Casual Cruelty

I have returned from the drop off at school again today in tears. My boy, a beautiful, curious and sweet boy of nine years of age, has again bravely entered a world that is confusing, lonely and quite incomprehensible at times.

He has autism. This is school and, indeed life, for him.

All the way to school he asked to come home with me. I had forgotten his afternoon tea bag but said I would come back with it. That was a bad start. Anything out of the ordinary can make him feel unsettled and  unhappy. Lucky for me today, he was feeling pretty upbeat and the begging to return home stopped when we pulled up at the gate.

Our neighbours pulled up behind us. She is my friend and the boys are in the same class. We tried to wait for them but they seemed to be going very slow and I realised the boy didn’t want to walk in to school with my boy.

So, like always, I put my head down and kept going.

We put my boy’s bag where he has been told to put it so that he has a regular comforting spot. That place was taken and even after I moved some bags along, my neighbours boy pushed our bag into a hard to get to place, squashed up, inaccessible.

If I wasn’t there I’m pretty sure my boy’s bag would be on the ground. Pushed off. Left there.

And yesterday, one of the boys made my child wait an eternity while he got what he wanted out of his bag before he let my boy put his bag in his designated spot. I was watching.

We rushed to assembly after the bell and I told my son where to line up in age lines. He was heading there when the neighbours boy ran in and took the first place in the line. My little boy gets confused in all that morning rumpus so I told him to stay behind “Jack”.

Next thing you know, Jack has seen people he would rather be with and taken off to a group of boys at the end of the line leaving my kid confused and not sure if he is doing the right thing.

Nobody said hello to my beautiful boy. Nobody ran at him to greet him. He had just been at home drawing amazing pictures of garbage trucks filled with “trash” and a moose with a beard and telling us poems he had heard. But when he enters this place he is not valuable. He is not a person with wit and caring and a sparkle in his eye. He is the special boy. He is alone.

Dear Elizabeth Farrelly: We NEED private education!

Last Friday in the Sydney Morning Herald my family and I were horrified to see yet another private school bashing article by the columnist, Elizabeth Farrelly. We would like to set the record straight in a number of areas she addressed.

In her article, titled “Why Private schools add little to education mix”, Farrelly starts by writing 7 paragraphs that do not even mention private schooling at all! Instead she compares (incomprehensibly) “the difference between education and damage”, refers obliquely to a possibility of “allowing more local students in Sydney Boys and Girls high schools”(these are well known public, selective schools) and calls for such selective schools to be seen as “Special Needs” as the children who are carefully selected and attend would otherwise “wither and die” in a normal school setting.

Farrelly then goes on to “declare an interest” (a huge one) as both her children attended Sydney Girls High and she admits “to having nightmares as to what we would do if they could not.”

She then calls for the resolution of making all schools public! This instead of letting local students who are not “orchid children” into the hallowed halls of Sydney Boys and Girls!

She would like to “Abolish private schools. Gone.”

Private schools “add little.” instead they “build enclaves of privilege for those who need it least.”

This we must protest against long and hard and with every fibre of our beings!

We are a family that moved back to my idyllic small town when my children were small from inner city Sydney. We are university graduates from families of university graduates with teachers, barristers, doctors, engineers, pathologists etc in our extended families.

I am a public school teacher. My mother has been a public school teacher since 1967. We believed (note past tense) in the public school system. We believed it would be universally accountable wherever we chose to bring up our beautiful, bright and diverse bunch of kids. We believed we would be listened to and valued as loyal public school people for decades. Or indeed just as decent taxpaying people. Or just as people.

When my beautiful mixed race daughter was bullied and excluded for achieving too highly in everything from sport to academics we protested to the teacher, deputy and Principal. We could see she had been coping until she got a teacher with questionable skills who allowed behaviour such as shouting, kicking balls indoors, leaving the classroom without warning and wandering around the room interfering. This teacher had been employed by the Principal  and he would not investigate the allegations from many parents of misconduct in that room and instead chose to cover the problems with bullying and lies.

We had no choice after our child was called a “stupid Chinese person” but to withdraw her on stress leave and investigate our options.

The only other school in our town is a small Catholic school (private) with very few children her age and she was dying for a group of friends and some acceptance. We reluctantly applied to a Grammar school in a nearby town and she was accepted immediately.

She has never looked back.

This school has shown great respect to her enthusiasm and abilities from her first day. One year after moving she was voted as a prefect at a school 6 times bigger than her previous school where terrible teaching, lack of kindness, empathy and fairness has been allowed to flourish under a Principal who is ruthless in his vindictiveness.

We have found a school better than I have ever taught in and better than we ever imagined and it is only a bus ride away.

We had no other choice of public schools. Our public school is holding a cruel monopoly over the kids in our town who attend as it has been allowed to develop a terrible culture of bullying and spin from the Principal which he is using to cover lack of teaching, lack of care and a history of laziness and ineptness which will culminate in some or lots of these kids having a lesser life than they deserve!

Our local public school kids are in a school with a toxic culture which spends far more time covering teacher mistakes and bad policy decisions than it does in teaching them how to read and write. The teachers still get their ample wages having gained one of the highest paid jobs in our small town but they are not providing these isolated kids the same chance “of performing to his or her full capacity as a human”.

City based proponents of the Public School debate are forgetting or willfully disregarding the story in the country.

We do not have another public school in the next suburb to go to. We have tiny public schools 1/2 hour – 45 mins away with no public transport and who are heavily influenced by our Principal as our local school is the largest in the area.

Elizabeth Farrelly, we tried!

We “flooded our middle class energy into the public system” and after years of teaching and volunteering for hours a week, donating time, money and our lovely kids into the public system, it has failed us and spat us out like rubbish.

Our closest selective schools are few and far away (3 hours) and the only public boarding school in this half of the state is single sex for boys!

Please don’t belittle the safe haven and hard work that private schools like the one we have found as adding “no value to what children bring home from school”. 

If I could capture the joy, acceptance, academic challenges and fairness that exudes from our daughters’ private school and bottle it, it would be worth a fortune. My girls wake up excited about school every morning and are more than willing to go that extra mile in anything they are asked because they believe in their school.

We are so lucky.

We have left behind the black hole of the public school in our town but the pain of betrayal lingers on.