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Insights 9: 22 March 2019
When every fibre screams revenge, turn to aroha: Eric Crampton in the NZ Herald
Patrick Carvalho writes on Newsroom about partisan hostility in US politics
Event: Register for our Tomorrow's Schools panel discussion on 1 April in Wellington

They say time is relative... Distance is too
Dr Eric Crampton | Chief Economist |
Last week feels like it was a year ago. And the past week has made the world feel a little smaller.

Last night, the Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada from 2006 through 2015, addressed members and guests of the Initiative at our annual retreat.

We found that Laureen, Prime Minister Harper’s wife, had lived in Christchurch as a young woman. Streets and buildings that stood as backdrop in news scenes playing in international media, for the second time in a decade and again for terrible reasons, were ones she remembered.

The world is smaller than we think.

Harper’s address reminded us that New Zealand and Canada remain rather special places in a world growing worryingly dark.

While living standards globally are better than ever, Europe, the UK and America have polarised – not along traditional left/right lines but on a newly emerging populist/elitist axis.

Trump and Brexit are obvious examples, but so too are right-wing populism in Germany and France, and the strange marriage of the populist left and right in the Italian government – which Harper likened to a coalition between Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Drawing on his recent book, Right Here, Right Now, Harper said this polarisation is inevitable when mainstream policy stops addressing the concerns of lower and middle-class voters.

In America, for what seems the first time, voters are telling pollsters they expect their kids to have a worse standard of living than they do. That builds an appetite for populism, and while populists have a keen nose for policy failures, they offer no positive policy agenda to solve the problems.

Harper rightly noted that Canada and New Zealand stand apart from those trends. In both countries, household income growth has been broadly shared across the distribution. We have not seen the income stagnation present in America. That makes for a better polity. It also makes for a country better able to accommodate migration; Harper noted Canada’s welcoming attitude to migrants and strong growth in immigration.

Populist resentment fuels anti-migrant sentiment. See Europe, the UK and America. In New Zealand, a broken housing market gave us a too-xenophobic 2017 election campaign. But last Friday’s tragedy brought us together rather than drive us apart.

During our moment of silence this afternoon, let us remember the victims – and renew our commitment to building a better New Zealand for all New Zealanders.

Freedom, hubs and the curriculum
Briar Lipson | Research Fellow |
New Zealand schools enjoy relative freedom.

Some teach 21st century skills, others a knowledge-rich curriculum. In some classrooms devices are integral, in others they are banned. Some treated last week’s Climate Change March as part of the curriculum, others labelled it truancy.

Generally, freedom works. But the Tomorrow’s Schools independent taskforce wants to change the balance between freedom and control. It wants to create new regional education hubs responsible for everything from employing teachers to advising on curriculum and pedagogy. The hubs will even “assume all the legal responsibilities and liabilities currently held by school Boards of Trustees”.

In protest, a group of principals united this week under the Community Schools Alliance. They believe the taskforce’s proposals “threaten the distinctive identity of schools ranging from Māori iwi schools to conservative Auckland Grammar”.

Schools and principals fear losing their freedom under the proposed education hubs, for example, over curriculum and pedagogy. The taskforce calls the New Zealand Curriculum world-leading. Yet schools like Auckland Grammar actively ignore the prevailing messaging around the curriculum: Grammar does not integrate subjects or let students lead learning. Instead, it maintains a traditional subject-based curriculum and expects teachers to lead. It also offers Cambridge International Exams alongside NCEA.

Two Fridays ago, Auckland Grammar exemplified its approach at a teacher development day. Topics included the history of attitudes to knowledge in the school curriculum, and a psychological analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching.

If the New Zealand Curriculum is indeed world-leading, then the speakers and their evidence are wrong.

If principals, teachers and parents choose Auckland Grammar for its subject-based curriculum and authoritative teaching, then their fear of hubs is legitimate.

It is too easy to dismiss the perspectives of schools like Grammar as elitist vested interest. Their grounds, facilities and endowments may well be hard to replicate, but the curriculum they teach is only made elite by culture, and our failure to teach it to all children.

Schools everywhere can prepare their pupils with the powerful knowledge that enables them to participate in their cultures. They can organise that knowledge coherently in subjects and follow evidence-based pedagogies to teach it.

The real challenge our schools face is finding and retaining passionate and knowledgeable teachers, especially to work in our most disadvantaged communities. When the taskforce returns to the drawing board (or device), perhaps they will make this their goal.

The opportunity to give feedback on the taskforce’s proposals is available here until 7 April. On 1 April, the Initiative will co-host a panel discussion alongside Victoria University’s Faculty of Education. Follow this link to read more about our speakers and register.

Our third column typically takes a lighthearted approach to the week's events. We this week instead take a moment of silence.

On The Record
All Things Considered
  • Graph of the week: Is right-wing terrorism on the rise in the West?
  • Donate to support victims of the horrific Canterbury shootings.
  • 'Real leaders do exist': Jacinda Ardern uses solace and steel to guide a broken nation.
  • Trump response to New Zealand massacre highlights his combative history with Muslims.
  • The white-extinction conspiracy theory is bonkers.
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