Karl du Fresne on Bryan Bruce’s latest hit job

On Tuesday night Bryan Bruce released a new documentary.

It hasn’t gone down well, mainly because it destroyed the union narrative that our education isn’t as world-class as they’d like us believe. The luvvies are upset too because normally they’d be singing from the rooftops about his findings. The problem is that Bruce’s narrative has taken away many of the claims from the unions and actually, despite it not being the intent, promoted why it is that charter schools are so popular.

Paid mouthpiece website The Spinoff’s Duncan Grieve had a crack at it, and has been attacked for daring to speak the unspeakable..

Karl du Fresne also has some commentary:

I forced myself to watch the Bryan Bruce documentary about New Zealand education on TV3 last night. Past experience told me not to expect an even-handed assessment of the issues, but the optimist in me hoped that Bruce might offer some insights into where our education system has gone wrong. Faint chance.

If there’s a word that describes Bruce’s broadcasting style, it’s tendentious – in other words, calculated to promote a particular cause.

Viewers might have learned something worthwhile had he approached his subject with an open mind, but no. He clearly started out with a fixed goal in mind. Bruce doesn’t like choice, doesn’t like competition and doesn’t like individualism. He despises Treasury and the disruptive neo-liberal reforms it has championed since the 1980s.

Bryan Bruce hankers for the halcyon days of the 1970s

And he might have some valid points. Trouble is, he destroys his credibility by the way he cherry-picks information and opinions that support his own. He flies around the world (at our expense, incidentally – the doco was funded by New Zealand On Air) interviewing academics whose views he approves of, and then presents those views as if they’re incontrovertible.

Once a trougher always a trougher. Bryan Bruce lives for the succulent teet of NZ on Air funding, like most of his luvvie pals.

In this respect he reminds me a bit of the American documentary maker Michael Moore, who’s similarly selective in the way he marshals and edits his evidence. The difference is that Moore’s sardonic wit, in contrast to Bruce’s earnest lecturing, is at least entertaining.

It doesn’t seem to matter to Bruce, or perhaps hasn’t even occurred to him, that his approach sometimes produces glaring contradictions. Hence he admiringly cites the Chinese education system for producing results that put Chinese pupils at the top of the OECD achievement rankings while New Zealand kids are falling behind. Then, later in the programme, he condemns test-based regimes and “authoritarian” systems. But hang on; the Chinese education system is both highly test-focused (as Bruce acknowledges) and about as authoritarian as it gets. He can’t have it both ways.

Yes he can, he is a socialist and they have the shield of sanctimony and the cloak of hypocrisy to hide behind.

I noticed too that while he professes to deplore authoritarianism and “social control”, he included footage of pupils at Manurewa Intermediate – a school he obviously admires – chanting in compliant unison before a messiah-like principal. It reminded me of a Destiny Church service.

That school is seriously opposed to charter schools because they have one nearly next door and it is becoming more and more popular and the principal at Manurewa Intermediate is the head of the Principal’s union.

Perhaps Bruce is so obsessively focused on proving New Zealand kids are the victims of a heartless neoliberal experiment that he’s prepared to disregard such inconsistencies in the hope that viewers won’t spot them either.

Even setting aside the polemics, the documentary was seriously flawed as a piece of filmmaking; a string of unconnected ideas with little attempt to join up the dots. I’d mark it as a “fail”.

I find his style irritating and tiresome too. The meaningful downward glances, the hand gestures and the solemn lecture-theatre tone (Bruce is a former teacher, and it shows) are clearly intended to convey a sense of moral authority, but it’s a style that hovers on the edge of priggishness.

I’m perfectly prepared to believe there are a lot of things wrong with New Zealand education, and that some may indeed be the result of what Bruce calls neoliberalism. I’d quite like to see a robust, critical examination of the system by someone prepared to approach the subject without predetermined conclusions. But Bruce is not that person, and his much-hyped documentary was really just an opinion column with moving pictures and sound.

There is nothing wrong with the NZ education system that some charter schools can’t fix. The funny thing is the very people who normally support his documentaries are the ones attacking him because he dared to call failure on our much vaunted “world-class” educations system.

In any other year and on any other topic, politicians like Chris Hipkins would be lauding the documentary of Bryan Bruce. Unfortunately in this instance he has spoken against the union wishes. He will be black-listed from this day forth.

It is to be expected with someone who has a first name for his last name though…really.


-Karl du Fresne


THANK YOU for being a subscriber. Because of you Whaleoil is going from strength to strength. It is a little known fact that Whaleoil subscribers are better in bed, good looking and highly intelligent. Sometimes all at once! Please Click Here Now to subscribe to an ad-free Whaleoil.

  • sheppy

    From what I’ve seen the problem with our world class education system is the unions are holding it in the past to protect their patch. Back in the real world life has evolved beyond the unions nostalgic world of typewriters, dial equipped telephones, reference volumes of encyclopaedias and strikes.
    Anyone who dares to highlight this will get attacked by the leftists who are unable to see or think for themselves.
    Sadly it’s the next generation that suffers.

  • Cadwallader

    A front person like Bryan Bruce is a greater threat to open discussion than an identifiable member of the Left. I say this due to his apparent lack of an agenda and his apparent dispassionate presentations. He is as much a propagandist for the Left as Campbell, Dann & co and no matter how much brow furrowing he might engage in he is still less than objective (read: lacking in evident integrity.) In the past I have been fooled by his documentaries but this latest effort was little more than a hit job for, I suppose, the teachers’ unions?

  • Greg M

    Bryan Bruce and all these other lefty dribblers really do have short memories. They all seem to yearn for the good old days pre 1984, when but for one election in the early 70’s a national government was in office for 18 years. Do they really want to go back to the shortages, continual industrial action, protectionism and Muldoonisms from then? I doubt it..

  • Toby

    I watched this and cringed.
    What annoys me the most is that he makes out that he is being objective and scientific.
    He just came across as an idiot on a junket.

  • Graeme

    That’s why we are inundated with Chinese and Indian students.

  • Papillon

    2016 is shaping up as the year of “the leftie emperor has no clothes”. Both supposed champions of leftwing socialist ideals, Nicky Hagar and now Bryan Bruce are being exposed for the charlatans they are. And more and more NZ’ers are waking up to their misrepresentations and misleading tactics. Panama Papers and Special Report on Education, both massive fails, soon even the media won’t touch these guys as they become more and more tainted.

  • CheesyEarWax

    Didn’t watch it after Bruce’s child poverty doco. What’s with Mediaworks systematic coverage of all things bad in NZ? Do they think viewers want to see these negative, highly opinionated, stories? Of course not, otherwise they wouldn’t have seen shows like Campbell Live and 3rd Degrees axed. They haven’t learned, this isn’t quality journalism, bring back Mark Weldon to finish the job.

  • kereru

    ‘Yes he can, he is a socialist and they have the shield of sanctimony and the cloak of hypocrisy to hide behind.’

    Perfectly put – that’s a keeper.

  • Oskar

    Bryan Bruce really did cherry pick the data he wanted. A few minutes on Google would have shown him that:
    Finland is slipping in PISA rankings and is looking at how it can change its education system – see http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21698679-europes-top-performing-school-system-rethinks-its-approach-helsinking

    With regards to China, that Shanghai is not China. It is a wealthy island in a sea of relatively a lot less wealth – and only Shanghai citizens can get into local schools so migrants children are excluded.
    See these for how the Shanghai educations system works http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/10490471/OECD-education-report-case-study-China.html and http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_world_/2013/12/03/we_need_to_stop_letting_china_cheat_on_international_education_rankings.html
    Finally a quote from the last sited article
    “The three “countries” at the top of the PISA rankings are in fact cities—Shanghai, Singapore, and Hong Kong—as is No. 6, Macau. These are all big cities with great schools by any standards, but comparing them against large, geographically dispersed countries is a little misleading. Shanghai’s No. 1 spot on the rankings is particularly problematic. Singapore is an independent country, obviously, and Hong Kong and Macau are autonomous regions, but why just Shanghai and not the rest of China?”

    • jimknowsall

      Bryan declined to mention an unavoidable truth about education that sits REALLY uncomfortably with lefties. That is that race and wealth have a lot to do with outcomes. Perhaps these factors are the real reason behind the success of education in wealthy city states in Asia and in the Nordic countries.

      • Observer

        Yes, another example is the much derided US public school system. However, Asian students in the US do just as well as Asian students in Asian countries. Similarly, European students in the US actually do better than those in Europe.

        If Bryan Bruce wanted to properly compare apples with apples he should have looked at how Asian students in NZ schools get on compared to the average in Hong Kong of Shanghai.

      • phronesis

        Nope, it’s neither race nor wealth. It’s culture.

        • jimknowsall

          Well it’s all three really, and their effects interlink.

  • Matt

    Let’s remember his good work. The Investigator Special: The Case Against Robin Bain

  • LovetoTeach

    Interesting- I didn’t watch it either because of his very obvious cherry picking style. Feels like an hour of subtle brainwashing…

    • jimknowsall

      Indeed, except it wasn’t subtle.