Sunday, April 26, 2009

My recent post answering a meme about motherhood provoked some thoughts on a related topic which often visits my thoughts: education. I find this is a subject which often comes up amongst friends with children. With Will having learning difficulties and developmental delay I have had education-related thoughts going on since he first joined our family.

The main question remains the same: which path is best to help him reach his potential (whatever that may be)? How long is a piece of string? A similar question and just as easy to answer. At the beginning I was fairly certain about what I thought he needed. As time has gone on I have found, as with everything in life, things are a lot more complex than they first appear.

We have followed some dead ends, started things which seemed helpful and worthwhile and have found them not to be, have found other things which are helpful and worthwhile and yet the effort needed to pursue them fully are beyond my capabilities. There is no approach which is perfect.

One thing which I find really amazing about other parents is a certain confident attitude towards education. Especially amongst those who choose private education for their children. They seem so certain that this is the "best" for their child. I've heard a recent interview with Alain de Botton where he states that his super wealthy parents didn't leave him any inheritance (??) but they did pay for the very best private school education which is the best thing any parent can do for their child. An old boyfriend of mine (a pathetic, spineless mummy's boy) was one of four sons, his mother (a hideous Mrs Bucket-type) worked a full-time job simply to put her four boys through a prestigious Sydney private school. At the time I knew him one brother was long-term unemployed, one drove a bottled water delivery truck, one was a fireman with the airforce (the nicest boy/man) and my dickhead boyfriend was a graphic designer with a degree from a third rate university. The question arises: was this educational money well spent? Was her labour and, presumably, sacrifice worthwhile in the broadest sense?

The only thing I've really learnt since I've been grappling with Will's educational needs is I am certain of less and less as the years go on. I am fairly sure there is no such thing as a "good school". Numerous friends have sent their children to such establishments only to be personally very disappointed for various reasons. I am learning that each child's educational experience is completely individual and can change from week to week and year to year. Teachers come and go, as do princpals. A teacher may work wonderfully for child A and clash horribly with child B; a right-on-the-money teacher in Year 1 may be replaced with a brain-dead time watcher in Year 2. A dynamic principal may be replaced with a facile bureaucrat. Such things are just as possible in a private school charging $12,000 per year as in the local public school.

As the mother of a child with extra educational needs I worry about what the future holds but I have no confidence that any school on the face of this planet has all the answers for him. Sure the school he attends is often lacking in specific areas which I could pinpoint but I am realistic enough to understand that they can not possibly deal with each individual child's needs. They teach somewhere to the average and make tokenistic gestures to show they care about the kids on the fringes. I don't blame them. What children like Will need is difficult to deliver. Schools and teachers are overloaded as it is.

In my roundabout way I am making the point that I truly think education, in the instituional sense, is overrated for some children. I think we hang a lot of hopes on education because we fear the potential difficulties of the life our children will face and we think education will be a guarantee of a successful future. But the hardest thing to accept is that there is no guarantee of anything, for tomorrow or next year and certainly not for 10 or 20 years down the track. We all want a rosy future for our children but nothing we can do now will make that a certainty. I wish that wasn't so.

Sometimes I think Will might struggle in life but Marianna probably won't. As soon as I think it I realise the folly of such a simplistic idea. Being intelligent is obviously an asset in life but again no guarantee of success. Life success is such a complex and mysterious chemistry. Two children can go through life with an identical upbriging and school experience and come out very diffirent individuals in adult life. Judging by their superficial intelligence at this point in their childhood I can not predict with even a small amount of certainty what the future will hold for my kids. Where they might succeed or fail, where life may pull the rug out from under them or hand them a bouquet of roses. Education is part of the equation but not enough a part of it to make me put any great faith in it.

Like with religion I sometimes wish I had faith because there is a part of me which craves certainty. I hate this post-modern nothingness which is my brain. There is nothing wrong with a little innocent delusion and I wouldn't mind some of that comfort when the vast abyss of the unknown future yawns in front of me.


Kath Lockett said...

This is a great post, DKG. Not in terms of your worries for Will but in terms of how you've high-lighted the dilemma there is in choosing 'the best' education for our children, yet knowing that there isn't such a thing.

I grapple with the hypocrisy of wanting to send Sapph to the highschool in our very street, but know that it's a 'struggle school' that has some resources allocated to teach kids for whom English is their second language and, overall, the year 12 scores are near the lowest in the state. As it is, virtually no child who attends the nearby Primary School (where S goes) enrols in that high school, instead preferring to drive, tram or train their kids to posher schools in other suburbs.

What do we do? Sacrifice S's opportunities for more attention, better facilities, a school with a yard bigger than a tennis court (too true, unfortunately) so that we can brag about doing the right thing at dinner parties, or feeling embarassed every day that we walk past the local school to take S somewhere better?

One thing is certain - there is no perfect solution and things that seem simple always get more complicated. A parent at S's school told me last week that last year's year sevens went to *29* different schools. *Sigh*

Deep Kick Girl said...

You make a great point Kath. Despite all my thoughts and feelings on the topic there is a gut instinct which is illogical but which still applies.

In our case the most logical and closest high school for Will to attend would be Homebush Boys High School. I would probably rather cut off my arm then send him there. Why? Because of a certain amount of snob value, a feeling that it is the sort of school where he'd get in with "the wrong crowd", an undercurrent of it being "not good enough".

But I have no real experience with this school. Some of it is whispers from other parents (not even people I know well). Some of it is simply the poor associations with the suburb name (we live in Homebush Bay, daarrrhling! soon to be Wentworth Point, daarrrhling!).

When I examine my own feelings I know there is no real evidence that Will would be worse off at this school than at one of the other public high school we are considering. I know that he is just as capable of getting an education which will fit him at Homebush Boys' than at one of the others. He has just as much chance of getting great teachers and/or making wonderful friends.

I tell myself I don't want him going to an all boy school, and that certainly is a strong factor. He gets on very well with girls and I don't think an all boy school would work well for him. But I know all the above factors apply, I can't deny that.

What fascinates me is the government is always talking about making schools publish statistics about successes, etc. But we all know that means jack shit when it comes to OUR child. There are no publishable figures which will help us know what is going to work in the long-term for our child.


La Viajera Insaciable said...


I sure have enjoyed your last couple of posts. I really appreciate your perspective on motherhood and on education. A lot of food for thought there!

And speaking of food, I'm also very intrigued by your pressure cooker posts! While my husband doesn't mind spending all day preparing a meal, I'm a rather impatient cook so I might have to investigate this method a little further! Or maybe I should just let Wylie keep cooking...

Also, thanks for the heads up on the new Ben Lee album! I went to buy it the day you blogged about it but it wasn't released here in the US until... today! It was a long wait! But I just now purchased it on iTunes, I have it playing in the background, and I'm a happy camper! My girls have always loved him as well--thanks to you! (If I remember correctly, wasn't he one of your sister's classmates? And speaking of Julia..I sure miss her blog!)

Finally, yes, I think you MUST be the only person that hasn't looked at Facebook! I'm a recent convert myself, but I was just SURE I would find you there! Seems like it would be right up your alley! Perhaps you should take a peek!

Take care!