Pat Newman kicked a hornet's nest when he suggested that, as a last resort, parents who do not send their children to school should be prosecuted. And in the process he might have explained one of the great mysteries of life as too many children in this country know it.
The president of the Tai Tokerau Principals' Association has exposed the ludicrous school of thought that teaching kids to read and write is a cunning plot by the "coloniser" to brainwash another generation, and that some who refuse to submit their children to that process are actually saving them. Others confessed that they simply have no power to compel their children to do anything.
If Mr Newman was hoping for some encouragement he will have been sorely disappointed. What we now see is that we have some parents in this country who are silent abusers. They don't break their children's bones, they don't physically scar them, they will never feature amongst those who gain notoriety by subjecting their children to the physical brutality that is our national shame.
'The silent abusers are those who do not give their children roots and wings, but who give them a grievance they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.'
They poison their children's minds. And it is their children who are the truly impoverished, the truly disadvantaged in a society that should, and does, offer unlimited opportunities without the barriers of race, religion, income or status that are factors in many parts of the so-called civilised world.
The truly disadvantaged kids in New Zealand are not those who meet the Government's criteria. It is not those whose parents cannot or do not provide them with cellphones, play dates, access to organised sport, family holidays or any other of the official trappings of wealth. It is those who grow up with a chip on their shoulder, the sense that the world is against them, that life, for them, is inherently and irredeemably unfair. Those who are taught to believe that they have never had a chance.
The silent abusers are those who do not give their children roots and wings, but who give them a grievance they can carry with them for the rest of their lives. They sentence their children to a lifetime of unemployment, of poverty, of welfare-dependence, and all the self-destructive behaviour that so often arises from that. They guarantee that their children's lives are ruined before they have properly begun. And in doing so they ensure that their children's children will be raised the same way.
The writer used to believe that some parents simply didn't care about what became of their children. And many don't. But it's worse than that. It now seems that some parents are actively robbing their children of the future that should be their's for the taking. They are deliberately consigning their offspring to lifelong deprivation, because of some misguided belief that those who are doing their best to help them would actually do them harm.
What are they afraid of? That if they go to school their child will discover that their parent is talking through a hole in their head? What happened to parents seeing education as a chance for their children to have better lives, more opportunities, than they themselves had? Now it seems some are so bitter, so deeply disaffected, that they see denying their children their fundamental right as doing them a favour.
They are not grateful to Pat Newman and others of his ilk, men and women whose mission in life is not simply to turn up to work every day, teach those who want to be taught, collect their salary and go home. Talk to Mr Newman, read what he writes, and you will see a man who is genuinely pained by the fact that there are children in his community who he cannot teach, and cannot save.
He has suggested prosecuting parents who persist in refusing to send their children to school not as a punishment but as one last shot at compelling them to do the right thing by their children. Everything else, he says, has failed. Children are collected from their homes in the morning and returned in the afternoon. They are provided with raincoats and shoes. They are fed by the state and by various charities, people who care more about them and their futures than their own parents do.
And still some do not come to school. That seems to leave two choices — to call upon the law to prosecute their parents, or to give up on those kids and focus on the ones who do turn up. He could be forgiven given he's talking about a small percentage of kids, and it's no skin off his nose if they miss out. Is it? Obviously it is.
It says a great deal about the man that he continues to fight with every weapon available to him to save this small group of children from the fate to which their parents would condemn them. His determination to spare no effort to give every last child the opportunities they deserve does him great credit, yet in return he is portrayed, by some, as the servant of an evil system.
It is difficult not to agree with Mr Newman's view that some parents are using their children as ammunition when one says: 'The colonisers should be prosecuted for the racist education system they try and force our tamariki through to fail them.' Another says: 'They want to brainwash them more. Set them up to work for system that ***** us over as an indigenous culture. That's why free childcare from 3 now. We all went through this system and look were it's got us, sitting back like brain-dead zombies watching our youth fight for their future.'
Mr Newman's response to that is that most schools spent "a heap of time involving whānau, and not in a condescending manner, but if you don't bother and tell your kids not to go to school you wouldn't know", will inevitably fall on deaf ears. This is a battle he cannot win. The parents who should be most grateful to him for fighting for their children will be the last to listen.
They will not heed his warning that such parents might as well take their children to Ngawha now, where they will join the greatest percentage of inmates who did not benefit from the education that was once freely available to them.
Others have just given up. Their problem seems to be that their children don't listen to them, so telling them to go to school is a waste of breath. Appalling as that admission of failure might be, it is less malignant than deliberately depriving a child of its future, albeit a depressing symptom of the prevailing social attitude: 'I know what I would do if my kids had that attitude. Sadly the way of the world is let the little buggers do what they want. Same people who say the education system failed their children,' one poster said last week.
Mr Newman had no difficulty relating cause to effect: 'Funny how the five- and six-year-olds who are denied the right to education by their parents eventually become the teenagers who won't do as parents want.
'We accept that if a person physically abuses a child they should be prosecuted, yet we say it's OK to abuse a child by consigning them forever to inability to read and write, to choose what path they wish in life? Instead we consign them to a life without choice?'
The penultimate word: 'Sad to see and hear so much negativity, especially for the child. All I can say (is) good luck to you all.'
And the final word: ' ... the kids rather skip school and stage fights in the park then download them to YouTube fast forward to nowhere.'
Not if Pat Newman can help it.