I can’t remember why or when I set my pre-adolescent sights on a fancy private high school

I can’t remember why or when I set my pre-adolescent sights on a fancy private high school

‘Private schools not only reinforce class divisions, but inhibit the cultivation of empathetic and well rounded human beings from all kinds of backgrounds.’ Photograph: Fairfax Media/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

‘Private schools not only reinforce class divisions, but inhibit the cultivation of empathetic and well rounded human beings from all kinds of backgrounds.’ Photograph: Fairfax Media/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

I certainly don’t recall being pushed into applying for scholarships when my time was winding up at the local state primary school. If anything, I was the one marching my slightly bewildered and sheepish parents around to open days, on a quest to fulfil my burning desire to make it among the Toorak set. I was an upwardly mobile 12-year-old.

I vividly remember their horror when, while touring us around her sprawling utopia for girls, one principal proudly proclaimed, “When our girls leave they’re shocked by what they find stronie internetowej in the real world, because everything is so perfect here”. I turned down a scholarship in her promised land to take up another at a co-ed equivalent widely considered progressive . on the spectrum of uppity private institutions anyway.

In the podcast Three Miles, an episode of This American Life that looks at the divide between two schools only three miles apart, one super-wealthy and one ultra-poor, producer Chana Joffe-Walt explored what happened when kids from the poor school saw how green the grass was on the other side

Right now there’s a popular idea in education – it pops up all over the place – about exposure, that exposure is particularly important for poor kids. Not just important – that it can change destinies. You know, you take a group of kids to tour a college campus, they’ll be more likely to go to college. Or if you just know someone who went to college, that’ll help. The idea is that if you want a kid to move from one social class to another, that kid has to see what it looks like over there on the other side. Exposure is a tool for social change and economic mobility.

Scholarships at private schools might be highly sought after, but they cause otherwise progressive people to support institutions that maintain structural inequality in society

I was primarily raised by a single mother with no formal qualifications who spoke English as a second language and survived by taking up various jobs, propped up intermittently by welfare. I was aware of her struggle but didn’t consider it particularly unusual or understand that it excluded me from certain opportunities. Until, of course, I encountered a new world of privilege that reframed my life as less than.

As well as the formal curriculum, I learnt the language and mannerisms of wealth. As a result, unlike many poor people, I am generally comfortable communicating with rich people. I am not afraid of them; many are my close friends. In this sense, the exposure to wealth my private school education accorded me was a “success” in enabling my potential movement from one social class to another.

Unfortunately that opportunity for social mobility came at the price of a newly internalised shame about being poor, and an accompanying sense of isolation. It takes a certain strength of character to have perspective and form authentic personal values as a 15-year-old surrounded by kids who actually say things like “no one buys their own car, your parents buy it for you”. It was around this time that I started stealing my mum’s credit card to buy essentials like $300 fluoro jeans.

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