10 Jan ’10 – Testing Teacher Professionalism


When the USA Joint Chiefs of Staff gather for formal occasions, their chests are covered with medals for killing people. Susan Ohanian an American author and teacher suggests that teachers should be awarded similar medals for killing children. She says, “If testing takes over your school, demand similar medals for killing children.” Susan O is a fierce advocate for the abolition of National Testing in the U.S. and one feels sure that she is referring to the killing of children’s learning spirit, because that is what happens when such blanket testing controls each school’s curriculum. As a member of a caring profession, she is concerned about the influence of non-caring politicians in the U.S. on hers.

Australia introduced national blanket testing in 2008 in a ‘ruddy blush’ with malice-before-thought. Following advice from a New York legal eagle, who has little-to-zero school experience, Federal politicians, educrats and pundicrats started telling Australian members of the teaching profession how they must teach by setting tests that determine the styles of instruction and the times that are spent on task. The year 2008 needs special mention in history books. It’s a first.

There is a difference between the ethical standards of each profession, of course. Soldiering follows the business of killing. The gentlest of soldiers are provided with sophisticated weapons and are trained to kill and destroy. As a rule, they remain loyal to the profession. Members of the teaching profession are trained to accept each pupil’s natural desire to learn and to develop each one’s learnacy potential at the same time as each accumulates knowledge. To ignore best-known teaching techniques and to use “the soft bigotry of low expectations” [Newkirk] caused by judgemental tests, imposed by others, is unprofessional.

A profession is defined as “…A disciplined group of individuals who adhere to high ethical standards and uphold themselves to, and are accepted by, the public as possessing special knowledge and skills in a widely recognised, organised body of learning derived from education and training at a high level, and who are prepared to exercise this knowledge and these skills in the interests of others.

Inherent is this definition is the concept that the responsibility for the welfare, health and safety of the community shall take precedence over other considerations.” [Australian Council of Professions}

The imposition of immoral [yes], high-stakes devices on law-abiding, institutionalised pupil-citizens, by politicians and efficacy hawks, challenges the professional attitudes of Australian teachers in a way that the profession has never before been challenged. Never have totalitarian methods been used to demand compliance on such a wide scale. Political intolerance for views from the professionals at the chalk-face has seldom been expressed so dictatorially by any Australian government, with the exception of the Bjelke-Petersen regime in Queensland way back when.  Naomi Wolf describes such a movement as a ‘fascist shift’ from democratic ideals.

Teachers have endured some pandemic curriculum assaults in times past, such as the minimal competency movements of the 1980s, but none as potentially destructive as this present one, nor as other-controlled.

Testing in various formative and summative forms is part of the everyday evaluation of pupil progress organised by each school, shared on a pupil-personal level so that parents can also share at the grass-roots and in step with their child’s level of competence at the time. It’s each pupil’s personal business; and each can be taught to share its progress with its parents. Shared evaluation and sensible curriculum time-limits ensures no ceiling to standards and achievements. It enlivens the ‘hunger for knowledge, insistence on excellence and reverence for language, science and math.” [Obama] and excellence in other learning areas as well. When tyrannical testing controls the curriculum, it is dangerous and evil and, according to Martin Luther King, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetuate it.” Teaching’s professional ethics and the exercise of protection for their clients in the face of heavy fire-power is tested

This puts our present-day teachers in a position that older colleagues have never had to face. Teachers usually do as they are told and try to ‘do the right thing’ by covering an enormous range of learnings through their day-to-day activities. They are the busiest of the caring professions. Susan O suggests that they are placid and complacent because they come from a culture of people-pleasing and trying-to-be-agreeable. They need to overcome this disposition towards conciliation and compromise. “They must learn to refuse.” she says.

If they do not, they can be accused of gross passivity or creeping Eichmannism, named after the gent who organised the Holocaust because he was told to do so. It’s a truly worrying professional ethics dilemma.  There needs to be determined support from much bigger and ‘higher’ professional power-sources to support the true blue; perhaps some professional organisations and subject associations that truly believe in their own ethical backgrounds and have some political clout.

During 2009, in Australia, the notion of classrooms as sparkling learning centres was neutered. There is already abundant evidence that testing factories will soon dominate the landscape. It seems the only way to go while the various professional organisations remain timid and compliant, and the fourth estate exercises its selective scrutiny and preference for controversy.

While the press ignored the visit of Finland’s Professor Jouri Vaijari and the outcomes of the most comprehensive report on contemporary primary schooling for four decades, the Cambridge Primary Review, in October, there was a glimmer of hope in a November 2009 publication of the Queensland Teachers’ Union. Its magazine ‘Professional Magazine’ was a stand-out and provided sufficient detailed, definitive evidence for each professional organisation, Principals’ Association, and Teachers’ Union to tell the federal Minister for Education to desist. If she wants to produce standard-setting tests, then she should send them to schools to use as they see fit.

The Australian Education Union is solid in its opposition to the publication of the test results that compare, in a thoroughly degrading manner, one school’s so-called achievements against others. The AEU needs higher octane professional support from other bodies. If the tests are stopped, so will the public executions.

It should be expected that Principals’ Associations would have provided the most dominant leadership roles until now because they are closer to the action and should know, more than most, the effects of increased school time spent on coercive accumulation of bits of static knowledge. When the Minister met with 150 Primary Principal representatives on 10-11 November, she controlled them with a simple organisational and divisional conferencing technique. Like Charlie Chaplin in ‘Modern Times’, they got caught in the big wheel and became part of the machinery.  Patient and passive people, they joined the powerful sciolists in seeking rational order for the purveyance of political quack medicine; and so any resistance from now on will be regarded as immature wilfulness.

A general educational apostasy is a probable outcome.

It’s a heavy burden. Principals at all levels of schooling face a dilemma of extraordinary proportions. They know of the outcomes of the damage being perpetrated on people who are forced to attend school, and they have a special duty-of-care towards them because of their locked-in circumstances. Principals as head teachers claim top-billing amongst the caring professions and their attitude towards caring is now under scrutiny. Ever cautious of doubting the intentions of those on whom they rely for curriculum advice, for financial and technical support, for employment and placement and usually dutiful to a fault, they are slower to refuse or question directions than most other professional people. Politicians and non-teaching-professional folk are telling them to interfere with healthy child development. That is profoundly clear. So, the Principals of those schools that conduct blanket national testing for politically-based publication or boasting purposes are in a real maelstrom between a rock and a hard place. The betting is that their associations will freeze their professional ethics as they search for a reasonable escape or excuse.

It’s a shame.

The children have no advocates of any consequence. While the present school day remains overcrowded with some non-essential chic subjects and some that could be left to un-trained teachers in non-school time; and while governments refuse to standardise age-years and the number of years of schooling, the pupils will have to get used to the attack on their natural love for learning, forget about learning how to learn more, and, as they have done in the past, consume large doses of educational nostra. Professional ethics are being held in abeyance while a dictatorial minister and her eminence grise tell teachers what to do.