I was reading the NZ Herald this past weekend & perused an article written by a schoolboy with growing disquiet. He was arguing the case for inequality, sorry ‘weighting’ of certain school subjects. It was not really the content of what he said that disturbed me so much, after all I’m happy to have a good strong argument about most things, it was the unspoken assumptions underlying the constructs that gave me pause. Do read it on the NZ Herald site here: NZ Herald.
Why did he write it? Ostensibly to plead the case for NCEA to re-visit the issue of valuing certain, he calls ‘hard’ subjects, more than other ‘soft’ subjects. You could be mean & interpret his plea as simply a gripe about losing out on the Dux award to a girl who chose to study ‘soft’ subjects & didn’t have to work as hard as him because she chose not to do more than was required. I’m not going there. His arguments are well constructed but off the mark, because they are written by an intelligent boy who has been brought up to believe that it is only the almighty dollar that matters.
There are two words that drive human civilisation. Two polarising camps that rarely co-exist & are always in conflict. Two definitions of what it is to be human & to have a meaningful & fulfilling life. Wealth and Compassion. If you put money above all else, you know what camp you reside in. If you put people (and other living creatures) above everything, you are obviously truly compassionate. There are very few Mother Teresa's in this world, but there are, unfortunately, quite a number of wannabe Warren Buffets. But no one can truly remain always in one camp. Our positions change throughout our lives depending on circumstances. Our recent election result was a victory for the swing towards Compassion over Wealth, but the fact that it was so close shows what a divide we have. In chasing Wealth, humankind has created most of the great advances our civilisation has ever seen. But it has also created all of the worst ills.
Unbeknownst to him, Filip demonstrated only too well what a hard-nosed position one can take when one is brought up in the Wealth camp with only a smattering of Compassion for show. He simply does not value the arts equally, favouring the mainly traditional ‘intellectual’ pursuits. Those that apparently lead to wealth & fortune. Those that apparently benefit humankind more so should be valued more. No, sorry not that. I meant those that apparently benefit him personally (“get you further in life”) should be valued more. This is the core of the issue. If you assign more ‘value’ to a Porsche car than a street musician with an empty guitar case open in from of them, then you sit with Filip in the Wealth camp. Ask yourself this… Would you be happier in a world (and would a world be happier) where Porsche’s abounded and music did not exist? I suspect not. But before you leap to conclusions, I think a world where music existed & Porsches were nowhere to be seen would be a poorer one. It is a balancing act.
Completely ignore one over the other at your peril. Read the story of King Midas which tells far better than I can of the perils of having a golden touch at pursuing wealth above all else. But how can you be actively compassionate without money? Wealth is a driver because it is the foundation of our society, the cornerstone of our development & progress, but the imbalance that has always existed between these two camps has now reached break point. In previous centuries, nothing that mankind did in its pursuit of Wealth was irreversible. Today, we are on the brink of altering our very ecosystem, harming beyond repair the environment that has always nurtured and protected us. Why? Because we cannot pull back from the drive to Wealth. The urge for power and Wealth overrides even our survival instinct, like a monkey with a hand full of nuts stuck in the neck of a jar. This beautiful country for example, being slowly poisoned by the very agriculture that has made it wealthy, cannot recognise the dire warnings & act to change, because it will be detrimental to individual & collective Wealth.
Filip: “Furthermore, even if all data supporting disparities is negated, surely any school that bills its Dux as the "top academic achiever" has a duty to emphasise, well, academic subjects - subjects that, by common consensus, are ones that can be constantly improved upon through further study.” So Filip dismisses acting, cooking, painting, photography, physical education, Polynesian dance, drama, media, sustainability, performing arts, social work, theology, Early Childhood Education… I kid you not, I’ve simply pulled out these subjects from what he wrote. He points out that no-one studying these could possibly be rated above someone studying calculus or science or law… Well, it would be tempting for me to argue that some of the ‘soft’ subjects he is dismissive of are actually more worthy than the ‘hard’ subjects he is so attached to. But I actually don’t believe that because as I’ve stated, it’s a balance. If we didn’t have people studying calculus we wouldn’t, as a civilisation, have any form of scientific progress. If we didn’t have people studying painting, we would not be able to enrich our souls. Why is it when people acquire huge wealth they then start to acquire beautiful art? Money on its own is simply worthless. Art without anyone to buy it would not be sustainable.
If Filip managed to replace his Wealth focus with one of Compassion, he would see that his arguments are instantly worthless. His underlying premise that to be worthy of value a subject has to have the potential to make you rich, thereby demeaning all the other subjects is fatally flawed. In past generations, this flaw would be worrying because it would lead to greater inequality & less compassion towards those less fortunate. In today’s generation it will truly be literally fatal because it is this very attitude that will lead to the destruction of our climate, our environment & ultimately, our species. I sincerely hope he is not representative of all thinking kids coming out of education today.