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Has Webworm Found New Zealand’s Weirdest School?
How does a school get to thumb its nose at the national curriculum & still get taxpayer money? And why doesn't the Ministry of Education care?
Before we talk about weird schools people choose to send their kids to, a few things on my mind.
I adored the Ask Me Anything we did last week. Thanks for taking part. I love answering your weird and nosy questions, even questions about beans.
I am excited and scared as Mister Organ opens in the US starting this Friday 6th. A small indie artist called Taylor Swift has put a slight spanner in the works by booking every independent theatre in the US to play her concert doc on the 13th — which makes it hard to find screens to play my weird documentary on. But on we push!
I’ve added final in-person Q&As to kick shit off (selling fast):
New York (please stay safe, I know global warming is kicking your ass rn):
Oct 6 - NY Roxy: 5pm (tickets)
Critics don’t hate it, so can’t wait for audiences to start seeing it.
If you are a New Zealander, please vote in the election on October 14. Voting places will be open from 9am to 7pm. If you’re overseas like me, you can vote right now, online, here.
Why does it matter that you vote? Right now, we are tracking for a truly deranged result of having National, Act and New Zealand First in charge. This will be really shit, especially for poor people. This is not the New Zealand that makes me excited about New Zealand. So — vote.
We can still change things.
I also wanted to note for the record that Sean Plunket (the man who gleefully tweeted court documents about me) has a new target: 21 year old political candidate Hana-Rāwhiti Maipi-Clarke. Why? Well — she had her house invaded and vandalised in what she called “a politically motivated attack":
On Friday evening Te Pāti Māori put out a statement sayin “a line was crossed”.
“Our Hauraki-Waikato candidate, Hana-Rāwhiti Maipi-Clarke’s home was invaded, vandalised, and left with a threatening letter. This premeditated and targeted attack is the latest of three incidents to take place at Hana's home just this week.”
Most sane, non-racist people would look at this and go “This sucks, I hope the police do their thing and get to the bottom of this.” Instead Sean — a 59-year-old angry white broadcaster — has taken to Twitter with various “just asking questions” tweets alleging she is a huge liar. Sean is relentless. He spent months helping Michael Organ spread disinformation about me. He’s now doing the same with a 21 year old woman.
It’s so gross.
Today though, I wanted to talk about weird schools.
Has Webworm Found New Zealand’s Weirdest School?
I’ve been thinking about this since I started writing about Bethlehem College, a school in my old hometown that receives taxpayer money whilst gleefully making some kids feel like huge pieces of shit.
The Education Review Office opened an investigation into Bethlehem College, making multiple visits and interviewing teachers and students. A year on, we’re still waiting for them to release their report. And as I waited, I started wondering if any other tax-funded schools in New Zealand were worse.
And I think I found one!
(I imagine wherever you live — New Zealand, America, the UK, or elsewhere — there are similar schools doing similar things. I’m curious to hear your tales in the comments.)
The school I discovered is Ponatahi Christian School in Carterton, about an hour north of Wellington. It’s a living breathing example that the separation of church and state in New Zealand is very much a myth.
Like Bethlehem College, Ponatahi is “state integrated”, meaning it has an agreement with the New Zealand government to get taxpayer money. But for some reason, it’s also allowed to keep its “special character” — which means it’s just like a regular school but for some reason it’s allowed to also teach kids absolutely batshit stuff that completely clashes with the national curriculum that’s meant to be taught.
After stumbling on this school — I opened their curriculum to discover what it thinks of the kids (aged between five and 17) it’s been entrusted with:
“We view the child as being born in sin, with a sinful nature that naturally chooses evil, delights in sin, is adverse to all manner of godliness, and is on the pathway to eternal destruction.”
If you are unfamiliar with various strands of Christianity, the statement is very, very Calvinist. It’s a Christian sect that emphasizes the debased and irredeemable nature of human beings above everything else. For normal people with a connection to reality, including many Christians, it’s recognised as a batshit insane stance.
As one person Webworm spoke to about this story said, “What the fuck! Who the hell reads that and thinks that you want to send your children to this school?”
I can only assume parents who have a 5-year-old who “delights in sin” and is “on the pathway to eternal destruction” — possibly Tilda Swinton’s character in We Need To Talk About Kevin.
What better way to give your child a headstart in life than by teaching them “to realise that this world is broken through sin, and all its values, entertainments and possessions are perishing with it, and we are called to be strangers and pilgrims here”?
The school really hates entertainment, to the point where kids aren’t allowed to talk about it.
Peer pressure towards something known to be forbidden at other homes is forbidden. This means, for example, that students must refrain from speaking about television or rock music during school time.
I read on.
The Board of Proprietors view this world as a spiritual battleground, with our adversary the devil transforming himself into everything from an “angel of light” to a “roaring lion”.
Webworm has written at length about how evangelicalism is not just a religion, but a parallel culture — and frankly the deranged, delusional statement above shows this is playing out in a taxpayer funded school in Aotearoa. They’re teaching it to five-year-olds.
Reading through a lot of very strange cult-like content involving cutting off the outside world, I began to wonder what the school actually taught after establishing its entire school roll consisted of the spawn of satan (i.e. kids).
Because to receive taxpayer money, the school at least had to teach what kids are, you know, meant to be taught. Things like maths, english and science. Things like evolution.
Well, you will be glad to know that the principle of the school simply denies that evolution is real:
“We do deny the direction of change required for evolution.”
-P Bertram, Principal
The school isn’t hiding this fact, dedicating an entire section of their website to making it clear they think evolution is bullshit. Again — this isn’t a church or a cult, or some private school being paid for from parent’s fees — it’s a taxpayer funded school.
I assumed that the school would get around this loophole by still teaching evolution, while maybe telling the students it was just a silly theory they could disregard after exams.
But according to its 2023 handbook, Ponatahi Christian School takes a different approach. It gives the middle finger to the integration agreement altogether. Publicly.
“Any curriculum contrary to the Special Character does not have to be taught according to the rules of Integration, or may be replaced by more suitable curriculum that has been developed ourselves, e.g.: creation instead of evolution, Biblical values in health education.”
They appear to have just decided they’re able to ignore “the rules of integration” entirely when it comes to teaching evolution. Oh, and “Biblical values in health education” means sex education, by the way. I hate to think what they’re telling kids about sex.
I was sort of stunned by all this, so I reached out to the Ministry of Education, assuming the school must have lost its integrated status, and its taxpayer money.
Nancy Bell, Hautū (leader) Te Tai Runga (South) got back to me:
Do you confirm that this school is state integrated?
Ponatahi Christian school is an integrated school. Their integration agreement was approved in April 1998.
How can it be integrated if it teaches that evolution doesn't exist?
The school has a designated special character. The Education and Training Act (2020) defines special character as an education with the framework of particular or general religious or philosophical belief. Under section 18 of their integration agreement the proprietor can determine its special character and the board to determine how it delivers the New Zealand Curriculum consistent with its special character. Note that in all schools that deliver the New Zealand Curriculum, the science learning area is compulsory and evolution is part of the science learning area.
How can it be integrated if they view children “as being born in sin, with a sinful nature that naturally chooses evil, delights in sin”?
The New Zealand state education system incorporates a number of special character schools. Each has a board, which has overall governance of the determined special character and oversight of the delivery of the New Zealand Curriculum.
Do you have any further comment?
Families enrolling at any special character school do so in the full knowledge and acceptance of the belief system. Any enquiries about the delivery of the school curriculum in accordance with the special character can be directed to the board. Like state schools, all state-integrated schools are subject to regular review by the Education Review Office.”
In short — the Ministry of Education didn’t really seem to care. The Ministry told me this:
“All schools that deliver the New Zealand Curriculum, the science learning area is compulsory and evolution is part of the science learning area.”
While the school clearly states this:
“Any curriculum contrary to the Special Character does not have to be taught according to the rules of Integration, or may be replaced by more suitable curriculum that has been developed ourselves, e.g.: creation instead of evolution.”
The strange thing about this story is that it’s all out in the open.
The Ministry of Education has deemed that this school can get taxpayer money as long as it teaches the national curriculum. The school itself openly states it doesn’t give a shit about teaching key pieces of said curriculum.
When I asked the Ministry of Education about it, they don’t really seem to care.
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There is one clue, I guess. At the end of their final answer to me, the Ministry almost lazily says “All state-integrated schools are subject to regular review by the Education Review Office.”
In my mind, it’s a simple passing of the buck. It’s exactly how the Ministry treated my enquiries about Bethlehem College, telling me to leave them alone and ask the ERO:
But if you go and ask the ERO — they tell you they simply can’t comment (whilst being kind enough to tell the school that you’ve been poking around):
The ERO has now taken over a year investigating Bethlehem College, and there’s still not a peep.
I imagine Ponatahi Christian School feels incredibly safe, no matter what they do. After all, they’re not living in the reality the rest of us are living in.
They’re living in a literal spiritual battleground where the devil transforms himself into angels of light and roaring lions; where kids naturally choose evil and delight in sin, while forging a path to eternal destruction.
When you’re dealing with that shit — who cares about teaching kids a boring old curriculum? And yet we’re still funding it.
If you’re in New Zealand I’d love to hear about your local batshit insane state-integrated school. If you’re in America, I’m curious if your taxes go to similarly deranged places that teach kids. Same for any readers anywhere in the world, really. You can also reach me confidentially at email@example.com — else see you in the comments to discuss: