Brian Edwards Media

A Story That Beggars Belief

Suzette Martin. Pic: Kerri Vernon

Suzette Martin. Pic: Kerri Vernon

 Sometimes what you read in the papers beggars belief. The most recent example is a story which appears in today’s Sunday Herald. It’s about the sacking of a private school teacher for using a ‘morally defiling’ text in her Year 13 English class. Lolita? Portnoy’s Complaint? Lady Chatterly’s Lover?  No, worse than that  – King Lear by that well-known pornographer William Shakespeare.

 

And this isn’t the part of the story that beggars belief. That is to be found in the teacher’s contract with the school which bars her, and I assume all teachers in the school, from encouraging children to go to university.

So what we have here is an educational establishment not only opposed to higher education but to the freedom of speech implicit in being able to encourage children to seek higher education.

Could this story get any worse? It could.  There are 15 of these schools in New Zealand and they are receiving annual government funding to the tune of $2.59 million.

This is quite simply an outrage. It is an outrage that any government should fund any private educational establishment whose rules prevent teachers from  encouraging higher education.

40-year-old Suzette Martin is the teacher who has been sacked by the Exclusive Brethren’s Westmount School in Kerikeri for teaching her Year 13 students from a modern version of King Lear. The school’s committee considered the text ‘embarrassing, corrupting and morally defiling’, a view not shared by Auckland University Shakespeare expert Professor Tom Bishop who said the modern version was, if anything, less explicit than the original and ‘a helpful way into thinking about what’s being said and what’s going on in the play.’

But that is not the central issue in this story which the Sunday Herald quite rightly describes as ‘high farce’. The central issue is a law which allows private schools to receive government funding while flouting the most fundamental pedagogic principles. In the matter of Suzette Martin’s sacking by Westmount School in Kerikeri, both education and employment law favour the school.

That no doubt accounts for the mealy-mouthed support which she has received from the Employment Relations Authority which ‘expressed sympathy’ for her situation but refused to uphold her complaint against the school.  ERA member Rosemary Monaghan said it was ‘a’very unfortunate dismissal’.

Meanwhile,  Secondary Principals’ Association of New Zealand president Patrick Walsh said the dismissal was ‘unfortunate’  but Martin ‘chose to take the job at that sort of school’. You made your bed, Suzette, now lie in it!

For the record, Martin has been with the school for four years, has a clean slate and has never previously received a warning about her teaching. None of that matters. According to Associate Education Minister Heather Roy: ‘Independent schools are free to set their own curricula and to have their own distinct ethos. Parents choose to send their children to these schools.’

Well, it seems to me that if you want to receive $2.59 million in Government funding you ought not to be ‘free to have your own distinct ethos’ when that ethos involves censorship of ideas that encourage children to seek higher education. If the Exclusive Brethren want to send their kids to schools like that, let them pay for it themselves. The record seems to suggest that they have deep pockets, deep enough certainly to fund election campaigns.

What has happened to this teacher is shameful. It shames the school, it shames the legal and educational system that makes it possible, and it will shame the teaching profession if it does not get behind Suzette Martin in her appeal against the bigotry that led to her dismissal.

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45 Comments:

  1. Oh come on Brian, be fair. The Exclusive Brethren contributed vast amounts to get the government they wanted and is it unreasonable they be rewarded for their loyalty. Besides, if we want to truely compete with the third world economies we will need to become one and limiting educational opportunities is a great start.

    Not to be churlish about Suzette Martin, but what on earth was she thinking when she locked in to bigot central in the first place.

    • Oh come on Brian, be fair. The Exclusive Brethren contributed vast amounts to get the government they wanted and is it unreasonable they be rewarded for their loyalty.

      That argument will work if they weren’t funded by the previous Labour government. I’m afraid my view of private schools generally is that if you want special treatment for you kids, you should pay for it.

  2. Nah, she gets no sympathy from me. She elected to go “teach” in a huis clos environment. Her choice. She knew where she was at, being at a school that would make Amish Mennonites seem like iPhone-carrying crazed technocrats. She over-reached herself — by flagrantantly breaching the boundaries of that particular school’s curriculum; namely, just teach the kids to print their names, recite the alphabet and count to 10. Anything more than that, is heretical and a violation of God’s will.

    If the truth be known: Suzette Martin has been liberated from the cloistered, suffocating backwardness of a drongo school. She should count herself, lucky.

    • Well even if I accept this rather harsh, “I never made a mistake in my life” style judgement, it doesn’t alter the fact that the government ought not to be funding these pharisees.

  3. There’s a lot of that sort of stuff that goes on in religious private schools. I went to a school where uni was discouraged. It was a multi-denominational religious school but nothing extreme. The church (Baptist) also discouraged university as the elders believed it led you away from God. My mother also believed the same.

    Thankfully, my seventh form dean heard I hadn’t applied and quietly sat me down with a stack of forms until I’d filled them out, and saw them safely into the post box.

  4. Pathetic – the EBs, the ERA and the government’s policy of funding these deviants. Buying whiskey by the barrel for the elders is ok but higher education? Oh dear god no…. Keep them barefoot, pregnant (if possible) and under domination.

    If a girl is “educated” in a cloistered and restricted environment, where terms such as “whore” and “prostitute” are never encountered, may she not be even more susceptible to the sexual abuse already shown to exist in this organisation? Study the implications of the Clive Allen Petrie child abuse case.
    http://forum.richarddawkins.net/viewtopic.php?f=17&t=96279&start=0

    • Study the implications of the Clive Allen Petrie child abuse case.

      I’m afraid, as I revealed in my memoir, I have first hand experience of such abuse at the hands of members of the Exclusive Brethren when I was a young boy in Northern Ireland.

  5. Agreed. Private schools should be funded by those attending…the trick is to get state schools up to par with them, except in the case of Mana College which has always been superior to any private school.

    I do agree with Merv. Ms Martin may have been done a huge favour. I imagine being fired from such a school would be hugely beneficial for her CV…

    • I do agree with Merv. Ms Martin may have been done a huge favour. I imagine being fired from such a school would be hugely beneficial for her CV…

      Now that’s plain silly. To be fired from a school cannot be good for your CV, unless of course the firing becomes a cause celebre.

  6. 6

    Nicholas O'Kane

    There is more to the story than the media tells you. She wasn’t sacked for refusing to teach shakespere but instead teaching a modernised version of the play.

    “And this isn’t the part of the story that beggars belief. That is to be found in the teacher’s contract with the school which bars her, and I assume all teachers in the school, from encouraging children to go to university.

    So what we have here is an educational establishment not only opposed to higher education but to the freedom of speech implicit in being able to encourage children to seek higher education.”

    Going to university goes against the religous beliefs of the exclusive brethren. In effect you are saying that teachers should have the freedom of speech to encourage children to go against their religous values and the values on which the school was founded.

    If you believe teachers should have such “freedom of speech” can you start a campaign to allow science teachers in state schools to be given the freedom of speech to teach that evolution is a myth, health teachers abstinence only seex education, and lastly career counsellors at schools be given the freedom of speech to discourage kids from attending university.

    • There is more to the story than the media tells you. She wasn’t sacked for refusing to teach shakespere but instead teaching a modernised version of the play.

      Well, that’s all very well, provided you don’t want state funding and the endorsement which that funding implies. As for the rest of what you have to say, I’m comfortable with the idea that the nonsense of creationism should be discussed, but certainly not that it should be ‘taught’ in state funded schools.

  7. The report contains further contradictions still!

    By discouraging students from tertiary education, the Exclusive Brethren need to rely on non-Exclusive Brethren to provide qualified staff in order to get their students to NCEA level.

    Having hired specialists to teach higher levels of subjects such as English, they then have the cheek to tell them how to do their job!

    A person suitably qualified to teach a subject at a particular level should be able to go to ANY school and expect to be able to teach it. The Exclusive Brethren have ample opportunities to brain wash these students with their bizarre beliefs, at their many out-of-school meetings – during evenings and weekends.

    While I would argue that this type of brain-washing is a form of abuse of minors, teachers at the school should at least expect to be able to get on with the job at hand.

    I might add, that students would learn a great deal more about power relationships and ethics from a great play like King Lear, than they will ever learn from hundreds of pages of the bible or from the oddball adults within their church! Maybe this is what the Exclusive Brethren leadership fears!

    Going a step further, a broader education in areas like Shakespeare may discourage further embarrassing excursions into politics as we saw in the 2005 election! King Lear is a great play about politices.

    I see Heather Roy is calling this an “independent school”. It seems that this is actually an example of an INTEGRATED school. Brian you are absolutely correct – it is a disgrace to think that the state is sponsoring such ignorance in education.

  8. What point is Nicholas O’Kane making? That its OK to get students to read the original Shakespeare script – barely intelligible to the modern reader – while it is unacceptable to read a version in plain English? Surely one purpose of reading Shakespeare is to UNDERSTAND it.

    No, Biology teachers should be teaching evolution and leaving creationism to teachers of Sunday School and Bible Class – and that should be done out of school hours. Biology, zoology, geology, genetics – all these sciences are built on foundations of evolution, you can’t avoid evolution. Evolution is not a myth.

    Health teachers exist to teach safety and health, and I would think that most would emphasise that abstinence is a good way of meeting those objectives.

    Teachers funded by the government should not be discouraging students from higher learning. Preparing students for tertiary education is a prime responsibility of the secondary sector. In a similar way, primary education prepares for secondary.

    I did not know that Exclusive Brethren can manage without doctors, dentists – they certainly can not manage without tertiary-qualified teachers.

  9. That is my point Brian. Her firing has become a cause celebre. The institution that fired her is in disrepute, not her, and I have read nothing to the contrary so far.

  10. it doesn’t alter the fact that the government ought not to be funding these pharisees.

    They’ll give you a deal … if they don’t have to pay taxes that fund others’ children’s education, they won’t ask for taxpayer’s money to fund their own.

    If this is concern with this matter, I think it’s misplaced. A group of people are receiving a smallish percentage of the taxes they pay towards school education back from the government in order to pay for school education. You, me, and the rest of country do well out of this deal. They pay enough in taxes (that go toward school education) to fund their own kids’ education and the education of others’ kids throughout the country. And I for one, am grateful.

    • If this is concern with this matter, I think it’s misplaced.

      I think this misses the point. There is an implicit connection between funding and approval. Governments don’t or at least shouldn’t be funding any institution whose practices are unacceptable. The taxpayer, in this case, should not be making any contribution to an educational establishment whose contracts contain what is essentially an anti-educational clause. If schools want to be outside the state school system, for religious or other reasons, let them be outside that system in terms of funding as well as of everything else. It’s not a matter of whether the taxpayer is getting a good deal. It’s a matter of not supporting an institution which requires its teachers not to encourage students to go on to university. I also have real doubts about the teaching of creationism if it is not accompanied by a dispassionate explanation of the theory of evolution.

  11. Never mind the teacher signed a contract with the Exclusive Brethern, or that this school gets money from this or that government, that is not the issue.

    What the issue is the Exclusive Brethern use the school to treat their community’s young adults at chattel. Year 13, that is around 18, these students are adults. They are at an age when decisions about a person’s future are to be made. By not discussing tertiary study with these people, the school is clearly shaping these adults’ future to be only within the shuttered community of their parents.

    That is an abuse of their rights. Afterall, without an education what is the future for these young adults going to be. Will they spend their lives working for richer Exclusive Brethern as they are the only jobs these students are being prepared for?

  12. This is infuriating, and sad!

    Whilst the whole situation is despicable, I am not surprised by the lack of support from the Secondary Principals’ Association of New Zealand and the ERA.

    The Secondary Principals’ Association of New Zealand do not support teachers, rather, they prefer schools to handle their own problems- which usually leads to the teacher being “in the wrong”.

    The links between the government and the church are a scandal. I wonder how much funding needs to occur before the church get their election investment back in full?

  13. There is an implicit connection between funding and approval. Governments don’t or at least shouldn’t be funding any institution whose practices are unacceptable.

    And yet, we force members of the Exclusive Brethren church to do just that.

    • And yet, we force members of the Exclusive Brethren church to do just that.

      I’m not sure I understand this. If you mean that the Exclusive Brethern have to pay taxes to support institutions or practices they don’t approve of, I’m afraid that would apply to most of us in some area. None of us can be selective in which taxes we pay.

  14. I see a perverse irony with the Exclusive Brethren — and other religious orders — who decry university education as somehow vitiating their faith. None of the teachers at the Westmount School are Brethren. But they would have been to university, in order to get the academic qualifications, so that they could teach at the school.

    I bet, anything you like, the Exclusive Brethren aren’t subsistence farmers; preferring to go shopping (with their Eftpos cards) in modern supermarkets, drive cars, have telephones and electricity etc in their homes — all these inventions made possible by way of higher learning.

    These parasitic hypocrites are quick to “tut-tut” the institutions that make it all possible, while at the same time availing themselves to the Fountain of Knowledge, which evolves from there.

    The most damaging and corrupting influences are — the church Elders deploying their ugly dogma to transplant “old heads on to young shoulders”.
    Makes you yearn for the good ol’ days of tar ‘n’ feathering — and a good stock whip to hurry-up these roosters down Main Street, and outta town.

  15. Dismissing Suzette Martin surely is a kneejerk reaction which any union worth its salt should at least challenge.Whats next public book burnings,surely we cannot allow this devolutionary step in our society?

  16. If you mean that the Exclusive Brethern have to pay taxes to support institutions or practices they don’t approve of, I’m afraid that would apply to most of us in some area. None of us can be selective in which taxes we pay.

    Certainly.

    I just think it a little churlish to force people to pay taxes for education, and then object to some of those taxes going back to them to pay for an education some of which we don’t approve of.

    When we first introduced the pension, it was only paid to those of “good character”. Doesn’t funding public drunkenness (one of the exclusions) give rise to the same concerns in terms of the endorsement that funding with taxpayer funds, brings?

    p.s. I realise that jumping from the funding of weird independent schools to pensions is a fair leap, it was just the first analogy that struck me. This isn’t a big deal for me, but I think I’ve just realised our true point of difference: I don’t think that the endorsement that state funding implies is all that large or meaningful; indeed, I’m not even sure it exists at all in this context.

    • I don’t think that the endorsement that state funding implies is all that large or meaningful; indeed, I’m not even sure it exists at all in this context.

      I doubt that there is any public funding that isn’t explicitly or implicitly conditional. I’m sticking with my view that funding provided by the state with the ultimate goal of improving the education of students should not be available to any school seeking to deter students getting an education when they leave the school. I’m afraid that seems to me to be stating the bloody obvious.

  17. These weirdo schools have students preparing for NCEA – yes?

    Given this, I don’t see that the state is obligated to fund a school that is thumbing its nose at the NCEA curriculum!

    This nutter school is not giving young adult students the best chance to succeed.

    An English teacher should be charged with teaching English in the curriculum to the best of her ability. Her mind should not be cluttered with the obscure and myopic agendas of some religion – surely the religion can be taught either as a subject like “Religious Studies” or in the student’s leisure time.

    The advantage of this would be that the students could see this version of the supernatural as what it is – something that you take or leave.

  18. This nutter school is not giving young adult students the best chance to succeed.

    So we should do what we can to ensure they have even less of a chance of succeeding by denying these children taxpayer support for literacy and numeracy education? Because then the kids will be better off! It’s the same thought process that leads to cutting benefits – when parents get the message that they need to work, and get a job, their kids will be better off than on a benefit – sure, but if the parents don’t get the message, their kids will suffer.

    How is either a solution?

    • So we should do what we can to ensure they have even less of a chance of succeeding by denying these children taxpayer support for literacy and numeracy education? Because then the kids will be better off!

      Oh really, Graeme! So by refusing to condone the practice of forcing staff to sign a contract in which they undertake not to encourage students to go to university, we are somehow preventing these children get a basic education. This presupposes that if they lose the $2.6 million which is shared between 15 schools, the schools will have to close. And that will somehow be the fault of people who find the clause iniquitous. The whole argument is nonsense. We’re talking about the Exclusive Brethern here. The schools will not close. And if they did, it would be the fault of the fundamentalist bigots who came up with this condition. What should happen is that the Government should make the removal of the clause or of any such restriction on teachers a condition of receiving the funding. If the church refuses to accept that condition, then the blame for any damage will lie squarely with it. The clause is simply unacceptable. I’m afraid you’ve moved now from reasonable debate to Jesuitic casuistry.

  19. I dont have children….yet pay taxes……I will now contact IRD and request a sizable refund as I will not be using the education system……

    • I dont have children….yet pay taxes……I will now contact IRD and request a sizable refund as I will not be using the education system……

      That is a completely irrational comparison. Firstly, these are schools which have chosen to opt out of the state school system. Secondly, the purpose of the funding is to encourage, not to discourage children from gaining the best possible education.

  20. Not that the schools will have to close, but they’ll have less money to spend on educating and won’t do as good a job at it because of this.

    The whole argument is nonsense. We’re talking about the Exclusive Brethern here. The schools will not close. And if they did, it would be the fault of the fundamentalist bigots who came up with this condition. What should happen is that the Government should make the removal of the clause or of any such restriction on teachers a condition of receiving the funding. If the church refuses to accept that condition, then the blame for any damage will lie squarely with it.

    And what the government should do is lower the DPB for anyone who buys cigarettes, and if parents refuse to accept that condition, then the blame for their hungry children will be squarely on the parents.

    • And what the government should do is lower the DPB for anyone who buys cigarettes, and if parents refuse to accept that condition, then the blame for their hungry children will be squarely on the parents.

      Smoking is an addiction. Imposing on others the belief that higher education should not be encouraged isn’t. (Though you will no doubt be able to produce an argument that it is.) No one would suggest punishing children for their parents’ addictions. Though Christian fundamentalists like the Exclusive Brethren might be inclined to quote Exodus that ‘the sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the sons to the third and fourth generation’.

      One wonders how many more absurd analogies defenders of these schools will manage to dredge up.

  21. (NIGEL WILSON):”…the trick is to get state schools up to par with them (private schools), except in the case of Mana College which has always been superior to any private school”.

    Bloody hell, a fellow ex-Mana Collegian !!!
    My old Porirua school was always known informally as “Mana College” but its official title has always been, of course, “Mana Preparatory Collegiate for very well brought up young ladies and gentlemen”. Very much an ivy-clad academy for western Porirua’s young social elite.

  22. I was pointing out the stupidity of a previous comment….It was suggested that private schools should get public funding as the parents of these children pay taxes also…..using that mentality childless people should get some sort of tax break, as they dont use the system at all.

  23. People take jobs and not always 100% have to agree with they all think. Sure Suzette may have slipped up with a couple of issues BUT where is the due process of sacking??? NO verbal warnings AND upheld by ERO!! Also not impressed that Suzette is having trouble finding other work… it’s not like the EB’s are general education thereby where’s the support for this wonderful woman? People do slip up and it’s about seeing the case – she did not steal anything, she simply slipped into her nature of assisting/encouragin people to look forward – part of our innate being.
    I’ve email John Key and don’t think I’ll get much response. Why on earth are we funding Private cults when the many regular schools are bleeding and crying out for assistance?

  24. “So we should do what we can to ensure they have even less of a chance of succeeding by denying these children taxpayer support for literacy and numeracy education? Because then the kids will be better off!”

    Graeme, I don’t know if you realise this, but we have compulsory education here in New Zealand!

    If removing the government handout to this system meant that just one child could escape this wet-behind-the-ears regime – then his/her literacy would improve, having the opportunity to study great literature like King Lear!

    At present it seems clear that Exclusive Brethren school produces literate ignoramuses. Expert in Exclusive Brethrenism through this censorship and indoctrination, but with no knowledge to enable them to handle the street.

  25. Everyone benefits from the products of this system so indirectly everyone benefits.(dependent on the education system in place)

    • Everyone benefits from the products of this system so indirectly everyone benefits.(dependent on the education system in place)

      ?????

  26. 26

    Wrodyl Eggwhyte

    The postings from Graeme Edgler are really quite confusing, I’m not sure where he’s coming from.
    Mayhap, he’s a closet “EB”, hisself. In the daytime, he sneaks into an internet cafe to use a computer to post his blogs; and, at night, he’s studying the bible under candlelight.

  27. Sorry my cat hit my mouse before I had edited the error and finished my statement(if that makes sense).
    The people who suggested that as there was no direct benefit for the tax they pay must realise well educated people benefit us all.I also wonder if the Bretheren plan to start their own university run exclusively with its own values.

  28. Graeme, I don’t know if you realise this, but we have compulsory education here in New Zealand!

    If removing the government handout to this system meant that just one child could escape this wet-behind-the-ears regime – then his/her literacy would improve, having the opportunity to study great literature like King Lear!

    And if halving the DPB meant just one mother got a job and helped her family escape from the cycle of welfare dependency it would all be worth it!

    Yes we do have compulsory education in New Zealand, thus, it seems to me reasonable for the taxpayer to pay for some of it for all children, regardless of how much you hate their parents.

  29. Awaiting response from Min.of.Education.
    Still want to know how Suzette is holding up and dismayed that it’s been hard for her to find a new job. Surely other schools are aware of the glitches involved and that she would be great within their own schools???

  30. The Employment Relations has so much to answer for. They wring their hands, and say there’s nothing they can do. Maybe the crux of the matter is the restrictive and repressive employment contract offered to teachers. Have they scrutinised these? How is it that some employers are penalised for expectations of required performance and but not Exclusive Brethren schools?

  31. DEAR FRIENDS,
    THANK YOU EVERYONE FOR COMMENTING AND ENCOURAGING ME IN SOME WAY OR THE OTHER IN DEALING WITH THE MOST SHOCKING SYSTEM THAT IVE EVER ENCOUNTERED. LOOKING BACK AT MY TIME THERE I NOW FEEL LIBERATED AND I FEEL FOR THE MANY OTHERS THAT ARE IN THIS SYSTEM THAT ARE GOING THROUGH A DIFFICULT TIME WITH THE EBS BUT THEIR HANDS ARE TIED AND THEIR LIPS ARE SEALED BECAUSE THEY NEED THEIR JOBS.

    • DEAR FRIENDS,
      THANK YOU EVERYONE FOR COMMENTING AND ENCOURAGING ME IN SOME WAY OR THE OTHER IN DEALING WITH THE MOST SHOCKING SYSTEM THAT IVE EVER ENCOUNTERED. LOOKING BACK AT MY TIME THERE I NOW FEEL LIBERATED AND I FEEL FOR THE MANY OTHERS THAT ARE IN THIS SYSTEM THAT ARE GOING THROUGH A DIFFICULT TIME WITH THE EBS BUT THEIR HANDS ARE TIED AND THEIR LIPS ARE SEALED BECAUSE THEY NEED THEIR JOBS

      Suzette was featured in a blog last month. You can revisit it at http://brianedwardsmedia.co.nz/2010/05/a-story-that-beggars-belief/

      Good to hear from you Suzette. Glad to have helped in a small way.

  32. Dear friends, I congratulate Suzette for standing for what she believes in. But did she get a fair deal, or is it because shes a woman? I heard that there was a teacher at the Kaipara Campus that was dismissed for doinga similar thing as Suzette,ie showing an award winning video in his class, but was paid out a huge sum of money. Are women not equal acording to these ebs?