Beeby – the brains behind the blackboard : a philosophical biography.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis is a philosophical study of Clarence Beeby, New Zealand’s Director of Education from 1940 to 1960, with particular regard to the New Zealand education system. Of particular interest is his vague idea of equality. Many historians consider Beeby to have infused the education system with a strong egalitarian spirit. I argue that Beeby’s true contribution was his egalitarian myth which concealed the fundamentally utilitarian system that he bequeathed New Zealand in 1960.
As a young man Beeby was strongly influenced by competitive education, psychology and religion. Meanwhile, the history of the Department of Education reflects a battle between liberal and conservative ideologies. Beeby’s Directorship was strongly influenced by both his history and that of the Department. During his first six years in the Department Beeby focused on consolidating his authority and exerting his influence through a series of publications in the name of the Minister. Between 1945 and 1950 Beeby’s administration became more authoritarian and paternalistic as he implemented wide sweeping reforms. During the 1950s his philosophy shifted towards egalitarian utilitarianism under more conservative leadership. At this time efficiency strongly influenced his thinking. Beeby’s theory of Educational Myths helps to explain how egalitarian reforms did not happen during the rest of the twentieth century. A series of graphs based on ministry data will support the hypothesis that Beeby left the education system in a state of inequality. It is shown that the disparity that minority groups face in the education system today can be traced back at least as far as Beeby’s Directorship, showing he failed to fundamentally reorient the education system during his twenty-year Directorship. Overall it is made evident that the traditional assertion that Beeby established New Zealand’s egalitarian education system is flawed.