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Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 95

Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 95

real issues. this week: No. Ninety-Five 29 JANUARY 2004


* Welcome to 2004 Real Issues is a forum to probe the important social and cultural issues of governance, democracy, rights and responsibilities.

* Ripping the heart out of the heartland The Minister of Education is pursuing an agenda to bring the whole of education under State control.

* Flagging interest Suggestions for a new national flag won't serve if they don't consider wider issues.

Welcome to 2004

- Greetings for 2004 and a special welcome to all our new readers who subscribed over summer. Using the news of the week, Real Issues probes the important social and cultural issues of governance, democracy, rights and responsibilities. In every situation we ask "What might be a better way?" It's a necessary challenge to get beyond whinging and consider how as a society we can move ahead.

Real Issues also exists to help concerned people become effective change agents by keeping you up to date with important policy developments. A dynamic democracy is not just about turning up to vote every three years. Last year we received lots of feedback which helped shape Real Issues, and our own thinking. We trust that will continue in 2004. The issues facing our society need to be debated and Real Issues is a forum created to facilitate that. We will talk a lot about 'Civil Society', a framework which provides an understanding of what goes on in a culture. At its heart, Civil Society balances individual freedom with responsibility, is made up of relational connections such as the family and provides a natural check on state power. As we go on, we will further explain this key concept.

Ripping the heart out of the heartland - The Minister of Education appears intent on ripping the heart out of the heartland as he pursues an agenda to close schools around the country.

This week alone, Mr Mallard announced the closure of five Upper Hutt and Stokes Valley schools, and 15 schools in the Timaru/South Canterbury area. In another controversial decision, all surviving secondary schools under review may be forced to share Boards of Trustees between them. It is estimated that ultimately more than 300 schools around the country will be closed or forced to merge.

Many of the schools that will close have won awards or had excellent reviews from the Education Review Office. The Minister made it clear last year when he closed two Otago schools, North Taieri and Wyllie's Crossing, that performance does not count.

ACT education spokesperson Deborah Coddington has pointed out Mr Mallard's actions are a betrayal of his promises as Opposition Education Spokesman. Mr Mallard claimed in a 1999 media release that Labour was the only party 'watching out for the interests of small rural communities and the needs of small rural schools'.

The so-called "network review" under which schools are being assessed is part of a grand strategy by the Minister to bring all education under total State control. Some further examples illustrate:

With a complete disregard for the government's own philosophy of "diversity", the Minister plans to bring all integrated schools under full State control through changes to the Integration Act. This will undermine their special character (the reason they were established) and give the Minister power to force them to absorb pupils from schools being closed.

Also, it was announced just before Christmas that Boards of Trustees will be "relieved" of decision-making over teachers pay claims, under the State Sector Amendment Bill. (Note: Mr Mallard is also the Minister of State Services.) Schools were given only until the end of this week to make submissions on the Bill. The holiday shutdown would have prevented most schools and parents from even seeing - let alone responding to - the announcement.

It is a centralisation of power normally only seen in countries with a totalitarian government.

Flagging interest - Wellington businessman Lloyd Morrison has launched a campaign for a new flag. He isn't the first to do so, but the timing is significant. We've only recently dumped appeals to the Privy Council and talk of a republic is never far away.

The present flag came about in the early 1900s because there was a need to identify New Zealand vessels at sea. Critics of the flag claim it is too easy to mistake it for Australia's and it no longer reflects our national character. It's also part of a trend in our society to deconstruct and dismiss the past - if it's old, get rid of it. We seem determined on either 'modernising' or dumping any aspect of our history; particularly if there lurks any hint of 'colonialism'.

Many nations have changed their flags. Nearly always this has followed a major constitutional upheaval such as shifting from colony to independence, becoming a republic, or as the result of war and a redefining of geopolitical boundaries. This is not the case here.

But what symbolism would replace that in the present flag? The current ensign is rooted in history and geography and illustrates our cultural links with Britain and our isolation in the South Pacific. These things won't change. They have an enduring and valid place in our national identity.

Any flag must reflect our past, inform our present and inspire our future. Designs which reflect little more than our sporting interests are simply not adequate.

There have been calls for Maori symbols to be incorporated. But why stop there? If we are a modern multi-cultural nation other ethnic groups could rightly demand their symbols be included as well. Trying to satisfy every voice will lead us round in circles. The present ensign is more than adequate as a emblem of nationhood, and its roots in history and geography are both real and significant.

To read "Flying the Flag", an article by Dr Michael Reid expanding on these points, click on http://www.maxim.org.nz/ri/flag.html

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Abraham Lincoln

- The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.

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