Roderic Kefford and academic freedom

“Academic freedom,” presumably includes as a minimum the capacity of “academics” to express freely their views on matters within their academic competencies. Sometimes it’s said that university teachers have it; but it is clear that Roderic Kefford, the headmaster of Barker College, an Anglican school in Hornsby, sees a limited role for it.

I read today his letter in the SMH (the headline of course is theirs):

Writers unblocked at Barker

Barker College unequivocally dissociates itself from remarks attributed to Sue Marks (“Keyboard kids losing art of writing”, July 28). Barker College students are highly competent and confident in writing essays and the kind of extended answers required in examinations conducted by the Board of Studies in NSW.

From year 3 onwards, they have abundant opportunity to develop skills in planning and writing extended pieces of work. The school’s commitment to educational technology ensures that all students have highly developed skills in the appropriate use of that technology.

Dr Marks is not the senior English teacher at Barker, and her remarks do not reflect the school’s position.

Rod Kefford Headmaster, Barker College, Hornsby

Oh my God, I thought. Someone must have been hauled over the coals at the headmagisterial study. What must she have said?

The senior English teacher at Barker College, on the North Shore, Sue Marks, says she has had top students forced to do remedial courses to get their handwriting legible enough for HSC examiners to read.

….

Barker’s Dr Marks said: “The process of writing – whether it be by hand, or on a computer keyboard – is closely connected with the process of thinking. Research points to the fact that thoughts are generated, not merely recorded, through the process of writing. So my fear, in relation to the rise of abbreviated forms adopted by many when emailing, text messaging and instant messaging, is that the capacity for deep thinking, fostered through writing, will be eroded.”

Dr Marks said it was not that writing using these technologies was inherently detrimental to deep thought. “In my view, as society becomes more and more dependent upon technology, it will become increasingly important for clear and cohesive writing to be taught in schools.

“If this is not the case we run the risk of students’ writing – and thinking – reflecting their text-messaging practices and becoming little more than a series of truncated ideas. Many of today’s students are quite capable of sophisticated thought, but as grab-bites become the norm in modern communication technologies, it is vital that the skills involved in producing thoughtful, developed compositions, reflective of higher order thinking, are fostered in our schools.”

The article has its own agenda, but those are the only views attributed to Dr Marks in it.

I wonder why Dr Rod Kefford bothered.

6 Responses to “Roderic Kefford and academic freedom”

  1. Steve Says:

    Easy. Barker is a business first, and an educational institution second.
    If any large company had an employee go public and say “We charge loads for our product and tell people it’s the best, but in fact it’s not that great, and we need to repair a lot of the things we sell,” the company’s head would go public denying these remarks and kick the arse of the employee who made them.
    That’s what Barker’s headmaster has done. He can’t afford to let the public know the truth, and risk the enrollment cash cow.

  2. Neil Says:

    I knew Rod Kefford, slightly, in another life; he could have responded more constructively, I feel. I mentioned that Herald story — without passing judgment on it — on the appropriate blog yesterday.

    BTW: I have really been enjoying the music and bicycles series lately.

  3. marcellous Says:

    @ Steve

    Doubtless that was Kefford’s reasoning, and you are probably right to guess that he was especially reacting against the bit about some senior students needing remedial handwriting work. I am sure they do and he is silly to attempt to deny it. Moreover, I doubt if that is really capable of much opinion quotient: either some students have or they haven’t, so the shaft of Kefford’s disavowal and implied public rebuke (despite “remarks attributed” ) must be aimed elsewhere.

    The second passage attributed remarks to Marks which were really all about writing as the act of recording, rather than handwriting per se, despite the twist in the journalist’s presentation which seemed to enlist them in aid of a slightly different “big story.” The views seem unexceptionable enough. In particular, they involve no factual premise which is, so to speak, a “trade secret” of Barker or confidential information about pupils. Quite frankly I cannot see why Kefford is so concerned to dissociate Barker College from them.

    It looks as if Kefford has reacted to the implicit criticism of some top students’ handwriting but failed to deny that implicit fact. He’s chosen instead to huff and puff about the authority of Marks to express opinions.

    Marks’ opinions are not particularly exceptionable. They are opinions at a level of philosophical generalisation where it is doubtful that a teacher’s expressing them carries any suggestion that these are opinions of “Barker College,” and if it weren’t for his reacting to the implied criticism I doubt if Kefford would have bothered reacting to their publication.

    Here of course, I’m with you, Steve. Private schools are a bit like purveyors of bottled water. They have to guard their reputation jealously because they are selling a commodity which is otherwise available, with only marginal measureable differences, for free.

    I find it telling that the headmaster relies on authority so much in his letter. In the end I guess I think that if that’s all he had to go on, he should have simply let be. However, being a headmaster might well be one of those things which goes to your head. You would get used to a lot of authority and its reciprocal, deference. So perhaps I’d do the same as Kefford if I were in his position.

    @Neil

    Thanks.

  4. Jo Says:

    I feel sorry for Dr Marks- she is presenting a considered view for the benefit of all and Dr Kefford’s officious over explanation seems worrying and an overreaction, almost as though there is something to hide.

  5. marcellous Says:

    Exactly.

  6. Disgruntled Barker Parent Says:

    My experience as a Barker parent would lead me to describe Kefford as something of a dictator and not at all consultative or interested in (alternate) views of his staff or parents.

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