Anyone remember To Sir With Love? The 1967 movie starring Sidney Poitier as a teacher in a rough East End of London school populated with troublemakers? Shocking stuff 51 years ago, but small beer compared to New Zealand in 2018.
Northland primary schools might not face the social and racial issues of 1967 — they can do worse than that. They have pupils who urinate on the classroom floor, who destroy property, who attack their teachers and other pupils, who spend their days screaming. Yet their violent behaviour can only legally be countered by the teacher removing the other children for their protection. At least one Northland school is taking that measure as often as twice a day.
And what does the Ministry of Education do? It imposes guidelines that prohibit any level of physical restraint in all but the most dangerous of situations. By all accounts, incidents such as those described don't make the grade.
The real wonder is that parents seem to accept that this is as good as it gets. Why do we tolerate such abysmal failure to address a serious problem? The parents of children who are so damaged that they cannot control their behaviour should be incandescent, but of course they aren't. It is they who have created these children, and if they don't have scrambled eggs for brains they gave up any pretence of being a parent long ago.
It's the parents of the 'normal' kids, those who are missing out on perhaps the most important educational years of their lives, who should be apoplectic with rage. So why aren't they?
Apart from the fact that their children are being penalised every time they have to be evacuated while one of their classmates "lays waste" to the classroom, as one teacher put it, their children are learning that there really are no rules. 'Good' kids' behaviour is changing. They can also misbehave with impunity.
If a teacher does lay a restraining finger on a child who attacks them or another pupil, who damages property, who renders the classroom too dangerous to remain in, chances are the parent will complain and the teacher will be investigated by the police.
How on earth did we get to this? More importantly, why has the Ministry of Education put all the power in the hands of the unteachable child?
These guidelines are the work of bureaucrats, not politicians. But do politicians let them do it? Are they not aware of what is happening? Are they aware but do not regard the issue as serious enough to warrant their intervention? Or are they simply impotent?
There currently appears to be no cause for hope. For politicians the big issue is whether te reo should be a compulsory part of the primary curriculum, while the NZEI continues to bleat that teachers must be better paid. If the union leadership genuinely believes that pay scales are the problem in terms of retaining and recruiting teachers, we really are in trouble. And we are.
This union, which supposedly has its members' best interests at heart, once again last week used public sentiment to support its claim that teachers should be paid more than they are. Public concern about the teacher shortage remained strong, and had grown among parents of primary-aged children, it said, and supported a significant teacher pay rise. It knew this because it had commissioned a survey following teachers' August 15 strike.
Unfortunately, the survey did not ask respondents how they felt about kids holding their classmates to ransom. It didn't ask how they felt about children smashing furniture, driving their classmates into the playground for their own protection, pouring liquid over other pupils' work books, smashing windows and holes in walls, screaming abuse at and attacking teachers.
It didn't ask respondents why anyone would want to be a teacher these days. It didn't ask whether pay scales were the problem, or whether the conditions many teachers endure are behind the exodus of experienced teachers and the inability to find new ones. It didn't ask respondents whether the NZEI has completely lost sight of its proper role. It didn't seek opinions regarding the sanity of the people who make the rules regarding how children are to be encouraged to behave themselves.
It didn't ask whether the ministry is doing enough for the damaged kids who are spoiling the education of others. It didn't ask if primary teaching is in crisis, and what might be done about it. Apart, of course, from paying embattled teachers more.
How much should a teacher be paid to put up with this sort of behaviour? How much should a teacher be paid when they know that if they restrain a violent child they might well face police prosecution? How much should they be paid when they know that the ministry has no interest in providing the resources they need to control uncontrollable children, thereby allowing them to teach?
Maybe something will change when a child, or a teacher, dies. But don't count on it. The Ministry of Education's guidelines demonstrate once again that the bureaucrats who, to a large degree, run this country are completely out of touch with reality, and their political masters have no interest whatsoever in opening their eyes.
This sort of madness is not the sole prerogative of the Ministry of Education though. In fact the Min Ed might well learn something from the undisputed champion of bureaucratic insanity, Immigration NZ.
Most people will be aware of the predicament facing Juliet Garcia, who has worked at Switzer Residential Care in Kaitaia for a decade, and has become a highly qualified health care assistant. Immigration rule changes introduced by the last government mean she does not qualify to apply for residence, however, and, with the current government studiously refusing even to listen, she and her husband will be required to leave New Zealand in July next year unless something changes between now and then.
Part of the problem is that the occupation of health care assistant is not on the skills list, despite Aged Care Association claims that the sector is so dependent upon immigrant staff that, if nothing changes, some rest homes will close.
What most people will not know is that until a few months ago, prostitution was on the skills list. Prior to May, prostitution was regarded as skilled employment, and applicants were awarded points for a visa if they earned more than $36.44 (presumably per hour) and had recognised qualifications or at least three years' relevant work experience.
Health care assistants — not wanted; prostitutes — welcome to New Zealand.
Who knew that we were in the grip of a national shortage of prostitutes? Who knew that even now, foreign former prostitutes can be granted visas, despite Immigration rules saying they can't?
Anyone who understands that has missed their calling. The only proviso is that the applicant must not intend to work as a prostitute if a visa is granted. So much for qualifications and experience.
We deserve much better than this from our civil service. It's time our elected politicians pulled finger. The current government might have inherited these situations, but it's time to do something about them.