Early Childhood Education Failing ?

The NZ Herald reported last week that primary school principals are increasingly concerned at the number of children arriving at school struggling to speak in sentences. These are children whose vocabulary and verbal skills are so deficient, they can’t complete a simple sentence at the level normally expected for five year olds.

The issue involves not just schools in poorer areas with high numbers of immigrant families. Native English speaking pupils in high decile schools are also having difficulties. An international education expert recently in New Zealand noted that at a number of the schools he visited principals spoke of a marked decline in the spoken language ability of new entrants.

The Ministry of Education has now launched an investigation. Factors suspected of contributing to the growing problem include busy parents, too much TV watching and over use of technology. These may well play a part, but one has to also wonder about the massive push in recent years to get all children into early childhood “education”.

Since 2007 the amount spent by the Government on early childhood education has nearly doubled from $800 million pa to over $1.5billion annually. The goal is to have 98% of children enrolled and already over 90% attend some form of pre-school care. In spite of this we now have more children arriving at school unable to speak properly. Serious questions need to be asked.

Given that parental interaction is cited as critical in language development we would be better investing those funds in helping more parents to care for their own children at home. A home carers tax-credit combined with wider roll-out of the Parent’s as First Teachers Programme would be a good option.

Ewen McQueen
September 2014

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Child abuse – Latta ignores leading risk

Psychologist Nigel Latta last week presented another installment in his television series on social problems in New Zealand. He gave the terrible statistics on child abuse and family violence and drew on research showing predictable links with poverty and alcohol. However he studiously avoided the leading risk factor – revolving door families.

These are the families where mum’s latest boyfriends come and go, and both mum and her children are at hugely increased risk of violence and abuse. The evidence is now so clear about this step-increase in risk that it even has its own name – the so called “Cinderella effect”. This is the new social science term for the danger posed to children when a non-biological parent joins a household.

In 2009 the Office of the Commissioner for Children undertook a review on death and serious injury to children in New Zealand. It concluded that there were a number of risk factors for child abuse including poverty, low maternal age, and drug and alcohol issues. However of all the factors, having a non-biological parent in the home returned the highest increase in risk. It increased the risk by 8 to 12 times (Green Paper submission page 4) . This was twice as high as the increase in risk associated with poverty.

Nigel Latta in his programme was quick to highlight poverty but completely ignored the impact of our casualised relationship culture. However the truth will out. The episode included social workers visiting a male on home detention for threatening his ex-partner. Another young woman is asked about her first experiences of family violence. The answer – her mother’s boyfriends.

Latta closed with the positive assertion that family violence and child abuse is an issue we can do something about. He is right. However it will need leadership that has courage to face the evidence – all of it.

Ewen McQueen
August 2014

Article related to this post  published in the NZ Herald – Cinderella effect can’t be ignored

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Conservatives wrong about the Treaty

Colin Craig

Colin Craig

As a party with purportedly Christian leanings the Conservative’s line on the Treaty settlement process is a disappointment. Yesterday party leader Colin Craig was reported speaking to a group of supporters in Nelson saying that the Waitangi Tribunal had contributed little to Maori progress in 40 years and most people would like it shut down (Stuff 25.07.14). Indeed one of their four key planks for this election is “One law to rule them all” and involves bringing the claims process to a close.

This sort of easy slogan politicking is unbecoming to anyone with even the slightest alignment with the Judeo-Christian heritage of New Zealand. It demonstrates a total lack of awareness of how influential Christianity was in securing the Treaty, and therefore how important it is now that those who profess some connection with the Church in this land are at the forefront of seeing it honoured.

There is much more at stake here than simply politics. There is the reputation of the One to whom tens of thousands of Maori turned in the early 1800s. At that time the missionary Rev William Williams reported that gospel fields of New Zealand were white unto harvest. Michael King even records this great spiritual awakening in his Penguin history of New Zealand. He notes that Te Atua, the God of the Bible, was on the move. Sadly by the late 1800s it was on the wane, lost in a growing tide of disappointment and disillusionment with the broken promises of the Treaty.

Colin Craig and his Conservative Party colleagues need to realise that if we are ever to see the fields in bloom again, the disappointments and betrayals need to be dealt with. That means honouring the Treaty and supporting the settlement process. It may be a messy and imperfect process at times, but sweeping the past under the carpet of “One law to rule them all” is not the way forward.

This is not just about politics. Its about spiritual renewal in our nation.

Ewen McQueen
July 2014

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Cunliffe’s apology hollow

Apart from being pathetic, Labour leader David Cunliffe’s apology last week for being a man was simply hollow. It may have gone down well with some in his Womens Refuge audience, but like most discussion of domestic violence in this country it ignored the real driver of such violence – the casualisation of human relationships.

An article published in the Washington Post last month summed up the now overwhelming evidence that as cultural support for marriage has declined in western societies, domestic violence and child abuse have flourished. It quoted a 2012 US Dept of Justice special report which found females living in households comprised of one female adult with children experienced intimate partner violence at a rate more than 10 times higher than households with married adults with children.

The study was based on hard evidence collated by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The response in this country was an article published on the Stuff website (“Marriage obsession fuels abuse“) which merely dismissed the numbers as part of a conservative patriachal plot to lock women into abusive situations. However unlike the Washington Post piece which had graphs, data, and referenced links – the Stuff piece had little but tired feminist rhetoric. Apparently honestly facing the evidence is “blaming women for not being married”.

Such shallow statements completely miss the point. In the last 40 years the notion that men and women should make formal, public, lifelong commitments to each other has been progressively undermined. The social science shows the outcome.

The Hon David Cunliffe’s apology is hollow because he has been part of the leadership in our country which has led the way in undermining marriage. He voted to elevate the status of de-facto relationships (Relationships Act), create alternative legal forms (Civil Unions), redefine marriage to make it meaningless (same-sex marriage legislation) and normalise prostitution (Prostitution Reform Act). Regardless of his gender, that is a record worth apologising for.

Ewen McQueen
July 2014

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Greens blinded by ideology

ForestThe Greens opposition to removing fallen timber from West Coast forests reveals their ideological underpinning. They don’t just want to protect the environment – they worship it.

The storm which lashed the Coast last month felled thousands of native trees which now lie rotting on the forest floor. The Government has quickly passed legislation to allow a small proportion of these trees to be removed and milled. High value beautiful wood will be produced and Coasters will have more job opportunities. But the Greens are utterly opposed. They would rather all the wood rots and so fulfills the sacred cycle of the ecosystem.

In the late 1970s as a young teenager I was a member of the Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society. At that time I recall writing along with many others to the then Minister of Forests the Hon Venn Young to save the West Coast forests from milling. The campaign was successful and thousands of hectares of forest were added to the Westland National Park and a new Paparoa National Park created.

I am pleased to have been a part of ensuring these forests were protected. However now that a storm has flattened much of them it is simply good sense to take the opportunity to salvage some value from the situation. As the Minister of Conservation the Hon Nick Smith has said – there will still be plenty of fallen trees for the bugs to feed on.

The Greens commitment to the sanctity of bugs contrasts markedly with their view on the sanctity of human life. Part of their policy platform this election is the complete liberalisation of our abortion laws. The contrast should not surprise us. Ideology always blinds people to their own hypocrisy.

Ewen McQueen
June 2014

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Voting app feeds the politics of “me”

JFK quoteA new app aimed at getting young people to vote, looks likely to reinforce the idea that politics is all about what the government will do for me. Canterbury University student Hannah Duder designed the app which matches parties with users and encourages them to vote. It is potentially a great idea to get disengaged young people involved in the political process. Approx. 40% of 18 to 24 year old didn’t vote at the last election.

However the way the app has been configured raises questions about the political culture we want to encourage among young people. The program begins by asking personal information questions to create a user profile (e.g. the user’s age, occupation, home ownership etc). It then uses that profile to generate questions about policies that might affect the user. Duder says this is a vital part of the app because,

”I don’t want a student for example to be asked questions about policies on tax breaks for farmers.” (Stuff 25.06.14)

This sounds sensible enough, but it assumes that voters are only interested in policies which impact them. In doing so it feeds the politics of the lowest common denominator – the politics of me. This might be how our cynical media commentators like to explain all political action but surely from our young people we can look for more.

Indeed we all need to stop seeing democracy as a means for individuals or groups to express or represent their own interests. Rather we should see our democratic system as as a way in which we can contribute to the common good – to what is best for our nation.

As a President Kennedy said to young Americans – Ask not what your country can do for you; but rather what can you do for your country. His words inspired a whole generation to be engaged in serving both their country and the world beyond. No app was required.

Ewen McQueen
June 2014

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Synthetic cannabis – underground is where it belongs

Peter Dunne has finally come to terms with the reality of so called “legal highs” and banned all of them. He should have done so right from the beginning but managed to convince himself of his own convoluted logic that banning “didn’t work” and would simply drive these products underground. Instead he said the testing regime he put in place would be hugely expensive and thus most synthetic cannabis producers would not be able to afford it anyway. This begged the question – at the point where producers could not afford the testing regime, where did Mr Dunne think they would they take their product ? Underground of course.

So either way these addictive and dangerous substances would end up underground. The only difference between the two scenarios is that the “undergrounding” would have taken longer under Dunne’s preferred approach. In the interim the normalisation of these substances by being legally available has simply encouraged greater use of them.

Mr Dunne doesn’t seem to have followed through the logic of his own argument. He also seems to have bought into the flawed argument that driving things underground by proscribing them in law is inherently bad. However some bad things belong underground. No one suggests we should decriminalise theft so that it can be better controlled.

Some will of course argue that unlike theft, drug use is a victimless crime which harms only those who indulge in it. Tell that to the Gisborne policeman  who was resigning because of the increasing violence in his community due to synthetic cannabis use. Tell it to the emergency dept staff around the country having to waste precious time and resource on the after effects of “legal highs”. Most importantly tell it to the families of the young people pushed over the edge into long term mental health damage by synthetic cannabis use. They have surely had something stolen from them – something far more valuable than private property.

Ewen McQueen
April 2014


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