Last week I went on about people marching for democracy. Anybody who read that blog and marched would have probably been telling me to shut my big mouth – and fair enough too. If I believed in something and someone was telling me I was wrong I would have a few choice words of the Queen’s vernacular to deliver in their general direction.
Take this as a kind of apology – qualified if you will. I perhaps should have said this last time: you are quite welcome to have views of any description, but at the same time be prepared to feel the wrath of my words rallying against your view. My point last week was that the group organising the march were talking about wandering up Queen Street for ‘democracy’ rather than their actual reason for marching which was to be allowed to hit their children and claim a defence of reasonable force if they were taken to court. That’s what they had voted for in the referendum and the government said ‘no’ to making the referendum binding, so they marched.
So to this week… it’s my turn to march.
Currently, and for the next two weeks and two days, I am a teacher. I have my own class of wonderful Year 5 & 6s. To give you an idea of numbers there are 28 of them. As any teacher knows, it really does depend on the make up of your class as to how independent they are as learners. Sometimes your class can be filled with kids who require very little assistance with their learning, whereas other times you may have a lot of kids lumped under the ‘special needs’ banner.
Special needs is an umbrella term that includes a vast range of things – I call these things ‘things’ because you can’t really lump them together even though they quite often are. You can have kids on the autistic spectrum (in itself this is a capacious grouping), children who’ve moved to New Zealand from other parts of the world and have English as their second language, kids with specific learning needs in one or more of the core curriculum areas, those kids who are now dubbed ‘differently abled’ by the PC brigade (again a huge range of different things there, from cerebral palsy to spina bifida, blindness and any other affliction in between), kids with nut allergies who, if they touch a nut, go into anaphylactic shock and need an injection of adrenalin or they will die.
These are the children I can think of while typing. I’m sure I’ve missed loads out and I apologise to those kids.
In New Zealand we have something called free education. It is available to all children from the age of 5 until they leave secondary school. When I say all children I mean ALL children. If you are 5 years old and were born in New Zealand you can go to a public school here. You can read all about it right at the start of the Education Act 1989.
So, all kiwi kids can go to any government-funded school. This is great! In so many countries around the world this is not the case. We are truly lucky.
With class sizes of around 30 teachers have to cater for a massive range of different educational needs, including, possibly, some of those children mentioned above. If you are a very lucky teacher you can occasionally get a little bit of help delivering specific learning programmes (I suppose you could say teaching!) to these kids with the help of a teaching assistant. Sometimes they are assigned to specific children and work in the class with the teacher, other times they may take groups of children with similar needs from around the school and teach them together. Either way, these learning support staff are integral to the running of any school.
You must be thinking at this point, “if these staff are so integral to delivering learning to the children in the schools most in need, then they must be getting rewarded for their amazing work.” You could think this, but you’d be wrong. Due to a variety of reasons, most notably in education (and nursing for that matter), because the vast majority of the workforce is made up of wonderful female women who are so altruistic with their caring, a multitude of governments over the past 30 – 40 years have used this to their advantage and because of this some of the lowest paid educators in this country are paid less than the people who clean their rooms at the end of the day.
WHAT???? you all say in disbelief, but this is completely correct and I’ll repeat it just to cement my point. In some schools, the cleaners are paid more than those with finely honed educational skills responsible for teaching those most in need.
Is this fair? In short, no, and so today I am marching in support of my colleagues. My wonderful and amazing colleagues who have given so much over the years and receive so little in return – sometimes, depending on their qualifications, minimum wage. It’s just not fair.
So far I’ve talked about a specific group of support staff, but there are so many more. In my school, for example, there are the learning support staff responsible for teaching those kids under the ‘special needs’ umbrella, but there are many, many others. Our ICT person responsible for making sure the school computers, network, internet and communications are cranking along in the correct manner is part of the support staff (this person would be worth tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands working a similar job in the private sector). Our librarian who runs things in that part of the school. Our art guru who produces the most amazing displays for school, resources for the classroom teachers and enters the wearable art awards each year. The list goes on and on and on (and I apologise if I’ve missed you out – you can hit me at school on Monday).
If you think not getting paid enough is unfair then think about this. Support staff are not on full contracts either. Their contract ends at the end of the school year so technically in two weeks or so all the support staff in New Zealand are out of a job and don’t get paid for 6 weeks. Schools do keep these people on year by year, but in the private sector if you’re on a fixed term contract when your contract comes to an end you are out of work. So every time there is a change at the top these people must be concerned for their positions. Who’s to say a new boss isn’t going to look at things when they come in and say, “we don’t need all these people, surely” and just not renew contracts come the end of the year. Fixed term contracts end and uncertainty every Christmas isn’t good for the psyche.
And so my call goes out – support the support staff in your local school. Go in on Monday, find them and thank them. They are the teachers in your school you are getting from minimum wage up to around $20 an hour (depending on qualifications).
My final point is this: support staff at our school are paid not from the wages and salaries budget, but from the same budget we purchase our toilet paper with.
Actually I have another final point: John Key, our venerial venerable leader said if support staff wanted a pay rise then perhaps teachers would be willing to take a pay cut.
Both of those final points show exactly how much the current (and previous) government value not only support staff, but education workers as a whole. What do you expect from National – after all, they did choose an Minister of Education whose sum total of previous experience in education was going to school.
It always concerns me when people use the word democracy. These days it tends to be bandied about a little bit, often under the guise of democracy. Let me explain…
The Democratic Republic of Congo.
Need I say more?
OK… the United States of America.
Before I get the usual Bush-lovers bleating on about how good it was before Obama, I wish to explain further.
Let’s start at the most obvious place: the Democratic Republic of Congo. Situated in between Angola, Sudan and the actual republic of Congo, this country dubbed itself the Democratic Republic of Congo after, would you believe, a kind of coup/rebel takeover of the capital Kinshasa in 1997. In fact, since independence in 1960 there haven’t been too many elections there. You might remember President Mobutu from the film When We Were Kings (he starred alongside Muhammad Ali, George Forman and the USA’s own Mobutu – Don King). He was used to be an army dude, but got into power in 1965 by your standard ‘overthrow’ tactic, then he went on to invade and fight with neighbouring Angola. Since they were backed by the Soviets, Mobutu raked in the ideological cash from the US who thought that funding the likes of him and Saddam Hussein would somehow bring down the USSR (???). As we all know, that job went to David Hasselhoff. (As a PS to this paragraph, I like how the country has now dubbed itself on various world maps as Dr. Congo – sounds like a fix-it-up consultant that flies in to restore credibility to Dancing with the Hasbeens).
The second most obvious place is, arguably, the United States of America. I say arguably because I’m arguing my point of view. You may not agree with it, but the rest of the world does. Anyway… the US has spent the best part of the last 50 years telling the rest of the world democracy is the answer. Funnily enough, the rest of the world didn’t really ask a question. The US like to place sanctions against the might of communist Cuba, or invading world terrorising countries such as Afghanistan – Operation Enduring Freedom (just cut out the word freedom and that’ll sum it up), Iraq – Operation Iraqi Liberation, and Panama – Operation Just Cause.
They, and when I say ‘they’, I mean the US government / State Department, not the many wonderful people who make up the rich tapestry of the country, tell us they’re invading/liberating to bring ‘democracy’ to the affected area. I can tell you now that countries or regions of the world aren’t sores that can have the elixir of free and fair elections applied to them and be cured. People in those countries have to want to change and I suspect many inhabitants of the aforementioned countries were none to happy with the US-led forces trotting over their borders waving the flag of extreme shock and death awe freedom.
Democracy is something that can’t be imposed – it has to come from a groundswell of the people. Hang on… isn’t that how the United States was formed in the first place…
So we know that the US aren’t really leading these charges against undemocratic nations in an altruistic way. Nope. It’s got more to do with what type of petroleum-based goo lies under these, or nearby nations, or, in the case of Panama, how they can secure a shortcut for the ships taking that goo to the Californian refineries.
While I’m spouting on and on, as is my want from time to time, why don’t we briefly talk about the example of democracy that the US is setting for the rest of the world. The choice between two parties, one who thinks they’re Jesus and the other who tries not to be but if someone says what they’re doing is wrong then… Democrats too scared to be leaders, Republicans too scary to be leaders.
And so we move on to my actual point of this session – the March for Democracy held in Auckland, New Zealand yesterday. If you want to find out more click here. In short, 4000 people marched up the main street of the biggest city in New Zealand calling on the government to make referenda binding.
Failing to see the point yet? Well, as an aside, earlier on this year the government held a referendum that asked people to vote on the question, “should a smack, as part of good parental correction, be a criminal offence in New Zealand?” Overwhelmingly, and much to my disgust, New Zealanders voted 89% in favour of being allowed to use the defence of reasonable force if they were ever brought up in court on charges of assaulting their children. The new National government had promised the referendum before winning the election last year, and to their credit, delivered on the promise. Of course, New Zealand has this wonderful system of citizen initiated referenda whereby anybody with enough signatures can force (yes, that’s right, force) the government to hold a referendum on their issue of choice. This time, it was the right to hit children with impunity.
As a further aside, the legislation dubbed the ‘anti-smacking law’ does not ban smacking, instead, as mentioned above, it removes the defence of reasonable force from the statutes. Anybody who is in favour of this remaining as a defence for disciplining children needs to think… isn’t reasonable force is something the police think about when apprehending criminals.
And, finally, to my point. Yet again the word DEMOCRACY has been hijacked. 4000 people is by no means a majority. It is, in fact, just 0.0001% of the population. admittedly they looked pretty good having been at the cardboard with black paint, tomato stakes and glue, but it was only 4000 at this “family(!!!)” event.
Now I might disagree with the 89% of New Zealanders who want to use reasonable force on their children, but I don’t care. If you want to use the word democracy, be very, very careful. It is, after all, a government of the people. If you invade, does that mean democracy? If I disagree with your march, does that mean democracy? If you coup me out of office, does that create a democratic republic?
You might just say this argument is all just semantics. I say your anti-semantic.
Until next time, all the best.