Submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on
Education and Employment
Inquiry into the role of Technical and Further Education system and its operation.
I make this submission as a former teacher, senior, Deputy Principal/Curriculum and Principal who worked in single sex boys and girls technical schools as well as comprehensive government schools in South Australia, as a former member of the Flinders University Council and Academic Senate and as the author of A Broader Vision: Voices of Vocational Education in South Australia in the Twentieth Century published by Lythrum Press, Adelaide 2001 – 886 pages. In addition I have had a State-based advocacy role for Graduate Women-SA since 1993 and have been a member of the Australian College of Education since 1972.
Question 1. The development of skills in the Australian economy
One of the problems we face in considering the development of skills in the Australian economy is our failure to consider the impact of history on the point that we have now reached. The past impinges on the present in so many ways but politicians, current employers and even administrators in education would rather not look back.
In Australia, we fail all the time to learn from the past. It is about time we did take note of the impact of innovation and changes in educational philosophy on the structures of and the interaction between the vital pre-tertiary and post- secondary educational institutions. The 1970s saw the beginning of a movement away from a society where one stayed in the one job for life, and where women had few options besides being wives and mothers. The development of ‘the pill’ gave women effective birth control and many were interested in taking up different career opportunities that such freedom offered.
In the 1980s the Technical and Further Education Colleges were set up, in the views of teachers at the time of the change to comprehensive schools, ‘to pick up the pieces’. [A Broader Vision: Voices of Vocational Education in Twentieth- Century South Australia’, collected and edited by Erica Jolly, published in 2001, p 485]. Theoretically, we had decided in the 1970s to connect theoretical and practically based education in comprehensive schools. In practice, through timetabling and attitudes of administrators in schools and Departments of Education that connected approach did not happen.
From the 1970s on, most secondary schools concentrated, and still concentrate, first on the academic aspects of subjects too often treated as ‘silos’. At the same time, since unskilled labourers were earning much more than apprentices, able young men chose that road. At Brighton Boys
Technical High School in the 1970s we found great difficulty in convincing the most able students to take up apprenticeships.
We were not then thinking of women moving into non-traditional trades-based areas. Private companies found apprenticeships an interruption to profit making. The public-based industries, such as the railways, were not encouraged to carry on their apprenticeship programs in so many of the trades, for example furniture making, related to that form of transport.
Al Grasby, as Minister for Immigration, began the process of solving Australia’s problems of insufficient skilled craftsmen and tradesmen, and potentially women, by a broader multi-cultural immigration policy, a skilled immigration policy we have found useful ever since. While lamenting the absence of the changing skilled labour force we need, we have taken the skilled workers – usually men – in all professions, trades and crafts from other countries without any consideration of what their loss has meant to those developing countries. That has been the cheaper, less demanding way to operate, requiring less commitment to local Australian skill development from so many private industries, many of which are owned by foreign companies with no commitment to the quality of Australia’s skills base.
Even then, we were not thinking of post-secondary education as a public good. Al Grasby’s solution was utilitarian. It may have had advantages in terms of effecting the removal of the White Australia Policy, but it undermined the process of the skills-development in the education of Australia’s own trades and crafts population, the inventive section of the population used to being innovative as needs arose, not necessarily bound by theoretical considerations. [It is a pity that the ABC removed ‘The Inventors’ from television, since that program made so many Australians aware of the ingenuity of men and women faced with practical problems to solve.]
My point is that we have failed in educational forward thinking regarding the skills required for the future of Australia’s changing industries ever since. Unfortunately, given the short-term thinking of Australia’s politicians, employers, power-brokers and the commercial media concentrating on the here and now, I expect we will fail again. And I consider, the limitation of the questions from the AEU demonstrate this weakness.
Question 2 The development of opportunities for Australians to improve themselves and increase their life and employment prospects.
Where is there evidence that we have looked at and sought to learn from the examples of nations with broader visions? We have had examples of advanced thinking about future developments in a nation’s economy from Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries, whose educational systems support learning for all. Where have we worked in a forward thinking way to develop opportunities for Australians to improve themselves and increase
their life and employment prospects? Where, in that question, is there the sense that the deprivation of the un- and under-employed has an impact on the quality of community interactions?
And we have developed a managerial approach in the TAFEs as well as the universities, which impedes imaginative and thoughtful examination of issues and focuses more on corporate success than extending our knowledge and skills base. We could have been developing solar-based industries decades ago.
For example the CSIRO, established in 1926 as one of the most forward thinking developments by an Australian government, was doing serious research in the area of solar energy but we did not follow through, except for telecommunications in desert areas. Recently, however, the CSIRO developed ‘Windfall’ – a Wi-Fi Patent – but had to fight American wealthy technology companies that tried to steal its invention, the result of their hard work and ingenuity. But the CSIRO fought and won.
The CSIRO, for example, employs men and women with all kinds of skills and knowledge, some are trades-based, others with higher education qualifications, some with both! They have to look to the future in the way they operate, not to some short-term gain. And if the Coalition wins government we can expect to see the undermining of the CSIRO as a public good, set up to consider the wide range of scientific and industrial developments needed for a sustainable future, as they will privatize more and more of it. Then profit, not public good, will come first.
We could have been making advances to lessen the degradation of our environment but it has taken major droughts to force those in agriculture to face the terrible impact of the salination of great swathes of agricultural land. Recently I saw just how much of Western Australia’s agricultural land is now covered with the red blotches of saltbush. That lack of forethought has brought with it a decline in the opportunities for those skilled in a range of trades, including technologically advanced extensions of traditional trades, to make a life for themselves and their families in rural areas.
Partly, this has happened because managers in this country tend to be cautious and more concerned with data than personal development. Look at reviews of managerial practice in Australia. See how often the fearful hand of managers and accountants, with no feeling for anything other than ‘the bottom line’, discourages innovation. We have had major businesses in mining and manufacturing geared to the demands of the owners whose primary concern is with their own survival. What happens to their subsidiaries in other countries does not matter in the long run.
We chose to stay tied to America’s oil-based car industry, when it was clear in the 1980s, that there was a need to move away from the petrol-driven engine. We chose to stay tied to a dinosaur. [I was in America in 1967 when there
was talk of the need for an electric car or a more fuel-efficient car. What happened? An American company bought the Sarrich orbital engine and that was the end of that. Nothing was going to impede America’s car manufacturing giants and the oil industries they were connected with. They opposed anything that might increase their costs or decrease their profits.]
There was a time in the 1980s, when industries were making connections with secondary schools and students were discovering the range of opportunities on offer either through TAFE-based qualifications or through apprenticeships. [For example, that was the relationship Marion High School developed with Mitsubishi, waking up administrators in that company and in the school to the fact that innovation with potential profit resulted from the creative engagement of both. According to Heather Rideout on Radio National’s ‘Saturday Extra’ with Geraldine Doogue April 13th 2013, that valuable industrial/school cooperative, collaborative, creative, imaginative connection with its wide range of possibilities for both was discontinued. I do not know by which governments.]
Too often we have preferred horizontal barriers between the different sectors in education with those at one level knowing nothing, and happy to know nothing, about those below them in the hierarchy of educational institutions.
The Trade in Schools development can complement the more complex, demanding, practically oriented approach to learning that the TAFEs, at their best as post-secondary educational institutions, promote as a public good. The cooperation between teachers in Trade in Schools and their local TAFEs can enable older students who resent the confinement of secondary schooling to stay in education.
We need to remember that age alone should not be the basis of decisions for where a student fits. She and he might have life experiences that make them emotionally old before their time. For them, the narrow, linear aspects of so much test-driven schooling may be irrelevant. They may be ready for a more practically oriented vocational approach where they are treated as adults. They may, in fact, then move on at the point of readiness to further qualifications.
We can expect that kind of collaboration to decrease when TAFEs are merely ‘commercially-oriented’ as separate entities. Profit will come first. Costs for students will increase. The recent short-sighted draconian financial cuts to TAFEs by Liberal and Coalition State governments demonstrate how little those political parties recognize what must be done in educational skills- based terms to ‘value add’ to our nation’s capacity to compete across the globe.
Let us not forget that the Coalition’s Treasurer, Peter Costello, when asked about developing computer designing capacities here to ‘value- add’ in this essential twenty-first century technological industry,
dismissed the need for us to do anything that might cost ‘tax payers’ ‘when we can import them’. The idea of an Australian investment in the future through the extension of our skills base did not enter his head.
The point I am making here is for the need for attitudinal changes in both major political parties.
At Noarlunga TAFE, for example, those wishing to enter administrative roles in the different aspects of the medical and health professions study to get the knowledge and the qualifications/ certificates needed to be effective in what is a major industry as well as a necessity to maintain the health of the Australian community. Where would the ‘medicos’ and other health professionals be without a quality support structure? This is a complementary program essential for the health services. This TAFE-based course will be needed for the public good as well as for the provision of opportunities for their students to earn a living.
Education is not central as a ‘public good’ in the minds of those committed to the idea of a market-driven economy. However, in the past, the Trade Unions did not help. The preservation of male power and the exclusion of women for so long as significant in the approaches to the collective bargaining process was meant to perpetuate the dominance of men in trades-based occupations. Women in the workforce were not considered significant. Even today in the hospitality industry, for example, the key figures in the development of chefs are men.
However, after the 1970s, the TAFEs did provide an avenue for women, formerly encouraged to feel that higher education was not for them, to move into post-secondary education.
Before 1970s, and after and still, if we look at the impact of advertising, girls were encouraged not to see themselves as having a right to the access to further education. Vocational education, with its initial practical orientation, was of value in the schools and even more value in the TAFEs. For many women this post-secondary avenue was a pathway to higher education. For others it gave them entry to vocations and careers that expanded their horizons beyond teaching and nursing, valuable as those professions are.
But, recently TAFE administrators have made it difficult for women seeking to re-enter the workforce to succeed. In SA, for instance, the TAFEs at Mt Barker and Victor Harbor removed the women’s studies because women, getting jobs mid course, were not completing their courses. TAFE administrators or the government were more concerned with the data of the completion rates than seeing the women’s movement into employment as
TAFEs are an essential part of the collaborative, inter-connected stages in education. They are not just a separate part with little connection to secondary or higher education.
Question 3 The delivery of services and programs to support regions, communities and disadvantaged individuals to access training and skills and through them a pathway to employment.
The move to ‘commercially-oriented’ TAFEs is guaranteed not to provide services and programs to support regions, communities and disadvantaged individuals. Every thing will be ‘user-pays’.
Consider, for example, the needs of disadvantaged communities – not just individuals – in remote regions. In South Australia, for the TAFEs on the remote First Nation APY Lands, the separation of the State-based, regional TAFE-based provision of lecturers, from the Federal-based provision of the proper infrastructure and working conditions that have the health and safety requirements for the lecturers who fly in and out, can be an impediment to learning. What lecturer can work successfully with students in a hazardous situation? There are political opportunities for shifting blame with these split funding responsibilities when the TAFE lecturers are unable to do their work properly.
There is need for interstate cooperation. For example, the TAFEs on the APY Lands need to collaborate with Western Australia for an on-line course to enable students to qualify for a driver’s licence. That licence is not just needed to enable a man and woman to drive a vehicle, given the immense distances they must travel, if they are employed or if they need to travel for health or family reasons, It might provide a legal identity if that person, because of where he or she was born, does not have a birth certificate. How often do businesses consider these additional roles of TAFEs in remote areas? How often do tax payers encouraged by commercial media to berate governments for waste in educational inefficiencies know or care about how the TAFEs, like all educational institutions, cater for the needs of students who may not be coping for a personal reason. Educators are not just there to increase the skills-base.
But, in South Australia the legislation to set up independent TAFEs is expected to pass both Houses: a Labor government is moving South Australia’s TAFEs further down the competitive rather than cooperative and complementary path.
Another factor ignored where the delivery of services and programs is concerned is health. The health of a community will demand the presence of appropriate health workers in TAFEs where they are situated in areas remote from centres of assistance.
Online learning is going to have real value but it must always be seen as complementary. In practically based courses, hands-on, face-to-face practical engagement matters. [Sir Norman Foster, one of the world’s greatest
architects, still keeps a model room. He has found that computer-generated images do not reveal the three-dimensional problems that the models provide. Architecture will need to change considerably in the 21st century. The documentary on his life and work is very useful for a world where we need to be moving toward zero-carbon producing cities with a skilled workforce able to maintain them.]
A major problem in terms of delivery of services and programs to support regions has just arisen. A bi-lingual approach is of value for Indigenous students who need to have the competence in English to be part of the mainstream. They need avenues of learning through websites and radio and television that are culturally appropriate and that help them to learn English as a second or third language.
In South Australia the NBN has proved very valuable on the APY Lands. But if the Coalition’s NBN plan of rollout to street-based nodes, using copper to the residential areas is put into practice, what will that mean for Indigenous remote areas? The Labour vision of covering 90% of the nation has the added value of enabling health and medical information to be shared across all areas. We need to remember the connections of health and education if we are to deliver services and programs to remote communities, which will have their share of individuals with disabilities requiring support to gain the educational qualifications they need for employment.
Electronic connections are vital for the remote areas. How many of the remote areas have the requisite electronic connections? We need to see the NBN as a public good, not just an avenue for individuals to have access to the Internet and for businesses to connect across the global at a faster rate.
Question 4 The operation of a competitive training market
TAFEs were meant to be more than just providers for a ‘competitive training market’. Howard began to undermine them when he set up the technical colleges in competition, taking from the TAFEs lecturers needed to provide courses in his user-pays colleges, which for too long lacked quality control of what some of them were offering.
Governments of a market-driven persuasion have not helped the TAFEs to fulfill the vocational functions we need to develop a more skilled and more knowledgeable society.
Those who see welfare as undermining the capacities for Indigenous people to become self-reliant and independent members of the Australian community ignore the fact that the institutions to teach the skills, the TAFEs, might not be set up in their regions to do the work effectively. I have considered this problem in the previous question.
I fear that political infighting and refusal to consider the educational value of
the practically-oriented approach of TAFEs as first a public good will mean that we will continue to lag behind developments in other nations and it will continue to be the reason that so many of our ‘best and brightest’ will leave Australia’s shores. We can guarantee that market-driven politicians will prefer private companies and will cry to the fearful voters about the cost to TAFEs, rather than seeing their role as an integral part of our interconnected educational investment in a future that, like the world that changed us at the end of the 19th century, we hardly envisage.
Considerations arising from a Radio National program today.
On ‘Saturday Extra’, with Geraldine Doogue today, April 13th 2013, I have just listened to two business-based experts dodge the question she asks of ‘how’ we are to provide the workforce needed for the ‘Future Focus’. Heather Rideout, now on the Board of the Reserve Bank, and Phillip Bullock who formerly was CEO of IBM were interviewed about this report.
This is what concerns them. They say that 50% of our people have levels of literacy too low for the future workforce. They say that 40% of our people have numeracy levels too low for the same reason. Too few as yet have an adaptive capacity, the capacity that will be needed when people have to change from one kind of job to another. They see quality independent career advice as essential. So far it is only in schools and often is outdated. They say 50% of the working population will change jobs after five years. Heather Rideout made reference to the loss of the connections between industries and local school in an imaginative collaborative way. [Some of us might have some concern about some industries that are making connections with schools.]
We are going to need 14 – 15 million workers in the three major sectors, one of which was health and social care – the interview can be downloaded. There will be more skilled jobs than unskilled. 70% of the working population will need post-secondary qualification and qualifications from the vocational sector. Even plumbers, an example used by Phillip Bullock, might find their knees give out and they’d need an alternative set of qualifications to move in another direction. People are likely to need double qualifications, vocational and/or higher to We needed to develop a complementary skills base with Asian countries. Heather Rideout said ‘our vocational training was seen as the best in the world.’ Was? Is that before the TAFEs were undermined by private training colleges of variable quality, given John Howard’s belief that private, profit-based competition is preferable to viewing education as a public good?
Heather Rideout sounded appalled when she described what is now happening in Canada where companies are outsourcing jobs and asking Canadians to train their foreign, cheaper replacements. Where was she when companies here decided that maintenance was too expensive? TAFEs were discouraged, for example, from continuing to train instrumentation measurement engineers who maintained the quality of infrastructure in
regional and remote areas. Businesses preferred to let equipment run down and then fly in expert consultants to make repairs rather than have on hand qualified people trained in TAFEs and in universities to carry out a regular program of maintenance. To my knowledge a course has now been established at the University of Melbourne but this process of dismantling an importance maintenance capacity for infrastructure appears to have begun before 1988.
Both agree there must be a minimum increase in State and Federal funding of three percent to bring about the growth in the capacities of educational institutions to help our future workers cater for the changes they will face. They did make the point that 30% of the skills employees have now are under utilized in industry.
No one mentioned women in the discussion. No one mentioned those with disadvantage. No one mentioned those in remote communities. Much as I have admired Heather Rideout as a spokesperson for business, she showed how limited is a business-based approach to providing those skills. Neither answered Geraldine Doogue’s question of how we would meet the future they anticipate. Perhaps if they had had an educator or two on the program, they might have offered a range of answers because one size will not fit all.
Neither considered the rest of the population. What of the others? What of older people who might have to wait until 70 for a pension? What of those who still want to work and can do so in different ways, given the possibilities provided by electronic connections? We do not want Aldous Huxley’s ‘soma- controlled’ Brave New World for Australia’s people.
Older people seeking employment today are often discounted if they mention their age. We will not want to lose their experience and their capacity to contribute to the society and to earn income. A commercial training market, in my view, is likely not to have that kind of long-term vision, or the capacity to provide the stimulus needed to enable the older generations to gain the skills they need for the new work they might want to do.
Only TAFEs, there for the public good, providing new courses often vocational courses, having the assistance of older people experienced in the changing aspects of their trade or industry as practically-oriented tutors, working with these more mature aged students, charging reasonable fees, will have the capacity to provide these avenues to enable the older generations to live more satisfying lives. [Sir Norman Foster is 76 and no one is thinking of trying to stop him thinking and working.] But, if the Howard government’s push to privatized ‘technical colleges’ is followed by a Coalition government, we may not have these technical and further educational institutions there to provide the expertise needed.
Reducing these national tertiary institutions to acronyms, we have forgotten
why they were established to ‘pick up the pieces’ and now to contribute to the future good of Australia and Australians in all their diversity.
They are as important as higher education but they have suffered from a level of intellectual snobbery that has discounted the importance of their role in the education of Australians.
Rather than support the TAFEs, rather than take a longer view, Registered Training Organisations [RTOs] and private colleges, with little quality control, were expected to be less expensive options. In fact, in many instances they created problems; such the ‘colleges’ set up to attract Indian students with promises of easier access to permanent visa status here. They lowered the quality of training in Australia.
The TAFEs are like the glue that connects the theoretical and the practical in education. Closer to the practical aspects of the lives of people in their local communities, they have provided community support when centres of higher education have been more remote. Until now, the TAFEs have been also been more affordable, while being responsive to both local and national skills and knowledge needs.
TAFEs must be made affordable again. And government, as Heather Rideout and Phillip Bullock insist, must provide the extra funds, the additional three percent. It is ironic that business, which so often prefers private profit-based approaches in education, is calling for government support. For these business experts presenting the ‘Future Focus Report’, as for all Australians the technical and further education sector is a vital investment if we want a ‘value-added’ approach that brings with it self reliance for our nation and moves Australia beyond the unsustainable, environmentally-damaging, short- term, profit-focused attitudes of those encouraging Australia to rely on the extractive industries.
April 14th 2013
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Hard Times for ACE 2012
Provided for the Australian College of Educators December 4th 2012
Charles Dickens’ contributions to education through consideration of his novel Hard Times and comparing it with approaches to Australian education
in the twenty-first century.
What is education for? What is it about? When does it begin? What form does it take?
Possible answers to each of these questions will appear as I develop the theme in this essay.
Charles Dickens believed in education. He was forced by the bankruptcy of his father, who ended up in the Marshalsea Prison for debtors to give up his schooling while made to work in a blacking factory. He went to school later but always felt deprived. Dickens supported the ‘Ragged schools’. A friend of his, Angela Burdett-Coutts gave large sums of money to the Ragged Schools Union which helped to establish 350 ragged schools by the time the 1870 Education Act was passed. Charles Dickens had written to Angela in January 1853 so we know of his engagement with them and, as it is now, so much depended on the approach of the teachers.
He was concerned with the cruelty, the exploitation, the greed, making it quite clear in Nicholas Nickleby with Do-the-boys Hall and Squeers and in David Copperfield with Mr Creakle, the Headmaster of Salem House. However, in Hard Times he was forensic, dissecting just what a bad system of formal and informal education, rather ‘schooling’, could produce. Hard Times was published first as a serial in his weekly magazine Household Words and then as a single volume in 1854.
Chapter Two, ‘Murdering the Innocents’. Mr Thomas Gradgrind is inspecting a class to see how well they are being taught. We know the principles on which he operates. We have been told in Chapter One of ‘The One Thing Needful’.
‘Now what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals on facts: nothing else will ever be of service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts sir!
That was the statement of principle. See how it plays out in practice in the classroom. Gradgrind does not know ‘Girl number twenty’. She has a nickname. ‘Sissy’. Her father calls her that. Her father is a member of the ‘Horse-Riding’, an ‘objectionable calling’. Gradgrind demands that she be called Cecelia Jupe. The attack goes further when Girl Number twenty is ordered to give her definition of a horse. She can’t.
Girl number twenty possessed of no facts in reference to one of the commonest animals! Some boy’s definition of a horse. Bitzer yours.
The answer comes immediately.
Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty four grinders, four eye teeth, and twenty incisive. Sheds coat in the spring: in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in the mouth.
The Public Commissioner joins in and asks Girl number twenty if she would have flowers on a carpet. She would. They are pretty. She likes them. Again she is wrong. Flowers have three dimensions. They cannot be reduced to two. What’s more Taste is based on Fact. Next they watch Mr M’Choakumchild begin his first lesson. Trained according to the syllabus of 1846, he will do everything he can to remove the ‘robber Fancy’ from the little ‘vessels’ in front of him. They see no difference between fancy and the imagination! Gradgrind is outraged by Sissy’s answers. The name given to her with love by her father, a member of Mr Sleary’s Horse-Riding, has no value in his view of the world. That outrage is intensified as he walks home to Stone Lodge. Sleary’s Horse-Riding are performing on the edge of town. Two of the ‘young rabble’ are peeping at the performance through a gap in the tent. The two are his two eldest children, Louisa and Thomas. He is infuriated, takes them home with Thomas coming ‘like a machine’. Reprimanding them he asks ‘What would Mr Bounderby say?’ as if that is the ultimate disgrace! He is most concerned. If that young girl remains in his model school, others will be contaminated. There must be no connection with the Horse-Riding. Her father must be ordered to take her out of Mr M’Choakumchild’s class.
With his friend Bounderby, the industrialist of nearby Coketown, he visits Mr Sleary’s Horse- Riding. Mr Jupe is missing. Sissy is tearful. She is worried but feels sure there is a good reason. The story of how Sissy, now Cecelia or just Jupe, becomes a servant in the Gradgrind household is too long to tell here. Enough that it is a story of love, of the bond between father and daughter, that makes her decide to stay where her father might find her.
But she is entering a household where love has taken a peculiar form. Gradgrind’s children are being schooled to base every decision on facts. Weighing one fact against another, being disciplined, not giving in to emotion, ensuring the separation of head from heart – with absolutely no poetry – is the way to live. Theirs is to be a life based on what he calls reason.
So, nurture in those very early years takes a very different form for the Gradgrind children. Cecelia has known laughter, tears, affection from her widowed father doing his ageing best for her: it is the reason he has sent her to school. She has cared for animals, has had contact with different people in this extended family others might despise as misfits. The Gradgrind children, living in cold square Stone Lodge with a nervous ailing mother, fearful always of correction, have a collection of fossils, shells and objects in glass cases for their companions. They will not be reading ‘fables’ as those unenlightened common men and women might be doing after ‘fifteen hours of work’. To Gradgrind’s consternation they would be taking De Foe to their bosoms, instead of Euclid and seemed on the whole more comforted by Goldsmith than by Coker, a seventeenth century author who had written a treatise on arithmetic!
The mid-nineteenth century was full of facts. Geologists were uncovering signs of a past well beyond the 4004 BC year of the creation of the Earth decided by Bishop Ussher. Botany was flourishing. Those with some wealth had a mania for collection. Read the story of The Flower Hunters by John and Mary Gribbin. Sir Joseph Banks had realised in 1770 just how much value
there might be in exotic plants from distant lands. Explorers were sent everywhere to bring them back. Wealthy middle class families developed hothouses for them. The Crystal Palace, built to house the Great Exhibition in 1851, was proclaiming Great Britain the ‘workshop of the world’, the most advanced nation in scientific and technological discovery. Measurement was much more important than poetic metre. European nations could not match British progress. Many nations had been embroiled in what some called ‘the Springtime of the Peoples’ when workers and middle class rebelled in the abortive revolutions of 1848. Britain was supreme. There had been no structure like it. Made in cast iron and glass, the Crystal Palace was there to remind the British and all foreigners that no one could match what the Industrial Revolution was achieving in Britain and for the British Empire.
The aristocrats sent their children to exclusive ‘public’ schools where many still received a grounding in the classics. In 1828 Dr Thomas Arnold became the headmaster of Rugby and changed the British ‘public’ –meaning private – education system. He wanted to produce ‘Christian gentlemen’ able to lead in the new age that Britain was entering. He exercised an unprecedented influence on the educational system of the country, introducing history, mathematics and modern languages, while still basing his teaching on the classical languages. Consider this statement he made. “I assume it as the foundation of all my view of the case, that boys at a public school never will learn to speak or pronounce French well, under any circumstances”, so it would be enough if they could “learn it grammatically as a dead language”. However physical science was not taught since, in Dr. Arnold’s view “it must either take the chief place in the school curriculum, or it must be left out altogether”. –[ Found on Wikipedia.] Dr Arnold died in 1845.
His son, Matthew Arnold, appointed H.M Inspector of schools in 1851, a poet and critic as well and passionate about education, would later express, in Culture and Anarchy, his concern for the absence of ‘sweetness and light’. As a side line, it is interesting to note Dr Arnold’s concern with the potential for ‘the physical science’ to take the chief place in a school’s curriculum. In ‘Dover Beach’, a poem that reflected his fears of the changing times Matthew Arnold would write of ‘ignorant armies [that] clash by night’. Among other concerns would be the developing conflict between the authority of the Church and authority based on scientific discovery.
The 1832 Reform Act had given the vote to propertied men in the House of Commons. One in six men in a population of 14 million could vote and the industrial towns were included. The ‘rotten boroughs’ of the 18th century were removed. Gradgrind was ‘looking about to make an arithmetical figure in Parliament’ since he had retired from the ‘wholesale hardware trade’ that enabled him to establish his family at Stone Lodge. In 1833 the abolition of slavery in the British empire did have a moral motivation. The fight to end it had begun in the 18th century. However, economically it was convenient.
By 1850, I suggest that what was called education for the poor would have brought to the fore those requirements needed for the new industrial technological age that was flourishing in Britain and that was beginning to flourish in the northern states of USA. Michael Faraday had invented the electric motor, the dynamo and the generator. American manufacturers in the northern states were interested in his discoveries. So there was a mechanistic approach to ‘schooling’ evident in this concentration on facts. Further, it was supported by the
Utilitarian philosophy and given political encouragement through the ‘laissez-faire’ economic approach which opposed legislation that could limit what was seen as the advancement of the nation through individual effort. M’Choakumchild had had to master ‘volumes of head- breaking questions.
Orthography, etymology, syntax and prosody, biography, astronomy, geography and general cosmography, the sciences of compound proportion, algebra, land surveying and levelling, vocal music and drawing from models, were all at the ends of his ten chilled fingers.
And when the catalogue is complete Dickens writes: ‘If only he had learnt a little less, how infinitely better he might have taught much more.’. This focus on quantity to the exclusion of quality would have its place, through Jeremy Bentham’s philosophy, on the establishment of the South Australian colony on Aboriginal land. So, the schooling was meant to create a society the new power brokers – industrialists, merchants now vying with aristocrats – needed to exist if they were to profit from the revolution. For the poor, numeracy and literacy, were both in the service of Facts.
Dickens takes us into Coketown, the ugliest of towns where the sun, when it shines, must make its way through layers of thick pollution that contribute to the respiratory problems of the workers, men and women, working fifteen hours a day. This is Josiah Bounderby’s domain. He is a sycophant and a bully. The discussion between father and daughter when Gradgrind tells Louisa that Bounderby has asked for her hand in marriage is poignant. Gradgrind does love his daughter. She is his proof that the system works. She is the supreme model. Obedient, willing to make decisions based on what he considers reason, she has shown that a woman can be useful, ‘reasonable’ and able. Feelings have no place in such important decisions. Feelings have no place at all.
There is a moment when the reader is aware of the presence of love and pride even if the love is misdirected. Louisa will marry the man her father wishes her to wed even if she has no affection for him. She will marry him to sacrifice herself for the brother, Thomas, whom she does love. Her brother needs her at Bounderby’s bank. It’s his escape route from the discipline and control of his father. Life will be easier for him if his sister is his employer’s wife. Sissy sees the concern in Louisa’s eye. Louisa takes Jupe’s unspoken sympathy for pity. She refuses to be pitied by this girl, decides not to confide in her and, in silence, faces the prospect ahead.
Many critics of Hard Times have focussed on the evils of barely regulated conditions in factories. The worst excesses of child labour have been removed by legislation but working conditions are still appalling. And the factory owner is the master of everyone’s fate. A worker needing help might appeal to the owner and hope that the response is both honest and disinterested. [It might have been if the owner had been Robert Owen!] Stephen Blackpool knows wealthy men are able to divorce their wives. Can he be freed from the dipsomaniac who has been destroying him again and again? He is at the point of committing suicide. Bounderby insists self-righteously that marriage is for life.
For Blackpool there is almost no light. Sweetness is there in the friendship of the gentle kindly Rachael and the promise he gives her is sacred. That promise will put him at odds with the
union. Slackbridge, the organiser is rousing the down-trodden workers with ‘violent heat’. Stephen cannot join. He explains his reasons but the honest worker has no place on either side of the divide – capital or labour. To be trusting and open, as Stephen is, is to become lonely and isolated and potentially the victim of the callous and indifferent.
That is Thomas Gradgrind Junior. We cannot know whether this self-centred, dishonest, manipulative young man, using his sister’s love to serve his ends, would ever have been different. What we can know is that this schooling – formal and informal – has not helped. He resents the discipline at home, wants excitement, wants to live the life of a bon viveur on a clerk’s wage, gambles, is easily gulled by Harthouse when he comes to Coketown, expects Louisa to speak for him and frames Stephen when, finally, he decides to rob the bank to pay his debts. But he is being watched. Bitzer, that prize pupil, like young Gradgrind, is employed by Bounderby. He, too, sees Bounderby as an avenue of escape, this time from the worst of life in Coketown. He is the epitome of the effectiveness of the Gradgrind model of schooling. Recite the answer required and gain top marks. He has learnt the unspoken lesson that goes with this interpretation of reason.
For young Mrs Bounderby there appears to be no escape, no release through tears, no release through shared talk of her situation with a friend. She has grown to despise her husband. Her silence, her dignity, her lack of deference to this supposedly self-made man speaks of her disdain. It is noted by Mrs Sparsit, related to ‘the Powlers’, reduced but still connected with the lesser nobility, living as a dependent on Bounderby’s charity. And Louisa’s treatment by Harthouse alerts her to the possible denunciation of the woman who now heads the Bounderby household.
Louisa has no experience to help her judge the quality of this or that personality. She has never been in a position to meet others outside the milieu her father and now her husband have created for her. Unlike Sissy who had known the wider world as she and her father travelled and worked with Sleary’s Horse-Riding, Louisa had no basis for comparison. So, James Harthouse Esquire, a dilettante, bored in the Dragoons, bored with his role in the train of an ambassador, with an older brother indifferent to the suffering of those in a railway accident and delighted that the owners of the railway had got off scot-free, had been advised by that brother to join ‘the hard Fact fellows’ and ‘go in for statistics’. He makes no bones about his commitment to nothing but his own pleasure. Gradgrind is impressed. So is Bounderby. Thomas finds him stylish and is easily duped by his ‘friend’. But Louisa is his target.
Unused to kindliness, to deference or charm, Louisa is enthralled. At the same time she is terribly aware of what she can lose if she allows herself to give in to the unexpected emotion she feels. Fearful of losing her honour, she flees in the storm back to Stone Lodge, begging her father to protect her.
Life at Stone Lodge has imperceptibly softened. Cecelia’s presence, her capacity to imagine another’s feelings, her desire to understand, her pleasure in beauty, her smile and her gentle presence have eased the process of schooling the younger Gradgrinds have undergone. And Gradgrind, now an MP, has often been away in London so his children and his wife have been released from his inflexible, domineering presence.
Louisa is ill. Bounderby demands that she return immediately as his wife. If not now, then never! Gradgrind cannot send his daughter back. But he can do little to ease the burden Louisa feels. It is up to Cecelia – Jupe, the despised Sissy – whose ‘soft touch’ begins to bring about change. Aware of Louisa’s feelings of resentment, Sissy, careful not to intrude, offers to go away if her presence is unwanted. Louisa is brought to cry out for help. ‘Forgive me, pity me, help me! Have compassion on my great need and let me lay this head of mine upon a loving heart.” This young woman, considered ineducable, also has the strength of mind and the courage to face Harthouse and force him to make the only reparation possible by leaving town.
What does she have that has been lacking? First, in her life with her ageing widowed father, love. With love and affection for the other members of Sleary’s Horse-Riding has come awareness of poverty, of the uncertainty of tomorrow, of differences in personality that are to be recognised and valued and the recognition of the need for cooperation to survive. Despite the lack of formal schooling, she has imagination and intuition. She has the capacity to feel another’s needs. Empathy. And she does not automatically assume that others are inferior to herself.
The existence of these feelings does not mean that she cannot think. Her mind is alert. We know that because she becomes a valued member of the Gradgrind household. She is able to learn while she waits, in hope, for her old, worn-out father to come for her. She can act when Gradgrind is impotent. Ultimately, faced with the knowledge that his son and heir is a cheat, a liar, a thief, causing an innocent man to be hounded, he is helpless. Statistics are not going to solve this problem. It is Sissy who finds a safe place for young Thomas to hide among the despised horse-riding fraternity. Sleary is prepared to help because ‘Thquire hath helped Thethilia’. To escape the law young Tom must become one of the black servants in a sketch being performed in the circus ring.
Gradgrind has been slow to learn. Wedded to his system of schooling that reason, the separation of mind from heart, must be based in Facts, it is only agony that makes him wake up. It is as if he has been sleep-walking. First it comes through the dreadful unhappiness and sense of emptiness in his much loved daughter. Next it is in the realization that his son is a criminal and a cowardly one who has brought about the death of Stephen Blackpool who was returning to Coketown to clear his name.
But the system he favours is still in existence. It has its successes and Bitzer is one of them. Compassion has no place in his world. It’s as if he says, or would say, ‘Don’t take it personally, it’s just business.’. He has followed the Gradgrinds, finds Thomas, captures him and no amount of begging or bribery by Gradgrind for his worthless son will shift him. Not even when Gradgrind begs for mercy, in the name of the school Bitzer attended, will he give in. He will take Thomas back, claim the reward and climb up another step on the ladder of success. For Bitzer, reason is whatever brings about his individual advancement. It is worthwhile considering the business-like basis of that schooling in the light of our preference for the ‘user pays’ attitude today and the market driven focus on ‘brands’ in schools. His actions are without malice. He tells Gradgrind:
‘I don’t deny,’ added Bitzer, ‘that my schooling was cheap. But that comes right, Sir. I was made in the cheapest market and have to dispose of myself in the dearest.’
Dickens makes Gradgrind learn the hard way not to despise the equivalent of the ‘Hands’, those worse in fact than the ‘Hands’ because they provide entertainment. They are strollers, cannot be easily controlled. They bring music, laughter, story, pleasure and none of it based on statistics, except when age might mean a member of the group might be unable to continue. Even then such decisions are not taken lightly. No one is just a Number. Mr Sleary provides the lesson Gradgrind now needs: look to the best and not the worst.
Bounderby is revealed for the blustering liar he is. To set up his image of himself as a man who has pulled himself up from the gutter, often hungry, without a mother’s care, able to come to this high position where he need have no manners, no courtesy and defer to no one, he has deliberately hidden his mother, on a pittance, in a town far enough away from Coketown to ensure his façade in secure. He has forgotten about the development of the railway. How is that for irony! This technological advance lets his loving mother come unobtrusively occasionally and look at him and feel proud of the heights to which he has risen as a result of all the efforts she, Mrs Pegler, has made for the son she loves.
But Bitzer is alive and well, utterly convinced by the Gradgrind philosophy on which the system in that school was based, that every thing is to be paid for. ‘Nobody was ever on any account to give anybody anything, or render anybody help without purchase. Gratitude was to be abolished and the virtues springing from it were not to be. Every inch of the existence of mankind was to be a bargain across a counter. And if we didn’t get to Heaven that way, it was not a politico-economical place, and we had no business there.’
Not stated quite so baldly today, how far does it coincide with the market driven approach to education today? Do you hear – ‘You get what you pay for?’ This ‘brand’ is better than that. Emotion is an impediment to advancement. It is a sign of weakness. Remember this was the schooling for the poor. They would not need the classics and mathematics that Dr Thomas Arnold’s young ‘Christian gentlemen’, theoretically, were getting at Rugby. There was, if we believe Tom Brown’s Schooldays, in practice through the power of the prefects, little concern for the ideal of human perfection sought by Dr Arnold.
Matthew Arnold in Culture and Anarchy would describe quality in education as ‘an inward spiritual activity having for its characters increased sweetness, increased light, increased life, increased sympathy. These poor, if they rose to the heights Bitzer hoped to reach, were being prepared to be ‘Philistines’ who saw no need for the arts and music, art, literature, drama which were to be excluded from the curriculum. History was to be there to reflect British successes. In Australia today a potential alternative Federal Minister for Education would like the ACARA Year 12 history syllabus just to reflect what he values, Australia’s so often male- oriented Anglo-Celtic background. The draft I saw left out the impact of the scientific and technological revolutions, the role of the arts, the role of women and the role of women in the Indigenous fight for recognition. [I hope they are there when history becomes compulsory for the national curriculum in 2013.]
Britain’s industrialists, hand in glove with the merchants and empire builders, were the new power brokers of the mid nineteenth century. Education was moving away from the select few, there by right of family connections or wealth, to mass education since factories required ‘Hands’ who could read, write and number. More were gaining the right to vote. In 1867, only thirteen years after Hard Times was published, the Second Reform Act ‘enfranchised 1,500,000 men. All male urban householders and male lodgers paying £10 rent a year for unfurnished accommodation got the right to vote.’ [Wikipedia]. The Act all but doubled the electorate increasing involvement of those in larger industrial towns. Before 1850 the Chartists, basing their cry for ‘The Great Charter’ on the anglicised variation of the 1215 Magna Carta, had been fighting for manhood franchise. Their great outcry in 1848 had been crushed by the authorities.
Dickens had no time for politicians. He was scathing about Gradgrind as an MP and loathed the rabble-rousing rhetoric of men like Slackbridge fomenting the ostracism of anyone who, like Stephen Blackpool, dared to be independent. He saw them as parasites. Dickens wanted a society which contained the good-natured, like Rachael and Sissy and Sleary’s Horse-Riding, the kindly, the truly humble – certainly not the Uriah Heeps of this world – willing to learn and share, those able to contribute to the formation of a more humane society. Heaven knows, there were plenty of the others. His novels are full of them. In schools he wanted teachers like Nicholas Nickleby who, appalled by the brutality at Dotheboys Hall, had the courage to stand up for the victims of bullies. Nicholas Nickleby would rescue Smike. Nicholas was capable of empathy. Dickens identifies so much intolerance and so much hypocrisy and wants to make us wake up to the impact of both the formal schooling and the informal home- based schooling that can go on in the very early years of childhood. He knew the power of their impact for good or ill.
However, the Elementary Education Act brought in by W.E. Forster in 1870 did not deliver the kind of society Dickens wanted. It was for all children from the age of 5 to 13. The power brokers behind the Act ‘identified a need for Britain to remain competitive in the world by being at the forefront of manufacture and improvement. Religious instruction was an integral part of the school curriculum but was not compulsory. These schools were to be non- denominational.’ School boards could include women although they would not get the vote in Britain until after 1918. ‘Board men’ checked attendance. These ‘state’ schools were not meant to replace the ‘public’ schools. They provided the second tier of education. The first tier remained exclusive. Does that fact ring a bell today?
So much is the same today. Given the increasing sophistication of electronic technology and the pressure through advertising for us to be up there, wherever ‘there’ is – and we are now in the Asian century – we have warnings of ‘massive school-tech funding gap’.
Look at the Launch Issue of the Education Review’s Tech Guide, August 2012. We are being told that so much is different. We are being told by some in charge of schools and Departments of Education that there is no need for libraries and alternative avenues of study, despite the fact that these computers are likely to be out-of-date in about every three years and add another burden to parents striving to do their best for their children, because ‘built in obsolescence’ has been part of the commercial picture in technology since at least the 1960s. However, while students’ technology had changed from slate, paper and pen to iPad,
indicated by a boy on the front of The Professional Education – Volume 11, Issue 3, May 2012 – in one way, things remain the same.
Whatever the study it will involve pleasure and/or pain, laughter and/or tears, delight and/or distress, success and/or failure. If the experiences contain both, with sufficient on the side of the positive emotions, there will be hope for the quality of engagement by students now and in the future, as young people and as adults. [Remember support for self-help in adult education actually began in the 18th century. Samuel Johnson approved of it. Public libraries were established in Britain in 1850.] But if the process of study is based on the separation of mind from heart with the continued contempt for ‘Hands’, shown too often by those who do not want their children to earn their living getting their hands dirty, we are in trouble. Why? Because there is no respect for one another and fear and anxiety become the drivers in the fulfilment of the demands of the curriculum.
Wordsworth wrote of his childhood in The Prelude: Line 305
Fair seed-time had my soul, and I grew up
Foster’d alike by beauty and by fear;
Much favour’d in my birthplace, and no less In that beloved Vale to which, erelong,
I was transplanted.
What of the ‘products’ of the mechanistic system Gradgrind believed was right for his time? Of Thomas Junior, Louisa and Sissy, only Sissy knows beauty. Louisa might sit gazing into the flames but she has no outlet for the expression of her delight or wonder. Gradgrind fears wonder. Look at his concern for those reading in Coketown’s public library. Both are afraid of their father, Louisa less so but for Thomas to fear is added resentment, overwhelming resentment. For Bitzer, satisfaction – for he says he takes no pleasure in his intentions to hand Tom over to the ‘law’, which could result in his hanging or transportation – is in his success, no matter at whose expense or how it is won. And the environment at home is significant. Only Sissy is fortunate in her early life, in that it is alive with interest and, despite the death of her mother, a place where she is happy. Stone Lodge has been thoroughly described in all its squared angularity. It is not only the presence of both beauty and fear that creates the balance Wordsworth finds of value for ‘the seed-time of [his] soul’, it is the environment that nurtures him as well.
Those factors still matter today. Clearly learning, for good or ill, begins early. We know that now with our focus on early childhood education. And learning takes many forms and many pathways and the quality of feeling and thinking matters, as does the guidance. And with those factors comes respect. If that is not there, if politicians and power brokers, the new multi-nationals, the new industrialists, the stockbrokers, denigrate some, jeering at them as non-aspirational, or use them for cheap labour, then we are perpetuating feelings of resentment and distrust that will inevitably have an impact later on.
Do we value the different pathways? Are some of our teachers, and those responsible for curricula, still seeing the engagement of minds as the be-all in learning? Is that why the humanities with their vital role in the developments of minds and hearts are considered of
lesser importance even though history will be in the national curriculum? We talk about compassion, encourage community engagement but in examinations the focus is always on grades? Do we think now, given our fascination with stem cells that we can solve some of the problems of children born with different needs and make children ‘normal’ by genetic intervention in utero? Never forget, to all intents and purposes, Thomas and Bitzer are healthy and ‘normal’. And Bitzer is doing nothing wrong when he insists he will bring the young thief back to Coketown. He is behaving like a good citizen.
There is another way of seeing Hard Times to consider Charles Dickens approach to education. The central image in this novel is the horse. Charles Dickens would have known Greek myths and fables. John Keats had read a translation by Chapman of Homer’s Iliad. In Greek mythology the horse is significant. Horses drive Apollo’s chariot across the sky. Bucephalus, Alexander the Great’s horse is one of the most famous in antiquity. Pegasus, born of Poseidon and Medusa, is the divine winged horse of ancient Greece. In the Middle Ages Pegasus becomes the symbol for wisdom and, in the nineteenth century, this white horse becomes the symbol for poetry and the sources of poetic creation. There is beauty in the equine form, dignity in its presence and a connection with nobility in all the pictures of ancient China, India, Arabia and Europe. There is purity in its form, a purity that can be harmed – lost. The spiritual element, almost soulful, is in its gaze.
That living, vital creature, so reduced in Bitzer’s definition, might be the soul of society. In Hard Times Sleary’s Horse-Riding, with its extended family, its capacity to show mercy, its acknowledgement and acceptance of individual differences, its recognition of different talents and its tolerance of people whatever their background is the spiritual heart of Dickens’ novel. Only Sissy has known that ‘seed-time’. She has known beauty, fear and love. And her early childhood has been spent with a community and her understanding has been enhanced by that connection of thought and feeling. And perhaps the loss of the spirit Matthew Arnold sought through increased light, increased life, increased sympathy is one of the problems we face today.
Sometimes it can be novelists, playwrights, poets, and today filmmakers, who wake us to the disturbing imbalance in our education. Peter Shaffer is such a contemporary playwright. In Equus, for example, he focuses on his greatest fear, that we have lost the soul and lost the gift it gives us of awe and wonder. If you know the play, or have seen the film, you can hear young Alan’s puritanical Christian mother, Dora Strang insisting, at a time when he is becoming sexually aware, that sex is dirty, disgusting and engagement in it is the ultimate sign of depravity.
His father is an atheist and the boy is disturbed by their conflict. His father, Frank Strang, pulls down a violent crucifixion from the foot of his bed and Alan replaces it with a picture of a horse. Alan Strang becomes passionately attached to horses, worships them, finds in them the nobility and purity he does not find in Christianity. In fact he worships the god ‘Equus’ through the horses in the stable. He is seventeen and has picked up enough of his mother’s preaching to see Equus as ‘a jealous God’ and he is in awe of him. He makes love to a young woman in the stable and perhaps, to protect Equus or protect himself from his god’s anger, he blinds six horses.
The act is so terrible. It seems unexplainable. The boy must be insane to have carried out such a seeringly awful action. He spends a long time with a psychiatrist whose job it is to make him ‘normal’. And we are invited to consider what ‘normal’ means? Is it the absence of passion? Is it the absence of awe and wonder? Peter Shaffer is preoccupied with what he sees as the loss of the gift of awe and wonder and we are left to think about the whole issue. He develops that theme in The Royal Hunt of the Sun’ in which the Spaniards destroy the Inca civilisation. And this playwright brought us Amadeus where mediocrity sets out to triumph over genius.
Is Charles Dickens afraid of such a future? A soul-less world of self-serving individuals like Bitzer? Is that to be the norm? Is that to be considered ‘normal’? That stone in Gradgrind lodged in his mind is destroying his capacity to broaden his vision by delighting in the possibilities that might come through awe and wonder. Remember Gradgrind feared that readers in the public library in Coketown would be being encouraged to wonder about the world because they might prefer Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Oliver Goldsmith’s poetry – his most famous poem was The Deserted Village – to a treatise on arithmetic.
This capacity for wonder is there in great scientists who know that what might be considered ‘writ in stone’ today need not be so tomorrow. They have true humility. Some are poets. But in the mechanistic, utilitarian approach to schooling – what others might call education – there is a lack of concern with the connection of body and mind, in fact the trinity of mind, heart and hand. There is preference for linear to lateral approaches. The either/or separation of mind from heart, thought from feeling is still there in the attitudes of the power brokers, the digitally-powerful and technologically-influential who have an impact on directions in education. [Remember Thomas goes with his father, after he is found looking through the peep-hole at the horse-riding, ‘like a machine’.] And I am left asking myself how many Bitzers, now male and female, will be the ‘products’ of our 21st century approach to education?
Today, every school is likely to have mission statement. One school might assure parents and potential enrolments that it values ‘cooperation, excellence, fairness, integrity, respect, responsibility’. Who is able to cooperate in Hard Times? Sissy. Who has respect for others? Sissy, who has known sorrow and joy in life. Can you identify what is missing from that 21st century list and what is there in Hard Times? Curiosity is missing. Imagination is missing. Compassion is missing and empathy is missing. All aspects of Sissy’s personality and character.
Today, some psychologists talk of ‘emotional intelligence’. In the mid 1990s some thought the notion was a fad. Others thought it ‘refer[ed] to the capacity to perceive emotions, assimilate emotion-related feelings, understand the information of those emotions, and manage them.’ All I know is that Sissy becomes emotionally mature, not afraid of feelings, able to think through issues and work positively and effectively in such a way that she need not hurt the feelings of others.
Despite the ideals expressed in the Melbourne Declaration of the Millenium Goals in Education for Young Australians, which were inclusive and interdisciplinary in much of their focus, the reality is otherwise. Look at the language of this 2009 four year agreement by COAG. Consider the questions I ask.
The MCEETYA Four Year Plan (‘Four Year Plan’) supports the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians and outlines the key strategies and initiatives Australian governments will undertake in the following eight inter-related areas in order to support the achievement of the educational goals for young Australians:
* developing stronger partnerships – with whom and where? with commerce – so that private public partnership can be used to obscure transparency?
* supporting quality teaching and school leadership – how? by performance marks? or Pyne’s ‘value added’ approach to NAPLAN?
* strengthening early childhood education – in what ways?
recognising the impact of health and family life and uncertainty in employment on engagement?
* enhancing middle years development – through integrated approaches that have almost no extension into the senior school?
* supporting senior years of schooling and youth transitions- how? through cross-curricular engagement? or through the same old subject as silos approach? to where? and what is valued in those directions?
* promoting world-class curriculum and assessment – just by percentages? or by ensuring that teacher training – teacher education rather – connects heart, mind and hand both in and across disciplines?
* improving educational outcomes for Indigenous youth and disadvantaged young Australians, especially those from low socioeconomic backgrounds – in such ways that they feel valued? recognising the impact of housing, health and feelings of adults in children? making sure that the funds are not siphoned off by bureaucracies? doing everything to help them enter, with a strong sense of their culture, into the mainstream?
* strengthening accountability and transparency – that is what Gonski wants, particularly the transparency? Was that all the Gonski Report wanted?
Relationship to COAG Productivity Agenda – notice the link with the productivity agenda. What is this language telling you?
The Four Year Plan has been developed in parallel with work undertaken through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) on the national productivity agenda, and is closely aligned with relevant COAG activities.
At the COAG meeting on 29 November 2008, a number of activities referenced in the plan were formally agreed by Chief Ministers, including:
* Low socioeconomic status school communities national partnership
This partnership will address the needs of disadvantaged schools, while giving greater discretion to those school leaders and local school communities facing the greatest educational disadvantage to employ strategies that address the particular issues they face ($1.5 billion over seven years). What has it meant in
real terms since 2009?
* Smarter Schools – Teacher Quality national partnership
This partnership will deliver ambitious, nationally-significant reforms to target
critical points in the teacher ‘lifecycle’ to attract, train, place, develop and retain quality teachers and school leaders ($550 million over five years). Are ‘smart’ schools going to produce ‘clever’ Australians? See the advertisement with its masculine focus. Have they considered the difference between mere cleverness and wisdom?
* Literacy and Numeracy national partnership
This partnership will focus on: achieving sustainable improvements in literacy
and numeracy; improving literacy and numeracy for primary school students, especially Indigenous students; and developing a national understanding of what works and a shared accountability for the achievement of Australian students ($540 million over four years). Will that partnership be undermined for Indigenous children by the ‘Intervention’?
* Early Childhood Education national partnership
This partnership will focus on giving all children the opportunity to access
quality early childhood education ($970 million over five years).
* Greater transparency and accountability
Through COAG, all jurisdictions agreed to a new performance reporting
framework and agreed that the new Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority will be supplied with the information necessary to enable it to publish relevant, nationally comparable information on all schools to support accountability, school evaluation, collaborative policy development and resource allocation.
I thought this reminder of what was signed on to in 2009 could be valuable. Look at COAG’s concentration on a ‘new performance reporting framework.’ The new Australian Curriculum and Assessment and Reporting Authority would become known as ACARA, be responsible for the national curriculum development and for NAPLAN. What is missing? It is all third person, impersonal, bureaucratic and abstract. There is no reference to character. That old-fashioned word might sound too mid-Victorian. In the Millenium Goals there is no reference to music, art, drama, the humanities. ACARA has included history because there is seen to be a need for a multi-cultural society to have a feeling of connection. ACARA has included the arts because Peter Garrett insisted that the arts matter but how they will be brought in will tell us how much the curriculum writers understand about the three-way-connection in all the arts of mind, heart and hands as well as the time needed for satisfying involvement. It is a three- way connection equally of value in the sciences.
The focus is on what the Commission sees as ‘productivity’, what some educators call ‘human capital’ and bureaucrats call ‘human resources’. We get no feeling for what will be involved in ‘quality education’ except that it will ‘seek to improve literacy and numeracy for primary school children’. Not literature, poetry, plays and prose and mathematics with the imagination and wonder required, just literacy and numeracy. No pleasure, no emphasis on engagement in discovery, no connecting emotion with mind in the process of learning.
So, where is the evidence of what the 21st century power-brokers really value today? We hear employers crying out for ‘multi-skilled teams of workers with leadership potential’. What kind of leadership? Will it be leadership that concerns itself – notice the neuter gender – with the quality of feelings as well as the intellect of students? Will it recognise the value of interconnection? Will it recognise the value of teachers able to empathise with students? Or will teachers be ‘judged’ on the basis of a school’s ‘performance’ in quantitative terms for the ‘products’ they produce?
There were certainly idealists, those committed to improving education at that Melbourne conference but we can only guess at what they meant by ‘quality education’. It is not spelt out for us. Unfortunately, just as in Gradgrind’s model school, what we obviously value is number, measurement and percentages and the commercial market-driven bargain of which Bitzer sees himself as a ‘product’, an ‘outcome’, not as a person.
Our national system of testing, based on what was initially expected to be diagnostic to help children within schools, was hijacked and now concentrates across Australia on numbers, percentages and grades. Regardless of what a politician might say about NAPLAN’s purpose, when a teacher in a school of 1500 students, with almost one third of them requiring some form of extra assistance to be successful, warns a visitor that the school is low down on the NAPLAN totem pole, the impact of the atmosphere NAPLAN has created is clear. Such unspoken ‘lessons’ have the same kind of impact that they had in 1854 and it makes me realise that we still live in hard times.
In Sydney, at the National Conference of the Australian College of Educators statisticians were to the fore. Governments could not be effective in educational terms without the numbers. They needed data and they needed it quickly. Otherwise improvements could not be costed. Note the concern with ‘cost’. I felt the pressure and I am no longer a practising teacher!
Non-government schools and many government schools – selective and/or government schools in more middle class areas – advertise the scores being achieved at the upper level in university entrance scores by a significant percentage of their students. So they encourage enrolments of those who can afford their fees while a few considered potentially credits to the school get scholarships. Numbers again. Every day and every night in our 21st century powerbrokers watch the figures on the Stock Exchange to see the directions in which the numbers and the money are going. ‘My School’, run by ACARA, enables potential ‘buyers’ to consider the ‘statistical’ evidence and its context in thousands of different schools across Australia.
Now the new powerbrokers I mentioned earlier have realised our students need literacy and numeracy and the capacity to speak, do deals, trade with our Asian neighbours, and need an understanding of their languages and cultures if we are to have a solid base for profitable engagement in the economic opportunities of the Asian century. Hopefully we will not be seen in the different nations of Asia, with their languages and cultures, as ‘the deputy sheriff’, with our universities intellectually hamstrung, because of the Defence Treaty the Australia government, supported by the Opposition, is signing with USA. All the warnings about its
potential impact on our educational independence in thought and action appear to have been ignored.
It is all quantity. It is all utilitarian. There is no mention of delight in learning for its own sake, no mention of the value of making errors and learning from them in an atmosphere that is not punitive. Delight in discovery, the eye-opening effect that wonder provides, the questions it prompts, the searches we decide to undertake that constitute the impetus that so often takes us so much further. Ask me now how far we have come from the world Charles Dickens depicted in Hard Times?
In conclusion, I hope this essay provides a reason for teachers to consider Victorian novels. On the front page of The Professional Educator – Volume 11, Issue 4, June 2012 – we have the picture of a young girl holding open a hard-backed, thick book – looking weighty in contrast to the boy’s iPad – and the title is ‘Hard times for the teaching of Victorian novels’. I agree that ‘Dickens’ characters and settings have much to offer students in any educational setting.’
. I hope I have shown here that the novels of the nineteenth century have much to offer. In this instance, through consideration of Hard Times however I want to appeal to those making decisions that are affecting the structure of schooling and approaches to education being put in place for the rest of this century. These structures are hard to remove once they solidify. And a utilitarian basis for considering education will always put pragmatism before philosophy.
I agree, having taught in different kinds of schools from 1951 to 1992, with those who see NAPLAN as ‘an expensive mistake’. The article by Darragh O’Keefe in The Education Review June 2012 should be a wake up call. However, I am not an academic and have no pretensions to that title. I have been a teacher. I know what we do and have done to try to help children jump the hurdles that examination boards put in front of them. When it was expected, and we had to for so much of the time in the post 1945 world of secondary education, we would ‘teach to the test’. At one school, in one year, I taught boys doing PEB English on Sunday afternoon because the science, maths and tech studies teachers had made the students feel that theirs were the ‘real’, important subjects. Some times, if we thought students were not ready and, incidentally, might bring down the school’s percentage of success in public examinations, we – the administrators and teachers – might encourage students not to sit. In very wealthy schools, students might have a thirteenth year to enable them to develop the emotional as well as the intellectual maturity needed for self-reliance at university.
In South Australia a recent effort to develop students’ capacity to work in cross-curricular ways appears to be being challenged. The SACE required Year 12 ‘research project’, meant to be interdisciplinary to help students recognise the artificiality of discipline boundaries and to enable them to think and work in lateral as well as linear ways at a senior level, is being undermined in some schools and by some teachers, parents and students led to believe, by their schooling, that such interdisciplinary, cross-curricular engagement is not worth while. Only ‘real’ separate subjects are worthwhile. This connective approach is thought to be too hard, demands too much and gets in the way of ‘real’ study. The Bitzers of the world do quite well in the kind of set up that denies the value of the lateral, interconnected approach to feeling and thinking. However, it should be clear from Hard Times that such a rigid, narrow approach to study is not the best for a society facing the uncertainties we face. Students
groomed in such a system might be ‘clever’ but they are likely to lack the emotional maturity and capacity to go on learning and, when necessary changing direction, that Dickens finds in Sissy, that wise young woman.
Erica Jolly, BA (Hons. History), MA (English Literature) MACE December 4st 2012.