Education

Book Release – The Interregnum: Rethinking New Zealand

BWB7760_Text_Cover_The Interregum_HighRes_0

Kia ora e te kaupapa whānau,

It’s been a while. Aroha mai for that. I can’t say that I’m back writing here on a regular basis, but maybe. It all depends on time. However, I want to pānui out the release of Morgan Godfery (ed.) The Interregnum: Rethinking New Zealand (2016, BWB Books:Wellington).

From the BWB website, here is a teaser:

Is New Zealand’s political settlement beginning to fray? And does this mean we’re entering the interregnum, that ambiguous moment between society-wide discontent and political change? In BWB’s latest book of essays, edited by Morgan Godfery, ten of New Zealand’s sharpest emerging thinkers gather to debate the ‘morbid symptoms’ of the current moment, from precarious work to climate change, and to discuss what shape change might take, from ‘the politics of love’ to postcapitalism.

The Interregnum interrogates the future from the perspective of the generation who will shape it.

I have contributed a chapter on Kaupapa Māori Politics. I’m totally open to discussing (debating!) it, so if you do buy the book, and then want to have a mutually respectful kōrero with me about my chapter, please do comment here.

 

Ngā mihi nui ki a koe.

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WHĀNAU ORA: It was the way our people lived

Whānau Ora has always been in the hissing pit when it comes to NZ politics. Another example of Māori “Special Privilege”. Every jibe simply an attempt by the sneerer to reinforce their assimilationist predisposition and/or self importance. Much of the criticism is misplaced or exaggerated. And it can be quite distressing seeing Māori internalise that lack of faith in Māori systems. It’s implementation is by no means perfect, and sure there are certainly areas requiring vast improvement, but there is no denying that it has helped thousands of family in the four years it has been in operation as a matter of government policy. 

Two days ago, the Auditor General released a report on Whānau Ora. While it has been depicted in the media as a damning indictment, the Report simply sought to clarify what whānau ora is, where the funding has gone, and what Whānau Ora has achieved after four years. The Auditor General appraises Whānau Ora as “an example of innovation and new thinking in service delivery”. She also states that it provides “an opportunity for providers of health and social services in the community to operate differently and to support families in deciding their best way forward”.

Many people have commented that they are not quite sure what Whānau Ora is or does. I’m not convinced that’s due to a lack of information. Arguably,(in many cases at least) it is misunderstood as a result of passive ignorance.

What is Whānau Ora?

Whānau Ora is not a new concept. Like many concepts in Te Ao Māori, no group or individual can determine for others what it means. What can be generally agreed is that from a policy perspective it is an “inclusive and culturally anchored approach based on a Māori view of health that assumes changes in an individual’s wellbeing can be brought about by focusing on the family collective” rather than “focusing separately on individual family members and their problems”. In practice then it requires “multiple government agencies to work together with families rather than separately with individual relatives”.

Three key principles 

Professor Mason Durie emphasises that Whānau Ora is built on three key principles:

Integrated solutions

  • The idea is that “no single sector or discipline has all the answers” to meeting the holistic needs of whānau. This means that a Whānau Ora approach is “cross sectoral, inter-disciplinary, Whānau centred”.

Durie writes:

An integrated approach recognises that economic, social, cultural and environmental dimensions are inter-related and one cannot be adequately progressed without the others.

Distinctive pathways

  • Whānau Ora recognises that “cultural worldviews are important to health”. As well as building on “Māori world views, language [and] culture, networks, [and] leadership”, Whānau Ora reaches out to cultures in all their diversity. The objective is to provide a framework within which all whānau can define their own distinctive pathways in accordance with their cultural practices and values to improve whānau outcomes.

Goals that empower

  • Whānau Ora values “human dignity, positive relationships, self-management and self-determination”.
  • It is about “addressing the impacts of whānau disadvantage as well as assisting families to be strong, capable, resilient and self-managing”. The goal then is not only providing services that address existing disparities, but to unlock potential to help whānau access opportunities and navigate their own futures with the tools they need to improve their whānau outcomes.

In a nutshell, Dame Tariana Turia explains that Whānau Ora is about:

…restoring to ourselves, our confidence in our own capacity to provide for our own – to take collective responsibility to support those who need it most.

See also Te Puni Kōkiri Fact Sheet.

Criticism

Following the Report, Whānau Ora and in particular, Te Puni Kōkiri has come under attack from opposition MP’s. The Iwi Leaders Group (ILG) have criticised the way that some politicians have bought into the “beat-up by politically motivated tirades which do nothing but bring this kaupapa into disrepute”. The ILG argue that as Māori we need to have faith in our own answers and be proud of the progress that has been made to enable whānau to date.  The group asks:

Why would we turn the spotlight on ourselves, and expect an initiative which is still evolving to rectify generations of neglect or indifference from the state?

Critique is to be welcomed. Evaluations ensure transparency and accountability. The Minister of Māori Development Te Ururoa Flavell appreciated the report claiming it affirms “the value of taking an innovative public policy approach to supporting families in need.” He considers that the Report provides valuable lessons for “Ministers, government departments, commissioning agencies and providers”. Flavell highlights that:

Since Whānau Ora began in 2010, around 9,400 families have benefitted from whānau-centred service delivery which includes almost 50,000 people.

The problem with exaggerating the shortcomings identified in the report, as the ILG point out, is that it risks hurting whānau who have or could benefit from Whānau Ora services. The reason being that if the public perceive the services to be performing poorly or at least buy into the misplaced criticism by opposition MP’s, then it provides grounds for the government to withdraw funding despite the gains made to date and the future potential of the approach.

The main criticism refers to the amount of funding spent by Te Puni Kōkiri on Administration based on the Auditor General’s observation that:

…delays in spending the available budgets meant that some of the funds intended for whānau and providers did not reach them as originally planned. In our view, better planning and financial management were needed.

Te Puni Kōkiri

Te Puni Kōkiri is the government organisation tasked with “carrying out the Initiatives, for giving the Government policy advice about the Initiatives, and for assessing and reporting on the Initiatives’ effectiveness”.

The funding made available for their use was administrative “to implement, develop, and evaluate the whānau ora service delivery approach” in the 2010/2011 period and “to implement, develop, and evaluate the whānau ora commissioning approach” in the 2013/2014 period.

The total amount spent was $137.6 million, which was made up of:

$20.8 million (15% of the total) spent through the WIIE fund which “made funds available to whānau through some form of legal entity to enable them to prepare plans to improve their lives”

$67.9 million (49% of the total) spent through the Service Delivery Capability fund which “made funds available to providers, who used it to build their capability to deliver whānau-centred services”

$6.6 million (5% of the total) spent through the funds for commissioning agencies; and

$42.3 million (31% of the total) spent on administration (including research and evaluation).

In response to this criticism, Te Puni Kōkiri’s CEO, Michelle Hippolite, has responded that she can account for where all the funds clustered for administration are currently allocated and asserts that no funds have been misspent. While Minister Flavell acknowledges that there were issues “of design, development, and implementation” and money was allocated to “research, evaluation, and leadership programmes” to assist to that end without which “the administration spending would have been at a normal level for a Government programme”.

Conclusion

There is certainly good reason for being concerned that funding appears to have centralised in administration and bureaucracy. This is especially so when providers are always in need of additional funding to meet the needs of whānau. Former Minister Tariana Turia criticised this last October when she questioned why there was an underspend on Whānau Ora and sought answers to where the money had been allocated as she believed that more funding should have been directed to frontline services.

The Report most likely answers her question: much was tied up in Administration. The challenge going forward will be finding more efficient administration systems to ensure more funding finds its way to service providers and navigators.

The benefit of the Report is that it provides clear observations and recommendations that highlight for Te Puni Kōkiri in particular, where it needs to improve its effectiveness. After all, Whānau Ora is about being whānau centric, so any costing’s and financial planning must always be mindful of how whānau are centred in those plans.

However, Whānau Ora cannot resolve the effects of almost 200 years of colonisation in 4 years. This seems to be the crux of much of the criticism in an attempt to disband Whānau Ora and force a return to the shabby state services that have been in place for decades and have not been able to change outcomes for a large proportion of Māori. It is an undeniably unrealistic expectation to suggest that Whānau Ora would magically solve inter-generational disparity in under half a decade.

In saying that, Whānau Ora has helped numerous families to date. And that success should be celebrated. Although, it is currently geared toward Māori and Pasifika whānau to address the history of disparity in Aotearoa, the approach itself is applicable to all whānau and has the capacity to provide a new way of delivering health and social services to all whānau to improve outcomes and finds solutions for whānau self-determination.

See also Turia’s comments on the long term goals of Whānau Ora.

 

 

Food Security apparently optional for the Children of Aotearoa

Last night the government (National and ACT) voted down two bills that sought to provide food to children particularly in low decile schools. That is, children who live in the most economically deprived areas of the country. The bills essentially dealt with the issue of food security, or alternatively stated, food insecurity.[1]

Food security is considered as existing ‘when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life’.[2] It involves four essential elements: availability, access, stability and utilisation.[3] According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, availability is measured in terms of the quantity, quality and diversity of food available to consumers, while access is measured by both physical and economic access to food.[4] Access and availability are largely guaranteed through national level policy although there is no requirement for a country to ‘achieve food production self-sufficiency’.[5] Importantly, measuring the extent of food security at the national level (that is, that a country has sufficient levels of food to distribute to meet domestic demand) does not necessarily reflect the extent of security at the household or individual levels. A nation can be food secure at the national level while still food insecure at the individual level due to ‘unequal distribution of food within the country’ which may result from food prices and the issue of affordability.[6] Stability is measured through exposure to food security risk, as well as incidences of shocks such as price spikes, fluctuations in domestic food supply and political instability,[7] while utilisation measures the ‘variables that determine the ability to utilise food’ together with ‘outcomes of poor food utilisation’.[8]

Food insecurity has often been considered an issue of  inadequate food supply at the national level. But this is not the case in New Zealand, nor in most developed countries. Instead, it is often the lack of purchasing power on behalf of households.[9] In his entitlements theory, Amartya Sen emphasised similar issues of consumption, demand and access to food by vulnerable people.[10] Sen argued that a person will starve if their entitlement set is absent ‘any commodity bundle with enough food’.[11] Also, that starvation was imminent if there were a change in their factor endowment, such as, loss of land or labour power, or their exchange entitlement mapping, such as food price spikes or loss of employment.[12] He maintained that these changes would restrict a persons ability to acquire any commodity bundle with enough food.[13]

A problem that arises in respect of the Feed the Kids bill, is that critics imply the problem of food insecurity in New Zealand is not one of a chronic nature (as is often found in developing or least developed regions). Therefore, studies that suggest marginal improvements (and perhaps arguments such as Sen’s) which were largely responding to food insecurity in developing countries should not be used to defend policies that attempt to address transitory food insecurity in children in New Zealand through school lunch or breakfast programmes. The reason being that there is little evidence to show that outcomes will provide any significant benefit for the cost of such policies.  For instance, Dr Eric Crampton writes:[15]

[I]t’s hard to make a case for that we’d get any great benefit from the [school breakfast] programmes. Rather, we often find that they don’t even increase the odds that kids eat breakfast at all.

And:

To the extent that they improve outcomes in some studies, we really can’t tell:

whether the effect is from changing the timing of breakfast, in which case we should instead have a morning tea break;

whether the effect is any better than just giving those families an equivalent cash transfer.

However, the cash transfer option doesn’t ensure that children will become food secure. By that I mean it doesn’t ensure that there will be food available or that they will have access to food.  I appreciate that a cash transfer gives the parent more freedom to choose the kinds of food that the child has available to them. However, a cash transfer may also incentivise food producers to increase the price of their foods to exact a benefit for themselves through the increased purchasing power made available at the household level. This could in effect neutralise any benefit that might have otherwise accrued to food insecure households due to affordability issues. Arguably, this problem could be overcome by adjusting for any inflationary effects. But that pattern is hardly desirable and contributes to the cost of government administration. Additionally, a cash transfer may not increase what the parent spends on food at all. Parents who find themselves without work, paying rent and utilities, school costs, and servicing other debts incurred while employed or those parents that simply don’t have enough money to cover the basic bills each month may not be able to increase their food spend, it may mean they’re able to cover costs that they had been unable to cover – car licensing, dentist, school costs, sports fees etc.

However, there are also issues for advocates of the Feed the Kids bill, such as, who supplies the food to the school? Can a government get value for money if entering into a supply agreement with a corporate (who would likely create terms more favourable to itself), or is contracting with a charity necessarily the best option since they may for example, source food products from corporations? There just seems to be a contradiction in fighting capitalism from the left – who are the main advocates of this bill, to partnering with corporations either directly or indirectly.

In principle, I support the Feed the Kids bill. But like many others have suggested, it needs some work. That would have been the benefit of getting it to the Select Committee where the public could make submissions and where robust research was carried out to attempt to construct an effective policy.

An area where I’d like to see research directed, is where food is targeted at the source. That is, where the government invest in local food production. It might be that there is room to incentivise food producers to produce surpluses that are supplied to their local schools. Sure, this is an un-worked idea but we shouldn’t just limit our imagination to cash transfers or supply by food corporations. There is a human right to food and in my mind that means it is a resource first. If the government can improve local food production by investing more in the sector to deal with issues of household and individual food insecurity then perhaps we can tackle a number of issues (such as employment, health, education) while also ensuring children are not subjected to food insecurity whether it be chronic or transitory.

The right to adequate food is recognised and protected in both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).[16] The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food defines this right as:[17]

…the right to have regular, permanent and unrestricted access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensure a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free of fear…

The government also has obligations to meet food security goals as set out in the Millennium Development Declaration[18] and the Rome Declaration on World Food Security. [19] I haven’t even touched on issues of undernourishment, nutrition, food sovereignty, the role of agribusiness, deforestation, land grabs, climate issues, infrastructure issues, armed conflict, GMO’s. The topic of food security is vast, and is a priority at the international level. Pity the New Zealand government see it as optional. Perhaps, the next development in the feed the kids campaign, then might be to focus on the wider issue of food security at the household and individual level and find ways to address it that aren’t merely palliative, but involve addressing the network of challenges that cause food insecurity.

 

[1]  Some of the content of this post comprises parts of a dissertation I wrote for my LLM.

[2]  Rome Declaration on World Food Security.

[3]  FAO State of Food Insecurity in the World (2014), at 13.

[4]  Ibid

[5]  Christopher Stevens, Romilly Greenhill, Jane Kennan and Stephen Devereux “The WTO Agreement on Agriculture and Food Security” (paper prepared for the Commonwealth Secretariat, Economic Series No. 42, London, 2000), at 3.

[6]  At 2-3.

[7]  Ibid.

[8]  Ibid.

[9]  World Bank Poverty and Hunger (1986)

[10]  FAO “Chapter 2. Food security: concepts and measurement” in Trade Reforms and Food Security: Conceptualising the Linkages (FAO, Rome, 2003), at 28.

[11]  Amartya Sen Food, Economics and Entitlements (World Institute for Developmental Economics Research, United Nations University, 1986) at 8-9. For Sen, an entitlement is ‘the set of different alternative commodity bundles that the person can acquire through the use of the various legal channels of acquirement open to someone in [their] position’.

[12]  Ibid.

[13]  Ibid.

[14]  Stevens et al, at 5.

[15]   Eric Crampton “Breakfast” Offsetting Behaviour (15 May 2013)

[16]  Universal Declaration of Human Rights GA Res 217 A, III (1948); International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights GA Res2200A XXI 993 UNTS 3 (1966).

[17]  “The Human Right to Food” UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

[18] Millennium Development Declaration

[19]  Rome Declaration on World Food Security

Performance funding is a terrible and harmful idea

Source: Chicane Southland Times

Source: Chicane Southland Times

I’ve preached in many a post that central planning is basically the devils work. I stand by that. Where power can be concentrated, it will be. This isn’t limited to economic issues either – it traverses the entire ‘state sector’.

Minister Hekia Parata’s announcement that she is looking to fund schools according to the progress their pupils make, reinforces my contempt for central planning. Should this proposal come to fruition, it will be extremely harmful for children.

Parata was critical about ‘schools in deprived neighbourhoods’ being paid more, ‘as a blunt instrument’ and admitted that ‘some gentrified areas, especially in Auckland, could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars, while others would gain similar amounts’

This suggests that Parata would cut funding to schools in lower socio-economic zones based on the arbitrary device her government uses to measure the performance of pupils. The zone is important here too – it restricts pupils from attending better funded schools outside their zoned neighbourhood.

Parata’s idea places the funding burden on pupils. In effect, their schools would lose funding if they [the pupils] didn’t perform well in their tests, exams, assessments etc. Reiterating, their performance is subject to a highly contentious arbitrary measure.  This is a perverse policy and is prima facie inconsistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (the Convention).[1]

For the purpose of the Convention, child is defined as including generally every human being below the age of eighteen years. So, the Convention applies to almost all pupils who would be affected by Parata’s proposal.[2]

Art 28 of the Convention provides that States must recognise that all children have a right to education with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity. Additionally, Art 2 (2) provides that children should be free from all forms of discrimination.

As Chris Hipkins (Labour Party) states:

a child’s achievement depended on a wide range of factors including whether they were living in a cold, damp house and whether their parents were educated and had time to spend with them

Hipkins barely even touches on the multitude of factors that affect a child’s performance at school, yet we can already deduce that some children, particularly those already at a disadvantage, would suffer greatly under a performance-funding model because the States commitment to provide equal opportunity in education perishes and children could become subjects of discrimination based on their socio-economic backgrounds.

Parata appears to acknowledge that this proposal is discriminatory when she implies that schools in deprived neighbourhoods could potentially lose hundreds of thousands in funding based the progress of their pupils. She also appears to ignore that the increased pressures placed on lower socio-economic families exacerbates the poor performance of those pupils.

Many have criticised the National Party’s implementation of the arbitrary National Standards measures and the shifting in funding from public schools to charter schools[3] and now criticise the proposed potential of the state to transfer school funding from lower scoio-economic areas upwards.

But the standard response is simply to replace one form of centralised power with another, by voting for the other side. This doesn’t fix the problem. It just shifts who holds that centralised power. Concentration of power is susceptible to the same abuses irrespective of who is exercising it.

If we want to avoid policies that are discriminatory and removes equal opportunity, particularly for children, then we need to reject the path that leads to the concentration of power – the centralised state. Because as mentioned at the start of this post, those with the ability to attain power can and (as we have observed) do assert it contrary to popular will. Reiterating here that this is not a feature unique to the National Party – its the flaw in our supposedly ‘representative democracy’.

The usual argument against decentralisation is that without central government, private corporate tyrannies will rule. I think this is misguided. Decentralised public entities could exist to guide and support public institutions because removing central government involves removing the privileges central government grant in favour of big business.

I don’t presume that we could just do away with the central government today and have a perfectly formed, and functioning decentralised community tomorrow, but prioritising it as a goal means we can start planning and implementing the infrastructure that would support decentralisation and in effect the proper measures to deal with social an economic inequality.

If we want quality education for our children, then we need to eliminate central government control of it.

[1] NZ ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1993  subject to specific reservations.

[2] Noting, some students in their final year of secondary school are 19 years old.

[3] I have defended charter schools (to an extent) in previous posts on the basis that they are decentralised educational institutions that have the potential to provide education according to the needs of the pupils who attend and in conjunction with the families and local community (e.g. Te Kura Hourua O Whangarei Terenga Paroa). I’m not convinced that charter schools are necessarily ‘for profit’ entities.

Worker co-ops and Charter Schools

Critics argue that charter schools will damage the education system in NZ. These arguments are predominantly raised by those of the political left, and in particular, Teachers Unions.

The NZ PPTA considers that there is no evidence to support importing the charter school model into NZ Education. Moreover, that the current legislation allows for parents to set up their own schools, if they are dissatisfied with their local school, provided they have at least 21 students enrolled. 

I asked the PPTA (via Twitter) if teachers were able to run a charter school as a worker co-operative; they replied that the legislation did not appear to allow for this.

I then sent an email to Hon. Hekia Parata and asked:

Does the legislation for Charter Schools allow for the possibility of teachers managing a charter school as a workers co-op? If not, why not?

I received the following reply:

The legislation (s158A Education Act 1989) requires the sponsor of a Partnership School to be a body corporate. Any workers or teachers co-operative would therefore have to be incorporated in some way before it could put forward a proposal to become the sponsor of a Partnership School.

During the Third reading of the Bill, Metiria Turei, Leader of the Greens stated that charter schools have no future in this country should there be a change in government.

This sentiment is also shared by the NZ Labour Party.

If Unions and those of the political left are movements symbolic of bringing an end to bossism, i.e. where workers take control of the means of production; then why on earth are they not advocating for the legislation to incorporate workers cooperatives, rather than pushing for state owned and managed institutions?

This is actually an opportunity for teachers to be freed from the hierarchical systems of institutional education and to bring about a fair and equitable workspace for the teachers and their students.

Even in a market based theory, schools run for profit are less likely to obtain the students necessary to keep the school going if Teacher/Worker co-operatives are able to provide a better educational experience for their students. This competition is good for students because in a workers co-operative, teachers would stake their livelihoods on ensuring the success of the school which depends on the success of the students. It means that teacher co-operative schools would have registered teachers. Although it would mean an end to teachers unions, and perhaps that is a reason why the Unions may not persist along the lines of encouraging workers co-operatives (note: this is a purely speculative comment).

Moreover, Labour and the Greens could also advocate for a proper oversight process to protect the students.

Sure the overseas models have had some poor results and I appreciate that there are some real issues in NZ with the handling of the implementation of charter schools and that the legislation must be improved to better protect the students.

I consider that we should focus on how we can improve the education experience for students and resist the temptation to  measure students against an arbitrary standard suggestive that students are homogeneous entities lacking diversity in their background, skills or knowledge.  We must encourage innovative strategies and move away from a ‘state knows best’ narrative.

The War on Kids documentary points out that while we have conducted many studies on education, there are no studies that show that compulsory education is the best way to impart the necessary skills and knowledge on children to assist them to lead happy and productive lives. Lets not just dismiss the idea of the charter school model, but look at ways of improving it.

 

And the government says “Punish the kids!”

Image

And the government says “Punish the kids!” Well, not exactly. But they may as well. The National government have contributed around $40 million dollars in funding to private schools, but will not even entertain the $5-6 million Kids Can estimate or the $15 million CPAG estimate (estimates according to David Shearer on Radio Live this evening) to assist in alleviating some of the effects of child poverty.

The price however, is irrelevant. The relevant point is the flawed argument propagated by many economically-right thinking people (ERTP): If people can’t afford to have kids then they shouldn’t have them.

Isn’t the value of hindsight a wonderful thing? How many times have we all made decisions that attract costs that on hindsight we probably shouldn’t have made even though the decision was reasonable in the circumstances at the time? I’m sure we can all think of examples on both a personal and political level.

Admittedly, having children is a more complex decision because the relevant factors are not just around affordability. But according to many ERTP, a decision to have a child should always be based on affordability. Whether you say it out loud or not, the implication of this premise a big resounding ‘keep your legs shut’ or you have no right to complain when your kids are starving. That is effectively the message the government gave women today and previous governments have given in the past. And what about the solo dad’s struggling to raise their kids? Well, the government just gave you a kick in the nuts too! Don’t stick your bits inside a female; you can’t trust that she’ll stay around to feed your kids. Harsh? Yes. But this is the message a government sends when it refuses to incorporate funding for hungry children into the national budget.

I am amazed ERTP having come out and blamed women for child poverty given the underlying premise of these arguments. But I digress.

We can accept the premise that it is the parents responsibility to feed their children. Generally. However, what we must expect is that when parents are unable or fail to provide for their children, the government will step in to assist those children. If they don’t, then what? I can appreciate that the government don’t want parents to abdicate their responsibility because the government have a safety net. But this argument is the same one that Bill English gives about parental responsibility. It is overly simplistic and lacks the empathy required to build a community that thrives. Moreover, this argument is redundant when these families are forced into poverty through failed economic policies.

What’s not taken into consideration when demonising these parents who are unable to feed their children is the fact that children aren’t born in hindsight. Additionally, other arguments flapped around various social media sites and on talk back radio are the sterilisation of women or forced abortion if the prospective parent[s] have a poor financial outlook. Wtf? Fortune telling determines who can have children? This quackery is normally scoffed at but is legitimate when it applies to persons in poverty? What gives any person the right to determine that a prospective family with a poor financial outlook should terminate a pregnancy?  That is a very dangerous road to go down. When we start advocating for the State to determine who can and cannot have children and under what circumstances, it begins to look remarkably like the eugenics programmes carried out in Nazi Germany and the less talked about programmes in the United States.

It is a myth that people live in poverty by choice. They stay in poverty because successive governments have failed to make the necessary reforms to improve their situations or to prevent people ending up in that situation. And this is no accident. Without poverty, capitalism cannot survive. Poverty usually stems from an inability to obtain employment or to obtain employment that improves ones’ financial situation. I have discussed this in earlier posts, but have no expectation for you to go back and read them, so here is my summary:

“In order to sustain a capitalist growth economy, out of necessity we must ensure there is a stable level of unemployment. However, we must be careful not to make any welfare scheme that compensates for this necessity, too attractive, or the whole economy will collapse”

This is in effect government induced poverty. ERTP must accept that when the government creates poverty for their benefit, it must at least act to alleviate it. A start is to provide kids with food in schools, but don’t expect that it is the full solution. A government that refuses to take action to assist these kids, punishes them.

Update: Below is an extract of a post on Facebook. I’m using it to show the ineptitude of the many people who consider State intervention bad (i.e. the ERTP described in this post) unless it acts to controls the lives of those who are forced into poverty through ineffective economic policy. Although written in the context of the US, I’ve seen many ERTP in NZ hit the like button on this:

This was in the Waco Tribune Herald,   Waco  , TX , Nov 18, 2011

PUT ME IN CHARGE . . .Put me in charge of food stamps. I’d get rid of Lone Star cards; no cash for Ding Dongs or Ho Ho’s, just money for 50-pound bags of rice and beans, blocks of cheese and all the powdered milk you can haul away. If you want steak and frozen pizza, then get a job.

Put me in charge of Medicaid. The first thing I’d do is to get women Norplant birth control implants or tubal ligations. Then, we’ll test recipients for drugs, alcohol, and nicotine. If you want to reproduce or use drugs, alcohol, or smoke, then get a job.

Put me in charge of government housing. Ever live in a military barracks? You will maintain our property in a clean and good state of repair. Your home” will be subject to inspections anytime and possessions will be inventoried. If you want a plasma TV or Xbox 360, then get a job and your own place.

In addition, you will either present a check stub from a job each week or you will report to a “government” job. It may be cleaning the roadways of trash, painting and repairing public housing, whatever we find for you. We will sell your 22 inch rims and low profile tires and your blasting stereo and speakers and put that money toward the “common good..

Before you write that I’ve violated someone’s rights, realize that all of the above is voluntary. If you want our money, accept our rules. Before you say that this would be “demeaning” and ruin their “self esteem,” consider that it wasn’t that long ago that taking someone else’s money for doing absolutely nothing was demeaning and lowered self esteem.

If we are expected to pay for other people’s mistakes we should at least attempt to make them learn from their bad choices. The current system rewards them for continuing to make bad choices.

AND While you are on Gov’t subsistence, you no longer can VOTE! Yes, that is correct. For you to vote would be a conflict of interest. You will voluntarily remove yourself from voting while you are receiving a Gov’t welfare check. If you want to vote, then get a job.

Note: I do not endorse what was said in this Facebook post and am well aware of the flaws in the arguments this person makes. I apologise in advance for any rage this excerpt may cause those with a social conscience.

Unqualified Teachers & Charter Schools

The first point I want to make is that parents should have the choice as to how they want their children educated. As it currently stands we have state schools, private schools and integrated schools. These schools are subject to government imposed curriculum and employ on the basis of an institutionally recognised qualification. I am indifferent to Charter Schools. I’m neither pro nor against. Although, I can see how others might perceive my stance as pro-Charter.

Charter Schools
What I disapprove of with Charter Schools is the proposition that they should not be subject to oversight by the Ombudsmen. Of course they should be – they are entrusted with the education of children and must be accountable to someone outside their organisation as they are performing a public function. They must also be subject to the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act to prevent abuses of power while performing a public function.

In my opinion, education belongs to the commons much the same as land, natural resources and the internet and as such society must have ways of holding those in education accountable where rights are breached and powers abused. If there is no external oversight, then we cannot be assured that there are no abuses of power or breaches of civil rights.

What I like about Charter Schools is that they propose models of education that are not mainstream for instance, they can address the different needs and requirements of minority groups in NZ such as Maori, Pacific Island, Special needs, and our growing population of immigrant minorities.  And they offer a way of innovatively engaging such students in learning in a way that is meaningful to those students.

I am aware of the vast array of literature that criticises Charter Schools although I’ll admit that I haven’t actually read any of it. But my point is that the idea of a charter school model provides a different choice to parents, and as a society that is diverse such choices should be made available.

Unqualified Teachers
I’m not against Teachers obtaining a qualification that is recognised by an institution. But I do not believe that to be a Teacher you MUST obtain an institutionally recognised qualification.

I accept that the qualification equips people with the skills to manage a classroom and to teach what is required under the curriculum. I also accept that many teachers develop their own style to make learning more engaging for students and therefore such qualifications do not necessarily produce ‘homogenous robots’ . But my argument is that it is not the qualification itself through which teachers develop their own style. It is through experience that teachers develop their own style and come to understand what works and what doesn’t. This means that even without the qualification a teacher can develop strategies that work best for the students they work with.

Another argument raised is that there is an over-abundance of teachers who have invested time and money in teaching qualifications, but in my view that’s not a justifiable reason to prevent unqualified persons from teaching. It proposes an arbitrary restriction purely because some teachers are going to be out of pocket. In fact, I would argue further that because of the mandatory qualification some experts are arbitrarily restricted from sharing their knowledge simply because they do not possess the qualification, even if they have the skills.

What’s my solution? If it is important to many that teachers have an institutionally recognised qualification then the government can maintain the status quo and require that teachers’ possess the qualification to teach in Mainstream/State schools – the benefit of obtaining a qualification I suppose is that a teacher will be able to work in either State school or any other school. But do not restrict those in private or charter schools from employing people who have no teaching qualification per se but have knowledge that can be imparted to students. Besides, it’s unlikely that a charter school will employ a person that shows no capability of being able to teach if they are held accountable for the outcomes they produce. 

Education: slavery through the illusion of enlightenment?

13 days ago @AlexEdneyBrowne (twitter) asked for my thoughts on Stephen Joyce’s comments regarding engineering enrolments at the University of Auckland (apologies for my belated response). I refrained from writing too soon, because I had a few questions that I didn’t have answers to. I still don’t have those answers, but my views are little more reasoned (but only a little). This post reflects on Joyce’s comments, but not in the way that you might have thought.
According to Stephen Joyce, education is about meeting the demand of the market and the market currently demands that prospective University Students undertake engineering degrees because there is a shortage of engineers in NZ and if an institution does not comply, then the government can go in and force compliance.

“If they want us to be more directive, I’m more than willing,” he said. “I’m watching them really closely to make sure they do respond to what the market wants, and if they don’t, I can go and tell them how many they should enrol for each department.” 

See: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10848413

    Legality aside, the Minister’s comments reflect the state of our education system. This is the system Labour and National have determined for our country. A system where market conditions are emulated within education institutions to privilege a few through the appearance of catering to the many.
    Recently, I was directed to a George Orwell quote:

    “The further society drifts form the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it”

    In my view, this applies to the Minister’s comments. I’m not saying that I agree with what he said, only that what he said reflects the reality of education in our country.Our education system is more about meeting the skills shortages in the job market and less about enlightenment. The rest of this post considers education in general but randomly refers back to the Minister’s views.  
    I watched a snippet of a lecture by Noam Chomsky ‘Education: for whom and for what?’ see: http://keentalks.com/education-for-whom-and-for-what/
    Chomsky distinguished between two groups: those who consider that education is for the privileged, i.e. the intelligent minority who occupy decision-making roles in society and those who consider that education is for everyone. I have no idea how Chomsky concluded his lecture but my argument is this:

    Our governments propagate that education is for everyone but it (the education system) operates to maintain the intelligent minority. Arguably, a public education system indicates education is for everyone; however, requiring a criterion for entrance acts as a restriction on the proposition that education is for everyone.

      Education is for everyone – only in the sense that we have a public education system. It’s an illusion to silence the masses in order to retain minorities in specific areas.
      Education is for the privileged – in the sense that those who perform better receive advantages as a result of their performance.
      An argument against this is the argument from equality. Equality in the sense that everyone has the same access so there is no privilege and those who outperform their peers deserve the benefits for their work. I agree in part with this statement. It takes considerable effort to attain grades of excellence (in the A range). So institutions should reward those who manage to attain those grades accordingly, right? Here I take issue. University grades are awarded through various types of assessment, predominantly examination. Some people are just good at taking exams, while others are not. The system privileges those who are good exam takers.
      I disagree with the argument from equality in the sense that not everyone has the same starting point. I have discussed this in various past posts, but I will briefly discuss it here. A persons ability to attain grades of excellence at University is not just dependent on the work they put in at University. There are pre-existing factors that will affect a students performance. For instance, the school you attend prior to University, the subjects available at that school, relationships with teachers, relationships with family, time available to complete the work required or to understand the material…the list is endless. We have created an education system that does not take into account morally arbitrary differences in a students life.
      Here is what I want to say about grades. There are limits on how many grades of excellence are awarded. You will not find a class where every student achieves an A grade. Our system moderates work so that only a certain number of students achieve A’s. Presumably, the argument is it increases competition and forces students to study harder to reach their full potential. This is not about full potential, for the teacher it may be, but for the institution its about ensuring that only a few students fill the spots of the intelligent minority. You must attain grades that the institution sets in order to complete at a post-graduate level e.g. Honours and Masters degrees. Even the language used to define post-graduate qualifications reflect the truth of the ‘intelligent minority’ thesis.
      The limitation on the number of excellence grades awarded is akin to the way in which money is kept scarce. It controls what people can and cannot do. If you don’t meet the requisite grades for post graduate study, then you are precluded from undertaking those courses, just like if you don’t have the money to pay a debt, you remain indebted. Scarcity forces the status quo to privilege a few. High grades are essentially academic capital. The more academic capital you have, the more academic capital you have access to.*
       Chomsky points to David Hume to make a similar point:

      “NOTHING appears more surprising to those, who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few; and the implicit submission, with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers” 

        How does all this relate to the Ministers comments? It does so by looking at the influence of the market on education. It is in effect a form of slavery. Let me attempt to qualify this. If the market demands what subjects or courses students take in order to meet those demands (and the government work to enforce those demands) then education is about state commodification of students for use by corporations. It is slavery because we are subject to whatever conditions the market determines for us. Here is the question I am struggling to answer: Do we freely chose our course of study or are we simply conditioned to think that we are freely choosing to pursue that path?

        *This is not a criticism of those whom have achieved high grades. Its a criticism of the system. 

        Re-introduce interest on student loans? No.

        Grrr. I was just reading the TVHE blog on student loans. The basic argument is that the government should reintroduce interest on student loans and that the government shouldn’t  provide support for students while they study, because tertiary education is a choice.

        This is the myth. Tertiary study is not a choice any more than receiving chemotherapy for cancer is. The author even points to the benefits of tertiary study, indicating that a student that completes an undergraduate degree will after 3 years of that degree be earning 51% more than those who did not obtain tertiary qualifications.

        Lets unravel this. The market is demanding higher qualifications. This is part of the markets labour competitive strategy. In order for people to earn living wages, tertiary education is paramount. Sure, there are people earning decent salaries based on years experience in an industry, but they are also noting that they cannot get higher than middle management roles unless they have a tertiary qualification.

        It is not correct to say that on the basis of the market conditions that people are choosing to benefit themselves through higher education. They are compelled to do so because the alternative is low waged, unskilled labour.

        So what of interest on student loans? This is the biggest grind of the whole article.

        Money is created as debt. If you don’t believe me go search the RBNZ website and you will see reports that indicate that private banks create money out of loans. Loans are debts. The money created by private banks is not paper money or coins. Only the RBNZ is allowed to create that kind of money. Over 80% of money in NZ is created by private banks. Less than 20% is the ‘real’ money.

        When you take out a student loan, you create new money in society. The money didn’t exist until it was deposited into the bank accounts of those whom you were required to pay. And interest, well, that is the biggest deception ever. Interest is not money. It is an arbitrary figured applied to a loan amount that makes it difficult to pay the loan back. Not just because it increases the amount you owe, but because it represents an amount of money that does not actually exist. I’m not lying. The world is in a perpetual state of debt because money is created out of nothing by private banks or financial institutions and interest is a means to ensure that all the debt can never be repaid. You simply cannot pay back all the debt in the world because there is not enough money in circulation to do so. Printing more money will not solve this issue, because private banks will create more loans and therefore more interest to continually feed the cycle.

        So when someone says re-introduce interest to student loans to make borrowing cheaper for the government, I say screw you dude. Students are compelled to take on substantial debt just so that they can survive in the system created to enslave them,they shouldn’t be made to borrow more. To insist that students also be compelled to pay back interest on that debt, interest that is not even money borrowed and therefore not even money created, is to insist that students are easy exploitative targets and ought to therefore pay for the privilege of being screwed over by the money creating beasts known as banks.Oh, and that the government should be in on it.

        Yes, TVHE are qualified economists and I am simply opinionated, but there is no conspiracy in exposing the way money is created and what interest actually is. The conspiracy is in why we were deceived for so long.

        An analogy: bio-engineered salmon

        Recently I tweeted that “As an indigenous person, I’m feeling a little like a bio-engineered salmon”. This may seem a little random, but while attending the recent World Indigenous Lawyers Conference this made sense, to me at least.

        Let me explain. In the very first seminar, Rebecca Tsosie gave an example about the backward way in which we approach a crisis. Instead of taking a precautionary measure to preserve the environment in its natural state, we intervene. She spoke of an example where salmon populations had depleted because of climate change. The waters were warmer and became inhabitable for the salmon that had a history of breeding in those waters. This affected not only the salmon migration patterns, but also affected the availability of a food resource for the indigenous people in that area. The suggestion (and I am unclear on whether this actually happened or whether it was simply a suggestion or merely a hypothetical) was to bio-engineer the salmon to adjust to the warmer waters. The consensus is that climate change is a result of excessive carbon emissions. The peculiarity is why we would bio-engineer a species to adapt to worsening environmental conditions, when we could simply change human activity that adversely affects the environment. Prevention or precautionary measures are more sustainable and therefore, better in the long term. 

        How does this relate to my statement? Well, the example stayed with me throughout the whole conference – in every seminar I attended, whether it be about education, politics, banking and so on.

        Lets talk about the banking seminar. The issue was: Do we need a Maori bank or do banks need to be more Maori? It was claimed that a key factor in accelerating Maori success in business was overcoming issues of access to finance. The suggestion was that the banks need more Maori in banking roles and to be more Maori – this being more Maori was about ‘pastoral care’ of whanau and Maori enterprise to improve the Maori experience of banks. Personally, I seethed throughout the whole seminar. My view was: in what ways was it conducive to tikanga Maori to promote capitalist structures to trap Maori in a fake credit system? Encouraging Maori to take on debt in order to fit within the structures of a society that has a different modus operandi so to speak – where success is measured by the profitability of a business or personal wealth is not particularly tika in my view. I am not here suggesting that business and profitability are negative in all aspects. 

        My view is that as indigenous peoples, Maori should be very careful about conforming to an economy that conflicts with Te Ao Maori (the Maori worldview). So here’s where the salmon analogy comes back in. Prior to colonisation Maori had a very productive economy. It may not have been capitalist, but it functioned in a way that was beneficial to all its members. Since colonisation, Maori have been forced to adapt to the ways of the colonising empire in all aspects. This adaptation is analogous to the bio-engineered salmon example. Instead of recognising that Maori had an economy, that they had rights and interests in natural resources and allowing them to continue to operate in that way, a way that was sustainable and a way that every member was cared for, deculturating Maori prevailed.

        Additionally, instead of educating Maori in Te Reo, in an environment that was suitable for their learning and in subjects that enabled individuals to find their own talents and roles in Maori society, the education system assimilated Maori. Maori were and predominantly are taught in English, taught subjects important to those in power and are taught to behave according to the norms and values of a foreign culture.  Bio-engineered salmon. Suffice to say when sitting in the politics seminar on the last morning of addresses, I realised that we Maori, as indigenous peoples, enable the deculturation. The status quo is that the key is to be at the table. My opinion, this buys into the bio-engineered salmon. The disharmony at the moment over consultation as to water rights and interests shows that while the government can divide Maori, Maori will remain politically modified to fit within a system that refuses to recognise Maori indigeniety and the rights, interests, duties and obligations that come with that indigeneity.

        The conference also helped me make sense of a reading that I had done prior to the conference. It was from an International Environmental Law paper I am doing, the chapter comes from a book called “When two worlds collide” written by my lecturer Klaus Bosselmann. In this particular chapter, Klaus sets out a planetary calendar from the beginning of time to the possible moment of the extinction of the world in which we have to make a radical choice to prevent the decimation of humankind . It is very dramatic but reminded me of the presentation given by Justice Joe Williams, who told a similar story but more specific to Maori about there being two scenarios in the future for Maori which depends on a common vision within and between Maori. Those scenarios were a dystopia and a utopia, with the former being a world where our indigeneity was simply seen as an experiment and has no value in that world with Maori continuing to dominate the negative statistics, while the latter is a world where Maoridom is embraced by all New Zealanders and is integral to national identity (I will discuss this further in a later post).  

        While the bio-engineered salmon analogy impacted how I understood and interpreted the seminars I attended, another statement also had a profound effect on my thinking. Bentham Ohia shared a statement made to him by Bolivian President Evo Morales: “I am not a capitalist, I am not a socialist, I am Indigenous”. Bentham shared this with the audience because it resonated with him. I am pretty sure it resonated with every indigenous person in the audience. 

        The key ideas, that I took away from the conference are as follows:  

        (i) Recognising the struggles of indigenous peoples as being analogous to struggle of the salmon and the foreign solution – to bio-engineer; and  

        (ii) Acknowledging that I am an indigenous person and that I need not subscribe to a dichotomous political spectrum that does not appropriately recognise my idigeneity. 

        NOTE: The World Indigenous Lawyers Conference 2012 was the first ever held and was hosted by Te Hunga Roia o Maori Aotearoa. I will write more on these seminars when time permits. My understanding is that Maori Lawyer Joshua Hitchcock intends to do a write up on this conference so keep an eye out: http://roiamaori.wordpress.com/