Monday, November 28, 2022

Peter Jackson: National’s boot camp plan promising start to solution

Education the long term answer to poverty

We’re told that the fundamental problem is poverty. Well guess what? The only sure path out of poverty begins with education. Lotto isn’t going to do it, and nor is social welfare.

I understand that some of us ordinary folk might have difficulty with the extraordinarily complex idea (not!) of taking kids out of a toxic environment and giving them a chance to learn skills and develop attitudes that will change their lives for the better. The media, though, has no excuse.

Whatever one thinks of National’s “boot camp” proposal for recidivist young offenders — my view is that it offers a promising start, but is only one ingredient of a proper solution — it is surely worth discussing, and considering, without the hysterics displayed by many. NZ Herald correspondents were at it again on Tuesday; “National’s brutal knee jerk boot camp reaction only piles on more abuse”, “. . . National singles out for opprobrium the damaged 12-year-old miscreants . . . Decreasing inequality is the solution to this problem, not punitive boot camps.”

Where do we find these people? Is some evil, subversive force breeding them somewhere with the aim of destroying what passes for civilisation these days?

For a start, who says taking kids who are well on the way to becoming career criminals out of the environment that has damaged them so and putting them where, for the first time in their lives, they have the chance to fulfil their potential is punitive? Have I missed something here?

As I read it, these “boot camps” (a derogatory term that is designed to disparage the policy before it even gets off the ground) will have nothing to do with punishment. If you’re going to bandy about words like brutal and punitive, then obviously you know something I don’t.

More likely, you’re simply opposed to doing anything proposed by anyone who doesn’t agree that a large part of an entire generation is being failed, by the current government and by society as a whole.

You don’t have to look far for evidence of that. Sixty per cent of kids aren’t attending school regularly. The Government’s less than lofty goal is to reduce that to 30 per cent over the next couple of years. And you don’t have to be an expert to understand how kids who are under-educated are likely to fare as adults.

We’re told that the fundamental problem is poverty. Well guess what? The only sure path out of poverty begins with education.

Lotto isn’t going to do it, and nor is social welfare. There is no reason, apart from poor parenting and misguided politicians, why every child in this country shouldn’t have a shot at succeeding, in whatever it is that they want to do. And for some, National’s proposal will be a godsend.

I saw it with my own eyes years ago, young people, not bad but neglected, with little education and fairly grim prospects, who went into the Defence Force’s limited service volunteer programme and came out transformed. Six weeks of discipline, structure, of being shown that all sorts of doors were in front of them, changed their lives.

I have no idea why that programme was abandoned, but this policy of National’s will hopefully replicate it, and achieve even better results. Anyone who disagrees with that might do us the courtesy of explaining why it won’t work, without using words like brutal and punitive.

I do have a proviso. There seems to be little point in giving young people a glimpse of what the world could offer them, if, at the end of the programme, they are sent back to the same dysfunctional families that they came from. While the kids are away, their families will need to be “rehabilitated”. It is totally unrealistic to expect a young teenager to come home, with a whole new outlook on life, not to be dragged back down by drug and alcohol abuse, violence, dishonesty and whatever else made them the way they were in the first place.

We also need to restore education to the pedestal it should be sitting on. All you need to know about where we’ve gone wrong is encapsulated in the current drive to make school so interesting and exciting that kids will want to be there. Do sane, rational people actually believe this stuff?

There is a reason why primary and secondary schooling are called compulsory education. It is compulsory, and parents who don’t send their kids to school are breaking the law. More to the point, they are likely sentencing their children to lives of misery.

I’m not saying that parents who don’t send their children to school should be punished, although the law allows for that. What I am saying is that parents should not have the right to destroy their children’s lives before they’ve even started. And rather than trying to lure kids back to school with puerile advertising that they and their parents will never see, let alone be influenced by, perhaps the Government could do something really radical, like investing in truancy officers.

For those who have already missed the school bus, the sort of structured environment that National is proposing would be neither punitive nor brutal. For many of these youngsters, it might be the best thing that ever happens to them.

Peter Jackson MNZM, former editor of the Northland Age newspaper, 38 years at the helm of this popular paper, now happily retired. This article was first published in the Northland Age 24/11/22.


John S said...

We need to switch the narrative on those who claim that boot camps or prisons don't work. They do actually. They work for the communities and society at large i.e. the victims, as while these toe rags are under enforced supervision they are not committing these crimes. Given most are recidivist I reckon they work pretty well.

Anonymous said...

You are absolutely right. Peter. Education is the key, and dealing to dysfunctional home life is part of that education. We should also stop the incentivising of indiscriminate breeding.