Social Action as a Vital Value for the Times?

Social action is a powerful force. Every Labour weekend Radio New Zealand’s Concert Program airs the results of its ‘Settling the Score’ poll. For the last few years, ‘The Lark Ascending’ has come in first. Some have become a little sick of this and felt a new number one was needed.

Peter Thomas head of Music at Epsom Girls Grammar discussed this with his students. The Girls at EGG enjoy singing their seniors school song. They sing it to the tune of Verdi’s ‘Grand March’ from the opera Aida. The outcome of the discussion resulted in the senior school music students and Mr. Thomas convincing large numbers of EGG students to vote for Verdi’s ‘Grand March’ in the RNZCP poll. Low and behold on Labour Day Verdi’s piece came out of nowhere to win the vote! It had not been in the top 100 before and raced straight to number one!

This event illustrates the fact that when young people undertake coordinated social action, things change! Greta Thunberg and students throughout the world (including many in NZ) are another example. The Students’ Strike for Climate (SS4C) is still fresh in our memories. 

These events are not a point to be noted by the young alone! Recent turnouts in elections have shown that a large number of eligible adults need to act too! In the 2017 general election, 88% of the eligible population enrolled, but 21% of those enrolled did not turn out to cast their vote!

The truth is those who do vote tend to be older, wealthier and white! The young, the poorer and ethnic minorities often don’t vote. (See the second link immediately above).

However, if the social action shown by the young recently continues and grows, and if other low voting groups follow suit, there would be some significant changes in the future. If we look at the difficulties our current Government is facing, a good deal of the lack of action for a kinder fairer society can be sheeted back the fact that status quo voters do vote! On the other hand, many who would benefit from positive change don’t vote!

The messages sent by the girls of EGG and SS4C need to taken to heart by all schools, teachers, families, Iwi, helping agencies, and anyone who wishes for action on the hard issues of the day! Tell them we need them to vote! Tell them they are important and their views are important! Tell them the small social action of casting your vote has enormous potential to change things and to improve things for those who usually don’t vote.

No names, no pack drill, a large slice of those who do vote are propping up a stale ‘business-as-usual’ approach. EGGs and SS4C are showing us the way to do it! Take action! It is as easy as getting enrolled to vote, and then getting to a polling booth to cast your vote in the 2020 Parliamentary election!

Make your hopes known. Vote for some who will deliver the kind of world you wish for!

Compulsory Reading for Science and Social Science Teachers

My apologies to readers for a long break between postings. However, I have been using my non-posting time to do some serious reading about the relationship between values and some of the major and intensifying issues facing us all in the first half of the 21st century. My quest started while I was in Germany and the UK over winter visiting our five grandchildren of that side of the world. I thoroughly enjoy the privilege of reading the Guardian and the Observer newspapers on a regular basis. The Guardian, in an article by Robert McCrum “The 100 best nonfiction books of all time,”  listed “The Sixth Extinction” by Elizabeth Kolbert number one! High praise indeed. In another article by the Observer Books team “The best brainy book of this decade,” “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari was ranked second. I had not read either so that’s where I started!

Special note: As this post is a backgrounder for further posts on the values implication of these two sources I have taken the liberty of drawing heavily on the Guardian reviews.  I have basically summarised their reviews of these books to save time and set the scene. You can read the full reviews using the links at the bottom of this post.   


The Sixth Extinction


Kolbert is a Journalist by trade but uses a huge amount of deep up-to-date research in each chapter most by following around cutting-edge researcher working each of the topics she addresses. For example, in chapter one she explores the rapid decline of the Panamanian Golden Frog. Her main informant in this chapter is Edgardo Griffith the director of the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Centre in central Panama.


There are 13 chapters in the book and everyone is a gem in its own way. My favourites were chapters: 1 –  about the frogs; 3 – about the great auk, 10 – about bats and 12 about Neanderthals. Chapter 5 “Welcome to the Anthropocene”  is also a must-read.

Kolbert spells out the results of her investigations: “One-third of all reef-building corals, a third of all freshwater molluscs, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed towards oblivion.” To update this you can go to the IUCN Red List at:

Kolbert’s indictment of humanity is remorseless. She adds that “The losses are occurring all over: in the South Pacific, in the North Atlantic, in the Arctic and in the Sahel, in lakes and on islands, on mountaintops and in valleys.”

As you read The Sixth Extinction you just can’t evade the conclusion that ware on the brink of a great catastrophe, one in which the agent involved is not an inanimate object (such as an asteroid) or a geophysical force (such as the extreme global warming disaster of 250m years ago) but a sentient creature: ourselves. Homo sapiens may have enjoyed brilliant success on Earth but we have done so at the expense of virtually every other species. We are, as the Observer’s Robin McKie has put it, “the neighbours from hell”.


Sapiens: a brief history of humankind


Harari’s Sapiens has been described as another “epic” broad-brush history in the tradition of H.G. Well’s “The outline of History”. Both works review humanity’s origins back more than a million years. Harari’s book is eclectic in its scope, its readability, and its author’s willingness to offer ethical judgments.

Sapiens Cover

Harari’s main argument is that Sapiens came to dominate the world because it is the only animal that can cooperate flexibly in large numbers. He argues that prehistoric Sapiens were a key cause of the extinction of other human species such as the Neanderthals, along with numerous other megafauna. He further argues that the ability of Sapiens to cooperate in large numbers arises from its unique capacity to believe in things existing purely in the imagination, such as gods, nations, money and human rights. Harari claims that all large-scale human cooperation systems – including religions, political structurestrade networks and legal institutions – owe their emergence to Sapiens’ distinctive cognitive capacity for fiction.[5] Accordingly, Harari reads money as a system of mutual trust and sees political and economic systems as more or less identical with religions.

Harari’s key claim regarding the Agricultural Revolution is that while it promoted population growth for Sapiens and co-evolving species like wheat and cows, it made the lives of most individuals (and animals) worse than they had been when Sapiens were mostly hunter-gatherers, since their diet and daily lives became significantly less varied. Humans’ violent treatment of other animals is indeed a theme that runs throughout the book.

In discussing the unification of humankind, Harari argues that over its history, the trend for Sapiens has increasingly been towards political and economic interdependence. For centuries, the majority of humans have lived in empires, and capitalist globalization is effectively producing one, global empire. Harari argues that money, empires and universal religions are the principal drivers of this process.

Harari sees the Scientific Revolution as founded in an innovation in European thought, whereby elites became willing to admit to and hence to try and remedy their ignorance. He sees this as one driver of early modern European imperialism and of the current convergence of human cultures. Harari also emphasises the lack of research into the history of happiness, positing that people today are not significantly happier than in past eras.[6] He concludes by considering how modern technology may soon end the species as we know it, as it ushers in genetic engineeringimmortality and non-organic life. Humans have, in Harari’s chosen metaphor, become gods: they can create species.

Great Holiday Reading!



What’s Next, Meturia Turei and the Bloodless Revolution

The programme “Whats Next” that ran in on TVNZ over 5 nights recently touched upon the importance of values in what happens in everyday life, in what we think about the past, and the present and the future. Values drive action or inaction on the issues that matter most, and even in those that seem quite trivial. The programme received mixed reviews but probably came out more on the positive side than the negative.  A good overall review appeared in the New Zealand Herald.

One of the best summaries of what happened, the value of it, and on what the results may be was an editorial in the Wanganui Chronicle. Mark Dawson saw the programme as, possibly, part of a bloodless revolution. Dawson writes:

“The programme was bold and ambitious, and so were the ideas it threw up with presenters John Campbell and Nigel Latta, imbued with revolutionary fervour, leading a bunch of – yes – “futurists” in shaping the kind of country they wanted. Economic equality, the end of poverty, shareholding workers and technological innovation were all laudable landmarks along the route.”

He goes on to note that:

“Anti-establishment fever seems to be everywhere; the often-absent youth vote is making itself felt; hope and a vision for the future are outstripping the “we-stand-on-our-record” nod to the past.” After reviewing some of the outcomes of other recent elections around the world he asks “Will this epidemic of political disorderliness infect the New Zealand election? Do we have a party leader with enough fire in their belly to stand aside of the mainstream and rally the young and the disaffected to their cause? Or is it “steady as she goes, New Zealand”?

Interesting stuff in the light of Metiria Turei’s decision to come clean on the plight of beneficiaries by explaining her benefit fraud in the past. She states on her web page that her passion is: …

“…building a more equitable society; reducing unemployment, ending child poverty, ensuring all Kiwis live in warm, healthy homes and protecting our rivers and oceans for future generations.” 

In a recent speech in Christchurch she implied that her confession was an out flow from the fact that she …

 “… told the country that we would be a party that spoke truth to power, that we would tell the truth about what is happening for our families and our environment and we would not be silenced by claims that we should somehow be more moderate or more middle of the road…” 

One commentator, Verity Johnson a young journalist, TV Presenter and Comedian wrote in a Newshub article

“So Metiria Turei didn’t tell WINZ that she had flatmates. As a taxpayer, I don’t feel at all ripped off by this. In fact, it’s the first time ever I’ve felt inspired to vote. Before this, I was approaching voting in the general election like I do my tax return. It’s painful, dull and soul-crushingly uninspiring. I shouldn’t hate voting. I’m 22, well-educated and starry-eyed enough to be filled with political fire. But I do because I’ve never felt inspired by politicians. I’ve never been impressed with their honesty, integrity, or the policies that are firmly designed to appeal to the middle-class, white, 55-year-old, house-owning male voter. But when Turei came forward and said, …

1) she misled WINZ,

2) that she was scared about admitting it but felt she had a duty to do so, and

3) that the system was broken and she was the proof, it was the first time I’d properly respected a politician. 

It smacks of integrity. I know that is counterintuitive because she technically lied. But I still think this move is overwhelmingly honest. Her whole campaign is that the benefits aren’t enough to live on. You know she believes this because she clearly has been there and experienced it. She’s also prepared to fight for this moral principle by staking her political career on it. “

Verity Johnson with Paul Henry in  after signing her TV presenter contract in 2016

The over whelming reaction to Turei’s announcement from older writers has been negative. But here we have a young journalist saying she thinks what Turei has done and said shows integrity and honesty – speaking truth to power. It has inspired her to get interesting in politics and want to vote.

Is Turei the leader capable of rallying the young and poor? Observers have noted for years that the turn out of the young and the poor at elections is abysmal. The fact that the Green’s rating in the latest Colmar-Brunton poll has gone up by 4% may be an indication that the answer is yes?

In my first post on Changing Values over Time and Space, I noted that the most recent round of the World Values Survey (WVS) data from New Zealand found that under 29s voted 50 to 31 for the environment over economic growth. By comparison, 50 and overs voted 45 to 37 for economic growth over the environment. In my second post on the values change issue I presented a graph entitled The Forces Shaping Values Change. This chart focused on different values positions of the generations in selected countries in 2005. It showed in some countries like India and Nigeria the differences between generations are quite small. On the other hand in countries like Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, France and Sweden there are large variations in values between older and younger people. These countries are all culturally relatively similar to New Zealand. The graph makes it clear that in Western countries like NZ younger people are much more “progressive” in their values stance compared with the elder generations. That is, they are more attached to secular-rational values which place less emphasis on religion, traditional family values and authority and where divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide are seen as relatively acceptable. They are also much more supportive of self-expression values such as environmental protection, growing tolerance of foreigners, gays and lesbians and gender equality, and rising demands for participation in decision-making in economic and political life.

Verity Johnson illustrates the point. Most of the comment about Turei’s actions from middle and senior age opinion writers have been quite judgemental – more typical of a traditional society. Johnson, however, while knowing what Turei did was technical wrong, admires and is inspired by her ‘telling as it is’ and trying to fix a broken system. Typical of the secular-rational and self-expression ends of the two axises of the Inglehart and Welzel graph.

In relation to a response to my last post, Hazel Owen asked: ” What would you see as the main benefits of unpacking this data?” An important question that I will now attempt to answer briefly.

Firstly, because I am an ex-social sciences teacher I think that trying to understand our society and the world we live in is incredibly important. I believe that understanding how values work in society is an important part of this. The work on how values change through time and space helps secondary students move beyond the inculcation realm that we often get stuck in, to the counter-socialisation dimension. Looking at differences in generational values or in contrasting cultures is part of understanding how values differ in different contexts and how they influence us.

Secondly, applying the insights from the WVS findings to a current controversy we can see something of how different values positions are playing out. With the long and rich list of opinion articles about the Turei confession and its aftermath around at the moment teachers and senior pupils could have some lively dialogue! A bonus might be that an in-depth look at the issue might well spark the kind of interesting way into politics and voting Johnson experienced. The question raised by Dawson – is there a bloodless revolution going on could be another interesting angle to take.

Both of the reasons given above will, in my opinion, advance the vision of the NZ Curriculum to foster confident, connected, active, lifelong learners!

Values Change Through Time and Space – Part 2

In my last post I mentioned the World Values Survey (WVS). This is a fascinating long-term project conducted in a good number of countries around the globe. The Wikipedia Entry on the WVS is a good brief introduction to the study. The study is a European-based initiative and in 1981 when it started was focused mainly on more developed societies. But once the value of the study became evident it has expanded to include a wide range of countries. One of the most interesting outcomes has been the work political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel have done using the rich survey data.


They suggest that there are two major dimensions of cross-cultural variation in the world:

  • Traditional values versus Secular-rational values;
  • and Survival values versus Self-expression values.

The WVS home page explains these 4 key terms.

Traditional values emphasise the importance of religion, parent-child ties, deference to authority and traditional family values. People who embrace these values also reject divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide. These societies have high levels of national pride and a nationalistic outlook.

Secular-rational values have the opposite preferences to the traditional values. These societies place less emphasis on religion, traditional family values and authority. Divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide are seen as relatively acceptable. (Suicide is not necessarily more common.)

Survival values place emphasis on economic and physical security. It is linked with a relatively ethnocentric outlook and low levels of trust and tolerance.

Self-expression values give high priority to environmental protection, growing tolerance of foreigners, gays and lesbians and gender equality, and rising demands for participation in decision-making in economic and political life.

There is a very engaging and valuable resource available at the WVS website called the Inglehart-Welzel Cultural Map. This map can be viewed over time and shows some very interest changes. You can play the time lapse resource labelled the “Live Cultural Map” on the WVS website.

I thoroughly recommend viewing this excellent resource. It makes a real impact!

The 2015 map, which is the most recent, is shown below.

The map shows the location of each country surveyed and identifies nine different cultural “types”.  The WVS data is used to plot the “location” if countries on two different scales – the Traditional vs secular-rational values scale on the left axis and the survival vs self-expression values scale on the bottom axis. So this resource shows clearly how values vary through different cultures and societies. This map is a powerful discussion resource.

For example, what does the map tell us about the values differences between Sweden, New Zealand, India and Tunisia?

And what are the contrasts between Protestant Europe, Catholic Europe and the Orthodox countries?

What might be some of the reasons for these large differences?

The WVS data can be used in a whole variety of ways when thinking about values.

The graph below right was produced by Russian scholar Professor Edouard Ponarin of the Department of Political Science and Sociology at the European University in St. Petersburg.  He plotted this graph to show that Russian values since the 1990s have moved in a very different direction from most of the rest of the world! He calls the change a “slide into greed and suspicion” while most of the rest of the world has become more positive in their values and beliefs.

The interested observer will note some other contrasts on this graph. Japan has moved strong toward secular-rational values and moderately toward self-expression values over the 1995 – 2015 period. Europe and English speaking countries have moved strongly toward more self-expression values and moderately toward more secular-rational values.

What other interesting changes can you or you students see on this chart?

Another very interesting

 use of WVS data …

… has been made by Inglehart and Welzel on page 112 of their book Modernization, Cultural Change, and Democracy: The Human Development Sequence first published in 2005.

This chart focuses on the different values positions of the generations in selected countries in 2005. You can see that in some countries like India and Nigeria the differences between generations are quite small. On the other hand in countries like Germany and Spain, there are large variations in values between older and younger people.

What would you or your students suggest explains these marked contrasts between countries?

If you or students wanted to do some analysis of the New Zealand Data from this study you can go to:

…and type New Zealand into the box at the top right.

So what are some of the over all findings from this study?

The Wikipedia page and the WVS findings and insights page list 30 main findings. Here a few examples.

  • People’s priorities shift from traditional to secular-rational values as their sense of security increases (or backwards from secular-rational values to traditional values as their sense of security decreases)
  • People’s priorities shift from survival to self-expression values as their sense of individual agency increases (or backwards from self-expression values to survival as the sense of individual agency decreases)
  • The strongest emphasis on traditional values and survival values is found in the Islamic societies of the Middle East. By contrast, the strongest emphasis on secular-rational values and self-expression values is found in the Protestant societies of Northern Europe
  • A specific subset of self-expression values—emancipative values—combines an emphasis on freedom of choice and equality of opportunities. Emancipative values, thus, involve priorities for lifestyle liberty, gender equality, personal autonomy and the voice of the people
  • If set in motion, human empowerment advances on three levels. On the socio-economic level, human empowerment advances as growing action resources increase people’s capabilities to exercise freedoms. On the socio-cultural level, human empowerment advances as rising emancipative values increase people’s aspirations to exercise freedoms. On the legal-institutional level, human empowerment advances as widened democratic rights increase people’s entitlements to exercise freedoms
  • As long as physical survival remains uncertain, the desire for physical and economic security tends to take higher priority than democracy. When basic physiological and safety needs are fulfilled there is a growing emphasis on self-expression values.
  • The spread of self-expression values leads to the emergence of democratic institutions, that enable people to gain growing freedom of choice in how to live their own lives
  • While economically advanced societies have been changing rather rapidly, countries that remained economically stagnant showed little value change. As a result, there has been a growing divergence between the prevailing values in low-income countries and high-income countries.
  • Although a majority of the world’s population still believes that men make better political leaders than women, this view is fading in advanced industrialised societies, and also among young people in less prosperous countries.
  • The WVS has shown that from 1981 to 2007 happiness rose in 45 of the 52 countries for which long-term data are available. Since 1981, economic development, democratisation, and rising social tolerance have increased the extent to which people perceive that they have free choice, which in turn has led to higher levels of happiness around the world.

This study is a values learning goldmine!  Throughly recommended!

Changing Values over Time and through Space.

I apologise to my readers for the long break in posts! Long story! But here I am back again!

There is a very interesting event going on at the moment. This is the “What Next?” programme hosted by Nigel Latta and John Campbell on TV1. I hope many teachers and classes are watching this programme and taking part. If you aren’t you can alway dip into it in other ways such as TVNZ on demand and the Whats Next website.

One of the interesting things about this program is the New Zealand Values Study is linked into the program:

This study has been recording the values and attitudes of NZs every year since 2009 and aims to continue for 20 years. There are 214 questions in this study.

Here an example of one of the questions from the NZAVS:

You might like to try this question with friends, family or in the classroom to see what people in your circles think. At the moment I have not been able to track down the full results of the NZAVS data. Hopefully, I might have more on this by next week.

There is another major study of NZ (and other countries) called the World Values Survey. This project began in 1981 and is continuing. There have been 6 rounds of this survey completed and a 7th round started in January 2017. This survey asks 228 questions about attitudes and values. It is much easier to get data from this study to look at and work with. The New Zealand Results for the 2011 survey is at:

Below are the results for one question:

It is interesting to note that under 29s vote 50 to 31 for the environment over economic growth. By comparison, 50 and overs voted 45 to 37 for economic growth over the environment. Would the young people you know or work with respond in the same manner as the under 29s? Try it out and see!

It will be interesting to see how the Whats Next? programme addresses values.

Next week my post will continue this theme and look in more depth at how values differ across the world based on data from the WVS. I also hope to have more information about how to access NZVAS data.