I’m getting my flame-retardant vent suit on for today’s opinion piece.
On Monday, I encountered this article, about an ex-student of Geelong Grammar, Rose Ashton-Weir, who, together with her mother Elizabeth, is suing the school for damages because she didn’t get into her chosen field of Law.
I read the whole article, thinking, there’s got to be some kind of extenuating circumstance, something that might make the law suit remotely credible. As observers, we cannot ever know exactly what is going on in a situation (certainly not as the mainstream press reports it), but I think there is a disturbing, litigious trend of suing companies/institutions/individuals for the most tenuous of reasons, out of a misplaced sense of entitlement.
This student was reportedly a clever person, ostensibly “gifted” and apparently the school did not support either her giftedness or the fact that she was struggling academically. One of the mother’s alleged arguments is that, although her daughter was having difficulties with Maths, which the school was aware of, the school had placed her in a standard maths class. Um, yeah, hi, how did mother or daughter expect her to gain entry into Law if she didn’t pass standard Maths?
The thought that a student (or more likely their family, as you can bet in most cases law suits aren’t initiated by the child) would assume that if they waltz into a school and pay $$$, they are entitled to entry to a chosen University degree handed to them on a silver platter, makes my gut churn. It’s not a $30,000 Big Mac. You can’t show up, order yourself a top ENTER score and just, um, receive it. I wonder how many kids are told “You are gifted. You are brilliant. You are so clever” and they believe it to the point where they stop trying, or get exponentially despondent because their perceived intellect was not being reflected in results.
Every Australian has a right to an education. This is not a public vs. private school debate. Of course there are “good” schools, there are not so good schools, you can pay a bucket-load of money and end up a porno star (not that there’s anything wrong with that – it’s better than being Lara Bingle), you can pay basically $0 for a public education and be a rocket scientist, but you cannot succeed academically at either type of school if you don’t put the effort in (unless you are Stephen Hawking). A school can help facilitate your learning, but it can’t force it. If you don’t apply yourself, you cannot expect to get the marks to gain entry to a discipline that requires, you know, discipline.
I was a bright kid, particularly in English/writing, but in Year 8, I started to slack off and got myself an attitude (what? A 14 year old with an attitude?) and stopped bothering at school. I thought “Hey, I’m smart, I don’t even need to try” (in that flippant way that only teenagers can muster – I can hear myself now and my eyes are twitching). My English teacher, Mr. Murray (who had a penchant for throwing chairs across the room and splitting the very tight pants he used to wear, but that is a whole other story), the same teacher who championed me in Year 7 because I displayed such a love of the English language, gave me an “E” for my mid-year report and put me on academic probation. I didn’t deserve an “E” (probably a “C”) but he was sending me a very clear message – just because you are bright, does not mean you get to stop trying. You can be damn sure I got “A”s for the rest of my English days. At the time, I hated the fuck out of Mr. Murray, but I credit him for being the teacher I considered most influential, based largely on him teaching me the most valuable lesson of my entire schooling.
There is incredible value in positivity and boosting a child’s self-esteem so that they are convinced they can do anything they want to, but there is also value in sending the message that they have to work their arse off to get it, even if they have an IQ of 160. Sometimes, the best way for a child to get that message is for them to fail, so they can drag themselves back up. We can’t rely on teachers to be the only ones sending our kids these big messages. It is just as, if not more, important for our kids to get them at home. In the case of the Ashton-Weirs, Rose was a boarder at Geelong Grammar, so was not getting these messages “at home”. I’m not a big fan of boarding schools – I don’t think they can ever replace living in a home environment – but this is not an argument against them as they certainly have their place. As parents, we need to take on much of the responsibility for how our child does at school, through lessons in resilience and by encouraging them to extend their school-based learning through activities or discussions at home. Of course this is simplistic as kids can have problems, emotionally, physiologically and academically, but we cannot rely on the school to do all our work or solve all of these problems for us.
The mother is also allegedly suing Geelong Grammar for lost wages, because her daughter contracted glandular fever and had to stay with her at home. I’m not sure how this is Geelong Grammar’s problem, but you’ve probably already worked out that I think the whole law suit is an absolute crock of steaming shit. We can’t know the dynamics of the family unit, but I wonder how many parents who pay such a large sum to a school and don’t get what they “expect”, end up lashing out at the school. Or the teachers. Or the school chaplain. Whoever seems a suitable fall guy. But so starts the cycle of entitlement. From all accounts, the environment of Geelong Grammar was not doing it for Rose. Given she did so much better at a NSW TAFE certainly goes a fair way to support this. But surely, if a child were unhappy at a school and this, amongst other things, was affecting their grades, would you not take them out and try to work out what school is best for that child. It sucks, and there’s not always an easy answer, but the knee-jerk response of taking a school to court is not it.
Geelong Grammar doesn’t deserve to be sued. They probably made some mistakes, but so does every school, regardless of how “prestigious” it is. We just can’t start expecting financial compensation because our kids don’t get into that longed-for course. I’m going to do another self-inflicted vomit in my mouth with this little cliched gem (which I actually do believe in) – Education starts at home. Not at McDonalds. And certainly, not in the courtroom.