Sam Judd

Comment on the environment from nzherald.co.nz columnist Sam Judd

Sam Judd: What are we teaching our kids?

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A Faroe Islands child cutting up a pilot whale. Photo / Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
A Faroe Islands child cutting up a pilot whale. Photo / Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

In the Faroe Islands, it is a cultural tradition to herd up whales and dolphins, force them to beach and slaughter them for meat. While this has been happening since the 11th century and is community-based (none is exported), the people there are now being told by their own government that there is too much mercury in the marine mammals for them to be safe for human consumption.

Large marine mammals are at the top of the food chain and therefore are prone to becoming contaminated by pollutants that "bioaccumulate" up the food chain. In fact in Canada, killer whales bodies are so polluted that when they wash up the carcases have to be taken to toxic waste dumping sites and in New Zealand, Ingrid Visser has shown that Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) are found in the prey that the Orca hunt in our waters.

It seems ironic that the National Geographic Traveler magazine voted the Faroes the best islands to visit in the world in 2007 - one would have thought that the tourism industry over there would benefit more from having whales and dolphins to see rather than their people having a reputation for killing them inhumanely.

Often, we need to be able to look past what our parents taught us, and what their parents taught them, and understand that while they may have had the best intentions, sometimes habits and cultural norms are no longer acceptable.

Yes the picture above is gruesome and it may sound ridiculous that the young boy will be eating mercury-laden pilot whale flesh, but it's not really that different to parents who regularly provide children with foods that are proven to be poor nutritional choices, or smoke cigarettes with their kids in the car.

We need to look at the powerful connection of children learning at home to lift our educational achievement, as this will solve many social and environmental problems as the kids also teach their parents. It is hardly surprising that an educational report from our government states that: "the research literature is unequivocal in showing that parental involvement makes a significant difference to educational achievement."

I don't consider myself lucky that my parents took an active role in my education - I feel that this should be considered a basic right for any child. Disinterested parents that sit on their backsides and expect the government to take full responsibility for education need to be reprimanded.

In order to fix these problems, sadly policymakers may need to look at the lowest common denominator and force parental involvement into the curriculum, much like they have to put fluoride into our water source so that kids who's parents don't make them brush their teeth don't suffer more than they already are. This approach has proven effective overseas, with programs like TIPS in the United States.

If the only way to ensure beneficial education occurs in all homes is through a nanny-state approach then so be it, but I maintain that every parent should take responsibility for the basics to be provided to their kids and be obligated to know what those basics are.

Low incomes are no excuse: books are free from the library, op-shops have cheap clothes and even on minimum wages people can afford to buy (or grow) healthy food if they make that a priority. All parents need to simply decide that the future of their child is what is most important.

I think that sending a child to school on an empty stomach (or even worse - on a high-sugar, low-nutrition diet) should be a criminal offence. I know from personal experience that kids who have not been fed properly simply can't be taught which is not a fair start in life.

It seems like with the breakdown of community units where knowledge of what is right gets passed on freely, many people essentially need to be taught how to parent properly.

Through active involvement in education and even more importantly, displaying responsible behaviour in our habits - we can change this around, but to get there, we need to re-weave these basic values back into the community fabric. This means helping each other, not being a disinterested bystander if you notice people getting it wrong and giving our kids the best start at life like they deserve.

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