Back in Hawke's Bay I visited the first school our literacy programme started in back in 1993. My, how time has flown; yet unlike the wrinkles, creaks and groans, the joy of interacting with the kids remains the exact same: a privilege.
A privilege to hear about their dreams, what they'd like to become.
"I want to be a policeman." "I'm going to be a scientist." "A mechanic." "Have my own beauty salon." The dream professions roll off their tongues; hands pump the air wanting to be next to proclaim an aspiration for the future. You cannot think they won't achieve it.
But the statistics say most won't. And a lack of vision and commitment by Maori and Pacific Island leadership reaffirms that. Government policies, while well-meaning, put too much emphasis on being culturally correct. We should be encouraging the children's natural dreams and aspirations.
Teachers assume the best for their children in their charge. Sadly, far too many parents don't. We have to find a way to get to parents, to realign their thinking, dash their self-fulfilling prophecies to smithereens. Tell them that a child flourishes on love and encouragement, not being put down and never loved.
At another school in Napier I watched our Duffy Theatre trio put on a marvellous performance. This idea of taking drama to the schools came from Christine Fernyhough about 20 years ago and is still going. The kids just love live drama, their fears stirred by remarkable actors, but most of all their hopes are never dashed.
Next stop, Hastings Opera House, to see 100 kids, mostly Maori and Pacific Islanders, doing a public performance playing violins and cellos. You heard right: someone refused to accept the stereotype that kids from low-income areas couldn't possibly be interested in learning to play classical instruments and just did it.
You've heard it for decades the moaning mantra that poverty is to blame for everything, from armed robbery to domestic violence. When it's not white racism. Another load of rubbish. At this packed event were Pakeha hoi-polloi, and brown people like me in jandals, shorts and T-shirts. Their applause sounded exactly the same.
The trouble is we let these negative spokespeople make out as if they represent the only opinions, being a doom and gloom, blame everyone exercise. Instead of actually doing something about the problem.
Like: In 24 years of our programme's existence I have never seen or heard of a Maori or Pacific Island leader visiting any of our 500 schools.
Government policies, while well-meaning, put too much emphasis on being culturally correct. We should be encouraging the children's natural dreams and aspirations.
Shame on them. Many years ago I was asked to speak to a gathering of Maori social workers. It's become customary to sing a waiata at the end of a speech. I sang mine at the beginning as follows: "Where have all the leaders gone? Down to Wellington. Where have all the leaders gone? Off to the bank. Where have all the leaders gone? On first-class trips overseas. When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?"
A play on the folk song Where Have All the Flowers Gone borrowed from Peter, Paul & Mary. I think my waiata went over well. It is as relevant today as back then. Double shame on them. And spitballs at the Maoris who have become consultants charging several hundred bucks an hour. For doing what?
For helping themselves is what. I chatted to a recently retired principal of our first Books in Homes school at this Opera House event having known him 24 years and witnessed how deeply he cares for the kids.
No Education Minister has ever come and asked his thoughts on the social problems teachers deal with. But I bet a Maori consultant can get some of the minister's time and most certainly a nice wad of bucks.
We've got everything the wrong way. Teachers should be a key part of setting education policies. Consultants of every stripe should be taken out the back and shot. The culture pushers should be told to take their place further back down the queue. Our children's future should be at front of every discussion and negotiation.
Poor parenting is a big part of the problem. We have to address that urgently. Yes, an awful lot of brown-skinned kids go to school hungry. The same lot are hungry for love, too. And encouragement, hearing positive talk, not screamed at, not hit, not whacked. But told daily he/she is a star.
Easy to say this from France; so coming home for good soon. No invoice book in the back pocket; do-ies not huis.