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FREW Consultants Group        
Monday, December 16 2019

Another Year Over

The focus of our work is to help teachers and schools deal with students who disrupt lessons.  For as long as I can remember this has always been the number one issue identified in surveys about teacher concerns.  However, recently the unreasonable non-educational work load placed on teachers has become equally stressful.  This doesn’t mean the problem of students with dysfunctional behaviour is no longer a problem, it is just that the increased work load has added to the pressure felt by teachers.

It would be fair to say that there is little acknowledgement of the problem created by these students despite the overwhelming evidence that their presence has a significant effect on the teacher’s ability to deliver quality lessons and the classmates of these children ability to learn. 

Addressing this problem is at the heart of all our work and to date we have provided over 100 Newsletters that point out the causes of these poor behaviours and describe techniques to help, not only the teacher’s ability to manage the classroom but also assist these students develop new ways to get their needs met.

Recently, the latest PISA results were released and like clock-work the politicians and shock jocks were on the band wagon criticising teachers and pontificating their solution to this ‘failing’ – predictably BACK TO BASICS!  I have always been critical of this test and our local NAPLAN equivalent.  There are lots of reasons these tests are flawed.  NAPLAN, for instance is supposed to be a ‘snap shot’ look at the student’s progress without any special preparation.  Anyone who thinks those conditions hold today is naïve.  Some schools spend much of their time preparing for the test and concerned parents send their children to ‘special’ tutoring to ensure they ‘pass’.  There are many other ways to manipulate these figures.

However, Trevor Cobbold, the National Convenor of Save our Schools has examined the latest findings by the OECD about the results and I will quote extensively from his analysis of the apparent failing of our kids.  It is evident our students do not try in the test because they have become disenchanted with our school system!  Trevor highlights three main causes.

“First, the high and differing proportions of students not fully trying across countries has explosive implications for the reliability of international comparisons based on PISA and that country rankings cannot be trusted. A research study by the US National Bureau of Economic Research last year shows that even with modest but differing proportions of students between countries not fully trying can cause large changes in PISA rankings. 

Second, other new data released by the OECD shows a large increase between 2003 and 2018 in the proportion of students in Australia who are dissatisfied with school. This may have led to increasing proportions not fully trying and therefore may be a factor behind Australia’s declining results. 

 Third, high proportions of students not trying on PISA may also explain, at least in part, the contradiction between Australia’s declining PISA results (for mostly Year 10 students) and improving Year 12 results. PISA has no consequences for students – they don’t even get their own results – so many might not be bothered to fully try. In contrast, Year 12 results matter for future careers and life changes so there is a greater incentive to try hard. The significant improvements in Year 12 results are an indication of an improving education system, not a deteriorating one”.

This increase in Year 12 is encouraging but for our students it is meaningless because by the time they reach 17 years old, if not before poorly behaving students are out of the system.  However, it does recognise that teachers are doing their job and instead of being criticised they should be supported to deal with the problems in the lower Years where these behaviour problems exist.

As I pointed out above, dealing with students with severe behaviours is at the heart of our work.  It would be encouraging if Universities really dealt with this issue and prepared their trainee teachers in techniques to deal with dysfunctional behaviour.  Looking through the courses offered by Universities and talking with new graduates it is evident that they are ill-prepared to take on a tough class.

As 2019 comes to an end it’s time to reflect on the year that was.  From our position the year had mixed results.  The amount of work we have done in schools and elsewhere has slowly increased and we have plans to build-up that support in 2020.  As mentioned the number of Newsletters has passed the 100 mark and I have completed my next book, ‘Teaching Very Difficult Kids’ and it has been picked up by an international publishing company based in London and New York thus providing us with another way to provide support.  

Since ‘retirement’ we are one step more displaced from the work place and so not as aware of emerging issues.  We would encourage you to let us know what you think of our efforts and provide us with specific problems we can address.  You can contact us through the web page, send a text or ring.

Finally, this is the last of the Newsletters for 2019, another year over.  Marcia and I would like to thank you for not only hanging in with those difficult students who really deserved to be helped and for supporting us.  It is the hardest of work sometimes but I know and you should know you can make a life altering transformation for some kids.  You may never know but I assure you that if you approach these kids with respect and a clear purpose you will be the difference.

Take time to relax, recharge your batteries and get ready for another challenging year.

Posted by: AT 10:14 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, December 09 2019

There is no dispute that in our schools, prejudice exists but it should not be tolerated.  However, it is hard to achieve a state where all kids feel equal.  More importantly, because teachers are more mature, educated and developed, the propensity for us to unconsciously act with prejudice is elevated. 

Prejudice

This Newsletter looks at prejudice, its origins, the traps we fall into and the hidden dangers we all face especially when teaching in schools whose culture is different than our own.

The basic characterisation of prejudice is our judgemental attitude to others based on their ‘group’.  Usually, it is expressed as the ‘other’ belonging to a cohort we consider inferior to our values.  There is the reverse situation where we see those ‘others’ as being better than us.  The significance of this propensity to compare has its beginnings in evolution. 

Between 50,000 to 100,000 years ago there was an explosion in the development of the human brain.  This was the time our prefrontal lobes started to emerge allowing for an increased capacity for language, complex reasoning and forward planning.  This coincided with the time we became a social species a development that required us to develop behaviours that kept the groups bonded. 

This advantage continued but a new threat and this was the danger from other tribes.  This became a matter of us being safe in the in-group and others in the out-group were dangerous.  As this was a matter of survival we learned to quickly identify who was ‘one of us’ and who ‘was not’

The resulting cognitive alterations, situated in the brain’s emerging limbic system allowed us to survive and thrive because of this co-operation with others.  The ability to identify with our group not only depended on our compliance to the social norms but we quickly obtained the ability to critically examine others’ behaviours and reject any differences.  The mechanics of this perceived animosity began to form between the prefrontal cortex, our considering brain and our amygdala, the part of the limbic system that initiated a fear response to any identified threat. 

Research has shown that when people think in a prejudice manner the amygdala lights-up, that is it is activated.  This reaction was first observed when white men in the US were shown pictures of other faces.  Their amygdala was more active when shown pictures of black, Afro-Americans indicating even unconscious racism; this was an involuntary response.  However, the same anxious response has been shown when faces of other races, aggressive women or opposing team supporters; it is the instinctive reaction when we view someone we think is ‘other’. 

The broad result is that we view others as being different and in fact we believe those ‘others’ to be homogeneous, to be ‘all the same’!  For instance, if you as a white person see an aboriginal youth drunk in the streets, there is a tendency to think this is typical of all aboriginals.  However, if you see a white man of a similar age and condition you are less likely to conclude that was typical of all whites, after all they are ‘one of us’!  We are quick to generalise about others, it is an unconscious reaction.

This marked the emergence of self-consciousness, that is we became aware that we were an individual separate from but belonging to others.  We also became selfish, understandable in survival.  Within the group it payed-off to share, we won together.  But with those groups that were not part of us it was a benefit to denigrate them; these outsiders represented a threat.

This prejudice has an impact on health.  Whenever you feel discrimination towards another your stress levels become elevated because you see them as a threat and if it continues you can suffer all the ailments linked to excessive stress.  The effect on the health of those who are the subject of this social rejection based on ‘kind’ is even more damaging.

So, it would seem that prejudice is a natural phenomenon and perhaps it was in the first instance but this is not the case now.  The clue to why prejudice is not unavoidable lies in the interaction of the frontal lobes, the emergence of which facilitated this prejudice and the amygdala, our protection against attack.

On an individual basis the brain develops over time.  The amygdala is the first to appear being active from birth.  This dominates until about three when the hippocampus comes ‘on-line’ to give a reasoning to our environment.  It has been shown that the amygdala and hippocampus do not respond to differences in race, gender or class.  In fact, studies have shown that the most popular young children are those with a more diverse collection of friends.  Any observation of young children playing in a multicultural school ground more than confirms this lack of prejudice in very young children.

However, the same study showed that these successful students, to remain popular as they matured, dropped this inclination towards social diversity.  This is a result of the pressure to belong to a peer group, so important to teens.  It is the same drive to belong that underpins prejudice on a macro scale but also drives this need to discriminate in a micro sense.  This meant to belong to your clique at school you had to adopt their ‘virtues’ and reject the ‘imperfections’ of the out-group. 

This is the period of the evolving teenage brain.  From about age eleven the prefrontal lobes develop and part of this development is to over-ride the amygdala in all but the most dangerous situations.  You don’t have time to think about what to do if a car comes hurtling towards you.  The amygdala is there to initiate an almost instantaneous response and you jump out of the way.  However, if you see someone different coming towards you, in a dark alley, at night you do have time for the frontal lobes to assess the danger.  The decision we make will depend on the memories, the things taught to us.  This means prejudice is a learned phenomenon, acquired from our parent, our media and our schools; it is real and it is damaging!

The good news is we can unlearn prejudice.  We can ‘educate’ our frontal lobes by:

  • Teaching about prejudice, in our history lessons social sciences and just straight out teaching empathy
  • Exposing prejudicial behaviour – publicly ‘call it out’
  • Creating laws that outlaw prejudice that causes harm
  • Developing quota for positions of power.  There have been attempts to do this and with great success.  France introduced laws twenty years ago that forced the membership of their parliament to be gender equal.  A follow-up study revealed that the effectiveness of that parliament had significantly improved.  There has been calls for such legislation in our society but this is resisted by obvious masculine prejudice!

The real driving factor for change is role models.  This is seen in all endeavours, the arts, music, sport and politics.  Perhaps, there has never been more powerful role models that challenge racism than Nelson Mandela and Barrack Obama, heroes of our modern political landscape.  In our own nation the elevation of the football star Adam Goodes to Australian of the Year provides a similar symbol.  Their rise marks a turning point for racism but they also provided a target for those who cling to their antiquated prejudices.

In his last years playing football Adam Goodes was, in every game he played booed whenever he got the ball.  Some commentators said this was not racism, it was just that the crowd didn’t like the way he played and that other aboriginal players were not booed. A common reason given was that he ‘called out’ a young girl who described him as an ape.  The next day Goodes explained he did not blame the girl and she needed to be supported.  He called out the behaviour she had ‘learned’ from an adult. Despite this the apologists kept referring this as him attacking the girl! 

I agree with cultural commentator Waleed Aly who made the telling point, Adam Goodes made the mistake of being not only better in the sport than others, including the white players, he was strong enough to stand-up to the racism and call it out!  The conclusion is we are tolerant of ‘the others’ as long as they don’t rise about their station, the homogenic prejudice to which we have assigned them!

Why are we discussing this in our Newsletter?  Well we focus on students who have developed dysfunctional behaviours as a result of their childhood environment.  The behaviour these children often display does not naturally encourage friendships with kids from successful families.  They almost inevitably become a target for prejudice within the mainstream. 

However, these kids still have the powerful drive to belong and as a result are easily seduced into joining sinister alliances.  Exploited on the basis of their life long rejection.  They are finally convinced they now have the security of belonging.  To complete the extension of their acceptance they naturally develop a strong prejudice against anyone who challenges the values of this new group.  They become over represented in the associations that dismiss modern social values with claims of white supremacy and/or the rejection of refugees.  They finally fit in, adopting the culture of the gang and rejecting that part of society that turn their backs on them.  All too often this was their school! 

If we want to really support these kids all Australians should look at how their own values are reflected in the schools they support.  Elite private schools, religious and public selective schools all reinforce social prejudice.  They view the public, comprehensive school that serves the lowest socio-economic areas as being inferior.  This damaging state of affairs reflects our prejudicial parliament, sadly both major parties must take responsibility for this.

As teachers, we have to check our own preferences in where we want to work being sure that a desire to teach in these needed schools does not expose your own belief that some kids are ‘better than’ and it follows, others are not.

Posted by: AT 04:32 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email

PRINCIPALS

John R Frew
Marcia J Vallance


ABN 64 372 518 772

ABOUT

The principals of the company have had long careers in education with a combined total of eighty-one years service.  After starting as mainstream teachers they both moved into careers in providing support for students with severe behaviours.

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