We are a Community

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?

Mr B


NZ Children to be used for Experiments

Hello all.

I read a very interesting (and by interesting I mean insightful in a thoroughly disastrous way) piece on Stuff.co.nz this morning. The upshot? Education Working Group chair Catherine Isaac says she sees the first round of charter schools as places for R&D. If you don’t believe me click on the link above and scroll right down to the end of the article. Isaac is reported as saying:

…the charter school policy is not business-driven, but an experiment aimed at lifting education outcomes for the bottom 20 per cent of pupils….

The article concludes with a direct quote.

“These schools should be looked on as the R&D arm of the education system,”

You can understand why the neo-liberal thinkers want to put these schools in Aranui in Christchurch and the southern suburbs of Auckland. Decile 1 parents are far more unquestioning when it comes to the education of their kids. They tend to accept that teachers are teachers, schools are schools, and the education their kids are getting is fine. Decile 10 parents are a bit more pro-active and questioning of the education of their children. They want to know ‘why’. I’m not saying either way is good or bad, I’m just saying that’s the way it is.

Since most of their kids go to Decile 10 schools, Neo-liberals totally understand the socioeconomic split in parental thinking. That’s why you will NEVER see a charter partnership school in Remuera, Ilam or Thorndon/Karori.

In short, the charter school policy being developed by the current government isn’t actually developed yet. It’s totally undeveloped or underdeveloped. In any case, Isaac and her working group plan to develop their policy by literally using your children as guinea pigs. When I say ‘your children’ I actually mean the children in the poorest areas whose parents won’t question the experimenting.

This proves that this policy is definitely, and without any doubt, based around ideology and NOT what is in the best interests of the kids (or learners as Hekia-speak calls them).

Also, it’s good to know that Fairfax and Granny Herald appear to have appointed themselves the new PR campaigners for the National Act education policy.

See you next time.

Mr B.

NOTE: if there are any whaleoil types reading this and scoffing saying schools have been R&D houses for years, you are totally correct. We research for BEST PRACTISE by looking at a vast number of teachers plying their trade in the classroom. Then we develop policy and pedagogy based on that BEST PRACTISE. We DO NOT put our kids in an undeveloped, experimental situation and then test a whole bunch of different things on them to see which one might work the best. That’s just plain dumb. Who suffers? The kids learners.




Anyone reading my outbursts over the last few months may realise that there’s more on my mind that George W. Bush these days. Indeed… earlier this year Richard “The Dick” Cheney accused Obama of dithering in Afghanistan during a speech where he bragged that they reviewed their war machine there in the fall of 2008 – just as the Bush juggernaut rolled into ‘thank God they’re almost finished’ station (7 whole years after they started their lamewad attempts to control international foreign policy) – I’ve really had no time to focus on that kind of nonsense.

My mind and my energies have been elsewhere.

Friday October 23rd, 2009

After being on hormones to bring a halt to her cycle Mrs. Boon and I head for a wee scan up at the clinic. They need to see if the correct things are happening in her ovaries to warrant taking what’s called the ‘trigger injection’. Before you ask, this is not as violent as it sounds. The trigger injection is taken to release the eggs.

Enlarged Folicles Circled
Ultrasound of Follicles

If we go back a step, what the hormones do is to stop the natural cycle of the body. Once the IVF people have control it is that time they need to tell the body to release the eggs. Once the eggs are released into the ovary follicles the harvesting can take place. Phew! It all sounds very pagan.

So, when you head into the clinic to have your follicles checked, you end up getting a picture like the one here. Inside the folicle there might be an egg hiding…

At that Friday appointment we were told that things were going along nicely and that the trigger injection would be needed shortly. It’s a very fluid situation based on hormones being at appropriate levels – not too high, not too low. Results of the morning blood test came back and another scan and blood test would be needed the next day.

Saturday October 24, 2009

The blood test and ultrasound confirmed that it was time to pull the trigger. Technically, I suppose, an injection involved some kind of pushing motion. Anyway, it was to be done in preparation for the harvesting ceremony to be held on Monday – quite ironically this was Labour Day here in New Zealand.

human egg
Human Egg Cell

Monday October 26, 2009

So the harvesting went well with six of the little ‘half-bubbies’ (as the wife called them) found and put into tubes. As an aside – did you know that the human egg is the biggest cell in our bodies. See, look, it’s huge!

After that it was my turn to deliver. A sample was duly produced and washed in the lab so the testicular Michael Phelps’s were separated from the silver and bronze winners.

Then our DNA was mixed together in a sterile environment and voila!

The Moment of Truth

Tuesday October 27, 2009

Emily the scientist reported back from the lab. We had one definite, two maybes and the rest were unclear as to whether they had fertilised or not. This bit is quite hard. On the one hand you could have one egg removed, totally fertilised and put back in. On the other you might have 16 eggs removed and none of them fertilise so you have no mini-bubs to put back in. Which is harder? I do not know.

Thursday October 29, 2009

D-day… well not really, it’s E-day. Mrs. Boon gets our little one put back inside and the more natural part of the process begins as miniBoon affixes to the endometrium and begins to grow into a baby. It’s a great little process. The small one is placed in a looooong needle in a bit of solution, bookended by 2 pockets of air. You sit there and watch the ultrasound screen, the needle goes in and pretty soon you see a flash of light as the embryo is deposited. It’s the air bubbles doing it but it looks like a flash of light you see when there’s a star being formed at the edge of a space cloud. It’s all very beautiful. In about 10 minutes it’s all over and you’re sent on your way.

And now we wait. November the 10th is the day we find out whether we are having a baby through a simple blood test.

Mrs. Boon Couldn't Wait

Sunday November 8, 2009

After doing a wee test on Saturday (and failing), we were both convinced it was all over. That was that – no baby for us, not this time anyway. Well, after going online to her discussion forums my wife discovered that the test she had bought from the chemist may have been about as useful as a Republican at an anti-chastity meeting. So out she went and purchased a different, more robust test.

That was during my school fair day. I got a text asking when I’d be home. I thought that was a bit strange, but thought nothing more of it until I walked up the stairs of our house to see the wife with a goofy yet triumphant grin on her face. She told me she was pregnant then she showed me the wee test she had done. Very cool. That was the first time in my life that I thought, “Wow, I’m going to be a dad!”

After all the dramas of the previous 2-3 years, or however long it’s been, neither of us could believe what the stick of joy was telling us… I suppose you set yourself up to deal with failure so often that when something positive happens your brain can’t process it!

Tuesday November 10, 2009

Bubs 004
miniBoon - 7 cells

Today the blood test confirmed the wee test above. More amazement, goofy smiles and whooping for joy. I’m sure this caused some consternation to the people walking past our car in the supermarket car park where we were situated.

If you’re interested, just before our little one was replanted, a quick picture was taken. 7 cells of magic. Thank you scientists, doctors and nurses who made our baby happen.

Suddenly, after all these years of trying, it’s happening! It’s quite surreal really. You go through so long of thinking it ain’t gonna happen and then it’s all go.


Thursday December 3, 2009

Today was the day of our 7-week scan. Today was the day we saw our baby’s heartbeat for the first time. Today was one of the greatest days of my life.

We both looked up on the ultrasound screen and there, in the centre, a embryological lighthouse shining through the fog of infertility was our baby. Our tiny baby, no bigger than a thumbnail, heart racing at 180 bpm.

Double wow (wowow).

Wednesday December 16, 2009

Our miniBoon is now 9 weeks old. We are out of the IVF system and in with the ‘normals’ hunting for a midwife and wondering what the hell to do next. Thankfully all our friends who’ve had babies over the last few years know what to expect and will be tapped handsomely for their information.

IVF is the single most harrowing thing I have been through. So many ups and downs, but the ultimate up when it comes is so sweet. To all others out there reading this and perhaps going through the same situation I wish you well in your endeavours. You will try to be positive throughout but that may not work sometimes, so do embrace the grumpy bums when they come, because you sometimes need to yell and scream and curse to get it out.

Kind regards and best of Christmas wishes to you all.

Boon x x x

Get On With Your Work Lazy Children

Good morning/afternoon/evening/witching hour to you,

I have been silent for too long. You tend to do that a bit as a teacher. Best not rock the boat, but I can’t keep my mouth shut any longer.

This week in New Zealand there was a big hello and heralded fanfare welcoming to national standards. If you are reading this in Britain or the United States and saying, “what the hell are you idiots doing? We got rid of standards because they didn’t work and failed our children.” Well, yes, this is true. However, the lessons learnt from the experiences of other nations don’t wash with the current government – a wonderful mix of centrist to extreme right wingers who believe, among other things, that mining national parks is a really excellent idea….

Let’s back track a little bit.

The brand new National government (I say brand new but they are nearly a year old now) announced their education policy before winning the election last year. Their key plank was the introduction of national standards in education. This policy was devised, in part, because of New Zealand’s perceived failings of our children when ranked against similar kids from similar countries around the world. They also did a lot of work consulting with parents – they said so themselves.

On the face of it this sounds quite good. Improving outcomes for our children. Not being a parent yet (see previous IVF columns) it is hard for me to imagine what I want from a report on my hypothetical child’s educational progress.

As a teacher though, I’m writing reports at the moment. This is the third time I’ll be reporting to parents this year – the others being in term 2 and term 3. You can’t say that my school is not letting parents know about the progress of their child. In saying this though, there is no comparison of the child against other children in the class, school, or nationally. As a parent this could be important information to have.

Parents and educators have to remember this: no matter what the child measures against any set standard or standardised deviation, you have to compare any achievement made against previous achievement. What I mean by this is… if the child has improved and moved forward with their marks since the last time you’ve reported then the alternative hasn’t happened (i.e. they have stagnated or fallen backwards). Kids move at different speeds – sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but they move nonetheless. You have to compare them against themselves, otherwise you’re comparing apples with oranges, grapes, persimmons and, potentially, steroid-enriched guava.

By setting a national standard or a national ‘average’ for children at a certain level, the National government has instantly, with the stroke of a pen or the pressing of the save button, created a document that is instantly labelling half the children in New Zealand schools as failures – children who are below the national ‘norm’.

What happens to that large minority of children who don’t fit any norm? There are kids with special needs who will just never, ever meet this standard. They learn very differently to the rest of us and suddenly the Minister of Education has said that these kids are not achieving. How can you compare a kid with special needs to anyone other than themselves. Every special needs kid is totally different to every other one. Come to think of it… every kid is completely different to every other kid. How is it all going to work?

Boys. Let me talk about boys. Having been a boy at school once I can tell you that the ‘ants in the pants’ syndrome is not made up. It is very real. Boys need to be constantly moving around the classroom. If it’s not to get to their work, then it’s to get to their friends, who are working and may help them. By saying, sit down and read this then write something about it, many boys can’t handle the jandal. It’s not because they are ‘dumb’ or below average, it’s just that they learn differently. They would rather prefer making something, or finding out how something works by ‘unmaking’ it, and then discussing their findings orally. Writing didn’t come naturally to me until I was well into my twenties.

I’ve just watched Anne Tolley the Education Minister being interviewed by one of the worst television journalists New Zealand has ever produced (if you want to know more just type Paul Henry into google – beware though, is truly, truly awful). She is talking about formative assessment, where teachers are, “….constantly assessing how well, what the results of their teaching are throughout the year. Rather than having one test at the end of the year…” and then Paul Henry adds something about a possible “nasty surprise” at the end of the year for the parent. I’m on my third report of the year you dick. Talk to me.

As a teacher I find these to be totally ill-informed comments about how I work my classroom. I am constantly assessing my children to inform my teaching. That, my friends, is how it is. Most schools are taking part in this formative assessment at the moment. Our school is currently in the process of reporting for the THIRD time this year to parents. There are no nasty surprises. Also, it should be pointed out here that if a teacher or school did find anything concerning in a child’s educational outcomes the first people they go to are, wait for it, the parents. Yes, the parents. We don’t sit in our classrooms saying to ourselves, “oooh, I hope the parents don’t find out. Maybe if I just hide this test in the cupboard then nobody will know.” I use my assessment throughout the year to group my students based on need, to highlight any areas of need so they can be addressed quickly, to target learning opportunities in those areas. The implication that teachers or schools are somehow keeping information from parents is preposterous (that’s a good word).

If you would like to know what experience the honourable Anne Tolley has had in the education sector before becoming boss of the entire thing… She has been a computer analyst, a computer programmer and a bed and breakfast operator – all roles vastly suited to developing and maintaining education policy and the direction of schools and teaching in any country. If you don’t believe me then just look on her parliamentary webpage. I honestly can’t find any experience in the area of education apart from her years at Colenso High in Napier. Really… how can you possibly do a job that you have absolutely no background in whatsoever? You wouldn’t expect me to be able to run a massive company without having some experience in business, would you?

And back to what we were talking about… Once you set a national standard that’s it. You can’t unset it – unless you totally remove it. As soon as standards are set you begin to make the comparisons. Your kid against the national average. Your kid against my kid. My kid against your school average. My school against your school. This school against the national average… whoops leaky portfolio syndrome… and suddenly you’ve got the media comparing schools against each other based on where their average sits against the rest of the country. Below and you’re a failure. Above and you’re not.

Of course, the policy hasn’t been implemented yet. We can’t compare ourselves against England, where the competition between schools ended up in an environment where schools taught specifically to pass tests. It might be that our experience will be totally different and national standards will boost educational outcomes for our students. If, however, they don’t, which I suspect will be the case, and the media end up getting hold of the national data, which I also suspect will be the case, then this policy will be, undoubtedly, the worst thing to happen to education in this country in many a decade.

But we’ll wait and see.

Boon x

New Zealand Has Spoken (with the mouths of idiots)

Well, it’s official.

As of last week, and thanks to $9 million spent by the New Zealand taxpayer on a referendum that nobody has to do anything about, nearly 90% of us voted in favour of being able to assault children legally.

The point must be made that when I say ‘assault’ I mean smack. I use the word assault because if I ‘smacked’ any adult in the street the charge I would face is ‘assault’. Do we live in such a backward world where people get so worked up after a law is passed to protect children?

When the law was originally passed all it did was remove Section 59 of The Crimes Amendment Bill which allowed parents to use the defence of ‘reasonable force’ when disciplining their children. For example, 28 strokes of the birch would not have counted as punishment under the revised law. I’m just thinking as well… what normal parent would want to use ‘reasonable force’ against a child. More to the point what adult would believe that using force against any innocent is the right thing to do. Also why would you want to protect your rights to hit the most innocent members of society – those who need the most protection – and campaign publicly to do so? I just don’t understand why or how people see smacking, hitting, or caning of children as OK.

Previously you may have read about my current experiences with IVF and the commencement of our journey through this process (IVF and IVF2). By implication this tells you that I am yet to be a parent. It is very easy for me to say these things when I have never had the fright of my life as my three year old runs out onto a busy intersection without looking. I cannot say what my reaction would be because it hasn’t happened yet and it would be a reaction. But things should never happen when you’re reacting.

Spare the rod and spoil the child? I’m sure we’ve all come a long, long way from this biblical nonsense – or maybe we haven’t. People in NZ obviously want the right to hit their children. They have shown it with their voting pens. Good work there, he says sarcastically. I would now like to hold a referendum and vote in favour of hitting people who don’t indicate when they are cutting across in front of me on the motorway. Just a gentle smack would do. A light smack on the bottom would be all it would take to stop these people from not using their indicators, despite the fact that the indicator switch is one of the closest at hand when you are seated in a driving position. Maybe not just a gentle smack… I would actually like to use reasonable force against these people. Yes… reasonable force. I would like to retrain them by using reasonable force.You can’t do that Boon – it’s assault.

The unfortunate side of this defence of ‘reasonable force’ is the fact that my ‘reasonable force’ might involve a trousers down smack with some kind of reinforced wooden cutlery. However, someone else’s ‘reasonable force’ might include putting their child into a clothes drier and hanging them out onto a clothesline. If you’re overseas reading this think I’m enhancing my point by going to an untrue and exaggerated extreme, cut and paste Nia Glassie Case into Google and see what you find out.

In this referendum month of August two New Zealand children have died because parents and caregivers used what they believed to be ‘reasonable force’ when disciplining – or just had no idea at all about parenting or humanity.

Being part of a couple who can’t get up the duff without a bit of science helping along the way it breaks my heart to  hear these horror stories of severe abuse. It starts you thinking… why can these dickheads have children at the drop of a hat and I’m forced to make love to a jar in a room at a hospital and put my sperm in the freezer to bring my child into existence. If these so-called ‘parents’ don’t want their children let me and Mrs. Boon have a go.

It’s something that we’ve thought about. The only problem with the adoption/fostering of children these days is how open it is. Biological parents still have access – to an extent I suppose, dependent on their fitness – but it’s all monitored by the government through their wonderfully resourced and thoroughly agile Department of Children, Young Persons and their Families (CYFS). I don’t think I’d like to be a parent under those circumstances… the thought of giving all of your love to a child and then having that child head off and find biological parents at some later date, or have a relationship all the way through their childhood, would make me feel like half a parent. The carpet of love could be pulled out from under you at any moment.

New Zealand has voted in favour of hitting children. 87% in favour. It’s still astounds that nearly 90% of New Zealanders have voted that smacking/hitting/assaulting children should NOT be a criminal offence. I don’t believe it. I just don’t believe it. What is wrong with you people… (thanks to the nearly 12% that voted with me. You are the right kind of people).

I promise to blog on a slightly more upbeat note next time.

Boon x