Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Public schools: what do we angst about?

Helen's done a two part post (Uno, Dos) on public schooling issues. She is discussing the campaign by some parents in the Seddon- Yarraville area, suburbs pretty similar demographically to my own, to get their 'own' public high school rather than having to send their kids to one in a neighbouring suburb. One that's a little different, shall we say less fortunate, demographically.

This had me thinking about my own attitudes and the extent to which there is cognitive dissonance between my ethical and political ideals on the one hand and my expectations in a school for Bear and Mitts on the other. I dumped some thoughts, brain in a whirl, and although they aren't the pinnacle of clarity and reason I wanted to capture the gist here to record and discuss some of this confusion on my own site. Extracts from the thread:

We’re all formed by the negatives we ourselves experienced. I’ve been to rough bogan schools where violence was rife and intellectual and artistic qualities were pretty much looked down on (in real life, not in the rosy view seen by most parents or in brochures), and an extreme snob school with vicious bullying based on wealth and status and very narrow aspirations based on high flying white collar careers (in mundane areas like law and banking!). I’ve been to a school with some palpable ‘reverse racism’ too, and it largely caused me to have a reactionary phase in my mid teens, something that eased off once most of the perps had been expelled.

I dislike all these extremes. I would like a safe environment with as little anti intellectual crap as possible and a focus on intellectual and creative development rather than ‘tooling up’ future employees. A reasonable if not ridiculous selection of subjects including good music and languages. A mix of kids and backgrounds. Bit of sport but not abject worshipping of all things ball related.

Public schools that appear to leap those hurdles are then top of the list, and that’s probably 60% in our overall region. I wouldn’t want my kids to go to Carey or Scotch even if they were offered full scholarships, I equate that with class ambition rather than education. But the poppets are on the list for a couple of mid level private schools that seem to be one back from the extreme of snobbery, but that have good languages and music and seem to be roughly in synch with our beliefs.

Public schools I’m struggling with include those that have particularly rotten school results, offer few academic and creative options, overly emphasise the tooling up side, make the news for all the wrong reasons, are heavily dominated (ie a step up from mere interesting diversity) by another cultural grouping such that I think my own kids will get excluded, or simply have an excess of aggressive little sh*ts in fauxhawks or gangsta gear. I’d be willing to take a look, but I’d need some convincing that first impressions lacked substance.

I found Helen's argument persuasive but would need to visit the school and know a lot more before feeling confident. An argument in defence of the Yarraville-Seddon clique is that they may have chosen to live in those suburbs because, along with Northcote-Thornbury, these are among the only places in Australia of their type: lefty to green, socially and sexually tolerant, and rife with artists and other outsiders from the general boganalian diaspora.

They come from a pretty marginal grouping themselves- it is, in my respectful view, overly simplifying the matter to equate their angst with the general ladder-climbing characteristics of the holus-bolus middle class. But that being said, there is clearly some overlap, and probably some latent class and race discomfort coming out for many of them as well.



Anonymous said...

"But the poppets are on the list for a couple of mid level private schools that seem to be one back from the extreme of snobbery,"

Yeah, yeah, Wesley or Preshill I suppose? They seem the default option for lefties.

"or simply have an excess of aggressive little sh*ts in fauxhawks or gangsta gear."

I find teenage boys en masse frightening and revolting full stop, and sometimes I had the misfortune of catching a tram down St Georges Road Northcote around 3.30pm of a week day, and my god didn't like what I saw, but that probably says as much about me as the school. But my son will probably go to that high school down the road which has over a thousand kids from what I can gather, but which every teacher in the public system I have spoken to sings the praises of, and it's in walking distance, and friends in the lesbian sex mafia will be sending their kids there too.

And it's only schooling, it's not education.

Marshall-Stacks said...

Yes Anon nails it.
It's only school. Where we learned to function in a crowd, in a team, and in the spotlight.
We learned about coping, and differences, and self-protection.
None of those things are learnable at home; home where we can read quietly and follow our parent's examples n stuff.
Play it as it lays armagnac.

Armagnac Daddy said...

Wesley, my god you can't be serious! Preshil on the other hand I do like, and why shouldn't it be a lefty 'default', of dozens of private schools in Melbourne it's one of the only ones that tries to do things a bit differently.

Anyway, neither, more benign whitebread options that just look reasonably ok.

I DO agree it's just school, I don't agree that the educational side is pointless. Our brains are at their strongest during those years and it's a fantastic time to learn and discover. I think it's such a waste that I had to spend years in those stupid classrooms and learned so little, I am always envious of people who had decent music teaching, or did ancient history etc.

Anonymous, you're referring to Northcote High clearly and yeah they do have an excellent reputation. Lucky you if you can afford to live in it's 'zone' though..

Ariel said...

AD, I live in Yarraville too (in fact my son goes to the same primary school as Helen's, and the parent she quotes from the paper has a kid in my son's footy team). And ... I think Helen's issue is with these parents having a knee-jerk, class-based (rather than rationally based) reaction against the local high school in a neighbouring suburb - that they don't even bother to check it out, but judge it on the basis of the suburb it's in.

It's interesting, because I don't experience Yarraville as a very left-wing, right-on suburb, schooling wise. The schooling is very, very middle ground and middle class, with things like teachers getting dressed in fishnets and hotpants and doing an item from Cabaret in front of kids and parents at a recent school concert. (Many of these parents from other cultures, many Muslim, who would be horrified at this.) And six year olds doing concert items to the Barbie girl song ('you can touch, you can play'). Unthinking teaching. But yeah, I've had to conclude that it's just school, and education has to happen at home.

It's an interesting debate.

Marshall-Stacks said...

A Victorian primary school exposed to the decadence of nightclubs in 1930's Berlin ? My 1960 Headmistress would have fainted at the thought.
My sympathy for any Muslim parents who had to endure it - for them I guess it's equivalent to Loreto presenting their parent audience with a Nativity Play in bondage clothing - horror would be the effect.
How does any teacher who has appeared as 'Sally Bowles' ever get respect/control again in class?

Zoe said...

Your kids' friends will be as important as school, and if you send them to the school up the road you'll have the time to find out who they are.

It's school, you don't need to overthink it.

Helen said...

I take issue with the "it's just school" thing. I went to Hurstbridge High in the 1970s and we had some excellent teachers, one of whom turned me onto History like whoa and one of whom did the same for Eng Lit. Got me into Melbourne Uni (along with my middle class white privilege, which all the commenters I know personally here have. Don't see that as a criticism - it's the way it is.

Brief description of Scarysuburb High, which is Footscray City College: It's kind of like a mini-University. It's a concrete building with a free form architecture and it has a no uniform (up to now), no bells policy. Kids are expected to wear watches, although these days they are more likely to use their phones, to get to class on time. It is very much about treating them like adults and encouraging responsibility and independence.

I get the feeling that the "prussian" type system is more what the private-leaning parents want - discipline, discipline discipline! Rules! Lines! etc. Again, FCC, from year 9 on is more like Uni. And the principal actually told me that many parents don't like this. But it suits my daughter very well.

About the boys in hoodies - you know how you get clucky over kids who are roughly the same age as you r own? notice that phenomenon? Well I've started casting fond looks at...TEENAGERS. Heaven help me. I can actually see the vulnerability now.

Anonymous said...

"Lucky you if you can afford to live in it's 'zone' though.."

Well, the living is cheap, but purchasing a house in the zone costs a bit nowadays. My luck was a partner who bought into the area over 15 years ago - when the suitability of local high schools was the last thing on our minds!

Funny how these matters then take over your life. First primary schools - when, I reckon, a lot less is at stake - then high schools. Who'd have thunk it?

BTW, I should have added that I found teenage boys en masse frightening even - or especially - when I was a teenage boy myself

Anonymous said...

Marshall and Helen, you're right to pick me up on the 'it's just school' thing. It was a slight hyperbole on my part, partly because it's a reassuring mantra I tell myself or use to reassure parents who are overly stressing about school choice. You're right that school can be transforming and introduce kids to lots of things they don't get at home.

But Zoe's point is a good one too: local schools for local people, to paraphrase League of Gentleman, means you run into your kid's school friends at the local pool or shopping centre and you're not driving them across the city for play dates.

And Helen, I look forward to that moment when I get clucky over teenage boys and my prejudices are undone.

Anonymous said...

“An argument in defence of the Yarraville-Seddon clique is that they may have chosen to live in those suburbs because, along with Northcote-Thornbury, these are among the only places in Australia of their type: lefty to green, socially and sexually tolerant, and rife with artists and other outsiders from the general boganalian diaspora.”

I’m not sure whether this is necessarily a good defence to Helen’s argument. Whilst these areas can be readily characterised as lefty/greeny/tolerant “bogan” free areas, the reality is quite different:

Take a trip down to the Northcote Social Club on at night. Look around and you’ll often note lots of kiddies about whilst Mummy and Daddy and friends sit and drink their trendy micro brewery pale ale with added hops and smoke peter stuyvesant cigarettes. But, don’t worry, the kiddies are catered for with salt free chips, organic chicken nuggets, or fish that is fried in non GM oil. The young, fragile mind soaks up the atmosphere of intoxication, ad-nauseam puffing on toxic but trendy fumes, bitching about work and people (usually bogans from some socio-povo area) to the tune of some alt country track in the background…

Meanwhile at the Frankston RSL, the kiddies are about whilst Mummy and Daddy and friends sit and drink VB and smoke Wini Blues to the tune of cold chisel being played…

I don’t disagree that there are lefty/greeny/tolerant types in the areas that you speak of and that these areas tend to be characterised as such. However, I’d say there is just as much bogonalia as in the "general" areas. The difference is that this boganalia has money and/or ready access to credit. And, in some respects, this makes this boganalia even more malevolent and offensive than the ilk that you refer to in your defence.

Similar to the schools, be willing to take a look and you may find that your first impressions lack substance. There are just as many lefty/greeny/arty types that live outside of the areas that you speak of. Indeed, from my experience I’d say that more lefty/greeny/arty types grow up in ‘bogan’ enclaves than in trendy, expensive, gentrified areas.

Armagnac Daddy said...

I'm not sure I follow how the example of northy social club flows into the conclusion here. Firstly, there are a few 'kiddies' starting to rock up, but most of that crown (which I sometimes join) is 20s at least, very student and yes musician biased.

And to be a little more specific about the kind of cultural differences I refer to, I don't think homophobia, flag-waving, violence and racism and the like are anywhere near as dominant in that area as opposed to much of the rest of Australia.

Having lived in Darwin I'm viscerally conscious (in a very positive way) of this difference.

To put a specific plausible example on the table, due to sheer demographics it is likely Bear and Mitts will have one or two peers at school whose parents are same sex, in this area. Demographically that's far less likely elsewhere.

But yes it's also a type of exclusivism that in many ways contradicts a belief in universal public education, I agree it isn't simple. My own plenary needs as set out above don't include 'must be mostly kids of latte lefties' even though I'd quite like that, because overall I'm not that fussed if the main things I want to see in a school are there.

I am glad Helen kicked in a little backing the value of a decent education as a worthy thing in itself. I'm particularly conscious that a couple of very good history teachers are the difference between me and a raving hawk (hence I recoil at the fact that history isn't a separate mandatory subject in most secondary schools), and I think generally Australia would have a different polity, with more interest in big picture debate, and far more empathy with those from other countries and cultures, if we were frankly as a group better educated.

I think knowledge is a wonderful thing.

Armagnac Daddy said...

Just to add and illustrate my assertion about not being too enamoured with the need (myself- I was just trying to empathise with the Seddon crew) to be surrounded by latte lefties in the same suburb, for me Macleod College is right at the top of my list so far. Though it is in more of an upper working/lower middle class area with stuff all cafes etc, the school itself appears to tick the main things I want.

Anonymous said...

Oh, it looks like those three Anonymous posts in a row were posted by the same anonymous poster. In fact I'm the anonymous that first posted and then posted the first two of those three consecutive posts. A different Anonymous has chimed in with the third. On the other hand, why am I worried, given I'm anonymous? Look, I don't usually post anonymously, but for some slip of the keyboard I did initially on this thread and so have stuck with it. But for the record I, as Anonymous Numero Uno, have only been to the Northcote Social Club once. I think I saw a runner up from Australian Idol there. Whoo-ee. Have yet to make it to the Frankston RSL.

Helen said...

Further to FCC having a mini-University kind of feel, it is - or has been up to now - very very popular with the latte lefty / alternative / arty parents and their kids. The music department is wonderful, you should see 'em - a FCC alum is headlining at the next Queenscliff music festival.

Helen said...

Ah, found it - this kid.

Helen said...

Paste, paste!

Armagnac Daddy said...

All noted and pondered, appreciate the feedback.

Helen that actually does sound like my type of school! The closest equivalent to us I think it the private Eltham College, it seems to have a similar thrust and doesn't have the feel of a private school, however it has VERY private school fees!

Various Anons, always welcome to be anonymous- note that one of the reasons some of us adopt a 'handle' (like Armagnac!) is to develop and distinguish your online persona... but that's just a hint.