Saturday, September 22, 2012

"How is education supposed to make me feel smarter? Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain."

Yesterday, I went to the Protest Rally in Christchurch. I wrote this post beforehand. The Rally was good and thus I’ve decided to post what I wrote. I can’t not say anything, after all.

Just over two years ago, Christchurch was the ‘second-largest city in New Zealand’. And over the past two years I’ve watched it crumble and shrink, just like everyone else living here. As a resident of east Christchurch, and as a teacher, the shrinkage (heh) is obvious. Swathes of houses in my suburb are currently being demolished - every day after I get home from school, I go for a walk and watch as a bulldozer pulls down yet another once-was-home. The weird thing is, it’s hard to picture each individual house in my mind after it is gone; I can remember how the street looked, but individual houses and their details seem to escape me. As a teacher in a west Christchurch school it’s obvious to me that, even in the more affluent suburbs, families have left for better lives elsewhere. In every class I’ve taught over the past two years, at least one student has up and left because their family decided to move elsewhere -  to Auckland, Wellington, Tauranga, the Gold Coast. And I must admit, I’m always a little bit jealous (except for the ones moving to the GC...). My school has a falling roll, and it’s most likely going to go through a CAPNA for a second year in a row. Yet, we are one of the lucky ones.

Schools have proven to act as a strong support network during hard times in this city. Many set up as (official and unofficial) welfare centres after Feb 22. Schools provided children with stability during a time of massive upheaval - many of the students I teach have moved two or three (or more) times since Feb 22. Schools have also dealt with a considerable amount of anxiety and emotional stress in young people; all over Christchurch schools have experienced a heightened level of disruptive behaviour this year. At a time like this, what Christchurch schools and communities need is more support; not school closures, or the prospect of seemingly-impossible mergers.

So there’s nothing like a shock announcement in week nine of term three to knock you when you’re down (such impeccable timing and delivery...). And the government’s proposal for Christchurch schools was really shocking. I’d heard rumours about possible school closures, and I know to never trust a National government to pour money into public education, or to even consult with teachers and principals about sweeping changes, but still, they were shocking, and hurtful too.

I’m definitely not a conservative; I argue against preserving the cathedral (much to everyone else’s dismay). And I’m not someone who thinks that schools are perfect as they are - there are definitely things that can be improved in the NZ education system. As I said earlier, I have witnessed the declining numbers. But I just don’t see how culling and merging schools is a progressive step for this city.

Closing (or merging? It’s a little unclear…) schools like Phillipstown - a school that provides not only a quality education for its local students, but also food if the kids need it - is just cruel. I live just around the corner from Avondale Primary - the government’s plans are to merge it into a ‘cluster’ with Woolston Primary, Chisnallwood Intermediate, and Aranui High School. That’s a pretty weird plan - Chisnallwood is right next door to Avondale (although it’s very different in terms of school culture), but Wainoni and Aranui aren’t that close by at all. That’s a fairly large catchment area across all four schools, and a huge range of age groups to cater for on one site. And what site would they all be located on exactly…? The whole thing seems preposterous. It fairly obvious that the proposal has significantly increased the level of uncertainty and anxiety that already exists in so many Christchurch communities.

So, why would the government make such ridiculous plans? Money. It’s blatantly obvious that Christchurch is simply being used as an excuse for the Right to slash and burn. Instead of investing in children’s education, the government wishes to remove as much funding from public schools as possible. Same old shit. Oh except they might chuck in a charter school somewhere along the line - eastside, I’m guessing. Ugh!

As for the future; I look forward to a new central library, to a new 50 metre pool, to strolling through the extensive green-belt of the new city centre and stopping for lunch at a delicious new eatery. But now also hope that we can save the local schools. I've come to realise life in Christchurch is not going to be about sitting it out and waiting for things to happen; it’s also going to be about fighting to preserve the good things we already have - at least, it will be for the next two years... We’ve got to ensure that walking to and attending the local school does not escape our collective memory.

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