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Book Promotes Choice In Response To Schools Crisis

New Book Promotes Choice In Response To Schools' Crisis

'The Crisis in New Zealand Schools' is a broadside fired by an education traditionalist at the contemporary educational establishment. It is also a strong plea for parents to be given greater freedom to choose their child's school, author Martin Hames said today.

Outlining the book's approach Mr Hames said it begins by surveying the unhappy evidence on the state of our schools and concludes that the four 'i's' of illiteracy, innumeracy, ignorance and ill-discipline are too widespread for comfort. The book then looks at the philosophies that have increasingly been creeping into our schools under the guise of 'progressive', so called child-centred education, he said.

Mr Hames said 'The Crisis in New Zealand Schools' argues that in all manner of ways there has been a retreat from the transmission of knowledge in our classrooms - from the reduction in content in our national curricula to the reluctance to judge any one culture as superior to any other. He said the book also examines many of the trendy but fallacious ideas often invoked to justify the retreat from teaching and from standards of excellence.

"Most of these ideas involve a change in the balance of power between teacher and pupil: the pupil is now far less teacher-directed than common sense would suggest is wise. "Many teachers have given up their core responsibility of teaching for touchy-feely new roles as 'facilitators', amateur psychologists and social workers - whether it be in their attempts to instil 'self-esteem' in pupils or in their overemphasis on modish nostrums such as 'creativity'," he said.

Mr Hames said the book also looks at the political agenda inextricably bound up with de-emphasising legitimate knowledge. He said that agenda includes an unholy ambivalence towards Western civilisation and its many achievements. After examining the educational philosophies, the book goes on to look closely at three of our national curricula - those for social studies, science and English. It concludes that each is little short of a disaster.

"The social studies curriculum is a mish-mash of topics with no focus and no rigour. It wholly fails to do justice to New Zealand's British and Western heritage.

"The science curriculum seriously overdoses on 'relevance' to personal experience. In consequence, it fails adequately to convey the body of scientific knowledge that has been built up over the centuries.

"The English curriculum gives insufficient attention to reading and writing, and cruelly undervalues our rich heritage of English literature," he said.

Mr Hames said 'The Crisis in New Zealand Schools' examines the fiasco of unit standards, and their reincarnation as achievement standards. He argues that the NCEA will fail to provide consistent, effective nationwide assessment.

The book also looks at why we have a shortage of good teachers, and at the damage that strong and militant teacher unions can inflict on education.

"One of the most important chapters in the book considers whether school choice - or competition between schools - would be feasible. This chapter takes the form of a fictional dialogue. The numerous arguments often mounted against school choice are all seen to fail," Mr Hames said.

Mr Hames sees that as an important finding and argues that one of the reasons why anti-academic and feeble-minded ideas have made such inroads into our schools is that too few educationists are forced to face the results of their own actions. "Reality too rarely intrudes. An unelected and largely unaccountable clique of like-minded people have enjoyed a semi-monopoly status. Thus the final chapter recommends introducing school choice as the main means of tackling an entrenched culture that is failing," Mr Hames said. Mr Hames said 'The Crisis in New Zealand Schools' is written in English - not edubabble - and aims to be of interest to the general reader as well as the education specialist.

John Morris, chairman of the Education Forum, welcomed the release of 'The Crisis in New Zealand Schools'. While noting that the book did not reflect the Forum's official views, he said: "Martin's book is a timely and valuable contribution to the education debate and will help New Zealanders understand many of the problems underlying our education system. For example, the chapters on the NCEA and the teaching profession should be essential reading for anyone wanting an insight into two of the many important issues currently facing students, parents and schools," Mr Morris said.

About the author Martin Hames is a writer who lives in Wellington. He holds first class honours degrees in economics and philosophy from New Zealand universities. He began his career as an economist, working for the Reserve Bank and the National Bank. He then spent five years as economic advisor to Ruth Richardson, including three years in the Beehive. He drew on that experience for his first book, Winston First, a critical and highly unauthorised political biography of one of New Zealand's most controversial politicians. Martin Hames has also been a Herald columnist.

Note: unfortunately the author is not available to talk to any media, due to illness. Further background information on Martin Hames is available on request.

Martin Hames

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