Pity poor Michelle Green of the Association of Independent (read Private) Schools (Vic division), who had to catch flak on RN’s Life Matters about the violent and intimidating rampage by the exclusive Xavier school kids on year 12 “muck-up day”. Some of the things she had to say: It was very distressing for the principal and for the local community, who felt terrorised. (Boy’s leg broken in three places, woman parked on the street had to lock herself in her car, etc.) It can’t be explained away or covered up, and the school is dealing with it appropriately. You can’t stamp out human behaviour. “On one level” it doesn’t improve the reputation of the school, but a school’s reputation is multi-faceted. Parents send their children there for religious values as well as for education… This may not do much to diminish the reputation of the school in the community… “they’re learning from this as a group”.
Now this is all pretty uncontroversial stuff. Yes, we know young’uns can be pretty wild little bastards at times. In this case, maybe fuck up would be more a more accurate term. But wait – don’t the parents who send little Tarquin to these schools pay about sixteen thousand dollars a year, firstly to secure them a high TER score and prepare to join the ruling class, but otherwise to keep them away from the riff-raff, violence and bad behaviour that we’re constantly told is the daily fare at Scarysuburb High? I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve been earnestly told that someone doesn’t know what to do with little Tarquin, because if he goes to our local high school he’ll automatically graduate in Crack Dealing and Violence 101.
At least my daughter doesn’t get her leg broken at Scarysuburb High. I did take her to Cas once with a suspected cracked ankle, but that was due to a klutzy negotiation of some steps, not being jumped on by her fellow students. (We’ll have our own chair soon in the waiting room at the local hospital, won’t we?)
Michelle doesn’t like the name “Muck-up day” because of the connotations of bad behaviour and wants to change it to “Celebration day” instead. Imagine the sneers about boring political correctness if someone in the public system came up with that. And imagine the “ZOMG our public schools are a OMGHOTBED OF GANG WARFARE” type headlines in the Herald Sun if the Xavier rampage had been perpetrated by public school kids.
Then Green turned to the subject of social pressures – something that’s taboo for parents or officials in the public system, because then we’re accused of being bleeding hearts who are blaming society and should take more notice of individual responsibility. But it’s OK for the Association of Independent Schools to bring it on:
Interviewer: How do you reconcile the religious values of the school with that behaviour
MG: “Well, we have a different society…There certainly should be a code of behaviour and that is certainly something I’m sure that Xavier would be talking about. But you cannot impose a code of behaviour on a group of young boys who are affected by alcohol. You’d hope that they would have learned enough not to misbehave, but everybody knows there are sporting heroes who went to good schools and have good family backgrounds, and have a few drinks and muck up.”
Interviewer: How have schools responded to these muck-up day incidents in the past?
MG: “Independent schools were very concerned about it, because they could see it as part of a societal trend.
“[Dr Madeleine Levine has] written a study which shows that bright, charming, socially skilled young adults from affluent families are suffering epidemic rates of depression and substance abuse. And what she linked that with is the materialism and the pressure to achieve in our society. Now, our schools became aware of that research quite early on and what they said to me was that they were seeing that reflected in the end of year celebrations in these bright young students, who have been pushed to achieve by society and by their parents and by themselves, who have a few drinks and just let it go.”
Not good enough, AISV. Your point of difference, your marketing angle, is that your schools will take children out of a sewer of violence and riff-raff (the public system) and place them in an oasis of Christian values and firm behavioural coaching. You know: the rest of us are just as concerned about the violent, sexist and laddish culture of professional sport and many corporate milieux as well. You may say that’s separate to you, but you’re the ones who are boasting that you’re doing something about it; that private schools teach “values” and offer a superior environment where children too shy or vulnerable for the public system can learn without disruption. And I overhear a lot of people regurgitating this story quite uncritically.
An all-boys’ school like Xavier should be examining the Sam Newman/Wayne Carey/Eddie McGuire male culture in Australia, acknowledging their part in it and working on how to fix it.
Instead, Green suggests a Celebration Day with an early-morning jumping castle and a silver-service breakfast served to the year 12s. And some group psychology sessions. Yeah, that’ll work.
Who else has the sneaking feeling that all this talk about “Christian values” and the superiority of the private system is kind of beside the point with regard to elite schools? I think there’s a definite subset of parents who couldn’t care less about a little bit of ultraviolence. I think some parents who send kids to all-boys schools have a somewhat unreconstructed, masculinist approach to social competition. And I think for some, the elite schools represent membership of a network and a ladder to boardrooms and corner offices, and bugger the “values”. The values thing is a buzzword for the marketing company, and to keep our tax money coming.