I had a couple of experiences which made me think about education at the secondary level. I’ve done a couple of sessions on workplace rights at the local high school. Generally, kids spend at least fourteen thousand hours in the classroom, yet not one of those hours educates them about workplace relations and rights, which given that most people spend a third of their adult lives working, is patently ridiculous.
The first class I spoke to were more academic kids by the look of them. None of them had heard of trade unions, which left me gob-smacked. They listened well enough but without real intuitive understanding.
The second class were less academic, at first sight had a feeling of the irascible, but they were onto it straight away. They were aware of unions and of the importance of solidarity, asked intelligent questions and so on. When I spoke to Te Whaea about it, she said, Their families have probably experienced poverty, so the kids know about the world.
When I taught at the school I’d always wondered what would happen if the motivational talks at assembly had been based on working class values rather than the set-your-goals-and- achieve-them cliches of neo-liberalism.
The second experience was interviewing Harvey for an exhibition we’re doing on Blackball blokes. During his early adolescent years Harvey caused a bit of trouble locally. But since he got a regular job he’s settled. Here’s his explanation:
High school didn’t suit you?
I don’t really know. I’d rather be out doing stuff rather than pen and paper. I got into a bit of trouble around town and that. Silly stuff. I used to break into the Hilton and a few other things.
Why was that?
I was just young. Didn’t have the right ideas.
Yeh. Then I travelled up to Motueka to my grandma’s and got a job in an orchard. Stayed up there to keep away from the trouble. Done that for a while. Came back here, a bit of work with Tiger, then I finally got my job with Coast Glass. Been there a bit over two years now. It’s keeping me busy.
What’s good about working?
If you want money you need to work. If you want to go away and do stuff, go on a holiday, get out of wherever, go and check out new places, you need to be working. Can’t do it on the dole. I’d get quite bored if I didn’t go to work. And that’s how you end up getting silly ideas. Doing silly stuff. Work gives you a bit of stability.
A purpose in life?
Yeh. I feel good when I do a good job and people are happy with it. Now I go out with my four wheel drive or my motorbike.
Long term ambitions?
I’m not really sure. Still sorting things out. Just keeping at my job and getting better at it. Then I could go anywhere.
(Tiger the scaffolder had given him work to keep him out of trouble and then the local glazier got him the job; takes him to work each morning. So simple.)
Yeh. That’s all pretty good. It sort of – you got to put a bit of effort into it. It keeps me out of trouble that’s for sure. Someone to tell me off.
You gonna get married and have kids?
Ultimately. See how things go I suppose. You never know when you’re young.
How old are you?
My own personal values? Lots. Like being generous sometimes. Helping people out with jobs and stuff. And my family, that’s a big one. Wilhem needs a good role model. Just be hard working. Not going to get anywhere sitting around.
Not really. Sort of of – I dunno about that one. Do believe some things. Hard one that one.
Anything bigger than you?
Yeh. I do think so. Not gods and stuff, but there is energies out there.
No, I’d hate that. I’d rather be out where I can hear birds and have fresh air. You don’t get that in the cities. Not like out here. I’d always rather be in the more rural side of things. Even out in the middle of nowhere wouldn’t be a worry.
You’ve had experience of death eh? One of your peer group died.
Yeh, it was pretty hard to deal with. We were only young. I was only fourteen.
Nirvana got a job fishing. He was sixteen. He was out there loving it, then Tiger and Dan said, there’s been a mishap. We all went to Dan and Sharon’s and they told us what had happened.
He went missing?
Yeh, the boat sunk and they didn’t find anyone.
What was the feeling?
Maybe a bit empty. That was the feeling. You’re waiting for him to come back. We used to go out the front and light candles and put them out on the fence post there, as a bit of a guide for him. For him to come back.
But he didn’t
No, he didn’t. There wasn’t a lot we could do about it. We were bummed out. We looked after each other.
What did you do?
We’d get together and hang out. Make sure everyone was alright.
And then the funeral.
A sort of memorial service. We all went along to that. It brought us all together.
Hard at that age?
Yeh, it was hard. Usually I deal with it good- relatives and that. Nowadays I can deal with it pretty good. Just life eh. No one lives for ever. Just have to be careful sometimes.
What are the most life-giving experiences, when you feel most alive?
When you’re out doing something you like. I feel like that when I’m out fishing or out driving through the mud. Just out there in the bush, clears your mind. Everyone’s different. You, you go for your run in the morning. Gets you ready for your day.
(I’d wrapped it up but then thought I’d see what he had in mind about politics.)
Any opinion about the way society’s ordered?
I have some big ones about that. I don’t like the way, I suppose, some of the rules, you can only do this… we don’t get a say, a chance to say. It’s getting worse and worse.
Why don’t we get a chance?
I don’t know. I guess they just do what they want to do. Them sort of people up there, they don’t worry what we’ve got to say.
Who are they?
Most governments in the world.
There are small differences, but in the end, the person in charge, what they say goes.
What about the rich poor thing?
Yeh that’s about it. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. There’s no equality.
What are you going to do about it?
I’m just going to tick along in my own way.
Is there anything the rest of us could do?
We could ignore them and boycott them and do our own way of doing things I suppose. There isn’t much people behind it. Everyone doesn’t have the same idea. They watch tv and think everything’s alright. Not to worry.
Overseas they call your age-group the millennials. People under thirty getting a raw deal… But Sanders and Corbyn have come along. Can you see something like that happening here?
Depends. It could be possible. We’ll see.
If someone came along saying the right things? What would they be saying?
Just a bit more fairer for people who aren’t wealthy.
I left feeling that if I’d interviewed an eighteen year old on his way to university, the answers would not be any more coherent. Is education a matter of who’s asking the questions – and what the questions are?