Archive for September, 2009

The Community-proof Fence

September 25, 2009


Do you believe children learn from example?  If so, expect a generation of youngsters adept at double-think coming out of our schools in Alice Springs.

Yesterday on ABC Radio in Alice Springs the Chief Minister expressed his faith in the Braitling School Council, which has given its one hundred per cent approval to a plan to fence out the broader community from the use of facilities it’s enjoyed for more than thirty years.

The ABC quoted Mr Henderson: “If the school council, a democratically-elected body, in consultation with the school community and the principal have determined that they have specific and peculiar needs to require a fence, well I respect their decision.”

Meanwhile a few kilometres away students at the Anzac Hill High School are grappling with the decision to amalgamate their school with the Alice Springs High School.

Its school council reports it was misled by the Education Department into believing ANZAC would maintain core subjects such as English and Maths, which would be taught on both campuses.

Council chair Alan Smith told the Alice Springs News: “It seems that the Education Department’s idea of consultation has been asking people to watch powerpoint presentations which superficially look good but are all very theoretical.

“Then we get five minutes for discussion and our ideas all get pushed to the side.” Parents at the school have expressed numerous concerns about the “merger’’, apart from the loss of a valuable school and community which had a reputation for relative harmony under the guidance of principal John Cooper.

They fear some children will drop out of school altogether and that feuds between some families in the town are likely to flare up at ASHS, which has struggled with discipline issues, schoolground assaults and conflict for years.

But Mr Henderson does not appear to have noticed such concerns. Instead he has encountered only “enthusiasm, commitment and support for the Government’s plan to achieve better outcomes for young people in Alice Springs.” He obviously does not read the newspapers.

The decision to close off Braitling School seems just as likely to increase social disorder, although  parents who write letters to the editor have decided to focus on the active (and reasonable) protests of mothers with pre-school children who have used the school’s playgrounds.

The playgrounds have provided a brilliant early connection to school life for many hundreds of schoolchildren at Braitling over the past decades.

Now, like the pupils the school will be given the very clear message that schools are fortresses that are separate from the rest of the community. It’s what educationalists call the “hidden curriculum.”

The letter-writers don’t mention that Braitling School is also used by dozens of teenagers and older families, who use its cricket nets and basketball courts on a daily basis. They are losing a valuable physical outlet and alternative to computer games, internet chat rooms, or simply hanging round with not a lot to do.

Don’t forget that the facilities are the only ones of their kind in the Braitling area, and the solution generously suggested that people should use other facilities three or four km away assumes that the world is full of two-car families – or perhaps children who steal cars and drive without a licence.

The fence advocates who have focused on legitimate concerns about damage to the playgrounds and school caused after dark also neglect to mention that the school refused a compromise that should have kept everyone happy: build the fence closer to the school, and leave the sports area open.

Meanwhile the Chief Minister and his government continue to pick and choose which school council they will listen to and about what.

It is appropriate and desirable for school councils and parents to have a say about their schools. It is appropriate for the department (and the Government)  to listen, and then for the department (and the Government) to make a decision.

In the case of ANZAC High, they have listened, responded and then trashed both the council and the deal they promised them.

In the case of Braitling, it has refused to show leadership, sacrificing the needs of the broader community to allow Sue Crough andher school to buy a sledgehammer to crack a nut.