I’ve always been an engaged parent – conscious that everything I do – or don’t do can have ripple effects through an entire life. I try to keep my kids curious, engaged, confident, compassionate. Aware they have things others don’t – open to sharing what they do have, or perhaps feeling cared for in the knowledge that what they have isn’t what everyone has.
When my son was 3 I put him and his baby sister down on the waiting list of some private schools, and felt kind of sick about it. It is impossible to know what kind of person your child will be as a teenager – whether they will be sporty – need extra help, need protection from bullies, need to be challenged academically or socially. Revel in privilege or feel trapped by it. Impossible. It never occurred to me that we had left it too late. Perhaps a generation too late.
Private schools in Melbourne have such long waiting lists that unless you are a parent that went there, or a sibling is already at the school your child may not have any chance of attending. Course they don’t tell you that when they take your money to go on the list and leave you feeling like you have bought a share in something to be decided at a later date. Let you sit feeling safe and not actively looking for alternatives.
So I waited, thinking the hardest decision would be which one it should be when the time came. And the last year has brought a sinking realisation that even if we had the money to pay for it, he wasn’t being offered a place. Simple as that.
And now the mad last-minute scramble of public school tours is in full flight, and I find myself totally stunned by where he will be, and who he might become. Without wanting to sound like a snob, I went to a clean, well resourced school, and it is shocking to me to see crumbling walls, smelly carpets, lockers that need repair and padlocks everywhere. Facilities clearly lacking. Questionable companions. The school we attended last night was a warren of concrete corridors & gates, some classrooms seeming to have been outdoor rooms roofed over.
Some kids had shiny eyes and were full of enthusiasm. Others looked positively skanky. A sea of bewildered parents trying to grasp what the school is like during the day offered no feelings that this was where we should be as a family.
Don’t get me wrong – the principal’s speech was inspiring, I found the teachers to be most enthusiastic and approachable, and we saw some elective subjects that would have made my heart soar as a high school student, their school jazz band was actually brilliant and very enjoyable, but I have a fundamental inability to know who my son will be in 3 years time, and whether that environment will nourish or suffocate him. Will he get lost in the chaos?
It’s clearly the role of a school to prepare their students to be citizens of the future. To be able to find work they enjoy & excel at. To feel confident as people and to be responsible members of society who enrich the world they find themselves in. We saw a clip from a professor in the US, that was very interesting and his theories underpin the school’s values. Maths & English are important skills, clearly, but countries that have enforced academic excellence in these areas may be doing so at the expense of other skills that are proving to be more important every day; creativity, lateral thinking, the ability to design and invent what hasn’t been thought of before. He stressed that looking at pure scores is no indication of a person’s value or the contribution they are capable of making as independent people.
I suspect he is right. And I know from my own experience in a school where rote learning, right answers and scores were important, that creativity can be a hard thing to harness and direct. Perhaps they are getting that last bit very right? It was so hard to tell.
We learned nothing of what a day would be like. School camps? Drug policies? Bullying? It was all very confusing. Too much information and not enough information.
At another school visit, I walked away feeling like it might be a good place, with those questions answered, but I didn’t actually meet any kids or get a feeling for the culture as a whole. And as it turns out we’re not actually zoned for that school anyway. I am over choosing and having no choices.
We have 16 days left to fill in our forms, and while I know I’ll be doing my best to keep my precious guy on an even keel and know he will continue to be a decent, fascinating person, its terrifying to trust that another community will have the same respect for him that I do. It’s a very vulnerable place to be – teetering on the edge of the next stage. Waiting to see how the cards fall.
I’m hoping he will be a strong flyer.