The good news--looking towards home-schooling.
In those years leading to his retirement, however, he became progressively dismayed at the effect that the new, highly politicised theories of learning would have. These were replacing the emphasis on the importance of extending children imaginatively, and of opening the windows to wonderful worlds of knowledge--as far as possible to each--according to his or her strengths.
The new emphasis was on a levelling process to produce a spurious "equality of outcomes". In other words, it was derived from basically an envy-based philosophy designed to remove from children seen as brighter, or unfairly advantaged, any advantages they might have. The curriculum was to be dumbed down--in theory to be in reach of everybody. Places and classes were to go, as were external examinations. The teacher unions were to be further infiltrated to manipulate and intimidate their own membership. And it all gradually happened, according to plan.
The most important emphasis was on controlling the minds of children, those who would then grow-up steeped in the prevailing, highly politicised education philosophy of the day, unexposed to genuine standards of excellence and quality learning, and, in particular, deprived of learning how to use their own language competently. Removing grammar and syntax from the schools' curriculum was an absolute must. These are, after all, the tools of thinking. And a thinking population was certainly not the aim of those who had gradually infiltrated the education bureaucracy.
Even as recently as the '90s, the gullible Lockwood Smith, Minister of Education, proudly boasted that grammar and syntax had been removed from his new curriculum. After a more promising start, he gradually fell into the hands of the Wellington bureaucracy, persuaded that all that was needed was for individuals to be able to "communicate". The consequences of his and others' shoddy thinking , failing to recognise the agenda behind the dumbing down of education, is still very much still with us.
So, why the good news? It was the realisation that unless the control of education was removed from the very much-entrenched agendists ruling over schools--principals, teachers, parents --with a velvet-gloved fist no there was no hope of improvement. A thoroughly dumbed-down school day filled with the displacement activities crowding out real learning would continue.
So the fight-back is here, with the growing number of children now being home-schooled. Its possibilities have increasingly been brought home to me while observing the dilemma of parents, themselves well-educated, being faced with a very bright child who could read well before she went to a state school. Now, only six and with an omnivorous appetite for acquiring knowledge. She is loving Arthur Ransome's wonderful Swallows and Amazons series of books for older children, The Famous Five ... and any books of discovery and real learning she can get her hands on.
She won't be on her own. Children's wonderful natural curiosity and love of learning is very strong in those first years of school, before too often they slip into boredom, fobbed off with the second-rate, and with constant infotainment and distractions dumped on them. I think of the cartoon-illustrated, banal, basically vulgar and utterly unimportant The Wonky Donkey, successfully pushed on teachers and parents to the extent it became the year's top-selling book and song. Nothing succeeds like publicity, and the publicity being given to basically rubbishy children's books with crude titles like The Queen's Knickers has ensured they are widely offered to children.
We should be doing far better. However there is a real dilemma for parents who know how little of genuine substance our primary schools are offering. For example, a mother with three or four young children, perhaps herself with a university degree, may long for when she can claim back some time for herself, much as she may love her children. Then there are families with few choices, as years of government mismanagement have forced the necessity for two breadwinners working outside the home, to survive. However, there are many who could help mount a highly noticeable challenge to our state schools.
And among these the number is growing, with children being raised at home and taught how to find learning exciting; how to make a foreign language their own at an early age; how to develop imagination and empathy by learning the great poetry of the past; reading the classic stories passed down from generation to generation; how to develop their understanding and wisdom by exposure to the old myths; legends, fables and proverbs (A wild goose never laid a tame egg ... Fine words butter no parsnips ... Look before you leap ...); learning of the men and women who fought to shape our world to leave it a better place for their own children; of other peoples and places; learning how fascinating it is to study nature; embarking on the experiments leading to the world of scientific discovery ... and above, all learning how to be good, moral people.
Apart from formal requirements to teach reading, writing and arithmetic, very little now of any real value is taught in our primary schools and these often poorly so. But the good news for parents (an issue to be further explored in future), is that any wishing they could make the choice to home-school their own child are not alone. With the now literally hundreds home-schooling throughout the country, in close supportive contact, it is entirely possible for a small number to combine, each teaching according to their strengths, and able to structure some time off for themselves--while ensuring much more than the schools can deliver is offered to their children. A highly experienced home-school mother with several children points out that the school week's curriculum can usually be taught in two or three days at the very most. Throughout all the years she has home-schooled, she has still worked from home. And meanwhile, the opportunity for these children to extend their learning to study formal art, music, ballet, gymnastics, for access to sport and other specialised subjects can be embraced within this learning time--instead of having to be fitted in after-school, or in weekends.
We have known for some time now that home-schooled children here and overseas well outperform those emerging from our state schools. Home-schooling can be tailored according to their individual needs--a very hard task indeed for a class teacher of about 30 pupils to tackle.
As this movement grows, it offers the best challenge of all to the education establishment, underpinned by our political parties whom it has served well, during their term of office, to have at hand an education bureaucracy available to advance politicised agenda.
Watch this space to learn more of what is possible through the home-schooling movement, and the very positive experiences of those who have so successfully helped spread this movement.
[c] Amy Brooke