Part 2. A new parent’s experience with school

A few years later, my son asked his teacher, the Deputy Head who had taught his sister, a question which had bothered him the night before. He began thus: ‘My Dad said … .‘ His concern was that Capt. Cook could not have been the first person to discover Australia, since the Chinese, Malays from the neighbouring islands (now in Indonesia), the Dutch and the French were known to have been to Australia (or traded with Australia) long before Capt. Cook. Again the teacher agreed, in spite of the text book saying otherwise. Who said that lightening does not strike the same place twice? Lesson no. 5 – get ready to leave town! ‘Dad said … ’ was becoming quite dangerous.

Worse still, another teacher would not allow my son to bring home his books at the beginning of the school holidays, saying that children should not have to study during their vacations. When I persisted, she complained to the Principal that I had been rude, and was challenging her authority. To sort things out, I invited the Principal and his wife to dinner. During the 4 hours together, we could not disagree on any educational principle. That I had studied child development during a university course in psychology may have helped.

He subsequently convinced my wife that I should nominate for the foundation school board. The Board would have the Principal and his 2 deputies and 3 elected parents. The community elected me to the Board and the Board elected me chairman. We were now entering a new era in governance. Just as the USA was reported to be giving up Board control of schools, Australia’s federal government decided that the schools in the national capital should replace inspectorial oversight of teachers with direct control by principals, backed by a community-supported board of governance.

Many of the teachers, having obtained freedom from inspectors, opposed parental involvement. This was made clear soon when a teacher spoke of ‘Piagettian concepts’ (referring to Piaget who had studied his children most carefully and offered his conclusions about development stages and such like) at a meeting with the Board. Unfortunately for her, there were 2 qualified psychologists on the Board. I had read Piaget too. Lesson no. 6 – tread carefully. It was going to be interesting.

Why is it that, ever so often, as in our parliaments, there is confrontation and contest instead of co-operation or joint action, in the common good? When the freedom of communities is enhanced, why are the benefits diminished by personal ego-involvement?