After the movie I wondered why I felt upset.  Even though Boy is a lot heavier than Eagle v. Shark it’s not that heavy.  After a while I decided there were a few things that got to me about the film.

First off the main character, Boy, looks exactly like a boy at school.  I spent quite a bit of time sitting in the DP’s office last year with different parts of his whanau trying to sort him out.  Those  meetings when you try to “get through” to a wayward youth are wasted breath, but, you know, what the hell else are you supposed to do?  He was very whakama in the face of recriminations, and found it hard to look anyone in the eye.  Gee he has a talent.  And a dazzling smile.  Could be anything that boy.  Full of potential.

That was the second thing.  Potential.  The characters in the film have a lot of it.  Not more than other people, about the same really, but when you look out in the background of the shots they walk through you see a lot of empty space, and roads, and the odd wreck of a building.  Lots of potential but maybe not so many opportunities.  Still you can dream.  That’s what Boy does, and that’s what his Dad did.  Dreams, of course, take up time and cost a lot.  They can use up the resources of love and trust if they are just talk.

What the hell do you tell the fool in your office who thinks he’s going to be a league star, and keeps getting into fights and telling teachers to f off?  You tell them they’ve got potential.  Funny word “potential” because it can lead to good and bad things.  Your potential might see you scoring the winning breakaway try for the local league club, or doing a runner from the cops.

There’s always other stuff in the background of those kids lives though.  The kids who end up in your office time after time.  If Boy gets in trouble and you’re the Pakeha calling home then who do you talk to?  You might get Nan, and she’d be good I bet.  She’d talk to Boy and he’d feel really bad about whatever he’d done for a while.  As he got older though Nan would gradually lose her hold on him, and he’d be gone altogether.  Well, if Nan didn’t answer the phone you might just get one of the other kids, or you might even fluke it and get Dad one time.  He’d be all closed mouth, and grim about it, about getting a call from the school, and you wouldn’t be able to tell if he was going to forget about it all before he’d even hung up, or go and do  something quick and brutal to the kid.

There’s this girl in my year group.  I won’t bore you with the story about how she’s got potential, but she has.  She’s a crack up, and good looking, and really quick on the uptake.  She’s in for a detention for… for, what?  Was it wagging that time?  Anyway, she was tired, and the other person in my office was letting her have it: “Whose fault is it that you’re late?  It’s your fault, isn’t it?  You’re responsible for you.”  That kind of stuff.  Sometimes I say the same stuff, so don’t think I’m making out I’m better, because I’m not.  Anyway, the girl said, “do you know what I have to do everyday Miss?  I have to go and pick up the kids, and I have to make them tea, and I have to put them to bed, and then they won’t go to sleep so I have to put them to bed again, and then I have to get up, and get them ready….”  The other person in my office didn’t hear any of this, but I heard it and it made me sad.  I wanted to give her a hug.

So when Boy is making all the kids their dinner every night, I feel for him.  And what happens when the phone rings, and it’s someone like me on the phone?  Can I make a difference on the telephone, calling into the middle of a situation like that?  A situation like that is complicated.  Whanau Ora is a good idea if it straightens that path out.

And the third thing in the movie that got me was the son’s changing view of his dad.  I used to see myself in the role of the kid when I went to a movie like this, but now I see myself in the role of the dad.

When I was a boy watching RTR Countdown I actually thought I was going to be David Lee Roth in hot pink leotards leaping around stage to some mind blowing rock song.  I really believed it.  Until quite recently, in fact, I more or less had the same dream (a more sedate, less lycra version of the dream, but the same dream).  Dreams are good when you’re eleven.  Not so much later on.  Later on they can make you ridiculous.  I wonder at what age my daughter will realise that I am ridiculous?

I’d like to be a better father for her.  I have a lot of things I could get better at for her.  Then again, being alive is not something you can perfect.  I will have to accept a certain amount of failure.  And I do want her to know that I’m ridiculous one day, because then she’ll know where she gets it from, all her crazy dreams.  May she have many.

Eh, Boy?

Everything is not ok

I ended the school day grumpy.  It was sunny, I had met a lot of great parents of great kids at the report day, and it was 3.05pm, but I was in a bad mood.  This is unusual for me.  3.05 on Friday is generally the pinnacle of my contentedness with the world.  Here is why.

At the beginning of the day I found this out:

Confidential papers, obtained by The Dominion Post, reveal the Education Ministry has suggested returning the pupils – who include those repeatedly suspended, expelled or who are long-term truants – to mainstream schools.

Dominion Post, 20 March 2010

These students are at activity centres.  This doesn’t mean anything to anyone outside the school system.  We have one at our school.  It’s a house down the road with ten students and one teacher.  These ten students have been so hard to manage in the mainstream school that they attend this alternative.  A bit more flexible and low key, but very focused on getting those kids through school.

The article tells us that the money for alternative education would be protected but redirected to something like fighting truancy, or programmes within school grounds.  I see.  This makes me suspect that the people who came up with this idea haven’t worked in a school for a really long time.  If they had then they would know that kids like this need to be away from the school grounds so that they can focus, and not  run around the school showing off to their mates, and going for smokes behind the gym, and wearing gang caps and stirring things up.  They would also know that these are the worst truants because they hate mainstream school, but at an activity centre their attendance usually improves because they feel far more engaged.

I hear Tolley wants to cut funding for career advisors in schools too.  Super.  So now low decile schools have national standards, no activity centres, and reduced employment skills programmes for students to look forward to on the horizon.  Oh yeah, and no adult education.  Since the cuts last year the entire adult education scheme in our community has closed.  I think National must have something against the poor.  High decile and private schools are no doubt unphased by the news that activity centres are closing, and careers advise is to be reduced, and nod their heads when Tolley says that adult education should be user pays.

I find myself in the unusual position of actually beginning to hate a politician.  Mind you, her actions in November last year were a startling warning signal.

Tertiary Education Minister Anne Tolley says there was no meaning intended when she read teacher union leaders a story about a rat happy with his lot in life.  Tolley encouraged teachers to “think about the good things that we have in this country and be happy with what we’ve got”.

It is very hard to satirise this kind of thing.  Especially when Tolley went on to explain her actions in this way:

Asked on Tuesday why she read the union executive the story, Tolley says she liked the story and wanted to share it.

“It wasn’t intended to be (patronising). It was meant to be light-hearted,” she told reporters.

“I was saying to them ‘look this is a really good book’… There was no underlying message, I was trying to share with them a book I had come across in a visit to a school and I thought they might be interested in it.”


At least she’s not the Foreign Affairs Minister.  God knows what the ambassador from the Congo would think when she started reading him Where the Wild Things Are.

But there were other reasons for me to be grumpy. 

At the start of last year I carefully selected students for a form class that would get two teachers in the classroom for English, Maths and Science.  These students were picked because their literacy was low.  It worked very well last year, and was to continue this year.  I discovered today that it is only very sketchily running, with a mish mash of teachers, scattered across some of the lessons.  The reason for this is that another programme was set up for an integrated learning class.  This has been badly planned, and a complete shambles, but it has taken resources away from team teaching.  Now, because integrated learning has gone badly they are throwing more resources at it.  Result: the specially set up class is losing team teaching altogther, and some of the kids will be shifted out of the class because it is too big (it’s bigger because it was supposed to have two teachers).  I found this out by chance.  Nobody came and told me.

I am stinking mad.

I am probably madder than I would be normally because I am reading a book about values and integrity.

Several years ago I was introduced to the military term ground truth, which refers to what’s actually happening on the ground versus the official tactics….  Ground truth is discussed around the watercooler, in the bathrooms, and in the parking lot, but it is seldom offered for public consumption and rarely shows up when you need it most – when the entire team is assembled to discuss an important issue.

Fierce Conversations

Sounds about right.  When ground truth and official truth diverge widely then we are in big trouble.  I feel like this.  I feel like the Minister doesn’t have any feel for the issues that concern her Ministry outside a page in an official document that outlines the Ministry’s budget; and I feel like the leaders of my school are bumbling their way from one bad decision to another but still talking a good game partly for show, and partly to convince themselves that everything is ok.

Everything is not ok.