July 11, 2014 | Graham

The education Riddle

The international statistics say that Australia’s education performance is slipping, but how can this be when spending on education has been increasing in real terms for decades?

Part of the answer to this riddle can be seen in the words of educationist Stewart Riddle.

According to yesterday’s Australian:

In an article posted on The Conversation website last week, Dr Riddle invokes a two-tier school system, saying the literacy skills needed by Aboriginal children in remote communities are different from those required in major cities as measured by the national literacy tests, NAPLAN.

“What relevance does sitting for the NAPLAN tests have for a young child, living in a largely oral-language culture in remote communities, where English may be their third or fourth language?” he says.

“It might be argued that such attempts (to close the gap) are no better than historic attempts to make Aboriginal kids more ‘white’ by sending them off to missions to be properly educated.”

I can see no reason why Riddle should not be sacked, or demoted. This quote exhibits a racist tendency. Apparently Aborigines simply aren’t capable of mastering normal intellectual concepts because they are not “white”. Their future should be limited to the past.

It also exhibits a complete disregard for the normative educational values of not just western, but human society. If this is his attitude towards Aborigines, what is his attitude towards poor “white” kids, or migrants? How does he judge their needs

Our society is based on the idea of progress, which rests on the idea of the autonomous individual. To be autonomous every individual needs access to a common pool of cultural knowledge and intellectual understanding.

That is why, for over 100 years, the most advanced societies have placed such a premium on education that they have made it freely available to anyone up to the age of 17 or 18.

The reason that Australian educational standards are dropping is that the Stewart Riddles of this world are a significant percentage of the population of education faculties across the country.

While he should get the sack for this outburst, he is more likely to be rewarded with promotion, and trips to conferences to discuss educating with cultural sensitivity.

Education in Australia won’t start to improve until state governments cut not just the power of teachers’ unions to set terms and conditions in the classrooms, but the power of university education faculties to determine what sort of teaching graduate is turned-out.

Perhaps states need to do their own teacher training and cut unis and loonies out of the loop.

Posted by Graham at 7:47 am | Comments (8) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. The real riddle here Graham is how Riddle came up with this seemingly racist theory.
    I read an article written many years ago by a so called missionary or reserve teacher, who somehow incentivated all her Aboriginal students, to stay the course, and complete a full years education.
    She claims she did have to work her tail off.
    The published results were quite illuminating, with the indigenous kids seriously outperforming their white counterparts, in all areas.
    Can’t died in a cornfield over a century ago!
    This tells me, that there is no black way, no white way, just a right way, and the need for truly dedicated teachers, where teaching is not just a nine to five job, or a union protected pay packet!

    Anyhow, if that right way, includes rewards, like say access to a new swimming pool or sporting equipment/grounds/teams/seaside holidays etc, then so be it.
    I reckon a properly coached team of indigenous Cricketers, would be world beaters, given their natural attributes?
    I mean Gilbert was our fastest ever bowler, who apparently regularly bowled the great Don Bradman.
    Bradman claimed he was chucking, a claim which completely ruined Gilbert’s career!?
    If Bradman had to face Thomson at the height of his powers, and his similar if slower slinging action, he might have also claimed he too, was a chucker?
    Indigenous education is where we can invest a modest amount of money for considerable returns, ditto outback market garden and solar powered irrigation.
    And if that reward approach needs some beefing up, I for one, would be happy to see, school attendance linked to welfare payments, which could be replaced with food only vouchers, for repeated truancy.
    Never was there a truer word spoken than that education opens all the currently closed doors, particularly where Aboriginal kids are concerned!
    Much applause for a great article!
    Alan B. Goulding.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — July 11, 2014 @ 11:31 am

  2. Real term spending on Government School kids of 1.25% per annum for the last 10 years is not an extraordinary amount when other countries are have spending increases far outstripping these. There have been some good results such as Year 12 retention rates increasing nearly 15% and marked improvements in some numeracy and literacy results in primary schools.

    The areas ripe for the biggest improvements per dollar spent have been identified by the Gonski report but subsequently disowned by the Abbott government.

    Comment by Steel Redux — July 11, 2014 @ 2:52 pm

  3. “I can see no reason why Riddle should not be sacked, or demoted.” Fortunately, Graham, others can.
    “This quote exhibits a racist tendency.” No it doesn’t. It exhibits an understanding that not all people, let alone learners, have the same needs.
    You seem to lack this understanding when you imply that poor “white” kids and migrants should be treated as identical. One suspects you think that all learners should be taught exactly as you would want your children to be taught. Your assumption that the teaching of poor white kids, migrant kids and Aboriginal kids should be identical is ludicrous. Of course Dr Riddle would have different assessments of what such disparate groups would need. I’d guess he would think that, unlike kids from your background (and mine), poor white kids need to have the poverty inducing gaps in their life’s experience compensated for; and, again unlike your kids and mine, migrant kids might need special assistance with mastering functional English and absorbing Australian cultural and social mores. And Dr Riddle would not be proposing these as educational ends but as means to long term goals, goals which might well be common over all groups differentiated by immediate needs.
    “Apparently Aborigines simply aren’t capable of mastering normal intellectual concepts because they are not “white”. Their future should be limited to the past.” Nothing in the quote of Dr Riddle that you quoted justifies this illogical outburst. He said that some Aboriginal kids in some locations have more urgent language needs than those which are met by teaching white kids to pass NAPLAN tests. That’s all. He neither said nor implied that being black made all Aboriginal kids incapable of mastering intellectual concepts. Nor did he even hint at believing that. I think you have leapt to criticise him for having beliefs that you want to believe that he holds, but which he plainly doesn’t.
    “How does he judge their needs?” By studying them. By gathering hard evidence of what works for them and what doesn’t. Not by assuming that, whether they like it or not, their needs are exactly the same as those of rich white kids.
    “It also exhibits a complete disregard for the normative educational values of not just western, but human society.” Again, no it doesn’t. It exhibits an understanding that normative educational values are not the same throughout human society and no amount of bluster will make them so.
    “Our society is based on the idea of progress, which rests on the idea of the autonomous individual. To be autonomous every individual needs access to a common pool of cultural knowledge and intellectual understanding.” When you say “Our society”, who is “our”? What do you mean by “progress”? What supports your claim that the idea of progress rests on the idea of the autonomous individual? What evidence do you have for these assertions? Are they conclusions you find compelling or merely ones you comforting?
    “The reason that Australian educational standards are dropping is that the Stewart Riddles of this world are a significant percentage of the population of education faculties across the country.” Ya think? Have you evidence to support this claim or is it just another view that it comforts you to hold?
    “While he should get the sack for this outburst, he is more likely to be rewarded with promotion, and trips to conferences to discuss educating with cultural sensitivity.” Oh dear! At least, on this occasion, you did not say that he is just another overpaid, underworked, uncaring teacher who lacks the intelligence of lawyers and engineers. I’m sure that Dr Riddle is grateful to you for that.
    By the way, you did notice that your enthusiastic supporter, Alan Goulding, had no qualms about opining that, “a properly coached team of indigenous Cricketers, would be world beaters, given their natural attributes”? He means, of course, that Aborigines have different natural attributes. And needs. And just as they would have to be properly coached to become cricketing world beaters, so they might need to be appropriately taught to become “autonomous”.
    It’s the Dr Riddles of the world who are trying to find out what approaches to teaching English language skills to some Aboriginal children in some indigenous communities might prove to be more appropriate than the failed method of coaching them to pass urban culture infused NAPLAN exams.
    You have been cruelly unfair to him.

    Comment by Glen Coulton — July 12, 2014 @ 12:51 am

  4. Glen, please don’t put words in my mouth for the sole purpose of being able to refute them.
    All that does is make you look like a legend in your own lunch box?
    I seriously believe Aboriginals can master anything. And often excel in sports!
    Apart from professional coaching, those superior attributes would be helped to flourish, by talent scouts and special needs housing; that doesn’t automatically separate a gifted youngster from his/her immediate family!
    I had no reading skills either, and around a 500 word vocabulary, when I first went to school, and owe my ability, such as it is, to good teachers!
    When whites first settled here, Aboriginals were running their food down, and killing it with a thrown spear. As did some of my Tasmanian forebears!
    Therefore, the most successful at that, contributed to a gene pool quite different from those of the white community.
    However, I’ve never ever seen difference as anything other than a right, rather than the very professional, very derogatory spin, you seem to put on it, or fatuously and quite erroneously, dishonestly attribute to others!?
    The white gene pool was seriously changed by the deprivations of the then, longest most arduous voyages in history, couped up in spaces too small to swing a cat (cat of nine tails) weighed down in iron chains, and conditions that contributed to the survival of the fittest/most cunning, and a seriously strengthened gene pool.
    Natural attributes are those conferred by the gene pool, not the sort of bigotry, you seem to be accusing me of?
    I don’t think we help anyone by moddy coddling them, or expecting far less, or indeed, making endless excuses for patently incompetent teachers, or serial truancy.
    The fact that some Aboriginal kids have or are going on to attend university, and become doctors lawyers and such, tells me, the only thing that needs fixing is attitudes, and people like you; or empire building bureaucrats, who only ever see it as a funding problem?
    And then we wounder why substandard housing in some of the more remote communities, costs 5-6 times the average norm! Never heard of flat pack kit homes huh?
    As for Dr. Riddle; his own unedited words speak most eloquently for him; as indeed, does your spirited defense of them!
    As for my enthusiastic support, Graham and a host of other readers, will indubitably agree!
    There have been many occasions, where I have been his harshest critic!
    Alan B. Goulding.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — July 12, 2014 @ 11:34 am

  5. Alan, you opened with, “Glen, please don’t put words in my mouth for the sole purpose of being able to refute them. All that does is make you look like a legend in your own lunch box?”

    Your exact words were, “I reckon a properly coached team of indigenous Cricketers, would be world beaters, given their natural attributes.”

    What I wrote was, ‘ … Alan Goulding, had no qualms about opining that, “a properly coached team of indigenous Cricketers, would be world beaters, given their natural attributes”? He means, of course, that Aborigines have different natural attributes.’

    My only addition to your precise words was to note that in choosing to make much of Aborigines’ different natural talents, you were positing that in some respects Aborigines differed from other Australians. If you were not intending to say this, why did you draw specific attention to their having potentially world beating “natural attributes”? I did not put words into your mouth that you had not either written or strongly implied.

    I’m surprised at the virulence of your response and suspect you have not realised that my reason for citing your comment was simply to point out that you were siding with me in disputing the assumptions in Graham’s attack on Dr Riddle. I’ll try to explain this below.

    But firstly, because I’m unfamiliar with the expression “legend in a lunch box”, can I just say that if it was important to you to believe that I would regard myself as having been insulted by it, then I was. But not much.

    The problem with Graham’s paper? Dr Riddle proposed that some Aboriginal students might master English more easily if they were provided with a customised teaching approach. Graham found this sufficient reason to deem him a racist and to demand his sacking. Nothing in Dr Riddle’s quoted remarks suggest that he regards Aboriginal students as being inferior to or less able to learn than non-Aboriginal students. All he implied was that their different cultural and social backgrounds could mean that their acquisition of language skills would be expedited if they were assisted with teaching methods that took account of these differences rather than being expected to make the best fist they could of teaching methods designed for student with different needs and backgrounds. And I believe there is good research evidence backing this view, evidence which I assume Dr Riddle would have been able to direct Graham to had he asked.

    It’s important to distinguish between students’ learning needs and their learning aptitudes. When Dr Riddle spoke of Aboriginal students having different needs, Graham chose to regard him as having said that they have different learning capacities. Graham’s understanding of what Dr Riddle said is captured in his statement: “Apparently Aborigines simply aren’t capable of mastering normal intellectual concepts because they are not “white”. Their future should be limited to the past.” This is simply nothing like what Dr Riddle said. At the risk of lowering the tone of this discourse, I’d go further and say that Graham’s misrepresentation of Dr Riddle’s words was rather naughty.

    Advances in scientists’ knowledge of race specific genetic differences mean that these days it is no longer racist to observe the evident fact that some races are genetically better or less well equipped for different sports. This is why I did not think that you, Alan, were being racist when you wrote, “I reckon a properly coached team of indigenous Cricketers, would be world beaters, given their natural attributes.” All I thought was that Blimey!, whereas Graham thinks it’s racist just to suggest that school children have different learning needs, his ally actually thinks it’s not even racist to talk about their having different physical attributes. And neither do I.

    I think there is a good case for suggesting that Graham has so seriously misrepresented Dr Riddle’s position that an apology would be in order. His alternative would appear to be maintaining his view that Dr Riddle’s comment was racist. To do this, he would need to maintain that it is racism even to point to different learning needs of school children that result from backgrounds over which they have no control.

    Comment by Glen Coulton — July 13, 2014 @ 1:28 am

  6. Glen:
    Nobody can control their background, or indeed the often entirely unproved intellectual concepts, put out there by people, who patently believe their own attributes or untested ideas, are somehow Superior!?
    And I still will never ever accept the words of a apparently very clever word Smith, who thinks or trys to suggest I agree with him or her, by adding to my words, to alter their original meaning or my intentions.
    I think these patently disingenuous intellectuals, who probably have never been to an Aboriginal community, let alone taught in one, are the ones creating the problems or emphasizing difference; and seemingly, on racial profiling alone!
    And the same sort of people, harmed the whole of education, by replacing things like phonetics, that worked, with whole of english learning that patently doesn’t; but particularly for kids, were english isn’t a first language!
    And has done nothing more than added exponentially to the levels of illiteracy, that is now the shameful experience for so many in this country, harmed for life!
    International surveys informs us, that preschool education is strongly linked to improved later success.
    And real world experience by real teachers, teaching Aboriginal Kids in Aboriginal communities, requires dedication and attendance not the “different” ideas of patent, we know best elitists!
    Who apparently want a two tiered system, because they believe there is a difference; or that Aboriginal kids have inbuilt learning difficulties!?
    And then you have the hide to say you were the one insulted by, what all others would conclude, was merely a typically laconic, humorous remark, with absolutely no malice in it.
    I don’t believe we need a two tiered system, neither does the former principle of Cherboug, Dr Sarah, an Aboriginal with a PHD and plenty of very high powered experience, as a preferred Government adviser!
    I sooner listen to him and his patently real world views and practical experience, than that of Dr Riddle, who I believe, continues to pontificate from on high, and from a patently held elitist’s position?
    Aboriginal kids don’t need a different education, just a return to those teaching methods that worked, along with vastly improved attendance.
    And that requires a change of attitudes by Aboriginal parents, some but not all of them,(so you can’t again quite deliberately misrepresent me and or, give my words an intended different or biased meaning,) and back that with a system of rewards, another tried and not found wanting approach to serious disadvantage!
    I stand by my unamended opinion and completely refute that I was in any way agreeing with you or your apparent clever reinterpretation of mine and or, any other writer’s words.
    This is not a place or subject for, too clever by half, word amending debate; but rather, genuine people who genuinely care about kids and better outcomes!
    Alan B. Goulding

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — July 13, 2014 @ 10:21 am

  7. ” Nobody can control their background …”!


    So when Dr Riddle observed that some Aboriginal students needed different teaching materials/approaches because their backgrounds gave them different learning needs, he was not criticising or devaluing them; he was acknowledging that they had no control over the backgrounds that shaped their needs and could not be blamed them , irrespective of what they were.

    Alan, I’ll put this as simply as I can.

    I made precisely one point about Graham’s article. Dr Riddle suggested that Aboriginal students might benefit from a teaching approach that responded to their particular needs. Graham said that made him a racist deserving of dismissal. I thought it didn’t and said so. That’s all.

    I offered no opinion on whether Dr Riddle was right or wrong other than to say I believe there is evidence supporting his view. Like Dr Riddle, I said nothing critical of Aboriginality.

    There is nothing racist about tailoring teaching methods to students’ needs. It’s something that good teachers do all the time. For example, it is widely accepted that different kids within the same social or racial groups, or even within the same family, can have different learning styles — different ways of learning — that good teachers need to recognise and cater to.

    Yet when Dr Riddle made this very point in relation to Aboriginal students, Graham called for his head. If Dr Riddle had said that students with left and right side brain dominance had different learning needs that would be best served by different teaching methods, would Graham have accused him of committing a sackable offence? Would you?

    If Dr Riddle had said that left and right handers have a demonstrable need for different kinds of scissors and urged that different kinds be provided to meet their needs, would either of you have cried out in protest?

    I understand that the mere mention of race can elicit strongly emotional reactions from people who have been victims of the evil that is racism, as I suspect you have been, and I think that your strong criticism of me might exemplify such a reaction.

    But merely observing that there are racial differences does not a racist make.

    Racism (I think) is assuming that racial differences necessarily means that some races are deficient or less worthy/less valuable than others . Nothing in Dr Riddle’s comments implied that he thought Aboriginal students were deficient or less worthy than non-Aboriginal students UNLESS you are prepared to argue that having a different learning style or learning need makes you a less worthy person. But if you think this, then consistency requires that you seek the sacking of people who design different teaching materials for left and right brain dominant students or different scissors for left and right handed tailors.

    And because you are smart enough to understand that it is not racist to recognise Aboriginals’ sporting talents, I’m confident that you also understand that recognising different learning needs of some Aboriginal students is no more racist than recognising that siblings can have different learning needs, or that left and right handers might need different tools, or that many Aboriginal kids have exceptional athletic and co-ordination talents.

    It is precisely because you did seem to recognise this that I assumed you were siding with me against Graham’s article which seemed to deny it.

    And of course I might have misinterpreted Graham’s article, in which case he is perfectly entitled to explain why I’m wrong to say that his calling for Dr Riddle’s sacking was over the top.

    I’m sorry for assuming you were insulting when you called me a legend in a lunch box. The reason I did not recognise that it was simply jocular good humour on your part was that elsewhere you called me a purveyor of derogatory spin who fatuously, erroneously and dishonestly denied the right of others to be different, which, by the way, I don’t. I think you also lumped me in with empire building bureaucrats who only ever see Aboriginal disadvantage as a funding problem. Alan, if only you knew!

    I confess that I did not read your earlier post carefully enough to realise that it proclaimed your Aboriginal descent. That doesn’t make your criticisms of me correct but it does make them easy to understand. So no offence.

    Please understand that when you celebrate the fact that Aboriginal kids are now going to University and becoming doctors and lawyers (not too sure about the lawyers), I celebrate with you. I don’t know if the teaching methods Dr Riddle has in mind will help Aboriginal kids to reach these goals in greater numbers and more quickly but I’m certain that if Aboriginal kids, or any other kids for that matter, have learning needs different from those of rich white kids in coastal cities for whom most teaching approaches and materials are developed, then failing to recognise and address them for fear of being labelled “racist” by right wing commentators is NOT the way to go.

    Alan, I don’t think there is any point in continuing this exchange so I won’t be submitting further posts. If you wish to have the last word, go for it.


    Comment by Glen Coulton — July 13, 2014 @ 1:10 pm

  8. No offence intended or taken Glen.
    However, I don’t believe Aboriginal kids are dumb, but just like other kids from a non-english speaking background. They need to learn by rote, an enunciated/sounded alphabet, and or phonetics, just to create a stable and strong foundation, upon which all other learning achievements rest!
    Parenthetically, all remedial teaching includes phonetics, which has allowed many migrants to finally catch up with or surpass their Australian peers.
    There’s and old saying, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!
    And since we’ve abandoned phonetics, the illiteracy rate has climbed through the roof!
    Whole of language learning needs to be accompanied by pictorial images, so it is learned like the mother tongue and far earlier, so we can pick up problems before they become an impediment to further learning!
    But rather, just produce youngsters who are simply bored by a process or processes they don’t comprehend, can’t engage in or contribute to, and respond by wagging it.
    I am not pedantic enough to want the last word, but I’ll take it anyway, and penultimately conclude by saying, Aboriginal needs are best understood by, a walk a mile in my shoes, Aboriginals.
    And as far as teaching/learning needs go, that man, for my money, is an extremely dedicated Dr Chris Sarah, who not too long ago, proved he just wasn’t an ivory tower dwelling academic, full to the gunwales with untried, untested, intellectual concepts; but rather, chock full of practical experience!
    Experience that made a huge difference/turnaround in Aboriginal Community Cherboug.
    A college professor, on the other hand probably has only ever dealt with kids, who have more than adequate, tried and tested learning skills, and would probably learn all they needed to know, from a book list or lecturers/notes?
    Interestingly, when you only have an oral language, you do need to have a huge memory and one often superior to those who can find what they seek, on some bookshelf or other?
    Neither my paternal Grandmother or my dad could read, yet could remember the most intimate details, from even the distant past.
    Dad for example, on the train ride to work, could repeat and comment on the only heard once, daily news, verbatim, which allowed others including me, to believe he had superior reading skills.
    If Aboriginal people are different, that’s because they needed to be, as a survival mechanism.
    I mean, what would have been their fate if the elders didn’t recall where all the reliable water was during an enduring drought, or where the best fishing/hunting grounds were etc.
    And what was good medicine, or bush tucker and what wasn’t! Or what you could use to both wash your hands or stun fish! As Encyclopedic knowledge!
    I remember the day my dad’s chest swelled with pride, when I was invited to attend a special school for gifted youngsters, on the basis of an IQ test!
    When he asked how did I do, the seemingly astounded Headmaster replied, third highest ever!
    I being me, just sat there smiling, with a ,I always knew it, big headed response.
    The principle looked puzzled, as if all of his preconceptions had just been nailed by one example.
    Perhaps Dr Stewart Riddle just assumes all Aboriginal kids, or those who have not taken up sniffing and melted their brains, are simply smarter, and therefore should all be treated as gifted kids?
    And if a genetically inherited superior memory/problem solving is part of the test, maybe they are?
    Personally, I’d prefer Dr Sarah’s opinions and attitude.
    At least it is one, won on the back of sound practical experience and runs on the board.
    And impressively, he also has a veritable alphabet after his name!
    Alan B. Goulding.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — July 14, 2014 @ 11:07 am

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