Archive for July 2020

O wad some Power the giftie gie us…..

Baby Boomers(1946 to 1964); Generation Jones (1955 to 1965); Generation X (1965 to 1980); Xennials (1977 to 1983); Millennials (1981 to 1996); Generation Z (1997 and after); Generation Alpha (2010 and after).

We know all these various appellations used to describe successive generations from time to time. As a generalisation they work but of course they do not reflect the scale of difference within each generation.

I must declare at once that I am classed as a “Baby Boomer”. We grew up under the shadow of World War II. The six years of the war were still forefront in my parents’ minds and the stories were abundant. Quite regularly when looking through photo albums and asking where were the relatives we had never met, the answer was often “the didn’t come back from in the war.” There was no rushing to the western front to see them – just a telegram delivered by the local postman.

The mood of the Baby Boomers over the years has been one of sorrow for the deceased tempered with thankfulness for being alive. And younger generations might not even know that bacon, butter, sugar, meat, and petrol were rationed from the end of the war up to 1954. There were no mad panics about buying toilet paper nor storming of the grocery shop as happened recently in New Zealand. You had your coupon book and that was what you could have.

It is the pattern of human behaviour in an epidemic that contrasts so dramatically with the patterns of behaviour in a conflagration that astound me. Are Baby Boomers fundamentally wired in a different way to Millennials? They must be otherwise how can the contrast in reaction and behaviour of the two groups be so different. And just what are those differences?

The demands of those who wish to avoid quarantine, the strident demands from non-essential retail shops, the exuberant lining up for salary and expense top-ups for Decile 10 schools, the events in Victoria, Australia – all paint a picture of a generation or two that have a highly elevated sense of entitlement.

Contrast, on the one hand, the treatment handed out to farmers throughout New Zealand over the years in times of drought and floods and cyclones and stock disease outbreaks. There seemed to be a view in governments (on both sides) that those events were normal risks of doing business that you had to simply manage. On the other hand, the treatment of coffee shops, bars and pretty well all business seemed to be uncritically in favour of instant recompense for risk.

The point of raising these concerns is to ask how much the education system has contributed to the traits of the community. Education earned some praise for getting materials and devices out to students, developing TV initiative which was novel and, in the tertiary sector, development of a huge online capability was impressive. But I note that students at the universities in Auckland and Wellington are complaining about the in-line tuition. Once again entitlement trumps gratitude. They claim they are being shortchanged, that they want face-to-face tuition. I only hope that these cries are coming only from a small minority who capture the attention of a rapacious media thirsty for doom and despair. Their complaints don’t wash when they immediately flee into Facebook for their social life.

It is at this point that the argument fails – generalisations based on the all-too-easy names for generations inadequately characterise groups born in various decades. It is more the truth there are only good people and some others.

Don’t trust illusions

The arbitrary assigning of specific ethnicities to a couple of politicians recently has reminded us that some care is needed, training required and probably a bit a pause for thinking about it all. The perpetrators, both excellent people forced into quick thinking on the fly, made assumptions first about their own knowledge and secondly were caught into a no-win situation getting into a discussion about diversity.

Early in my time as a secondary school principal I learnt a little about my own knowledge. Having arriving at a school directly from teaching (in a teachers college) courses about Multicultural Education, Sylvia Ashton-Warner and suchlike I thought I knew quite bit about cultural difference etc. But this turned out to be to an embarrassing trap.

One day a distraught Pasifika mother arrived at the school upset about examination fees. I was out and about the school just then and was summoned to the office. Yes, she was greatly irritated and with justification. There was a group standing with her in the foyer and I invited them all into my office to talk it through. I knew how to handle the situation, I was experienced with Pasifika situations, I knew that the basic tenant was to first seek to understand and then be understood. And over perhaps 20 minutes we had sorted it all out.

I then thanked the group that was with the Mum, assured them that I valued the support they had given and invited them to speak. I sat back with some satisfaction that I had done well. But I was not prepared for the response. In a gentle voice one of the group said “We do not know her, we were standing by the office and you made us all come into your office!” I later was told, which rubbed a little into my wounds, that the group did not share the same ethnicity as the troubled Mum

A little learning is indeed a dangerous thing.

I have a feeling that “diversity” is not quite as helpful as a concept as perhaps “cultural inclusion” might be. Targeted cultural inclusion programmes that first address issues of personal knowledge and skills in a diverse setting are then able to move to issues of implementation, and strategy, and performance and outcomes based on the specific needs of whatever the area of desired impact is – the market, a business, a school, a community, a church and so on.

Diversity is not in the eyes of a beholder but exists in the minds and feelings of real and different people who will not be undifferentiated in their views and needs and who will require different things if their growth, wealth and happiness is to be nourished.

So getting back to the politicians, the issue is not a head count because that will not in itself guarantee outcomes. But if the issues, policies and outcomes are built in an equitable and collegial fashion by a group that can bring different perceptions, different aspirations and sound responses that reflect the communities they come from, we can expect their impact to be visible and life enhancing.

But we need to watch our own role and the quality of the knowledge and skills we personally bring to the task.

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Alexander Pope

What’s cooking in the NCEA world?

There is a rumour round the traps that attention might soon fall again on NCEA – some people just can’t leave it alone. Over the years, attention has fallen on perceived issues related to the number of credits, the so-called slip/sliding of standards, the relationship between NCEA and other qualifications including foreign examinations and so on. It has even had the formation of a Review Group that drew up some tired possibilities for beating it up. Meanwhile it has gone on offering opportunities for success to many students. It has survived its difficult birth and teenage years to become a rather sturdy twenty-odd-year something.

There are good reasons for this – it has played a central and useful part in an education system that was largely unable to bring focus into the curriculum and to spread success across the range of students in something like an equitable manner. Other developments such as the introduction of secondary/tertiary programmes, the supplementing of the secondary school offerings through the trades academies and the availability of Youth Guarantee (YG) places in tertiary institutions have been useful allies of NCEA.

The YG places have come in for some criticism but this is harsh – the criticism that they were not all that successful in moving students through Level 3 programmes is an elegant misunderstanding of the way in which student pathways develop. One of the promises of Vocational Pathways was that students would have studied a set of subjects and developed a set of skills which had integrity and cohesion prior to reaching Level 3.

Vocational Pathways were introduced in a not fully formed state and with minimal discussion of their role in the secondary school and place in the student pathway. Consequently, they became more useful in as a a posteriori summation of what a student had done (and often the result surprised the student) rather than be a powerful means of an a priori planning tool which would help students shape a pathway that went towards potential careers thus giving a student direction and purpose in their work.

The random completion of NCEA credits combined with the light impact of Vocational Pathways left students still perplexed about their futures until they were at about the end of Level 2 and starting Level 3. At the gateway to tertiary study they realised that they were on a path that had less attraction than a different pathway when it came to working through the more focussed tertiary programmes. Suddenly they needed to make a horizontal correction in their direction and enrol in a appropriate Level 2 programme instead of the Level 3 the YG placement was contingent of their continuing to Level 3 even though they felt ill-prepared and in doing so some did not succeed.

The rumour is that a group is going to undertake a TROQ-Junior exercise because their considered opinion is that there are too many NCEA courses in similar vocational areas. The catalyst for this appears to be a sudden awareness that there are 23 cooking courses – surely one would do?

Well if any of this is correct, let’s hope that those engaged in an exercise that will be difficult, first understand why this has happened – if it has! And if it has, is it such a bad thing?

Education, Planting Seeds and Facing the Forces

It was a stormy kind of day as I drove to a colleague’s funeral out South. My habitual rat run to the Manukau cemetery took me through Papatoetoe and especially along a typical and modest suburban street called Birdswood Ave.

I got into this habit because in 1970 a class of girls and boys, my form class at papatoetoe high School, had been invited by the Mayor of Papatoetoe to plant kowhai trees along both sides of the street as a public service marking another Arbour Day. They were excited to about the same extent as I was apprehensive – this class was a group of students who had sets of experiences in school that were less than encouraging. As happens in schools this class had collected around them all of the descriptions of students with issues – some accurate , some pretty offensive, some downright ignorant and all mostly derogatory and negative.

But scratch the surface and they were suburban kids growing up with uncertainties, with suspicions and still to settle into school – they were in the Fourth Form after all!

Arbour Day went well, surprising some of the staff, pleasing both the the Mayor and me the students left the scene of their civic contribution as a street that would be enhanced by two rows of Kowhai Trees.

Each time I drove along that street those trees which over fifty years had generally grown to significant size with the best of them reaching the powerlines and of substantial girth, gave me great pleasure. They reminded me of the different students and the differences they each brought to school even though they were, like those trees, sharing a genus. Just as the trees had grown into different shapes in their idiosyncratic way, so too would those students have turned out differently and, like the trees, mostly well-formed and successful in ways that brought pleasure to people.

But entering the street last Saturday I saw ahead of me signs of disturbance – fire engines, some police cars and people milling around. A small tornado had ripped of the roofs of about ten houses and damaged quite a number of the largest Kowhai trees in the street. The worst were snapped at the base as if made of balsa and many others stripped of branches and foliage. Quite a scene of some angry forces in the face of which they had no defence. This event went unnoticed by the media who could find better tornadoes in better streets that weekend.

Was this a playing out of the pathetic fallacy? It seemed appropriate that human emotion should be attributed to what had happened as selected trees, each planted by a young person, was damaged to varying extents which ranged from those left mostly unscathed through to complete destruction, snapped in two, ripped out of the ground.

So too would this class, now in their sixties, have grown in different ways, met certain forces and fates. Education is about planting seeds and saplings but some times the results are at the mercy of forces that are beyond the reach of our endeavours.

I shall continue to drive down to the airport and the cemetery along that street. I shall continue to think of that class in 1970, and I shall keep an eye on the next generation of trees as they grow in Birdswood Ave.