Teaching kids to value who they are, where they are from and how to get to where they want to be, is surely the reason schools exist. I recently spoke to the principal of a great integrated school about the coming year.
Their staffing depends on student enrolments so the question is; How do you bring kids through the door of a school, as opposed to the door of other schools?
Rivalry has existed between schools forever and the production of league tables via government policy has nothing to do with it. Schools are competitive, so are teachers and parents, and this competitive nature flows on down to students.
But what bothers me is that we blame schools so much for non-performance when the real truth is these are things that we are not teaching at home, within our communities, or as a nation. In fact we are blaming schools for not being able to undo the mistaken messages we give our kids ourselves.
The most glaring example is the way we are raising boys. A recently well written article "What are we doing to the boys?" by Rebecca Frech, sparked quite an online discussion. The article questioned how we got to a situation where males are thick, needy, shallow and sexist while females are broad-minded, all-knowing and sexy. Our entertainment industry is welded to this idea. The klutz of a dad on the comedy show who couldn't cook to save himself, always needs to be with the boys and constantly needs a woman to treat him like a project to get him through his last giant cock-up.
Think of the television we watch, the books we read, the articles that gain attention, and the jokes we tell. They are generally reinforcing the mantra that girls can do anything and boys need management. These misconceptions are reinforced by government agencies and business policies. Children travelling alone on aircraft are never sat next to a male.
Assumptions are made in our legal system about the placement of children. In a custody dispute it is generally with mothers. Women are credited with natural instincts that are pro-child, but men are not accredited with this nurturing trait.
Why do we talk about a "man cave", presumably inhabited by a cave man - but never a "woman cave"? Have you ever seen a man depicted on television passing time in his "man cave" peering through a microscope? Mind you, we only ever see women disapproving of male pastimes and rarely being supportive.
We also need to be alert to the other lines we are fed that brand people. The clergy are all wimps, Christians are fantasists, politicians are corrupt and self-interested, doctors are cold but clean, male police are pigs but female police save the day though they can be butch and foul-mouthed, farmers abuse their stock and the environment, retailers are mean, and old neighbours are nosy – especially the women.
At the beginning of another school year I think we need to be mindful of what we can expect a school to achieve with New Zealand children and that we need to take responsibility for our own parenting. Caregivers plonking kids in front of television programmes or providing reading material or engaging them in conversation, which only reinforces society's prejudices as the empathic truth, does us no good and does not bode well for our future.
Maybe the edge for a school that will bring kids through the gate will be one that provides an education and doesn't reinforce negative social attitudes. That gets kids to consider that old neighbours aren't nosy, they are bored or lonely. That doctors needs to be clean to prevent transferring infection and appear cold because they can be numb as a defence mechanism against constantly dealing with the sick and gravely ill. That retailers are not mean but operate small businesses knowing that one in seven people entering their shop will steal stock if they believe they can get away with it so they need to measure customer service with being alert.
The school that teaches kids to question and that boys can build a fort, sew on a button and write a computer program, and that girls can weld, play rugby, bullrush and bake a lemon meringue pie.
But the buck stops with us – we are reinforcing some dumb misconceptions in our children's world view and self-belief. We are doing it at home or allowing it to be done to us, and then expect our teachers to undo years of indoctrination.