Monday, September 20, 2010

Allan Peachey: The race between education and catastrophe

I wrote last time about praising New Zealand’s great schools and fixing or closing its bad ones. That brings to mind that great Ronald Reagan statement ‘if you cannot make them see the light, make them feel the heat”. I think it has been well demonstrated that getting New Zealand schools to “see the light” just has not brought about the changes that are needed if every New Zealand child is to have an outstanding school to go to. I spent over 32 years in schools and now after five years in Parliament all I continue to see is tinkering around the edges so that real problems never get dealt with.

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.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

"It’s called individual responsibility. And as a national we need more of it"....isnt that the truth!
The Clark/Bradford brigade have been very successful in disempowering our young to think clearly by turning our schools into a nebulous fog of PC ideology..
They were not taught about the value of freedom and responsibility and parts of our history have even been eradicated from teachings because these events weren't useful to the ideology....

They are unaware of the price that has been paid in blood sweat and tears for us to live the way we do.

Why is there no protest? Why do they wander around oblivious, with ipods blaring with no idea of where their ship is headed?...its not because they are stupid...its because they haven't been given the numbers, so they cant crunch them.....

Anonymous said...

If my Philippines wife and I were to have had any children of our own, then they would be sent to Manila for their edutaction, the academic and moral standards there being of an higher order than those obtaining in New Zealand.

Christopher Miles.
WAIHI 3610.

Anonymous said...

There may have been deficiencies in my old fashioned Catholic schooling but there was no pussy footing around on what was right and what was wrong. Standards of behaviour were actually enforced - painfully at times.

I concur entirely that we need to get the bureaucrats out of education. Schools should be able to construct and state what their ethical and behavioural standards are - and parents who agree with and can support these standards can enrol their children at these schools.

As you state in your article standards are caught rather than taught - but they still need to be stated and enforced. If you are not going to enforce them then surely you are wasting your time.

In my years of primary teaching my primary class rule was, "Respect other people's bodies, feelings and property."

This seemed to make perfect sense to my pupils.Of course I tried to be a role model in
these respects.

It goes without saying that we need current and future teachers with the motivation and the vision to guide children along ethical and well as academic paths.