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?

A new parent’s experience at school. Part 1

When my Australian children began to attend school, they could read. But they had not been able to get into kindergarten because demand exceeded supply of places. While they missed the socialising available at kinder, they were well prepared by by my wife and I. Purely as an aside, 15 of us parents in our catchment district then undertook a door-knock survey of the expected demand for kinder in the following 5 years. This forced the relevant bureaucrat to get off his perch and solve the problem. That was lesson no. 1 for me.

At the first Annual General Meeting of the Parents & Citizens Association I had ever attended, I asked a question. By the end of the meeting, I found myself a vice-president of the P&C. Lesson no. 2 – keep trap shut at meetings. Because my 5-year old daughter and her classmates had to sit on a cold concrete floor during a very cold winter for some classes (why?), I proposed that the P&C buy little carpet squares to protect little bottoms; whereas the principal wanted the money spent on curtains for the school hall. The parents won. After another similar difference of opinion, I resigned (to work on my thesis). Lesson no. 3 – go with the flow, or get out.

In those days, parents had no status, and no rights. Question a teacher, and be known throughout the school as a difficult or, worse still, an ‘anxious’ parent! At an early stage, my daughter read from a text book that Marco Polo had discovered the Silk Route to China; and that he had travelled in his uncles’ caravan. She pointed out to her teacher that, in the circumstances, the uncles must have known the route. (She did say that her dad had agreed with her.) The teacher agreed with her too. Lesson no. 4 – beware such a perceptive child. But, as a good student, she was popular.