PhD – Planning Heroic Dreams

Sunday, 1 July 2012. It’s the eve of starting a life-changing journey. I am starting it voluntarily and happily. After over a decade of high-school classroom teaching I am starting my PhD at Murdoch University. Tomorrow.

After telling a few people about my decision to do a PhD, some have already jokingly called me Dr Lasic. Yeah, please, about 3 or 4 years later if all goes perfectly to plan. Sure, it’s a goal to reach but not really an ambition to be defined primarily as one (Doctor). It reminds me of migrating to Australia 20 years ago. I wanted to make it to Australia and change my life living here. It was never my primary ambition to become or be called Australian but I am happy to have become one. In the words of Deleuze, one of the key authors in my work, it’s a matter of constant becoming, always folding, refolding and unfolding. More on Deleuze some other time …

Why PhD? Over the past few years, I have been percolating ideas and done some writing and research, always interested in “why things happen (in education) the way they do?” The process grew after my Masters research and intensified while working with some of the most disadvantaged, but not helpless or pitiful, young people in our society. I want to dig deeper and see where the rabbit hole goes, knowing full well there is no end. You can’t stop learning.

I have seen the caveats, the warning signs, the stories of horror but also the stories of bliss, of the almost magic affordance to read, think and write, connect, grow, invent, mature  and change in the process. Parallels with running a marathon (and I have run five of those in the last two years) abound.

As part of my PhD, I will be joining a project Effects of NAPLAN. The project, funded by the Australian Research Council, is headed by Dr Greg Thompson (@effectsofnaplan), DECRA Fellow and long-time collaborator. As its title suggests, the project looks at the effects of NAPLAN, a federally funded high-stakes literacy and numeracy test run in grades 3,5, 7 and 9 across Australia.

Informed by some initial findings, my research will look at how a heightened sense of fear and anxiety about NAPLAN among Year 3 students, their parents and their teachers promotes fearful ways of seeing themselves and ways of acting upon it. I am interested in seeing how fear, an isolating, divisive and pervasive force and one of the key features of Deleuzian ‘societies of control’ has, and continues to, affect and alter many long present and expected sets of human interactions in the Australian educational landscape

I leave the classroom content and knowing reasonably well what many teachers’ daily realities are, what pressures they and the kids they teach can be put under and how difficult, but not impossible, is to change things. I know I run the risk of losing credibility with some people who, over time, might say: “What would he know, he last taught X years ago…” but I sincerely hope that being in touch with so many colleagues in person and online with allay some the effects of that physical, daily (dis)connect.

So! Tomorrow, I am going in necessarily naive. More accurately, naive enough not to be scared by the enormity of the project but not over confident in thinking this is going to be easy.

Or in the words, long thought about by of one my dearest students and written on my farewell card asking the question: “What does PhD stand for?”

Planning Heroic Dreams

And I will never forget these guys! You know, ‘low ability’, ‘no good’, ‘low this’n'that’. Yeah right, see it for yourself!

12 comments

  1. Pingback: Bookmarked: Educational Leadership Weekly (weekly) « Steve J. Moore
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  3. Shannon Johnston

    Tomaz, well done on taking the plunge. All the best! And I’m open for peer support any time for the cost of a coffee – I’ll buy you the poor PhD student a coffee.

    Naplan is interesting – my daughter found it an exciting thing to do last year in year 3, accompanied by the social requirement in her class I believe of also saying how BORING it is, and how SICK of preparing they are. She felt the need to express her concern for “passing”, and I tried to explain how there was no pass mark, just a see where you land. And she landed above the existing scale.

    A student of mine when I used to Coordinate and lecture a Grad Cert TESOL did a study for one unit of the effect of NapLan and attitudes of teaching staff on students who spoke Australian Aboriginal English as a first language. She found that the students were forced to do a test, written by city folk (I’d like to add: white, upper-middle, suburban, educated folk), for first language speakers of Standard Australian English, with little recognition of the fact that they had just started schooling, had just started being involved in Std Austr English. Their results were below the the existing scale. So, first national test, and they were labeled as illiterate. In conclusion, she suggested that they should be treated as a version if ESL – Second Language Std Australian English Speakers, and removed from the NAPLAN scaling, OR given a different test.

    Some thoughts!!

  4. Shannon Johnston

    Tomaz, well done on taking the plunge. All the best! And I’m open for peer support any time for the cost of a coffee – I’ll buy you the poor PhD student a coffee.

    Naplan is interesting – my daughter found it an exciting thing to do last year in year 3, accompanied by the social requirement in her class I believe of also saying how BORING it is, and how SICK of preparing they are. She felt the need to express her concern for “passing”, and I tried to explain how there was no pass mark, just a see where you land. And she landed above the existing scale.

    A student of mine when I used to Coordinate and lecture a Grad Cert TESOL did a study for one unit of the effect of NapLan and attitudes of teaching staff on students who spoke Australian Aboriginal English as a first language. She found that the students were forced to do a test, written by city folk (I’d like to add: white, upper-middle, suburban, educated folk), for first language speakers of Standard Australian English, with little recognition of the fact that they had just started schooling, had just started being involved in Std Austr English. Their results were below the the existing scale. So, first national test, and they were labeled as illiterate. In conclusion, she suggested that they should be treated as a version if ESL – Second Language Std Australian English Speakers, and removed from the NAPLAN scaling, OR given a different test.

    Some thoughts!!

  5. human

    Thank you Shannon, appreciated.

    My favourite, well, most memorable at least, NAPLAN moment came from a Year 9 kid who refused to write it with the words: “I’m not doing it Sir. That’s just another test to show me I’m dumb.”

    There are hundreds of stories of NAPLAN out there, many similar to the ones you mention. So far, the vast majority of stories and surveys collected formally and informally suggest that NAPLAN is certainly not generating much of the spruiked good will out there, for myriad of reasons. And the very brief of the larger project my study is part of is to see how NAPLAN hits the ground, what does it do to people and what do they do as a result of it.

    The journey continues (so does the NAPLAN …).

    Will take you up on that coffee one day!

    Cheers

    Tomaz

  6. human

    Thank you Shannon, appreciated.

    My favourite, well, most memorable at least, NAPLAN moment came from a Year 9 kid who refused to write it with the words: “I’m not doing it Sir. That’s just another test to show me I’m dumb.”

    There are hundreds of stories of NAPLAN out there, many similar to the ones you mention. So far, the vast majority of stories and surveys collected formally and informally suggest that NAPLAN is certainly not generating much of the spruiked good will out there, for myriad of reasons. And the very brief of the larger project my study is part of is to see how NAPLAN hits the ground, what does it do to people and what do they do as a result of it.

    The journey continues (so does the NAPLAN …).

    Will take you up on that coffee one day!

    Cheers

    Tomaz

  7. Shannon Johnston

    dr Lasic (small ‘d’ to designate your new status as a candidate :-D )

    I believe, although this is anecdotal, that the impact of national tests on shaping the classroom curriculum (ie taking over, and destroying any locally-relevant, context – appropriate, exciting and innovative interesting stuff as you did at your last school) in the USA were evident before the Australian government thought to implement one. But they went ahead anyway.

    I also knew of a former colleague who kept his kids home on the NAPLAN test day…

    Well, I find your topic interesting!!
    Dr Shannon

  8. Shannon Johnston

    dr Lasic (small ‘d’ to designate your new status as a candidate :-D )

    I believe, although this is anecdotal, that the impact of national tests on shaping the classroom curriculum (ie taking over, and destroying any locally-relevant, context – appropriate, exciting and innovative interesting stuff as you did at your last school) in the USA were evident before the Australian government thought to implement one. But they went ahead anyway.

    I also knew of a former colleague who kept his kids home on the NAPLAN test day…

    Well, I find your topic interesting!!
    Dr Shannon

  9. chris yates

    All the best for your PhD Tomaz – I am in the process of just beginning Moodle – just started trying to learn it – I found your work on this very helpful and inspirational. So Im writing to tell you this and to thank you. I have spent 30 years running around the low income world trying to help people help themselves via distance and e-learning – you and the people in Moodle are doing what Ken Robinson is asking us as educators to do – see his You tube videos if you haven’t already seen them and his books ‘The Element’ and ‘Out of our Minds’ – if you want to follow up – I went on the read some of your blogs and identified with your one on performativity – Im a child of Paul Willis study Learning to Labour and basically Im still one of the ‘lads’ who still refuses to let my freedoms be undermined by people who want to measure me. Your videos and postings have really helped me – and as you say – ‘change is caught not taught’ Also I might get the chance to go to Pristina to work with the Kosovo Ministry of Education and German Aid Agency soon – so I also found it interesting you were originally from Yugoslavia – I think they probably need you much more than I …
    Anyway best wishes

    Chris Yates

  10. chris yates

    All the best for your PhD Tomaz – I am in the process of just beginning Moodle – just started trying to learn it – I found your work on this very helpful and inspirational. So Im writing to tell you this and to thank you. I have spent 30 years running around the low income world trying to help people help themselves via distance and e-learning – you and the people in Moodle are doing what Ken Robinson is asking us as educators to do – see his You tube videos if you haven’t already seen them and his books ‘The Element’ and ‘Out of our Minds’ – if you want to follow up – I went on the read some of your blogs and identified with your one on performativity – Im a child of Paul Willis study Learning to Labour and basically Im still one of the ‘lads’ who still refuses to let my freedoms be undermined by people who want to measure me. Your videos and postings have really helped me – and as you say – ‘change is caught not taught’ Also I might get the chance to go to Pristina to work with the Kosovo Ministry of Education and German Aid Agency soon – so I also found it interesting you were originally from Yugoslavia – I think they probably need you much more than I …
    Anyway best wishes

    Chris Yates

  11. human

    Cheers Chris.
    Thank you. Glad that some of stories resonate, working on expanding the depth through academic work now (but not one so often viewed as remote from the stories and people ‘on the ground’).

    Sounds like some (more) worthy work coming your way, would like to stay in touch.
    Regards
    Tomaz

  12. human

    Cheers Chris.
    Thank you. Glad that some of stories resonate, working on expanding the depth through academic work now (but not one so often viewed as remote from the stories and people ‘on the ground’).

    Sounds like some (more) worthy work coming your way, would like to stay in touch.
    Regards
    Tomaz

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