Teachers ace Agassi on freedom schools

Agassi: only gave Aucklanders a taste of his real passion: charter schools

editor's insight

Nevil Gibson

It’s a pity the Andre Agassi visit was more about selling books than the tennis legend’s prowess in the world of education.

In his Auckland appearance, admittedly before an audience of mainly sports fans, Agassi gave only a taste of his real passion.

His book Open, which is certainly the best of its kind I have read, is mainly about his sports career and hatred of tennis – and that is what is what people wanted to hear about.

But he did launch a small volley about his achievement in charter schools, drawing a surprisingly sporadic round of applause when he made a reference to New Zealand’s first tentative steps (now known as “partnership” schools).

Clearly the audience didn’t  understand – or care – about his achievement; something the teacher unions wouldn’t want you to hear about, either.

So it was a golden missed opportunity for champions of freedom in education not to have Agassi preaching about the benefits of profit and teacher performance-driven schools.

He even gave a brief business lesson in how the success of such schools – which he has personally funded in Las Vegas to the tune of $US40 million – is now heading toward a billion-dollar enterprise through private investment funds.

In his brief comments, Agassi was scathing about the waste of taxpayer (that is, parents’) money on public schools.

A while ago, the Los Angeles Times backgrounded Agassi’s plans for a fund that would construct of as much as $US750 million worth of charter schools across the US.

But it has not all been plain sailing, as this Daily Mail report shows, and opposition by public teacher unions in the US is as strong as it is here.

Perhaps there was no coincidence the PPTA took out full-page ads decrying charter schools and ensured the vast bulk of submissions were also opposed to their introduction.

Argo and the internauts
The movie award season is in full swing and by the end of the month most of the 10 Oscar nominees will have been screened here.

Heading the pack are several that can only be described as works of Hollywood patriotism, such as Argo, Zero Dark Thirty and even Lincoln. (See NBR’s reviews and previews in NBR's summer cinema sampler.)

The surprise front-runner is actor-director Ben Affleck’s Argo, which is looking better each day despite its low-key launch back in October and lack of critical enthusiasm in the US itself.

Now news comes that Iran is planning its own version of events surrounding the seizure of hostages at the US Embassy in Tehran during the Islamic revolution.

Director Ataollah Salmanian says it will be called The General Staff and funded by the Art Bureau wing of the Islamic Ideology Dissemination Organisation.

If the virulent anti-Israeli (and anti-Semitic) films coming out of Egypt and Turkey are any guide, such a film is unlikely to surface in any western cinema or festival except as a curiosity.

The Guardian has Affleck’s response:

"You have to understand, this is a sort of Stalinist regime in this place that is extremely repressive," Affleck told the Hollywood Reporter.

"It's governing a nation full of millions of wonderful, amazing people, so to be part of this movie Argo that seems to have kids up and paying attention – so this Stalinist regime feels the need to sort of push back somehow, I think is a tremendous badge of honour."

Interestingly, Iranian authorities have begun another crackdown on café culture, < http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/iran-blog/2013/jan/23/iran-camera-coffee... . . ordering coffee shops to install camera and recording equipment as a means of combating dissent.

Meanwhile,  Dreamworks has begun filming a movie about WikiLeaks, with Julian Assange played by Benedict Cumberbatch (The HobbitSherlock and War Horse).
Called The Fifth Estate < www.imdb.com/title/tt1837703/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1 >it is being made by Bill Dondon, director of the Twilight series, and features Laura Linney, who will add a touch of class.

The perils of media punditry
There’s nothing novel about the media creating a go-to guy for economic comment when governments are trying to reduce debt by cutting public services.

Most journalists are remarkably ignorant about economics and, in particular, how markets work. They think governments can run businesses and most other services better than private owners.

Their favoured commentators usually have a raft of suggestions about boosting the economy by increasing taxes on the rich to avoid the dangers of a recession if a government stops spending borrowed money.

Their comments are picked up by the likes of Labour party and others to berate budget-cutting ministers of finance and their so-called “austerity” policies.

Some World Bank heritage in these commentators is useful, as is working for the UN, working at an American university or, best of all, winning a Nobel Prize.

Some local examples come to mind but the one that attracts the most attention is Paul Krugman, who is embroiled in a controversy over his lambasting of Estonia’s tight fiscal policies as a dud.

The country’s rapid recovery from the global financial crisis in 2008 “became the stuff of euro-crisis fable,” according to the Wall Street Journal, which reports Krugman’s spat with Esonian President Toomas Ilves has been turned into a mini-opera  called Nostra Culpa.

But even better than the Krugman story is one from Portugal, where the go-to guy criticising government economic policies, Artur Baptista da Silva, became a media sensation on the basis of his credentials as a US professor, World Bank adviser and UN research project leader.

Except that, as the Independent reported, Baptista da Silva was actually a convicted forger and fraudster, who borrowed his ideas from the internet and faked his credentials.

He was exposed because his ubiquitous appearances on TV drew audiences in Portugal’s jails that were more informed about his real background than the gullible journalists who made him a celebrity commentator.

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