Gordon Campbell on the Keen-Minshull fallout, and the zombie revival of national standards

90ba2e169d178de3bab7Oh, the irony. Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull has made a career out of inciting public hostility against the trans community, only to find herself on the receiving end of public hostility at her Auckland rally. In a further case of karmic justice, the people who brought her into the country ended up inspiring the biggest pro-trans rally in New Zealand’s history, in Wellington. Christchurch also held a sizeable pro-trans gathering.

Overall, the episode also ended up validating the controversial decision to allow Keen-Minshull into the country. The public disorder was relatively minor, in that Keen-Minshull had her hateful message drowned out, and got sprayed with tomato juice. Banning her however, would have given her the victim status that she and her supporters crave.

A ban would also have handed National a further weapon to depict the government as a bunch of liberal elitists intolerant of dissent. We would have been hearing from ACT and National about the trampled-on rights of Keen-Minshull all the way to the election. Instead, the Keen-Minshull visit has contributed to an outpouring of public support and a welcome validation of the trans community.

Strategically, the episode has been an own goal for another minority group – the so-called trans-exclusionary radical feminists (aka terfs). This group chose to associate themselves with Keen-Minshull, apparently too star struck by her celebrity to closely examine her anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and yes, neo-Nazi support base.

To take one example of the latter among several: as recently as January of this year, one of the speakers at a UK rally that she headlined used their time at the microphone to cite Hitler and Mein Kampf as authorities on trans culture, reportedly without any pushback from Keen-Minshull.

In future, the anti-trans group would be wise to choose more carefully which overseas speakers they use as a platform for their ideas. The Canadian feminist Megan Murphy for instance, carries less negative side baggage. Or even J.K. Rowling, who reportedly described the events at the Auckland’s rally as “repellent.” A useful collation and timeline of Rowling’s statements hostile to trans rights can be found here. Yet thankfully, the Keen-Minshull episode will cast a giant shadow over any future rallies along the same lines.

Truancy rates

Last year, the Labour government was routinely blamed by the National Party for a cost of living crisis here that – in reality – has mirrored what has been a global rise in inflation. In much the same fashion, the Labour government is now being regularly blamed by National leader Christopher Luxon for what appears to be a global drop in school attendance, post-Covid. Here’s the situation in Australia:

In 2014 eight out of every ten students were attending school for more than 90% of the time. In 2022 only five in ten students were attending at that rate. This suggests there has been a marked increase in the number of students who are missing at least a week of school a year.

And here’s the situation in the UK:

One in five pupils in England were reported as persistently absent during the last school year, with Covid and other illnesses the biggest contributors to soaring classroom absence rates compared with pre-pandemic years.

The figures from the Department for Education (DfE) showed the aftermath of the pandemic continued to significantly affect state school attendance into the summer of 2022.

And in the US, it is the same story:

Unfortunately, all of the key student indicators are currently pointing downward. Student achievement fell sharply in the wake of COVID-19 and students are still far below where they otherwise might be. About twice as many students were chronically absent last year than the year before the pandemic, and those rates are especially bad in large urban districts and among historically disadvantaged and low-income students.

That doesn’t mean that our government can do nothing to address what is, however, a global problem. But it is delusionary to treat the cause of a global problem as one that has originated with the Labour government here, and where the solution is said to be voting in a National government.

In the light of those global trends, that’s not a strong argument. Especially not when National seems to be hellbent on resurrecting its failed experiment in national standards by giving it a different name. Jack Tame made a valiant attempt on the weekend to get National’s Erica Stanford to explain the difference between National’s discredited national standards policy and its allegedly new policy. As Stanford has put it:

We’re not talking about testing, and standardised testing, we’re talking about standardised progression assessment.”

Got that? Standardised testing is claimed to be something quite, quite different from “standardised progression assessment.” Moreover… As Stanford concedes, while standardised testing placed a “massive overload of workload” on teachers, “standard progression assessment,” somehow, will not. As the Education Minister Jan Tinetti pointed out:

They haven’t said how much their changes will cost, or how they will resource them or what their commitments to teachers and their pay is. I’m really concerned about it because the sector doesn’t seem to have been involved in the development of this.”

But hey, who needs inputs from those negative, nay-saying teachers? Instead, Stanford has been speaking to people who agree with her, and they’ve told her she could knock out a whole new curriculum in two weeks. Here’s Stanford again:

“I’ve talked to curriculum experts around the country in different subject areas and I said to them do you need six months, do you need a year… they said to me ‘Erica, you put the right people in the right room, we can have it done in two weeks.

“I’m not going to give them two weeks of course, but you can create a really great curriculum in a very short period of time.”

Hmm. IMO, if you’re listening to people who tell you that a whole new education curriculum for the future learning needs of the nation’s children can be done and dusted in a fortnight, you’re mixing with the wrong crowd.

Small but perfectly formed

To date, central banks have had only a dilemma to worry about. As in… Do they (a) keep on raising interest rates and risk a hard landing for the economy and a deeper recession, or (b) do they hit the pause button on the rate increases, and then risk the entrenching of inflation ?

Unfortunately, the US Federal Reserve now has a third factor to worry about. Will jacking up interest rates aggressively trigger some further runs on the banks, and jeopardise the stability of the entire banking system?

Late last week, and with some trepidation, the Federal Reserve found a balance: It endorsed a teeny, tiny .25 rate increase to do something about inflation, but not enough of a rise to create panic in the wrong places. Truly, there are no happy choices for central banks these days, only the options of least regret:

A small rate hike to show the Fed is still serious about inflation, but small enough to (hopefully) not create fresh trauma for US banks? Perhaps a signal to the market that the banking crisis is contained and the Fed isn’t panicking?

With careful management, and some luck, the Fed no doubt hopes that the shock from bank collapses will take some steam out of the economy and inflation, heading off the need for further rate increases, but without sparking a total financial meltdown.

Banking worries aside, the era of central banks continually jacking up interest rates is drawing to a close. By this time next year, we could well be talking about falling interest rates, and the potential for rising house prices, buoyed by the falling cost of borrowing.