Undervalued Public Education?

This article, written by Ross Henderson appeared in the Taranaki Daily News- 9/2/2013

“We are told that Novopay aside, teachers and the government are set on a collision course and that it’s a union versus management approach.

Let’s cut to the chase. Apart from the fact that most teachers belong to a union, exercising their freedom of choice and association in doing so, there is no union dimension to the political scraps on education policy. The claim that teacher unions run or ruin the education sector is a National Party mantra, consistent with that party’s life-long hatred of unions and dissenting voices.

Let’s face it, decisions made by politicians on education are by definition political, and usually reflect the bias of the political party in charge. When it comes to Labour and National, their decisions on education typically reflect their historical origins.

Labour sees education as the way to lift intellectual and practical knowledge and understanding, and as enhancing the individual for life, work and citizenship. On this basis Labour has usually tried to make sure that education is accessible to all, so that the influence of wealth or poverty on a person’s life chances is minimised.

National has typically seen education as the means to entrench advantage and privilege. They have always favoured private schooling, affordable to only a few. Last week I wrote about how this government bailed out Wanganui Collegiate, even though the school has been failing.

There was also the decision shortly after it came into government in 2008, to immediately grant an extra $38 million for private schools. State, or publicly- owned, schools got nothing extra. Two years ago they took $55 million out of trade training and are crowing about the fact they are about to put $12 million back in.

And did you notice how the hastily- abandoned policy on larger class sizes last year was for state schools, not private schools?

It’s not popular to say it at the moment, but the truth is that the present government is one of the most politically driven we’ve had in a long time; political in the sense of pursuing the interests of its political constituency above all else. So when National is challenged in its thinking on education, especially by teachers, it resorts to its time-honoured habit of attacking the messenger. Let’s remember that the idea of mass education – compulsory education of all children up to a specified age according to a standard curriculum – is a comparatively recent phenomenon. It only properly started last century.

New Zealand embraced the mass education system with enthusiasm. It fitted our traditionally egalitarian ambitions. But in a world where access to information is gained by a few mouse clicks, and the amount of information available is vast, the rote learning of our forebears is no longer fit for purpose. The most important skill today is critical thinking. This requires young people to be curious, to distinguish facts from assertions and to be able to draw conclusions based on facts. Young people need to be prepared for a world that is changing rapidly. Today we live in a world where learning will never stop.

One of the big realisations of modern education is that people learn in different ways and at different speeds. The challenge for mass education systems is to be responsive to each learner.

But that’s not all. We also know that coming to school hungry or unwell or worried about what is happening at home or feeling vulnerable amidst your peers, are obstacles to learning.

So teachers have to be alert to these factors. These are all factors beyond a teacher’s control, but we have a Government that wants to introduce performance pay as if teachers do control these things. My assessment is that being a teacher today is way more complex than it was when I was growing up. We expect a lot of our teachers. We entrust our children to them. We are right to expect they are properly trained and meet a good character test. Teaching is a profession that deserves respect and support. When it comes to changes in education and the running of the system, we should expect to hear from the profession doing the front-line work. If they speak with one voice through their union, so what?

In the world of work where I come from, the old style of management is top down, command and control. But good managers now accept they don’t know everything and there is a wealth of knowledge held by those in the front line. Good managers have no hesitation in engaging with those doing the work. It’s about making the best decision. National governments come from the old order – they are top down. They don’t respect the front line, never think of consulting with them and are intolerant of dissent.

If there is a clash of ideas in education between the government and teachers, let’s look at the ideas rather than who is saying them. And let’s show a bit of respect for teachers and the amazing work most do.”

I completely endorse Ross’ words.


A Frank Report Card

I reprint this blog post by/from “Frankly Speaking” rather than simply a link. It certainly illustrates how our leaders ‘live in the moment’ and expect us to share their respect for selective memory. This report card refers to Our Leader’s dancing around environmental matters. There are other report cards to be found on “Frankly Speaking”

To Whom It May Concern; the following Report Card detail’s Johnny’s achievements over the last four years. The following contrasts compare four years, ranging from the end of 2008 to the end of this year, 2012. Whilst it is acknowledged that the Global Financial Crisis impacted harshly on our society and economy, it is also fair to say that National has had the benefits of starting out with a sound economy (surpluses, low unemployment, etc)  in 2008 and four years in office to make good on it’s election promises.


The rhetoric:
What global Leaders know, and what the National Party knows, is that environmentalism and a commitment to economic growth must go hand in hand.  We should be wary of anyone who claims that one can or should come without the other.  And we should always measure a Government’s environmental rhetoric against its environmental record.

In the years ahead it will be increasingly important that New Zealand marries its economic and environmental policies.  Global climate change awareness, resource shortages, and increasing intolerance of environmental degradation will give environmental policy renewed relevance on the world stage…

… And, in seeking the balance between environmental and economic goals, National will never forget that New Zealand’s outstanding physical environment is a key part of what makes our country special. Kiwis proudly value our forests, mountains, rivers, lakes, and oceans.  They are part of our history and they must continue to define our future.

see:  John Key, Speech: Environment Policy Launch

National will also ensure New Zealand works on the world stage to support international efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.  We are committed to honouring our Kyoto Protocol obligations and we will work to achieve further global alliances that build on the goals agreed to at Kyoto.

See: Ibid

The reality:

National’s track record in environmental conservation and protection has been as expected; bad. And getting worse with each policy release.

On the agenda are;

  • Fracking – a process that has been shown overseas to induce small earthquakes; contamination of underground water tables; risks to air quality;  gases and hydraulic fracturing chemicals escaping to the surface; mishandling of toxic waste chemicals;  and  health effects on humans and animals.
  • ncreased mining actitivity in sensitive ecological  areas such as the Denniston Plateau.
  • Allowing deep sea drilling to go ahead despite New Zealand being woefully unprepared for a major oil spill such as happened in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded. (see:  Deepwater Horizon)
  • A watering down of a proposal fishery protection reserve in the Ross Sea.
  • New Zealand was the only country to vote against  protection marine mammals at the International Union for Conservation of Nature conference.
  • And the abandonment of  New Zealand’s participation in the Kyoto Protocol.

Perhaps the most scurrilous, dishonest act, was National’s gradual backtracking on the ETS (Emissions Trading Scheme).

On  May 2008,  John Key stated,

National supports the principle of the ETS and is following the select committee process closely. National has had reservations about the timing of new taxes on motorists and households when there has been no personal tax relief for so long.”

See: ‘Carbon neutral’ policy added to scrap heap

On 8 April 2010, Key confirmed that the ETS would be preserved unchanged,

I’d say it’s unlikely it would be amended.”

See: ETS changes ‘unlikely’ despite pleas

By 6 June 2010, the then-Climate Minister,  Nick Smith announced that whether or not agriculture comes into the emissions trading scheme  in 2015  would depend on technological advances and what other countries do.

See: ETS may exclude agriculture – Climate Change Minister

And on  9 November 2011,  Nick Smith announced,

 … It is not in New Zealand’s interests to include agricultural emissions in the ETS yet. The lack of any practical and real technologies to reduce agricultural emissions means it would only impose a cost or tax on our most important export industry. It would also have New Zealand too far ahead of our trading partners on climate change mitigation measures. National will review the position in 2014 and only include agriculture if new technologies are available and more progress is made internationally on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

See: National would phase in ETS obligations for transport, electricity, industrial sectors; Will review Agriculture in 2014, will only put it in if technology to help is there

By 3 July 2012, Key began to publicly vacillate,

John Key says the Government will wait for other countries to follow suit before introducing agriculture into the Emissions Trading Scheme…

See: Govt puts off including agriculture in ETS

And on 20 August 2012, National introduces the “Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading and Other Matters) Amendment Bill 2012″, which would remove agricultural emmissions indefinitely, and will,

remove a specified entry date for surrender obligations on biological emissions from agriculture”.

See: Government announces ETS amendments

It took them four years to do it, with some cunning public manipulation (and outright lies) – but National achieved it’s real agenda,

  1. Watering down the ETS until it was toothless,
  2. Keeping agriculture (the worst emitter of greenhouse gases in NZ) out of the ETS
  3. Abandoning the Kyoto protocol

See previous blogpost for further details: ETS – National continues to fart around

Perhaps New Zealanders don’t quite realise that when National talks of being “blue-green” – they are referring to the colour of money – not conservation.

The response:

National’s response to our growing environmental problems?

Shoot the messenger.

In November 2012, Environmental scientist, Dr Mike Joy, told the unvarnished truth to the world that our “100% Pure” and “Clean & Green” image was largely a myth. Dr Joy blew the cover on our dirty rivers; fouled lakes;  high levels of greenhouse gas emissions from our agricultural sector.

He told the New York Times,

There are almost two worlds in New Zealand. There is the picture-postcard world, and then there is the reality.”

See: New Zealand’s Green Tourism Push Clashes With Realities

National’s Tim Groser did not like that one little bit, and responded with condemnation of Dr Joy,

It’s been used as a stick to beat New Zealand by environmental activists.”

See: Minister lashes out at environmentalists over 100% Pure

And Dear Leader added this confusingly disjointed bit, just to sheet home the message to all critics to ‘STFU’,

It’s like saying ‘McDonald’s, I’m loving it’ – I’m not sure every moment that someone’s eating McDonald’s they’re loving it . . . it’s the same thing with 100% Pure. It’s got to be taken with a bit of a pinch of salt.”


See previous blogposts: When spin doctors go badJohn Key’s “pinch of salt” style of telling the truth

I wonder if Mr Groser or Dear Leader will be swimming or drinking water from any of these rivers.

No swimming - 52% impure NZ rivers

Full story

The result:

Meanwhile, Yale University’s Environmental Performance Index highlighted one simple fact; New Zealand has slipped on international EPI rankings.

In 2008, New Zealand ranked seventh out of 149 nations.

(See:  2008 Environmental Performance Index)

In 2012, our ranking dropped seven placings to number fourteen.

(See:  2012 Environmental Performance Index)

On every indicator and policy, New Zealand is doing poorly in the field of conservation. We are going backwards.

New Zealanders need to get their collective heads around one simple fact; giving priority to  environmental protection is not just a “good Greenie idea” (which it is, by the way) – but impacts on our $23 billion tourism industry and our $14.5 billion dairy and meat export industry.

Those who would damage or destroy our environment for short-term monetary gain,  sheer selfishness, or pigheaded ignorance,  are guilty of nothing less than economic treason against our country. (Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr Unsworth! See previous related blogpost:Lobbyist stands by ‘ego trip’ email)


The only reason that National has not merited a “F” is that at least they backed down from mining in Schedule 4 Conservation lands, after a public outcry and 50,000-strong protest in Auckland (see: Huge protest says no to mining on conservation land) in May 2010.


(Note- I would probably have said an F, and seriously considered giving that as my assessment!)

Election ‘Oddities’

It’s been an interesting lead-up to New Zealand’s election so far, and it’s made me ponder a few things.

What do politicians think of the ‘ordinary’ voter? There has been a bit of a sneaky deal done between two of our right-wing parties- National, the incumbents and ACT, a dreadfully dysfunctional bunch of far-right wannabees. These people have one chance of getting into parliament and that one chance realistically hangs on whether or not John Banks (an ex-National MP) can get himself elected in Epsom, one of the central Auckland seats. It’s all to do with MMP and elected candidates or electoral percentages.  For ACT to get into parliament they need Banks to be returned, or to capture at least 5% of the nation’s vote (and as they are currently polling point zero something percent there seems little likelihood of getting anybody in ob THAT!!) So why my question? It seems a deal has been done (over a cup of tea?) that National will undersell and undermine their own candidate and urge National voters to cast their votes instead for ACT. Bugger that! I wish to vote for the person or party that presents me with the best policies and will best represent my views and fulfill my expectations. I do not wish to vote for the person I am told to vote for. Does that mean I would NOT vote according to my feelings because I’m being bullied? Probably not, IF the candidate made more sense than this disgraceful racist buffoon does. (Little wonder the biggest Pacifica city in the world didn’t want him as mayor any more!! Pity that these views WILL appeal to many in the electorate.)

Where are the thinking parts of people’s brains at a time like this? In the light of the ‘tapegate’ furore in Britain involving the invasion of people’s privacy by the media via bugging of cell-phone conversations, there is an “inadvertent” recording made of conversation between Prime Minister John Key and ACT hopeful, John Banks at a cafe over a ‘cup of tea’! Can this bloody idiot even remotely entertain the thought that people will believe it was ‘inadvertent’? I think not!

And now the Prime Minister is saying he will not make the contents of the recorded conversation public. Why ever not? He and his wee friend were in a public place and by extension whatever they said is public, surely! Did they whisper? Did they hold hands over mouths so as not to be lip-read? Did they exclude other members of the public from the cafe during the tete-a-tete? Did they ban the media? No to all of those, so why on earth block publication of the text? Maybe John #1 said to John #2 it was perfectly OK with him to make racist comments as part of his election promises! Of course it DOES fall in line with John #1’s attitude towards the voting public of New Zealand- almost the mushroom principle in action- “keep them in the dark and feed them on shit”!

In a Herald poll recently they asked whether it was OK for politicians to ‘bend the truth’? (Is that the same as LYING? It is in my book) The options were ‘Yes’, ‘No’ and ‘Only If It Serves The Greater Good’. The ‘Yeses’ scraped together a comparatively small number of votes, and the ‘Noes’ received by far the majority, but what concerned me was the percentage of the polsters who said it was OK ‘if it served the common good’!!! For God’s sake, a lie is a lie is a lie! How can it serve the ‘common good’, particularly when it is told by a politician, someone I’m sure NO-ONE would buy a used car from!!! Of course the poll was taken only after it was established that several lies had already been told to the voting public (sorry, truth’s had been bent.)

It annoyed, no, it disgusted me that the National Party would use the rebuild of Christchurch as an election promise. It doesn’t matter which party is the government, the government is bound to play a major role in the rebuild of the earthquake ravaged city.

The Greens say they will partially fund the Auckland CBD rail loop by taking money from Transmission Gully. I for one am becoming increasingly anti-Auckland by continuing instances of the rest of the country paying for Auckland infrastructure justified by the argument that it’s good for the country! I have seen NO examples locally of wonderful growth spin-offs from Auckland spending on roads, rail, or bridges!

And by “taking money from Transmission Gully” are they saying that project is a dead issue for them? And why? Because its construction may threaten a stream? Surely a viable arterial motorway out of the nation’s capital is an absolute necessity?

And just to wrap this rant up, it never ceases to make me wonder how a smarmy, duplicitous dipsomaniac who repeatedly shows his contempt for the media in general and correspondents who ask for direct answers in particular can be rising up the polls as quickly as he is. It is nothing to do with his party because no-one knows who his party are!!! I guess it’s a matter of saying outrageous things and you will appeal to outrageous people who don’t like the other outrageous bastards as much!!

I could probably carry on in a similar vein for some time but I’m just getting a wee bit too depressed thinking what the body politic’s views are of we, the great un-washed, the voter. Oh well, I might as well go out and sell my body or pan for some gold- I’m as likely to get as much doing that as I am going to get after the election, pretty much regardless of WHO is returned to power!