Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31, No. 24. October 1, 1968
No need for Student Union
No need for Student Union
Sir—I note with interest that an attempt is to be made to form a Union of Secondary School Pupils in the Wellington area.
Secondary education in New Zealand is in a sad state and from whichever angle one looks the circle is vicious. Conditions for both pupils and teachers are bad, mainly because there are too few qualified teachers. Teachers are scarce because conditions are bad. But perhaps the circle is even more vicious than the organisers Of the projected union realise. I suggest that their desire to 'get a union on its feet' to raise questions on such subjects as 'corporal punishment, school uniforms, unproductive punishment, religious observances and examinations' stems from a sudden rush of blood and freedom to the head rather than a morbid desire to see the circle even more vicious in Wellington. I should state now that it is not the importance of these matters to both pupils and society that I am questioning, but merely the wisdom of forming a union of secondary school pupils, at the present time, to consider these questions. Four terms' residence as a Master in a secondary school has made me aware of the undesirable aspects of all these things, which really bear little relation to one another except as things fostered by the Establishment.
On the surface the idea of a union for secondary school pupils may look good. But it seems to me the idea is impracticable for Wellington at the present time. For a start there are far more pupils who could conceivably want to use the facilities of such a union than could ever be catered for adequately. As well, there are problems of widely different levels of maturity.
Then, where will the pupils meet? Past students of Otago and Victoria Universities paid for over thirty years into a building fund before a foundation was dug. Are the pupils of Wellington prepared to finance a building scheme? And if it isn't going to be 'that sort of a union' with a Common Room and all, it must just going to be a 'movement' which has 'frank and open talks'. The organisers must realise that without action following discussion the formation of a union is quite pointless. I contend that any action cannot help the present situation, which is festering unhappily without any help from a union.
I believe there are Other reasons than practicability for not having a union at the present time. In the best schools in Wellington the sixth forms have at least thirty in them. These top forms, which would be most interested in joining a union, are being groomed for U.E., U.B., Schol. A teacher has about forty minutes to transfer a section of the year's course from his notes to the minds of the pupils. It isn't enough to leave the class to do its understanding at home because there isn't going to be time for either personal or group tutorials. So much to do, so little time! This is the problem, and while the teacher recognises it, the pupils don't. Almost anything is better than Jane Austen or Young's Experiment. But the teacher has a job to do and a responsibility to his pupils to see they get to the age of consent with at least no worse an academic background than others in the ratrace. To fulfil this responsibility the classroom teacher needs three things: control, rapport, class receptiveness. His problem is how to achieve a workable measure of all three, and the most familiar formula is to rely on the system for the first, himself for the second, and a combination of both for the third. In my opinion the whole process of socks-up, capson, please-sir 100-lines' is a partly functional hangover from the days when this type of discipline was winning the Battle of Waterloo and girls went to finishing school instead of sociology classes. Functional in establishing the quite artificial authority of the teacher. I admit a thoroughly bad thing for the immediate development of the pupil in all but academic directions, but while under this sedation the most boring things can be made to seem important, it not interesting. The implications of conditioned control are obvious and while I don't argue that academic progress is more important than any other kind in the adolescent, the system does make an impossible situation merely damned difficult. The system also helps class receptiveness. Under the present system intra class rivalry can do much good. Competition, like obedience, must be nurtured from academic infancy. A union of the type we can conceivably see formed in Wellington (whatever fairytale setup is envisaged), if it acts, would tend to displace the school as the sort of reference point it has usefully been for pupils.
Undermining the authority of the teacher by organising pupils into open revolt at the sixth-form level is not going to help things one iota. Wouldn't we all love to see wonderful schools full of fastmaturing young people. Wouldn't we love to teach in a situation where the artificial barriers between pupil and teacher could be forgotten. Instead we must see what is before our eyes—a shocking situation that combined, 'guided' action on the part of pupils cannot possibly help. We must take the good with the bad until it becomes more realistic to ask teachers to be sympathetic, authoritative, crystal-clear, interestering and humble all in the same forty minutes, and to get the immense load of work done without suppressing any of those priceless though disruptive creative instincts. Forget the union! Let's act at this level in the direction of increased expenditure on secondary schools!