I drove past a billboard the other day advertising a particular private school. “The Caring Alternative,” it said, and there was a picture of a couple of sweet looking little girls in their school hats. Now, I have no problem believing that this particular school is caring, but ‘alternative’ to what?
I continued to drive. We were in the deep south of my city – an area known for its disadvantage. I was taking Adam*, my short term foster boy, to his school.
“What’s your school like?” I asked him.
“It’s great,” he said. “I’ve been there ever since prep so I know everyone.”
“Do you like your teacher?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “She’s calm. She never yells, ever. And she spoils us.”
“Spoils you?” I asked. “How?”
“She brings us in treats. Things she makes herself at home. Biscuits and pizza and stuff. And she lets us play a game at the end of the day and if there’s someone who’s been really good, she lets them choose the game.”
Photo source: iStock
“Wow,” I said. “Have you ever chosen the game?”
“Yeah I got to choose it last week,” he said, “‘cause I’ve been doing a good job calming myself down. Jake runs out of the classroom or pushes things over when he’s frustrated. I don’t do that anymore. I just stay at my desk and put my head down.”
“That’s great,” I said. “What game did you choose?”
“Ultimate frisbee,” he said. “It’s Miss’ favourite. She plays it with us.”
I drove home after that and found myself looking back to see the billboard again. The Caring Alternative. I felt my blood pressure rise.
The Caring Alternative?
Alternative to what?
The word caring is on the signage of just about every private school I come across. In our area, "caring", together with its bedfellow "nurturing", outrank all other private school descriptors. I can only assume then, that the non-caring schools to which the billboard is advertising an ’alternative,’ are the state schools. In particular, the state school that our foster boy loves.
Kindergarten students explain their first day of school. Post continues below.
Which leads me to ask, what the heck does ‘caring’ mean? If a schooling system that will accept everyone - despite their ADHD, autism, blindness, dyslexia, low IQ or middle class entitlement - is not caring, then I don’t know how a pick-and-choose private school could ever claim to be. And what about Adam’s teacher? She bakes biscuits and pizza to make the kids feel special (and, I’m guessing, to ensure that the disadvantaged ones have something decent to eat). She runs around with them in the 30 degree heat and teaches the traumatised ones how to calm themselves down! Could a private school teacher beat that for care?
I ranted to my mother-in-law about this. She said the problem is that nobody is telling the story of public schools.
“Private schools have an advertising budget,” she said. “They pay someone to do the market research and put together a narrative. Their bottom line depends on it. But no one is telling the story of state schools.”
Then she added, “You could do that.”