Over the weekend the wife and I watched a documentary on the American education system called Waiting for Superman, here’s the trailer:
The documentary dives deep into the American public education system and the crux of it is that whilst there are some fantastic public schools there the problem is that space at those schools are limited. In order to resolve this situation the government has legislated the only thing that can be equally fair to all involved: public schools with more applicants than places must have a lottery to determine who gets in and who doesn’t. It’s eye opening, informative and heart wrenching all at the same time and definitely something that I’d recommend you watch.
The reason it hit home for me was because of the parallels that I could draw to my own education experience. My parents had had me on the waiting list for one of Canberra’s most respected private schools since the day I was born. I went to a public school for my initial education but I was always destined for a life of private education. However upon attending that school I was miserable, the few friends that did make the transition to the same school abandoning me and the heavily Anglican environment (with mandatory bible studies classes) only making things worse.
The straw that broke my parent’s back was when I made my case for transferring me to a public school where most of my friends had ended up. They couldn’t get through to me that the private school I was going to was the best place for me to be educated but one thing I said changed their minds: “You make your own education”. I still wonder if I actually uttered those exact words or just something along those lines (I don’t have a vivid memory of that incident, but my parents say it was so) but that was enough for them to let me transfer. If I’m honest the transfer didn’t make things any better, although I told myself differently at the time, but suffice to say I can count myself amongst the few who did make it to university after going to that school. Heck you might even say I’ve been successful.
Anecdotally then public education system in Australia seems to work just fine. The schools I went to had a rather rough reputation for not producing results (and indeed my university entrance score was dragged down a good 5 points due to my attendance there) but there were students that excelled in spite of it. However when watching Waiting for Superman I got this sinking feeling that in the USA they might not even have the chance to make their own education simply because the schools are set up for failure. Indeed my own success might have blinded me to the fact that the schools I went to were set up in such a way, leading me to believe there was no problem when there was one.
Cursory research however shows that, at least for Australia, this isn’t the case. Indeed the biggest indicators of child’s success at school and their pursuit of higher education is largely dependent on non-school factors. Following on from that idea it’s not just you who makes your education, but your entire social structure that supports it. Bringing that back to my experience shows then that it was my strong family support that lead for me to do well and my late found group of friends who led me to excel at university. In that respect I should feel incredibly lucky but in reality it’s got little to do with luck and more to do with a whole lot of dedicated effort on the parts of everyone who had been involved in my life during my education.
Still we should be thankful for the education system that Australia has, especially when you compared it to what it could be. I’m still a strong believer in those words I uttered well over a decade ago and whilst they might not be applicable everywhere in the world they are definitely applicable here.