Greens put state at the heart
The Green’s proposed policy to put “schools at the heart” by turning them into food, welfare, health, and other social service hubs is completely well intentioned, but will destroy the seedlings of the very communities they are trying to foster, and has the potential to do more harm than good for the vulnerable children it aims to protect.
Friends of mine work with struggling families in South Auckland. Based on a marae, they get out into their community, offering counselling, parenting support programmes for young mothers, and practical help with things like navigating the legal system, finding work, and setting up independent housing. They like to say that for every individual who comes to one of their programmes or seeks out their assistance, they’re helping that person’s partner, their children, and their wider whanau—knowing every life they touch will touch dozens more.
The issues my friends deal with every day are echoed across the country. This is why Metiria Turei is absolutely right in holding National to account for neglecting to acknowledge in any of their education policies the huge role that a child’s home environment will play in that child’s ability to succeed at school. Hungry children will find it incredibly difficult to learn. Sick children will miss more school. No high quality teacher or executive principal is going to be able to fix the problems that start outside the school doors.
Like my friends in South Auckland, the Greens want to see families thriving, and they want to build a community. But what these hungry and sick children need isn’t more government involvement in their lives, it’s stronger communities and families.
The Greens are looking to turn low-decile schools into communities orchestrated and run by the government. The government will provide free lunches, nurses, after-school and holiday care; and the government will offer welfare, employment, and other social services to parents within the schools. They do this because they say tackling the consequences of poverty and inequality is the government’s “responsibility.”.
So what happens when you replace community initiative with government handouts? Children need good food, decent shelter, and access to health care to do well in school—the government can probably do something about those things. But they also need parents who are invested and taking an active role in their development, whanau and adults in their communities to look up to, and friends and neighbours to play with and belong to. No school “hub” run by the state can give them these latter things. These things have to come organically through communities, tended by people like my friends in South Auckland and allowed to grow by the whanau and neighbours who make up those communities.
The government does have a responsibility here: to support community initiatives that will actually have an impact on the consequences of poverty and inequality so that children can learn in school. It should be communities at the heart, not schools. And definitely not the state.