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Cunning coded curriculum 20 November
Most parents will never read the draft for the new
school curriculum published by the Government earlier this
year. It is available if you know where to get it and if time
can be found to read it and understand its implications,
writes JOHN MINTO.
At one level it seems like a collection
of well-meaning, uncontroversial, motherhood-and-apple-pie
statements about what students should be taught and why these
things are important.
At another level it contains clearly
coded messages about the relative power of the various lobbies
which would have been consulted in putting it together.
Most of the focus of public debate so far
has been on the expunging of the Treaty of Waitangi from the
draft curriculum, a deficiency astonishing for its crude
cynicism. Can you imagine a United States curriculum without a
prominent place for the Declaration of Independence?
Absence of the Treaty sends a message to
the wider community. The Government is pushing Maori into the
As well as the slap in the face to Maori,
there is included throughout the draft the handiwork of
big-business lobbies. They have been hard at work behind the
scenes with the Government to skew the curriculum in favour of
narrow capitalist economics.
It starts in the first paragraph on the
first page, where the vision focuses on children being
equipped to "contribute to the growth of the economy". Central
to this vision is children becoming "entrepreneurial" –
running businesses to make profits – and even when the draft
talks about values, "economic values" are included.
The business ripples then run through the
entire document. The "economic life of New Zealand" gets
plenty of coverage in the main curriculum strands, while the
social studies curriculum has been positively colonised by the
"economic world" and the injunction that children "use this
knowledge to understand their place in the economic world".
Business is determined to inculcate our
children with the values of the capitalist free market, where
profit is god and the needs of human beings are subservient to
the needs of entrepreneurs and profiteers.
The Enterprise New Zealand (ENZ) Trust is
the key driver of this entrepreneurialism, with its aim to
"create tomorrow's entrepreneurs today". Organised, funded and
supported by big-business interests, it has a complete package
of well-resourced programmes to deliver to our children, and
the draft curriculum will give them the "in" to every school
in New Zealand.
In the meantime, business influence in
schools has been a quiet rust eating away at the options our
children may conceive for themselves and their community in
Consider programmes such as the ENZ
Trust's Primary Enterprise Programme at Paengaroa Primary
School in the Bay of Plenty, where for six weeks of the year
the teachers create a "real world" for children with their own
currency, business plans, advertisements, job applications,
On the one hand it may be a real learning
experience, with lots of mathematics, language development and
interesting activities, but think about the values and
learning inherent in the programme when the teacher in charge
says: "The scary part about it is how it does mirror society
in a big way. They make things and sell them. We have thefts
and children who get sacked when they don't do their work. We
haven't got to the stage where we have the dole, but maybe
next year. I'm absolutely sold on this approach to learning. I
can already see the children who will be entrepreneurs one
Do we want our children to brand
themselves as economic winners and losers when they are at
primary school? Surely the focus should be for students to
critically question the world they live in and explore other
economic possibilities. What about work co-operatives, credit
unions, trustee banks and profit sharing?
Imagine the outrage from business if the
teacher had created a trade union for six weeks and the
children had elected delegates, run recruitment drives for
members, organised meetings and worked co-operatively to
improve the pay and conditions for low-paid employees.
The fury of ENZ Trust's backers would be
palpable, and yet this would be a much more appropriate
approach. Almost one-third of our children grow up in poverty,
and a large proportion will take up low-paid, part-time jobs
for much of their working lives.
They need to question and think
critically about the economic alternatives to the failure of
New Zealand's economy to work for people apart from a small
number of wealthy entrepreneurs.
In the early days of Tomorrow's Schools,
Bairds Primary School gave naming rights to Mainfreight. The
school now called Bairds Mainfreight will forever be a symbol
of government failure in education.
Unless we can erase entrepreneurialism
from the curriculum, then Education Minister Steve Maharey may
as well sell the naming rights. How does the New Zealand
Business Roundtable curriculum sound?
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