Saturday, February 20, 2010

We want to know kids are being taught a lesson

The headline of a recent Rosemary McLeod rant in the Dominion Post. My riposte is We want journalists who know what they're talking about.

At least McLeod had the honesty to 'fess up early on in her spite- filled piece "I'm not fond of much about schools."

Having said that she went on to give voice to numerous vitriolic and spurious claims about teachers. In fact schools hardly got a look-in. So much for informed opinion, well-researched and reasoned views, and responsible journalism.

"Why do teachers insist they are all equal, and so must be paid the same, despite some of them being truly exceptional, while others are slackers the profession could do without? Is this the thinking that underlies their reluctance to grade children's efforts as well?"
Actually, teacher unease over 'performance pay', which McLeod seems to be advocating, is based on the well-researched conclusion that no-one, in any jurisdiction in the world, has been able to develop a successful method of calculating a meaningful mechanism for identifying and then rewarding successful teachers. If McLeod has some insight into how to identify 'truly exceptional' teachers, she would be well advised to publish it to the profession. (But don't hold your breath!)

"How come so few teachers can spell the names of children they're dealing with, and their families, correctly?"
What sort of a facile and tendentious claim is this? How many is 'so few'? Are they her beloved 'truly exceptional' teachers? On what research does she base this absurd claim?

"Why has journalism become an academic subject at school, taught by people who've never been journalists?"
We might as well ask why do journalists who have never been teachers believe they have the right to pontificate about teaching?

"Why have great and enduring works of literature been sidelined in the curriculum? If they're considered too hard – too hard for whom?"
Have they? Which ones? By whom? Where?

"Why do teachers think it's their prerogative to teach kids what to think, rather than how to think? I lost track of how many times my kids were entertained by Greenpeace or gay rights activists at school, but they were never once exposed to a minister of religion there. What would the key difference be?"
Most primary schools in NZ operate the 'Nelson system' in which regular sessions of 'religious instruction' occur, usually as part of the normal school, and from which parents may opt out; most don't, so the default is that most children receive instruction in a curriculum largely developed by the Churches Education Commission (see

"Why is bullying a fact of daily life in so many schools, and why do teachers think they've dealt with the problem if they've led a few class discussions on the topic?"
I'm more interested in understanding why children become bullies - what is it about their home and social milieu which makes them feel it is OK to bully others? What part do parents (like McLeod) as much as teachers play in the process?

"Should I have been happy to attend parent-teacher meetings with barefoot teachers with roach holes in their jumpers?"
And if you did, what did you do about it? Or is it that teachers who meet your pre-conceptions about dress are the 'truly exceptional' teachers?

"I once interviewed a teacher who explained that he always told parents it didn't matter when a kid hadn't learned to read, because they'd do so when they felt like it. What should I have made of his own young child then skipping into the room to say she'd read three books already that morning?"
The point here? That the teacher's child had reached the point where she 'felt like' learning to read?

"What is so scary about the idea of reading, writing and arithmetic having top priority in education, anyway? Without a decent grasp of those subjects, nobody can develop skills at anything else."
Who is scared of them? None of the teachers I know. But what they do struggle with is the wide range of other demands placed upon them. In many ways their job would be much easier if all they had to do was focus on the "three r's", but McLeod should look back to her earlier claim about the Ministers of religion. Or is she suggesting Ministers of Religion will teach reading, writing and arithmetic? She can't have it both ways.

"And finally, why should teachers have the unique advantage of not being judged by their results? Everyone else is."
Everyone except McLeod, it would appear. Because were she to be judged by the quality and clarity of her thinking, the validity of her research, the depth of her knowledge and understanding of the matters on which she is writing, she would be out of a job.

Or is the key result for her the ability to churn out 700 words about whatever to schedule - quantity rather than quality?

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