Sometimes it's hard to know where to turn on a Monday, as weekends always seem to produce an abundance of low hanging fruit.
There's the spectacle of Mal Brough vigorously defending himself after his foolish fiddling about with Slipper staffer James Ashby. (Brough, government go toe to toe over Peter Slipper affair).
The trouble with the vigorous defence is that Brough is a proven liar in the matter - yes, you can call someone a liar in the public domain if it's true and in the public interest, and Brough originally led with a huge porkie when he denied having anything to do with Ashby ... calling such claims "nonsense" a number of times ... only for it to be revealed that he'd met with Ashby three times prior to the launching of Ashby's claim against Slipper.
At best, this intervention was unseemly and unwise, and the lie a disturbing cherry on top; and at worst, it is open to more sinister interpretations. Either way, the more Brough huffs and puffs, the more he reminds the world he was the man responsible for the spectacularly unsuccessful invasion of the Northern Territory.
Why do politicians think they can lie, then change their minds? Do they think no-one will remember the original "nonsense" and will accept a brand-new alternative "nonsense"?
This sort of forked-tongue speech afflicts both sides of the aisle, and has ever been so, and presumably will ever be so in the future, but when a rough Brough tries to get out of his original nonsense with billy goat gruff, then it's time to say enough, Brough, enough already ...
Meanwhile, there's been much heart-wringing and perturbation about the implications of Gina Rinehart getting a seat or two on the board of Fairfax, as if somehow Fairfax is currently a liberal bastion of the democracy.
Truth to tell, both Fairfax and the ABC project a soft right wing veneer, which only seems respectable put up against the extreme right-wing lunacy that's befallen The Australian, the Daily Terror and the HUN.
These days news is free, and it will stay free because there are too many ways to obtain news for it to be contained and priced by old-fashioned tree-killing delivery systems. So it's the opinion and informed information out of the free norm that is supposed to justify an ability to price - if you want to know more about how to make a squillion, keep up to date with the AFR, if you want to know more about the world, including say education, read the opinion leaders in the SMH and The Age (and never mind the hapless souls trapped in one newspaper towns like Adelaide).
Pay for opinion in Fairfax? So how is it that week after week we get nonsense scribbled by the likes of Paul Sheehan, and yes, this week his theme is education in Numbers all add up for hero schools.
Which proves one thing.
Back when NAPLAN started, it was predicted that stupid people, and in particular the more stupid members of the commentariat in search of a weekly column, would seize on NAPLAN numbers to reach really dumb and stupid conclusions about educational matters.
Cue Paul "Magic Water" Sheehan, who seems surprised to be on the wrong side of the ideological fence after trawling back to May and contemplating a speech by Dr. Sharman Stone, a Liberal MP:
I am appalled and shocked, too, that this motion refers to the 'knowledge economy'. We all know that NAPLAN is a farce—it is not a sensible way to measure your children's increasing knowledge across the nation—but we already have NAPLAN indicating that there is a substantial drop in literacy, numeracy and people being able to interpret literature. We are failing in the OECD league tables when we are compared with some of our Asian developed neighbours in terms of our kids being able to understand and compete well in maths, science and overall literacy and numeracy. This government stands condemned for what it has done. (here).
Sheehan is shocked by the strong words, and proceeds to his own analysis of the NAPLAN figures, and after a tragi-comical study, remarkable for its skimpy silliness, he discovers that amazingly the NAPLAN figures all support his ideological preferences and biases, and then he comes up with this rousing conclusion:
Overall, good religious schools deliver the highest economic pay-off in delivering above-average performance.
Indeed. Especially the ones devoted to teaching creationism and scientology and Islamic fundamentalism.
Never mind, the analysis of data delivered by Sheehan to reach this exceptional conclusion is a hoot, involving peculiarities of weighting and what we might call Sheehan statistical shoe-horning, and is a delight to behold.
If only we had the time to marvel at it, and contemplate it at length. But when confronted with this level of sophistry and rambling, the pond always likes to present some alternative readings, and happily a recent article by Diane Ravitch in the New York Review of Books, Do Our Public Schools Threaten National Security? comes to mind (currently outside the paywall).
The one consoling feature of the Australian education scene is that it isn't as comprehensively stuffed as the bizarre scene in the United States, though that's balanced by the disturbing notion that the United States has Ravitch, and Australia has the likes of Paul Sheehan and Kevin Donnelly.
Unfortunately, instead of looking to Finland (or Singapore or South Korea) - all of which invested in strong public education systems - NAPLAN proponents looked to the United States, its charter schools, its vouchers and its national testing (not to mention bizarre yadda yadda about education in the service of national security).
Here's what Ravitch says about that form of heavy-handed number counting:
In pursuing its policy of Race to the Top, the Obama administration has promoted the teach-to-the-test demands of NCLB. Most of America’s teachers will now be evaluated by their students’ scores on those annual multiple-choice tests. Students will, in effect, be empowered to fire their teachers by withholding effort or will bear responsibility if their lack of effort, their home circumstances, or their ill health on testing day should cause their teacher to lose her job. NCLB and Race to the Top have imposed on American education a dreary and punitive testing regime that would gladden the hearts of a Gradgrind but demoralizes the great majority of teachers, who would prefer the autonomy to challenge their students to think critically and creatively. This dull testing regime crushes the ingenuity, wit, playfulness, and imagination that our students and our society most urgently need to spur new inventions and new thinking in the future.
By golly, did you ever come across such a variety of adjectives to deploy against the dreary, punitive, Gradgrinian, demoralising, soul-crushing Sheehan with his yadda yadda about the joys of a religious education, based on his reading of the NAPLAN entrails.
He's such a goose, he doesn't even understand the contradictions in his thinking. There he is blathering how NAPLAN bolsters the push to give greater autonomy for headmasters (yes, yes, he can't imagine headmistresses) at state schools, when of course such greater autonomy is meaningless when faced by the need to conform to the requirements of NAPLAN testing.
So roll on Gina Rinehart. The ratbags already occupy central positions within the world of Fairfax, and once you realise you've acquired a turkey, you'll decide you need to put up a paywall to charge for access to the thoughts of Paul Sheehan, and only then will you realise that charging for a goose isn't the way to save a turkey ...
(Below: some testing jokes, apply to NAPLAN as you will).