Gloriavale (again)

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It is perhaps very apt that the first column on my new blog should be about Gloriavale.  I seem to have been on about them half my life.

It is 20 years or more since I started writing about Gloriavale, and ten since I challenged the Education Review Office on the positive reviews it kept giving the private school on site.

I will never forget the logic that agency used: that no matter what we think about the curriculum taught at the school, it is what the community wanted.  No matter what we thought about the statutory school leaving age of 16 years, it is OK if Gloriavale children choose to leave at 15.

No matter that the system institutionalises sexism (girls in the laundry and kitchen, boys on the farm and producing stuff). Nor that it teaches a form of fundamentalist Christianity which insists that the order of things in the Old Testament is the natural and immutable order of things for all time.

I did not know, two decades ago, that all of these things came with a nasty garnish of sexual assault and rape. That education included the sexual grooming of youth, although even then I would not have been surprised to hear it.  Nor did I know that school students were required to work huge hours before and after school.

So it was really interesting to be back on Newstalk ZB recently being asked whether I thought Gloriavale should be shut down.  Talkback is the home of the definitive answer.  There are to be no half measures.  In truth, though, I could see options where the community might stay open.

Reform the leadership so there is democratic governance.  Bring in an elected leadership which supports the community.

Close the school (this has always been my strong view) and send the children out to ordinary schools around the area so that they would mix with normal children and get a good general education.

Pay the workers proper wages and charge people rents for living there.  Reform the institutional focus of mass cooking and laundry and allow people to start living their own lives.

Because it is a beautiful place and, however misguided the model that built it, people can make good lives in that community, properly conceived.

I also gave my view, and here we will see how prescient I am, that the Gloriavale community is about to fall apart due to the many pressures on it.  I give it no longer than three years. These pressures come from within and without.  What will emerge from the ashes will be an interesting new model.

Much of the current scrutiny has come about because of the ground-breaking work of Liz Gregory and her friends at the Gloriavale Leavers Association. Until that group emerged, there was no alternative discourse within Gloriavale to the leadership warning that anyone who left would take nothing with them and would go to hell.

Gloriavale was a product of its times, the misogynist 1970s.  It was set up by a convicted sex offender who surrounded himself with old men and forced everyone into rigid rules of hierarchy, authoritarianism and gendered slavery. It lasted longer than one might expect, but is not on its last legs.

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About Insight Aotearoa

Most of the blogs published here will either respond to initiatives elsewhere or will be ‘newsmaking’. Some will also be reflective in more general terms. The blogs will be topical and interesting. I like to inject some humour into my blogs.

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