An Inconvenient Truth sparks school indoctrination debate

BY KATE CHAPMAN
Last updated 16:37 21/04/2010
Muriel Newman and Al Gore montage
POLITICAL TEST: ACT MP Muriel Newman and activist filmmaker and former US Vice President Al Gore. Digitally altered image.

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Politicians have been asked to consider whether New Zealand's students are protected from political indoctrination in schools after the showing of Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth prompted a petition to Parliament.

The petition of former ACT MP Muriel Newman asked that New Zealand school children be protected from political indoctrination by inserting into the Education Act provisions similar to those in the British act.

The petition was signed by 250 people.

Dr Newman said concerned parents contacted her after An Inconvenient Truth was shown in schools in 2007.

They were concerned that teachers were not pointing out inaccuracies in the film and were not explaining that there were alternative viewpoints.

"As a result parents were concerned that their children were being subjected to political propaganda at school," she said.

The same year in Britain a High Court judge highlighted "nine scientific errors" in the Oscar-winning climate change documentary and said it should be shown in schools only as part of a climate change resource pack if it was accompanied by new guidance notes to balance the former US vice-president's "one-sided" views.

Dr Newman said "unfortunately, no such instruction was given to schools" here.

The New Zealand students who watched the film were "probably completely unaware that many alarmist claims made in the film ... are completely false".

The New Zealand Education Act did not have safeguards to protect children from political indoctrination and were "very vulnerable to propaganda", Dr Newman said.

The Ministry of Education responded to the petition and said sufficient safeguards already existed.

The professionalism and common sense of the boards, principals and teachers were the main safeguards, the ministry said.

The Code of Ethics for Registered Teachers also required that teachers present materials in a balanced manner and parents were able to take their children out of a class or change schools.

The ministry had not received any complaints about schools promoting partisan political views.

Changing legislation to align with Britain's could add a "litigious and potentially expensive element to our education system".

An Inconvenient Truth could be used as a teaching resource to develop critical thinking rather than promoting political views, the ministry said.

"The appropriate way to deal with scientific error is not through stifling debate but through encouraging critical thought and ongoing scientific inquiry."

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Parliament's education select committee will now consider the petition.

- NZPA

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