Wednesday 26 September 2018

Virginia Crawford's Duty To Offend.

Tough Love: It is impossible to listen to the Fraser High School Principal, Virginia Crawford’s, speech without hearing in every word and phrase her passionate understanding of just how important education is to freeing people from the social conditions – and expectations – that imprison them.

THE PRINCIPAL OF Hamilton’s Fraser High School, Virginia Crawford, has been roundly criticised for warning her students about the strong correlation between truancy and failure in the world beyond high school. The push-back against Crawford’s address culminated in a walkout by around 100 of Fraser’s senior students on Monday 24 September 2018. But, what if she was telling the truth?

Very few people have been willing to test Crawford’s claims empirically. To ascertain whether the behaviours she warned her students against: truancy, substance abuse, petty crime; are, indeed, common factors in the much more serious social indices of functional illiteracy, long-term unemployment, prolonged periods on social welfare, repeated incarceration, mental health problems, sexual assault, domestic violence and, most disturbingly in relation to young New Zealanders – suicide.

This is strange, since a great deal of work has already been undertaken in this area by those convinced of the efficacy of the National Party’s “social investment” initiative. The whole point of the social investment project was to identify the “warning signs” of individual and/or family dysfunction so that the authorities could intervene and, hopefully, forestall, that individual’s and/or family’s decline into irremediable social pathologies. Those warning signs were precisely the behaviours alluded to in Crawford’s address.

“Every student who walks out of the gate to truant is already a statistic of the worst kind, highly likely to go to prison, highly likely to commit domestic violence or be a victim of domestic violence, be illiterate, be a rape victim, be a suicide victim, be unemployed for the majority of their life, have a major health problem or problems, die at an early age, have an addiction - drugs, gambling, alcohol or smoking.

“The more you truant, the more likely you are to end up as one or most of those statistics. I don’t want you to be one of those statistics. Economic research confirms everything I am telling you. It’s been proven. Some young people at Fraser today are still proving that message to be true.”

One of the Principal’s sternest critics is Herald columnist, Deborah Hill Cone, whose argument is best summed-up in the old aphorism: ‘Give a dog a bad name and hang him.’ “Being told by an authority figure you are certain to become a grim statistic is more of a danger to young people than skipping class”, Hill Cone warned Crawford. “In some very pervasive, unconscious and dogged ways we become what we are expected to be.”

There is something quite touching about Hill Cone’s faith in the individual’s ability to rise above the awful impetus of social causation and statistical correlation. “And try to remember this,” she advises the students of Fraser High in her Monday column, “your principal, Virginia Crawford, has absolutely no idea what your life is going to be like. None of us do. And she has no right to tell your story.”

Many would argue, however, that Crawford not only has the right, she has the duty, to speak plainly and forthrightly about the awful statistics to which so many of the students attending Fraser High School are likely to contribute in the months and years ahead of them. Telling them, as Hill Cone would have her do, that: “It’s your soul, and your story to construct” is all very bracing and Kiplingesque, but it is highly debateable as to whether it will do as much good as telling them that buckling down and working hard at school is just about the only way out of the dead-end working-class suburbs which for so many of them constitute the boundaries of the known world.

A number of the parents of Fraser High School students have taken offence at Crawford’s comments and are threatening to withdraw their offspring from the school until such time as its errant principal is replaced. Like so many of us, they do not like to think too much about the uncanny ability of insurance underwriters to correlate specific behaviours with specific outcomes in the setting of their clients’ premiums. Rather than condemn Crawford for her predictions, might it not be more helpful for their children’s futures to ask themselves whether the behaviour they have been modelling in their own lives bears out or refutes the Principal’s fears?

Nothing did more to shatter the rigid boundaries separating New Zealand’s social classes than the First Labour Government’s ringing affirmation that every New Zealander “whatever his [or her] level of academic ability, whether he [or she] be rich or poor, whether he [or she] live in town or country, has a right, as a citizen, to a free education of the kind for which he [or she] is best fitted, and to the fullest extent of his [or her] powers.”

It is impossible to listen to Crawford’s speech without hearing in every word and phrase her passionate understanding of just how important education is to freeing people from the social conditions – and expectations – that imprison them. She knows that there is a vast, beautiful, exciting and intensely rewarding world beyond the borders of “Nawton or Dinsdale or Western Heights” – just as she knows that the students of Fraser High School who play truant on a regular and prolonged basis are, statistically-speaking, the ones least likely to ever get to see it.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 25 September 2018.


Stephen Franks said...

Well said Chris. How sad it is that the people and families she is trying to warn have paid enough attention to the wittering elite, to now claim moral authority in their victimhood - claiming that the principal has no right to point out risks, to chide, to encourage, or to condemn.

Guerilla Surgeon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew Nichols said...


Guerilla Surgeon said...

Geez – I didn't know Hill Cone cared about Polynesian kids enough to worry whether they were truanting or not. She never seemed to in the past.

Spanishbride said...

The truth can be a hard pill to swallow but I have learned more and been helped more in my life by hard truths than comforting lies.

Chris Morris said...

If you continue posting these very sensible articles, you will have your left wing status taken away from you.
Of course, what you write is correct. I am certain that the principal can provide chapter and verse of evidence to back what she said. Not one of her critics have asked for the background information. That is telling in itself.
Go to any school and they will tell you of the correlation between truant and trouble at school. Talk to teachers who have been in the system for years, and they will tell you they can pick who will be in trouble with the law when they are still in the Primers - most of whom have a lot of absences. All of the work of the longitudinal study supports the idea that the major determinant of the child's future will be what happens before they start school. Yet those in authority won't recognize this. Schools are left to pick up the pieces and that is why people like the principle get so frustrated.

Anonymous said...

Thankyou Chris, someone needed to stand with Virginia Crawford and to defend her courage in telling the awful truth.
She would have known the storm that would descend on her, from many of her peers and from the precious commentariat and still she spoke.
Now she needs the support she deserves.
Again, thankyou.

Brendan McNeill said...

Chris, great to see your support for Virginia Crawford and her insights.

The problem, as your article suggests, could well lie with the parents who have 'taken offence' at her messaging. While each of us is capable of changing the direction of our lives, the way we are socialised and the values we are taught (or not) as a young person is formative.

I recently heard 'the panel' on National radio asking if New Zealand was still the best place in the world to raise children, and one of the panelists said it was for 70%, marginally for another 20% and not at all for the remaining 10% who were at the bottom of the socio economic heap. While there was a considerable empathy expressed towards this 10%, the question of how they may have been placed in this situation was studiously avoided.

We can applaud our Prime Minister for making these children her priority. What is less clear is how state intervention is able to reverse years of dysfunctional parental socialisation for these kids. One thing the previous government was attempting to do, was to make the pathways into poverty less accessible and less superficially attractive.

Hopefully our PM is prepared to take a 'both / and' approach to the problem of child poverty, and not simply limit her intervention to increased welfare assistance. While more money is always helpful to the recipient, it is unlikely to produce the attitudinal change that is needed by these parents and their children.

David Stone said...

Chris, This is not related to the article and not for the comment section though of course that's up to you.
On the DB Brian Gould recently re- awakened a debate and some thoughts that you might like to re visit.
A few months ago (maybe 12 they go so fast) you joined a discussion arising from a statement by the head of the bank of England to the effect that his bank takes no account of deposits when making a loan . This led to a question put to Michael Cullen . Do banks create money and issue loans of funds which they do not hold as customer's deposits? He answer that No. Banks only lend what they have on deposit. An answer that caused you and others outrage and to hold him to ridicule.
But thinking about the situation overall and in replying to another's comment on Brian Gould's article it occurred to me that in a deceptive way he can't help being essentially correct. This because as the banks constantly reconcile their loans and deposits with each other , they behave as if the whole banking system were one entity. And this being the case , except for a tiny amount in cash that quickly recycles back into the banking system, no money ever leaves the banking system. It is simply transferred from one person's account in the banking system to another's. As a loan once agreed to is drawn down in one person's account and they spend it, it is transferred to the recipient's account and appears there as a deposit . It never gets out of the bank if you recognise that they are in effect one organisation . So the act of creating money as a loan automatically creates a deposit. The banks together can't lend more than deposits because except for cash they can't make a loan without creating a matching deposit.
I don't know if you want to do anything with this thought ,but money is an interesting topic and everyone is involved .
Cheers D J S

greywarbler said...

You can't educate the determinedly ignorant. And in an educated country where because everyone has gone to school, most think they know all about education. 'They could do it just as well as the teacher if they could be bothered.' The children may be advised that they should question the teaching staff and system, and are taught by disparaging society and their parents to disdain them. Truthiness and alternative religions reign, teachers talking facts score low.

Nick J said...

It's fair to say that the push back to the sacred cows and shibboleth of political correctness is well underway. Assumed positions are being challenged and can no longer expect to be unchallenged. Which is good, if PC assumptions and positions have veracity they will be demonstrated as positive. Those which fail we can consign to the dustbin. And that is the benefit of open dialogue and free speech.

Hilary Taylor said...

What you & that good man above said. Am shocked that anyone could take offense at pointing out the bleeding obvious.

sumsuch said...

The 'wittering' elite versus the actual elite, Stephen?

You know the deep sense of fellow-feeling of the senior lawyers you respected. Versus the regular coarse of the hard-drivers, though they contributed equally (though also (obviously)it seeped into their personal conduct).

It was the narrowest of paths, that out of poverty, which often produced narrow views(so pretty relevant to now in post-fair NZ), which made it difficult to talk to my uncles -- so many subjects that couldn't be verbalised. What do you do in post-demo-cracy? I'm not equipt to answer.

sumsuch said...

Brendan, the stats say OECD high high suicide rate, domestic violence, child abuse, teenage pregnancy and imprisonment. Not a great place to bring up children for a lot, definitely not just 10 %.

Poverty produces a culture if it's extended over the generations. The culture is changed Not ed-i-fi-ca-tion of the poor. As a Scots NZer I note with happiness the rise of the Irish, for instance, from 'no dogs or Irish'. You may still have the imprint of our boot on your neck after 400 years?

Reading the scriptures you imagine it would involve an almost inhuman leap of imagination to love others as yourself. But, no, observing born-agains it's always about short-cuts to feeling alright personally. And voting for the Right.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"make the pathways into poverty less accessible and less superficially attractive."

Believe me Brendan, you wouldn't know – probably never having talked to a poor person – take it from one who has, the "pathways" into poverty are not the least bit attractive. As always you blame the victim. There are some – almost said plenty of – places where government intervention helps people out of these "pathways" and it would do you and the government a world of good to look at them instead of blaming the victim as usual..

Brendan McNeill said...


If more money changes the culture of poverty as you assert, why has 92 years of the welfare state in NZ, and several labour governments, left us with this level of social and economic dysfunction?

Can you show me one socialist utopia where the poor don’t exist? How about Venezuela, today, right now? But of course, it’s not socialism that’s the problem. If you had been Stalin, or Nicolas Maduro you would have done things differently, life would have been different for the poor and disadvantaged under your administration and guidance.

@GS, I had forgotten that the Almighty had shared his omnipotence with you, knowing as you do that I had ‘probably never talked to a poor person’, let alone been one myself.

Poverty comes in many forms, social, spiritual and economic. In some countries, there is structural oppression that keeps people poor. Places like Myanmar that I visited with World Vision last year. Places where the entrepreneurial poor are being given a hand up and prospering, employing their neighbours and others besides to lift the economic status of whole communities. But I suspect that’s outside of your experience, outside of your frame of reference, outside of your imagination.

But on Chris’ blog you get to change the world.

David Stone said...

Brendon...Venezuela is , like any country that tries to implement socialist policies, under sustained financial sanction and subversive pseudo military attack by the United states of America . There is no country that can provide an example of how a socialist government might perform for it's poorer citizens because no country is allowed to run along those lines and still interact with the rest of the world . A country has to be completely self sufficient to do so.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Brendan – if you had talked to people in New Zealand who were poor you would have realised that they don't in fact choose to be poor. At least few I ever met did, and I've worked with poor people most of my life. Never met more than one or two people who decided to go and live on the dole, because it was easy money and they could stay in bed all day or watch TV or whatever. Almost without exception they wanted to work. Almost without exception they had been shortchanged in the lottery of life. Many of them had abusive parents, often abusive fathers, who you would presumably force to stay with the family - correct me if I'm wrong – you seem to think that family should stay together under all circumstances because reasons.
And while I have every sympathy with the people in Burma, it's not the New Zealand government's responsibility to look after them. It's the New Zealand government's responsibility to look after its own citizens – and if they took your advice, they wouldn't be doing a particularly good job of it.

Brendan McNeill said...

Hi David

Your assertions about US sanctions on the country of Venezuela don’t appear to be supported by the facts, at least if Wikipedia is a reliable guide.–Venezuela_relations

As an aside, I’m highly sceptical that increasing welfare benefits alone will do anything substantive to reduce the levels of child poverty in New Zealand, for the simple reason that economic poverty in countries like New Zealand is typically a symptom of the child’s parent(s) social dysfunction rather than a result of structural oppression and systemic inequality.

Children who come from fractured families, or whose parents have little education, or engage in substance abuse, or are long term unemployed, or have serious personal debt, or any combination of the above, are always going to be poor in ways that more welfare will not remediate.

If there was a policy setting, or a series of policy settings that could eliminate child poverty, don’t you think that governments over the last 100 years would have implemented them by now?

I hope I’m proved wrong, but I doubt that one or two terms of this government will make any meaningful difference to the numbers of these children being raised in NZ, primarily because there are some problems that do not easily lend themselves to political solutions.

This is one of them.

The response of some parents and students to Virginia Crawford’s very sensible remarks provides a salutary reminder that these are deeply entrenched attitudinal problems that will not be solved by more government intervention.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Okay now I've got a bit more time – Brendan – your sole contribution to the child poverty debate seems to be to blame "bad parenting". That's fine, but you never say exactly what we should do about bad parenting, or even how it contributes for that matter – because I know a number of people who've had really bad parenting have turned out to be model members of society, and a number who've turned out to be extremely wealthy albeit lacking in empathy. You also sometimes stress "poor life choices", when obviously the best life choice to make is the choice of parents, which kids essentially don't have much choice it to be honest do they?
You also seem to disapprove of divorce, and I have a memory of you not liking the DPB, because it seems to encourage divorce. That latter shows me that you don't know any women who have been subject to abusive spouses, or don't care that they have, or want to solve the problem by praying or something like many evangelical Christians seem to.
It's a little bit of a one trick pony situation Brendan because that's all you ever say. How about giving is a run down with specifics on how you are going to solve "bad parenting", and how you're going to deal with spousal abuse without allowing divorce, and how you expect people who suffer from abuse and "bad parenting" to make better life choices, when that first one hasn't worked out so well for them. I await your response with anticipation.

sumsuch said...

Brendan, you haven't responded to my criticism of evangelical Christianity. But was it the State stepping in to educate the dumb Irish that enriched them? I expect you think you have integrity which all of us often think. But scouring regularly delivers different. By recently talking to others I realised much of my complacence/content was due to mood alterants. I.e. lack of the animal, and so human, hormones.

Since the rich have had control of dear God's Own since 84 how can you blame the least? Who, anyway, of intellect, blames the least? 'Who profited?' from the 84 coup? To this day, 10 %. If there had been democratists in the meanwhile it would have been overturned -- shouters for the people.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"If there was a policy setting, or a series of policy settings that could eliminate child poverty, don’t you think that governments over the last 100 years would have implemented them by now?"
Er...... no Brendan, because the there have been only a few governments in the last hundred years who didn't believe that a certain percentage of unemployed is necessary for a healthy economy, and who weren't willing to cut benefits to the bone. These neoliberals only pay lip service to the idea of eliminating child poverty. They're your people Brendan.

Oh, and you're bringing up Venezuela again – I didn't see that. Funny how you people always bring up Venezuela when it comes to socialism, but are happy to ignore all the Scandinavian countries that are extremely successful social democracies.

Brendan McNeill said...

Hi GS – when it comes to minimising ‘child poverty’ I would take a pragmatic, data driven approach. First, we ought to publically acknowledge that those children least likely to end up in the bottom 10% are those born into stable two parent families where at least one parent has paid full time employment. Let’s call that the ‘gold standard’, and while acknowledging that other family constructs exist, very often through no fault of their own, this should be the aspirational goal for every young woman contemplating motherhood. Why wouldn’t we communicate this factual message through our education system, in the context of child poverty reduction?

Second, if we are wedded to entitlement welfare, and I suspect we are, then we must acknowledge that it treats the feckless and the deserving exactly the same. This will inevitably produce unjust outcomes because not everyone’s circumstances are the same, but with entitlement one size fits all.

The only ‘tools’ that governments have to modify parental behaviour once they and their children are in the welfare system, is to provide economic incentives to reward responsible behaviour, and sanctions to punish irresponsible behaviour.

Reward those who take on further education and training. Sanction those whose children are deemed to be truants based upon the number of days missed at school.

Reward those who transit through the welfare system in the least possible time, do not reward those whose feckless behaviour extends their time on welfare.

Acknowledge that people follow economic incentives. If welfare is at a similar level to paid employment, increasing numbers will opt out of employment into welfare. Consequently, to avoid this, those living on entitlement welfare will of necessity be poor, or at least poorer than those in paid employment. Their children will, by definition, always be at the bottom of the economic heap.

Acknowledge that this is not an easy problem for governments to solve, even if Prime Ministers make it their primary focus.

Ultimately, functional two parent families are the best hope for reducing child poverty, but it seems culturally we are heading in the opposite direction.

Brendan McNeill said...

@sumsuch - I haven't responded to your criticism of evangelical Christianity because it's off topic. Besides, after 2,000 years of criticism I doubt your thoughts are original.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Thank you Brendan, so we're back to the Elizabethan concept of deserving and undeserving poor right? And rewards and punishments. So given that any benefit is these days pretty much barebones and quite difficult to live on, you're going to reduce it if people don't do as they are told. Or if their kids wag school. Great – let's make them even poorer and punish the kids for their parents fecklessness. Actually, there aren't that many undeserving poor, which you'd know if you actually knew any poor people. Most of them are doing their bloody best to cope with what they have, considering how difficult it is to manage, no matter how good a manager you are and how humiliating it is to get help when you can't manage. Jesus Christ this is antediluvian.
How is about making sure that everybody has a job, with a living wage? Then we wouldn't have to do all this punishing. But no, unfortunately both the right and the so-called left these days are quite happy to have a pool of unemployed to keep wages down.
Much though I find sumsuch difficult to understand that times, your ideas are straight from the evangelical Christian playbook. So I don't think is particularly off topic at all.

sumsuch said...

I'm sure the honourable comrade Trotter will allow you to address the 80% of fundamentalists who helped manufacture the consent for the monster Trump, Brendan. And why the Republicans they selected are in an all out assault on democracy? And also truth. These are 'the fruits you shall know them by'.

I think well-paying jobs would be better than straight money, but money would be better than the last 34 years. And look to the north socialistically, Scandinavia, where reason commands rationalisation (yep, that's you and your congregants -- thank fascination you're only 5%(?) of us).

Brendan McNeill said...

Dear GS and sumsuch

If you want a paternalistic state, you better hope it has the courage to discipline its children.

You can be a liberal socialist utopia in Scandinavia if you have an abundance of oil and natural gas. No squeamishness about exploration, or exploitation of those resources there it seems. They have also been largely homogenous societies, so a large welfare state is ‘easy’ if the money is going to ‘people like us’ who have contributed to the system by way of taxes over the years. This becomes less easy when you become a less homogeneous multicultural society, and those on welfare are immigrants who choose to live in cultural ghetto’s, refuse to learn the language or respect the local customs.

Then the liberal socialist utopia starts to morph into something more totalitarian:

With respect to Christianity, you appear to forget that the Labour party was formed from deep Methodist roots. Yes, it was Christians who successfully campaigned against slavery, and fought to improve conditions for those children who worked in coal mines and the nations chimneys. Who established “Sunday Schools” to provide basic literacy to the children of the poor, established the SPCA, charity hospitals, and many similar institutions, most of which still exist today; who insisted that a treaty be formed with Maori, rather than the more brutal form of colonialization that had characterised England’s past. I don’t want to start a debate on how that has worked out for Maori, but the intention to establish and respect the indigenous rights of Maori was genuine and birthed out of the English Clapham sect and their dependents who were influential in Government and the civil service at the time.

It is both instructive and deeply ironic that you now view the Christian foundations of your movement as a threat to its future.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Sumsuch has a point Brendan. It's been shown that actually giving people money does help – naturally because most of their problems come from lack of money. And lack of money is also a major cause of marriage breakup as I understand it. I can't understand why we don't just look at the countries that there with poverty successfully and try to adapt what they do to the New Zealand situation. It certainly beats making cheap shots at Venezuela and ignoring all those successful social democracies.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

No Brendan I haven't forgotten. But I also haven't forgotten that there were Christians on both sides of the slavery debate, there were Christians on both sides of the civil rights debate in the US, and Christians in every political party you can name, up to and including Nazis. Partly because at the time you are mostly talking about there were certain social/legal ramifications for being an atheist. (Cue the no true Scotsman defence here.)

sumsuch said...

Brendan, you're an intelligent man operating from a bad foundation. It takes a very brave, strong person to look under their feet. 'Build your house upon the rock', and, yes, I'm talking about reason and scientific proof. Any god that bisects from that doesn't exist.

sumsuch said...

'diverges' not bisect.