Education: a crisis real or imagined


The purposeful manipulation of extreme situations by governments for the benefit of businesses is the essence of disaster capitalism, where governments undertake rapid-fire corporate change in societies reeling from shock.  As well as applying to situations such as 9/11, the stock market crashes, and the Falklands War, it is being played out here and abroad in education.

It took little time, for example, for Hekia Parata to jump on Christchurch schools and start closing and merging them post-quake.  Changes would be necessary at some point post-quake, for sure.  But to strike that blow so soon, when houses are not yet repaired, communities are still in flux, and people are still under the most extreme stress is not just heartless, it is unnecessary.  So why do it?

The high lord of disaster capitalism, has an answer for that:


Not facts, research, and a sound basis for change.  Not co-operation.  Not a mandate from the people of your country. No. You need crisis.

Getting creative

So, if no actual crisis is handy but the government has changes it wishes to implement, what can government do?  Well that’s simple – create a crisis.

It’s something our government is doing in spades.

Consider just this past year or so.  There’s the supposed crisis in benefit fraud that allows for drugs testing, CERA and the removal of democracy in Christchurch, the crisis of potential terrorism that was used to justify the wholesale spying on ordinary citizens, and of course the manufactured crisis in education that has been used to push through reform after reform after reform.

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And it’s not just here.  When it comes to education, these reforms are being pushed through world wide, by business and supported by government – and despite huge concerns and opposition from parents and teachers.

How does disaster capitalism play out in education?

  • CRISIS – Create the idea that students are being failed by the system
  • MEDIA REINFORCEMENT – Mainstream media repeats and repeats the claims, manufacturing a crisis
  • TESTING – Bring in students testing so that the levels can be manipulated to support current plans (look the tests show ‘they’ the teachers are failing the students, look the tests show ‘we’ the government are improving things)
  • GAG THE PROFESSION- Oust and undermine teachers and principals who resist government plans
  • GAG THE COMMUNITY – Remove or ignore community voices e.g. by undertaking fake consultations
  • TAKE CONTROL – Take over the teachers’ professional body – give them no representation
  • USE FEAR TO LIMIT FURTHER RESISTANCE – bring in test-based pay, sack key educators, allow untrained teachers
  • PRIVATISE – open charter schools
  • RAMP UP PRIVATISATION – force state schools to become charters

Parents in England and the USA promised more choice, better schools, improved achievement have found themselves sorely disappointed.  The privatisation promise has rarely lived up to the rhetoric, with charter schools often bringing more problems than the state schools they replace, with fraud, mismanagement, and exclusion of pupils all of concern.

And no rise in achievement.

So much for a brighter future.  So much for choice.

“Create a crisis, real or imagined, and then push through your reforms.”  So catchy it should be the title of National’s policy document.


  1. One other key strategy is closely aligned to the “Gag the profession/community” approach.
    This Govt strategy is to ask for feedback on a given initiative BUT with such a tight timeframe that busy teachers and families rarely have a true opportunity to respond. Subsequently, the Govt claim to have responded to community/profession feedback and “voice”. I have seen this occur so many times with change – the strategy calls for speed, speed, and more speed. Sadly the old proverb: “Haste makes waste” has fallen on deaf ears with the Govt and its neo-liberal acolytes.

  2. Many of these same claims could be made of ‘disaster environmentalism’.

    Create a world wide panic by sensationalising and distorting enviromental data, recruit the odd failed politician to make movies designed to create widespread panic, set up a UN organisation of bus conductors and other assorted non-scientists, and finally throw billions of dollars of funding into the mix. Stir the pot, shut down dissent and the result? Climate alarmism.

    • Oh bless you, IV, you do continue to try, don’t you.
      Perhaps you missed that crucial point about “facts, research, and a sound basis for change”.

      • Dianne, you won’t get any “facts, research, and a sound basis for change” from Anonymous ACT Supporter Intrinsicvalue. At best you’ll get mis-quotes; distortions; cherry-picked data; and outright fibs.

        Even when he quotes a source and provides a link, it’s best to check it yourself. His selective use of information is legendary. (But I think most readers of TDB are fairly aware of his M.O. by now.)

        • Indeed. And if any noodle would listen to someone with those credentials regarding education (or cimate change) policy, that are very sadly misinformed.

  3. Superb article, Dianne. The following seems very appropriate for the naysayers:
    “None so deaf as those that will not hear. None so blind as those that will not see.”

  4. “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

  5. Ive always wondered why – back in the 1950’s – teachers got about the same pay as MP’s; but today they fall further behind every year.

    And I listen to the PPTA and the NZEI and think to myself – “I wonder what these organisations actually do for their members? They certainly dont do anything to keep their pay rates up to where they used to be”.
    Yes – they do constantly fight with government, they protect second rate teachers from being thrown out, they refuse almost every idea about trying to get rid of the ‘tail’ – but they do hardly anything to keep teachers pay rates up – and with increased pay comes respect and improved effort. And they (PPTA etc) do things like encourage that moron headmaster at Philipstown school to take up unwinable fights, and support schools who refuse the national standards rules. Just imagine if the Police or armed forces took that approach…

    No wonder there are problems in the education sector. No wonder parents take bugger all notice of what the teacher unions say and do all they can to get their children the best education they can arrange. Yes – sometimes it doesnt work – but they are desperate (well about 85% of them are) for their kids to get the best grounding they can.

    This recently released post graduate study where the researcher found deeply ingrained anti maori sentiments amoung teachers should be a wake up call. The first lesson is that passing anti racism laws only makes the situation worse (people feelings are internalised and reinforced). The second lesson is that efforts by the Dept of Education and ERO to test schools on their programmes to improve maori education are doomed while the teachers think its a waste of time. The third lesson is that until someone points the fingure at maori leaders and other various fellow hangers-on and excuse makers – and tells them that its not post colonial stress syndrome or anything else thats the root of the problem in maori education – but simple lack of bloody interest or care by parents that is the cause – then nothing will change.

    I am very familar with some pre school education outfits and the efforts they go to to try and get maori and pasifica kids into fully free places in just incredible – and despite all these efforts the parents mostly just dont care. Pakeha and asian parents take every opportunity and get their kids there every day. They employ maori staff and do all sorts of things – but its mostly wasted effort – and they eventually give up trying – and guess what – they think just like the teachers in schools. How surprising!!

    Yes there is a REAL crisis in education – and thats going to cost all of us lots of money as time passes. Money that should be spent on health and better education – but instead will be mostly wasted on welfare. No one has to manufacture a crisis – its there already and its real. And the numebrs involved at the bottom end are going to get bigger with every generation.

    • I have read it. Indeed I have been discussing it with other educators non stop since yesterday, and we are all very keen to see the thesis in full. Race and racism is a huge social problem and not something to discuss in sound bites.

      • Oh – now dont be so shy Dianne.

        Come on – when I set out what she found you labelled it racist ranting (- using the favorite type of approach that people like you use when you dont want to discuss the truth.)

        But when she announces it – then maybe its true – but you need to check it more – and I doubt even then you will take it all in..

        The thing you have to face is the reason why its there at all. And telling me I am a racist isnt the answer.

        • No, Barry, I do not accuse the researcher of racist ranting, I accuse you of that. And I would rather spend my precious time discussing this with my peers than dancing a jig with a troll, so you are now on your own.

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