22 Aug 2009, Comments (34)

Not a Blasted Wasteland, part 2

Author: Helen

[Part One]

So, I’m sitting around the table with the people I volunteer with at Scarysuburb High, and the conversation turns to the people who are pushing for a new high school closer to where I live. I said that I hadn’t joined the group except as an email listee, because I’ve chosen to put my limited effort into Daughter’s school and there are only so many hours in the day, but I admired them for their support of the bigger picture and of public education.

Well, said one of the other mums, have a look at this then. And when I saw the article in the local newspaper she had brought with her, I realised what she meant. The group supports public education – just not the public education that the rest of us are using. Because the real public education is too scary!

What the parents appear to dislike the most is that their children actually have to leave their immediate area to attend school. Scarysuburb High, where my daughter goes, is a twenty minute bus ride – about 5 K – one way. For kids down the other end of the suburb, they can go to Poshsuburb High, about 5 K the other way. People like the sound of Poshsuburb High better, but as I wrote in part 1 – Like Sandra Tsing Loh – once I got past the brutalist bunker, Scarysuburb High turned out to be pretty good. Impressive, even.

Here’s one of the parents quoted in the local paper:

Ms I said A was already “quite anxious” about which school he would go to and where his classmates would end up.

Yeah, not surprised, with the parents hyperventilating the way they are. Read on..

We don’t want to dissipate [friendships] by sending our children all over Melbourne.”
Ms I would prefer to send her son – and later, her six-year-old daughter B – to a local, co-educational state school.
“There were children walking around the streets in Y at 7.15am the other morning. For my children that would never be an option, when they could be at home living their lives instead of having to be stressed about catching two trains and a bus or what ever the combination is (to get to school).

Two trains and a bus? or tram? That sounds like you’re aiming for Selective High over in the city – but that’s only from year nine. And I agree about the travelling time. So, what about Scarysuburb High? a five-K bus ride!

“We’ve looked closely at two schools so far. One of them ticked all the boxes, but the likelihood of us getting into that school is pretty slim because the zoning boundaries change from year to year.

So that’d be Poshsuburb High. Yeah, they are very strict about their zoning boundaries. But the educational experience at Poshsuburb is little different from that at Scarysuburb.

“The other school would be a reluctant option. At this point we wouldn’t be confident with that decision…. There’s nothing a simple and safe bike ride away for our children.”

Wait, WUT? The reluctant option? Yes, that’d be Scarysuburb High. Where our FRIGHTENING CRACK DEALING TAGGERS GO. Ahem.

I, and others, wrote back to the local paper, with stuff like this:

Of course, the school’s physical surroundings don’t come up to scratch according to the standards set in the private schools’ glossy brochures, and many parents don’t even bother to check it out, as they see a school which is inclusive of many recent immigrants, refugees and the financially disadvantaged, and panic. This creates the equivalent of “white flight” in the US …

And the parents responded with stuff like: How dare you, we support public education. But then one of them said (no link to letter in local paper for this one): there are no schools of excellence in the West.

So that’s what it boils down to: one, that they consider the schools that exist incapable of excellence – which is demonstrably false – and they are expecting some kind of special deal with a new school, something different and better, while abandoning the other schools in the area as “safety nets” and no-go areas; and two, that they’re getting their helicopter-parent rotors in a spin at the idea of their children taking a short trip on public transport.

About the walking to school thing. Yes, it’d be great, but you know, little Lachlan and Sophie are not going to be in grade four when they go to high school. They’re going to be (dun dun dun!) Teenagers! Taking public transport, even if it’s just the twenty-minute hop necessary for Scarysuburb or Poshsuburb, is a part of growing up. They might actually find it a sociable experience. They might even – try to get your heads around this- make friends that are not from that immediate area, who haven’t been vetted by Mum and Dad! Wooooo! Scary, I know! But they’re going to be learning some actual life skills.

So, if this new school eventuates, how will it overcome the same problems of public funding and community perceptions? Part of the impression I get is that they’re looking to use their “pushy, type A parent” mojo to drive up the value of their school, as Sandra Tsing Loh described in part 1. Good on’em. That’s what we, the Friends of Scarysuburb High, try to do. And it’ll be dominated by their group – not as diverse, not so many people that aren’t like them. That I find less admirable.

The group uses demographic studies to argue that by 2012, there will be an upsurge of Year Sevens with nowhere to put them. But the demographics, or enrolment figures rather, go the other way. Enrolments in public schools, are still declining because of the flight to the private and Catholic systems. We need the higher socioeconomic groups to stop abandoning the public system. Creating another school will simply dilute any such return.

One of the virtues of Scarysuburb High is its breadth of subjects; if enrolments decline, a school loses subjects. The new high school would start from a low, very low enrolment base. How many languages could it offer, if any? (Scary High offers several.) What specialist subjects?

I don’t want to be completely captured by an argument of low expectations. I would love nothing more than the Victorian government to announce, tomorrow, that they are going to put up the money for a new school in our suburb tomorrow, fully funded for a diverse range of subject choices, plus plenty of funding for Scarysuburb High so that it can offer all its subjects, too. Really. I just think the pushy type-As could get that bang for their buck and grow the system by moving back into existing schools, and allowing their kids to grow up and away a little.

Community ginger group, I identify with and approve of your determination to get a good public education for your kids. Just don’t keep on telling us how awful we are, while calling it supporting public education.

Comments (34) »

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  • david h says:

    “So that’s what it boils down to: one, that they consider the schools that exist incapable of excellence – which is demonstrably false – and they are expecting some kind of special deal with a new school, something different and better, while abandoning the other schools in the area as “safety nets” and no-go areas; and two, that they’re getting their helicopter-parent rotors in a spin at the idea of their children taking a short trip on public transport.”

    I like your comments from the local paper, I guess that would be one of the so-called community freebies full of ads and real estate that clutter up my mailbox. Very amusing 🙂 imagine friends on a bus! omfg

    so another refinement of earlier rant.

    I was still thinking about private/public on the way home from the library and i digressed down all the usual social political arguments we hear about why private skools deserve funding and why governments simply can’t cut them off from the educational budget drip to arrive approximately back here. The public skool vs non public skool debate is skewed. Why do we need two ideologically different funding models to achieve the same thing because while there are two competing models offering a “choice” then you will naturally end up with a situation of better/worse and over time the better will get better and the worse worse. Which bring me back to the public option. The government has a responsibility for education, so it should damn well start delivering. Every dollar that goes to a private education institution is a dollar that doesn’t go a public skool. period . end of story. end of rant

  • Helen says:

    And a very fine rant too, David!

  • Bernice says:

    If I could find the bloody thing among the piles of paper I laughingly call my archive, there’s a report on the issue of public education dilution in the New York City from a couple of years ago. As areas become gentrified, there has been a pattern of building new schools to meet the political pressure to provide educational opportunities not ‘tainted’ with the previous lower socio-economic reputation. The new schools are chock full of goodies; the existing schools receive less and less.

    I don’t know how you get through to people that Scarysuburb High is in fact a good school. Maybe by pro-active recruitment drives into the potential feeder primary schools? Lots & lots of open days? It’s probably already done; but high levels of community engagement do make a vast difference to community perceptions. And poking and prodding local council to provide feeder bike paths so the school is a “simple and safe bike ride away for our children”. Bet they drop them off in a four wheel drive anyway.

  • Ariel says:

    Ah yes, I vaguely know Ms I. I know the group of mums she’s talking about, too. The boy is F’s level at same school. Sigh. They’re the reasons I walk F to the school gate and no further and dread school occasions.

    I would – ideally – like F to be able to ride a bike to school or walk, as I did when I was growing up, I admit. Though maybe that’s not realistic anymore? And I ideally prefer a smaller school for F, because of his Asperger’s – smaller social groups are better. Though you make an excellent point about subject choice in larger schools. And I guess if they’re broken up into subschools (which I assume is the case?) that dissipates the large-school issue.

    But I see no problem with Scarysuburb school in principle and would be happy to send F there if there is no closer school (which there won’t be by then). Even though, as I’ve said before, his dad (my ex) has vetoed it outright because he doesn’t want F passing through Scarysuburb on his way to school.

    Bernice, I don’t think you could convince these Type A mums of that. They are using the logic of F’s father (even if they don’t admit it). They just don’t want their kids spending time in Scarysuburb. And don’t want to tell their friends they send their kids to school there.

  • Helen says:

    Ah yes I missed that nuance – even though it’s a short hop they have to pass through Scarysuburb on their way there! And see it out the window!!

    OMG!!!!

    In the best of all possible worlds it would be great for all kids to be able to bike or walk to school, and the effect on the carbon footprint would be great, but once you’re at high school most people don’t. To get to my local High I still had to go one stop in a red rattler (old style urban Melbourne train, for you non-Victorians).

  • Helen says:

    Bernice – that sounds extremely interesting and I’d love a pointer to that article – might try some googling later tonight.

    Yes, strategies to counter the scary scary image of the High school and public ed in general has been high on the agenda in these group meetings (these always include the principal, who takes her own time to come and participate.) One of the things they have done is commission community surveys. Following this, reluctantly and sadly, they’ve made the decision to introduce a uniform next year starting with Year 7s. The absence of a uniform was just too much for many parents to cope with.

  • Fine says:

    My nephew goes to Scarysuburb High and he loves it. Must say, it is tempting to have a school called Sky High.

  • Alison says:

    Just wait till next year when we can all rst easy with the ‘key aspects’ at our fingertips through gov’t reporting – will choice in these areas be easier or harder? Or clear?
    Would love to know what you guys thought of last Tuesday’s Insight episode about judging schools and publishing school data …
    http://news.sbs.com.au/insight/episode/index/id/102#watchonline

  • david h says:

    from the smh this morning

    “THE Rudd Government will deliver an estimated 32 per cent increase in funding to private schools, raising their national windfall to more than $26.2 billion over the next four years, new analysis shows.”

    and what does the darling Ms Gillard have to say about it?

    “Funding for non-government schools reflects increased enrolments at those schools,”

    Is she sleeping with Peter Garrett?

  • david h says:

    oops forgot the link!

  • armagny says:

    Read with fascination, we’ve discussed these issues before Ms Balcony and you know I’m poring over them with some level of angst. You’ll be pleased to know at kinder level we’ve suddenly encountered an even more basic funding issue- there literally are not enough places for all the kids in Darebin.

  • armagny says:

    Read with fascination, we’ve discussed these issues before Ms Balcony and you know I’m poring over them with some level of angst. You’ll be pleased to know at kinder level we’ve suddenly encountered an even more basic funding issue- there literally are not enough places for all the kids in Darebin.

  • Kath Lockett says:

    Ah yes, well we live in the same street as SCUMBAG high here in Flemington. Parents are quite happy to take their kids across the road – maybe a whole 20 metres – to Flemington Primary school, but NOT to SCUMBAG high.

    Flemington Primary School’s year 6 kids last year went to TWENTY SIX different secondary schools. The chances of seeing a familiar face at posh college in St Kilda or Richmond – virtually nil. LC and I are doing a tour of SCUMBAG high this Friday so that, apart from Margaret Simon’s brilliant essay on the exact topic (Australian Essays 2006), I can speak with some authority about what the place is like on the inside and start a ‘Be Brave and Cross the Road’ campaign. What is a school if it’s ignored and not used by local parents?

    Who wouldn’t want their kids to have a thirty second walk or bike ride to school? Or to work towards having a class of at least ten kids in it that their child already knows….?

  • Helen says:

    I would advocate having a red hot go. If it all goes pearshaped, you can defect to Selective High in year 9. But when I offered that to the daughter, in the spirit of not imposing some parental agenda, she chose to stay where she was and she’s kicking serious arse in her VCE year. Nice group of friends too.

    She did this thing, which still leaves me gibbering with excitement and I tell everyone about it.

  • Hattie says:

    Who are “those people” who are so bad that precious children belonging to the right sort mustn’t consort with them? I’m an American, and I don’t know who those would be in Australia.

  • Helen says:

    Hattie, Scarysuburb is the suburb of disadvantage, boys in hoodies tagging stuff with spray cans, all that stuff.

    But it’s also a suburb of extremely savvy and ambitious immigrants and the aforementioned type-A pushy gentrifiers. If you read the Sandra Tsing Loh article I linked to in part 1, it’s pretty much the same, except with Vietnamese and Horn of Africa communities.

  • MsLaurie says:

    I’m pretty sure two of my little cousins attend Scarysuburb High. Their parents have nothing but praise for it.

    My aunt though was ranting at a recent family shenanigan that some of the local families were trying to get the name of the school changed from Scarysuburb High to PosherNewEstate Secondary College. Just so that their little darlings could put a ‘Better’ name on their future resumes. Crazy.

  • tigtog says:

    My kids attend a Sydney equivalent, although it’s perhaps not quite such a Scarysuburb in itself, the feeder primary schools do include a couple of Scarysuburbs, and their population of disadvantaged kids and immigrant kids is enough to make a lot of the Type-A parents run for the private schools.

    The school has a good academic record, plenty of extracurricular activities, committed teaching staff, but it doesn’t look very pretty. The not looking pretty seems to turn some Type-A parents off too. But my kids are getting a good education there, as well as a more important life lesson in not avoiding Others.

  • armagny says:

    Plenty of food for thought here Helen. To be precise I’ve been thinking about it, and what puts me off certain public schools (where prima facie that’s where I’d rather send the kids) and not others.

    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’d love it if there was no distinguishing but if I had my way:
    – teachers would start on 55k and rise rapidly to 90k once they proved their worth
    – schools would be taking creative steps to break down the old prussian style of education we are still saddled with, and to teach constructively and with inspiration
    – schools would emphasise creative and intellectual development, with side streams only for sport, vocational, etc.
    – they’d all teach history, politics, geography, mandatory languages for at least a couple of years, and offer comprehensive music and arts courses.
    – violent individuals and bullies would be swiftly removed (I’m more tolerant of live and let live type problems like truancy, which should be addressed but don’t make life hell for other kids).

    Oh AND I like the fact that if they go to school near where we are now they’ll have at least a handful of kids from backgrounds such as gay parents and alternative types. This sort of cultural alignment may also be why some people have moved to Seddon/Yarraville, and perhaps one of the more understandable motivators they feel…?

    (for non-Melbourners: Northcote, Thornbury, Fairfield, Fitzroy, Seddon, Yarraville are almost unique in Australia for their demographics- high green vote, high number of non mainstream families…)

    /fullblownpostmasqueradingascomment!

  • Amanda says:

    – violent individuals and bullies would be swiftly removed

    Removed to where?

  • armagny says:

    Somewhere they can get help without destroying those around them.

  • Deslivres says:

    When I was a yoof I inadvertantly managed to go to 3 public and 3 private schools. So here’s my Worthless Tip: when scoping out the various schools, check out the attitude of the school to its own students.

    My worst experience was at the public high school (years 7 to 10) where the children were prohibited from using the front doors or walking in the front coriador. At that same school, the high achievers got away with murder and those from rougher backgrounds were treated like garbage. It did not lead to a good dynamic.

  • Ashleigh says:

    Hmmm. I wrote something – not quite on the same lines – but certainly about funding…

    http://ashleigh.id.au/?p=1442

    To hear that EVEN more money is going to private education makes me very grumpy indeed!

  • Helen says:

    Great post Ashleigh. Just in case this info is useful, I posted a comment and got

    “Gatekeeper error .8dbc8d61dfa527a63fc6c8710a420da5: your response (“”) did not case-insensitively match the required answer. You can try again, or else report the error to the site administrator.”

  • Ashleigh says:

    erk. drat. email me your reply 🙂
    me at ashleigh dot id dot au

    It’s possible you did not answer the special anti-spammer trick question after the comment box.

  • smith says:

    I have read and heard a lot about these people trying to get a new school built because they avoid Scary Suburb High.
    These are the helicopter parents that hover around the kids before and after school. They are not letting their kids grow up and experience life.
    These are the parents that have not given their kids boundaries and feel that children at the age of 2 should have a say in major decisions. If teachers try to discipline their child they are down at the school making the biggest stink about it. They won’t accept a teachers view if they are told the child needs help with school work. Then these children get to an age where they are so self opinionated that they can’t see past their noses. They have no regard for school rules or respect for teachers. Low and behold these kids grow up and become teenagers and we find these SAME parents running to the school social worker because they can’t control their kids and the kids is getting into all sorts of trouble. I know for a fact that they have shunned Scary Suburb High without even setting foot in it. Scary Suburb High does not have the same posh building as Posh Suburb high but it does have staff that go way above the call of duty to help their students eg homework club, classes on the school holidays to prepare for exams, taking students to uni on a Saturday, again to help them prepare for exams. All this is done on their own time and they DO NOT GET PAID FOR IT. The principal putting in her own time to sort out school matters. I have driven past on a Saturday afternoon at 5pm only to see the principal drive out of the school driveway. I really cannot understand why parents take out a bank loan and work 3 jobs and go into debt for the rest of their lives to send their child to posh suburb high when we have a fantastic school on our door step. How do I know my kid goes there and I see it first hand.

    On another note: I have personally seen people bust their guts to get their kid into a zoned school or a school on the other sice of the city because they say it is a really good school, only to find 6 months later they are not happy and apply to send them to Scary Suburb High. Their children have flourished and have come ahead in leaps and bounds.

    So don’t judge a book by it’s cover. A school that has just been built might have bright coloured walls, look new, have shiny toilets but at the end of the day it is the staff that deliver the lessons and teach your child not the walls and toilets.

  • Helen says:

    I know for a fact that they have shunned Scary Suburb High without even setting foot in it.

    Interesting, that’s what I thought but I have given them the benefit of the doubt as I don’t know them – that’s what I suspected though Smith!

    staff that go way above the call of duty to help their students eg homework club, classes on the school holidays to prepare for exams, taking students to uni on a Saturday, again to help them prepare for exams. All this is done on their own time

    Yes, you are not wrong there, daughter is counting down 1 week to VCE exams and she is personally benefiting from this at the moment. I appreciate what they do so much.

    As you say it’s the staff.

    I love the new rebuilt junior school though, and the front of the place is going to look massively improved once they do the landscaping (which starts soon) and we repaint the walkway. Great comment Smith – it shows I’m not just imagining or being a Pollyanna about Scarysuburb…

  • smith says:

    Helen, I do know these people and so I can say that they definatley have not set foot in the school. They think that “precious” should not have to be subjected to real life and God Forbid have to catch public transport. Although they don’t mind them getting on a train at 7.00 in the morning to go to Posh High but not public transport to Scary suburb High. They don’t realise that they are raising kids that will not be able to cope in real life because the helicopter parents have hovered around them all their lives to “protect” them. We all love our children and wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to them. But as parents it is our duty to prepare them for the real world which is a lot more scray than what they “think” Scary Suburb High is.

    Don’t get me wrong Helen, would love the rest of the school to look like the new junior school. I can’t wait to see the school with the new landscaping and painted walkway. But for the resources the school has the Principal has done a fantastic job.

    You can pay fees at Posh High and your child gets NO education. A person paid $30,000 for education for son at Posh High. He dropped out and became a waiter. News article parent suing school because paid fees because his child failed. Another friend rang posh high and told them will not pay fees because the son did not learn a thing. These are people that I know but there are so many similar stories out there. So paying a lot of money to a school does not give them the edge in education that they think they will get. They are really only kidding themselves and making the school board of Posh High very rich.

    If they built this new school how can they guarantee they will get all the enrolments they need? There will always be the posh highs all over the place and who is to say they will choose Skyhigh High School? That will mean, in the end, they took $20mil poured it into Skyhigh High School which they could use NOW to improve all the Scary Suburbs High Schools in the western suburbs.

    The school has been heavily promoting themselves for the last 2 years but these parents will not even go to their open days to have a look. They are so closed minded they refuse to open their eyes.

  • Helen says:

    “Smith”/”Tommy”, you’ve posted three comments on an old thread with two different posting names and three different email addresses. Generally morphing email addresses and nics is the sign of trollish behaviour, but your demeanour is friendly and polite and the points you make are all good (except for fees at Poshsuburb High – I was talking about a different one which is another high school but in a posher suburb, hence less scary to Teh Parents 🙂 So I’m a bit bamboozled by why you would want to change your identity from one comment to the next.
    I’m just wondering whether you’re a SkyHigh opponent with another agenda I’m not aware of, (e.g. someone who wants to create the impression that there are more people commenting on this thread than there actually are?) Of course, I’d love a chorus of agreement and you are essentially agreeing with my post, but morphing identity behaviour suggests some agenda I’m not party to. So, sorry, I won’t approve any comments by any of your other “identities”.
    If this is just a newbie netiquette thing, I do apologise.

  • Smith/Tommy says:

    I can asure you that I am not a skyhigh supporter. I change my identity because I cannot risk being found out who I am. I do have a child at scary suburb high and other children that go to a school that supports skyhigh, that is how I know these people, and there are other reasons that I cannot go into. My loyalty lies with scary suburb high because the school has helped my child so much I am grateful and I want to support the school so it is around for a very long time.
    So if you don’t want to reply to my comments that is fine.

  • Helen says:

    No, I get the fact that you’re on the same side. It’s only the constant morphing which is a problem. As I say it’s different with you because you’re not using it in a hostile manner which is usually the case with morphing id’s. But it does mean the blog software thinks you’re a new commenter and will keep sending your comments to the moderation queue!

  • smith/tommy says:

    Thank you from now this is the name I will write under and apologise for any problems I may have caused.
    Just letting you know I have written to MP’s, WMR Director and newspapers supporting scary suburb high in aliases. Just last week I wrote a comment in True Local Where We Live” supporting scary suburb high and even mentioning the scary suburb highs real name.

    I mentioned the $30,000 fee for a posh school on the other side of town because people do pay that money for education there. The Posh high you mention, that is closer in a posh suburb and not so scary to the parents, does not have that tpye of fee, but unfortunatley people think it is a fantastic school. Well….. I have had people tell me it is not what it is cracked up to be and know people who are actually looking for another school and then……..suprise surprise …….enrol at scary suburb high.

    I will continue to support scary suburb high as much as I can and tell people that I am happy with it.

  • Helen says:

    No problems S/T! 🙂

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