The dilemma I faced when my daughter won a private school scholarship

Elana Benjamin

The mother below was probably right in deciding to send her daughter to a State School.  And I say that not because I went to one myself but because of something she does not mention:  It all depends on the school.  Not to put too fine a point on it, a State School in a poor area would probably be disastrous for the daughter of a professional family.  She would be greatly limited by it. But, reading between the lines, Mrs Benjamin is most unlikely to live in a poor area.  And State Schools in a middle class area can be quite good.

I sent my son to a fairly orderly State school for the second half of his primary years and it certainly didn't hold him back. Can I embarrass myself by once again telling my favourite story from that time?  There was once a schoolwide literacy and numeracy test conducted in his state school.  One would think that the highest scorer on the literacy test would be some kid in 7th grade. But it was not. It was a pesky little 5th grader.  That 5th grader was my son.  So as long as the school is reasonably orderly, ability will out.  I think that Mrs Benjamin's daughter might have an equivalent experience.

So why are schools in poor areas disadvantageous?  Sensitive souls should stop reading at this point because I am going to say something that, according to the Left, make me a white supremacist if not an outright Nazi. They can see a small moustache growing on my upper lip. I am going to mention IQ.

A school in a poor area will be bad in many ways because of the kids there.  As Charles Murray showed long ago, a low IQ is hereditary and has many unpleasant correlates, with poverty prominent among them.  So kids enrolled into a school located in a poor area will mostly be dumb, have less self-restraint  and will be more poorly behaved generally.  They will make life hell for their teachers and give the teachers little time for teaching.

It doesn't have to be that way. I grew up in Innisfail, a small Australian country town and I attended Innisfail State Rural School for my primary schooling.  And I have fond memories of that school and of some of the teachers there.  There was none of the dysfunction that would be expected of that school these days. The school no longer exists so I can safely say that.

So why was Innisfail State Rural School perfectly OK?  Because they had effective discipline back then.  If a kid stepped out of line he got sent to the headmaster for caning.  He would come back much abashed and no longer disruptive.  So lessons could proceed according to plan.  But it's no longer like that. Under Leftist influence, most forms of discipline are now forbidden as "child abuse".  The discipline tools available are few.  So a disruptive dummy kid will just act out and not be effectively restrained, thus derailing any education while that happens.

But Australia is relatively lucky in one way:  We rarely have a substantial African-origin population in a school.  In both Britain and the USA, by contrast, schools in a poor area will very often be quite black. And black students are notoriously disruptive.  As a result, British and American white mothers go to enormous lengths to keep their kids out of such schools.  There is substantial voluntary racial self-segregation so that helps.

But the lesson remains:  A "good" school is good primarily because of the kids who go there and a bad school is bad because of the kids who go there.  One hopes that the school Mrs Benjamin has chosen for her daughter has a student body who tend be like her own family.  She should check. That is what matters

My 11-year-old daughter has been awarded an academic scholarship to a private school. It's only a modest discount, but the scholarship means she'll bypass the snaking waiting list – provided my husband and I can fund the 20 grand a year shortfall. Should we commit to the abyss of private school fees, or choose free education instead at a partially selective state school?

I always assumed my children would go to private school, like I did. Not because my family is wealthy – but because I'd imbibed one of the mantras of my childhood home: Education is the best thing you can give your children, and its implied corollary: The best education is private.

Both my parents gave up their dreams of tertiary study in order to earn much-needed income for their families. Immigrants to Australia in the 1960s, Mum and Dad were textbook in that they worked hard to give my brother and me all the opportunities they'd been denied. They never pushed, but as a sensitive first-born, I absorbed my parents' unspoken hopes and aspirations: I would become a member of a profession and earn a good income, so I'd never have to struggle like they did.

At my academically oriented private school, the importance of education was reinforced. I learnt the lessons of Jewish history, a history filled with centuries of persecution and violent anti-Semitism. The message was clear: you may have to leave your birthplace, your home, your loved ones, but you can never be stripped of your education.

Against this backdrop, it took years for me to make peace with the fact that my two children attend our local public primary school.

They'll go to private for high school, I consoled myself. Yet here we are, our eldest now in year 6, and my husband and I will struggle to afford private school, even with that scholarship our daughter's been offered.

"Many families take a second mortgage to pay school fees," a friend cheerily suggests when I share my dilemma. But we're already drowning in debt, with my husband's salary bequeathed to a long line of greedy beneficiaries (first NAB, followed by Coles).

If we're to send our girl to private school, there's only one sane option: for me to increase my work hours and cash in on the benefits of the law degree I studied so hard for. The degree that was supposed to be my ticket to a good job and a solid income – except that's not quite how it turned out.

I aced the HSC, only to suffer through years of dreary law lectures at university, then advance to a career of well-paid but uninspiring jobs in corporate insurance. Now that I've finally escaped my creativity-starved cubicle, I'm not keen to resume my meaningless climb up the corporate ladder.

And yet I could still command a salary package that would pay the school fees, if I really had to. You can never be stripped of your education.

My husband – concerned I'll end up resenting the school-fee burden – isn't pushing me to resuscitate my career. My strong-willed daughter is unusually easygoing about the decision. "I have friends at both schools so I don't really mind," she says.

My parents, however, weigh in. "Thousands of children go to public school and they turn out fine," says my mother. "Why do you want to put yourselves under so much financial pressure?" adds my father, seemingly oblivious to the irony of his question, given he and Mum did the same for me.

The guilt and expectations are mine alone. As much as I don't subscribe to the "get your kid ahead" hype (I'm in the no-coaching, anti-homework camp), I'm quietly terrified that my daughter's potential will be wasted at the public school. That even in the selective stream, she'll be lost in the crowd. And yet I know that a return to corporate insurance will crush me.

Over many sleepless nights, I wrestle with the bullies in the classroom of my mind. The ones who taunt me, calling me hurtful names: "Selfish. Indulgent. Princess". And the meanest of all – the one who leaves me winded, gasping for air every time: "Lousy mother."

When I finally catch my breath, I confess to my tormentors that although I want the best for my daughter, I have my own dreams too. I cannot sacrifice everything for my precious girl, just so she can retrace my steps on the path from high ATAR, to university, to six-figure-salary but dissatisfied.

I explain that I want to be a positive role-model for my girl, and an unhappy parent is a terrible strain on a family. I point out that not even the privilege of private school will protect my beloved from ordinary outcomes, undesirable peers, disappointment or struggle.

And finally, the bullies back off. So it's decided. My daughter is going to the public school behind our home. She couldn't be more pleased. "I'll be able to sleep in and walk to school in one minute," she gloats.

It's taken me a little longer, but now I'm content. More than my fancy private-school education, it's my family that shaped me. With high school now 25 years in the past, I can no longer remember the mathematical formulae or Shakespearean quotes I once knew so perfectly. The lessons from my childhood home, however, have proved impossible to forget.


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