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Maxim Institute real issues

Maxim Institute real issues.

this week: No. Seventy-One


* Drugs case highlights schools' dilemma The expulsion of a 14 year-old boy from school for smoking cannabis has provoked a sharp response from critics, but whose rights are most right?

* What's wrong with having kids? Recently released statistics tell us that two-parent families with children are on the decline; a situation that will impact subsequent generations.

* What counts as culture? If we're consuming more culture, what exactly is it we're consuming?

Drugs case highlights schools' dilemma

A 14 year-old pupil at James Hargest High School in Invercargill has been expelled for admitting he smoked cannabis. The case has provoked a range of responses, many supportive of the boy and saying that the school acted too hastily. Former Southland Youth at Risk chairman Bob Simpson, has said: "[The school's] business is turning out happy, well-adjusted students" and that Hargest was "behaving like a bully".

It may be that the pupil in question was dealt with more harshly by the school than if he had gone before the police or courts. On the other hand, he was breaking the law. And schools are in a real bind here; it is not so much the wider law they are concerned about, but the example and effects of students using marijuana.

Studies here and in Australia are showing a strong correlation between heavy cannabis use and depression in young people. The drug causes apathy, impairs judgement and it is particularly detrimental to teenagers who tend to lose their ability to complete tasks and the drive to succeed at school or in a career. Regular cannabis users are also at greater risk of developing mental illness later in life, according to research. It may be claimed that marijuana is a minor problem compared with other drugs, but going easy on it creates a climate which says 'drug use is okay', and we are now seeing the havoc that 'P', amphetamines and 'speed' are having among teenagers. Few would deny that New Zealand is developing a rampant drugs culture and the most vulnerable are impressionable youngsters.

Schools want to protect pupils, particularly those who have not yet been induced to try drugs. So while the boy's rights might have been infringed, what about the right of the school to uphold civil law and enforce its own rules?

What's wrong with having kids?

Statistics New Zealand paints a rather bleak picture of the future when it looks at family units over the next 20 years. By 2021, two-thirds of households will be either couples without children or one-parent households. Two-parent families with children will drop both in number and percentage, although they will still outpoint sole-parent families 2-to-1.

The shift will largely come about through the huge gain in couples without children - fewer couples will have children, and older couples will be 'empty-nesters' for longer periods after their children leave home because of increasing life expectancy. There will also be a 45 percent rise in people living alone by 2021, again because of the ageing population, increasing divorce or separation, and reluctance to commit to a relationship.

Old age has commonly been enriched by the enjoyment of grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. Increasingly, however, it appears destined to be a lonely time as we reject the idea that kinship expressed through marriage is central to our well-being. A Civil Society framework stresses the importance of the intergenerational family; who we are depends primarily on our biological links. This web of kinship provides us with a surname and a sense of connection with those who have gone before and those who will come after us. If continued, the present trends will mean increasing dislocation of relationships, and see a continued need for migrants because our resident population simply won't be able to sustain itself.

What is culture?

According to the Ministry of Culture and Heritage and Statistics New Zealand, we 'consume more cultural products with a fervour that few other societies can match'. But what, exactly, are we consuming when we are consuming culture? Does the concept of 'culture consumption' even make sense? Certainly the Ministry thinks it does. 'The report [it is said] will be invaluable for policy makers, funding providers, producers and creators in the cultural sector'.

The value is diminished somewhat when we look at what is counted among the cultural products: Listening to popular music, buying a newspaper, and watching a film on DVD are all included. Mixed in with these are 'high' cultural activities such as visiting a museum, going to the opera or buying an original art work.

There are some strange discussions going on and confusion over what is culture. For instance, some who are obsessed with culture (let's call them 'culture cultists') claim that primitive cultures have a uniqueness which should be seen as sacred - to assimilate them to modern ways would be a crime. Culture cultists believe that primitivism is not inferior to civilisation - just different. In the process they lose an ability to distinguish what is valuable and what is not. That's why watching a DVD, visiting a library, listening to Robbie Williams or going to the theatre are all activities of equal value. Fortunately, despite their confusion over high and low culture, most of us still (rightly) hold that Shakespeare has more to tell us about the human journey than Superman or Homer Simpson.

The report, just out this week, is called A Measure of Culture: Cultural experiences and cultural spending in New Zealand. It can be accessed at: http://www.stats.govt.nz/domino/external/web/nzstories.nsf/htmldocs/A+Measure+of+Culture

Maxim presentation - towards a better New Zealand

Maxim promotes ideas for a better New Zealand. The first of nine presentations of Maxim's vision begin in Tauranga and Hamilton next week. We extend a special invitation to readers of Real Issues to attend these meetings. Other centres are: Hamilton, Wellington, Palmerston North, Hastings, Napier, Rotorua, Nelson and Dunedin. For more details of the event in your area visit: http://www.maxim.org.nz/ri/whatson.html


A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.

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