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Tag: nostalgia

It’s not the party it used to be.

“Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day…….”

We would sing songs such as this lustily at parties when I went to university in the 1960s and we really did believe that “they would never end.” Especially when it came to free tertiary education.

Well, it was as close to free as you could wish – I recall paying a services fee of perhaps $70 and that was it. Added to that was the fact that I also had a Secondary  (it might even have been Post-Primary then) Teacher’s Studentship which meant that a wage was paid while I was at university and this bonded me to teach for the same length of time as I had been supported. And…. In addition to all that, holiday employment was easy to get.

So we worked hard and had a really great time at university. I say we because my twin brother and I stuck pretty closely together on these matters. And our only academic distinction is that we were the first set of twins to graduate from the University of Waikato.

These things come to mind as I face going down to Hamilton on Saturday to meet with the “Early Students Reunion”. This is for those who attended Waikato in its first two years 1964 and 1965 and it is part of the year’s 50 year celebrations. It will be great to see what was a pretty tight bunch of students who formed the core student body in those first two years at the Hillcrest site. There were some part-timers as well and especially so after the teachers college opened on the site in about 1965.

And thinking about students and money it is hard to see that the current situation where students stack up debt to quite a considerable degree in order to get a degree is actually an improvement on what used to happen.

This might have driven the odd (in all senses of the word) “professional student” out of the system – there weren’t such people of course in provincial Hamilton back then but when I spent a year at the University of Auckland I was surprised by the apparent occupational class of “full-time-students-not-engaged-in-serious-study and perhaps-in-no-study-at-all!”.

But worse, it leaves graduating students not with the thrill of making a real start in life, a job that might lead to a career. Now, it’s a case of getting an income that will allow them to pay off debt. This means that it takes time for them to develop savings. I wonder, is this part of the issue of young people not being able to afford homes in their mid-twenties? They will just be starting to gain momentum free of debt when other sets of responsibilities come along.

It is pleasing that the Government is countenancing increasingly programmes and initiatives that are free of fees – Youth Guarantee is a good example although this is also driven by the issue of allowing students the same right to a free education that secondary school students enjoy to the age of 19 years. The Maori and Pasifika Trades Training initiative is another good example but again this is in one sense simply giving priority to an under-served group labeled as “priority learners”.

The tired old argument about whether tertiary education is a public good or a private gain needs to be put to one side – it is clearly both. And both outcomes – public good and private gain – are good for the family, the community, the economy and the country. And finding ways of engaging our best young people in teaching by schemes such as the old Div C Studentship should be considered. Ignoring quality can be the only way that the old tired market view that there is no shortage of people wanting to teach therefore there is no need for such an approach can be pursued.

We need top students who will become top teachers, students who are excellent in mathematics and sciences and other subjects, those who are clearly destined to be good leaders, the articulate and the enthusiastic – all qualities and characteristics that can be gauged at a school leaving age.

We thought they’d never end and those might well have been the days – but they did end and these days are not so great for students.

I hope we don’t get morose thinking about this at the reunion.

Cue in music. Start singing.

Once upon a time there was a tavern
Where we used to raise a glass or two
Remember how we laughed away the hours
And dreamed of all the great things we would do


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Pathway-ED: In the name of service

Stuart Middleton
27 April 2011

By golly, when a New Zealander comes over to Australia for a little while you never know just what you are going to find out and it makes you wonder what they are teaching in school and in the education institutions.

I have popped over to Australia (as you do) to attend a conference and arriving on the morning of ANZAC Day I hit the City of Melbourne just as it went into lock-down for the various ceremonies to take place. Apart from leading to one of the most interesting and circuitous taxi rides I have ever taken, it was quite an experience to see the hordes of people that had turned out.

  •  The newspapers and television news programmes were full of the events of the day and here are some impressions, some obtained first hand out on the streets and some second hand through the eye of the media.
  •  There were many young people out there and the media had its annual “glow with pride” about this until one eight year old took the opportunity to tell everyone and anyone who was listening that “My Dad made me come!” with that look on her face that said lots.
  •  I was astonished to see the number of non-Returned Service People who were wearing the medals of others and even marching with the old soldiers. Is this a breach of protocol? Can people wear the medals of others? Leave aside matters of taste and there must surely be some official guidelines on this or will the matter simply be decided by the practice that remains unchallenged.
  • I was even more amazed by the number of young men in suits that were sporting a full chest of a row of medals that were impressive indeed – were they wearing the medals of their older forebears? No, I was told – a very large number of soldiers have seen service with the Australian Forces and that the medals are predominantly service medals. I think quite a few of them wore them to the footy game and on to the celebrations later.
  •  A navy attachment of perhaps 50 men marched in the best traditions of the Senior Service except for one officer in the front rank who confidently marched out of step!

But perhaps the most amazing feature, and this is certainly a change from the last time I was in Australia for ANZAC Day (ten years ago?). New Zealand is virtually absent from the day – “ANZAC” means “Australian” and  the idea that this was a joint military expedition seems now to have been forgotten. Except, that is, for the rugby league between the New Zealand Warriors and the Melbourne Storm. The shared nature of the day was both emphasised and marked with discretion and good taste. On the night the New Zealand Warriors won whereas at Gallipoli no-one could claim the victory.

I have long thought that ANZAC Day deserves a re-think. Eventually and hopefully, if we can avoid adding to the numbers of returned service people by not participating in wars, we might reach a point where the parading of returned soldiers will be replaced by something else. But what? Well perhaps we can start to address the values of ANZAC Day and have a day when we celebrate in our respective countries and in our distinctive ways, those values and their expression in the community.

Foremost among them will be the value of service and what better or higher value could we devote the day to. Just as soldiers gave much in service, many others add to the quality of the lives of others through service that might not be as dangerous but in many cases is as far-reaching in its impact on the community.

Of course this notion will be greeted with a range of reactions from outrage through to a calm consideration of the idea. Better now to think about the future of ANZAC Day and to work hard over the next couple of decades to see it cemented into the fabric of each year than to see it dwindle or lose meaning simply because we had no appetite to think about it.

Three of the above bullet points suggest that the time to start thinking about this might well have arrived. I think that schools well might consider engaging the young ones in thinking about ANZAC Day when they are in command.



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Talk-ED: School turns 100! Looking back on the good old days

Stuart Middleton
7 March 2011

My primary schooling was quite non-Shakespearean and I never recall a day when I was the….

                        …. whining schoolboy, with his satchel,
                        And shining morning face, creeping like snail
                        Unwillingly to school.

I enjoyed primary school I think because I cannot recall any unpleasant experiences, teachers who I didn’t like or other pupils of whom I was afraid – all in all the six years at Frankton Primary School were happy, engaged and unbullied ones. That was typical of those days I think.

Frankton Primary School is to celebrate its centennial soon. My uncles were there on the opening day 100 years ago, my mother went to school there as did my older brothers and my twin brother and I, without thought, I followed in their footsteps. It was the local school and you went to the local school. We walked to school regardless of the weather or the state of the fog generated on a cold morning by the team engines in the railway yards, perhaps a bit over a mile because no-one was driven to school and we didn’t own bikes. We were a driverless walking school bus years before they were thought of and what started as two little fellows leaving home in Greenwood Street would swell to six or seven as we gradually accumulated friends as we passed their houses.

The only day I was picked up by car was when Dad and my uncle were waiting at the school gate to tell us that Grandma had died and in a manner befitting the occasion, drove us home.

Mostly I remember teachers rather than lessons, classrooms rather than activities at lunchtime and a solid education rather than the imprimatur of the badge.

New entrants (I am sure we were not called that) and “primers”. Little blackboards on the wall for the practising of a good writing script, a little “sleep” after lunch on a straw mattress with Miss White’s boot with 5” sole passing perilously close to an eyelid that wasn’t quite shut, regular checks by doctors and nurses who peered and prodded and pronounced us to be healthy and the introduction to school milk.

School milk has become something of a collective memory for our generation in New Zealand. I don’t really recall it being unpleasant as many note when speaking about it and it was a real treat to be the ones who went to the milk stand at the gate and brought back the milk for the class. Actually I am wondering whether this was a later experience, the standards perhaps, because we were little and I doubt my ability to have carried one side of a crate of milk when I was in the primers.

Somewhere along the line in the bigger primers we made little A5 folders for the carrying of our School Journals home for reading practice. Made with an artistic design (for that read uncontrolled scrawl) in crayon on the front and back and then so cleverly coloured with dye with a piece of wide tape down the spine, they served as a useful transport device for those wonderful journals that I am sure have a lot to do with the reading successes of a generation. It was only much later that I came to appreciate that we had been reading writing by some of New Zealand’s best writers – how could we not become great readers?

This might have been later because we cut our reading teeth on Janet and John. Of course we later came to understand that this series was exotic rather the reflective of New Zealand, sexist rather than gender-balanced (Daddy always got to fly in the Viscount), and sociologically biased toward the middle classes (well we were middle class but didn’t have much money as was typical of many at the school). But despite these drawbacks we all learnt to read. And I mean all, failing at something at school was not an option offered to us either at school or at home. Were there students at school in those days who failed? If there were I remained blissfully unaware.

The standards (class levels originally deriving from a set of national standards – isn’t life full of irony!) were more about getting on with arithmetic and writing and Nature Study and learning to draw the flags of many places provided they were coloured red on the map, signalling the great siblinghood of the British Empire. Loyalty to the King was briefly observed then a young Queen took over and saw me through my schooling. The coronation was a highlight of Standard 1with a concertina drawing of the State Coach bearing her to the Abbey to be crowned and the presentation of a medal – I still have both of these.

There being no TV, great events such as the coronation saw us all bussed to a picture theatre in town (i.e. Hamilton) where we saw it all in colour  and were happy little monarchists as we were transported back to school.

Frankton in those days was on the fringes of settlement in the wider Hamilton area and many country kids came to school there. So there was the Calf Day (I don’t why lambs were not accorded titular respect but they were there) when the country kids brought their beasts to school and an extraordinary number of ribbons were awarded it seemed to us townies. As part of the democratisation process the “Calf Day” turned into a “Pets Day”. My brother and I along with a mate took two hens along, towed under netting in a little cart pulled by a tightly-held goat (none of our animals were very willing participants). We did not get a prize which was compensated for when our photos appeared in the Waikato Times – so much for all the flash-harry pets!

World War II was still pretty fresh in the minds of the grown-ups (less so in ours of course) and the school was quite military in that every class lined up at the start of the day and when the battalion of the ignorant was steady they would march off to stirring military tunes to do battle against ignorance, inkwells and inquisitions from teachers about homework. In my last year as the Yellow House Leader I would, along with my fellow girl Leader, stand upstairs at the staffroom window to award points to the quickest platoon to reach parade standard and give the signal for the march to begin – reviewing the fleet had nothing on this.

I could go quite a bit more and probably shall!

They were good days but my schooling was modest in a typically get-on-with-the-job New Zealand school and, looking back, as sound as one could hope for. The only thing Shakespearean about my primary schooling was the motto: “To thy own self be true.”

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Pathway-Ed: One lad's tale from the past

Stuart Middleton
EdTalk NZ
10 February 2011

Back in the 1950’s a young boy was approaching the end of his intermediate schooling and the move onto a secondary school was looming. Along with the rest of his mates he was given an enrolment form and instructed to take it home and fill it in.  He did so with some help from his parents. He cannot recollect the conversation that night but the result was that he was enrolled in a technical high school to undertake a course in carpentry, one of the options in the technical course.

He picks up his story…….

“In those days, the late 1950’s, New Zealand secondary schools were organised into stratified courses based on the split between what I now understand as academic and vocational. I also later came to understand that there was an undercurrent of perceived and even assessed ability that guided the advice given and the choices made. You were expected to enrol in a school and also into a course. I know now that “Academic” usually meant two languages and “General” one language. “Technical” was for the industrial arts with tracks through metal, wood and technical drawing and it was almost exclusively for the boys. The girls were directed into “Commercial” or “Home Economics”. This tracking approach was very much oriented to the role of the secondary school in providing the bridge between the basic education of the primary school and the special skills needed for employment. It was not by accident that secondary schools were more likely to be referred to as “post-primary” schools than they were to be called “secondary schools”. Going to secondary school was, and especially for my family, the next step in heading into a job.

 In fact I never got to the technical high school. My intermediate school principal intervened and told my parents that I should not be going to a technical high school and I should not be doing a course to be a carpenter. This advice puzzled, perhaps even troubled, my parents. My mother had been to that particular school a long time previously of course. My two brothers had been there and one had done the very same course that I was enrolled in.

 “Why?” she asked the intermediate principal.

 “Because he is academic and should be doing an academic course – that school doesn’t offer one,” she was told.

 This caused some consternation. No-one in our family had ever been called academic. We never thought of ourselves as academic. We had little or no understanding of just what that meant but we did appreciate that to get certain jobs you took different courses, that is why we had chosen technical. Perhaps even there was a feeling that all this academic business was a little above our station in life. Eventually it was agreed that I should undertake an academic course and therefore change the school in which I was enrolled. The intermediate school recommended the local boys school but this was declined on the grounds that I was too small. Fortunately a multicourse secondary school had recently opened and was offering the full range of programmes.

 I started off in Form 3 in a cohort of about 200 students organised into programmes – Academic, General, Technical (Boys), Commercial (Girls) and Home Sciences (Girls). Four years later at the beginning of my last year at high school, the beginning of what is now Form 7 (Year 13, Grade 12), the twelve survivors of this cohort were paraded as an example to the incoming third formers, of quite what I am not sure but it was probably an exhortation to work hard and to value education. In my second year at high school, they introduced a Form 4 Certificate so that “most students would receive some recognition of their post-primary education” – I still have it. A lot of my mates left school after that to go into jobs and a small band of us was left to undertake study at the senior level. Having little background in such work and receiving little guidance and help, it was a matter of survival by observation and experimentation. Failure was perilously close on many occasions. My level of preparation for work at the senior secondary level was simply inadequate in terms of my understanding what really was required.

 My home valued education highly but it was beyond our experience all this academic stuff. Given study leave for School Certificate the puzzle was what did you do with those three days? How did you work in a self-directed manner? At that time there was no assistance with any of this and there were quite a few times when the security of the known – preparing to be a carpenter – looked to be a pretty good option. My results were marginal. I scraped through School Certificate but a “pass” was a pass and there was little talk of how many marks had been gained.  I was then accredited University Entrance and to this day, I am not at all confident that I could have passed had I had to sit the examination.  Any way I got through school and moved on, but that is another story.”

And how did this boy end up? He did OK. This story ends in the same way as the endings of so many stories played repeatedly on radio request sessions back then. . . . . . .

“I know because I was that boy.”


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Desk-top memories

Stuart Middleton
New Zealand Education Review
Vol. 14 No.23, 19 June 2009, p.16
APN Educational Media (NZ) Ltd.

Shifted house, downsized and there is no room for my single-seater school desk so I have put it in my office. And much comment it has prompted I must say.

It is interesting that you can deduce a lot about the nature of education and the times as they are revealed in a piece of furniture such as this.

For a start it is made out of beautiful Kauri timber. Many of these grand trees of the forest must have been committed to providing seats for school kids over the years. Still it was a time when native timbers were plundered for use as housing framing and flooring. But clearly there was little teaching about renewable resources and the importance of sustainable forest management.

The seats are in the nature of stable boxes or the stalls in a cow shed. They provided a clear anchor for students and kept them sitting nice and straight facing in the proper direction – which would have been the front of the room – with little movement other than on the prompting of the teacher. These were classrooms in which students undertook one-way instruction and daily gave thanks for that which they were about to receive. Along with the discipline of the seating arrangements would have gone another discipline of hands up and permission given prior to the offering of an answer.

The top of the desk itself is offset to the right. Of course, all normal students were in those days right-handed and lefties were not to be encouraged. Fixed attitudes would also have underpinned how writing was taught and there would only have been latitude for individual style at a later age.

This desk has a feature that is nice – the top also slides backwards and forwards to allow students of more ample proportions to enter and exit the stall. This particular desk came from a secondary school – a Catholic girls’ school actually and Sister Augustine would not be pleased at all at what was written under the desk top. Graffitti is one of those things that has given rise to legends about how outrageous things were said but I wonder if it was more talked about than practised. Hacking grooves into the edges seems more to ave been the work of idle hands than any attempt to break out!

This desk has its original inkwell, a lovely ceramic receptacle with a concave top with a hole in the middle. What a pleasure it was to be chosen to fill the inkwells. Taking a bottle of Stephens Ink – usually black or blue/black – the chosen one would then walk around the room filling inkwells from the lovely neck of the bottle that was complete with a little pouring spout. Now, many of those who see the inkwell launch into a story about how their mother had her pigtails dipped in the inkwell presumably by the loathsome boy or horrid girl in the desk behind. 

Again I wonder if this really happened or was it one of those urban classroom myths that have persisted.

In Standard 3 and Standard 4 I sat in the double seater version of a desk like this. You certainly had to get on well with the other inhabitant but I don’t recall any real issues apart from the odd bit of cheating in which we led each other astray.

It was quite a routine to have a desk inspection. The class would be given a warning of the inspection and there would be some frantic cleaning out of paper, the odd old school lunch or part thereof plus perhaps items of clothing worn to school but not worn home. “Don’t forget to bring home your green jersey,” had been the parting words from Mum for a week now.

Surprisingly the last two years of primary school were the only years I sat in a desk such as this. In the primers we sat on Lilliputian chairs at low tables – but I am really very confused about all this. In Standard 1 and Standard 2 we have new square desks with lift-up tops. But in Standard 3 and Standard 4 it was over to Mr Burr in the old block with the original furniture. My picture of him is of a short man sitting behind the old style teacher’s desk – the oblong one with the 4 inch upstand across the front of it. This was rimu I imagine as I have one and it is rimu. The room was very full of furniture.

I bought my old student desk through TradeMe and was surprised at the number of school desks for sale. Actually it appeared at that time that there was actually a school selling off its furniture over the web. The items for sale were not antiques or perhaps even worth much but they were clearly the square student desk on a tubular frame and I wondered how good an image this was for a school and for education.

Where would it end? It might be a good thing to have a giant education jumble sale as a fund raiser at a central city site. Old School Journals (I would be in for these), unused scientific equipment, sports gear no longer needed and old, really old school desks would be a great attraction I would have thought. But what would the Auditor General have to say? There must be a huge amount of stuff lying around schools that is worth something but is of little value to a school.

But I wouldn’t trade my little desk for anything. I am small in stature so can sit at the desk and work. It is just right for writing with a fountain pen. Now…. that reminds me. On the desk is a little wire stand just up by the inkwell for the placing of the nib pen. This seems to me to be a gracious touch. I have only recently understood the teacher’s joke all those years ago when I asked what it was for. “That’s for his nibs!” he said with a smile on his face.

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Unpacking boxes, finding memories

Stuart Middleton
New Zealand Education Review
Vol. 14 No.15, 24 April 2009, p.16
APN Educational Media (NZ) Ltd.

I have just shifted house and have come to realise that the act of unpacking has something of the excitement of an archaeological dig about it as layers of items are revealed, the tissue paper gently put aside, the bubble wrap giving a distended glimpse of whatever is inside.

Many more, than I might have realised, of the bits and pieces that were dragged across the suburb had an education link and this surprised me. Foremost amongst these was the sigle seater kauri school desk. It is over 100 years old and was recently restored in a most caring way that would have found approbation on The Antiques Roadshow.

“This is a most splendid example of the New Zealand school desk from the late Habens or possibly early Hogben era. Tell me, did you use this type of desk yourself?” “Well actually only in Standard 3 and 4 where we had the double seater model.” Ah yes, that was a later innovation. I adore the patination of the desk, the delicious ink drops around the inkwell. And this is what sends shivers down my spine – an original white ceramic inkwell. Thank you so much for bringing it along. The problem is that it doesn’t easily fit in the new place!

Not like the rimu teachers desk that I got for the new study, that fits, but only just! It has the same ink stains. I remember being chosen to go around the classroom with the large bottle of Stephens Ink with the little pourer at the top of the neck. It was with great power that each inkwell would be filled. The desk has an upstand around the front that always faced the class and approaching the desk, especially if summoned, had all the solemnity of Judge Judy – “Please approach the bench!” But it is a grand teacher’s desk.

Packing up was full of surprises. I came across an aged brown paper bag that had treasures of school in it. The items given to us when Queen Elizabeth II visited in 1953 – a medal with a blue ribbon and a fold out concertina-picture of the state coach – were especially fun. So too were some secondary school artefacts – the sergeant’s stripes from the school cadets.

Let me make clear that I gained these stripes while playing in the school band. At the start of the school year all the boys in the school were lined up on the field in order of height so as to make up platoons of boy-soldiers that looked good on parade. My brother and I were second and third from the end. A tiny little fellow was at the end. Well we were placed in the last platoon – tiny soldiers too small to carry a gun! It was either this humiliation or joining the band and eventually making the level of the three stripes – no, not adidas!

Finding each little memento triggered memories and stories, some told truthfully, others embroidered by time’s multicoloured threads.

Then there were the boxes of the kids stuff – her three girls and my two boys. Why do girls save old school uniforms? And school magazines while boys save little that their father hasn’t thought to put aside. One box had all the school reports from father and two sons. I can say confidently and on the strength of this robust sample that reporting improved dramatically between the 1950’s and the 1980’s. The only example of my own school work that I appear to have kept is a Camp Diary written for a Form 1 camp in 1957. I must say that if I was in my own class 15 years later I would have been repeating much of the work – it was pretty unformed in every sense of that word, scrappy and untidy. I assume the ticks on each page meant to indicate that it has been sighted.

What worries me a little is that I have yet to find the box with the various collections (well that is rather a grand word for it) of school journals, reading series, Biggles and The Hardy Boys. They must be here somewhere waiting their turn.

School Journals were an amazing feature of New Zealand schools and provided generations of little readers with little readers to cherish and, proudly, to take home for reading each night. Often this was done in a little cardboard folder carefully made and decorated (crayon and dye again!). Little readers had access to the work of such writers as Frank Sargeson, Janet Frame, Elsie Locke, Witi Ihimaera, Patricia Grace, Joy Cowley and Margaret Mahy who published her first work in a School Journal. Poets such as Alistair Campbell and James K. Baxter were presented alongside playwright Roger Hall and writers Jack Lasenby and Anthony Alpers and artists Roy Cowan and Juliet Peter and E Mervyn Taylor. Children were allowed to read the best of those who wrote and illustrated. What a goldmine it was.

And there is a copy of a Broadcast to School booklet – just like a School Journal but printed to go with the regular broadcasts to school – remember when the loud speakers were vehicles for the delights of music and singing and the spoken voice rather than the squawking purveying of messages and admonitions from those who must be heard despite not being seen?

The last treasure I come across is an old book, a copy of The Education System by A G Butchers published by the National printing Co. Ltd. of Auckland in 1932. Butchers earlier wrote another book called After Standard IV., What? and here we are in 2008 still asking what is essentially the same question. I often dip into this book to remind me that education is a profession of tradition and nowhere more so than in the issue it grapples with. Butchers deals with the hot topics of the day – assessment, funding, control, the structure of the system, how to keep kids in school, and many more.

It’s a bit like shifting houses – we still get up in the morning, go to school and come home at night. What takes so long to put stuff in cartons and to take them out again are the many little journeys of remembering that it all unpacks.

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