A nice drink of clear, refreshing water


How long have I waited for someone in politics to say that?  Not say something complicated, or prevaricate, or hedge, but just say those three things with force and conviction?  Hearing it was like being handed a nice glass of cold water on a hot day.  In fact, most of Cunliffe’s speech was refreshing: 50% female MPs, 26 week paid leave, binding vote on the Queen, NZ owned insurance, contributions to super….  It probably helped that I spent last night watching Inside Job.

Inside Job is about the 2008 economic crisis and the criminals who made it happen.  If there were ever any doubt about John Key’s intelligence Inside Job puts those questions to rest.  He not only made a fortune but he got out before it turned to custard.  Of course, it also makes something else clear.  There is no way anyone working at a high level for one of the toxic big five finance and investment companies could have any scruples, or give a stuff about the wider good of society.

Many things struck me as I watched the documentary unfold.  Firstly, the spectacular and irresponsible failure of the world’s largest insurance company, AIG, must surely be playing some kind of factor in New Zealand’s shitty insurance situation post the Christchurch earthquakes.  Secondly, it sucks to be Iceland.  I actually had read about Iceland earlier and was already aware of how much it sucked to be Iceland, but then I forgot.  As you do.  Finally, how totally ridiculous it is to elevate economists to any kind of position of power.  They are not scientists, they are social studies teachers.  I say that with the greatest respect for social studies teachers (I am a social studies teacher), and I know for a fact that social studies teachers are not scientists who can predict the future.  Letting economists forget that they are social studies subject is a big mistake because it usually results in them not teaching any history in their courses.  Imagine taking a commerce degree and not studying any history?  That would be totally ridiculous!  Imagine what could be learned by studying the Great Depression and the restructuring of the financial system afterwards.

Economists of course don’t see it that way.

Economists would advise many things for an education system.  Something competitive perhaps?  Some national standards.  Some league tables, some performance pay.  This idiotic, pig-headed drivel is anti-social.  Big finance companies of course have performance pay.  Turned out it was based on how much business they did.  Not the intelligence, social benefit or quality of the business, just how much business they did.  Teachers could have the same, right?  Line everyone up, make it a race, judge test scores, and hand out the bonuses.  Test scores would go up; quality of education would go down; some teachers would be rich, and the rest would be poorer.

Our state schools are very, very precious.  One of the most precious commons we have as a community.  On the whole most people don’t want a choice of schools, they want a good school down the road.  The good school down the road should be the aim of government.


Brand was a nice glass of cool water too, although you wouldn’t think so from the way many people on the left reacted.  Reading the often nasty dissection of his comments has been a bit weird.  His basic message was great, but what was even better was his passion and directness.  Passion and directness have been absent from the left for quite some time.  Brand is intelligent and worth listening to and reading.  His articles are always funny and penetrating, his views on addiction as a health issue are great, and he has been saying this stuff about the world order for quite some time.  In New Zealand I think that he is wrong about not voting, but in Britain I would have a lot more time for his position.  In his editorial for the New Statesman he said that “the right looks for converts and the left looks for traitors”.  The reaction from a lot of people on the left since his interview certainly proves that to be true.  Brand is not the enemy, even if you think he is posturing and naive.

The enemy of a healthy, fair and fulfilling society is the enemy.  The enemy of a healthy, balanced and fulfilling environment is the enemy.

And while I’m on my soapbox, please


Please go to the NetGuide Awards and vote for Scoop.  It’s not perfect but it’s a damn “site” better than Stuff.

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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō

5 thoughts on “A nice drink of clear, refreshing water”

  1. An interesting and pretty depressing story. I am a big believer in a broad curriculum that lets students really learn things and find themselves. I worked in Japan for five years for a private company that needed to push students through the levels to keep them happy. Standardised tests and pressure from management. It was pretty common to come across high level students with a very poor command of the English language as a result.

    When I was intensely reading about charter schools I also read about free schools in England, and one thing I really didn’t like was the way it atomised communities. A lot of schools were set up targeting Muslim or Hindu communities. On the one hand I can understand this, and can see the appeal for some parents, but if we want people to learn from each other, and figure out how to live with each other it makes a lot more sense to have all those cultures within one, tolerant and flexible state system. In the past this would have been assimilation, but it is not now. Students at my school benefit from the discussions in the classroom from the Pasifika, Maori, Pakeha, Muslim, African perspective, and the school as a whole can draw a lot of social cohesion from learning to listen to all cultures. Not to mention, of course, the untold benefit of having special needs units integrated into schools.

  2. Sorry, Wilbur – I sounded a bit shirty there, but I was cross. I have thought long and hard about charter schools, and they just don’t stack up for me. A regimen of standardised testing is a nonsense. Neither of these things – I believe – will help the students who need the most help. We both want the same thing, but I suppose we have different views. Two cheers for democracy. Respectfully, John-Paul.

  3. Wilbur, I think they are precious. Our long tail is the thing we have to really, really work on. You know, as part of a wider problem of historical and structural racism that persists in society. Speaking of racism, I find it quite offensive to be told I find something “easy to say” because I am white, or middle class. I have been teaching for a while, I spend most of my energies thinking about and teaching so that I can catch up ground and engage students who are not achieving well. It is very hard because by the time I am teaching those students they are thirteen, their family story is often complicated, and NCEA is bearing down. The greatest possibility of combating poor outcomes for the widest possible community (not a hand-picked few) is inside the state system in which innovation thrives (people who went to school twenty years ago think schools are rigid; they are not at all). A school system can take some of the blame for the long tail (alongside 160 odd years of history for starters), but to say that those in education are not aware of power structures, or that those in education practice “appalling systematic discrimination” is extremely offensive. Our precious state schools are always a work in progress. If eliminating inequality in the state system was the fully funded goal for the next twenty years from Year 1 to Year 13 we would see huge results because the passionate, hard-working, open-minded teachers and their wonderful, talented, full of potential kids would make it happen given half a friggin chance.

  4. Wilbur, having taught in an academy in England (the equivalent of a charter school), I am horrified that New Zealand is following this path.

    Since coming to NZ 5 years ago, I have been overwhelmed by admiration for the schools here. The opportunities for children to flourish in sports, music, performing arts are incredible. The school where I work is one where I would be happy to send my child; she would have the opportunity to develop and fulfil her potential in a way I could not have imagined, had we continued to live in the UK.

    The UK has SATs (very similar to National Standards). They have damaged education. Teachers teach to the test because they are recorded in league tables, which influence parental choice over where to send their children for schooling. This then has an effect on the funding schools receive.

    The UK has charter-styleschools. I almost left education after two years teaching in one. We routinely cheated, turned a blind eye to colleagues writing coursework for students, massaged statistics and spoon-fed children so that they would do well in exams and our results would look good. The students learned less than they should have because of what we as teachers were expected to do; they did, however, perform well in exams and we looked great on paper. The head got an OBE for his efforts;I left because I could no longer be complicit in what was happening. My biggest regret was not going public at the time with what was happening.

    I have seen two very different systems. New Zealand’s works and should be the envy of the world. The UK’s, with its league tables, national standards and narrow academic focus is broken and failing its children. I say that as both a teacher and as a mother with a vested interest in having the best public education system available.

    Many education professionals oppose charter schools and National Standards not because they feel their job or ability is in some way threatened, but because they see what a good system we have here and want to protect it.

  5. With all respect to the wonderful things that can happen in state schools, I don’t think it’s fair to call them precious given the appalling way they systematically discriminate against minorities; indeed it seems to me a very easy thing to say from a middle class Pakeha perspective and a very difficult thing to say as soon as you diverge from that.

    It seems to me that most people opposed to alternative education/parental choice/charter schools/whatever seem to abandon their leftist analysis of power dynamics as soon as they’re talking about education, because teachers are immune to such forces, or something. It grates me.

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