Following the recent death of Margaret Thatcher there were many mentions of her famous quote: “there is no such thing as society.”
This is a telling comment from the Toriest of Tory politicians. Translation: all for one and each man for himself!
This has got me thinking – are we a group of 4 million individuals or are a society?
Having recently moved from Auckland to the South Canterbury hamlet of Geraldine, there is certainly a far greater sense of community in this small town. There’s lots of waving to neighbours, bumping into people in the supermarket, and so on. I certainly feel like I belong, more so than I ever did in Auckland, and I lived there for 15 years.
The school I now work at is very small, very rural and has a fantastic community surrounding it. The parents’ association is incredibly active, raising enough money to hire an extra teacher – that’s right – extra teacher. No cake stalls for a few rugby jumpers. I get a whole other colleague from their hard work.
With our neoliberal default to individual freedoms and responsibilities over the last thirty years, we have worked so hard on promoting this ideal of ME. The ME is so important. It’s all about ME. ME. ME.
But what about them?
Thatcher, Douglas, Regan et. al. have given us this cult of the self where we are so focussed on our own needs that I believe this sense of community, this sense of togetherness that is embedded in the culture of my new school is so sorely absent from our lives. We are so busy working hard to serve the needs of our families that we barely have time to worry about the people down the road, let alone that family in Northland who’ve lost a child to rheumatic fever – a disease that can damage the valves in the heart. It’s a disease that belongs in the third world.
What can we do?
We are at a point in time in our country where we can go one of two ways. We can either head down the road we’ve been heading down for the last thirty years. The road that gave us back rheumatic fever. The road that sees several families sharing cold and wet South Auckland houses because they can’t afford the rents being charged, yet they still have to live in the city because that’s where the work is. The road where teachers are demonised for speaking out against national standards and secret privatised schools paid for by taxpayers money because, in our professional opinions, we believe it will make things much worse for our most vulnerable. A country where children, through no fault of their own, turn up to school each day (EACH DAY!) with no food, yet our political masters decide to blame the parents for not managing their money and buying smokes and booze.
Or we can take the other road.
The road where we have to make some hard decisions that are in the best interests of most New Zealanders – not just some.
Schools could be the heart of the solution.
What if schools were a hub – a hub for the whole community. A place where people could gather at the start of the day and talk to each other. A place where the Aunties get together and feed the kids in the morning and at lunch so at least they have two solid meals a day. Schools could offer counselling or health and dental services. We could be teaching literacy and numeracy for adults who’ve moved to the country with very little English language. We could offer sporting or arts classes as part of a comprehensive after school care programme that allows parents to work longer hours.
There is so much we could do. There are so many people out there in our community who could contribute to this. It would be very positive, especially for all those kids who are living below the poverty line that the National Party are so quick to deny or reject because accepting it would be the first step on the path to fixing that and that’s not what they want to do. Not really.
Because it would mean higher taxes.
This sort of community care, the sense of society, the idea that we are all in this together costs a shit-load of money.
And we know what our National leaders think about money. I will take it from you if you are poor, but if you take it from me, you thieving little monkey, there will be hell to pay!
A massive social reform like this, centred on our schools and focused on improving health, education and socio-economic outcomes for all New Zealand kids would cost billions.
I think the thing we forget too often (and by we I mean our policy makers) is that if a person is educated, healthy and sees a future for themselves then they are far more likely to contribute positively to society.
Why don’t we put our fences at the top of the cliff rather than having ambulances (and prisons) at the bottom?