Worse than incest: Jamie Whyte’s vision for education

By   /   March 4, 2014  /   24 Comments

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On my search for my own giggles, I read something else very odd that Jamie Whyte said. And it was actually much more alarming than siblings should be allowed to do sex.

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Honk!

My flatmates know I’m scrolling down my Twitter feed when I start honking and paddling my feet. I have filled it with comedians.

You see, like most people, I love to laugh.

In fact, I went to Ruminator and read the full interview with Jamie Whyte because I so like to laugh. I like to laugh so much that I read the whole thing, guys! I was all like, Omg, that ACT Party guy with the incest, he crazy; I wonder what else he said?!

Now, the Ruminator isn’t what you’d call mainstream media. I mean, it’s a blog – apparently not massively-read yet, but not unknown by any means. So while the author himself was very reasonable, and let the comment pass without too much bemusement, I wasn’t surprised to see that all the screaming and hooting and yelling in the rest of the media – including in the left-wing – has focussed on Jamie Whyte’s largely-unimportant but slightly bizarre comment about incest.

Comment, though. Singular.

There were literally four sentences on the topic: two of them being Whyte’s disinterested response to the question, the other two being the interviewer’s unmoved reaction to it.

The problem with mainstream media, of course, is that they need to sell their tabloids newspapers, and, well, you know sometimes how people read things without even wanting to? Well, those things are usually the shocking things. If you saw someone in a pair of jeans and a jumper next to someone covered in Kremelta, you’d be like, elbowing your sister in the ribs and hissing, Check out Kremelta guy!!

Be honest. We’re all that audience sometimes. If you go to relax at a bach or cafe and there is a copy of That’s Life and a copy of National Geographic and you’ve only got five minutes, you will grab that lightweight little rag to read Baggy Body Be Gone! or My Ex and His Wife Stole My Disabled Baby! or Ice Addict at 12, Mum at 15! before you pick up the heavy, glossy, educational NatGraph and settle into the couch cushions for some light reading on Trieste: Crossroads of Culture.

This is why the rest of the media focussed on the incest comment (paaaage hits, outrage, interest and giggles), and why that’s what we all know Jamie Whyte for now.

Well, on my search for my own giggles, I read something else very odd that Jamie Whyte said. And it was actually much more alarming than siblings should be allowed to do sex.

Think of it like this” Jamie, in his stern but ever-so-slightly posh British-tinged voice begins, “when you are poor or unemployed, the Government gives you money, not food… That’s because of the observation that private suppliers do a better job of catering to the needs of consumers than the state.”

[Interviewer:] This doesn’t quite stack up for me, surely food being distributed by the Government would be a bad idea logistically, you have issues of food perishing, for example.

So far, so boring.

But wait. There’s more.

[Interviewer continued.] Education administration is quite different. And besides, food suppliers have one driving force – the profit motive, whereas education is handled by the state because it’s the only party that has an agenda that isn’t the profit motive.

That’s exactly the problem!” Jamie stops me dead. “Once you remove the profit motive the system becomes captured by the suppliers, they don’t care any longer about what people really want and they are motivated by their own ideas about what people should have. That’s a terrible situation… They’re under no competitive pressure to produce a good product.”

Unlike with his tired opinion on incest, he got suddenly worked up about education not being profit-driven! He evidently really thinks we should have a profit motive for teaching. He thinks the current system is bad because the “suppliers” of education (the Ministry of Education, actually) don’t care about what “people” really want (who? What people? The students? Parents? The good folk of Greymouth?).

He thinks it’s a problem that schools are under no competitive pressure.

Is the man a maniac?

Perhaps he’s worried about left-wing social engineering, that old plague of well-meaning control.

Well, I’m not.

Social engineering is talked about as this terrible thing that we should all avoid. Yet it is the one thing we all fight to control the parameters of. In essence, it is something we all consider vital, urgent and meaningful.

The importance of government-driven social engineering is the reason dry and essentially boring education-related articles are still included in the newspapers among all the hysterical, breathless stories on traffic accidents and mating.

People going on about the NZ education system being “broken” when we are among the top 5 in the world, when the maths and science we teach is so clear and lucid compared to what my generation received? Those people parroting the rhetoric about the low standard of teaching, when these highly-educated and well-trained professionals are working their butts off to provide relevant, exciting learning in an era of unprecedented technology evolving at unprecedented speeds?

Those people complain because they want more say in our social engineering.

All the religious folks who want their Bible studied in our schools; who want kids to learn old-fashioned family values? They are total proponents; they want to do a spot of social engineering, too.

Your stubborn neighbour who wants a return to rote learning and thinks kids should memorise all the dates of all the battles and all the English queens and kings? He wants to play a really crucial part in our social engineering; he wants the stuff he considers important to be what kids learn; he wants to control the direction of our children’s internal monologues and the way they behave.

The rest of us, well, we want Aotearoa’s kids to be hardworking, compassionate, physically active, critical-thinking and problem-solving, healthy-eating, creative, motivated individuals, who hunger for knowledge, and have a can-do attitude, a strong sense of fairness, family, self, and community, a passion for sustainability, and at least some business skills, yeah? (Phew.)

Well, that’s what I want, and that’s what those behind the NZ Curriculum want. The NZ Curriculum is still largely free of input by multinational corporations, uncluttered by competitive interest and moneymaking schemes. Those who have read and understood it realise it is a stunning document, really.

It is absolutely social engineering, and that is absolutely OK.

What the ACT party leader Jamie Whyte wants, instead, is for schools to be profit-driven; to be user-pays; to be run as businesses.

It is terribly depressing that nobody picked up on that line; on that whole alarming paragraph.

Instead, the entirety of New Zealand media, left wing and right, all screamed naughty sex LOL and started giggling.

I think in the face of the danger this man could pose (were he to one day HYPOTHETICALLY head a party that rated more than 0%) we need to do a little innocent social engineering of our own.

So instead of talking about his casual response to a question from a blogger about theoretical (and all but imaginary) rooting siblings, let’s focus on the things he actually thinks, and which are a real threat to our society.

Like six-year-olds in classrooms with sales analysis and business development leading the learning, instead of the decades of extremely high quality evidence-based education our “social engineering” has so far produced.

Like education professionals trying to teach about compassion and community in primary schools run as commercial enterprises, with CEOs, expensive marketing managers, and profit-and-loss reports.

Like school management spending their time and effort on how much money they can squeeze out of parents and communities, sponsors and investors, not in the name of learning experiences but in the name of making a profit for the shareholders – which, you remember, is the cornerstone of a business.

Jamie Whyte thinks that corporations trying to make a buck out of children can provide a better education than that which a democratic government can provide.

Jamie Whyte, the leader of the ACT Party, isn’t a threat because he doesn’t think the government shouldn’t legislate against incest.

He’s far more of a threat because he doesn’t think the government should provide a decent education for its young people.

It’s just lucky for us that, with the ACT Party garnering 0% of the vote, he isn’t really a threat at all.

Honk. 

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24 Comments

  1. raegun says:

    You know what, I think this man has said enough, now to scare all the horses into a stampede. I think ACT will do the impossible and go even lower in the polls than zero.
    They are toast, and radicalising will only make sure they are well and truly burnt toast

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  2. Allan Alach says:

    An excellent article in every way.

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  3. Chloe King says:

    …yeah that was a great read!

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  4. fambo says:

    “Jamie Whyte thinks that corporations trying to make a buck out of children can provide a better education than that which a democratic government can provide”

    That’s National’s position too, I believe. That’s why they are helping charter schools ahead of public schools, plus lots of other initiatives. They want to privatise the education system.

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    • raegun says:

      You’re onto it, Key wanted to introduce Charter Schools, and saw ACT as the perfect way to get them through without having to actually put it to the people at the election. It was just convenient that ACT had them in their policy, of all the things to pick.
      And that from someone who is in favour of alternative education, just someone who thinks that education is not a vehicle for profit

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    • Greg says:

      Charter Schools are proving to be a boon for criminal sexual activities in the states.
      Ebooks are not cheap enough yet to do away with a print supply.
      The CSs are going to be a magnet for burglars.

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  5. Nitrium says:

    So what I’m getting is that he wants to privatise ALL schools. And you say private schools are basically hopeless and don’t offer education on par with public schools? I’m not sure the statistics about private vs public school performance support that argument. Or do you mean that he wants to somehow privatise the school curriculum itself? I don’t know how that would even be logistically possible, since there can obviously only be one central curriculum that all schools are gauged against. I’m a bit confused about the issue at hand to be honest.

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    • Nitrium says:

      I got 3 down votes already – I thought I made it clear I’m confused about the issue at hand and why it would necessarily be catastrophic for NZ education, but no one is bothering to fill me in on what the fuck Whyte is exactly suggesting. Is there some sort of cult following here at TDB, that anything that is questioned or requested to be fleshed out is somehow seen as being a hate post against the author?

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      • mpledger says:

        Public schools in the US out-do self-funded private schools once you adjust for socio-economic factors. (Noone’s done a study like that here.)

        Charter schools are another beast – tax-funded but essentially private schools. Charter Schools, for the most part, have been a disaster in the States. Few do better than their local public school and most of the ones that do, do so because they are getting extra money through subsidies and philanthropy, the rest are the same or worse as their local public school. And that’s with the advantage of Charter Schools shaping their student body by forcing kids out who don’t perform or have disabilities – there are weird things like 120 kids start high school and only 50 are still around in the final year.

        I don’t think the private sector providing education will work because they will profit by providing the least education they can get away with. It means a responsible govt would have to check up on them all the time. Monitoring education is extremely expensive but it can be done relatively cheaply through standardised testing (Texas gave Pearson a $500,000,000 5-year contract to do testing there – so it’s not that cheap) but that kind of testing only picks up the most trivial aspects of learning.

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    • Hmmm, I think I get what you were questioning…

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  6. This is a really great piece on the interview – thank you!

    I wasn’t surprised, but still disappointed, that the incest comment became the focal point of the story. I nearly removed it actually.

    But what you say is really adroit. Kudos.

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  7. Tom says:

    Having read the article, you don’t seem to me to have actually made a decent case against Whyte.

    In particular the following passage is quite jarring:

    All the religious folks who want their Bible studied in our schools; who want kids to learn old-fashioned family values? They are total proponents; they want to do a spot of social engineering, too.

    Your stubborn neighbour who wants a return to rote learning and thinks kids should memorise all the dates of all the battles and all the English queens and kings? He wants to play a really crucial part in our social engineering; he wants the stuff he considers important to be what kids learn; he wants to control the direction of our children’s internal monologues and the way they behave.

    The rest of us, well, we want Aotearoa’s kids to be hardworking, compassionate, physically active, critical-thinking and problem-solving, healthy-eating, creative, motivated individuals, who hunger for knowledge, and have a can-do attitude, a strong sense of fairness, family, self, and community, a passion for sustainability, and at least some business skills, yeah? (Phew.)

    All Whyte will say to this is that the optimal solution is for people to choose how their own children are educated.

    Jamie Whyte thinks that corporations trying to make a buck out of children can provide a better education than that which a democratic government can provide.

    Again, you haven’t yet made the case against him. Note that “better” is going to be a problematic term, because people like Whyte are essentially disputing the idea that there is any sort of “better” education over and above what individual people want for their children. For example, a Christian fundamentalist thinks that an education without religious instruction is fatally flawed. This is not something that appealing to expertise is going to make a difference to, because a Christian fundamentalist can accept that “studies have shown” that X method is the best way to teach kids about evolution, but still think that such instruction has no value.

    All that people like Whyte are saying is partly that New Zealanders have the same sorts of disagreement over what counts as a good education as they do over what counts as religious truth, and it would be best for the state to treat education in the same way it treats religion, by maintaining impartiality.

    Secondly, if you want to argue that private schools would not adopt best practice in teaching whatever curriculum they had, you need to show this to be true. Private industry doesn’t have a huge problem in following best practice – thus it’s the exceptions that tend to attract notice.

    Thirdly, you haven’t provided any evidence that private schools seeking to make a profit would result in any worse service than you get from the private companies that consume most of your income. Again, most people patronise private companies most of the time without any real problem. It’s just the few bad exceptions that tend to attract notice (like Countdown).

    Look, I think that ACT are a bunch of loons, but you and many of the other authors on this blog do a poor job of showing that because you guys won’t or can’t actually engage properly with their views.

    Is it too much to ask for a cogent case against ACT instead of a rant aimed at people who already agree?

    It’s not hard.

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    • Intrinsicvalue says:

      Tom…a brilliant response. Well done.

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    • Greg says:

      Slavery and stoning adulturous women to death are legitimate practices for society, its in the bible so must be good.

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    • “Thirdly, you haven’t provided any evidence that private schools seeking to make a profit would result in any worse service than you get from the private companies that consume most of your income. Again, most people patronise private companies most of the time without any real problem. It’s just the few bad exceptions that tend to attract notice (like Countdown). ”

      You need to watch “Fair Go” a bit more often.

      Or perhaps invested your life savings with any of the dozens of finance companies that collapsed in the last ten years.

      Or consider the corporations that pushed the global economy into recession post-GFC.

      As for private schools – we have them already. And they do such an “efficient* (*cough*cough*) job that they’d be bankrupt without State assistance (subsidies).

      So much for private offering a better service.

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    • helena Burnett says:

      Private schools in NZ still have to adhere to the curriculum set by the state .Or the curriculum of a state approved standard like Cambridge.In the USA those standards are variable from state to state.

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    • Danyl Strype says:

      BoT, we don’t agree on every issue discussed on TDB, but you are right on the money here. Like an unreformed Stalinist, Whyte and his ilk just repeat their neo-liberal ideological assumptions over and over like a mantra, regardless of how much they are contradicted by the evidence.

      ‘the private sector is more efficient than the public sector’

      Is this why electricity costs residential households many times more than what it cost them when the electricity infrastructure was under public control?

      ‘charging user-pays fees discourages people from using them frivilously’

      Actually it stops low income people from using them at all, and encourages high-income people to use them much more frivilously if they weren’t paying good money for a product or service (the tragedy of the anti-commons, or more simply, the tragedy of the commodity).

      ‘private schools serve parents and students better than public schools’

      See the evidence presented by others in this thread. Also, I can’t see schools run as private businesses giving parents nearly as much ability to participate in the running of the school as the Board of Trustees system does. In a “free market”, the only recourse parents have is to disruptively shift their child from school to school, until they find one that does a decent job. What a nightmare for everyone involved!

      Besides which, I feel truly sorry for anyone so ideologically hidebound that they can’t understand the difference between farmer or grocery stores selling food, and schools teaching sucessive generations of children how to think critically and realise their potential as human beings in a participatory democracy.

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  8. Former_ACT_guy says:

    As somebody who used to be an ACT guy (I even stood for them in an election once), but who always secretly questioned the policies and values of the party (don’t ask), this is an outstanding article for why ACT’s policy on school is a dangerous and, quite frankly, poor idea. Fortunately, although the ACT faithful are energised by the apparent ‘rebirth’, this is very much a dead party walking, and thank God. What Jamie Whyte wants for NZ would be an absolute disaster.

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  9. Lena says:

    To see why privatising education is an extremely bad idea, please come visit Save Our Schools New Zealand
    https://www.facebook.com/SaveOurSchoolsNZ
    for a wealth of articles and comment on the rort that’s been going on in Britain and the USA.
    Britain’s thrown up many spectacular examples of worst practice by private operators.

    The charter schools pilot scheme pushed through by National and ACT is wholly unscientific. Any school, private or public, would benefit from smaller class sizes. Basic maths – if one-to-one contact time with a teacher is crucial to student success, a 12:1 or 15:1 student-teacher ratio is more favourable than 28:1 or 30:1.
    And…ta-da! Charters in the pilot are advertising class sizes of 12 to 15.
    The amount of per-head funding being allocated to charter school students in the pilot is considerably more than that allocated to public school students.
    So why doesn’t the government just aim to improve the public system rather than farming out the money to private companies?
    Oh, wait. First you have to believe that education is so vital for our citizens and our society that our elected representatives should be responsible for safeguarding it. A bit like universal, excellent healthcare. MPs doing the job that they were employed to do, in short.

    Superb piece, Burnt Out Teacher – thanks.

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    • Greg says:

      Private schools are being massively topped up by the taxpayer or else they would fold up.

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  10. Psycho Milt says:

    There’s nothing unusual about Whyte’s attitude to education – for an ACT member – so there shouldn’t be any surprise involved in reading it. If you’ve looked at any of his other work, he also thinks health and safety rules, and minimum wages, are outrageous and counterproductive impositions on employers – the education stuff’s hardly inconsistent with his outlook.

    Of course, his unremarkable and entirely rational views on incest get much more of a response from people who aren’t used to thinking about things and don’t like having their assumptions challenged, but it’s the actual policy stuff people should really be interested in – here’s a guy who’d like the public education and health systems scrapped outright, along with health and safety regulations, minimum wage rules and a lot else. So, he also thinks the government has no business jailing you for having sex with a sibling? Big whoop!

    That said, I’d be interested to know why you imagine an education curriculum enables pupils to be taught to be hard-working, creative, compassionate etc – these are character traits, not knowledge or skills. If a school did a crap job at teaching my kid to read but tried to claim credit for “teaching” them to be compassionate, I’d be looking for another school…

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    • Burnt Out Teacher Burnt Out Teacher says:

      I only wish we didn’t have to teach young people to be compassionate, creative and hard-working! It is something many people simply do not learn at home.

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  11. helena Burnett says:

    A serious question to ask all political candidates is where they stand on evolution versus creationism that would shine a spot light of fundamentalism on several of them

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    • YogiBare says:

      Helena,
      The problem is that they would probably lie if they truly believed God made the world 6,000 years ago, knowing going against scientific theory is not a vote catcher. At the opposite end of the scale, I think Obama is probably an atheist but he knew he had to pretend to be religious in order to become president of the God-fearing U.S. of A.

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