Where’s the riot?

I’m *almost* back to school full-time. Things have come up and I’ll be out of the classroom for a few days this week and a couple of days next week. I guess I’m being released slowly back into the tank, kind of like you do with a new goldfish.

Yesterday I spent the whole day at school. Being away from a place for a while makes it seem quite alien/foreign when you return – you see things with a new pair of eyes as it were. What I kept seeing was hundreds of young people doing what they were told to do. I guess for many that’s a sign of a great school – a productive school that runs well. And it does and it is a great school and it is well run (I had the pleasure of telling this to a mother from my son’s school yesterday as well). So where am I going with this? I suppose I just can’t get out of my head the image of the hammers and the child-meat grinder from Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’.

I visited my son’s classroom yesterday as part of Open Week celebrations. Or is that Education week? Who knows. What did I see? I saw all of the desks facing the front – my son is in Year 2. I saw neat workbooks full of completed (and half-completed) worksheets. I saw ‘art’ displayed in a ‘gallery’ – all black cardboard framed and tidied into neat rows. We all marched to the playground when the bell went and ate lunch with our kids as a special treat. When the second bell went we allowed our kids to go off and run around the oval or swing on the play equipment. When the final bell went the parents filed out of the school and the kids filed back into class.

OK … maybe it wasn’t as bad as I’m making it sound. I did read an amazing poem written by my eldest son. It blew me away and I was thankful that poetry is still being valued in school but then I asked him how he wrote it and he showed me how he followed a model and it made me sad. I don’t know why. Poets have always used models, rules … haven’t they?

Last night someone I know posted on facebook about his fear that his young daughter might have her creativity squashed by school. Right now as a pre-schooler she’s free to walk silly and sing nonsense songs in public. We all know neither of these will be tolerated in school for very long. He is justified in his concern. I am continually surprised by how accepting parents and children are of their ‘education fate’ … the ‘this is how it always has been and this is how it is and will be forever’ attitude. The blind acceptance that this system we’re all caught in is normal and acceptable. That there is nothing wrong with how things are.

But they’re wrong. It isn’t right. All you need to do is talk to parents and children and you’ll discover the unhappiness. The frustration with testing, with being treated like a battery chicken, with bullies running rampant and the disinterest of teachers. The students know they are just numbers jumping through hoops trying to become bigger and better numbers. The students know the system is broken. They know that it’s all a game and at the end of it all the only lessons they will remember are the ones when the teacher farted or their best friend got her hand stuck to the table in Art. They know that ‘school’ is glorified babysitting so Mum and Dad can earn money to buy dinner and pay for the wifi.

I just don’t understand why we can get THOUSANDS of teachers to ‘protest’ about funding cuts to public ed and we can’t get any parents or students to protest again the SYSTEM itself. Why is it up to teachers to protest about the failure to implement the suggestions of Gonski? Where are the young people firing up at the fact that once again their rights and needs are being ignored? I can’t understand why there isn’t a riot – of at least a refusal to send young people to school en masse. Oh, that’s right … they’re all anesthetised by the fucking Olympic Games.

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4 thoughts on “Where’s the riot?

  1. I always enjoy your posts, Bianca, and thank you for a Wednesday shakeup!

    Where’s the riot? Maybe it’s WHY the riot, when there is so much CHOICE now? Many parents who are dissatisfied with sausage machine schooling vote with their pay packets and ‘invest’ $10K + per annum in private schooling so Johnny can get a stellar, liberal education. They pay for the privilege of a different conformity, albeit with a glossy prospectus.

    As you said, parents who have ability to change things don’t wave placards; they shop around. Other parents either can’t participate in this leisure activity or don’t believe there is a need to question the state system. After all, the rhetoric sounds right, and affirming, doesn’t it? I know some weigh the positives against the negatives and find themselves to be surprisingly optimistic- it’ll be alright in the end.

    As a mum of 2 schoolboys (one w learning difficulties) and more latterly as a pre-service teachr, i am choosing to believe that our public schools have and will have capacity to allow and maybe even encourage, kids to spot the ridiculous and mindlessly restrictive things that happen in schools, in workplaces, etc etc. Parents and teachers have to be in it together, but they have different types of responsibility and powers to influence change, surely? I reckon I can happily keep my kids at home on the days we have dumb tests, but I think I’m going to need some powerful agitator within the system!

    I am just starting to wonder what opportunities there are for public teachers to take the best ideas from schools with true community/democratic philosophies & practices? But yep, frustratingly ( or gratfyingly), it seems like the revolution and riot might gather most momentum with teachers collectively, and the individual teacher who brings her or his ‘radical’ heart into their practice.

  2. School Principals could mobilize parent action, if they chose to, could they not? But that kind of action is politically fraught.

    The NSW P&C Journal is ALWAYS glad to receive copy, I know this for a fact. Why aren’t the parents rioting? Maybe because no-one has invited them yet…?

  3. A great piece. But maybe not the best thing to read on a Monday morning on my train journey to school… Work, spend, need to keep earning so put child in day care, buy more crap to fill the void/ make “happy”, work and on and on and on! Wonder who won the men’s 100m race? 🙂

  4. I 100% agree with your observations.

    To borrow a legal idea, Doctrine of Precedent also heavily applies in education: there has always been row after row of desks, neatly constructed moments of learning, there have always been exams, therefore there will always be exams!

    It is a sad situation that reminds me of a card I received from a HSC student, thanking me for playing this fucking game with them…

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