a shift away from focusing on knowing facts and figures to knowing also how to use knowledge effectively and apply it outside the classroom," said Prime Minister Helen Clark...

This is not a curriculum for education, it's a prescription for indoctrination -- the teaching of "issues" before students are even aware of the facts which underpin them (if they're ever allowed to become aware of them) -- with the full power of the state put at the service of its enforcement in all schools across the country either private or public. A teacher friend of mine (whom I'm sure won't mind me posting this) provided his own summary, which I've edited only slightly:
The new school curriculum that arrived on my desk today, The idea that the Treaty of Waitangi is this country's founding document is now official [and wrong].

The treaty did not feature heavily in the original draft of the curriculum -- under pressure from the Maori Party and the Greens however, it is now full of it.

In particular the "vision" for young people includes:
Our vision is for young people who will work to create an Aotearoa New Zealand in which Maori and Pakeha recognise each other as full treaty partners, and in which all cultures are valued for the contributions they bring.
Under "Principles" there is this:
Treaty of Waitangi. The curriculum acknowledges the Principles of the Treaty of
Waitangi [sic] and the bicultural foundations of Aotearoa New Zealand. All students have the opportunity to acquire knowledge of te reo maori me ona tikanga.
Under the old curriculum, I taught about the Treaty of Waitangi as a historical event and encouraged debate on the relevance of the treaty and its aftermath today. This curriculum however enforces a set vision that must be taught to students in which treaty partnership is the ideal for today. What is simply an opinion is instead to be taught as fact...

Overall - and this is the worst part -- there is a distinct lack of emphasis on reading, writing and numeracy in the new curriculum and far too much emphasis on expressing opinions before
you have developed them.

Fun times ahead. [Emphasis mine.]
Literacy and numeracy rates are already at an all time low. Any honest educator would be horrified at at that, and scrambling to reverse the situation. Instead, the government's ministry of educators instead intend to continue the process that delivered that across the board failure.

If you were ever unsure about the motivations of the government's 'educators,'
that tells you almost all you need to know.

UPDATE 1: It's argued that the object of this curriculum "is to pull back on the spoon feeding of information and focus more on creating students who can think for themselves." A laudable aim, if true, but I think there's a misunderstanding here: in order to think for oneself, you must have the tools to think with -- the facts and knowledge necessary to think about.

George Reisman points out in 'A Root Cause of the Failure of Contemporary Education' that a moderately educated student should emerge from their schooling with working knowledge of up to a hundred or so books, "and do so in a form that is well organized and integrated, so that he can apply this internalized body of knowledge to his perception of everything in the world around him. He should be in a position to enlarge his knowledge of any subject and to express his thoughts on any subject clearly and logically, both verbally and in writing." Modern educators however spurn that notion as "spoon feeding." They want students to be creative without content, producing simple, uneducated and (above all) compliant men and women, who emerge with very little ability to understand the world in which they live, and easy fodder for whichever authority figure is able to push their Pavlovian buttons.

The revolt against knowledge is worldwide. University of Kent sociology professor Frank Furedi writes about its capture of Britain and America in his book, Where Have all the Intellectuals Gone? Confronting 21st Century Philistinism. He recalls the reaction of a colleague to an article in which Furedi had bemoaned the fact that students didn’t (and couldn’t) read whole books any more:

He had no problem with the estrangement of undergraduates from the world of books; rather, he was angry about my arrogant assumption that books should have a privileged status in higher education. The tone of the article was to suggest you can dismiss as undemanding any programme in which students do not read whole books, he complained. As far as he was concerned, the book has become an optional extra resource for the present-day undergraduate.

A public which is continuously spoon-fed platitudes and soundbites is likely to become estranged from the world of political debate. This development is particularly striking on university campuses, where students continually insist that ‘politics is boring.’ The language used on campuses reflects an intense sense of cynicism towards causes and ideas, and a distinct lack of interest in holding strong views of any sort. New York Times journalist Michiko Kakutani’s reflection on the language used by American college students captures this mood of disengagement. That familiar interjection ‘whatever’ says a lot about the state of mind of college students today, notes Kakutani. … With such little importance attached to ideas, intellectual argument has acquired negative connotations. [Emphasis mine.]

American educator Lisa van Damme continues the point in her article 'The False Promise of Classical Education':
In Dumbing Down Our Kids, Charles Sykes tells a chilling story about a straight-A student in the eighth grade named Andrea, who was very eager to learn science. Unfortunately for Andrea, her school, like most today, stressed the importance of “creativity” over “dreary” facts, and of “hands-on,” “active” learning over “dull,” didactic instruction. This bright young girl with a thirst for scientific knowledge spent her time in science class picking up cereal with a tongue depressor (to simulate the way birds feed), hunting for paper moths on a wall, and drawing pictures of scientists. When Andrea wrote a letter complaining that she had gotten nothing out of the class, she was expelled for being rude and disrespectful.

You have probably read stories like these and been horrified both by how shamefully ignorant, inarticulate, and illiterate many ... students are, and, even worse, by what schools do to students like Andrea. I wish I could dismiss such stories as rare incidents circulated among cynical critics of [modern] schools to give poignancy to their arguments. Unfortunately, my experience interviewing and teaching students at my school has shown me otherwise.
Neither empty heads nor heads full of empty facts should be the aim of education: what's needed she argues is "reform more radical than harking back to a more traditional approach that mouths respect for facts, logic, and abstract thought," and too reform more radical than simply calling for more creativity, or a return to "classical education."
The proper goal of education [she argues] is to foster the conceptual development of the child—to instill in him the knowledge and cognitive powers needed for mature life. It involves taking the whole of human knowledge, selecting that which is essential to the child’s conceptual development, presenting it in a way that allows the student to clearly grasp both the material itself and its value to his life, and thereby supplying him with both crucial knowledge and the rational thinking skills that will enable him to acquire real knowledge ever after. This is a truly progressive education—and parents and students should settle for nothing less.
Just to summarise then, children have an enormous capacity to learn, but most modern educationalists steadfastly refuse to use that capacity; they fail to fill that enormous capacity for knowledge and and for learning, leaving these young students (even as they reach adulthood) adrift in a world they can barely understand and with brains that have never automatised the skill of actually thinking, but are masters at regurgitating what they think authority figures wish to hear.

UPDATE 2: Trevor Loudon posts "an excellent article by Australian Mark Lopez. It is," says Trevor, "very timely considering the extreme left bias of New Zealand's newly announced school curriculum." See 'How The Left Changes Society Through Education.'
From The Australian 30.10.07
PC Warriors Serve up a Slanted Education
In her address to her union's conference in 2005 the Australian Education Union president Pat Byrne openly acknowledged the ideological bias that dominates the school system. As she put it: "We have succeeded in influencing curriculum development in schools, education departments and universities. The conservatives have a lot of work to do to undo the progressive curriculum."
Apart from seriously disagreeing that "conservative" or classical education is the answer to the progressive mid-grab (on that particular false dichotomy Lisa van Damme's article 'The False Promise of Classical Education' says it best) it's worth reminding yourself again that for the progressive the primary purpose of the state education system is not education, it is the inculcation of the state's chosen values. Always has been.


  1. No wonder homeschooling is now the fastest growing movement in education.

  2. If I ever have kids, I'm homeschooling them. Simple as that.

  3. and far too much emphasis on expressing opinions before
    you have developed them.

    Complete mindlessness. You meet people like this already. They're scary, and so insecure. They'll be needing more drugs & alcohol than us normal folk.

  4. .....mmmm, drugs and alcohol..


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