In this next instalment of this series, in which I subject public announcements on education reforms in NSW to an analysis of logical argument to see what, if anything, they are actually saying, I will be going back in time a little to April 22, when Director-General of the Department and Education and Communities released a video statement addressing some of the issues with the Local Schools, Local Decisions policy.
The video can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DrIxTVGTWU&feature=relmfu
As before, I offer no counter argument or comment on the policy, and intend only to identify how well the logical argument of this announcement stands up to scrutiny.
Here we go:
After a greeting, Ms. Bruniges opens with:
“I want to take this opportunity to tell you why local schools, local decisions is important for making our great public education system in NSW even greater.”
This is a great opening as it outlines a clear thesis for this message – this is the primary point that this video is attempting to prove. It means that from this announcement we should reasonably expect a clear explanation of how this policy will result in improvements in our public education system. There is one potential pitfall here, however, in that the words ‘great’ and ‘greater’, while colloquially used to mean ‘very good’ and to indicate an improvement on a scale of either effectiveness or efficiency, ‘great and ‘greater’ could also just mean ‘large’ and ‘larger’.
“These are important changes and I know you’ll have a lot of questions.”
This statement is made without any qualifiers. Will she be addressing our questions? Offering an opportunity to ask those questions? Or is she just acknowledging that the audience might have questions? It is not made clear. It also does not directly follow form the thesis, but given that we are still in the introductory passage of the announcement, it does not definitely qualify as a Non-Sequitur, as it may be a sub-thesis that this announcement will address.
“I want to address some claims that are being made about the educational reforms that are simply untrue.”
This next sentence, which does not address the audience’s questions, nor does it begin to develop the argument of making great schools greater, feels somewhat like a divergence from the thesis. It is, however, engaging in the logical fallacy of Begging the Question – making a statement or asking a question that is based on the assumed truth of another unproven premise or statement. In this sentence she begs the question that claims being made about the policy are untrue, she does not offer to explain why or how they are untrue, which would be a requirement of formal, logical argument.
“I want to be very clear from the outset, that Local Schools, Local Decisions (LSLD) is an education reform built on putting students at the centre of what we do. It is not about cutting the amount we spend in schools.”
Again, this does not follow directly from the previous statement. It does, however engage in another example of Begging the Question in the implication that the current model is not ‘student centred’. This is, in effect, making the argument that the current model of school management has something other than ‘students’ at the ‘centre’. For a comment about an education system, this might seem like quite an extraordinary claim and therefore, to paraphrase Carl Sagan’s famous quote, will require some extraordinary evidence.
“The education minister has stated that the education budget is not going to be reduced. When you look at the education budget after taking away the commonwealth government stimulus packages, the amount spent on education by the NSW government has continued to increase steadily. Let me restate this point. The NSW govt. has made it clear that their investment in education will not decrease.”
This section was accompanied by a series of bar graphs that represented annual spending on NSW public education from 2008 to 2012, indicating a consistent increase, with figures inside the bars on the graph indicating a spending increase of 1.6 Billion.
The first sentence of the paragraph, however, begins with the logical fallacy of Argument from Authority, depending on the authority of the position of the minister as a substitute for any actual proof or guarantee of truth in that statement. While the minister may well have made that commitment, such a statement does not replace the need for proof to support the claim. Anyone who remembers Prime Minister John Howard’s promise not to introduce a GST, or PM Julia Gillard’s promise not to introduce a carbon tax will appreciate why a politicians promise does not actually mean anything.
This statement about finances, and the bar graph, presents itself as being one of two possible logical fallacies. Either an example of the non-sequitur, in which there is a logical link implied where none exists, or it could be an example of a previously unseen logical fallacy, which is that of the Genetic Fallacy. This fallacy suggests that the origins and history of something will automatically shape its current and future state. Whether Non-Sequitur or Genetic Fallacy, this argument that suggests that because budgets’ have increased that they will continue to increase is incorrect as it offers no argument for the safeguarding of that growth and is not, therefore, a reliable logical argument.
The final statement, while seemingly an emphatic statement against decreased budgets, makes a distinct change in the use of language. The previous sentences used the word ‘budget’ whereas this sentence uses the word ‘investment’. The different potential meaning of these words could be unintentional, or they could be deliberate. Lacking further explanation in the video, the difference can only be highlighted at this point.
“There’ve also been lot of claims made about what local schools, local decisions will mean for your employment status. I want to set the record straight. LSLD will not affect teacher tenure.”
This is a rather direct statement, but offers no actual evidence or detailed explanation to support the point. Ms. Bruniges does not state that current tenure will remain, nor does she offer an alternative. Without evidence, however, this is another example of Argument from Authority, in which Ms. Bruniges is drawing on her own authority in place of any evidence to prove the statement.
“Furthermore, the state transfer system, including incentive and nominated transfers will continue.”
This statement again has issues of specificity of language, however the general intention seems to be to say that current arrangements for state transfers will remain in place. However, once again there is no evidence or explanation offered, and this statement continues from the previous Argument from Authority, placing it within the bounds of that logical fallacy.
What follows is a series of singular statements that are made without explanation or evidence, and which have issues of specificity of language. Without evidence, such as specific details about the wording of new policies, or explicit explanation as to the how and why of each statement, they effectively remain unproven statements and have no reliable meaning. As all of these statements follow in a similar fashion from the earlier argument form authority, I assume that they are intended to be taken as true because Ms. Bruniges is saying them. Unfortunately this still does not replace the need for actual evidence.
I’ve added a few comments on the specific issues with each statement:
“Principals will not be required to fire teachers. If a teacher is to be dismissed, that decision will be made by a senior officer of the department.”
How is that similar or different to current arrangements? Either way it needs to be explained.
“Principals will continue to assess and manage the performance of their staff, as they always have.”
Same question/statement as above.
“LSLD will in no way affect the permanent employment status of staff.”
Nice statement to hear, but still no explanation.
“Suggestions of widespread casualization of the teaching staff are unfounded, irresponsible, and untrue.”
The use of the words Unfounded, Irresponsible and Untrue require explanation and evidence. If specific claims have been made, can you prove that they have no reliable evidence? What makes them irresponsible? How can you prove them to be untrue?
“Of course, from time to time, there will be a need for schools to hire a temporary teacher to meet the specific needs of a particular cohort of students, or to assist with a particular initiative.”
How is that similar or different to current arrangements? Either way it needs to be explained.
“I reject any suggestion that we should not allow schools the flexibility to organise a temporary position at their school if it is designed to meet an immediate need or manage a particular situation such as a decline in resources due to falling enrolments.”
Another example of begging the question that depends on the audience believing that someone has actually made the suggestion that schools should not be allowed to hire temporary staff for targeted position. Ms. Bruniges needs to identify who has made that suggestion, and in what forum. Most news-watchers would be familiar with phrases such as “In a press release on (date), (person) stated that…”. Such a reference would constitute evidence. Without such a reference, this statement engages in logical fallacy and offers no reliable information.
“We have already organised to meet with the teacher’s federation to discuss these matters.”
Yes? And? So? What?
Again, no explanation to give this statement meaning. All it could prove is that an offer of a meeting/discussion has been made.
“But let me be very clear. The one size fits all approach to school staffing where we ignore the unique needs of some students and some school communities must, and will end.”
Begging the question: Are schools currently built on a one-size-fits-all model? Do schools ignore the needs of some students? These are extraordinary claims that require extraordinary evidence, and within this statement there is no evidence at all.
Also, the opening statement of Ms. Bruniges message described schools as ‘great’. Does our ‘great’ system ignore some students’ needs? This seems self-contradictory, unless the intended meaning of the word ‘great’ was actually just ‘large’.
“I know there’s a lot more work to be done to implement local schools, local decision reforms. I know they matter to you.”
Statements of personal opinion. No evidence really necessary as she is not arguing that they are true. We can leave these alone.
“Which is why I’ve created a joint consultative group to help provide advice through this process. I have invited the three principals groups, as well as the aboriginal educational consultative group, the NSWTF, the institute of senior educational administrators, the public service association, and the federation of P&C of NSW to joint that group.”
This is a description of action, and as such fairly innocuous as she is not trying to argue that any contentious point is proven by this description.
“Some important changes are already under way. From today the procurement processes used by principals have changed to help schools get a better deal. Principals will be free to make more local decisions or purchases of items up to 5000 dollars, allowing you to support local businesses and suppliers where you can get best value for money.”
I want to take a moment to pause and reflect on the paragraph above. It states a premise, that schools can get a better deal. Then it explains it by outlining that schools will now be able to deal with local contractors. This is, so far, the closest to a logically supported premise that we have seen so far in this announcement. I wanted to draw special attention to it as hopefully seeing this example of an argument with explanation will make the lack of supporting explanation of other points even clearer.
I must also point out, however, that this statement does engage a number of examples of Begging the Question in the assumptions that schools CAN get better ‘deals’ or ‘value for money’ locally. There do not appear to be any guarantees or offers of support in place for anyone who cannot negotiate such a better deal themselves.
“We want you to be able to get the job done quickly and without having to fill in a lot of forms.”
Begging the question: are current processes unnecessarily slow and paper-work heavy? More explanation needed.
“LSLD is about recognising that the school is the centre of our work.”
Begging the question: Does this mean that prior to LSLD the school was not recognised as the centre of ‘our’ work?
“It is where the learning happens. It’s where relationships are formed between teachers, students and their parents and communities. Importantly, it’s where our students develop their love of learning.”
These statements are fairly innocuous. Moving on:
“LSLD gives people working in our schools further flexibility and freedom to make decisions so that students get what they need, when they need it.”
I assume that this statement is re-enforcing the previous statements about dealing with local contractors. If it has greater meaning, particularly with the use of the words ‘flexibility’ and freedom’, then that meaning is not explained.
“It enhances your capacities as principals and as teachers to be responsible professionals that you are.”
How? By buying stationary from a local retailer? Explanation needed.
“It strengthens your authority to exercise your professional judgement, and I believe that this reform will build momentum to strengthen our core business of teaching and learning.”
How? How will the ability to get a local painter to cover graffiti make the professional judgement of a teacher ‘stronger’? The meaning of this statement is either much broader than the specific details of this message so far, or it is a non-sequitur.
“I hope that we can all work together as educators and people who support public education to make sure that we use this opportunity wisely and that we get the details right so that at the end of the process we will have built a schooling system that better supports teachers and principals as they strive to give each student the best possible education.”
Personal statement – fairly harmless.
So in a five minute video, there is one logically explained statement about being free to seek goods and services at a local level, but one that still engages in the logical fallacy of begging the question.
Furthermore, the original statement that this video would “tell (you) why local schools, local decisions is important for making our great public education system in NSW even greater” does not seem to have been addressed, meaning that the argument within this video did not achieve its stated purpose.
For this announcement to hold together logically it would have required a clear and detailed explanation of how elements of the LSLD policy would lead to increased ‘greatness’ of the school system. This would have, of course, required a more clear definition of what it means for a school system to be ‘great’ in the first place, and what ‘greater’ would look like. Given that the few statements that referred to specific changes were made without evidence or explanation, they do not actually stand as evidence in support of the original premise.
So after a five minute video, the question of how LSLD will actually make our schools ‘greater’ remains unanswered.
In my next post, I will deconstruct one of the videos from the New South Wales Teacher’s Federation on the subject of LSLD – however, unlike the videos from the Department (so far), NSWTF videos tend to run for over 10 minutes and involve more than a single speaker, so it will require more careful analysis and take longer to write.