Monday, September 20, 2010
Allan Peachey: The race between education and catastrophe
The whole schooling system is over-burdened with bureaucracy, marked by increasing centralised control and an emphasis on compliance to legislation and regulation rather than on rigorous academic achievement. The whole system has built into itself a resistance to change that translates into a momentum towards disaster. It was H G Wells who said “civilisation is a race between education and catastrophe”. I fear that catastrophe is winning the race hands down. Some would argue that mine is an extreme view. To those I would say “scratch beneath the surface and see what is really happening in New Zealand society”. Look at levels of welfare dependency, of crime and of indebtedness that beset us. Look at the failure of individual responsibility and how that impacts on the lives of the rest of us. How can any New Zealander be anything but ashamed that in the immediate aftermath of the Canterbury earthquake concern was being expressed at the possibility of looting. Who would ever have thought that New Zealanders would have to worry about the prospect of looting in the wake of a natural disaster? And sadly looting and other crime did eventuate, not to mention the conmen as well.
So can this be put down to a failure in schooling? Not specifically; it’s much bigger than that. It really comes down to the whole moral code of society, of how many of us accept what we would call the normal standards of morality and decency. And how many of us obey the law and how many flout it, often with apparent impunity. The Canterbury earthquake has produced some marvellous stories of honesty, integrity and selflessness. These are virtues that the average New Zealander is willing to celebrate without having to think about it. We take it for granted that people will behave in that way.
Yet, still …..there are those, seemingly too many of them, who see opportunity for themselves in the misfortune of others. Good schools can and do impact on the moral values of their students, but it requires much more than that if this society is to rid itself of a soft underbelly of dishonesty and immorality. I am a strong advocate of the view that morality is better caught than taught. And it is caught from parents, school teachers, clergy, sports coaches, girls’ brigade leaders etc, and not forgetting political leaders, from both central and local government. It troubles me sometimes that New Zealand is so small that the system does not produce sufficient leaders capable of defining moral values in a way that say a Ronald Reagan could. Any leadership we have had in recent years has tended to be too much of a moral relativist nature. This de-emphasises the absolutes of right and wrong as measured by a conventional moral code that the majority of us are signed up to living by. Instead we become the judge of our own standards and judge our actions against our own expectations of ourselves rather than against what a civil society expects of us. So things start to break down.
For our young people it’s a world of mixed messages. I always used to argue that the moral code of the family and the school needed to be so strong that they provided youngsters with a moral compass strong enough to withstand the influence of peers and what was available through the media. Of course when parents and the school are not on the same pages things quickly begin to break down. This has been best illustrated most recently by the matter of after ball functions. I used to argue that if the school ball was just a curtain raiser to a booze-up, then we won’t bother with the ball. I see my former school had the guts to cancel its balls when some parents and students thought they knew better than the school. Good on them, I support schools taking such actions without reservation. I call it setting standards and offering moral leadership.
Ultimately someone caught looting in Christchurch cannot blame the school they went to for their lack of moral compass. They cannot blame the community that they grew up in. They cannot blame the government or the free market economic system. And frankly they cannot blame the garbage that they watch on TV or the video games that they play. They cannot argue that the benefit that they get from taxpayers is not enough.
No, they can only blame themselves. It’s called individual responsibility. And as a national we need more of it.
at 12:07 AM