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Choosing a school

By John Töns - posted Thursday, 2 March 2017


All parents want the best for their children.  Parents know that education is important and so spend many hours agonising over which school to select for their children.  One of the reasons this becomes such a difficult question is that many parents sell themselves short; they fail to realise that before their child starts school they have already put down a solid foundation for success.

At the moment when choosing a school parents have one objective standard against which to compare schools – the NAPLAN results.  When you compare the results of the local private schools against those of the various government schools you tend to find that the results from the private schools seem to suggest that their students do better than those in state schools.  So clearly that would seem to suggest that your child will be better off in a private school.  Or does it?

This is what I mean by saying that parents sell themselves short.  We know that all schools use the same curriculum so any differences cannot be accounted for by having a superior curriculum.  Perhaps the teachers are better?  Again no – to be registered all teachers will need to be qualified; of course you will find outstanding and poor teachers in every school; private schools are not immune from recruiting lousy teachers or paedophiles but again all schools are getting better at weeding out the bad eggs. 

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Perhaps it is down to facilities?  Here again you will find that the difference between facilities is largely cosmetic; all schools have sufficient resources to deliver the education required for a child to master whatever NAPLAN may be testing.  So perhaps the real difference in results is a product of what you have done in the home.  All that means is that irrespective of which school you select your child will do well because of the ongoing support you provide.

But let’s dig down a bit further. In explaining her decision not to send her child to a public school a parent stated: “Public schools do not teach values”. What she may have meant was that the local public school does not teach her values.  All schools teach values.  In order to manage a teaching environment schools have to make rules about what can and cannot be done.  The child very quickly learns rudiments like listening to others, not interrupting in short all the sort of skills that we need to take a constructive part in society. 

Schools will also have policies about violence, verbal abuse, health and the list goes on.  Anyone who, like me, has taught in both private and state schools will know that there is really no difference between the social values that private and state schools endorse.  But there is one value area where there is a marked difference between some private schools and state schools. I need to stress some private schools for not all private schools are based on religious principles. 

The best way to illustrate this is by the way a particular novel may be taught.  For many years The Lord of the Flies was a standard text taught throughout the country in junior high school.  It basically is the story of a group of boys who crash land on a tropical island.  The Island is everyone’s idea of paradise but over time the boys end up fighting one another and effectively destroying their paradise.  To teach that book one needs to ask all sorts of ethical questions about how we should live in society. 

If you teach in a religious school, then there is tendency to resolve these questions by reference to whatever sacred text may be the wellspring of that religion.  

In a secular school you do not have a ready template that you can use for your stock answers.  Instead you have to reason your way to an answer.  It can and often does lead to rewarding and instructive discussions as students attempt to do what we all must learn to do – ground our values on some set of reasonable premises that we can use to guide us through life.  Not only that they learn that there is often not just one answer but a range of reasonable answers. And perhaps the most important lesson that they learn is the value of diversity. For the more your school strives to attract students who share the same home values, whose parents look at the world in much the same way the more you are denying your child access to the real world; a world in which not everyone thinks the same, not everyone shares the same priorities. 

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It is this world in which they will have to make a living and if they have spent 12 years of schooling learning to just get along with people who think exactly like them that world will come as a rude shock.

But of course you may want to shield them from that nasty real world for as long as you can. You want to give them the best possible start in life. So before you make your final decision about the school for your child think about your own education. what is it that you valued about your education that made a critical difference to your life?  Many of us will struggle with answering that question.  For most of us our memories of schooling have little to do with what we learnt but the interactions we had with our fellow students.  How many of us wonder why we bothered to learn the periodic table; it has only been of value in answering questions in a pub quiz.

Yet your choice of school can make all the difference to your child’s life chances.   Private schools can help you give your child the best possible start in life.  Follow this 5 step plan and you cannot go wrong.

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About the Author

John Töns is President of the Zero Carbon Network a network established to promote clear thinking about the issues associated with climate change. In addition to operating the only zero carbon boarding kennels in South Australia he is also completing a PhD at Flinders University in the area of Global Justice. John is a founding member of a new political party Stop Population Growth Now.

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