Saturday, 9 February 2013

Beehave - Episode 14

My wife and I have produced an online satirical show for a while. It started as an attempt to bring attention to the fact that there was no welfare protection for children in private schools in New Zealand. None. The school could expel you from one day to the next without ever giving you a reason or offering you a right of appeal. This dangerous and damaging loophole was recognised by the Law Commission and they proposed a review.

Sadly - or perhaps predictably - the right-wing government dropped all those changes and replaced them with an amendment to the law to - among other things - enable them to offer private schools unconditional loans.

My children had been expelled from a private Steiner school because the management refused to deal with the fact that my eldest - and others in her class - were being regularly bullied. They got rid of us because we asked them to do something about it.

So we made Beehave (a play on words since the New Zealand parliament is nicknamed the Beehive as it looks like one) and for two foreigners working on their own while having to home educate our three kids with no support, because they were too traumatised to go back to school, we got pretty close: after having spoken to us, Trevor Mallard, the shadow minister for education, Catherine Delahunty, Green MP, and Kelvin Davis, then Labour MP, spoke in parliament to try and re-introduce those Law Commission's recommendations.

But it wasn't to be.

However, we had a lot of fun creating Beehave - making light-hearted comedy out of a traumatic event was very therapeutic - and so we've made a few other episodes since then, and here's our latest, focusing on Prime Minister's John Key's recent State of the Nation speech.

Enjoy :)


  1. I was a teacher in a coastal high school north-east from Newcastle - a new Year 7 (in NSW entry level junior secondary school) Exactly 20 years ago. Bright neatly-attired lad in a front row seat - hand wildly seeking attention to provide the answer whenever I asked a question in our preliminary introduction to Japanese class - but each time (not every time) I nodded to him - I noted that it was followed by some mumbled commentary from the rear of the room - the perpetrators never clear. I asked the boy to remain behind a moment after one class - and asked him if he were being bullied. "Well,…" It can't be allowed, I said. "Oh, it's all right, he said, "It's been going on since primary school. The secondary school drew on about four or five "feeder" regional primary schools. This bullying had followed him. I was shocked - and by his resignation. "Leave it with me, I said, we'll get this stopped! So, what to do? As a language teacher (one of two - small department without a Head Teacher) we were attached to a sympathetic deputy - one of the best I was to come across in over 25 years in the NSW state system - Dave. I went to Dave's office and explained the predicament. A plan was figured out. The next time we had a class - who should appear in the classroom doorway but Dave. A tall man - but friendly of face: "Good-morning Mr Kable. Good morning class. Chorus: Good-morning Mr L. "So, here you are - week two. I wonder how it is going for you all - from small primary schools - to this big place? Who is from Shoal Bay? Nelson Bay? Salt Ash? - and so on he went - through the names of the "feeder" schools - students raising their arms to indicate. All the time smiling and making appropriately positive acknowledgement of each of these contributing streams. He spoke of the alienation and of the culture of settling in to such a bigger school. That sometimes such can be "un-settling"! That sometimes, even, one could be led into uncomfortable ways of behaving! That - in any event - he was aware of such things - and of the many good things coming from this stage of the growing up process. That his office was an "open-door" office - that he would truly welcome any of them to come and see him - just to chat about how things were going. So welcome to secondary school - here learning Japanese (!!) Wow! Mr Kable - we had, what, French and Latin in our day - now Japanese! How the world was changing! Lucky you lot - his eyes smiling at the class - them smiling back. By the end of the day - as he later explained to me - four or five lads had been to see him - to say that they had been drawn in to a campaign of harassment/bullying against one of their class-mates - and didn't really know how to extricate themselves from that. Talking it over with the Deputy gave them that out. It ceased - the bullying.

    As a teacher I am aware that lots of torment goes on - but so much of it is below the radar - is missed. Especially in large classes. I was grateful I could help that lad - with the sensitive/intelligent handling of Dave - a win:win for us all. Senior English classes in other memoir-writing contexts had alerted me to the many regrets that those aged 17, 18 had for times when they were younger and had indulged in bullying themselves - or had remained silent on the side-lines. I do believe that eventually almost all of us grow up - though, nevertheless, the earlier one can stop this behaviour - clearly - the better for all. I saw it in classes in Japan. I always called any teasing for what it might well have been: "Ijime - [ee-jee-me(h)] even with a smile on my face as I waited for the inevitable: "Sensei: Just joking". Maybe so - but I was putting on notice that I was NOT unaware. This was at middle school.

  2. Thanks Jim for all your comments and it was great to read how you and Dave made life better for that student!

    Sadly, the school we sent our kids to did the exact opposite. There's something frightening about unchecked bullying, when teachers know it's happening but do nothing about it. What is that teaching the kids and how are children who are targets of bullying supposed to make any sense of it all?

    What's worse is that this school attracts survivors of bullying by advertising themselves as a "safe, peaceful, natural learning haven", and informing potential new families that there is no bullying in their school.

    Check out this page from the website we created to document what happened to us:

    It's devoted to testimonials from other parents who experienced the same thing at that same school over the years. I would say the ones from MacDonald and the 2nd one from 2010 are of particular interest.

    We won by the way: we took them to Human Rights mediation and they signed a settlement with us stating that our daughter's accounts were honest, that there was bullying and that they didn't do anything about it - yet once that settlement reached the ears of the media, they then published an "open letter" on their site contradicting everything they agreed through mediation. And despite the fact that they told the Director of the Human Rights Tribunal that they would take the page down, it's still accessible on their website. Can you believe that?