School Daze

“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not ill treat any widow or orphan.” (Exodus 22:20-21)

It all began when the child of a friend decided he could play football with a stone on the way home from school.

His shoes, already in their last leg so to speak, decided that it was time for the uppers to part company with the soles. And seeing that this was the last week of school, my friend did not even bother to take them to the cobbler, since by September his feet would probably have grown another size or two. The next day, he wore his (non-designer) trainers to school. I emphasise the fact that the gym-shoes were a common-or-garden pair because I wonder what a to-do would have ensured had they been that.

The Head of School hauled the child over the coals for disobeying the school rules and pairing off sports shoes with a uniform. He tried to explain what had happened but was cut woefully short and asked to comply on the morrow, failing which he would be suspended.

Now since most of us do not get children two pairs of school shoes, my friend called personally at school to talk to the Head of School, who told her condescendingly that she did not need anyone to tell her how to run her ship. At this point, a couple of teachers who were in the office, supposedly minding their own business, chipped in with their opinions of how my friend was subliminally teaching her child to disobey orders and disrespect authority.

Now this friend of mine is rather tall, and yet, she told me, she felt like the typical short child being intimidated by much taller bullies, specifically for being short. She got the impression that she was being subliminally told that by sending her children to this particular school, she was recouping all that she had lost through the bad parenting of all three of them.

On the morrow, she tried a different tack – and sent the child to school in his (black) football boots, having noticed that some children were indeed wearing similar footwear. And nothing was said about it. So, we are top assume that in this particular school, colour rules.

Since this was an informal gathering, there followed a veritable deluge of similar stories.

One of us said how each and every school year. Except once, she had to go and ask teachers not to put her (left-handed) child next to a right-handed one, since the latter tended to be dominant and always managed to hog the available space. Another said that one teacher “diagnosed” her daughter with ‘a brain disorder’ (I kid you not!) and sent for her. Telling her that she “should” take the child to a “psychiatrist” (sic) because she “needed a facilitator as soon as possible”.

When this parent took this unwarranted advice with a pinch of salt, the teacher promptly sent for the father of the child as well, in order to repeat the same claptrap… and to insinuate that the mother was not doing ‘all she could for this child whose brain had not developed properly’.

This would have been fine with the parents had the teacher been professionally trained in these matters; but alas, despite her penchant for spouting psycho-babble, she was not, and the said child, today, has fared much better, academically, than those of her peers who had been specifically pointed out as examples of “maturity”, because of the way they spoke, dressed, behaved, and carried themselves.

Parents of children who have disabilities had to face this type of hurdle every day. The child of one of them uses a wheelchair. For the first three years of his schooling, the learning assistant blocked access to the toilets on one corridor in order to change him (on an old wooden table). On his fourth year, the (new) facilitator made a theatrical production of going to the Kindergarten section of the school “because it was nicer there”. In the fifth year, the (different) facilitator chased people in various places, under her own initiative, until a section off the main toilets, including one of the sinks, was closed off with neat aluminium partitions to afford him privacy – and so that the toilets would remain accessible to the children.

Ironically, the Head of School, perhaps inevitably, accused the facilitator of insubordination.

This, I hasten to assure you, was not some kind of pity party – it was a fun afternoon out for mothers and children, some of whom were there because they had been roped into this fund-raising activity by mutual friends, and so had not known one another before. Instead of gossiping or swapping recipes, we spoke of the above – and much more.

So I was particularly amused when at one point, putting on my best snide “educator” voice, I told my friend that she did not know anything, that she should be thankful ‘we’ were there to bring up her daughters, and that I wondered what ‘some people’ would do without us.

One of the women bristled, and turning to me said “Ah! So you are one of God’s gifts to mankind, I see…” totally misunderstanding my point. We had a good laugh about it – later!

It is not only children who use wheelchairs or walkers who need to have access to the different parts of a school. Some children have problems with walking; others may find steps awkward to negotiate. I am not advocating allowing pupils to choose which school entrance they prefer; I am merely suggesting that sometimes, allowances be made where these are warranted.

Access, however, is not limited to the physical kind. Together with the mistaken idea that the Internet is the be-all and end-all of education, there is the trend of asking children to look up this and that on “their computer”. When there is no computer in the child’s household, he is told to “use someone else’s”, which, alas, is not always that easy.

Supervision on school transport, health and safety issues, whether or not medication ought to be given by teachers or facilitators, and whether there is anyone who is proficient at First Aid in each school, and whether or not the sins of the parents are visited upon the children, are topics I have purposely not touched upon.

I know that some teachers think nothing of supplying stationery and lunches to pupils, and paying for school outings; I know those who even take a vacuum flask of coffee to school in order not to leave the classroom; others supply notes for use throughout the school year, and others strike deals with shops to obtain the best prices for photocopies and other requisites. Unfortunately, these teachers are sometimes shunned by their peers and accused that they are trying to ingratiate themselves with parents.

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