Real Issues - Education, Family Law, Violence

Published: Fri 21 Nov 2008 09:17 AM
Real Issues No. 328 - Education, Family Law, Violence
Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 328 20 November 2008
'O for a muse of fire' Asking the right questions about family law A culture of violence
IN THE NEWS Prostitution reform only advantaging men About us
The new curriculum is facing accusations of 'dumbing down' this week, as teachers and principals begin implementing it in practice. The new curriculum opts for considerable flexibility in what is taught, enabling individual teachers to decide what suits their classrooms, but some teachers have attacked the lack of 'basic content' and 'key knowledge' to balance this, publicly airing concerns that in some subjects important but difficult information might be lost -- for instance, the study of Shakespeare is optional in Level 3 English, and the History curriculum has little set syllabus. The worry is some teachers will use flexibility to go for softer options, abandoning the Bard and other tougher subjects, in favour of more 'relevant' alternatives which will not give our children the whole and rigorous education they need.
Generally, flexibility is a good thing. And, as the Education Ministry was careful to point out, 'in many cases' schools will still continue to teach Shakespeare and expose our children to the same disciplines they always have. They also point out that Shakespeare never has been compulsory under NCEA, and that there is a variety of opportunities for children to be exposed to his work under the present system. But even if we are not talking about trading in Hamlet for Hannah Montana, the issue reminds us why we have education in the first place, and why we insist on our children knowing certain things.
Mary Chamberlain, Group Manager of Curriculum Teaching and Learning at the Ministry of Education, speaks of the role of education 'in the 21st century' as moving beyond simply rote regurgitating of information, and information 'memorised and stored in individual minds.' 'We need young people who can think, adapt and develop solutions fast for global markets,' she said. In the name of 'learning to learn' and 'the real world,' Ministry documents often speak in buzzwords like 'relevance,' 'critical thinking,' 'participating' and 'managing self.'
These are fair points, but at the same time, education is about more than that. First and foremost, it is about growing good people, not literate consumers or units in the global economy. Instead, it is about the formation of personhood, character and outlook, as well as skill which, to be fair, 'managing self' hints at, in a reductive manner. For this reason, the humanities cannot be dismissed as irrelevant -- they are about people. In the ranks of all poets and dramatists in English, first among that company is Shakespeare, not only for his cleverness, wit or historical significance, but for his insight, his depth, his adaptability and his razor sharp insight into people, human community, God, death, love and the other mysteries which perplex our condition.
Vital though flexibility is, we should also continue to insist that our children get a solid education, including the hard bits, the challenging bits and the building blocks of our culture, in all our subject areas. That means a clear idea of the specific things our children should know, and the determination to make sure all school pupils are able to access them. 'Relevance,' 'the real world' and 'the global economy' may determine much of life, and enable us to make choices. But when it comes to the noblest aspirations of human beings, the kind of community we are, what makes our hearts catch fire, and what choices we ought to make, there's still nothing to match Shakespeare. If he really is, as the Ministry claims, still 'here to stay' along with traditional emphasis on key disciplines, then why not say so clearly, in the heart of the curriculum?
British think tank the Centre for Social Justice has released a new 'interim report,' spinning off from a recommendation in their Breakthrough Britain series, setting out questions on family and family law that they propose to examine in the final report in 2009. The interim report, The Family Law Review, is notable for questioning some long-time taboos on divorce, marriage, fathers and family law. These questions are uncomfortable for many, but vital.
Repeating a well-travelled theme in previous reports, the review repeats the importance of marriage, saying, 'married couples are far less likely to break up than couples who live together without getting married, even after adjusting for the influence of such factors as income, age and education.' The review asks whether British law ought to change to remove 'disincentives' to marriage, perhaps by increasing the status of pre-nuptial agreements, or altering the divorce law. Following on from a previous report, the review also raises questions about the children of assisted reproduction, suggesting that an incomplete knowledge of their genetic make-up allows their identity to be 'compromised,' and that 'children ... benefit greatly from the engagement in their upbringing of parents of both sexes.' Not content with this scope, the report then reaches into 'post-separation support' from 'relationship centres,' contact with fathers and the 'rights of grandparents and extended family.' The aim of the review will be to find ways that the law can 'better support, and encourage, various beneficial institutions or pro-social norms which are in danger of being washed away,' recognising the importance of stable relationships and pro-social institutions for belonging, connection, and identity.
The review is not yet complete, and the devil, as with all concrete policy prescriptions, will be in the detail. As the review points out, so many government interventions with good intention have turned out to have damaging or unforeseen consequences. But still, the questions being asked by the Centre for Social Justice are streets ahead of New Zealand's treatment of the same issues. To balance autonomy and freedom with commitment and connectedness, to rebuild our social cohesion and our 'pro-social norms,' to tackle family breakdown and a culture of selfishness: these are the burning issues of the new century, one which is increasingly orphaned and atomised. We could do worse than asking some of the same questions, with regard for our own context and the future of our people.
Read The Family Law Review
In the aftermath of the Nia Glassie trial, jail sentences feel like a justified yet inadequate resolution to a growing concern about child abuse in our country. We all share the desire for justice, but it feels as if jail time is the proverbial drop in an ocean filled with destruction, hurt and abuse. This sad case yet again highlights the violence that has become all too regular in our society, a deep seated wound that is the subject of next week's international White Ribbon Day. An Assault on Our Future, a report released by the White Ribbon Foundation in Australia, compiles a wide array of research into this culture of violence, emphasising the entrenchment and intergenerational cycle of domestic abuse.
The research accumulated by the report suggests, perhaps unsurprisingly, that many young men who perpetrate violence within relationships have themselves grown up in a home filled with violence. There are clear links between domestic violence and child abuse, with statistics showing that in many cases where domestic violence occurs, child abuse also occurs. Violence often permeates throughout the entire family environment. Encouragingly, however, the research shows that witnessing domestic violence as a child does not automatically lead to a violent adult life -- many manage to break themselves from the cycle.
As a wider community we need to bring about change and ensure that the family environment is one where children are loved and nurtured. We need to care what goes on in our neighbourhoods, watch out not only for our children, but for other people's. The causes of family violence are dizzyingly complicated and engrained, yet this is no excuse for doing nothing. At the government level, the issues of family dysfunction and breakdown, and the protection of community cohesion should be front-and-centre, with growing healthy families at the core of public policy, not just in dishing out the money, but protecting community life in policing, lifting educational standards and attainment, and working together to provide healthy alternatives for bored and disconnected young people hungry for care. At the level of civil society, we need to foster a social fabric which not only notices dysfunction, but catches those at the most vulnerable end -- our children. And in our own lives as neighbours and friends, we need to model the healthy family and community life we want for our country, getting our hands dirty for our neighbours. That is a journey of many decades, but having the courage to get involved and tackling the hurt our children suffer means we must start now.
Read An Assault on Our Future: The impact of violence on young people and their relationships
The National Council of Women has come out against the Prostitution Reform Act, citing the continuing problem of underage prostitution and suggesting that men are the only ones who have gained from the law change. The NCW reports being 'alarmed' by the light-weight sentences given to men who purchase underage sex and 'disturbed' by the lack of disincentive of these behaviours. These concerns reiterate those raised by Maxim Institute to the Prostitution Law Reform Committee in 2007. Our submission pointed to the ineffectiveness of the Act in reducing underage prostitution and recommended additional penalties be given to those purchasing sex from underage prostitutes.
Read Prostitution Reform: What reform exactly?
Read Maxim Institute's submission to the Prostitution Law Review Committee
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View 'About us'
'... [education] has among its most important objectives that of making man ever more human: man who can be more, not just have more. To achieve this aim, man must learn not only to live with others, but also to live for others.'
Mgr. Giuseppe Pitau, for the Holy See, European Conference of Education Ministers, 2003.

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