Musing on the demise of Learning Media NZ

Why the ghost of Uncle Russell is on my mind tonight (and how I am trying to honour his memory).

Declarations of personal interests to temper your reactions to this post.

1. I am proud to be an educator in, and advocate for,  the New Zealand State School System, as founded by Beeby (influenced by Dewey)  during the first Labour Government in the late 1930s.

2. Through marriage I am proud of my family relationship with Russell Clark and his work.

As illustrator for the New Zealand Listener and New Zealand School Journal, Russell Clark’s art became part of New Zealanders’ daily lives from the 1940s to 1970s.

Clark attended Canterbury College School of Art, in Christchurch from 1922 to 1928,... It was as a painter and sculptor that Clark contributed to an emerging Modernist movement in Post-War New Zealand.  

In 1944 he was appointed Pacific War Artist by the New Zealand government, and this experience in Polynesia and Melanesia stimulated his inquiry into Māori art and culture, culminating in the Urewera series (1949-1951). Ironically, these works also reveal the influence of British artists Henry Moore and Barabara Hepworth, particularly in the use of stylised monumental forms which in turn were influenced by Pre-Columbian and African art. 

In 1947 he was appointed to the staff at Canterbury University College School of Art. Although criticised for his eclecticism, Clark’s association with 'The Group' and his Urewera series highlight his important contribution to New Zealand’s cultural development. 

His work is represented in the collections of the Christchurch Art Gallery and the Museum of New Zealand - Te Papa Tongarewa, the Auckland Art Gallery and many other public and private collections in New Zealand."

Anyway... Today I was really angry listening to the Minster of Finance on the evening news telling us all how Learning Media has to be wound up because it can't make a profit. 

Respectfully, the important fact is that the provision of quality educational resources is not about profit Minister!

The closure of  this smallest of the State Owned Enterprises will not swing the government  books back into surplus. All it will do is open the door to more darn pedlars.  My intolerance of commercial firms 'selling' resources to schools is reaching breaking point. The vast majority of resources being sold to schools are pedagogical crap.

At our school we have the smallest budget ever for buying 'so-called' resources for one good reason. They don't make a difference to learning and achievement. As a principal I have been able to say "get lost" to so many resource sales people because I know that the free, high quality, non commercial Learning Media products will take care of that need for us.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. Free School Journals provided to schools are only free if they are authored by people who work to provide them for artistic and educational merit. If School Journal production  and editorial content is offered to commercial firms for the sake of profit things change. And can change in a sinister way.

To prove the point I have to go to the extreme. Read this article in the New York Review of Books.  
Now  consider curriculum. We have to accept that any curriculum in a state school system can never be politically neutral. The very definition of 'state curriculum' means that the government of the day sets the curricular tone. But the heritage of the NZ School Journal is all about exposing children to high quality art and writing, not a curriculum ideology. 

If content is open to profit based tenders then the resource pedlars come on in. They will pitch towards offering narrow National Standards content. Worse still, they will do so in a shallow pedagogical way. If the majority of the current resource-for-sale rubbish has a chance to get into the School Journals then heaven help us all.

The 'provider and examiner' corruption is a problem already evident overseas. In the UK, USA and Australia there is a disturbing trend. Commercial companies provide exams and assessment tools to the school system. They also helpfully also sell textbooks and resources to help kids pass the exams. So what is the role of a teacher in such a system? 

Look at the HMHCO website
They sell the assessment tools 
Teachers just have to turn up to work, use the resources provided, and get the kids to pass the tests. 

New Zealand is better than this. As a taxpayer I am happy to pay for the small cost of Learning Media to keep on being a tiny little loss-making quirky organisation. One that keeps on sending schools free resources. Resources which are artistic and creative and also grow the careers of New Zealand's budding  writers. 

If that is not possible then end it now. Stop the School Journals.  Stop them before HMHCO  (or a similar company) offers the NZ Government a good deal to publish them for us.

After digesting today's news an unscientific survey of the Clark family has support for my idea of ending it now, after 100 glorious years, rather than feeding kids a newer corporate-backed-efficient-resource from now on. 

Without the School Journal we may not have had arts and literary careers from these School Journal contributors  ...
 Margaret Mahy, Janet Frame, Elsie Locke, James K. Baxter, Witi Ihimaera, Patricia Grace, Joy Cowley, Jack Lasenby, David Hill, Norman Bilbrough; and artists, illustrators and photographers such as Don Binney, Russell Clark, Cliff Whiting, Dick Frizzell, Mervyn Taylor, Gil Hanly, Ans Westra, Gavin Bishop, 

What do you think about a 'free to schools' but profitable for someone-else School Journal future?