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Election Funding, Education, Pragmatism

Election Funding, Education, Pragmatism

Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 278
8 November 2007
www.maxim.org.nz

Raiding the public purse
New curriculum about to hit schools
Politics, philosophy and pragmatism

IN THE NEWS
Going Further With Fathers Seminar
Britain considering leniency for abortions
America embraces adoption

RAIDING THE PUBLIC PURSE

A new Bill tabled by Government this week would allow taxpayer dollars to
be used (again) to finance political parties' election advertising for next
year's election. The Appropriation (Continuation of Interim Meaning of
Funding for Parliamentary Purposes) Bill, introduced on Monday is likely to
be pushed through Parliament without opportunity for public submission.

After the election overspending by political parties in 2005 (who can
forget the pledge card debacle?), Government passed legislation that
retrospectively legalised their conduct, a requirement that did not condone
their behaviour, but was required under the Public Finance Act. That
legislation expires on December 31 of this year; it was never intended to
legalise using public money for any future elections. But the new Bill
would continue to permit using taxpayers' money for messages most of us
would think of as political, over the period of the next election.
Appropriation bills are not required to go through the Select Committee
process, so the concern is that this legislation will be passed before the
end of the year, without any public say.

The Bill would provide a narrow definition of 'electioneering,' so narrow
in fact that advertising, which for all intents and purposes is election
campaigning, would not fall within it. So as long as the advert does not
explicitly request votes, money or people to join a party, it could be
considered as being for a 'parliamentary purpose' and paid for with public
money. Adverts that say, for example, 'Here's the Purple Party's record on
health' or 'The Purple Party cares about the elderly,' could thus possibly
be paid for by the taxpayer.

This Bill would be an abuse of both power and process, especially when
combined with the equally disastrous Electoral Finance Bill. The combined
effect would be an incumbent government able to access public money to
communicate with the public, whereas interested members of the public would
be severely limited in what they can say and what they can spend of their
own money. Parliament needs to be more responsible with taxpayers' money.
It belongs to us all as a collective whole, and should be managed
conscientiously and with integrity.

Read the Appropriation (Continuation of Interim Meaning of Funding for
Parliamentary Purposes) Bill
http://www.parliament.nz/NR/rdonlyres/2DC1B339-8C91-43F2-9BA6-FB9AE4AC92BF/68400/DBHOH_BILL_8335_5533.pdf

NEW CURRICULUM ABOUT TO HIT SCHOOLS

After several years of development, the Ministry of Education has at last
presented the revised New Zealand Curriculum, providing more flexibility
for schools to teach a series of core values and principles. There are
still some nagging problems with the philosophy underlying the curriculum,
however, and it still faces the final test --- actually being used in
schools.

On the positive side, the new curriculum is slimmer, bringing together the
content and objectives for the eight 'learning areas' (subjects) into one
document. Consequently, the new curriculum is less prescriptive, and more
like a framework, giving schools and teachers clear 'statements about
priorities, expectations and outcomes for each learning area.' Setting
clear expectations for teachers and pupils is a big part of effective
teaching and learning, and the curriculum does this well. The new
curriculum also gives more guidance to teachers, helping them to engage
pupils in learning and spur them to higher levels of achievement.

Nevertheless, blind spots and shortcomings remain. Reflecting progressive
theories of teaching and learning, the curriculum prioritises personalised
learning over the reality that learning involves engaging in an objective
taught body of knowledge, which is imparted from the teacher to the pupil.
The curriculum's vision to see children become 'lifelong learners' who are
'actively involved' in their learning are outcomes of education in its
broader sense, rather than an adequate picture of what schooling should be
like. Further, while many of the values listed are positive, a moral
foundation for them is lacking. In the case of equity and diversity, they
are arguably contradictory.

It is now the job of schools and teachers to make sense of the new
curriculum. No doubt learning lessons from the botched implementation of
the NCEA, the Ministry of Education is promising workshops and support. The
curriculum has also highlighted that teachers may need to change their
teaching practice to really help raise pupil achievement, which is one of
the reasons for the new curriculum in the first place. As the curriculum
is launched on its voyage, it is entrusted to teachers; without superb,
well paid teachers who can impart information and skills, the curriculum,
and indeed the education system would be lifeless.

POLITICS, PHILOSOPHY AND PRAGMATISM

Throughout the Western world, the spin doctors are on the march, and sudden
flip flops abound from all quarters of the political spectrum. Enthusiastic
embraces of tax cuts, furrowed concern about climate change, jettisoning of
grammar schools, frowning over fireworks --- political leaders spare no
effort to be seen as hip, trendy, in touch and concerned. It appears
today's principle is tomorrow's fish and chip paper as we do politics by
focus group, government by opinion poll, and political debate by sound
bite.

The art of politics is the balance of pragmatism and principle. The measure
of a statesman is the adaptation of unchanging principles to what Edmund
Burke called 'the circumstances'; a gradual and slow persuasion of the body
politic, based on shared social values and the common good. The strength of
good political thought has always been its ability to adapt its unchanging
view of constant human nature, human imperfection, and institutions to a
variety of different circumstances and conditions, whether it be Disraeli's
embrace of household suffrage or Sir Robert Peel's waltz with free trade.
The challenge, then, for all politicians is the articulation of a coherent
philosophical position, with a demonstration of how that vision applies to
the concerns and worries of people at the time.

Modern politics falls down when politicians skip the principle bit, and
instead ask opinion polls to tell them what they ought to think. Pure
pragmatism and populism without principle cheapens political debate, and
clouds vision. The idea of Parliament is the containing of diverse
interests in a common whole, a process of expressing and working through
our differences. Serving the common good requires that our representatives
debate even unpalatable issues, and the process of representation, dissent,
debate and discussion, even of truths inconvenient or unpopular, is a key
part of our Western tradition. We should require of our leaders that they
tell us what they really think, even if it swims against the flow, or is
not approved by the latest poll. The rush for the 'centre ground,' the
photo-shopping, focus-group driven plastic politics which is becoming
increasingly common ignores the real purpose of the political process,
which is persuasion, a contest of visions, ideas and policies; an
exploration of the deep and troubling issues facing our country. Politics
is not just about pragmatism, but about principle, philosophy, policy, and
the things that perplex the body politic. It is this kind of politics New
Zealand has the right and duty to expect and to foster.

GOING FURTHER WITH FATHERS SEMINAR

Daniel Lees, a researcher at Maxim Institute, will be presenting the
results of his literature review of the unique contributions that fathers
can make to their children's lives, at a public seminar in Auckland. The
review, published recently in Going Further With Fathers, looks at how
fathers can make a difference in their children's lives. Places for the
seminar are limited and registration is required.

Read invitation details for Going Further With Fathers Seminar
http://www.maxim.org.nz/index.cfm/links/gfwf_invitation

BRITAIN CONSIDERING LENIENCY FOR ABORTIONS

The Commons Science and Technology Committee in Britain has released a
report suggesting changes to the existing system for abortions. Britain's
current law prohibits abortion, unless two doctors verify that the woman's
situation meets certain criteria, for example proceeding with the pregnancy
will cause her physical harm. The report is the result of an inquiry into
the Abortion Act 1967, and its proposals include allowing abortions to be
performed at home, by a nurse or a midwife, and that the need for two
doctors' consent be removed.

The Committee says that its inquiry has 'focused only on the scientific,
medical and other research evidence,' rather than any moral or ethical
issues. It is difficult to see, however, in a debate centred on abortion
how morals and ethics can ever, or should ever, be removed.

Read the Commons Science and Technology Committee Report
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmselect/cmsctech/1045/1045i.pdf

AMERICA EMBRACES ADOPTION

This month is National Adoption Month in the United States. The month is
about recognising those families who have adopted children or who care for
foster children, and encouraging more families to become involved and adopt
a child. The theme for this year focuses on adopting teenagers who are in
care, highlighting a large challenge that the United States is facing in
how to help these teens become part of a settled, loving and accepting
family. While New Zealand is not celebrating adoption in this way, it is
worth us remembering that we too have many children in the care of CYFS, in
need of a stable home and a caring environment. The difference that can be
made by opening up our homes to even a single child is huge, helping to
give them a future, a hope, and most of all a loving family.

TALKING POINT

'A man full of warm, speculative benevolence may wish his society otherwise
constituted than he finds it, but a good patriot and a true politician
always considers how he shall make the most of the existing materials of
his country. A disposition to preserve and an ability to improve, taken
together, would be my standard of a statesman. Everything else is vulgar in
the conception, perilous in the execution.'

Edmund Burke 1729 - 1797

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ends

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