Make school Illegal

If we want to get kids staying in school we’re going to have to make it illegal. Hey - it works in Afghanistan. The girls are willing to risk acid attacks and beatings in order to get themselves an education and the teachers are willing to risk their lives in order to give them one. Here we have to employ a parallel paediatric police force, (truancy officers) to try and keep our kids at the books. Northland suffers from endemic truancy – it seems to be a whole way of life for some kids up here.

I still haven’t forgotten the conversation with an eight year old, when I came out to find him setting fire to my rubbish bin.
I asked him why he wasn’t at school. He said he was being home schooled. While I doubted that setting fire to rubbish bins was part of the home school curriculum, I did wonder why, if he was being home schooled, he wasn’t at home instead of wandering out on the street. He said he’d been locked out of home until his Mum came back from work but that she’d given him 20 bucks for some food - and that he’d spent it on a flash water gun – so did I have anything that he could eat? When I asked him why he had matches on him anyway… he showed me his packet of cigarettes and gave me a look that said ‘Duh!’ with all the silent eloquence only a street wise 8 year old can muster.

I found it hard to see much of a difference between this young lad and the kids who lived in the train station and streets near my house in Argentina who would cadge food and money from me as I went to work every morning – I was losing that ‘first world/ third world’ feeling. The only difference being that most of those kids in Argentina would give an arm and a leg to be in school – there, they still see education as the big lottery ticket out. Out of poverty. Out of living in areas that even the police are too scared to enter. Out of places that don’t even have a bus service because the local council has given up sending buses after the last 5 have been hijacked at gunpoint.

In Thailand, I saw one family who only had money for one uniform to go round 4 boys, let one boy a day use it, wash it each night and pass it on to the next brother so each could get a day at school. It was then his job to teach the other brothers what he’d learnt at school that night. Having been a chronic bunker as a teenager with the usual slackness born of privilege I couldn’t believe that teenagers could love school so much. Until I saw where they’d come from and realised that order and free lunch can sure go a long way to fostering a love of books. At least there is an honesty about countries where there is just not enough cash to go around. The government just says to its population; “Look. You’re poor. If you can’t afford the fees or the uniform, bad luck, I know you’re only 8 – now get a job.

Maybe we should adopt the same approach. Making school illegal will make it instantly attractive to most teenagers – look what banning party pills has done for E sales!

We like to pretend that we have an egalitarian education system and that everyone benefits from it while systematically turning a blind eye to the thousands of kids each year who slip through the net and eventually contribute in Northland anyway, to New Zealand’s worst literacy rates and a higher than usual incidence of burnt out rubbish bins.

The answer? Criminalise education.

Ban whole sectors of the population from entry. Make teachers go underground by intimidation and threats (most are rank individualists –they’ll soon rebel) and open schools to the rare few who can prove they’re really interested. Then give them a decent lunch before they hit the books. They’ll be breaking down the doors to get in.

Need help? Related Information

Whangarei District Truancy Services (WDTS)

Kiwi Families - On School Attendance & Truancy

Far North Adult Literacy REAP

Literacy Aotearoa

Ministry of Education - 2006 Statistics on Truancy

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June 19, 2009 at 9:47 AM Barbara said...

My guess is that the eight year old is a truant NOT a home schooler.

I like the idea of making school illegal.

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