Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Eat The Poor!

We've been evaluating options for Andrew's secondary schooling recently.  In between Ryan's testing and assessments, the cars and - oh yeah - that little hunt for a place to live.

He could probably go private, on an academic scholarship.  But man, what a hassle! 

Then there are the schools closer to the city, state schools out of our district, but with academic and sports excellence programs he most likely could get into.  I'd compare them to magnet programs in the USA, still state, but just a touch above.  It would take him over an hour each way on train and bus lines to get to these. 

Unlike the system in the USA, you have a choice.  Like the USA, however, there are schools - and neighbourhoods - you just don't want to be a part of.  And yes, we ARE moving out to Narangba.  Partially because we are in horse country, house complete with paddock AND pony.  But also partially because we hear the secondary school (year 7 through 12) out there is excellent.  It has a school of excellence in music Ryan might be able to attend, at least part-time, some day. 

Tonight I attended a talk given by representatives of three of the local high schools in our area.  The topic was "State Schools Are Great Schools."  Supposedly they have the academics and the resources (one has an agricultural program I keep thinking Ryan could attend, but, sigh, if it isn't horses, sheep and cows are not an acceptable alternative), they manage behaviour and they send students to university. 

I'm just too jaded by my experiences at our previous local primary school to entirely believe them.  That school did NOT have the resources, the academics or the behavioural management.  My high-achieving child was under challenged.  My struggling child was teased and bullied.  The twins were learning unacceptable behaviours both in class and out on the playground.  Classroom management had to take precedence over academics and extension projects such as holiday arts projects. 

What that school DID have was an excellent teaching staff that was doing its best with what they had to work with.   (I think they need MORE teachers and MORE resources, even with fewer students.  I will work to help, I just will not send my children there.)

And our current state school is excellent.

But this school was the first one I had experience with in Australia.  There is no reason for me to believe that the other three primary schools in our area are much better.  At least one is reputed to be worse.

Granted, tonight's representatives were speaking of secondary, not primary, schools, but where is the pool of students coming from?  Principally these four feeder schools.  And no matter how great the program and the teachers and the resources, well, what I saw in the primary school isn't giving me much hope for the secondary schools. 

I believe the teachers are excellent and the programs are in the place.  I just don't trust the resources or the group of people my kids would, once again, be surrounded by.

Comparing my experiences at our previous school to tonight's testimonies leads me to one of two conclusions:  either my academic and behavioural standards are much higher than the national standard or the school we went to previously wasn't keeping up with the academic and behavioural standards expected nationally.

I'd be willing to bet it's a little of both.

But it looks terrible for the local secondary schools here that the primary schools are so unexceptional.  If our area isn't investing in its primary schools, why should we believe the secondary schools will be any better?

Of course, the parents there tonight are the ones who DO care.  They are considering private or parochial.  They want to know that their children will be extended academically and not bullied, that they will be surrounded by an acceptable group of peers, within a school with exemplary behavioural and academic standards. 

So may kids can, and do, well in state schools.  We count on Andrew (who is applying for a soccer school of excellence and engineering excellence program at another state school nearby in a different district) being one of them. 

But I will not hesitate to go private - or home school - if we ever have the same problems we had at our old school again.

I want to support our state schools, I really do.  And not just for financial reasons.  I want to believe in our state system, as a cornerstone of a vital and functioning democracy.  (Don't go there.  Write your own blog!)  I will support them on principal as a citizen, eh hem, permanent resident.  But not in practice as a mother if it is detrimental to my kids.

And then I remember that this is not my problem, or not only my problem.  It is not this area or this country or this particular education system.

What are we to do with the great mass of humanity that cannot or will not be educated to the standards the educated class upholds?  What are we to do with the tired, the hungry, the poor, now that they have not only reached the shores, but seized the land, stayed a couple of centuries, created the dole, and thrown drug addiction, broken homes, criminality, insanity, and well, frankly, lower standards, into the pot?  Is mass literacy and numeracy actually achievable?  And what do we do we those who not only don't learn, but impede our children from doing so by their behaviour?

What do we do with people who really don't KNOW how to behave?  Conform?  Achieve?  Tow the line.  Fit in.  Excel.

(I throw some of those in to point out the fact that I am, in fact, the mother of one of these people, a child who refuses - or cannot - fit into the system.  What do we do with her?)

What do we do with the people we don't want our kids in school with?

Think this is a new problem, one made worse by drugs and broken homes?  Think again.  Jonathon Swift wrote an essay about these people back in 1729.  He called it "A Modest Proposal For Preventing the Poor People in Ireland from being Aburden To Their Parents or Country, And For Making Them Beneficial to the Public."

He laid out a plan for "a fair, cheap, and easy method of making these children sound, useful members of the commonwealth."

What you do is eat the poor.

I only say this as an apology for my unkind thoughts to the children I want to keep away from mine.  As a spiritual being, I wish no one harm.  As a mother, however, I protect what has been given me to nourish and strengthen.

The state of the education system here isn't any worse than where I come from.  In fact, I find it has way more opportunity than Germany did, both for university track and non-university options.  I like the choice.  I like the oversight and the attempts to continually identify weaknesses and improve upon them.  I like the transparency.  I like that the educators are working very hard to reach high standards.

(What I still can't explain is why neither secondary school - even the one we personally visited - never got back to us about a special program for Ryan and then never bothered to return our calls.  Not looking all so promising when they then talk about individualised outcomes for each student!)

What I realise is that there is no reason to be angry, or to fight.  That we are all in this together.  On the same team, if in different positions. 

The struggle isn't a personal one, it is universal, and as old as man-kind has lived in a society and tried to get people to fit into it.

Some won't.

I will continue to work towards more resources and teachers for state schools while at the same time doing what is best for my children. 

Everyone chooses their own menu options, and while I don't think eating them is the answer, I don't think dining with people who have chosen such different options than mine from the buffet is necessarily the right answer either!

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