Category Archives: Education

Should parents be informed of their daughters’ abortions?

Or worse, should they have power of veto? The subject has been raised in New Zealand recently, and some of the things that are being said just utterly horrify me.

I was raised in a household where abortions were just absolutely off the table. So when I found myself pregnant at 16, it was never even an option. I carried my child, and I raised her. To be honest, I don’t really know what my parents would have wanted me to do – the strength of the religion that had been pounded into me meant that I went blindly forward with what I believed was God’s will, and damned if I was going to listen to anything that didn’t mesh with my ideas of right and wrong. I was the sort of person that I would be ashamed to raise – dogged and dogmatic and unthinking and narrow-minded. But that is then.

If I had elected to have an abortion, then I do not know if my father and stepmother, who were the only family I had around, would have approved. I strongly suspect that things would not have gone well for me had that been my choice (not that things went smoothly for me anyway, but that’s not the point). Mine is not a good example of what could go wrong for vulnerable pregnant girls, though. I was already responsible for myself, living out of home, and generally not supported by my family. Things were not going to get dramatically worse for me,

If I had been at home though, and relying on my very religious family, then them finding out about me making the hypothetical  decision to have an abortion could have landed me out of home. No, worse than that – if it was not already a done deal, I would have been pressured out of it, or outright forbidden to go through with it. My body was not my own, you see. It belonged to God and whoever God delegated his authority to. So in a religious setting, informing the parents is not a safe thing to do.

Parents like to think that they have a right to know what their teenage daughter does with her body. But they have to acknowledge that she has choices, and agency, and they cannot control her or dictate to her for the long-term, so letting go in the short term is necessary and healthy. Giving her knowledge, information, and power over her own body is the best thing they can do for their child.

One comment that just left me floored was “maybe the father of the baby should have a choice – he may want the baby” . . . I’m sorry, are you kidding me? It’s her body. Not his. Until he can be pregnant and give birth in her place, he doesn’t actually get a say in what she chooses to do unless she wants him to. Basic bodily autonomy 101 here, kids. It’s not the father’s choice. It’s not the parents’ choice. It’s up to the girl – and only the girl.

I have two daughters of my own, and one of them is just hitting puberty. I understand the impulse to control and to guard and to protect, but it’s impulse that does no one any justice. Build your relationship with your girl. Build trust and love and acceptance, so that she knows that if things go awry she can come to you. Let her know what you would do in such a situation – tell her up-front that you will support her in whatever way you see fit, whether that’s that you would support an abortion but not a baby or vice versa, or whether you would be there for her and do everything you can for her no matter what she chooses in a situation like that. Educate her so she knows how biology works, how to stay safe and healthy, and support her to get whatever contraceptives she needs.

Maybe I’m being idealistic, and maybe I’ll feel different about my girls as they grow, but I don’t think so. I want to trust them and empower them in a way that I never was, so they can make these sorts of decisions, about love and sex and abortion and parenthood and growing up, with their eyes wide open.

I was a teen mother. I also had an abortion when my daughter was less than a year old, because I couldn’t cope with two under two. I never told my husband that, because he was part of the religious tradition that condemned such things – but I did what was right for my physical and mental health. I have walked both roads, and I would hold my child’s hand down whichever one they chose, if it came to that.

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Increasing education to deal with unemployment

A commenter replied to one of my earlier posts that eat with the idea of upskilling the unemployed in order to make them more employable. He said

Creating more people with qualifications will not change the fact that there simply aren’t jobs.

And he’s completely right. Upskilling beneficiaries without increasing the number of skilled jobs available will only result in a very well-educated pool of beneficiaries, possibly with the debt that is incurred with any form of higher education adding to their troubles. What use is this?

In the end, we need more jobs in order to have less unemployment. It’s just maths. I don’t know how to increase job numbers – that’s something that economists understand, not Classical Studies graduates. But I do understand that we can’t employ people in jobs that don’t exist. It simply makes no sense. Politicians talk about education, about breaking the cycle of poverty, about reducing substance abuse and criminality and all these things, but if there aren’t jobs to walk into, then you can’t walk out of poverty.

Benefit addicts and elitism

I think the focus around throwing benefit money at people to do nothing (or to jump through increasingly ridiculous hoops for WINZ) is the real issue. Instead of investing in educating and upskilling those not working we create a benefit addicted underclass with an entitlement mentality. Pay people a benefit if they enrol at university/Polytechnics and base their benefit rates on their grade average.

So says one hapless Stuff commenter, on an article about the issue of underemployment. I do wonder sometimes if people actually listen to what they are saying sometimes.

A benefit addicted underclass with an entitlement mentality. Well, people keep telling me there are dole bludgers living it up on the taxpayer dime, never intending to work and living well despite it. I have to ask, though, where are these people? If they were as common as it’s thought, then the government would be making an example out of them, whether punitively as a warning or positively when they’re finally off the dole. Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe there’s a huge class of people out there that are different from my romantic notion of beneficiary life. But it’s not my experience, and it’s not backed up anywhere by any statistics I’ve seen. More than three quarters of unemployment beneficiaries are on the dole for less than a year – that doesn’t stink of a benefit addicted underclass. Maybe it’s the sickness, invalid’s, and sole parent benefits that people hang around on . . . um. Yes. That’s what those benefits are there for. People who have needs that are not just ‘out of work’. Chronically ill people may need a benefit their whole lives, and I will not begrudge them one cent. Sole parents are doing something very difficult, and they should be supported by everyone around them, not threatened with losing their only source of income.

A benefit addicted underclass who all rely on not-quite-enough to get by on each week. Really. It’s just such an attractive lifestyle, I can see why so many people would freely choose it. Back in the real world, people are on benefits for many reasons, and they’re far too complex to be dealt with in the schemes of the Stuff commenter mentality.

“Pay people a benefit if they enrol at university/Polytechnics and base their benefit rates on their grade average.” Oh honey. It’s like you had half a good thought and then your brain ran out of go-juice. We do pay people a benefit to go to Uni/Polytech – it’s called the Student Allowance. We do that to make education more available to people, to help them upskill. But there are people who will never do well in formal education, and they deserve to live just as much as a Rhodes Scholar (who, incidentally, is just on a very fancy kind of benefit). Tertiary qualifications are out of reach for some people for many reasons, medical, educational, and personal. Basing benefit rates on participation in tertiary education is very much elitist. Basing people’s worth on their enrolment at a higher learning facility is a few shades of ridiculous.

Basing benefits on grade averages has got to be one of the dumber ideas I’ve seen recently. There is just so much wrong with it. People who are disadvantaged tend to not perform as well academically as people who grew up with fewer impediments. People who are on a benefit because they are unwell may find it harder to attain higher grades. People who have a serious life event come up not only have to worry about their grades – they also have to worry about their budget getting cut over it. Honestly, when did this sound like it would be a good idea?

This sort of thinking assumes that every beneficiary has about the same advantages in life as the thinker, and that the beneficiaries are in a bad position because they are making bad choices. That’s just not the way the world works, and so applying solutions that involve putting pressure on people to make ‘good choices’ doesn’t work. They don’t have the right base to make ‘good choices’ from.

Little tricks to cut costs – that punish vulnerable students

Last year it was brought to light that to get funding for special assistance in exams, students needed to be assessed by an outside professional to establish their disability, at a cost of around $400-700 a pop – a serious disadvantage to poorer students. This year, the alternative of a free observation by a teacher was offered, and schools breathed a sigh of relief as this new innovation breathed equality into the Special Assessment Conditions system. Ha! Of course, that’s way too good to be true.

This year comes a new and crappy revelation about the system. It turns out that to qualify for a reader-writer, extra time, or a separate space to sit the exam, you must be achieving at the expected grade level for reading and writing. If, in addition to your disabilities or because of them, you’re not at the expected level for your age, then you simply don’t get assigned the extra help you need and should be entitled to.

This hits low-decile students harder than those at higher-decile schools, because the poorer schools do not have the same time and resources to devote to keeping their students of varying abilities up to speed with their peers. Poor schools just don’t have the money to throw at the problem of students with disabilities, and it shows in their ability to stay up at the level required of them by the state.

This policy takes the inequality that results from kids coming from a poor area, and underlines it with an artificial barrier to even attempting to achieve. What is it with this education system and trying to shaft underprivileged kids?

I can understand the argument that it might be a waste of resources, dedicating them to kids who will obviously not pass the exams anyway, but here we’re putting extra barriers in the way of kids that are struggling as is. Of course they’re not going to pass if, in addition to being behind, they’re deprived of the things that they need in order to even have a fighting chance at it. Reading and writing ability are also not the only determinants of how well a child will do in a science or maths exam! Students have to be seen as a good candidate before they can be put forward for NCEA, so these are not kids with no hope. They’re kids the schools have decided have a decent shot at succeeding.

What this is, is taking kids that have been tossed around by the education system, and giving them a good kicking to add to their woes. It creates disadvantaged, disillusioned young people with no respect for a system that screwed them over repeatedly. It’s perpetuating a cycle of disenfranchisement that needs to be broken by kids who are supported by their school to learn and achieve, so they can pass that sense of pride and achievement on to their kids

Poverty keeps kids home from school

The Rotorua Daily Post ran an article yesterday about the impact of poverty on poor kids. Some of what it says is just heartbreaking. One principal says

Parents who don’t have suitable food for their child’s lunch have been known to keep them at home so poverty does create a real barrier between children and their education.

These kids are undernourished in body and in mind, and it’s the shitty way we address both beneficiaries and the working poor that puts them there. It’s just awful that in a country with as much wealth as ours, we actually have kids in this situation. The government promises over and over again to address child poverty, while leaving the minimum wage too low for a family to live on, and setting benefit rates even lower. Our approach to poor people is punitive, particularly those with children. Being poor is a character flaw in the model we use, because good people get an education and a good job. It’s only people who don’t bother to get a qualification, who don’t try hard enough, or who don’t really need the work (teenagers, for example) who get minimum wage jobs. As for beneficiaries? Well! people like that are just lazy! and they shouldn’t have kids, even more than minimum wage workers. It’s just irresponsible to procreate if you’re not financially secure enough to raise them.

These attitudes are the kind of prejudice that leaves kids hungry, cold, and without much hope of things getting better. Kids that are not getting to school because they’re too poor, who are getting to school but going hungry and unable to concentrate, who are chronically unwell from the diseases of poverty, are not going to learn the way rich kids are. They’re going to struggle, and in all likelihood they are going to perpetuate the cycle of poverty. It’s called a cycle for a reason – it just keeps going around and around and it’s so hard to break out of.

Many of these children – 52% of decile one students, according to the Ministry of Education statistics – are living in overcrowded homes, where their is little privacy, little space, and more chance for the spread of illness. Many of these homes are poorly insulated, and in the winter are damp and cold. Sickness is more common in the homes of the poor, and the government needs to take some responsibility for that. Phasing out the insulation subsidy for rental properties and refusing to pass the rental warrant of fitness has condemned many to sub-stander housing. Sure, it makes things cheaper for landlords, who are part of the current government’s core constituency, but it’s at the expense of the poor and vulnerable.

One of the more shocking parts of the article is the proposal by one of the principals interviewed to build a respite house for children on school grounds for when their home life became “a little chaotic”. Is this idea restricted to one low-decile principal because he’s more enterprising than most? Is it a low-decile problem, or is it more widespread but only talked about because this is a low-decile school and reality hits harder there?

I can think of a few things that can go on for a kid that might make respite a good option. Parental breakups, illness, a special needs sibling, all these things are fairly normal and common enough that there is a legitimate need for respite care for kids. What are people going to think when ‘a little chaotic’ comes up? Abuse, neglect, all the terrible things that happen to poor kids. It’s a little tale of prejudice all on its own – poor kids are prone to bad parenting, and that just doesn’t happen in well-off families. I tell you, it does. It’s just not seen or acted upon.

Poverty does awful things to kids, and as a society we are responsible for a lot of that. We can, of course, do better. Will we? Well, maybe not.

The voice of privilege speaks on college and travel and debt

Today’s post is brought to you by a chef names Alton Brown, who I had never heard of until today. I understand he’s pretty good though, explaining things in everyday ways rather than throwing a French dictionary at his watchers. That kind of everyman approach is pretty cool. What’s not so cool are his remarks on college (university) and what people should do there.

What he says just reeks of privilege. All the while, he claims that he was completely broke in college, but then he says that every college student should travel abroad while studying. This may be possible for the privileged ones with money backing them, but for the less well-off, travel is just a dream. Just earning enough money to eat at the crappy job they work is too much of a struggle sometimes, never mind dropping several hundred on spring break in Mexico or several grand on a jaunt to Europe. It’s something every student should have the opportunity to do, but in reality it’s way out of reach for some.

A little later, he says the biggest piece of advice he can give college students is “don’t go into debt”, to drop out before they start incurring debt. This is perfectly reasonable . . . if you have money backing you. If you’re poor, what then? Don’t go to college? Don’t try and get a good job? I know that the American student loan business is a horrific sea of loan sharks, but for many people it’s the only possible way out of poverty, and even going to community college is going to incur some debt. A pronouncement like this can only come from someone who’s never experienced poverty, nor needed to climb out of it somehow.

Even if you’re awarded a scholarship, college can incur debt. You’ve still got to eat during that time, and buy textbooks if they’re not included, and pay rent, and all these things that require money beyond what you can earn part-time at Papa John’s. So a scholarship is not a magic bullet for poor people to get through college debt-free.

It is interesting to see how Brown sees himself as poor, given what he considers essential for a college kid’s refrigerator – eggs, butter, herbs, hummus, cheese, and wine. Cheese? Butter? Are you kidding? What about ramen and rice? That’s more like it when it comes to being actually poor.

This guy is probably a good guy, but he’s so out of touch with what poverty is and what it means for kids trying to pull themselves out of it. For so many good jobs, you need a degree. Any degree will do, a lot of the time, as long as you have proven that . . . well, whatever a degree proves. I’ve just completed one, and I have no idea. Still, it’s what you need for so much – corporate, government, even mid-range management requires one. Putting yourself through college, as opposed to having someone help you through, is expensive and requires sacrifices that he just doesn’t understand.

If you really gave a shit about kids . . .

“If you really gave a s… about kids and public health, you’d feed them right at school, full-stop, and you’d teach them about food at school, full-stop.” – Jamie Oliver

The man has a point, you know. Kids shouldn’t be a political football – they should be a priority.

As of 2014, 260,000 kids live in poverty in New Zealand. 180,000 regularly go without essentials like food, appropriate clothing, or heat. those numbers are terrible in a nation with so much wealth. We simply have to do better.

Jamie Oliver’s solution is the obvious one. Feed the kids, because leaving a child hungry is inhumane, and teach them about food, how to grow and cook it, so that they’re set up for a better future.

I cannot understand people who would argue over where the responsibility lies for hungry children, while those children stay hungry. Someone who says that it’s their parent’s fault and leaves them hungry – for what reason? To teach the parents responsibility? It doesn’t work like that! – just does not understand the misery of going to school hungry, the lack of ability to think on an empty stomach, the temptation to steal lunches from other kids or teachers just to have something in your belly. Whatever the reason, the kids don’t deserve to be hungry, and if parents can’t or won’t pack a lunch, someone needs to step in. Punishing a kid because their parent is poor or lazy is cruel.

I don’t have much time for libertarian types who say that we need to ’empower communities’ and help them be more self-sufficient. For one, a community may well be too poor to support the needs of the thousands of kids that go hungry in this country. For another, community responses are very variable that in some communities there will be wonderful programmes and in others almost nothing, depending on the skill level and enthusiasm and connections of the organisers – I think that a centralised response would be more even-handed and thorough.

So feeding the kids. It’s an idea I believe in, and I am deeply disappointed in our government for rejecting the legislation that could have made this possible. What kind of people are they, that they are ok with thousands of children starving? I don’t know where to go from here, but I think we need a new government and a new go at doing this for our kids.

The other part of Jamie’s plan, to teach kids about food, is an interesting one. Basic food skills are so important, and every child should be provided with them. Can opening, food reheating, knife skills, a few solid recipes to be able to fall back on, they’re essentials. I do believe that every child should be taught this stuff. But how useful are these skills when the cupboards are bare? We need to be addressing poverty at home, as well as feeding the kids at school. Making a dinner of toast and beans needs to be a thing that kids can achieve – both the skills to make it and the materials to work from.

My solutions to food poverty at home are the usual ‘pay people more’ type things. Not very creative, but creative and targeted solutions aren’t my thing. They’re hoops to jump through, condescending attitudes to deal with. Giving people enough money to live on is simpler and affords the poor some dignity which is seriously lacking in our attitudes at the moment.

I can’t pretend to be an expert in this. Maybe my ideas are very wrong, and someone can explain to me why targeted funding is a better idea. But there’s not a person on earth that will convince me that we don’t need to put a plan in place to feed kids that don’t get three good meals a day.