On documentaries and thoughts they spur

When I sat down to watch Michael Moore's new documentary "Where to invade next" yesterday evening, I expected it to be a kind of an another-Michael-Moore-documentary: amusing but a little exaggerating, straightforward but a little one-sided.

And it was all that.


I also found it very disturbing. Like, very disturbing.

I actually struggled to fall asleep afterwards.

The thing is, a lot of what he shows in this movie, I am familiar with. Heck, I know that he even visited Estonia, of all places, to gather material for this documentary though it didn't end up making into the final cut.

But the thing is, some of the stuff I did not know. And when I learned it - of all places - from this movie, I actually felt a little sick.

At about an hour in, there is a bit in this movie where Michael Moore talks about drug laws in Portugal and then compares those laws to the laws in US. And I wasn't surprised by much of it: I was already familiar with Portugal's drug policy which has been talked about a lot in the last few years, and I already knew that in US, especially in the Southern states, black people were disproportionately persecuted for their drug use, and they got disproportionately harsh prison sentences for them.

But what I did not realise was the fact that...

...they were not allowed to vote (!!!) after carrying out their prison sentences.

Like, ever.

And that was the point in this movie where I kind of went, "What!?" and then I physically got sick to my stomach.

It had never occurred to me that that was one of the ways in which Southern states were staying predominantly Republican - that by making it impossible for a person to vote if they'd been convicted of a crime beforehand they were essentially "culling" out a big part of the voters' population who would otherwise, quite possibly, have voted for Democrats instead. And I got wide-eyed with the idea that it could even be legal, to withhold a person's civil right to vote once they had carried out their prison sentence, and that it could be such a large swath of crimes that belonged under that category, including drug use; how a person sentenced in court in their, say, twenties, could then go through the rest of their life without the right to vote.

I actually still feel sick to my stomach just writing about it now.


Another part in which I felt very emotional, was Finland, close to the beginning of the movie.

They interviewed a bunch of people that have to do with education in Finland - an education minister, teachers, students - and through that segment it kept being brought up again and again and again, that the cornerstone of students' educational achievement is their happiness. That rather than increasing the amount of schoolwork, the hours and the age at which children start school, the best indicator for how well students were going to do in their learning, was their happiness - and so, somewhat counter-intuitively, by reducing the number of school hours, by removing homework altogether, by funding education extensively, by removing private schools altogether, and by letting kids have a lot of time to just be kids, Finland has built up one of the best-performing education systems in the world.

And I teared up in that segment. Several times.

I have just completed what has been an emotionally draining experience of applying for ORS funding for The Kid, and although it has not taken me a lot of time physically - I think I only spent a few hours in discussion with his speech therapist beforehand, and then 3 hours editing the paperwork - I have found it to have been surprisingly hard, to complete that.

The thing is, in order for The Kid to have access to extra-curricular support when he starts school next year, we have to "prove" to New Zealand's Ministry of Education that, skill-level wise, he belongs in the bottom 1% of school students, the ones with the most need and the least ability to function in school on their own, and it has felt like a... hell of a job, doing that.

In our ordinary lives, we celebrate The Kid a lot. We still have things we struggle with, just as any other parent and a child out there, but we focus on the things he does well, or wants to do well, or wants to do full-stop. Just yesterday at his physiotherapy appointment I was explaining to his therapist how The Kid has learned to support his weight on "monkey-bars" in the playground, and he's doing it the way the therapist has asked us to do, swinging his body around on straight arms, using a wide range of muscles on his back, and the therapist exclaimed to The Kid, "Nothing's gonna stop you, is it!"

I smiled.

And it reminded me how, partially because it is The Kid's innate nature, but partially because me and The Man are bringing him up this way, The Kid is learning to expect that if he really wants to do something, he can do it. He can figure it out, and he can learn it, and he can then do it.

("It is easy, when you are young, to believe that what you desire is no less than what you deserve, to assume that if you want something badly enough, it is your God-given right to have it." link)

The Kid has progressed over the last year to a point where his speech is now the only thing, really, where he functions well below the level of neurotypical kids. Just a few months ago we were doing a regular overview with his preschool teachers and his therapists and such, and we were delighted to see that in a whole lot of other skills, he is actually on par with his peers, and at some even well above that. One of those skills, for example, is fine motor function - his ability to draw well, and put together intricate Lego pieces. He has now learned to dive, and to swim. But most of all, it is his ability to pay attention, to focus and - when he wants to do something - to just do it.

To just do it.

He is kind, he is gentle, he is polite, he is sensitive to other people's feelings, he is friendly, he shares, he has a lot of joy for a whole range of things. He's just really nice! And a lot of people really like him. Not just me and The Man, but people in general - his teachers, other kids at preschool, neighbours. Just another day a new boy started at The Kid's preschool and The Kid took to him, welcoming him in.

But when it has come to ORS funding, it has been a process opposite to this whole "He can do it!" attitude which otherwise encapsulates everything we do. We have had to, basically, come up with a long list of things which he can not do, and go into great detail with them, and to what has felt like plead with the Ministry to allow him some extra funding. 

When The Man read through the final draft yesterday he frowned and said to me, "It's not my son. What they're describing here is not my son." And I can see why he has said that. I have also had to distance myself somewhat from the words on the paper and to really push it in into any faults that The Kid may have, in order to have a chance of proving that he's in the bottom 1% of kids out there.

It's fierce. What I essentially want from the education system here is to make sure that my son does well. We're yet to find out if The Kid will have any processing difficulties when it comes to maths or writing or reading - as he's not progressed to those skills yet, at this point we don't know either way. (I actually don't think he will have many problems, but like I said - at this point I don't know either way.) I need to know that if he'll have trouble learning to read, or figuring out maths, or just f*ckin' dealing with his leg casts which he is due to get again in a month's time! - that there will be someone there who'll have time to help him. (Once he's in leg casts again, if he's wearing his protective clothing then he won't even be able to go to the toilet on his own, for f*ck' sake!)

But for the moment I've been told that the best chance of receiving that help is proving that my son is in the bottom 1% of school students, developmentally, and applying for ORS funding. That if he gets approved for ORS funding, the government will allocate him 19 hours of help each week, and it'll be up to The Kid's team how that funding is used. It may be speech therapy, it may be a teacher that will go in there for a few hours each week and do some one-on-one writing exercises, it may be a physiotherapist who will teach him all sorts of tricks in the school gym :D

But in order to do that, we have had to look back into The Kid's history and write down on a long list of papers every fault or problem or difficulty we have had, and not mention any of the good things that he does at all, and reading that paperwork you'd think that it's a... I don't know, someone else there.

And I have actually found it very emotionally draining. I have a decent understanding of how this New Zealand system is set up now, and I have learned to really push for any negatives that I can come up with when it comes to funding, because unless it's really bad, it won't happen. I have watched parents of other kids who have struggled at school due to processing difficulties (dyspraxia, dyslexia etc) - some of those parents have paid out of their own pockets to fund private therapy in order for these kids to do well at school. 

I have found it frustrating. I don't think we actually need 19 hours a week - The Kid is doing so well that for the moment I just want someone, like a speech therapist, to see him, say, once a week and keep track of how he's doing and if he's not doing well, to then up the therapy to a point where it makes a difference. I want someone to be available at school to help The Kid get on a toilet seat - especially if he's got both legs in a cast - so that he doesn't have to soil his pants because an adult is not available to come and help him. Stuff like that.

But because New Zealand system is set up in a way where few hours here and there would be so difficult to achieve in terms of government funding, then we have had to opt for this bottom 1% ORS funding option instead.

And I don't know if we'll get it. I have been told that likely we won't - The Kid could do well with therapy, but he's probably not "bad enough" to get therapy funded.

And I am sorry, I am getting very carried away here, but I watched this documentary and the Finnish teachers talking about their students' happiness, and I teared up watching it. It reminded me of the way I've had to dig through The Kid's faults for funding.

And it reminded me of something else.

Last year when a paediatrician sat us down in a office to explain that The Kid's MRI scan showed a sustained birth injury, and me and The Man were wanting to know what will need to happen next, what the schooling options are, and what it means, the paediatrician told us that more important than anything else - schooling, therapies, activities and skills - is our family happiness. 

That the thing which will help The Kid achieve his best the most is his family's happiness.

I am very grateful she said that. I have actually had to use it several times over the last year when I have argued with various service providers, explaining to them why our decision to keep The Kid back from school until he turns 6 has made sense to us, and why I continue having confidence in that decision. It has helped me at times when I have doubted myself, because it has put happiness in the centre of an equation, rather than only having skills and achievements to go by. It has made "is my kid happy?" an important, basic question to go by.


Because I didn't have enough time to watch the entire movie yesterday, I will watch the rest of it tonight, and I am semi-prepared that there will be more moments there which will move me more than I would generally expect a Michael Moore documentary to do.

But even at this half-way point here, I would say that it's a documentary worth watching. Honestly.


  1. I remember filling out the ORRS thing for Ian, it's hard to switch from being happy with what he can do to having to point out all the things he couldn't. Like you we normally focus on the good stuff and work on the not so good stuff to help him. He's improved so much from when we first applied, but at the same time he still badly needs that support and thank goodness he gets it or he would have been stood down from school by now and we'd be attempting to home school.

  2. I really wish you get the funding you need. Even if that means bending to fit the system.

    Interestingly, I am here in Finland and Ayra is supposed to start school next year or, if I keep her longer, a year after that. I do not want to put here to school here in Finland! I do not trust this system. It is only good on paper. I have found out that it is mostly bla-bla-bla and no core. I used to think great things about Finnish school system until I went to school here myself. It is not that good. I do not know yet what to do, but everything in me almost screams against this school system here. I have at least a year more to think about it, but there are actually no real options, because everything is the same as "special" schools are not allowed.

    1. Man I wish I could sit down with you sometimes and just talk! Or mainly, to be honest, to listen to you say things no one else has said, and ask, and get you to ask me the questions which no-one else has asked.

      I'd love to know more. I'd love to know why not Finland, and what you'd want for Ayra instead.