I have had the unfortunate experience of being introduced to ‘Prep Schools’ in Sydney’s North Shore out of pure lack of choice for schooling due to our catchment area.
In the Snore Shore they are particularly popular with the English crowd and I suspect a similar schooling system takes place in the UK for perhaps the upper middle class. Whatever the socioeconomics of its origins, it has certainly taken on an aspirational and dare I say ‘white privilege’ connotation in Sydney. I know, I’m such a racist according to Pauline Hanson for calling out ‘White privilege’.
My first experience was with my daughter. It became very clear from the distancing of parents from me and my daughter that we were not welcomed at the school. Teachers were often very biased, and bullying was rife. Not that the teachers did anything about the bullying of course because the perpetrators’ parents sat on the P& C and donated heavily to the school building fund. I quickly took her out of the school to the more ‘normal’ experience of an out of area public school.
My second experience was with my son. The parents were a little friendlier at this school but most definitely aspirational and very good at fake corporate civility- a deft skill in Sydney’s Snore Shore given the number of finance corporate types. It also comes with the territory of aspiration and lifestyle.
This prep school did a bit more to encourage diversity and the large numbers of Indian and Chinese students certainly put on a good show of inclusion. But scratch the surface and the fake corporate civility remained. People didn’t go beyond outward displays of inclusion. Cliques with friends formed, cliques with parents formed and suddenly my son found himself with all the ethnics.
One particular boy in his group was a son of a well-known corporate person and a thug. This boy was aggressive and physical and apt to choke, hit, punch and lash out physically at boys when he didn’t get his way. His mother a blond type of the ‘I don’t spread my legs for less than $500K’ variety, was not that great with boundaries and discipline- no doubt that was the school’s problem not hers. When my son defended himself from this violent child who do you think got punished? Yes, my son. Because prep schools will always defend the powerful and in Australia power is represented by a white person. Yes, please call me racist for calling out white privilege. I’ll gladly wear that hat if it means I get the freedom of speech to tell my truth.
At this same school my son was the recipient of teachers picking on him and turning a blind eye when others were abusing and bullying him. His class teacher often ignored his attempts to participate in class and he was overlooked for much of his short (thank goodness) time at the school. If it had not been for me and my husband my son would be so academically behind in class despite the $17K we spent per year in his education there.
What erks me the most is the tokenism displayed at these schools. Holding international food markets as an attempt to be inclusive doesn’t quite get to the heart of bias and prejudice. Just because I have now included dumplings to my steak and three veg diet doesn’t make me a tolerant and respectful person to difference. Maybe workshops on examining your innate bias in everyday situations would be far more effective.
I know it could be far worse for me and my kids and I understand some progress has been made in the world, but we still hang onto archaic power structures of former colonial and imperial powers. This blog is all about being at the receiving end of those structures- it’s about being in the ‘out’ group, the group who is put down due to fear, threat and plain ignorance all stemming from a certain demographic needing to retain power and control. It hurts more when it’s your own children at the receiving end of centuries old power structures. I hope change will happen for my kids. I’m eternally living in hope.