Elwyn Richardson and the early world of creative education in New Zealand

Margaret MacDonald

NZCER Press

It might not be orthodox to describe a book like this as “one that I loved from the beginning right through to the end” but that is my initial and summative evaluation. The cover of the book is full of energy, bubbling over with activity, humour, diligence and little people going about their learning as the next generation of “Oruaiti kids”.

Having learned a lot about Elwyn Richardson, I am not sure he would have been too comfortable with his contribution to Oruaiti and its tamariki being labeled “creative education” as described in the title. I think he would have preferred to think of what they did in that school as being what “education” really was.

MacDonald has accomplished something few writers do well from the education genre. Her integration of the narrative portrayal of Richardson’s socio-biography alongside the educational philosophers and theorists like John Dewey and Franz Cizek, and educational bureaucrats like Clarence Beeby and Gordon Tovey, is masterful.

In my view, she captures the essential ingredients of the humanist and progressive movements that shaped the spirit of the times. An illustration of one simple yet profound observation from Richardson was the need for an “influential friend”. This was the “provocative teacher” who guided the student in the “scientific method”, who didn’t say much but nodded a lot, who taught students to “look, feel, see change, respect, love, be astonished and respectful of nature”.

This reminded me of some of Lev Vygotsky’s work on the zone of proximal development and in contemporary times, Russell Bishop’s work in Māori education on coconstruction. There is a lot of truth in the saying, the more things change the more they stay the same. This is a book for all whose first responsibility is for the learning of all children: to help them to develop open minds; to learn how to think; to make conscious connections between things; and to deliberately treat the familiar as unfamiliar.

  • Dr Wally Penetito, Tainui

 

Flip the System: Changing Education from the Ground Up

Jelmer Evers & Rene Kneyber Routledge

It is refreshingly stimulating to meet a book addressing chronically substantive educational issues that has been compiled and edited by a couple of practising schoolteachers rather than academics.

Why? Because the somewhat odd duo of Jelmer Evers (a progressive teacher) and Rene Kneyber (more of a traditionalist) have been advisedly judicious and balanced in choosing contributors whose experiences, thinking, research and guidance is, for the most part, of particular interest and relevance to practitioners and their professional organisations, no matter where in the world they are.

Although the various writers’ observations, insights and commentaries draw largely on problems associated with neoliberal, managerialist and associated policy patterns and contexts that plague education globally, the reader will most certainly see the relationship of many of the issues to the increasingly “centralised decentralisation” of our own school system.

The collection of 18 papers and eight vignettes in this book has been arranged into four parts: the globalised problem (accountability, privatisation and control); a new paradigm (flip the system); changing the system (collective autonomy); and a question of mindedness (supporting and activating teachers).

Evers and Kneybar’s purpose is to challenge dominant narratives and the forces of dense networks of “neoliberal technopols” who impose their narrow views about a “good education” along with their relentless system mechanisms on the teaching profession. To counter this dominance they propose “flipping the system”, so that teachers are no longer at the bottom of the multi-layered pyramid of authority.

This book does not deserve to be relegated to fascination or idle reflection. It is a timely challenge to the teaching profession itself, as well as to the system in which the profession resides. This is a flipping good book. Its concluding words are apt: If you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything!

  • Emeritus Director Lester Flockton, Dunedin