ACT: back to the future

Reports done. Portfolios done. Learning conferences tomorrow and Tuesday. This means that the school year is half over and I have a wee bit more time to rant, rave and rail against the dominant neoliberal hegemony.

According to the last few polls the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers, funded in part thanks to generous patrons who’ve not lived in the real world since the 1980s, are currently topping 0.4% in the latest 3 News/Reid Research poll. That doesn’t mean much in the MMP environment other than nobody wants to vote for them and anyone who does will be doing so under much duress and with a fair amount of bile tickling the back of their throats.

Imagine being a National Party vote having to vote for ACT or the good old “zero percenters” UnitedFuture in September. You would just feel horrible (possibly not as horrible as all those progressive voters from the Green & Labour side who will find themselves having to vote for National to counter the tactical voting from the other side).

As the election campaign kicks into gear we’re getting a number of policy announcements. As you would expect, I will focus on critiquing the education side of things.

If you watched the news yesterday you will have noticed some coverage of ACT’s education policy announcement. Jamie Whyte, the new leader of this desheveled group of over-rich 80s throwbacks, has announced a three-pronged attack which they will use when negotiating their next coalition deal with National (far be it from me to point out their current polling puts them at about a tenth of the margin of error so surely their main focus should actually be increasing their vote to the point where they rate more highly than the party that wants to legalise doobs, not talking coalition deals after they get into parliament).

Back to their three-pronged attack. More charter schools, give state schools the chance to become charter schools and they’ve also brought up the age-old subject of “vouchers.”

Someone pointed out yesterday on twitter that the ACT education policy seemed to be designed to increase house prices in Epsom. Indeed.

Here’s what Mr Whyte said:

I expect that a large portion would choose to be free and that we would see dramatic improvements in the performance of schools, especially those teaching children from poor families.

Giving schools the “freedom” to choose to be charter schools? Excuse me… schools already have a huge amount of freedom. At my school we have to comply with the Education Act, but I and my fellow teachers get to do pretty much what we want – free of any government intervention. We create the learning for our kids, with the support of our local community, backed up our… should I say it…. school charter. Yes. That’s right. Our school, our government school, has a charter. It’s our raison d’être.

Dear right-wing. All schools have a charter. We are all charter schools. We are all funded by the government.

But joking about joke parties aside, ACT’s education policy won’t work. He’s saying we would see dramatic improvements in the performance of schools. Where’s your proof? Where is your proof that privatising education is going to lead to dramatic improvements in school performance. Here?

It’s very easy for the rich, white-haired men like the tens of those I saw at the ACT meeting where the policy was announced, to move between areas. Rich people are able to go school hunting and house hunting. They have the freedom, thanks to their wealth, to do as they please. New iPhone, new house, new school, new trip to Club Med etc.

Unfortunately the “poor” that Whyte so colloquially refers to in the above quote don’t have the freedom that allows them to choose. They can’t just sell up and move to Epsom or Khandallah or wherever – if they even own their own home. No. Freedom of choice is much easier if you have freedom of cash.

It’s called social mobility. The ability to move upwards from your current lot to the lot of those higher up the class structure / food chain than you. Swimming against the “trickle down” theory the likes of Whyte have been spouting for years.

Social mobility is a lot harder, if not impossible, if you don’t have money or are not white (like Whyte – pun definitely intended).

I don’t begrudge those who “have.” What I have a problem with is those who “have” (like Whyte) who then decide that everyone in the country has the freedom I have. If you live in Mangere and work a couple of jobs to provide for your family you are not going to head out house hunting on the weekend because the school over the harbour is “better.”

Alternatively, could you see the likes of David Seymour selling up his Remuera home and moving to Otara because the local primary school is having great results on their National Standards achievement data?

No. Neither of these things are happening because the neoliberal education policy of privatisation, vouchers and “choice” is about funding the educational experiments of the superrich. Billionaires design these policies, not teachers. Billionaires then lobby politicians, via healthy donations (expecting absolutely nothing in return of course) because they would love the free cash subsidy a charter school gives.

And that, people, is what the ACT education policy announcement is about. Government subsidies for business.

Where’s the Taxpayer’s Union when you need them?

Mr B


3 News Reid Research Poll (latest): 3 News, June 2014

I’m not going to source the NZ Herald article. A link is enough (that’s a protest after last weeks nonsense)

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