The Big Issue : Edition 512
culture police Fiona Scott-Norman THEBIGISSUE20MAY–2JUN2016 29 ILLUSTRATIONBYGREGBAKES;ORIGINALPHOTOGRAPHBYMILESSTANDISH MULTICULTURAL SCHOOLYARD? GET USED TO IT! White Fright, White Flight their children out of these schools, and popping them into more prestigious institutions. They’re offering donations, lying about which school zone they live in, moving house. Meanwhile the “better” public schools are cherrypicking the more privileged students, and the education system is becoming segregated by default. As we know from modelling in America and South Africa, this always works out well. What’s interesting is that this is unfolding in Leftie enclaves. Seats held by the Greens. The “good guys”, who are most def not racist in the traditional way. They just want (and I quote), the “best” education for their children, which means, essentially, the school with the highest NAPLAN and good English literacy. I totally get this. On the other hand, I think it’s worthwhile unpacking the word “best”. The “best” education, surely, is one that prepares us for the future. I don’t know that the way forward is isolating kids in white, privileged clusters and teaching them that the optimum way to deal with a problem is to buy or blag your way out of it. How about, instead of pulling strings to get away, everyone sends their children to their actual local school, and then uses their privilege, money and influence to improve the school? Radical. Then your children will learn about generosity, the importance of including everyone and diversity. Understanding other people’s perspective, respecting their cultures, learning other languages, negotiating difference – these are the skill-sets for the future. Academic excellence is important. But what is the likelihood that your child is actually gifted? That Bethany or Colin is going to cure cancer? They’re probably not, you know. You can ensure they have access to the “best” teachers, but the chances are that they’ll still be crap at maths, because they will be focused on trying to get off with each other at recess. If they are brilliant and need an enriched education, well, go nuts and get them a tutor. Don’t spend their school years driving home the lesson that they deserve better than the black kids down the road. The future is messy and multicultural. Right Cobber? WHEN I WAS boarding in England in the 1970s the most exotic student at my school was Jeremy. He was Australian, lanky, had long blond hair and next to us anaemic Brits his skin appeared dusted with gold. We nicknamed him “Cobber”. Of course we did. Children have a dog’s nose for sniffing out difference, and a lamentable lack of imagination when it comes to labelling it. Luckily for Cobber, despite being “foreign”, he was also handsome, lazy-eyed and laid back, so everyone pretty much threw their knickers at him. Clearly my high school’s defining feature was that it possessed the homogeneity of a Tip Top loaf. We distinguished ourselves on the basis of a few inches of skirt hem-length (girls), who had the fattest tie knot (boys) and which particular shade of brown our hair was, on a colour-chart that ran the gamut from “stoat” and “wren”, to “sparrow” and “mouse”. From a distance of 10 paces we were indistinguishable and unremarkable. This was expected and normal – and undoubtedly prepared us for the indistinguishable and unremarkable middle-class lives that were projected for us. Strangely enough, the status quo did not hold, and we moved on from the 1970s. You now can practically choose your hair colour from a Dulux swatch. Britain, which opened the doors to the countries it had colonised, is now pixelated with multiculture. So is Australia. We are throbbing with it. There is scarcely a race or religion left unrepresented in our wide brown land, and there’s no reverse gear. A huge chunk of the world’s population is now on the move, in the largest diaspora since WWII. No-one knows how this baby is going to play out, but the demographic Scrabble tiles are back in the bag and being given a damn good shake. If you’re looking for homogeneity in a decade’s time, your best bet is going to be North Korea. Waleed Aly – a Muslim, for goodness sake – just won the Gold Logie. With this in mind, it’s intriguing to read about “white flight” in Australian schools. A recent report (The Age, 2 May), showed that Melbourne’s socially liberal, middle- class families are shunning inner-city public schools. You know the ones, the schools with a high percentage of refugee or migrant students, often with African heritage, who don’t speak English at home. White parents are going hard to keep » For virtually more FSN, visit fionascottnorman.com.au or follow her on Twitter @FScottNorman.