COMMENT:

The principal of Fraser High School In Hamilton, Virginia Crawford gave a speech to her students telling them that every student who walks out of the gate to truant is "highly likely to go to prison, either commit domestic violence or be a victim of domestic violence, be illiterate, be a rape victim, be a suicide victim, be unemployed for the majority of their life, have a major health problem or problems, die at an early age, have an addiction – drugs, gambling, alcohol or smoking".

Oh help. I appreciate Ms Crawford does a very difficult job and she sincerely thinks she is trying to help young people, but ...

One

What gives you the right to condemn a young person? Do not ever write anyone off. Ever. EVER. Got that?

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Words are powerful. As a teacher you should know that. And frankly, what you did was dangerous.

Being told by an authority figure you are certain to become a grim statistic is more of a danger to young people than skipping class. In some very pervasive, unconscious and dogged ways we become what we are expected to be.

Two

Do you think telling teenagers they must not skip class or they are losers will actually work?

There is a Larson cartoon which shows two people standing next to a sign "ABSOLUTELY no machete juggling" One is saying to the other: "I have a sudden urge to juggle machetes." There's the truth about human motivation, right there.

Three

Have you read Doris Lessing?

"Ideally what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: "'You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture.

"The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system.

"Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself — educating your own judgements.

"Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society."

Four

If your students are leaving during the day they are obviously not buying the kind of education you are selling. Have you thought perhaps that maybe you should change, not them?

Five

What's the likelihood that some of those kids would fit the diagnosis for various developmental disorders such as dyslexia or ASD? In the mainstream system they are marginalised as "special needs". If I got labelled like that I would want to bugger off too.

Six

Can we please acknowledge that education is not the same as schooling?

Tara Westover grew up in an isolated survivalist Mormon family where she never went to school. She read independently and was able to gain admission to university. She eventually got a doctorate in history from Cambridge.

She writes in her memoir Educated: "Everything I had worked for, all my years of study, had been to purchase for myself this one privilege: to see and experience more truths than those given to me by my father, and to use those truths to construct my own mind."

Seven

So Ms Crawford – Virginia? – you seem like you are fond of statistics, so would you like me to point you towards some badass empirical data?

There is evidence from the growing field of positive psychology that focussing on what is right with youth, emphasising their strengths, is far more effective in motivating them than focussing on what is wrong.

Lea Waters, author of The Strength Switch recommends naming a strength in a young person when you see it (curiosity, creativity, kindness, perseverance, bravery, zest, honesty, teamwork, love, gratitude, spirituality, humility, hope and humour, if you need some suggestions).

Or try reading Stanford University Professor Carol Dweck's uplifting work. She has found how having a "growth mindset" (that is, believing you are not destined to become a gloomy statistic) will help you live a less stressful and more successful life.

How about installing a growth mindset in your students, even the dirty waggers?

Eight

Could you please read this to your students at your next assembly?

Kia ora. I went to Melville High School along the road from you in Hamilton. I used to wag a lot. I'll let you in on a secret. Whatever you are doing right now, it doesn't matter half as much as older people tell you it does.

Life is a journey and chances are you are going to be called upon to reinvent yourself many times over your lifetime. This is just one phase, and half the stuff they are teaching you at the moment is going to be outdated very soon.

And try to remember this, your principal, Virginia Crawford has absolutely no idea what your life is going to be like. None of us do. And she has no right to tell your story.

It's your soul, and your story to construct. We are all of us more complicated than the roles we are assigned in the stories other people tell (Tara Westover, again). So whether you stay for class today or not, start creating your own narrative, in whatever form that takes.

If you are going to wag school, maybe pop into the public library. Never know. You might like it. Nga mihi nui. Deborah.