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Let's not forget Treehorn

By Phil Cullen - posted Thursday, 3 March 2011

The wasteful multi-million dollar Naplan-based shrinking of Australia's intellectual growth is well on track and nobody seems to care. It's a dangerous extra school burden that no teacher group, no parent group, no school system or department in Australia ever sought. The enormous sum would be better spent on schooling or flood, cyclone and earthquake relief, but the efficacy hawks have to maintain the evil. That's what it is – evil - and it originates from our languid disinterest in the quick-fix, politically inspired revolution.

Australia's apathetic attitude towards schooling reminds us of young Treehorn whose simple story reflects our children's schooling destiny.

'We don't shrink in this class,' said Treehorn's teacher firmly, but Treehorn WAS shrinking, and very inconvenient it was. To begin with he just began tripping over the ends of his trousers, then he got too small to see over the table at meals, but his parents merely told him to sit up. At last he became small enough to walk around under his bed...


'Heaven knows I've tried to be a good mother,' sniffed Treehorn's mother, and paid no more attention. Doctors were no use, in fact none of the grown-ups were any help. In the end it was Treehorn himself who found a way out of his trouble'...says the forewordto "The Shrinking of Treehorn" by Florence Parry Heide, a delightful Young Puffin book published in 1975; and happily still in print. There's an uncomfortable ending that adults will not want to know about.

Now, over thirty years later there are a few million Australian Treehorns, in his age group between five and twelve, whose condition is ignored by almost all grown-ups. Even worse, school children's intellectual growth is being shrunk because nobody seems to care. Schooling has not been a political/election issue for many generations and it ought to be top of the list.

I feel truly sorry for our Aussie school-based Treehorns. They have no real friends. Far too many adults just don't care. When he spoke with his Principal, the response was ...'I'm sorry to hear that, Treehorn. You were right to come to me. That's what I'm here for. To guide. Not to punish, but to guide'....and then dismissed him. 'Goodbye, Treehorn. If you have any more problems, come straight to me, and I'll help you again.'

Treehorn's principal didn't want too much disturbance to his routine. He had a good job and was not much interested in the long-term care-for-kids stuff. Pretending to care was a job-related habit. If Treehorn had changed schools, he'd be lucky to find a professional seems. There is a big difference between a job-principal and a professional one. A professional one will go out on a limb for each pupil and care about their future development and how they are treated by others. Such professionals are in very short supply. I used to know a few, and held high hopes for others. In 2008 though, when our present Australian principal representatives had a chance to explain professional ethics with regard to the dangers in a fear-driven, test-oriented curriculum to Julia, their political controller, they didn't. Talk about a disappointment. They were afraid for their jobs, perhaps. Fear works at all age levels. Because of such timidity our Treehorns' IG [Intellectual Growth] keeps shrinking.

The answer can't be found in a breakfast cereal box, as Treehorn found. It lies in being aggressively professional. Grit.

Before 2010 school year had started, I thought that our Australian classroom teachers were about to lead the world their care for kids. In January, at a national Australian Education Union conference [See:], teachers voted to boycott the immoral, very expensive, learning-destructive, politically-determined, fear-driven Naplan testing program. Wow. I felt sure that they had unanimously passed the AEU motion for professional reasons. I was on Cloud Nine to think that Aussie teachers would certainly lead the world in standing up for professional standards to help our Treehorns to grow. I genuinely thanked God for such an exhibition of professionalism. It was so amazing. History has no record of such a thing. I even suspected that Mary McKillop, a popular teacher looking for a saint's jersey, might have had something to do with it. I was wrong.


I was so disappointingly wrong. The AEU was politically corralled, within a month, as the principals' association had been; and so our Australian Treehorns continue to shrink. And...while the original Treehorn's parents seem to be thoughtless, our Aussie ones seem mindless; and continue to be so. They trust their children to the lassitude of school personnel who quietly obey commands from superordinates and politicians who crow about the fine job they are doing. All of them overlooked the things that children like Treehorn are capable of doing.

In particular young children love learning and, if encouraged in the right way, will love learning for their entire life. Politicians seem to want to drive this love of learning from them. They prefer to believe that fear motivates better than anything else. Parents and teachers accept such precepts without question. "None of the grown-ups are much help," said Treehorn. Poor Treehorns. Poor Australia.

Treehorn sighed,"If we don't say anything, they won't notice."

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About the Author

Phil Cullen is a teacher. His website is here: Primary Schooling.

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All articles by Phil Cullen

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