Dotcom’s boarding school in a castle

There’s been some nitpicking at The Standard about Kim Dotcom’s childhood schooling – with implications that attending a boarding school in a castle doesn’t detract from an ‘impoverished’ childhood.

At the Mana conference Dotcom spoke:

“My mother had to work three jobs to feed us. I would go to bed hungry, often, and I would eat toast with sugar, and I would eat toast with ketchup”.

That may refer to earlier in his childhood – family circumstances can change, and at some stage Dotcom’s parents divorced.

Die Welt on Kim Schmitz/Dotcom suggests that Dotcom’s childhood wasn’t all hardship.

He is reported as getting his first computer when he was nine (in 1983 computers weren’t cheap) and at twelve he ran ten phone lines out of his bedroom.

Die Velt said “Kim wurde auf das Plöner Schlossinternat geschickt” – he was sent to the boarding school at Plön Castle.

Staatliche Internat Schloss Plön – a state boarding school, as the links show it’s not an ordinary city or town high school, it was a boarding school located at an historic castle.

A German source has described an Internat as a “special school for special children”.

In Germany children started school at six in Hauptschule. The most academic children were moved to a Gymnasium (like Internat Schloss Plön) usually at nine years old until eighteen.

See Plön Castle and Schloss Plön.

In 1969 Der Spiegel said it cost 300 marks per month to attend Internat Schloss Plön. If Dotcom attended it would have been in the eighties. It’s possible he could have had a scholarship.

Court documents from his first arrest in 1994 confirm he attended Internat Schloss Plön from second year (usually 10 years old), he advanced a year and  graduated at 17 with a better than normal diploma. It sounds like he was a smart child.

It wasn’t an ordinary school for average or impoverished German kids.

The translation described the school as ‘posh’ – Die Velt wrote “Kim wurde auf das Plöner Schlossinternat geschickt”. That doesn’t say “posh”. The translator may have assumed posh because Schlossinternat implies a flasher then normal school, a boarding school in a castle.

After he left school he lived in an apartment and was given an allowance of 1200 marks per month by his mother who was now with a stepfather. That’s a substantial allowance. He wouldn’t live with his father due to alcohol problems.

Die Velt also says Dotcom got his first computer when he was 9. That was 1983, even basic computers weren’t cheap then, a ZX81 was about $300 in New Zealand but to expand from a paltry 1 kb of RAM to 16 kb cost about another $200.

Die velt says “Three years later, well before the World Wide Web was available to everyone, Schmitz used 12 telephone lines to hack into other computers” – Dotcom would have been 12 then, obviously with some resources.

This barely scratches the surface of Dotcom’s childhood, but it doesn’t sound like an average Mana family lifestyle.

Letting kids play like kids

Dunedin’s The Star has a front page article on Free play pays, schools say (view here). It’s about schools involved in a study to see if there are benefits in letting kids play like kids at school rather than protecting them in nanny school cotton wool.

Four Dunedin schools have thrown away the rule book and given their pupils more freedom on the playing field, leading to more skinned knees but more active and focussed pupils.

Kids who can let of steam in the playground do better in the classroom – and disrupt other kids less.

(Schools) took part in a University of Otago study into how relaxing playground rules would affect physical activity.

The two year multidisciplinary “Play Study” finished last year but both schools (that agreed to interviews) have kept the hands-off approach and allow pupils more freedom during lunch and breaks.

The results of the study have not yet been published but both principals said while it was hard to say for certain if more activity in then playground led to more attention in the classroom, so far it seemed to have worked.

Play Study co-ordinator Victoria Farmer, a senior research technician at the University of Otago, said researchers had been surprised by the enthusiasm for the project.

It just shows what people have been saying for a long time about being too careful with children and the benefits of letting themselves go and learn for themselves.

The enthusiasm shouldn’t be a surprise. Suppressing the natural enthusiasm of children to explore, experiment and play has been misguided.

There have also been potential issues reported on whether things like sun protection go too far. Sometimes paranoai seems to predominate.

What have the kids been allowed to do?

One of the most popular changes the school made was to allow pupils outside when it rained. The school bought 50 pairs of gumboots and 50 raincoats and pupils were encouraged to bring wet-weather gear from home.

“When it rains these kids can still get outside and jump in puddles and splash each other and burn off all that excess energy”.

In the old days we used to do that on the way too and from school. Now it’s usually the parent’s cars and SUVs driving through the puddles.

The study changed the way the schools thought about play.

Instead of complex playground equipment pupils now climbed trees or made their own fun with objects like concrete tunnels and old tyres. Pupils were more active than before.

Pupils were allowed to climb trees up to a certain height, which led them to create a game where they tried to climb from tree to tree without touching the ground.

Trees, logs, they were common parts of my childhood. A log could be a truck, a ship, whatever we wanted it to be. We built tree huts ourselves. We dug underground huts. We dug caves. Obviously the building and digging wasn’t at school.

Today there is too much cotton wool, too much electronics, too much plastic, too much manufactured “fun”. This starts from birth where toys and activity centres with every colour and bell and whistle imaginable clutter babies senses.

Children commonly have more toys before their first birthday than I had in my entire childhood.

We have a society where too much is provided to our kids and they are prevented from doing things for themselves and exploring their imaginations.

Maybe this study is a sign that the tide may be starting to turn on a cotton wooled molly coddled society.

There’s poverty and there’s NZ ‘poverty’

Euan Ross-Taylor  questions the use of the term ‘poverty’ in a New Zealand context, and suggests how the problem of hungry kids could be dealt with. He commented at Whale Oil:

Poverty is what needs to be addressed – not child poverty. Parents need to be taught that purchase of ‘luxury’ items when children go without basics is child neglect.

And also:

I want to add here that I spent 10 years working with true poverty overseas among the homeless (squattors).

The language being used by people over our ‘hungry’ children in NZ is silly. They are not as far as I have been made aware , ‘starving’. They go to school without eating breakfast. They are being fed the wrong diet.

My children did not eat breakfast before going to school. They are at university now and still choose not to eat what I would consider a proper breakfast, but then I was brought up on a farm where there were chores to be done before breakfast everyday. We enjoyed our breakfast.

As much as I do not want to put more work on teachers, I do think that identifying children who are hindered in their learning because of being hungry is/should be part of successful teaching practise.

Having a social worker attached to each school to follow up with the identified families would be much more helpful than blanket feeding programs.

If the families of these kids still continue their neglect, the social workers could have a budget to provide lunchbags to the said kids on arriving at school, until such time as the parents of said kids could be convinced one way or another to provide better for their children.

I can’t see why this is so difficult.

Sounds like a considered, sensible approach to me.

Dunne won’t “Feed the Kids”

Hone Harawira has a Feed the Kids bill:

The Bill aims to set up government funded breakfast and lunch programmes in all decile 1-2 schools.

The Bill is expected to come before Parliament for its first reading on Wednesday 5 June.  So far Labour, Greens, Maori Party, NZ First, and Independent MP Brendan Horan have agreed to support it.  We need one more vote to get it passed and to a select committee for further consideration.

Peter Dunne’s vote would be the one that makes the difference to get this bill passed on the first vote. I asked him if he would support it. Dunne responded:

I fully understand what is intended by this essentially laudable proposals, but I think it is fundamentally flawed for a number of reasons.

Of course, there is a significant number of children who go to school to hungry, because they have not been properly fed at home, and of course poor nutrition has an adverse effect on learning and the subsequent development of the child. That is not the issue – rather, the question is what is the best way of addressing this problem.

At one level, the idea of meals in schools is superficially attractive, but it is essentially palliative, and does little to deal with the circumstances of these children on a long term basis.

Then there is the question of which group of children should we be focusing on. After all, not all children in schools will come from the same socio-economic backgrounds. So, should such a programme be applied universally, which would be as expensive as it would be impractical, or should it be more tightly targeted?

And if so, how? Should, for example, it just apply in low decile schools, even though there will children in those schools from a higher socio-economic status who would not need such a programme?

In that event, what about low-income household children in higher decile schools? Or, to get around income definition problems, should the children of beneficiaries be the only ones eligible?

Whatever way one looks at the issue, the definitional problems are massive, and strongly suggest that such a programme would not only be unsustainable, but also impractical, and in a number of cases potentially inequitable.

That is why I take the view that a much more realistic and workable approach is to target directly, through early identification by community agencies, at risk families and to work with them to help them  get the support they need to properly feed their children.

That support could take any number of forms, depending on individual circumstances, including direct assistance with the provision of food, at one end of the scale, through to such things as life skills advice on cooking, for example, and proper budget advice at the other end of the scale.

Such a targeted approach is far more likely to succeed in the long term, and benefit directly at-risk children, and would have my full support. 

So that looks like a no for the Harawira bill.

Dunne makes a strong argument for a far more targeted approach at the source of the problems (and there are multiple problems that need addressed).

A teacher’s view on hungry kids

On a 3 News blog by Lachlan Forsyth – A poverty of ideas:

Annie G  commented:

It really concerns me I am a teacher of 37 years working in a decile 1 school and I know that much of this comes from inadequate ignorant parenting.

Whilst I agree kids with empty bellies are bad news I am concerned that feeding them at school at an added cost to the tax payer is breeding yet another generation of needy unable to cope and support a family people.

I used to run a food supply at my school during a prolonged freezing work strike. It ended because I knew parents were using it as an easy option.

We need to put money in to:

  1. Getting parents out of bed in the morning to feed their kids.
  2. Teaching parents that a baked potato for example is better than noodles or expensive cereal.
  3. To leave food for the kids set up on the table if they cant be there in the morning due to working hours / whatever.
  4. Feeding the kids is NOT the responsibility of the tax payer.
  5. Money for drugs and alcohol is NOT a priority.
  6. Bring back basic cooking and budgeting lessons. Not the “technology type of clap trap taught today.

Surely some of the money Iwi have received in Treaty settlement could go towards educating the parents and feeding the kids.

Sadly many sympathetic New Zealandrs who think feeding kids at school is the way to deal with this issue have had no experience of the inadequacy of many of our kids parents. Some parents need to think about where when and how they spend their benefit $$

I know of many low income wage earning kiwis who struggle to feed their kids but they manage as they think about where the priorities lie.

John Key travels whilst NZ falls deeper in to the mire of poverty and lack of vision.

Vicki responds:

Annie G you are wrong, there isn’t enough money on a low wage or benefit to pay housing, power and then food on top. The typical low income or benefit covers housing, power, petrol ..there is nothing left after that for food.

Also the majority of beneficaries are only short term, long term benefit use is a small minority….you seem to be prejudice against certain people, but the fact is, working or not food and housing is so insanely expensive something has to be done to help these kids.

And Katrina respionds to that:

Vicki I don’t think Annie G is being prejudice, she sounds like she knows what she is talking about after having been at the coal face.

Anyone in a school environment on a regular basis sees the variety of parents within a school. Some are genuine people who have fallen on temporary hard times and some parents really are of a different mentality where they expect everyone else to do everything.

We see this different attitude in schools that are a higher decile as well the attitude is the same just the bank balance is different.

Solving the hungry kids at school problem

Solving child poverty – make the fat kids give half their school lunch to the impoverished kids, and solve the obesity problem at the same time.

Call it a consumption tax.

More seriously, how would free food at school affect:

  • the obesity problem?
  • the bad parent problem?
  • the lazy kid in the morning problem?

I was often too late and lazy to bother about breakfast before school.

Culture of violence in schools

New Zealand’s culture of violence is spread through much of our society. That it is apparently protected by schools trying to protect their reputations at the cost of teacher and pupil safety is, if true, disgraceful.

The secret story of violence in schools

A teacher is punched in the face, another is shoved in the chest and their lunch stolen, one is regularly verbally abused while another has their car vandalised.  But at the schools’ request, none of it is reported to police.

Post-Primary Teachers Association president Robin Duff called the situation “intolerable”.

He said, in the PPTA News, the teachers’ union could not continue to be “complicit in this conspiracy of silence” that concealed the level of violence within schools.

He said competitiveness in schools gave them an incentive to hide issues of violence towards teachers and staff, and some schools didn’t want police involved because it could lead to negative publicity.

The national executive was “particularly concerned” to learn that some schools were actually forbidding teachers from reporting instances to police.

This is similar to families who keep violence secret to avoid exposing their reputation or mana to scrutiny. But…

The Secondary Principals’ Association was reluctant to support the  PPTA’s move.

President Patrick Walsh said he had not seen any evidence of a conspiracy of silence, nor was he aware of principals banning teachers from reporting assaults to police.

An open inquiry would find out if he’s right or not.

Walsh said some schools could be worried by bad publicity associated with assaults, but principals would be foolish to cover up violence against teachers because it could result in a personal grievance case against the school.

But there are serious claims that it’s happening.

Until we deal with our violence problems openly and honestly the culture will continue to ruin people’s lives – can it will continue to cost some lives.

Dirty school secrets, like dirty family secrets, need to be exposed and addressed. This takes courage, but it’s something we as a country need to do.


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