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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

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It is a complicated subject, isn't it? We blinked--well, not blinked, as we never started public school--but we moved our daughter into a private school for pre/K because it's a place she can stay through grade 8. Some days, I drive past some of the public schools in our neighborhood and think we're nuts for not even trying them; other days, I drive home from school feeling so happy she's in an environment that I can predict will suit her for years to come. Philosophically, I want to like our public schools better than I do. But pragmatically, I'm cautious enough to want something I know works for my kid. I wish I felt better about making that choice.

I think I've probably told you this before, but I am so glad that I don't even have to think about such choices. This really is one area where the philosophy of "freedom of choice" has such shameful consequences for those who can't afford to choose.

I was at Chatterboy's awards night last night and there are 100 kids in Kindergarten and around 50 in Year 6. We were speculating on how much was demographic (the inner suburbs are starting to get fuller of children - they've got 140! Kers next year) and how much is the drift to private schools.

It'll be interesting to watch as we go through it.

I started out fiercely determined to go public (and it's been great so far) but at the same time, I don't want to sacrifice my child's education for a principle about how the world should work.

We'll see. I'm hoping to stay public.

Choosing schools for our kids should be about picking an educational model that fits best for the child. Instead we spend all our time second-guessing the 'opportunities' one school may offer over another. Elite private schools offer access to social and economic privilege which may sustain the kids into their working lives. But every study of educational outcomes at tertiary level indicates that public school students perform better. What are we really talking about? Economic opportunity or best educational outcomes? As a gay parent, I probably have a broader agenda I want to see in place for my kid's schooling, but the ideas and practices of fairness, tolerance and social justice sit firmly at the top of the list. Something I would not go looking to find at elite private schools.

Bernice, I agree. In fact I'd actively not want my child to go to any of the elite private schools precisely because I wouldn't want him to imbibe the mindset of privilege - and of course, being a child of lesbians (and of not-rich parents), he'd be the odd one out. (Although we do know a teenager of lesbians who attends an elite private girls school and they say it's fine, from that point of view.) But living where we live, it can be personally disturbing to be on the periphery of the assumed life path - and social connections are very much part of that path. We have the social connections with our community now, but are we - and our son - going to be cut off at some later date when his peers go in one educational direction and he goes in another?
I've heard a lawyer say that she was going to send her infant child to a private school because when they receive job applications at her law firm, they look at where the applicant went to school and that influences who they take. Not only does that sort of thing still go on, but Howard has strengthened those attitudes.

Is this general to NSW or more specific to Sydney?

Twenty years ago, in Newcastle, I knew of only one major private school. That's not to say there weren't more, but there were tons and tons of public high schools, and everyone seemed to go to them. Including most of the children of the businessmen's organization that sponsored my exchange year.

Is it a geographic difference, or a chronological one?

Jody, I think it is both a geographic and a chronological difference. The rich eastern suburbs have always been full of private school children, but it's got more extreme gradually over time. But even where I grew up, (southern suburbs of Sydney - very middle class) there are now more private non catholic schools that parents send their kids to.

It certainly also reflects a huge shift in numbers toward non-governmental schools. There's been a massive increase in parish schools by both the catholic & anglican mobs, as well as an explosion in 'christian' & other religious schools. Its running at about 38% of kids are now outside of the public system. Which is geographically variable, but even areas of historically low non-governmental attendance have seen significant increases in the last 15 years.
The interesting question is the why? The rise in the nos. of folk who see themselves as middle class, Brett's ordinary Australians, who appear to me to be confused by the perception of non-govt schools offering "better education" based around the outcomes from elite private schools, and the reality of those outcomes deriving from privilege & access to social resources. Or perhaps they're not confused at all, and consciously wish to cloak their kiddies in the mantle of privilege.

I'm not in Australia, but in an American large-ish city with enough population to sustain various models of private schools (some religious, some not, some progressive, some traditional, some bilingual). The city's school district is troubled for a number of reasons. We picked the private school we did for elementary school precisely b/c it seemed to have the best and most consistent approach to living multiculturalism and diversity in its community and curriculum, and as a lesbian parent, that appealed to me. I think had we been straight, I'd have been more inclined to try out the public schools to start. But given our family (and the fact that we could afford the tutition), we went for the educational model that seems to suit our kid AND supports our family. Is it a cop out? I wonder sometimes. But, she's happy.

I did a temping stint at the Catholic Education Office in Leichardt, many years ago. I was really impressed. The whole office is run by women, who, compared with many of my temping experiences in various office environments, stood out as imminently sensible, rational, intelligent, hardworking and compassionate, and no, they weren't Nuns. I thought at the time that if I ever had any kids I'd definitely be looking at local Catholic schools. I'm not a Catholic and I don't think that some kind of conversion is required to attend one of their schools. Fees too, are indexed to what one can afford or not. Catholic schools have or had a deservedly terrible reputation, and so it was enlightening and surprising to see how well this office ran and the kindness of the women who ran it. This was a while ago, but its an avenue that might be worth exploring. Depends of course on whose running the school in particular.

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