Tear down the wall

Stuart Middleton
New Zealand Education Review
Vol. 14 No.11, 27 March 2009, p.16
APN Educational Media (NZ) Ltd.
Wellington

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall….[1]

I wonder from time to time whether the notion of sectors has outlived its usefulness. It seems to me that the walls we place in the way of young students have become something of a series of barriers. I wonder whether the walls that divide the sectors serve a real purpose that is related to the progress of students. Or are they an historical anachronism?

From time to time the landscape would send shivers that challenged the walls. There is a developing debate about the location of early childhood services. Intermediate schools grew in response to the demographic earthquake after the Second World War sprouting from the ruins of the Junior High School experiment that never went anywhere. Various reforms attempt to dislodge the rocks. We have several integrated campuses that bring primary and secondary together. We are developing Junior High Schools and Senior High Schools. Much attention is starting to be paid to the transition from secondary to postsecondary.  But this all happens in the absence of any debate about sectors. If gaps occur we find new and ingenious ways to plug them.

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast….

Refoms and various developments do not, it seems, challenge what we do to any great extent. Largely because, just like the two farmers in the poem, we carefully replace any fallen rock.

And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go…..

Reports, commissions, even the royal ones, tend to confirm the status quo and as steady as the farmers, set the rocks back in place again. When issues of pay parity were being argued there was strong support for a view that said that distinctions between the sectors were to some extent spurious. But when it comes to teaching and learning, to school organisation, to the organisation of teaching labour there is no debate. We simply assume that because it has always been thus, it should always be so.

Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.

There is a need for us to have a discussion about why sectors should have the hard edges around them. Could it be that the best location for early childhood services really is inside a primary setting? And what logic deems that children should go away for a particular Christmas holiday to return to education as something else. Could it be that some students should move earlier and others later? And why are some Christmas holidays more important than others.

What is it that demands the walls? We sometimes hear the comforting clichés such as “We’re teaching children they teach subjects!” Would that we did both in all sectors! Is there a curriculum justification for the placement of the walls? Is it based on some understanding of how learning occurs? Is it related to social development? Physical development? Why this obsession with grouping students in age cohorts? What are we protecting here?

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.

And this is the crux of the matter. We are busily working on a new curriculum for schools and this presents an opportunity to ask how the lack of seamlessness in the organisation of education contributes to the development of lifelong learners who are connected.

An education system with many flexible opportunities but without barriers is not a new idea. “The Minister of Education is currently working with the education community to design a way of resourcing this seamless education system to allow these educational opportunities to flourish and to build an education system for the twenty-first century. Education must provide strong foundations, and a wide range of opportunities thereafter, to meet the diverse needs of all New Zealanders. The education system must be without barriers to participation and life-long learning.”[2] The Minister was Dr Lockwood Smith, the year was 1993, the government was a National government.

The farmers continue until the wall is once again strong and the one that wonders about walls make little progress with his neighbour who has been brought up to believe in certain things.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down…..’
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”


[1] Mending Wall  Robert Frost
[2] Ministry of Education (1993) Education for the 21st Century, Wellington. 

One comment

  1. Home Schooling Programs are necceasry at least to supplement the educaction in the schools

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