Tomorrow’s Schools fail today

By Garth George

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Things have come to a desperate pass when we read that in primary and secondary schools throughout the Bay of Plenty violence seems to have become endemic.

The enormity of it is that it is not simply physical assaults by children on other children - which are as old as schools themselves - but violence by pupils against teachers.

For many of us, such a thing is almost beyond comprehension, but it is not in the least surprising - and can only get worse.

It is simply more evidence - if any were needed - that the David Lange Labour Government's ''Tomorrow's Schools'' experiment, even with all its superficial amendments over the years, has been a colossal failure.

It is all very well to indict poor parenting for the distressing amount of violence in our schools, but that is simplistic. The entire education system, including teachers, must carry most of the blame.

Tauranga clinical psychologist Tanzi Bennison put her finger right on it when she said: ''I'm surprised it's got to the point where primary children are assaulting teaching staff but it fits with the overall picture of where we are headed. It's very sad.

''Quite often children will use aggressive behaviour to try and get their message across. If it works a few times . . . it is likely they will do it again. Eventually it will stop working, however, and the only thing they will know how to do is increase the aggression.''

Why are so many children unable to get their message across? Because they have not, in our education system, been given the tools to make them able to communicate either orally or in writing.

I have been persuaded for years that it is an inability to communicate that is the root cause of violence, not just in schools but in the community at large.

The inability to articulate wants and needs, hopes and fears and all the essential communications that make life liveable leads to frustration, and frustration to physical violence.

Who is to blame? You can't hang it on their parents because many of today's schoolchildren are the issue of parents who themselves, as the education system has become more and more addled, were never taught how to communicate.

Yet that was never the case before the late 1980s when the implementation of Tomorrow's Schools began.

In my day, and for centuries before and decades after, the first things we learned were the basics of communication and numeration, starting with learning the ABC and the times tables.

As we progressed from Primer 1 to Standard 6 (note the terminology), we progressively learned more advanced ways to spell, read, write and count so that by the time we were ready for high school we were literate and numerate.

At home my father, who had been through the same system more than three decades earlier, read stories to my brother and I at night before we went to sleep and bought us a comic book very Friday.

At all schools there was a clear division between teachers and pupils, and the behaviour and correct dress of the teaching staff reinforced that. Teachers were Mr and Miss and Mrs and Sir and Ma'am and in high schools all students were known by their surnames. Discipline was maintained by authority and misbehaviour punished quickly, and while I would not support a return to some of the punishments I suffered, I believe that it is the almost total lack of discipline in our classrooms today that contribute to the sad and sorry state of education.

We desperately need a thorough, wide-ranging and impartial investigation into our entire education system, preferably before some teachers and/or pupils get killed.


- Bay of Plenty Times

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