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Barking Mad?

September 21, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Generally New Zealand has been fairly free from crazy stuff being taught in its schools. As I have mentioned in the past, there is a certain amount of religious instruction (or religious propaganda to be more accurate) but, as far as I am aware, total garbage like creationism has never been taught as a serious theory. Maybe that is about to change.

Two new schools have just been set up under the government’s “charter schools” system which will teach creationism. They claim it will be taught as part of the “controversy” in the scientific world regarding evolution (no such controversy exists except in the minds of religious nut jobs and the extremely ignorant) but many people (including me) suspect it will be just a cheap and dishonest way to push religious lies onto a captive and naive group of young people in the hope of converting them to the fundamentalist Christian worldview.

Even disregarding this travesty of total disregard for educational principles, charter schools are controversial. They are entirely an ideological political solution in search of a problem. The libertarian Act party (which really doesn’t even exist any more except through a cynical political trick inflicted on the voter at the last election by the conservatives) supports the idea of public-private partnership schools because of that party’s ideology. So the National Party, who no doubt also have some positive regard for the idea, said they would implement it in return for Act’s (which doesn’t really exist, as I said) support.

So we have an unsupported political idea implemented purely through political expediency being hijacked by an extremist religious group to force their own nonsensical beliefs on innocent children. Yeah, that sounds like another great achievement of our conservative government!

Already the $19 million the government will be giving private companies and groups to run the schools has had to be increased. Sounds to me a bit like yet another case of this government’s habit of handing out corporate welfare to those who shouldn’t need it. As a taxpayer I object to paying anything so that a bunch of religious morons with ideas stuck 200 years in the past can spread their lies to the next generation.

So far I have been rather critical of these new schools but I do want to change direction here a little bit and say that I think their supporters do have some good points. Charter schools are seen as an alternative to the state school system we already have. Our education system is pretty good by international standards but is far from perfect. I actually think that an alternative approach, as is made possible by these new schools, is actually quite a positive idea.

But if greater flexibility is a good thing why not just give our existing school system some more flexibility in how they operate instead of creating a whole new tier of schools simply to fit in with libertarian dogma?

For example, I think there are many subjects where registered teachers aren’t necessarily the best people to teach them. I don’t think doing an education degree or teacher training necessarily makes someone a better teacher. So allowing “under-qualified” teachers to teach certain subjects is a good idea. I’m sure that once a person goes through the “production-line” of teacher training they come out with certain fixed ideas which discourage originality.

That shouldn’t be used as excuse to hire cheap, incompetent people as teachers so that the private owner of the school can make better profits, but it might be used to get some greater diversity in the skill set and approach of teachers. We should allow this (in a controlled way) in our existing school system though – so there is still no need for charter schools.

It doesn’t look like the new schools will last long anyway because the Labour/Green opposition is strongly opposed to them (and rightly so) and will probably eliminate them if/when they win the election next year. I would like to see them assimilate some of the better elements into the existing system, although I suspect they won’t.

The leader of the opposition has said the charter schools idea is “barking mad”. I think that is a bit too strong. The idea has some good elements which we should try to retain but certainly any good which might come from charter schools is purely a lucky coincidence because the whole philosophy behind them is totally morally bankrupt!

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