October 31, 2014

Children do not belong to the state

I am disturbed and disgusted by Paula Bennett’s efforts to take rights away from parents.

I have attended public and private school; I have been homeschooled; I have attended university, taught a special needs child and worked in kindergarten and public school environments. I am now the mother of a four-year-old, and I have a hundred reasons she will not be attending daycare, preschool, kindergarten or school.

I have overheard four-year-olds around the playdough table using language that would make a sailor blush. I have observed persistent bullying. I have observed children wailing for hours for their mothers.

I do not want my daughter in that environment. What would she gain?

Academic skills? We can do that at home, in a quarter of the time, with prompt attention when she needs help, early correction of mistakes and no chaos from twenty other children throwing their worksheets around the room and wishing they were elsewhere. I can choose books at her (advanced) level – currently Beatrix Potter is teaching her words like “soporific” – help her pursue her interests – currently the Holocaust and sewing – and take as much time as I need to ensure she has grasped a concept.

Social skills? Aside from research which shows preschooled children tend to have worse socialisation problems, we can do that at home too… and at the park… and on playdates… and in dozens of other environments. Sure, she’ll be playing with an actual friend, not twenty random children with whom she may have nothing in common, who may or may not be a bad influence, who will almost certainly be undersupervised and who may bully her, but… how is that a problem again? “More children around” does not equal “better development of social skills”.

Of course, there are some things she could learn at kindy which I don’t plan to teach her at home. That jam on white bread is an acceptable meal for a growing, child, for instance. That throwing your lunch in the bin is OK if you can get away with it. What you have to buy in order to be “cool”. That superheroes and Pixar’s Cars, which she loves, are for boys. The grating lyrics and cutesy tunes of inane, commercialised children’s music. That birthday parties are a ripe opportunity for social power play, one-upmanship and mountains of pink plastic junk. That she should have a boyfriend. That she shouldn’t play with boys. Who’s the prettiest girl. That other kids have fancier houses, chips in their lunch box, shoes with neon lights on them, nailpolish, Moxie dolls and their own TV, and so she should too.

Yeah… I’m opting out. And I have the right to do so, because – news flash – she’s my child. Not the government’s. Were I on the DPB, that would not change. It’s financial assistance, not a money-in-exchange-for-parental-rights deal. It is meant to help the needy, not to force parents into choosing between their principles and groceries.

Incidentally, my oldest sister spent her brief kindy career screaming blue murder. As a highly intelligent but highly sensitive child, she was simply not ready to be plonked down in a classroom and left. One wonders what the response of the government would have been to this, were the proposed Bill in effect. Left her to scream though kindy sessions for another week… or two…. or a month… hoping she’d get over it? Put her at risk of permanent psychological harm, not to mention disrupting the kindy sessions for the other kids? Or would they have left my mother in poverty, depriving said sister of the resources for food and shelter, because she wasn’t playing by the rules?

New Zealand should not be heading in this direction. Children do not belong to the state. Philosophy of education, health care choices and similar matters are the domain of the parents, not the government. Fulltime care and/or education of children is not “bludging off the dole”.

Please, stop interfering.