Today in fat hatred (and hating on children for good measure)

Also today in pig-headed ignorance, and today in ignoring science, and today in failing to think through consequences, and today in hating on children.

F for fat: obesity on report cards?

A CHILD’S weight should be included in their school report as part of a radical plan to tackle the obesity crisis, according to [Professor David Penington] who led Australia’s successful response to the AIDS epidemic.

I find this mindblowing, not just for the complete disregard for science, but for the astonishing idea that it’s a good thing to shame children about their weight, and that somehow, magically, this will make them thin and happy. It doesn’t work with adults because (a) shaming just upsets people and (b) shaming does not result in weight loss and (c) weight loss does not lead to better health (just google “obesity paradox” and you will find the evidence), and it works EVEN LESS with children because….. (hold your breath, here’s a giant reveal that seems to have escaped Prof. Penington), CHILDREN DON’T GET TO CHOOSE WHAT FOOD THEY EAT.

As parents, we impose our own lifestyles on children. The children in my house? They’re great at argument (conceptual, inferential, evidential, you name it – they argue it and yes, this is a problem from time to time), but sports, well, whatever. They play a bit and we go and cheer them on, but really, it’s just not a big deal. That’s because in our house, discussion is a Big Thing. But they miss out on sport, which is a large part of many families in New Zealand, because it’s just not a big deal around here. They are deeply influenced, and the patterns of their living set for a long time to come, by the way that Mr Bee and I live.

And the type and amount of food they eat, and the exercise they do, or don’t do, is deeply influenced by us. They have no responsibility for what does into their lunchboxes. That’s MY responsibility. I’m the one who buys the bread and the sandwich fillings, makes the muffins, ensure there’s some fruit and some yoghurt on hand, so that they can make their school lunches.

So when Prof. Penington sets out to shame children, not only is he doing something that is completely ineffective anyway, but he totally missed his target.

I’ve had enough of teachers and doctors and (alleged) experts filling the school curriculum with do-gooding nonsense, which only leads to children coming home and trying to get their parents to change. But exactly how much power do children have to change their parents anyway? Very little indeed. It’s an intolerable burden to place on children. I think Prof. Penington must hate children too.

Cross posted

Paid parental leave

Cross posted

A local journalist contacted me for comment on paid parental leave.

Parental leave ‘affordable’

A Manawatu academic and advocate for women’s rights has slammed the government for threatening to veto moves to extend paid parental leave, accusing it of ignoring the needs of babies.

Professor Deborah Russell, a lecturer in accountancy at Massey University, working mother and a feminist blogger said while affordability was an issue, there was always a way if the need was great enough.

“We need to have a think about what are the important things to afford and at the moment we are not very good at directing funds towards small children.”

Dr Russell said if parental leave was extended it might encourage fathers to share more of the load of early childcare, giving them a chance to bond better with their children in the early stages of development.

“Women normally take the parental leave and the childcare duties and that can have a long term impact on their careers. If we extend paid parental leave to six months men might take it up or share the leave and so we lose that gendered dimension.”

Just to be clear, I’m not actually a professor, and given that the paper contacted me, rather than me contacting the paper, that word “slammed” is exciting, but perhaps not quite accurate. However, the journalist represented my views very fairly indeed, and captured the two ideas I most wanted to get across.

1. Childcare is heavily gendered, with women more-or-less always being responsible for it. This shortchanges both women and men. Women lose income and career progress, and men lose connection and confidence with small children. More paid parental leave might enable more men to share the childcare in those early weeks and months.

2. Saying paid parental leave is unaffordable only makes sense if we regard it as something that has to be funded in addition to everything else we already fund. If we were willing to re-examine all our existing spending commitments, such as giving farmers a tax break on the emissions trading scheme, and the lack of means testing around New Zealand superannuation, then it might turn out that more paid parental leave was affordable afterall.

The Sunday Star Times reported today that more and more women, and some men, are giving up paid work because childcare costs are simply too great.

Working mothers caught in childcare trap

The story is familiar: by the time a family pays for childcare in order to enable both parents to earn income, nothing is left over from that second income. It is simply too expensive. This certainly gels with my own experience, and with the experiences that other women have reported to me. Just last week, one of my cousins told me that she gave up on returning to her interesting job when she realised that she was looking around for cheaper childcare. Given the nature of her job, and the extent to which her partner travels, she needs bullet proof childcare, the sort where she is able to call half an hour before she is due to pick her kids up because an urgent task has come in. That kind of childcare is simply not available at a price where she will have money left over from her salary.

But there is a curious anomaly in our funding of childcare and education. As it turns out, for many parents, the turning point is when their children head off to school. School is virtually free, “donations” and stationery aside, and it is freely available to every five year old in the country. We fund reasonably comprehensive childcare and education for five year olds, but not four year olds. The anomaly exists for historical reasons, but it seems to me that it could usefully be reviewed. Just like our existing spending could usefully be reviewed, both a part of a national conversation about what kinds of support we want to see young families getting.

More on private schools

In a follow-up to yesterday’s piece in the Dom, I was interviewed on National Radio this morning, about state funding of private schools. Here’s the audio of the interview.

If you can’t get this audio format to play, then if you go to the Radio NZ website, you should be able to select a file which works better for you.

Radio NZ Nine to Noon listing for Friday 13 June

Goodness. World famous in New Zealand.

Why private schools shouldn’t have their hands out for government help

… this argument shows that private schools don’t understand why the state provides education. It’s not just because economies of scale enable government to provide education more cheaply than private businesses. It’s because New Zealand’s educated population is a vital part of our social, political and economic infrastructure.

From an opinion piece of mine which was published in the Dom Post today.

The article isn’t on-line, but I’ve scanned it. If you click on the thumbnail, you will go through to a larger version which should be readable.

What’s going on with student loans?

I’ve described John Key as having all the moral fibre of a blancmange a couple of times (one, two), mostly because as far as I could tell, his unending pragmatism meant that he would do anything for votes. Hence the on-going beneficiary bashing and the cutting and cutting and cutting in the public sector, both of which have a minimal impact on the government’ bottom line. But attacking public servants and powerless beneficiaries always plays well among those who are convinced that all those lazy bludgers need is a good kick up the arse and why can’t the whole world be just like me. Votes votes votes, there to be taken.

And now he’s doing it again. Key has ruled out making any changes to interest free student loans, because:

it’s not politically sustainable to put interest back on student loans. It may not be great economics, but it’s great politics.

National’s chief spinmeister has tried to portray this as a policy that is locked-in, thanks to the previous Labour government, but that seems a rather thin excuse after three years in the Treasury benches. It’s just as plausible to describe the National party as being so eager to remain in power because it likes being in power, that it will pay any price, whether or not that price is affordable for New Zealand.

But there’s more to the student loans story.

Key told a Colliers International event in Auckland this morning that while National would rein in the student loan scheme “in a big way”

Couple that with on-going rhetoric from employers that New Zealand must train people so that they have the right skills for work (one, two, three) and the push from Minister of Tertiary Education Steven Joyce to publish graduate income information, and I am starting to see a plan for the government to defund some courses. Student loans are paid to students themselves, but if those loans are only available for people studying particular courses, then in effect, there will be no government support for some courses.

I wonder which courses are for the chop? I’m guessing that the government will rein in the student loans scheme by announcing that it will no longer fund courses in basket weaving and twilight golf. All its favorite punters who didn’t get where they are today by farting around at university doing stuck up degrees will grunt and chuckle about all those academic woofters having to do some real work now, and come the next election, they will clap themselves on the back and vote for Key because he’s a bloody good bloke who got rid of all that namby-pamby stuff. Meanwhile, under the cover of basket weaving and golf, other courses will be black listed too. BA in Sociology? What kind of a job are you going to get with that? Employers don’t want people who know about Weber and Durkheim. No more student loans for people studying sociology, then. And so it will go.

As the government reins in the student loans scheme, watch for changes in the courses for which students can get loans. It will tell you what this government’s priorities are.

Fuck off, Owen Glenn. My vote is not for sale.

Update – 6 Sept 2011: Owen Glenn now says that he will make the donation no matter who wins the election.

Businessman Owen Glenn says he plans to donate a $100 million to youth and education in New Zealand, but it comes with one condition.

He’ll only donate it if we have a National / Act government after the election this year.

Well, fuck off, Owen Glenn. My vote is not for sale. This investment should be worth making no matter which of our centrist parties is in power after the election. What other tags is the donation going to come with? Will you tell universities which courses they should be teaching? Are you going to demand that schools teach Atlas Shrugged as a set text? Will you refuse to fund drama and music courses, because they aren’t a product that can be sold?

I suppose we’ll have to wait to see what Glenn says about the nature of his investment come October, but given this nasty attempt to influence the electorate, I think we would have to be very worried about what other political ideas he wants to push, through the medium of our education system. I was never going to vote National anyway, let alone Act, but even so, this has made me even more convinced that I will be voting for a left party this time round.

Check the story and especially the video. The relevant conversation starts around 18.30 minutes. Sean Plunkett questions Owen Glenn about what he intends to do with his wealth. Glenn says he’ll be making some big announcements in October. Plunkett presses him a little, and then Glenn says that he plans to invest at least $100 million in education in New Zealand. I’ve prepared a transcript. I am not trained in transcription, but this transcript is as accurate as I can make it.

Transcript from 18 minutes, 49 seconds. The money quote is right at the end, around 20 minutes, 10 seconds.

Plunket: What do you do with that money?

Glenn: I’m coming back in October and I’m going to hold a press conference, and I’m going to announce some pretty major initiatives.

Plunket: Is that money going to be spent here?

Glenn: In New Zealand

Plunket: For New Zealand?

Glenn: Mainly for New Zealand youth. I’m going to put money where my mouth is. Then I’m happy to answer any question you ask me.

Plunket: So.. ah…

Glenn: (Laughs)

Plunket: Well, let’s explore it. I’m not going to ask you to shoot your bolt right here and now…

Glenn: It’s not ready…

Plunket: So we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars invested in New Zealand youth…

Glenn: Let’s say at least a hundred.

Plunket: Okay, and it doesn’t matter who the government is…

Glenn: The trouble is you can throw half a billion at it and it will all be misspent. You’ve got to take it step by step.

Plunket: Okay. So this is gonna make..

Glenn: From all the way back in primary school upwards through the ah graduate system and further, let’s take our products and services overseas and do it properly.

Plunket: Does it matter as to who is the gov… who wins the election as to whether or not you proceed with that plan?

Glenn: I think very much so.

Plunket: So you would… so you would think about not doing this initiative if …

Glenn: Well, look, let’s put it in perspective. I think National has a better shot at it, particularly if A.C.T. (sic) are part of it. Because if I say A.C.T. goes a little bit hard on the right, if that is tempered there, they’re not bad people, they’re actually very good people…Labour…

Plunket: Owen Glenn, I quickly want to ask you again, you’re prepared to invest hundreds of millions in New Zealand education …

Glenn: I’d say at least a hundred.

Plunket: … and young people. At least a hundred million if National and Act win the next election? (At 20.09)

Glenn: That’s correct. (At 20.10/11)

Plunket: I thank you very much indeed for your time, and I certainly will be watching that space.

Glenn: Let’s have another chat.

(They shake hands.)

You’re welcome to copy this transcript if you wish, and use it on your own blogs, but I would appreciate an acknowledgement.

A small price to pay

Regular readers may have noticed that I am not overly keen on the Rugby World Cup (one, two).

The cost of the Cup has hit home again this week, with the total misalignment of university breaks and the school holidays. The first two school terms were pushed out by a week each, meaning that the school holidays started this week, exactly when the second semester started at universities.

There are a fair proportion of parents working at universities, as staff, and as students. Ordinarily, we can juggle our way through the school holidays, because we don’t need to be in classes ourselves, either as teachers or students. That has long been one of the attractions of university work for me, particularly so because I am able to work a 50% job, which my boss and I have arranged in such a way that I work school hours, during term time. Child care problems solved, just like that.

Except for these school holidays. This time around, I have had to engage in a child care juggle, as well as losing the time that I usually spend with my children. I was talking to a colleague about this, but he was totally unsympathetic. “It’s a small price to pay,” he said.

Well, perhaps it’s a small price to pay, if you’re actually interested in bloody rugby. I most assuredly am not. However, I suggested to him that seeing as he regarded it as a small price, he might like to come and care for my children over the school holidays.

Funnily enough, he declined.

Fortunately for me, Greenhills University has an excellent school holiday care program, and I have been able to enrol the girls in it for some of the time. But that has cost me $297 so far.

My colleague wasn’t interested in paying that either.