Remember when you were young and a carefree student at school? Well, of course, you weren't completely carefree. Things were a little tougher back then. After all, being at school was risky. Step out of line and perhaps corporal punishment was still freely employed ... and then your parents would find out. Getting in trouble at school usually meant getting in trouble at home too - there was a lot at stake for the youthful hellraiser.
Most of us reflect on this with a smile. This is because two specific values were at play and we admire our parents for holding them:
1) That the school was trusted and would be supported - almost to the point of "no matter what".
2) That we would be the better for learning the odd harsh lesson and surviving the odd injustice, or at least we would not be damaged by it.
So why did we last week see the public trial and execution of a Principal in Mount Martha, Victoria who asked her students not to touch each other? Judy Beckworth made a seemingly simple decision. Her particular school experienced a rash of student injuries including a broken collarbone, a broken wrist and a concussion due to rough play. So, for three days, her students were told not to touch each other as a way of raising the awareness of playing safely.
Within 24 hours, Beckworth was the major story on the Herald-Sun website
and in also on The Age website
. She was national television media fodder, breakfast radio banter and an internet chatroom extravaganza. Channel Seven seemed keen to take a more noble or balanced path in its story
until it bravely, yet typically, started a poll about whether we agree or not with the decision. Earlier that day, one of it's own reporters stood out front of the school talking about the "psychological damage" that parents felt the Principal was inflicting on their poor defenceless children. Oh come on!
One of the great weapons used to lambast the school was the apparent "dressing down" that Year 6 students received who staged a sit in protest on the oval. Umm, I remember a time when the public would be universally supportive of students being reprimanded who refused to go to class.
The ME ME ME attitude we take towards our schools needs to be resisted. Despite having gone through the school system, we are not all experts and the media's desire to have us produce alarming yet uninformed soundbites is the only clear fact in this whole story.
For the record, I don't agree with Beckworth. I think there are more effective ways to get that behaviour on the agenda. But I will defend rigourously her right to use her creativity, knowledge, experience and mandate to make decisions for her context. After all, who cares if I disagree? I'll bet that Judy Beckworth doesn't ... and nor should she. I certainly admire her strength in standing firm on the decision.
The result of this type of public sacrifice of our Teachers to the media will be a plague of beige School Leaders leading schools who try not to get noticed. These schools will do what everyone else is doing and innovation will be obliterated. This causes psychological, academic, creative and moral damage - not the missed opportunity to high-five or play soccer for a few days.
What will you do to encourage your school? What can you do to thank them for the dangerous work they do? Will you be the one that stands up for your school? Will you give your kids the gift of getting in trouble twice?I'll look forward to reading and responding to your comments below or by using the #eduneering hashtag on twitter.
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