News: Being poor worse than being rich

Opposition parties say the answer [to students at low decile schools falling behind] doesn’t lie with what happens in schools, but dealing with issues such as low wages, poor housing and unemployment which lead to inequality.

Source: Radio New Zealand, 12 July 2016

Tënä koutou,

The ideas above are a mantra of the left, and they are true enough.  Anyone who has sat with a student in crisis knows that they are within a whole network of problems and most of those challenges come from outside of school.

I do have two caveats to add to that argument however.  Firstly, the biggest impact on a student at school is their teachers; teachers are part of the solution too.  Secondly, a big chunk of factors missing in all this talk about improving housing, and health is called tino rangatiratanga.

Also, let’s stop using the language of decile.  The language of decile disguises – once again – race.  This report says high decile students do better than low decile students (crikey, I’m glad we have researchers around to find this stuff out for us).  Play this game on the internet.  Think of a decile 10 school and think of the nearest decile 1 school and watch the ethnicities change.  Isn’t it great living in a society that isn’t segregated?

Decile 1 – Porirua College (co-ed) – 72% Pasifika, 22% Mäori, 2% Päkehä

Decile 10 – Onslow College (co-ed) – 63% Päkehä (+4% British), 7% Mäori, 2% Pasifika

So when we talk about high decile versus low decile we’re talking about race in Aotearoa.  It works within schools too.  Within high decile schools the worst performing groups will be Mäori and Pasifika.  Of course there will be exceptions, but remember: don’t use exceptions to discredit general trends.

Now we can return to this argument used by opposition parties that when it comes to students falling behind it’s not about schools and teachers it’s about inequality in society.  True.  Absolutely true.  How do you fix that though?  Presumably one of the main ways is through education?  That involves a massive investment in those predominantly Mäori and Pasifika schools and building in community centres and health clinics.  It probably also involves paying teachers in those schools more money.  At this point I think you would find people in high decile schools suddenly mentioning race and saying it was “unfair”.  Rich white people telling Mäori life is unfair is one of the great ironies of “post” colonial society.

But even if you do all that investment in schools I wonder if it will fix all the woes.  I wonder if the big underpinning problem remains.  That problem which is a lack of tino rangatiratanga; that charged phrase is not one that comes up in the rush of opposition party statements critical of National.

Chris Hipkins (Labour) tells us that these unequal results are due to rising inequality.  Actually, Aotearoa has been an unequal society for the groups we are talking about for a very long time: for Mäori  since about the 1860s, and for Pasifika since about the 1970s.

Tracey Martin (NZ First) and Catherine Delahunty (Green) say we need to know the families in need and personalise support.  Who’s “we”?  All of those communities have leaders.  How about they do it on their own terms?

What’s the definition of stupid: doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same result?  The idea that relationships are critically important in teaching has been around for quite some time, and enacted widely.  The opposition seem to be promising more of the same when/if they come to power.

Hei konä rä


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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō