Sunday, 28 October 2012

This land is my land .....

This was submitted to the Press but not accepted for publication.

I was born in Christchurch. I went to Aranui Primary and High Schools and was trained as a teacher at the old Christchurch Teacher’s College on Peterborough Street. I wasted way too much time at the students’ union building in the Arts Centre when it was still a university and I visited the many fine old buildings that my stone mason great-great grandfather William Brassington and his son Claudius helped build. 

My great-great-grand parents came to Christchurch in 1863 and met the full force of a class system that consigned them to the hell of the steerage deck on a poorly run ship ravaged by disease.  But they had a vision of a better future and they survived and put down the roots that have resulted in my great-nephews being the 6th generation to be born in this place. 

Our family home in which my father died, was a lovely old house in the Wainoni red zone and it was bulldozed a few weeks ago. The neighbourhood my mother lived and worked in for 50 years is slowly dying and most of her friends and neighbours are dispersed. The community she belonged to no longer exists and that is a shocking thing. My brothers and their respective families have lost the security they once had and I see the effects that these two years of anxiety and stress have had on them. They too no longer live or work in stable communities and sometimes find it hard to believe in a better future for the city they were born in. 

Margaret Thatcher once said that ‘…there is no such thing as society.’ What she meant was there is only a collection of individual men and women and families and that the individual is paramount or more correctly, the rights and privileges of certain individuals are paramount. This asocial view lies at the heart of all that is wrong and unhealthy in our world.

A community is more than the sum of its parts. A sense of belonging, of continuity, of mutualism lies at the very heart of what it means to be human. United, people are strong; divided, they are weak. It is a cliché but no less true for being one.  We deny the importance of community at our peril. We live increasingly alienated and asocial lives and the effects of this are obvious to those who know how critically important community is to the mental and emotional health of such profoundly social beings as we are.  And community is never more important than for the young and the old. 

Change is a constant and change sometimes hurts some people and yes, most of us adjust, even to radical change. Since the 1980s many rural communities have experienced disruptions to schools, seen local services destroyed in the name of ‘progress’ and economic rationalisation, and some may feel that this situation in Christchurch is no different.  

But there is a huge difference. This is not a rationalisation of education as part of a general process, it is the calculated use of a natural disaster to advance a political agenda.  The education plan is no more in the interests of the city’s children than the sacking of the ECAN councillors was in the interests of local democracy or organisational efficiency.   These proposals are the overt means of achieving the twin political ends of making huge reductions in the education budget, and ensuring that the people of Christchurch and Canterbury remain weak and divided and unable to have an effective say in their future. 

A government that was genuinely committed to democracy and to the future of the city and the region would never have sacked the ECAN councillors in the first place but, having done so, it would have reinstated elections as promised to enable the voters of the region to elect the people to run the Authority which they fund entirely through their rates.  

A government that was genuinely committed to the rebuilding of a strong, vibrant local economy in Canterbury would know that there is no more vital investment than in the education of the region’s children. Yes, Christchurch and Canterbury have lost many children because their parents have moved away but surely we want them to move back. What better way is there of ensuring they do not or cannot, than these sort of draconian ‘proposals’? 

A government that was genuinely committed to rebuilding Christchurch would keep open as many of the city’s schools as possible; it would see both the humanity and the sound economic sense of smaller class sizes for the region’s traumatised and unsettled children; it would take steps to keep skilled teachers and their families here to help build the future; it would understand how good schools form hubs around which communities can, and will, naturally coalesce. 

We cannot blame the planet for doing what planets do, but we can and should blame a government, which, through its actions and lack of them, has added hugely to the destruction of our city and region.The rebuilding of our city and our region needs the sensitive touch of intelligent, humane hands not more dunder-headed, ham-fisted destruction.

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