Steve Braunias thinks Year 7 and 8 are the best
The other day I gave a talk to a class of quite young children about a particularly brutal and upsetting murder. It was a kind of sequel to the talk I gave to the class a few months earlier, when I spoke about numerous other particularly brutal and upsetting murders and brought in an exhibit – a large kitchen knife from the Made in Japan store on Queen St, an exact replica of a knife used in the killings of two men. I'm generally available for these talks, book now.
By a class of quite young children, what I mean is they were kids at the very peak of childhood. Yes, certainly, I agree that babies have their merits and that pre-schoolers are adorable and that primary school kids have the best fun and are the best fun but the beautiful and charming quintessence of childhood, the glowing, triumphant pinnacle and very peak of childhood, are Year 7 and 8 kids, aged 11 to 13.
Year 7 and 8 kids are the greatest. It's the last years of childhood, before the descent into adolescence and all that; it's the fulfilment, almost, of childhood, the last amazing hurrah of the craziness and optimism that comes naturally to all little kids. But they're totally different to the little kids at primary school. They start showing signs of that quality which separates intermediate kids from primary school kids, just as it separates homo sapiens from beasts: intelligence.
God they're smart. I ask a lot of questions when I come in and give my talks on particularly brutal and upsetting murders and I rarely have to wait longer than 0.001 seconds for hands to shoot up with the correct answers. There's that but there's also just the look on their faces. Their faces are so bright, so awake. Primary school kids have dazed faces. They don't know anything. They're huge fun but they're idiots. College kids have glazed faces. They don't want to know anything. They're idiots - but I'll probably change my mind about that next year.
My daughter is in Year 8. I never gave a single thought to the existence or purpose of intermediate schools until she started Year 7; it just seemed like one of those things, like seatbelts or Parliament. But it's actually a brilliant idea - and uniquely New Zealand – we're the only country in the world to have a two-year school system. It operates as a kind of laboratory, a long and successful experiment (the first intermediate school was opened in 1922, in Kingsland but the initial plan was created in Nelson, in 1894) that separates kids aged 11-13 from younger kids (too stupid to hang out with) and older kids (too large, too brutal, too prone to acts of senseless violence). It protects, and it also zaps – an intermediate school is really the first time that most kids get accelerated learning programmes. Year 7 is a blast, literally; it blows their minds.
But only 52 per cent of Year 7 and 8 kids in New Zealand attend intermediate. About 33 per cent are in something designated "full primary", meaning they continue to hang out with little kids until they head off to college. Most of the remainder stay in just one school for the entire time. These models probably work just fine. I mean they sound like really demented models to me - villages of no escape, prisons of conformity and sameness – but the New Zealand way of life takes many forms.
There are noises and arguments in favour of abolishing the two-year intermediate structure and reingineering them as middle schools (the Australian model) for Years 7 to 10. Ugh. What do I know? Maybe it's for the best but something special and precious would be lost. The removal of Years 7 and 8 from wider societies of children is so kind, so protective, so conscious of the need to provide a sort of safe asylum for kids of that age. It's called an intermediate school because that exactly describes the kids - they're at an intermediate stage, evolving, mutating, in transition. Intermediate schools are prep schools.
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Really, intermediate schools are the best schools. It must be hell this time of year for teachers: they're about to lose their Year 8s. I loved every second of coming in to talk about particularly brutal and upsetting murders. I staged a mock trial; the girls were hilarious, the boys just as unhinged. The accused was truly evil. The police were militant fascists. The journalists were a lot more accurate in their reporting than I am. Everywhere, sweet and interesting faces. One kid pleaded for me to come back. Love to – there or any other intermediate. All offers welcome. I'll bring the replica knife.