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New Zealand
New Zealand

February 14, 2013

Tyranny of the Small Steps: Mandatory Early Education in New Zealand

By Barbara Smith

Greetings from New Zealand.

Over the last few months, the Home Education Foundation has been fighting a political battle. The Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill will compel parents receiving a benefit to send their preschool children to an approved early childhood education (ECE) provider, register the children with a health care provider, and make sure they attend the government’s Well Child checks on pain of a 50% benefit sanction and intervention from social services.

While we were able to win some concessions on the bill, including the right for beneficiary parents to educate their preschoolers at home with an approved government curriculum, we were disappointed to hear that it passed Parliament on the 9th of April, 2013 by only two votes. Even a proposed amendment to prevent families being sanctioned where this would leave children without adequate support was defeated.

It’s very disappointing that government-approved ECE will now be mandatory for all preschool-aged children of beneficiaries. Throughout this fight we have been thinking of something Ruby Harrold-Claesson said when she was in New Zealand helping fight anti-spanking legislation—“the tyranny of the small steps.” We are concerned that having made ECE compulsory for beneficiaries, the government will extend it to all children in the future. We are also concerned that the enforcement of a government-approved curriculum on beneficiary parents who want to keep their preschoolers at home will set a precedent for future government control of homeschool curriculum.

However, these new rules provide an opportunity for families and churches to reconsider their proper roles and return to a Biblical vision of social welfare. If the government supports, provides for, and protects sole-parent and struggling families, then we shouldn’t be surprised when it wants to lead them in other ways as well. Whoever pays the piper calls the tune. We can’t complain that the government is taking away our rights if we aren’t willing to face responsibility ourselves.

The welfare state is a deviation from the government’s properly limited sphere. Civil government’s role is to protect national borders, punish evildoers and keep the peace. Throughout Christendom, charity and public welfare has historically been the responsibility of families and churches, not the state. Families understood their Scriptural responsibility to care for ill or needy relations. And where family support was inadequate the Church would step in to provide for the needy, as we see in 1 Timothy 5.

The Church’s role in providing health care, education, and welfare has powerfully shaped culture in the past. During the Christianisation of the Roman empire, only the Christians set up hospitals and provided support for the needy. By doing this, they were living out their faith that God would supply all their needs. This was an incredibly powerful witness to the people around them. In the mid-300s, when Julian the Apostate inherited the empire and made it his mission to stamp out Christianity, he realised that his only hope of counteracting Christian charity was to set up a rival welfare system designed to show his citizens that he was their god and only he could provide all their needs. Today the state’s rival welfare system is well-established, and Church and family have nearly abandoned their Scriptural responsibilities. It is time for us to take that responsibility back.

With Robert E. Lee, we can say that history teaches us to hope. In the coming days and years, more New Zealand parents are going to face poverty and hardship because they refuse to sign their children over to a bloated, paternal government which insists it knows best. As churches, as families, and as individual Christians, we need to be ready to support them.

Please remember us in your prayers.

Barbara Smith is the National Director of the Home Education Foundation.

 Other Resources

Learn more by visiting HSLDA’s New Zealand page.