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The age of contempt and absurdity

By Phil Cullen - posted Friday, 30 December 2011

On history’s page, Australian compulsory schooling is enduring the very worst of times. While some pre-1960 eras were dominated by public examinations of various kinds, they were motivated for the clearest of reasons; not all of them healthy, but clear in their intent: preparing primary school children for the rigours of subject-centred schooling, and secondary school children for developing chosen interests further. Things are not clear any more. The reasons for present day blanket testing are dark and nefarious, linked to profiteering and political ambitions with little thought for children’s future or national welfare. That state of affairs has no precedent.

High Stakes Testing

There never has been a time that so many absurdities have occurred. During the past few years, schooling, in the USA, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, has become a pure-and-simple test-driven, fear-based operation for a large, important part of each school year. The face of teaching has changed to test preparation because big business wants it to be. The professional advancement of productive teaching-learning strategies that have been developed over the past fifty years has been contempuously ignored. ‘Testing’ has become a special subject that dominates school time and pushes creative aspects of the school curriculum out of the way, because the controllers beyond the class-teaching profession still believe in quack medicine. It has to taste terrible to work.

Amongst the biggest of businesses in the world is test publishing. It’s raison d’etre is greed, certainly not school improvement.


The wonderful work that primary schools in Australia do now, despite the enormous unwanted and useless test-based intrusions into their administrative time and their teaching time, is testimony to the potential greatness of this country, that will be revealed in post-election 2014 when its schools should be allowed to operate in a professional manner. That’s a prediction. No tests. While the present political direction is backwards, many classrooms are challenging it, even though it is especially tough on the teachers of Years 3, 5, 7, 9.

Test publication is big, big business. The tests themselves don’t teach. They are “kids’ pages” type questions in which bubbles are filled in. It’s a straight-out contest in which the person who prepares the test question has to be beaten. That’s about all; and, fancifully, some parents believe that the results indicate how well their child is doing at school. Schools themselves believe that they are on trial, so they have to practice to beat this non-school person who makes up the items on the test. To help beat the tests in Australia, Kalaci Press aka Pascal Press prepare ‘Excel NAPLAN – style tests’. These are books of NAPLAN-type tests for practice, practice, practice. Teachers, parents and schools purchase them and they are used in some schools as text-books. Kip McGrath has recently bought in to the Kalaci/Pascal empire, by the way. [Kip McGrath franchisees have made the most of the opportunity for pleasant profits, helping pupils who fall behind.] Can’t blame them. Ned robbed a bank for the same reason.

A for-profit connection of Australian test publishing and test-preparation companies and their alliance with the Murdoch-Klein techno-testing empire has yet to be made public. There may not be a close connection as yet, but it would be naive to believe that there won’t be....soon. In the climate of absurdity, Australia will do what the emperor wants....unless parents say something about it. A case study and its implications presented itself in Queensland recently. A State School included ‘Excel NAPLAN practice test books’ on its book list for 2012 for parents to purchase [$24.95 each]. Some parents objected. They could see that a part of each school day would be used just working through examples of tests and nothing else. They know that there will be a severe pruning of the full curriculum and of learning what learnacy [how to learn] brings, in the odd-numbered year levels for the first four months of the school year. Some Interesting scenarios emerge, don’t they?

  1. Are arrangements made at the school for the children of such parents to learn [say] mathematics in a different style from just doing practice tests. If so, who teaches them?
  2. If sufficient parents at a large school opt-out [i.e. indicate to the school that they don’t want their children to do the NAPLAN tests], will classes at the school be arranged as NAPLAN and non-NAPLAN classes? If not, why not?
  3. Will there be NAPLAN and non-NAPLAN state schools in the future, if the testing idea persists?

School principals, who have to manage these sorts of things, are unsure of their place. Ethics? Do they stick up for kids and known learning principles, or do they just hand out the brick-bats and bouquets as the neglected-incarcerated children pass through their school along the test controller’s assembly line?

Testing programs in schools throughout the world, in this unfortunate age, are so-obviously absurd and dangerously manipulated. Mark Twain said, “Sometimes I wonder if the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it?” and, don’t forget that George Orwell suggested that this manipulation of social institutions [especially schools that NAPLAN controls] is “...a condition that leads to the destruction of a free society, controlled by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth and manipulation of the past.” This is working well in Australia . It’s noticeable. Unpersons comply and the rest of us encourage them by our silence. It is a sad page of history that our Aussie children, presently at school, endure. They are treated with gross contempt and gold-medal absurdity.

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About the Author

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

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Phil Cullen

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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