JANE SILLOWAY SMITH
At one point in my early school years, my science teacher totally upended my views on nature. Up to that point, I had been taught that nature existed along a food chain: the sun and the rain nurtured the plants, animals like rabbits ate the plants, bigger animals like foxes ate the rabbits, and when the foxes died, their bodies were decomposed by worms and bugs or scavengers like hawks.
It was simple, it was straight-forward, it made sense-until I found out that nature wasn't a chain at all. It was a web, in which lots of factors and actors interacted in numerous and sometimes mysterious ways upon one another. If you make a change any one element-any one point-of the web, you can see effects in places you didn't even realise were related to that one element, that one point.
The Government recently announced that it will be raising the minimum wage by 50 cents to $14.25 per hour. Critics on the right have accused the government of being too generous, saying that raising the minimum wage will have a flow on effect, costing jobs in the wider economy and raise inflation. Critics on the left, meanwhile, say that the raise isn't nearly high enough-it's not giving low-wage workers the money they need to support their families.
Either critique would be fine if the economy and society were chains. But they're not-they're webs.
Nobody really knows what will happen in the wider economy once the minimum wage has been raised. A recent report out of the Congressional Budget Office-basically the US equivalent of Treasury-estimated that raising the minimum wage in the US from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 could result in the loss of anywhere from zero to one million jobs; it's also similarly unclear what would happen to inflation in the economy. So it could have no impact, or it could be devastating.
When I was 13, I got my own room, and I really wanted to paint it green. And when I say wanted green, I mean GREEN. My favoured shade of the colour was best likened to a granny smith apple, or the lurid hue adorning the cans of a well-known energy drink.
My parents rejected my master plan. They possessed a keen understanding of the fickle nature of teenage opinion, and probably a clear eye to the resale value of our house. I was crushed, in the charmingly unhinged way that only a teenager can be.
But two years later, I remembered the episode and laughed, and cringed. It was an early lesson about the perspective of hindsight in matters of taste.
These memories have come to mind recently, as the debate around New Zealand's flag bubbled to the surface again. Much of the conversation around changing our flag stems from a central thought: that the flag we have does not match or properly express the identity we have as a nation today.
To that I say: why does that matter? What makes us think that our generation is the best suited to defining New Zealand's identity in this way? Do our opinions matter more in the course of New Zealand history than our forebears, or our descendants?
Sixteen years ago, I got a diligence award from school. I had no idea what diligence was, and when I found out, I said there had to be a mistake: half the school day I went without buttons-the result of bullrush at lunch-the other half I swung on my chair.
I heard there was no mistake: I'd done well in social studies. That's true. My social studies teacher wore pens in his socks, did a gripping impression of a whirlwind, and was lavish with his praise. He engaged the class, and I'd wanted to do well.
Many of us probably have similar stories about inspiring teachers.
And now the Government plans to devote significant resources into improving teaching and learning in New Zealand schools. Prime Minister Key recently announced that a National Government would invest $359m over four years into expert and lead teachers, and executive and change principals.
Last Tuesday, Education Minister Parata launched the "InspiredbyU" website, which is a forum for visitors to recognise inspirational Kiwi educators.
There's an education showdown brewing in Whangarei, with the PPTA looking to sink a proposal floated by a partnership school that would see their students joining public high school classes for non-core subjects.
Te Kura Hourua o Whangarei opened this year with around 50 students, some of whom were planning to take visual arts and other specialised subjects at Whangarei Boys High School (WBHS).
However the PPTA have insisted that no union member engage with partnership schools in "professional, sporting or cultural interactions or support," with president Angela Roberts saying this week that her members would not "prop up" partnership schools.
The group behind Te Kura Hourua o Whangarei are no educational slouches in need of "propping up." In fact, they have been running a phenomenally successful leadership academy for several years, providing academic tutoring, hostel facilities and life skills training for young Maori attending WBHS.
While NCEA performance by Maori boys in Whangarei has historically been poor (81% failure rate in 2007), 100% of the boys at the academy passed NCEA levels 1 and 2 last year.
JANE SILLOWAY SMITH
The Green's proposed policy to put "schools at the heart" by turning them into food, welfare, health, and other social service hubs is completely well intentioned, but will destroy the seedlings of the very communities they are trying to foster, and has the potential to do more harm than good for the vulnerable children it aims to protect.
Friends of mine work with struggling families in South Auckland. Based on a marae, they get out into their community, offering counselling, parenting support programmes for young mothers, and practical help with things like navigating the legal system, finding work, and setting up independent housing. They like to say that for every individual who comes to one of their programmes or seeks out their assistance, they're helping that person's partner, their children, and their wider whanau-knowing every life they touch will touch dozens more.
The issues my friends deal with every day are echoed across the country. This is why Metiria Turei is absolutely right in holding National to account for neglecting to acknowledge in any of their education policies the huge role that a child's home environment will play in that child's ability to succeed at school. Hungry children will find it incredibly difficult to learn. Sick children will miss more school. No high quality teacher or executive principal is going to be able to fix the problems that start outside the school doors.
Like my friends in South Auckland, the Greens want to see families thriving, and they want to build a community. But what these hungry and sick children need isn't more government involvement in their lives, it's stronger communities and families.
The Greens are looking to turn low-decile schools into communities orchestrated and run by the government. The government will provide free lunches, nurses, after-school and holiday care; and the government will offer welfare, employment, and other social services to parents within the schools. They do this because they say tackling the consequences of poverty and inequality is the government's "responsibility.".
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