Monday, 1 August 2005

Health, Education and all those bloody problems

At every election, what gets people annoyed they say is the mess the Government makes of Health and Education. This morning's Herald makes clear that this election these two issues are once again at the top of people's concerns, just as they have been at every election since Adam needed a hip operation for his mother-in-law (or at least since the State has been trying to organise such things). Waiting lists, waiting-for-waiting lists, NCEA scams and non-scholarships, tertiary institution rorts, rising illiteracy and innumeracy, pictures of Bill English looking righteously indignant ... the list of downright horrid and frightening things goes on and on, and it's not a list that gets those hip operations done, now is it?

What’s common to the management of both the problematic Health and Education sectors in New Zealand is of course one big thing: Big Government -- and I do agree with you that it's oxymoronic to use the words 'government' and 'management' in the same sentence, although it's no surprise to see the words 'problem' and government linked, is it.

The big problem is Big Government. We don’t argue every three years about the issues of zoning for local supermarkets, problems with waiting lists at shoe stores, or the dangerous shortage of Burger King restaurants, but you can be damn sure we would be if the bloody government was running them, and the talkback lines would sure be running hot complaining about a shortage of Double Whoppers if they were. We don’t want government running supermarkets, shoe stores or hamburger outlets (unless you still vote Alliance), so why the hell do we let them them run our schools and hospitals? It sure beats the hell out of me.

People say that governments must run the country's health system because they need to ensure that everyone has access to it. But do they? As Canadian Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin has just ruled in striking down Quebec's government-not-run health-care monopoly “Access to a waiting list is not access to health care.” Sure ain't. Not there, and not here either. Mark Steyn has that story and his own acerbic commentary on the state of socialist healthcare in Canada. "They’ve not yet reached the stage of a ten-month waiting list for the maternity ward," he notes comfortingly but he does cite cases that are awfully close. " But forget the medical arguments and consider the purely political ones," says Steyn,
The justification for “universal access” to health care is that a “decent society” does not let its sick suffer because they can’t afford an operation. But even as universal access decayed into universal lack of access, the utopian left defended it all the more vigorously: the fact that we all received the same non-treatment testified to our virtue, though even this perverse defense was utterly phony: one of the most unattractive features of our ersatz-egalitarianism was that it led to the creation of a humbug nomenklatura who (like Canada’s Prime Minister) use private clinics for their own health even as they continue to proclaim that decrepit incompetent monopoly public health is an eternal “Canadian value” that can never be changed.
Sounds awfully familiar to the New Zealand ear, doesn't it.

I haven't even started on the problems with government-run education and the state's factory schools. Fortunately, I can point you to some places that do. Julian Pistorius has been following the Orauta school saga at his blog (as can you if you care about government force being used to close a successful school loved by children and parents), Lisa Snell of the Reason Foundation has a blog called Education Weak keeping an eye on this issue from an American perspective, Mark Lerner has a brief item on an increase in educational “looping”, in which a teacher stays with a group of students for two years, and Stephen Hicks (from whom I got some of these links) has an article on Excellence in Education (which is itself excellent).
One component of freedom is social: Not being subject to authoritarian dictates. We live in a democratic republic, and we take our freedoms seriously. Part of education, then, involves teaching people to be self-governing citizens – individuals who can form sound judgments about complicated matters, who have confidence in their judgments and the initiative to act upon them, and who have the independence of spirit that doesn’t let others push them around.
Hard to do that in a school financed, organised and 'managed' by a system that tries to make pushing people around an art form.

And check out too this alternative US school focusing on independence and choice, this about the just-finished 2005 Montessori Congress, Championing the Cause of All Children, and this from the Libertarianz party who wants to give back the government schools to those that use them, and to close down the Ministry. Makes sense to me.


  1. That site for Sudval School reads like something from The Onion. Call me old fashioned, but I pay to have my kids learn how to read and write, and I hold the school accountable.

    Consigning traditional schooling to the bin is NOT the answer. Uneducated, illiterate kids are great fodder for the nanny state. They have no skills with which to reveal the nanny state scams. It doesn't get much better than that.

    You must be having a Kumbaya moment.

  2. Ruth, you know, sometimes I wonder WTF you're talking about, and whether you read the same words I do on a page.

    From the Sudbury valley school site:

    "At Sudbury Valley School, students learn to think for themselves, and learn to use Information Age tools to unearth the knowledge they need from multiple sources. They develop the ability to make clear logical arguments, and deal with complex ethical issues. Through self-initiated activities, they pick up the basics; as they direct their lives, they take responsibility for outcomes, set priorities, allocate resources, and work with others in a vibrant community. Children ages 4-19 explore the world freely, at their own pace and in their own unique ways...."

    Just what is your problem with that?

  3. 'They use the Information Age tools to unearth the knowledge they need form multiple sources'

    Most public schools love this rhetoric. This is 'brainstorming' and such rubbish. Ayn Rand would be spinning. I read ALL of that site, and it is New Age rubbish IMNSHO.That school's system is appropriate for the socially inept I daresay, but in the real world, in the business world, one cannot do what one pleases. You have to be able to work with others.

    Chalk and talk is the way to teach. I'm sorry if you don't agree, but my elder children have made massive gains, in spite of their pouty complaints about teachers writing stuff of the board and them having to copy it down. My elder daughter would not be sitting Cambridge instead of NCEA otherwise. There has to be a curriculum, and objective standards. Employers demand it.

    I don't care if you don't 'get' me anyway. I KNOW I am right - my productive children are proof.

  4. Um, I doubt that Ayn Rand would be spinning at all, since while Sudbury Valley School itself is AFAIK not a Montessori school, all the elements you criticise are fundamental to the Montessori approach to education that Rand rightly praised.

    Congratulations on your own productive children.

  5. Whatever. I have had experience of kids from Montessori and they are WAY behind mainstreamed kids. It is trendy in my area to send kids to Montessori. A neighbour did all the exams and opened up a pre-school - she has made a shitload of money and is MAD AS A SNAKE. I wouldn't send a dog to her, yet she has parents queing up to get their designer babies enrolled.

    Some kids *are* failures. If my kids could choose what they did all day they would just play computer games. Children thrive on discipline and competition I'm afraid. They *like* to beat others academically as well as in the playground. Montessori does not allow for that, and that is what separates the winners and losers in life. Concentarte on life as it *is* not as it should be.

  6. Sorry about the typos again. My fingers are too fast for my brain.


1. Commenters are welcome and invited.
2. All comments are moderated. Off-topic grandstanding, spam, and gibberish will be ignored. Tu quoque will be moderated.
3. Read the post before you comment. Challenge facts, but don't simply ignore them.
4. Use a name. If it's important enough to say, it's important enough to put a name to.
5. Above all: Act with honour. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.