Sunday, 28 August 2016

The HeART of the Matter - the Gordon Tovey Experiment.

On Friday I went to see a New Zealand Film Festival film at the Lido in Hamilton called The HeART of the Matter.  It was an afternoon showing, and I expected that I would be one of a very few members of an audience, but there were heaps of people there - probably reliving their long ago school days.  I had heard about the film while at the #edchatnz Conference the other weekend and as I am currently studying education policy, I thought this was worthy of seeing.

The film was about the programmes Gordon Tovey implemented, while under CE Beeby, as the head of Arts and Crafts in the Department of Education from 1946 until 1966.  You may be familiar with the work of Elwyn Richardson at the Far North school Orauti, which was part of what was known as the Far North project or experiment.

Part of the essence of the experiment was to nurture the creativity of children and allow them to explore and express themselves.  It was part of the child centred driven philosophy that emerged from the First World War and the Depression in the first Labour government's education policy to give children better opportunities.

This is from the New Zealand Film Festival website (see sources for links):

Luit Bieringa’s richly archived documentary examines the legacy of Gordon Tovey and the post-war education programmes that put art, artists, and Māori arts in particular, into the New Zealand classroom.

Under the leadership of a legendary director general of education, Clarence Beeby, the years immediately after World War II saw the most remarkable shifts in educational philosophy New Zealand had ever experienced.

Luit Bieringa’s documentary traces those changes and the army of men and women who worked to establish a thoroughly bicultural and arts-centred education system. Gordon Tovey, national supervisor of arts and crafts, and his team of artists and art specialists fostered the lively and colourful classrooms that New Zealand is familiar with today, in stark contrast to the rote-learning environments preceding them. Contributing art specialists included Cliff Whiting, Para Matchitt and Ralph Hotere. Critically, they ensured that aspects of Māori art such as kōwhaiwhai, kapa haka and waiata had a central place in our mainstream classrooms through in-depth consultation with Ngāti Porou kaumātua Pine Taiapa. Replete with archival interviews and little-seen footage, this film is likely to transport any Kiwi-educated boomer back to school, but its richly storied excavation of the past is as clearly pointed towards the future as once were its public-servant heroes.

“Given current challenges in education, and because this rich history is beginning to fade from living memory, ‘Tovey era’ stories need revisiting now more than ever… New Zealand needs a strong story that challenges the notion of the arts as a ‘frill’ in the educational process. Not arts or science – but both taught creatively for our children, students of all cultures, and the public at large to enhance and partake of the challenging future.” — Jan Bieringa

Gordon Tovey with his Art Specialists.  This photo is shown in
the film The HeART of the Matter.  See sources.
Tovey himself never trained as a teacher.  In his words, in the film, his teacher said he had "two options in life: become an author or become an artist; since your spelling is so poor, you'll have to be an artist."  So he did, and he was a good one.  He went to art school, after prompting from his aunt who was an artist, with Len Lye.  He also was a commercial artist, working for the railways in Britain to produce advertising posters and the like.

'Mitre Peak' from 1966 by Gordon Tovey  See sources.
It was in England where he met his wife, Heather, whom he married in 1930 and returned to New Zealand with.  Once back in New Zealand he became a tutor at Dunedin School of Art at King Edward Technical College in art, where he began to develop his own style of teaching.  In 1937 he was appointed as the head of the Art School at its new location where he pioneered programmes integrating art, music, movement and drama. 
When World War II broke out, his flat feet prevented Tovey from service overseas, so he insisted on painting camouflage for the army and was made an Intelligence Officer.  He was also appointed as a lecturer at the Dunedin Teacher Training College, but it was several years before he could be in this role full time.  While in this role he introduced programmes to "encourage the expression of creative imagination, which he believed held the key to both children and society fulfilling their potential."
These ideas caught the eye of the Director of the Department of Education, CE Beeby, who was revolutionising the New Zealand education system.  Beeby had become the Director of the Department of Education in 1940.  This was Beeby's belief for the New Zealand education system:

“Every person whatever his able ability, whether be rich or poor, whether he live in town or country, has a right as a citizen to a free education, of the kind for which he is best fitted and to the fullest extent of his power... That idea was deep in the public consciousness, deep in the public aspirations, and deeper still after the war. When again, like after the Depression, the country felt a sense of guilt for what they'd done for the young. And nobody! nobody! nobody would challenge that.” – Clarence E. Beeby, Director of Education 1940 - 1960

In 1946 Beeby appointed Tovey as the first head of the Arts and Crafts department in the Department of Education.  The seeds were sewn for Tovey's experiment in Northland.
The film explains how Tovey hand picked high performing students from various teacher training colleges, invited them to an interview and then had conversations with them about what they liked doing artwise.  He then selected a group to take to Dunedin to train as Art Specialists.
These Art Specialists were then sent all over the country to run workshops for teachers and do demonstrations in classrooms to encourage teachers to have the confidence to teach art.  This was part of Beeby's plan to change the appearance of classrooms in accordance with his modernisation of the education system.  Among these Art Specialists were people who came to prominence in New Zealand as artists in a variety of genre and media: Ralph Hotere, Katarina Mataire,

A still from a video in the film of students from the Far North with
instruments they have made, making their music.  See sources.
The film has these Art Specialists talking about their selection, training, work and relationships with Tovey.  They spoke of the high energy and the creativity that was demanded of them, the opportunity to explore their own art interests and develop their skills.  After their training they were sent around the country to devolve all they had learned to classroom teachers and students.

Students from schools in the Far North and the son of a set of teachers talk about their learning experiences as children involved in the project.  One gentleman is shown turning the pages of the infamous Elwyn Richardson book In the Early World identifying his classmates and discussing the creations in the pictures.  This brings in the student voice, maybe sixty years after the event, but these experiences stayed with the students of the schools involve in the Far North.

It also discusses how Tovey travelled to countries in the South Pacific to learn about their arts and crafts and institute similar programmes too.  It invigorated his desire to have more Mäori arts and crafts in schools as well.  Art and Craft for the South Pacific (1959) and The Arts of the Mäori (1961)were two books to come out of this.

A collaboration with celebrated Ngati Porou carver Pineamine Taiapa (above) was instrumental in getting Mäori arts and crafts into the arts syllabus.  Initially he faced some opposition.  Sir Apirana Ngata was opposed to promoting the arts of the Mäori, believing they should be learning to live, be educated and work in the Päkehä world.  But after Ngata's death, Tovey began to gain more traction with including the arts and crafts of the Mäori tradition into the art syllabus.

How did this film speak to me?

There were certain quotes and ideas in the film that spoke to me as I watched and listened, fascinated with how innovative it was for the age and wishing we had a similar freedom today.... lamenting what National Standards, standardisation and GERM has done to our classrooms and freedom as a teacher today.... remembering how this approach was still in vogue when I was at primary school and disappointed my nieces and nephews will not be experiencing this is the same way wee did.  So I did a wee bit of sneaky tweeting during the film (which was hard because heaps of people got there earlier than me and took up the back seats) and I a Storify:

Sadly, Storify has deleted itself from the Social Media scene, so all my Storify stories have gone.  😭😭😭😭😭

A speech or lecture by Gordon Tovey is in the film, where he says "Unless a person has abrasiveness in their personality, they only have complacency" and that spoke to me.  Probably because I can be rather abrasive.  But it also spoke to me because I can not be complacent about the current state of our education system or education policy, which is why my Masters is specialising in Global Education Policy.  As a teacher, there are things I do and the way I achieve them I know work, but when they don't I know I have to find a better way to do it or that I need to approach it from a different angle.

An old interview with Beeby conducted by Ian Fraser was also included in the film to set the scene on education policy of the day.  Beeby talked about how determined the first Labour Prime Minister, Michael Joseph Savage, was to have a quality education system for everyone.  Beeby talked about how education for the masses scares the Tories (National) and is the first item to be cut.  Well, for all the current Prime Minister and Minister of Education say that they have put more money into education than every before, it is the cuts you can not see due to inflation and regulation that inflict a lot of damage currently.

"As a teacher you are an enabler, not a doer."  How often do we see parents and teachers doing it for the children nowadays?  I am a strong believer in demonstrating and then getting the kids to do it themselves.  And I could see this was the philosophy around training the Art Specialists so they could enable teachers to create and then teachers could enable students to create.  This is something I do a lot in my own class.  I demonstrate.  I train up certain students to be 'consultants' who 'boss' the others around so they can do it themselves.

The observation of one of the Art Specialists in the film that the advent of Tomorrow's Schools changed the Department of Education being dedicated to the needs of the children into the Ministry of Education which is dedicated to the whims of the Minster of Education educating children for an unknown future.  He lamented the role of Art Specialist evolving into being an advisor which then has disappeared into trying to win a contract.  Support and guidance for classroom teachers has evaporated.

Another Art Specialist felt the project was worth doing and if they had the choice to do it over again they would.  I feel that they were pioneers and our education system was the better for it.  I believe that this project enabled the children of the time to have that No.8 wire mentality that New Zealand became known for.

What does this mean going forward?

But I do feel we still have some of these pioneers in our education system today, people who are taking the values and essence of creativity and self expression of the Tovey era and taking it in a new direction:  Makerspace and Genius Hour. 

According to one definition, Makerspace is this:

Makerspaces, sometimes also referred to as hackerspaces, hackspaces, and fablabs are creative, DIY spaces where people can gather to create, invent, and learn. In libraries they often have 3D printers, software, electronics, craft and hardware supplies and tools, and more.

Genius Hour can be described as:

Genius hour is a movement that allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom.  It provides students a choice in what they learn during a set period of time during school.

Essentially these ideas are reboots of what Tovey achieved in his time as the head of the Arts and Crafts Unit of the Department of Education with the support of Beeby.  Tovey empowered teachers, who in turn empowered students, to unleash their creativity.

My desire is to have the freedom that Tovey and Beeby empowered teachers with.  But with the National Standards as the Harry Potter Dementors spreading doom over our enabling New Zealand Curriculum many teachers do not have that empowerments.  Rather they are the slave of a data gathering machine - pretty much what Beeby was trying to move away from when he wrenched the education system out of the traditional British model of schooling.

1 comment:

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