Hard News by Russell Brown


The Demon E-Word

The drive-by criticisms of certain conservative columnists notwithstanding, the New Zealand Curriculum project seems to me to be a model of modern education practice: initially and perhaps most notably in its consultation process. You can go back through that on the thoughtfully archived project website.

A wide range of potential stakeholders in education were consulted: students, teachers, parents, expert and community groups and employers and busiiness leaders. It's that last one that the Quality Public Education Coalition has a problem with:

In a statement headed Curriculum blighted with "entrepreneurial" vision, QPEC spokesman John Minto declared:

We are deeply concerned the term "entrepreneurial" has been included in the new school curriculum despite large numbers of submissions on the draft curriculum called for its exclusion. (The present curriculum refers to the generic term "enterprising" while the new curriculum talks about "enterprising and entrepreneurial")

This is a first in New Zealand and is a serious retrograde step.

It represents the power of the business lobby which has mounted a well-resourced attempt to skew the curriculum to reflect narrow capitalist values. Business New Zealand welcomes the curriculum and it's easy to see why.

Entrepreneurial has a specific meaning which is running a business to make a profit. This is included in the curriculum but such things as the running of co-operatives, credit unions, trustee banks, profit sharing or trade unions are excluded.

This is the second time this week I've had cause to mention Minto but I'm really not trying to have a go at him: I'm just staggered by the bitter nature of this response. It seems to have less to with the quality of education than with a narrow, exclusionary ideology.

"Entrepreneurial" appears once in the new curriculum document: in the phrase "Enterprising and entrepreneurial" in the Vision section of the document; which also proposes that students should be "Contributors to the well-being of New Zealand – social, cultural, economic, and environmental," "Positive in their own identity," "Members of communities", "International citizens" and more.

The QPEC is not the only party to get in a tizzy about the E-word. Leonard Benade of St Paul's College, in a conference presentation for the Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia, held that it "serves to illustrate the shift from social consensus politics to neoliberal, ‘new Right’ politics in the late 1980s and into the 1990s."

Really? Taken in the context of the overwhelming expression in the curriculum of values relating to community, participation and citizenship (and the re-inclusion of a central place for The Treaty), that seems an extraordinary claim.

As I understand it, the relevant part of the curriculum is oriented around skills in understanding costs and risks -- beginning with looking at the implications of keeping a pet.

I don't think the curriculum does necessarily exclude non-profit initiatives like those listed in Minto's statement -- indeed, I think skills in operating such initiatives are not mutually exclusive to a sense of enterprise. But I do take a wider view of the meaning of entrepreneurialism. I defined it in Information Entrepreneurs, a paper for a Friends of the Turnbull Library conference, as "the novel combination of resources that results in an increase in wealth". The paper doesn't mention money at all, but it is about what individual enterprise has to offer the community of ideas.

Minto sees it differently:

Almost a 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 well for people aside from small numbers of wealthy entrepreneurs.

But is the curriculum, through the solitary inclusion of the E-word, teaching our children to become exploiters? Not unless you think they shouldn't ever aspire to having and pursuing their own ideas; or have a plumbing business, a web design company, a market stall, or a company called Dawn Raid Entertainment. And in seeking to demonise it, that is effectively what its critics are saying.

PS: Staying, if somewhat creepily, with the theme of schools, material created by the teenaged Finnish school murderer Pekka-Eric Auvinen is no longer available via his YouTube channel, but it can be downloaded as a torrent file including video, pictures and documents. It's a chilling but fascinating glimpse into the mind of a kid who really didn't have a sense of community. There's also a cached version of the YouTube page.

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