Won’t somebody think of the children (for real)?

by Katherine Stewart

Primary schoolSomething is happening in my local community that makes me cringe.

Where I live, people drive big shiny black block-of-flats cars. They pull hair-raising u-turns outside busy school zones, mount two wheels on the footpath as five-year olds walk past. They throw gate-like doors open and out spill Nike shod children, hollering back commands to the parent, arguing, dramatic, entitled and empowered.

They run to class, dump their bags and join in the great orthodoxy of the high-decile zoned New Zealand primary school.

These parents query school policy – by email. They ask how the paltry school donations are being spent. This is a great school. The parents live nearby in well-appointed Auckland housing, working desperate hours to cover the mortgage.

They live next door to me.

I’ve lived in this suburb for seven years now. I love it. We have a family home here, close to the city, the beaches. We are beyond lucky.

I drive a modest four door sedan. We can barely afford the school donations, and instead drip feed the school. I’m not racist. I’m not sexist. I’m not a homophobe.

I’m an odd fit.

And I want to make this really clear. This is not about having a stab at wealth, or wealthy people, or feeling slighted by financial success at all. I am really happy with my lot.

I’m pretty sure when I return to full time work that yes, we too will have a large disposable income. However, the doubled income won’t turn me into a bigot.

What I have found is this: many parents at our local zoned primary school, when finished with it, aren’t going to send their kids to the local non-zoned state high school, just over the road, even if they live one street from it.

The parents chatter among themselves. They stand around clutching keys and phones discussing the decile ratings and decide it might be best to opt for private education or schooling in another zone.

The local high school is multicultural, has a refugee unit, is up and coming and is vibrant and positive. The staff at the school save kids’ lives. NCEA results are great and there is tangible school pride and community spirit. The rugby is on the up and the school shows are brilliant.

Recently the school has experienced changes. It’s gone from being labelled a failing school by the government, to being effectively pulled back together. So certainly, there is a perception about the school’s historical struggles.

Historical struggles.

The parents won’t decide for themselves though until the school is given a decile rating. Once the enrolments are up there will be a zoning policy.

In order for there to be a zoning policy, the school needs to get its enrolments up. This is happening now, slowly but steadily.

Once the zoning policy is established, it will restrict entries only to the affluent area that surrounds it. For now, all enrolments are considered.

My kids will attend the school. Being New Zealanders, they will experience a microcosm of New Zealand reality. Rich, poor, white and brown, all chucked into the mix of school life. They will learn to find a place among this. They will see kids who are literally “straight off the boat” because they’ve had to escape some unimaginable situation back home. Those kids will be in the same classes and my kids will normalise that.

What’s wrong with this school, that people won’t send their children to it?

Students get good results. There is a wide sporting life. There is a wide performing and visual arts programme. There are a multitude of cultural groups and events. There is a Community Education programme run in the evenings. There is, quite literally, something for everyone, at this school.

I’m interested to know why people think that paying rates is where it starts and stops in the community?

I’m concerned that there can be no evolution out of this type of egoist thinking while we are not prepared to think, collectivise and put back locally. We need to give a shit.

A community can only hold together as long as the people in it support the local resources. I realise that freedom of choice is key in our social evolution too. Telling people they are wrong for sending kids out of zone to other schools is not the point of this post. The point is the attitude to the school within the zone.

That it’s not white enough and rich enough. That we won’t send the kids there because it’s not good enough. That a school like that is for ‘other’ people.

The impact of that message is that quality can only be bought, not created. A quality educational experience, apparently, is one that can be card-swiped and experienced on Day One, and is largely already constructed by reputation.

My question is: what happens to a community when the people who live in it withdraw their support of it?

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Peter March 4, 2014 - 11:02 am

I’ve been going through the same problem. We have 3 high schools within 5 to 10 minutes drive. One is 80% Polynesian, one is over 50% Indian and the rest Polynesian and the other is about the same. All good successful schools in their own right.
My little white boy would be the odd one out. So we are sending him to a private school.
My child would “succeed” no matter what high school he went to. We as parents would make sure of that.
However, my feeling is, that these schools gear their learning towards the ethnicities they teach. It makes sense.
My child is not going to be fully engaged if some learning is done through movement and dance or strict, dry doling out of information. This works for other cultures. Perhaps not so well for little European descended boys and girls.
I also didn’t want my child to go to the very large schools where you’re just another student. A face in a crowd.
A private school gives you an intimacy and is also geared towards your own sons European cultural needs of learning. It’s expensive no doubt. But the best for our child, we feel.
I feel more strongly towards providing what’s best for my son than how my local community feels. I’ll engage with my local community in other ways…

Tamara March 5, 2014 - 8:47 am

Peter – is basically saying “My kid is too good to interact with that other kid, because that kid is black.”

I attended a cultural dance performance at my daughters’ high school yesterday. Such a fantastic mix of many different colours, sounds, cultures, so much enthusiasm from these kids, that I said to my husband – “Imagine if there were only morris dancers there, how bloody boring it would’ve been.’

I love multiculturalism.

Milly March 5, 2014 - 10:49 am

I feel sad for you Peter, aside from the fact you’ve missed the entire point of this piece, your son is losing out on the opportunity to find out about other cultures and making friends with people from a broad range of cultural backgrounds. How insular of you and what a nice little racist attitude your son is being brought up with.

When my mother and I moved from Wellington to Auckland just before I started high school, I attended Auckland Girls and had the wonderful Charmaine Poutney as my school principal. I was one of two white girls in my class and you know what, I relished it and grew as a person and human being while living in the largest polynesian city in the world. Expectations of all students were high. 80% was the pass mark in maths for example. Other girls I knew going to predominately white schools, the so called ‘good’ schools weren’t expected to get 80% in a test to pass, 65 or 70% if they were lucky.

And you know what, those of my AGS cohort attending university generally acheived a much higher academic standard than them. Do you want to know why? It’s because we had greater expectations of OURSELVES plus all the cultural capital to manouvere through the ethinically diverse world that we found ourselves living in.

Katherine Stewart March 5, 2014 - 1:32 pm

Peter – would you be prepared to give it a go? Maybe your boy has huge things to contribute to a school and therefore community in your three examples rather than just being encouraged to stand in a comfortable white corner?

Peter March 5, 2014 - 1:56 pm

Really. Sad and racist. You get that from a parents decision process on what school to send their child?
My partner and I support 4 children through charities. Every Friday my partner or her workers help feed breakfast for the less fortunate which our son has been taken to, on occasion. I coach soccer and cricket at our local clubs. In a mostly non-white community. And so on… My and my partners business partners are immigrants, for gods sake.
So when I say I’ll interact with my community in other ways that’s what I meant.
The writer was questioning why the well off decide certain things, I tried to say what my decision process was.
That doesn’t make me a racist or sad. It doesn’t make wrong or right. What it makes me is a parent who has made the best decision he thinks for his child.
Don’t presume you know anything about me other than what I write about a particular subject. kkthx

deepred March 5, 2014 - 11:43 am

Is there any way to ‘desegregate’ the school system? There were allegations not too long ago that Auckland schools were gerrymandering their zones to keep out the ‘dregs’. In America, they tried and failed with compulsory busing – its fatal weakness was that it only applied to the public school system.

And having spent 6 years at private college, I can safely say it’s not for everyone. In my case, I basically got pushed down from above – a reverse tall poppy syndrome if I ever experienced it.

Katherine Stewart March 5, 2014 - 1:37 pm

deepred Not sure about that. I am also keen to hear if this is just an Auckland issue? People are busting their guts to be homeowners in the right zones. This one school is in a very wealthy area but with no zoning.

Peter March 5, 2014 - 3:45 pm

Yes. In my researching of public verses private an acquaintance said it was the worst thing that ever happened to him. He became a drug addict! The kids could afford the drugs!
But, getting pushed down from the top, is new one to me and well worth being aware of. Thanks

Lyn April 5, 2014 - 11:18 pm

All Auckland primary schools should be zoned rather then just the ‘popular schools’ being zoned. At the moment, the no zone schools except any child and end up with too many social problem children arriving at the gates. This in turn sends the local parents looking elsewhere. To have a local school ending up with the mix of children resident in the neighbourhood would be good for everyone. This should apply to the board members as well.

I was a private school teacher – The Sane Companion April 24, 2014 - 11:32 am

[…] written elsewhere about attitudes to state schooling.  It’s all empirical of course; overhead conversations, opinions, largely […]


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