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Liberty Belle: Elitist, Academic Bovine Manure

Deborah Coddington's Liberty Belle

Elitist, Academic Bovine Manure

This week, in the course of my research, I came across a chapter written for a British publication by the Dean of the School of Education at Otago University, Professor Keith Ballard. Apart from being badly written, the content is highly questionable, many of the facts are disputable, and the conclusions are risible. Should we censor it? No, this stuff should be exposed for what it is - elitist, academic bovine manure.

I first came across this sort of abstruse verbiage (mostly emanating from Waikato University) when I wrote for North & South the feature on teacher education, 'Teach the Teachers Well'. I received about 15,000 written words of abuse back then. I expect more wrath to descend from the Gods of Education after this. But New Zealand parents should be told what goes on inside our taxpayer-funded places of higher learning.

The title is 'The Analysis of Context: Some Thoughts on Teacher Education, Culture, Colonisation, and Inequality' and was written for The Challenge of Inclusion: Reforming Teacher Education, published February 2003 by Routledge/Falmer, London and edited by Kari Nes, Marit Stromstad and Tony Booth.

You might think, if you are a parent, that reforming teacher education would address such issues as entry standards to training colleges, training teachers to teach children how to read, write good English grammar, know about sentence construction and syntax, their times tables, arithmetic, foreign languages, history, classics.

You might look for paragraphs on how to inspire students to expand their knowledge about the world and New Zealand's place in it. You might expect examples of how this could be done, perhaps a study of the history of the Holy Lands, so students can understand more about the Israel/Palestine conflict of today.

A history of the links between trade and security, perhaps, and why we have public discussions today over New Zealand's refusal to support America, Australia and Britain over Iraq.

We've seen articles lately about how boys are falling behind girls in educational development. An inspirational teacher might look at how this country is dominated by women in and around politics (prime minister, attorney general, governor general, chief justice), and lead pupils on a project showing how male leaders like Winston Churchill overcame huge obstacles, adversity, unpopularity and bad advice to win a war against fascism.

Oh no, this is nothing like that. Let me give you a clue - even the typeface is 'Times-Maori'. This is all about colonisation, exclusion, the domination of minor cultures by majority cultures, the New Right agenda that has widened the gaps between rich and poor. It quotes the usual suspects - Kelsey, Waldegrave, Consedine (the least said about him the better), Thrupp, Easton, Jesson, and Durie.

Let me quote from this chapter, and you decide if you want students from this institution teaching your children. It begins: "Inclusive education is concerned with issues of social justice. This means that graduates entering the teaching profession should understand how they might create classrooms and schools that address issues of respect, fairness and equity. As part of this endeavour they will need to understand the historical, sociocultural and ideological contexts that create discriminatory and oppressive practices in education. The isolation and rejection of disabled students is but one area of injustice. Others include gender discrimination, poverty and racism."

One might begin by asking if the State, in the guise of 'education', has any role in 'inclusion'. Isn't that the role of the family? And what exactly is inclusion? More clear in meaning is this word's opposite - exclusion - much favoured by the neo-socialists when they talk about anyone who comes from another ethnicity (usually Maori, never any European race - Jews for instance) or from a poor family? In their twisting of the language, people are 'excluded' through no fault of their own. Others - in this case the New Right Pakeha - force them onto welfare, into ignorance, or resorting to crime. Someone or something is excluding them. That someone or something, of course, is inevitably white, rich, middle-class, probably male and increasingly heterosexual. Me too, I expect, if they read this Liberty Belle.

Indeed, Ballard says that teacher education should "include a focus on issues of oppression, and specifically should address racism, sexism, gay and lesbian issues, and the ideological origins of poverty."

Those ideological origins include, in his view, the "deliberate" creation of poverty by the New Right: "In the media of the dominant New Right Pakeha culture in New Zealand, there is rarely information or critical analysis about poverty. Nevertheless, our economic and social policies since 1984 have benefited a few and harmed many." I wonder if he eats margarine, has a cellphone, uses the Internet, or benefits at all from student fees?

Ballard rails against market reforms, which 'privatised' education, putting schools' management in the hands of parents, creating a market whereby, "evidence suggests.minority and equity issues may not be a priority where student intake is based on a school's reputation for academic performance".

Does this mean that parents should make their choices based not on how well their children will be educated, but how 'balanced' the school will be as a result of their choice? Only Ballard could tell us this, such is the captiousness, and near conspiratorial nature, of his argument.

At least Ballard doesn't spare himself from ridicule. He agonises over whether he even has a right to write about Maori, citing academics who suggest "a deeper psychological problem" is created when Maori identity is "defined and shaped by non Maori...This means that I need to interrogate my own role in commenting in Maori in this paper. I must consider the danger of presenting people as 'other' and the problem of the writer (and reader) as voyeur of minority experiences they may not be part of."

He doesn't seem to have that problem, I notice, when he presents the "New Right Pakeha" as "other". If Ballard's arguments were consistent, he would acknowledge that the same guilt trip should apply when he comments on another minority in New Zealand - the wealthy. Ah, but they, in the eyes of elite academics like Ballard, are the oppressors. In the strange little world of the neo-socialists, there is only one finite amount of wealth. The pie is baked. If I take a slice, I deprive the excluded ones from their share.

Ballard, who is on study leave this year, challenges whoever reads this chapter (and I presume it is written for others in the field of training teachers) to "introduce students in teacher education to a literature that offers a critical analysis of the New Right project, including important [sic] work by New Zealanders such as Jane Kelsey...and Bruce Jesson...We should discuss the banality and the power of the inevitable comment that when we do this we are being 'politically incorrect', a slogan meant to suppress dissent from a dominant view. And we should include a focus on the role of language in cultural imperialism." So even the academics are part of the excluded, the oppressed, and the victimhood.

This would be laughable if this person were not in a position where he is responsible for training students who will go out and teach children. I don't care that Ballard is so blatantly neo-socialist. What upsets me is that this is clearly not a person who believes young people should be taught to think for themselves; view a philosophical or political issue from various perspectives and not blindly accept that what their professors tell them is the truth, simply because they use the rhetoric of abuse.

Can you imagine the outcry if it were the other way round? If, say, Liberty Belle gets booted out of Parliament, heads a private teacher-training establishment, and urges educators to indoctrinate their students with books by Douglas, Richardson, Hames, and other market liberals? Writes papers about how Maori are using the Waitangi Tribunal and the RMA to oppress non-Maori? Argues for the rights of the 'excluded' people driven to suicide, bankruptcy or even from New Zealand by our tax laws?

You should read this professor's writings, and ask yourself if you'd like your children to be taught by his disciples. I find his final paragraph quite chilling, and it confirms for me the necessity of getting the state monopoly out of education:

"To challenge a cultural ideology that creates poverty and sustains institutional racism requires, I suggest, political action. We may each have to decide how to respond to that idea and the implications of that for our role in teacher education."

Yours in Liberty,
Deborah Coddington

- Liberty Belle is a column from Deborah Coddington, Member of Parliament for ACT New Zealand.

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