Tag Archives: politics

Election debate: the finance edition

MyThinks has been delving deep into many, many election issues. From Steven Joyce’s lying to the lying of Steven Joyce, we’ve really worked hard to cover everything. Today in our Auckland studio we are hosting a debate between Finance Minister Joyce and his Labour Party counterpart Grant Robertson. 

Host: Good morning gentlemen.

Joyce: Good morning.

Robertson: Good morning Mr Host.

Host: This is shaping up to be a tight election race. National and Labour are neck and neck at the moment. I’ll start with you first Mr Joyce. What is your party offering that is going to make a difference to New Zealanders?

Joyce: That’s a great question. National has a strong record of helping ourselves during the global financial crisis. We have worked hard to ensure that everyone has a fair go…

Robertson: (coughing) Bhu-ll-sht!

Joyce: …that everyone has a fair go and are able to get the jobs and the opportunities they want.

Host: You don’t agree Grant Robertson?

Robertson: No I don’t. National has had nine years, nine long years to improve things, and what have we got? People living in cars, polluted rivers, homeless people dying on church steps, massive waiting lists… I could go on.

Joyce: Please don’t.

Robertson: You’ve had every opportunity and you’ve failed. Your government is not delivering for New Zealanders. It’s just delivering for…

Joyce: That’s a load of rubbish and you know it. National have a proven track record…

Robertson: Prove it.

Joyce: …I just did by saying it. National has a proven track record of delivering jobs and growth. And I wouldn’t be too quick to cast aspersions Grant. Your party is up to some pretty dodgy stuff.

Host: What do you mean?

Joyce: Well… there’s the tax thing. They are going to raise all sorts of taxes and hard-working New Zealanders are going to end up paying a lot more.

Robertson: No we are not. That’s a lie. We are holding a working group to look at whether our tax system is fair.

Joyce: And you’re going to raise income tax on our most vulnerable people.

Robertson: No we are not. We haven’t said we will.

Joyce: It’s clear from your denials that you are totally going to do that. National deny all sorts of stuff we end up doing or are found guilt of. You are totally going to raise taxes and force the poor to sell their babies.

Robertson: What?

Host: What??

Joyce: It’s obvious. You have totally denied you are going to lift income tax but you have never said that you are not going to force the poor to sell their children. How do we know that’s not your policy?

Robertson: Because we aren’t ACT.

Joyce: Don’t dodge the question. How can New Zealanders be sure that the Labour Party aren’t going to force the hard-working poor of New Zealand to sell their children in order to pay for food and housing?

Robertson: You’re adding stuff to that!

Joyce: Damn right. You’ve never said you aren’t just going to ship all the old people living in rest homes off to the Auckland Islands because it’s just too expensive to pay for their care.

Robertson: I don’t believe what I’m hearing.

Joyce: I don’t either. I don’t think any New Zealander will stand by and let you harvest their organs to sell on the dark web. I certainly won’t.

Host: Where are you getting this information?

Joyce: From a hole. It’s a very big hole. But it’s there. All this information waiting to come out. I’ve run many, many campaigns for the National Party over the years and never, never have I been in charge of one which is up against a party that hasn’t denied they are going to remove all non-New Zealanders from the country via a lunar rocket.

Robertson: We will not do any of those things.

Joyce: But how do we know that if you aren’t denying them?

Host: I think he just did.

Joyce: No he didn’t Mr Host. He said he was, “totally not going to do any of those things.” But what things? What specific things is he not going to do. I haven’t heard him name one since we’ve been sitting here.

(long pause)

Robertson: What are you not going to do?

Joyce: Pardon?

Robertson: Well… what are you and the National Party not going to do?

Joyce: Oh… I see what you are trying to do there… You’re trying to catch me out. Well I’ll tell you this right here and now. Everything. We are planning not to do everything.

Robertson: So… you’re going to do nothing?

Joyce: What?

Host: I think he asked if you were going to do nothing. That is, are you planning not to do anything?

Joyce: Um… sorry… what do you mean?

Host: You’re accusing Labour of doing everything so is the National Party planning on doing nothing to deal with all of our problems?

Joyce: Wha.. um… but… the… I’m… Roads! Roads and irrigation!! And tax cuts!!!!!!! Shut up.

Robertson: Hahaahaa! Classic.

Joyce: Shut up. I’m not playing anymore.

Host: Thanks for joining us today gentlemen. I’ve been talking to Finance Minister Steven Joyce and Labour Party finance spokesperson Grant Robertson.

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Long Read: Education Policy in 2017

You’ve probably heard of The Law of Unintended Consequences. An unintended consequence is an outcome or event which happens as a result of another, often unrelated, happening. In the movie based on their book Freakonomics, journalist Stephen Dubner and economist Steven Levitt, there is a section on the unintended consequences on crime of the Roe vs Wade abortion ruling by the US Supreme Court in 1971. You can watch the clip from the movie below, but very briefly, there was a massive drop in crime in the US in the 1990s. Dubner and Levitt discovered this was not the result of law and order policies similar to the Broken Windows one used in New York City. Instead they were the result of a reduction in the births of “potentially unwanted children” into possibly harmful home situations who would then go on to commit crimes.

This morning Q and A held their education debate ahead of the election (part one here, part 2 here). On the side of National was new(ish) Education Minister Nikki Kaye and attending for the opposition Labour spokesperson Chris Hipkins.

Minister Kaye continued the National Party’s obsession with national standards, which, it turns out, they are planning to supersize. With what? A sweet little app which parents can follow their child’s progress on their phone or tablet. Now apart from the potential data security issues of looking at assessment data on a mobile device might entail, some parents might think this is a good idea. After all, we are in a digital age now and when my phone beeps / chirps / buzzes, I must check it.

Before I begin to dismantle the National Party education policy, let me just say this: We should definitely be measuring a child’s progress, not where they stand against some arbitrary standard set by some boffin in Wellington. All children are different. No child is going to progress against any standard in the same way as any of their classmates, schoolmates or peer group across the country. Sometimes progress is very fast; sometimes it can be painfully slow. Just ask any teacher.

National standards have an in-built language of failure. There are four measurements: above, at, below and well below. Three of those ooze with the putrid juice of defeat. Parents get their reports every six months, and if their child is below or well below, then that’s failure isn’t it? “My child isn’t doing as well as all the other children.” I would also argue children who are assessed as “at” the standard may also be considered average by their parents. They are neither above or below the standard, they are just “at,” which could be construed as very, very average. As well as this, National are never in their wildest educational successes, going to get 100% of students at or above the standard. It would never happen. At some point New Zealand students are going to come to some kind of standstill. You could spend billions of dollars and you would still not shift achievement levels.

When I was given my report back in the 1970s, I rushed home to give it to my parents, not because I wanted them to read it, but because I wanted to read it and I couldn’t do that until they had. Every child I know wants to read their report to find out exactly what their teacher is thinking about them and their learning (or, in my case, behaviour!). With national standards the child will also now have a measurement that could include “well below.” I know schools try to douse the flames of failure with phrases such as “progressing towards” and so on, however if every six months a child seeing their report say they are a failure, what is the unintended consequence of that going to be?

Despite my many, many “could try harder” report comments, I did make it to university in 1989. Eventually I discovered psychology and media studies which turned out to be an interesting mix. Learned helplessness is one of the things we were taught during second year. Often this happens in situations of extreme abuse where a child or animal has learned that no many how much they struggle or try to escape, there is no escape from the abuse. In the end they give up trying to escape because there is no use. I have seen this in students, but rather in relation to severe abuse, they have learned helplessness in relation to their learning. They have discovered that it does not matter how much they struggle to try to achieve in the school setting, nothing seems to work so they have given up even trying.

Question: how does labelling a child “well below” or a failure for their entire school life lead to the unintended consequence of learned helplessness? How much has the National Party and their bureaucrats researched this phenomenon? Based on my experiences in the classroom I suspect learned helplessness has increased over the last decade – particularly since national standards were introduced. Report comments filled with well below or below will undoubtedly have an impact on a child’s self-worth. “I am always well below so what’s the point?” That’s just at primary school. How does that attitude to self play out later in life as the student heads through secondary and, perhaps, tertiary education?

I was having a conversation at work the other day about early childhood education. My wife is currently retraining as an ECE teacher and we are, much to the annoyance of my son, having plenty of in-depth dinner table conversations about learning styles and pedagogical theories. I was saying to my colleague how it is very rare for you to see a child in any early childhood setting sitting there in his or her kindy or preschool, not doing anything. Unable or unwilling to take a risk to try something that is new or dangerous or out of their comfort zone. Yet, by the time they get to my level (mid-primary), students may often sit there and do nothing. Afraid to even put pen to paper in case they do the wrong thing. What has changed in the time they were in early childhood education to the time they get to me?

It is because these days the pressure is on from day one. New Zealand children mostly start their primary school on their fifth birthday. From the first day at school it is about sitting up straight on the mat, learning numbers and letters, maths, reading and writing. This pressure can come from whānau, but mostly it comes from the system. When we should be celebrating and welcoming a child to a learning environment and allowing them time to bed themselves in to this new and daunting system, teachers are ever mindful of what is coming down the track. At some point soon this child will need to be measured against national standards. If we don’t get things moving as soon as possible then the progress line of that child is always going to be behind the national standards line.

This is a massive problem for all those students who aren’t ready to read or write (or even sit for long periods with their arms and legs folded – why is that important to a modern society when you can whip around Google HQ on a scooter?). There is something to be said for the holistic nature of Steiner schools which recognises every child moves through developmental stages. These stages are linked to the child, not some booklet sitting on the shelf in my classroom. Every child is different and they will move through those stages when their development allows.

Learning becomes much more than the acquisition of vast amounts of information; rather, learning becomes an engaging voyage of discovery, both of the world and of oneself.

One of my friends went to a Steiner school growing up in Northern Ireland and he wasn’t reading until he was 7. He turned out fine.

National standards and the one-size-fits-all education system that has developed over the past century really doesn’t cater for this developmental progress. Pressures from the top down mean we teachers feel we have to fit our students into this system, despite them not being ready for it. If we extended the use of the early childhood curriculum Te Whāriki into the early years of primary, I firmly believe we would reduce the problem of learned helplessness as children move up the primary school. Even though this is something I’ve been thinking about following my wifely discussions this year, it turns out it is also Labour Party policy.

I have previously blogged about The Economist’s survey into what skills modern employers are looking for from their employers. During the debate Nikki Kaye herself said we needed to prepare our students for a future where vast swathes of jobs that currently exist have disappeared. From a report titled, Driving the skills agenda: Preparing students for the future, part one asks what skills we will need in the future. Their lead graph is the one on the right. Clearly employers see literacy and numeracy are important but not as important as problem solving, team working, communication, critical thinking, creativity and leadership. None of those top six are in the standards. Neither can they be measured. All of them, though, are depended on a good level of self-confidence. You are not going to be taking risks with your thinking or learning if you have some level of learned helplessness. You are not going to offer up a solution to a group if you aren’t confident your solutions, or anything you do, is worthy to the group, to school, or to life. Why would you put yourself out there?

I feel I might be preaching to my echo chamber with this post. Every teacher worth their salt knows in their hearts that national standards does absolutely shit-all for lifting student achievement. They create a huge amount of work and extra pressure on teachers and school communities as they try to improve their national standards performance. Of course, the media don’t help. During the debate Corin Dann suggested that parents love national standards. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There are vast numbers of parents, including I, who care little about where their child measures up against a standard set by the National Party. Stuff.co.nz love to rank schools and regions every year when national standards data is released. How does that help to lift student achievement?

Pressure can also lead to unintended consequences. The education system in the United States has been going down the path of the common core for many years. George W Bush had the No Child Left Behind policy which, ironically, lead to more children being left behind than ever before. In the US, school funding is linked to student performance against the standards. As you can imagine this leads to pressure. Pressure on teachers and schools to have high test scores. Where does that lead? I’ll let the Freakonomics guys tell you.

New Zealand doesn’t have to go down this path. Despite National’s best efforts over the past decade, the New Zealand education system is amazing. It is filled to overflowing with brilliant teachers all working their hardest for the 25 or so students in their care. Anyone who says teachers are lazy or only interested in lining their own pockets is a liar or a trouble maker or both. I do wish to insert other words here, but for the sake of decorum, I will not. I only have 12 or so years experience as a teacher. I don’t claim to have all the answers to the greatest educational questions of our time, but I do know those answers aren’t “national standards” and “David Seymour having a say in education policy.”

School needs to be a place where self-motivated students want to come and achieve at the very highest level. Schools need to celebrate success, give students every chance to practise all those skills employers are demanding – not just numeracy and literacy.

If our goal is to create life-long learners, we’re not going to do that by turning some of them into learners who have an aversion to learning.

The brand spanking new National Party education policy for our times

MyThinks are digging deep this election to get the word on the policies of the various parties. We were hoping to get latherings of Peter Dunne’s common sensical policies this weekend. Unfortunately for common sense we were unable to bring you this after he retired from the world. Fortunately, however, the National Party announced their education policy at a glitzy launch in Auckland in front of an adoring crowd of house-owning baby boomers. We asked right-wing education commentator Dr Edward Pharctähd to comment and here is his commentary. 

Good evening.

I was very happy that the National Party announced a multi-million dollar investment in our education system this weekend. Bill English and his team have created one of the most innovative and spectacular education policies ever to be announced in New Zealand. For too long New Zealand has been stuck in the mire of mediocrity. Our children are failing. Our teachers are failing.

In one foul swoop Bill English has told kiwi children they can be whatever they want to be by learning many other languages. What a fantastic idea. This week I’m certain we’ll see Mike Hosking tell everyone how important it is for kiwi students to learn other languages. He’s a bit lover of other cultures and languages.

As an educationalist and a National Party voter, I have been outraged that the Labour Party want to scrap national standards. This is just exactly the kind of outrageous and dangerous nonsense we’ve been come to expect from them. National standards are an important way to measure how useless teachers are. I know for a fact that if teachers just worked harder, our kids will be better off.

Parents are going to be stoked being able to follow their children’s progress using a phone app. I understand the app will be like Candy Crush – once your kid gets three standards in a measurement period, the app makes a twinkly sound. I tell you, I wish this kind of thing was around when I was at school back in the 1950s.

I guarantee you over the coming weeks we will hear complaint after complaint from teachers. “Where is the money coming from?” “When will this come in?” “How long will it take me to learn another language so I’m competent enough to teach it?”

Just accept what Bill has said. Kiwi children will be multi-lingual math geniuses. He’s said it. It’s going to happen.

Good night.

Bill English is an important leader

MyThinks have been leaked a copy of a letter recently written by current Prime Minister Bill English. It’s a very important letter. 

Dear Mr/Mrs Voter,

I am Bill English from the The National Party. I am the Prime Minister. That makes me very important. Important enough for you to be listening to the things I am saying.

At the moment I am saying lots of important things. For example, on the weekend, while the Labour Party were faffing about in front of thousands of people in the Auckland Town Hall, I was with three other old men in suits announcing a $10 billion spending plan for our Roads of National Significance. It was a very important announcement which I announced in an important voice. Even the phrase Roads of National Significance sounds incredibly important.

This election you have an important choice. You can choose between a small child who has been the leader of her party for a ten minutes OR you could vote for a middle-aged white man who has been in parliament since the 1980s. Yes, that makes me sound old. But with oldness comes wiseness. It’s so important to be wise. When I dress in a suit and stand next to other middle-aged white friends, I look smart and important. It’s important to look important.

Who do you trust? The important looking guy with his important looking friends or the young, charismatic girl with her hipster bodyguards?

I know who I would vote for.

The answer is me. Me every time.

Your vote is important. I am important. That is why it is so important that you vote for me.

And Peter Dunne. Make sure you vote for him to. He’s important to keeping me important.

Kindest regards,

Bill, your humble and important PM.

Labour’s water tax is going to kill us all

This week new Labour leader Jacinda Ardern announced her party’s new plan to steal the Green Party’s old plan to place a charge on commercial users of water. This surprised many New Zealanders, mainly because since we’ve had user pays for poor people for the last 30 years, we all thought people using the water would be paying. Turns out this isn’t the case. The plan has caused many on the right to start frothing at the mouth about this new tax. Here at MyThinks we thought it was important to highlight some of the right’s concern at this creeping nanny state. What follows is some in-depth analysis of the issue by our alt-right expert and National Party stalwart, Professor Duncan Montague Forsythe McTavish Mountbatten. 

Good morning and/or evening. It is with great concern that I look up from my ironed paper as the news upon the wireless announces this most outrageous of taxes. Labour are planning to charge people who use water for profit. This make me and many, many other white middle-aged National voters extremely unhappy.

When Queen Victoria announced during the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi that all water in New Zealand was free for everyone to use I can guarantee you, without a shadow of a doubt, that she was including Coca Cola Amatil and the hard-working New Zealand farmer. Queen Victoria was a very forward-looking and technologically advanced regent. She had one of the first steam-powered iPad, you know.

The problem with the Labour and Greens beast charging for water is three-fold. Firstly, water is free. You can’t charge for something that’s free. That’s like me trying to charge people for looking at my house. Actually, that’s not a bad idea. I’m so rich and my house is so big that people look at it all the time. I could make some serious cash.

Secondly, if you are going to charge for water, then prices for all that wonderful freshly grown food we have in New Zealand. My educated calculations, made by inputting several large numbers into a public relations computer, suggest that as soon as Labour puts this tax on water, the price of apples will go up by 43,502%. That would make one apple more expensive than three of the Ferraris in my driveway. The average New Zealander will only be able to afford to get their plant-based nutritional needs by eating grass from their own lawns and stripping bark and twigs from trees around their houses. And maybe boards from their houses.

Thirdly, even though some of the largest donors to the National Party are huge users of water, that has nothing to do with my current stance. I’m not sure where I was going with this thought and I’m so apoplectic with rage at the thought of having to inform my accountant to avoid yet another charge, I’m not even going to finish it off.

The Labour Party will ruin New Zealand and kill everyone in the process.

Paying for water. Absolutely ridiculous. What are they going to do next? Make polluters pay?