Education: Streaming system a broken ruler

Approx Reading Time-12Sadie O’Grady saw off her son to school yesterday, only to find him in a slanted system that inhibits what it claims to enable: education.


Ring the bell, sound the siren…yesterday was the first day of school for many, with parents and caregivers anxious and upset that their progenies are about to be enveloped by the indoctrination of the western multi-industrial complex; shaping, moulding and assessing our little loved ones…or was that just me?

My littlest has just started grade one and has only attended his current school for a short time (10 weeks). It seems that this was enough time to make an informed decision about my son as a whole person and place him in the ‘H’ class. Hmmm…

A, B, C, D, E, F, G…H…approximately 28 kids in each class, that’s 196 kids receiving better education through an undiluted curriculum (in less disruptive classes with “higher achievers”) than my little guy. This is a little something special that Australian educational institutions call “streaming,” yet I’m not sure how many parents/caregivers out there know about it or understand the devastating consequences it can mean.

Let’s just make something clear here.

There is a lot of research that proves streaming or “ability grouping” brings absolutely no benefits to students, particularly those who are already disadvantaged and marginalised as a result of social and cultural capital. I have seen the results of this silent policy in action. Class H gets a stripped back version of the curriculum and always has to catch up to Class A, which has little to no behavioural problems or interruptions and is usually extended beyond the “expected” developmental learning parameters for their age.

Why? Why are schools so silent on this practice and how has it become unwritten policy, put into procedure at nearly every school?

This kind of structure is insidious and inequitable – and it starts at the age of six, ladies and gentlemen! At the tender age of six, you have already been categorised, through no fault of your own except that maybe you are a late bloomer; you care more for chasing butterflies and getting dirty than you do for writing and reading at this current moment in your life.

Alas, if your mother thought it was more important for you to develop into your body, play in mud and discover the wild world of nature instead of smashing flashcards into your face from her uterine opening, you aren’t what the industrial complex is willing to invest in. Students who may already be struggling with some of the required achievement indicators for “success” become more disproportionately disadvantaged by streaming.

If we look at standpoint theory and the notion that we are all starting at different points in the 100m race, some of us with a clear head start, then it makes more sense to have children of different abilities within the same classroom. So…say, little Johnny is really great at reading and peer assists, but he may not be so great at imaginative prose so he can learn how to trigger patterns of creative thinking from his tidy-tray neighbour. Win-win! We all become well rounded, co-operative social humans who are not instantly competitive and can see the value in shared knowledge, consideration of others and a recognition of diversity in skills. We acquire a sense of belonging, knowing that our knowledge systems are just as valued as the knowledge systems of our peers.

How did we get here?

One of the most interesting things I gained from my education degree is the awareness that the majority of governmental, Westernised schools are operating under an archaic prison system model called “Bentham’s Panopticon.” In lay terms, Bentham developed a system of prison management through a form of architectural construction that ensured that at all times, prisoners believed they were being watched, their slightest movements supervised and all events recorded by a hierarchical figure which would ensure compliance and reduce unwanted behaviours. The teacher at the front of the classroom, standing in a position of authority with an Orwellian all-seeing eye over their students, ensures acquiescence. School is setting you up to be a compliant slave to the machine. This is also happening to you right now. Think of the Principal at the staff meeting, or the foreman over the factory, or the manager at the office, or the speaker over parliament, or the royal over subjects, or the cameras in the mall…getting the picture?

Most teachers leave the education profession within the first five years of their career. This is because our schools are completely broken and getting worse. This institutionalised hegemonic hierarchy happens all the time. Whilst the Head of Department gets Class A, newbie graduates without any behavioural management modelling get thrown into the deep end, having to teach in classrooms of students with many behavioural problems, learning difficulties or disabilities, or who are in care or abusive homes – or just kids like mine, who aren’t “up to scratch” yet. By lumping all the “undesirables” in the one room with straight-out-of-the-lecture-hall teachers, we again establish a social classism. We cannot expect our graduate teachers to come out rosy glassed hoping to change the world and create better societal constructs if the very system they are in is already set up inequitably. Nor can we expect our children to navigate success if we are already setting them up for failure in prep. They develop an idea about themselves, a sense of self that diminishes their creativity, their love, diversity and curiosity. They have worth, goddamn it; just maybe not in the archaic, pigeonholed, restrictive bland boring shit that’s getting passed off as an “education” in our state system.

So what? If they do not succeed at some homogenised ACARA framework written by hacks who haven’t stepped into a classroom for 20 years (or ever) or some disgusting generic NAPLAN test (which is more about scores and building school business models and reputations as opposed to promoting and providing social and cultural capital for an opportunity to succeed as a human), finding something they won’t be miserable doing for the rest of their slaving, laborious life of servitude to the man and the almighty dollar…it’s hard enough for students just trying to navigate the social constructs of the school environment, the micro of the macro where it’s dog eat dog, and cat too, and the western paradigm making us eat ourselves like an ouroboros.

Everybody spouts off the rhetoric that we can fix all of society’s problems with education. We will not get anywhere with this privilege inducing, outdated, ridiculous system. It needs to change now and we as a society need to start addressing the dire need for a completely new education system. I tried from the inside but when I fought for progressive thinking and new ideas I was told to go back to ticking boxes and that I should focus on just doing the job.

Teachers are tired of an ever-changing curriculum with each passing governmental Liberal, Labor, flippity-flopping and doing the bullshit paperwork and the over the top One School reporting on minor incidents like breathing incorrectly. It is beyond repair and my child should not be a prisoner at school. He should not be judged and condemned to the back blocks of Class H at six – nobody should. There shouldn’t even be “H.” Schools are not a business and our students are not clients. In this first world country we need forward thinking people and the opportunity to reclaim our education system so that it better reflects what we want our future society to look like. This is our system and it’s failing, and I haven’t even mentioned the rising incidences of violent stabbings by 12-and-13-year-olds.

What are we, the parents, the caregivers, the students, the teachers, the people, going to do about it?


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