Extracts of a speech I gave on my retirement from King's College, Auckland in 2006.
As an ageing biology teacher, I find it interesting to look at the creatures in the education business from the evolutionary point of view. The ancestral species, from which all the contemporary ones have evolved, were the schoolmaster and schoolmistress. Both occupied broad ecological niches, which in layperson’s language means they were multi-talented, taking two or three sports, producing plays, conducting orchestras and running debating — and all that on top of imparting knowledge in the classroom.
Though they have been driven to extinction in most schools, such paragons still exist in some 'elitist' schools where they are generally still held in high esteem. Elsewhere, however, they are only to be found as fossils in rest homes.
Evolving from the schoolmaster and
schoolmistress was the teacher. This became the dominant species, until
pupils discovered — and began to exercise — their rights. In response, many
teachers relinquished their defensive armour and evolved into a new species,
the slippery, soft-bodied educator. From the educator evolved an even
more boneless and worm-like form, the facilitator.
Facilitators regard any form of authority with horror, and many do their
best to divest themselves of it by asking their pupils — who had evolved
first into students and most recently into learners — to address them
by their first name.
The most jelly-like species has evolved as a
slimy, mutant derivative of the facilitator, known as the educationist.
Though most educationists hatch out as facilitators, they can’t get out of the
classroom fast enough — some after as little as a couple of years — before
bolting into a peaceful refuge such as a College of Education, NZQA, or the
Ministry of Education. No sooner has an educationist escaped from the real life
of the classroom that she undergoes a rapid metamorphosis and enters a world of
Educationists are rarely seen in the open,
preferring secluded habitats such as under stones, where light and fresh air
rarely penetrate. They have a strong preference for each other’s company, and on
those few occasions when they have been observed in their natural habitat, can
sometimes be seen licking one another in unusual places. So rarely do they mix
with others that inbreeding is inevitable, with all the attendant deleterious
Another distinguishing feature of educationists
is that they use eduspeak. Though no one can understand it, it has one
essential rule: never use plain English when pretentious, vacuous waffle will
It is interesting to note that the distinction
between teacher and facilitator is not as clear as one might suppose. Many
teachers adopt a protective device called mimicry, in which one species
adopts the appearance of another. Thus, in private conversation, a teacher may
refer to a particularly obnoxious pupil as “a little bastard” or, in the words
of an ex-colleague of mine, “the quintessential slimeball”. However, when
speaking on the record, that same teacher mysteriously transmogrifies
into a facilitator, referring to the malefactor as “a student with behavioural
The difference between teacher and educator can
best be illustrated by a certain gentleman who, before he departed some years
ago, was a no-nonsense type who taught my younger son, so I’m privy to some of
his unorthodox pedagogical techniques.
Not for him the wiffly-waffly,
feel-good-about-yourself, College of Education garbage. One item in his toolbox
was to draw a small circle at head height on the whiteboard, on to which the
wretched offender had to place his nose, and keep it there for the rest of the
lesson. Nowadays this teacher would be whisked off to a re-education camp in
the Chatham Islands run by some humourless PPTA obergruppenführer.
Another pre-educator approach was to use boys
as living models. A geography teacher at the school where I was a boy had a
novel way of illustrating folding in the earth’s crust. He would place his
hands on the forehead of a boy on the front row, kneading his scalp like dough
to produce deep furrows. Nowadays it would lead to a charge of assault, but in
those days it was seen for what it was — an entertaining way of imparting
It’s New Zealand’s tragedy that starry-eyed
educationists are now running the show, and in this connection I can’t resist
one last stab at the whole incestuous lot of them. I’d like to quote a couple
of paragraphs from a two-part article in the New Zealand Science Teacher,
published in 1993. The author is one of the top brains in the New Zealand
education industry — she must be, because she’s an Associate Professor, and for
many years was one of the biggest cheeses in science education.
In Part I we read the following literary gem:
"Planning was done by
the research project teachers who took into account students' thinking in their
teaching. Their planning was different to what they would normally have done,
and overall it involved planning the unit of work and the teaching and learning
activities to take into account students' thinking. They had a goal of the
students learning some science and they planned their teaching to enable this
to occur. They planned teaching, learning and assessment activities to find out
what the students were thinking, to get the students thinking and to respond to
and interact with students' thinking."
Hanging with bated breath on every word of this
intellectual tour de force, readers had to endure an agonizing wait of
several months before they could savour the delights of Part II, in which they
were treated to even more profound insights:
"The teachers on the
teacher development programmes, as part of the research project, were
encouraged to take into account students' thinking. One aspect of this was the
responding to and interacting with students' thinking. To do this, the teachers
had to create the opportunities to do this and then to actually do it. Both
facilitation of students thinking for themselves and telling and explaining the
science were aspects of teachers responding to and interacting with students'
My first reaction as a taxpayer was that over
the last 30 years or so it must have cost well over $2 million in today’s money
to keep this particular educational guru in employment. What about paying
teachers — who do actually earn their crust — a bit more?
But then I got to thinking. It is precisely
this kind of drivel that drives parents to send their sons and daughters to
private schools. With every new outburst of educationist nonsense, support for
private education zooms upward. Indirectly, the professor and her fellow
educationists help pay our salaries. Rather than roasting the educationists,
perhaps we should be toasting them.
So, I ask you to charge your glasses and drink a toast: To educationists!
Martin Hanson is a retired King's College science teacher and author of school textbooks, who now lives in Nelson.