“Any school that values its reputation over the health and well-being of its students needs to take a long hard look at itself.”
Many years ago, when we were looking for a high school for my eldest daughter, we did the rounds of open days. We were not interested in private schools but, at that time, all the public high schools in our area had excess capacity so we had some choice. It is no longer true. The same schools are all now full to bursting, with playgrounds full of demountables and new public primary and secondary schools scheduled to open for the first time in a century, but more about that later.
Our first open day was at a very prestigious public selective school. Everything was perfect – too perfect. From the manicured lawns to the plush carpets nothing was out of place. The concert was a technical triumph – pity none of the girls looked like they were having any fun.
After the concert we were taken on a tour of the immaculate school guided by two students. They waxed lyrical about absolutely everything. It almost sounded like they were members of a cult. Eventually, a father could stand it no longer.
“You’ve told us everything that’s right with this school, so now tell us what is wrong with it.”
The girls looked horrified.
“There’s nothing wrong with this school.” One ventured, sounding like a Stepford Student.
I could stand it no longer.
“There’s one thing obviously wrong with this school.”
The girls looked at me with even more horror.
“They don’t teach you critical thinking.” I continued.
This obviously hit home and I could see both girls frantically searching their brains for a response.
‘Well, “ said one of them, “They do give us rather a lot of homework.”
A few nights later we went to the open night at a near-by comprehensive co-ed high school. The sort of school that made many parents blanch with horror at its very name. We were a little late arriving and walked in on the middle of a debate in the library. It was a debate between a team of male students and a team of female students and they were discussing whether their school (the one we were visiting) discriminated on the basis of gender. It was a funny, frank and quite robust debate. Both sides made some sharp criticisms of the school to the delight of staff and students scattered among the audience. There was no attempt to censor or silence the views expressed and, far from getting a negative perspective, I was left with the impression of a school that was confident and grown up enough to model how to respond to criticism, plus more interested in helping its students than protecting its reputation.