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Wednesday, 14 August 2013

National Insanity

A Few More Million Amongst Friends

Socio-economic determinism is an exploded urban legend.  But it is firmly lodged in the minds of the Commentariat as an infallible maxim.  Simply put, socio-economic determinism proclaims that if you want positive societal outcomes (for whatever) rain other people's money upon a particular target group, and hey presto, character, habits, attitudes, morals, self-discipline, conscience, and behaviour will improve exponentially.  Anyone who actually believes that is living in a another universe--and a non-parallel one at that.  Not even close to reality. 

Over the past fifteen years the New Zealand government has increased spending upon its government schools exponentially.  Millions upon millions more dollars have been spent, and most of it upon lower decile schools (that is, schools operating in lower socio-economic areas).  The fallacy of socio-economic determinism at full throated roar.
  Gummints have to be seen to be doing something.  The easiest and most ready-to-hand "do up" is to pour millions more good money after bad.  It makes the politicians feel good, as they elide into the urban legend of socio-economic determinism.  "We have made a difference, we are committed," they inanely tell themselves.  How have you made a difference?  "We have poured more money upon the problem", is the stupid, lame, myopic reply. 

This from Bill English, Treasurer during the presentation of the 2013 Budget to Parliament (page 11):
The Government’s total investment in education will next year increase to over  $9.7 billion. Over the next four years, the Budget provides new operating funding of $173 million for early childhood education and $215 million for schools, including nearly $80 million for  operations grants. It also provides $134 million in capital for new school property.


Now, despite all this extra money, poured out upon an already bloated and over-stuffed state education system, the results are coming in.  What are the results? Schools in lower socio-economic areas are producing lower relative educational outcomes. This, according to Stuff:
Across the board, NCEA results from 2012 showed familiar trends as the gap between low decile and high decile schools continues to increase. The data shows that almost a quarter less children in the bottom three decile schools achieved Level 1 NCEA in Year 11 than those in the more well-off decile 8-10 schools.
Whack a duck!  Who would have predicted that?  Certainly not all the socio-economic determinists--which actually is the vast majority of the population in New Zealand.  We are, after all, overwhelmingly a nation of "socialism without doctrines" as historian Michael Bassett put it.

Why are low socio-economic areas getting sub-standard educational outcomes?  The socio-economic determinists would argue that it is caused by low socio-economic families in the district.  If we could pour out money upon these families, like lolly water, hey-presto they would become more wealthy, which in turn would produce better educational outcomes.  Hands up all those who believe that. 

Actually, a school principal in a low socio-economic area put his finger on the actual problem:
At South Auckland's Manurewa High School, principal Salvatore Gargiulo said he believed a lack of organisation sometimes held kids back in lower decile schools.  ''Kids who are in high decile schools often have families who are more organised, there's more structure around their homelife and the kids always get a decent feed before they go to school. That's not always the case with some of our kids. I think the biggest thing is trying to get the parents involved in getting their kids achieving.

''Encouraging kids to realise that studying helped them onto a career path was also essential, he said. ''When you ask some of our kids what they want to do for a career, they're not sure. Their parents have jobs, not careers.''
It is the culture of low socio-economic families that needs to change--into families that are more organised, structured, disciplined, planned, with tightly budgeted and prioritised spending--and parental involvement in and commitment to their children's education.  Santa Claus money being sprinkled like pixie dust upon households will just not cut it.  Nor will more tax payer money being sprinkled on their local schools.  

Oh, wait.  We forgot.  Of course it will make a difference.  Socio-economic determinism is true.  This is New Zealand.  We all believe that don't we?  How many more million do you need, sir?  We are racing on our way to racking up $70 billion of government indebtedness--$15,000 for every man, woman, and child in the country.  What's a few more million amongst friends.   Insanity, remember, has been defined as repeating the same mistake and expecting a different outcome. 

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