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On Charter Schools, And The Ghahraman Blame Machine

According to Act Party leader David Seymour, if we gave 16 year olds the vote and allowed teachers to teach civics classes in high school, the result would be… Well, let Seymour himself paint the picture:

The final recommendations of the independent Electoral Review released today would set New Zealand on course for a permanent left-wing government.

Goodness gracious me. So… If the truth was allowed to set you free, you would vote for the left for ever, and for always. Obviously that sort of thing can’t be tolerated. As someone else pointed out on social media:

“People aren’t allowed to vote because they won’t vote how I like” is a hilarious position for a libertarian.

No doubt, Seymour is a crackpot. His pet educational idea – charter schools – has also come under the spotlight again this week after RNZ released an OIA-gained cache of Education Ministry documents from 2019. These documents showed that there had been precious little competent oversight of either the finances or the learning outcomes when New Zealand last experimented on children with the charter schools theory. As the documents also showed, the oversight had been so lax that it was impossible to tell whether children taught in charter schools did better or worse than their state school counterparts.

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Regardless, Seymour now seems to be dead set on reviving the charter schools experiment, and expanding it. This time, Seymour promises, there will be more monitoring carried out. Really? By whom? Surely it won’t be by the “backroom” people that Seymour is so keen to cut from the public service?

Moreover, the promise of more monitoring would come as news to the relatively few school principals who share Seymour’s enthusiasm for the concept. Because as RNZ reported in December, “One principal told RNZ they wanted to escape the bureaucracy [i.e. monitoring] of the state system.” Quite the paradox, really. Charter schools need more monitoring but (a) there’s no one to do it and (b) the people keen on it will resist the monitoring that they associate with the mainstream alternative they’ve left behind. All up, this is hardly a child-centred approach to education.

Essentially, what charter schools provide is this: A no rules, non-unionised, Wild West learning environment where literally anyone can teach kids, and where kids can be exposed to any religious/secular notion held by their teachers, and without any pesky state interference in the indoctrination process.

That’s fine with Seymour. At heart, he isn’t against the indoctrination of children per se, so long as it results in what he thinks to be the right sort of indoctrination.

Managing with 20/20 hindsight.

This morning on RNZ, former Greens MP Gareth Hughes claimed that the Greens’ handling of the Golriz Ghahraman episode was “not a master class” in political management. Like his P.R. peers who said that the Greens leadership should have “got in front” of the issue, Hughes spared himself the trouble of indicating what extra could possibly have been done – given that Ghahraman was out of the country, given the matter was under Police investigation, and given that even the attempts by the Greens leadership to contact Scotties Boutique to learn more about the details of the allegations was being described online as “witness tampering.”

Not to mention that if the Greens co-leaders had thrown Ghahraman to the media wolves earlier, and while she wasn’t here to defend herself, they would have been further endangering her mental health. What exactly didn’t the Greens do that Hughes thinks they could have, and should have, done ? One has to concede that Hughes himself is someone who has availed himself of expert management advice in the past. That didn’t do him much good, at the time.

Contexts, and behaviours

Finally, it is interesting that so much more media mileage has been given to how the Greens (supposedly) could have theoretically managed the story than to the actual threats of sexual and physical violence directed at Ghahraman from the day she became an MP. As she said, this does not excuse her actions, but the threats seem to have contributed to behaviours that may have been stress-related.

Such threats have not been restricted to Ghahraman. On the weekend, the wedding of Jacinda Ardern and Clarke Gayford inspired further outbursts online of the spectacularly ugly misogyny levelled at Ardern over her entire two terms as PM. In Ghahraman’s case, the genderised threats had the added dimension of racism. Surely, this growth in genderised and racist hostility regularly directed at women in politics is a more significant trend than how an incident of political P.R. might have been managed in an ideal world.

Why does the sight of women in power inspire such hatred, with so much if it being directed at their appearance?

Footnote: At some point and if she chooses, it would be illuminating (and potentially useful) if Ghahraman shared her experience of being an MP, in the light of the hostility she routinely encountered. Again, only if she feels willing and able to do so, the details of the 
cited unresolved trauma of her refugee experience could also be enlightening.

One reason being.... The current government appears to have absolutely no interest in the traumatic experiences that contribute to criminal behaviours in our society. Politicians do face the added stress of being in the public spotlight. However, many other New Zealanders have experienced horrors in childhood and in adolescence that have fed into the addictive behaviours that contribute to crime, and to widespread social violence.

So far though, the current government’s law and order stance is based upon treating crime solely as an individual choice, and as an individual responsibility. The privileged seem happy to sit in judgement of the less advantaged, some of whom have been subjected to hideous treatment while growing up. They’re expected to cope, and to thrive – and they can expect the sternest retribution from the state if and when they stray from the straight and narrow.

Deliberately, the current government is ignoring the social dimension of crime, and the fact that thousands of New Zealanders continue to endure poverty and deprivation that erodes their mental health and contributes to their drug dependencies. Mental health problems and addiction play major roles in many criminal behaviours, and they also obstruct the path to rehabilitation.

Don’t get me wrong. People can still be held liable for their actions. But a competent government would also be intent on addressing the role that poverty, deprivation, mental illness and addiction play in fuelling the rates of crime. Unfortunately though, there are more votes to be won by stoking public fear and resentment against those who commit crime. Their mental stresses may have been lifelong, but Parliament – and the justice system - tends to ignore such troublesome facts entirely.

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