It's that time of the year when schools are winding down for the Christmas break and the kids are emptying out their lockers and handing back their text books and that sort of thing.
In my day, you bought all your text books, and the school ran an exchange bookshop where you could sell them at the end of the year (assuming you took good care of it). A 2nd hand book in good nick might get you 60 cents in the dollar (which is also why parents went nuts when kids wrote in their text books). Parents made a great deal of effort to cover all texts in contact, and admonished the kids to look after their books.
And those books cost a packet. Paying for them always made my parents wince.
Nowadays, that is seen as a bad thing - at least in state schools. Instead of buying your text books, the school retains ownership, charges a bond and lends them out. I take it that buying text books was seen as an impossible burden on the family (as opposed to buying a 50" plasma TV, which costs more, but is not a burden).
Since the kids don't own the books, the results are fairly predictable.
Instead of 98% of the books from this year being put back into circulation next year via the second hand bookshop, each year commences with a great shortage of books. Subjects might be taught for months without text books, because there are not enough to hand one out to everyone - perhaps not even one per two kids. There is no incentive to hand back good books either, since the bond is so low. If the kids forget to take them back to school, so what?
We were reduced to visiting Dymocks earlier this year in an attempt to buy text books because the school was unable to supply them (Dymocks were sold out of course). So we end up in a situation where we pay a bond so that we don't have to buy text books, but end up having to pay a bond and still buy the damned books anyway. The Nanny State in action.
The taxpayer, via the school, then has to buy a swag of new books, which drains an already strained budget. If all the money goes on new books, complaints then arise that there are no resources for anything else. I sometimes imagine that the parents that complain the loudest are the same parents of book-destroying kids, or kids that have never bothered to hand back perfectly good texts through laziness, inertia or bloody-mindedness. Those that care, suffer; those that don't care......nothing of consequence happens. I presume that the loss of bond is even written off for some people due to "financial hardship". These would be the same people who live in a Housing Commission estate, but drive a reasonably new BMW and smoke $10 worth of fags per day.
Ownership is everything. I believe that if you want to fix 80% of Aboriginal housing issues, sort out the ownership problems.
Junior has a lot of books. He is a voracious reader. Even now, half an hour before midnight, he is probably reading a book (not a comic) under his doona with a torch. Out of interest, I just took a tape measure and found that he has 4 x 1.7 metres of books, or a bit over 20 feet worth. He has a long way to go until he catches up with Paco, but he's only been collecting them for 10 years or so.
The books that he owns are in immaculate condition. If I open one a bit too far and crack the spine, I get told off. If J reads one and folds down the corner of a page as a bookmark, she gets told off. There is not a rip, smudge or smear in any one of them, and he is reading through some of them for the 2nd or 3rd time.
Then there are his school books.
He asked rather meekly the other day if we could "fix up" one of his texts before he handed it in.
I didn't even have to see it to know that it was a write off. I could smell that it was a problem.
The contents of an entire banana filled several chapters. A tomato had managed to get into a few more. The cover, what was left of it, was the colour of rotten meat. Pages were missing. It looked like something that had been salvaged from the Titanic. Or even the mud beneath the keel of the Titanic. It was unbelievable that someone that cares so deeply about books cared so little about this one.
But then again, he doesn't own it, so why should he care?
I wrote the school a note and said that the book was buggered and that we would be paying for it, no questions asked. I thought that would be the end of this sorry little affair.
Then Junior came home with the most amazing news - his teacher was eternally grateful for the note, presumably because they did not want to have to confront the parents and ask them to take responsibility for his actions and demand payment.
That's about when I fell off the lounge in a startled heap.
Now I know that there are some rotten, awful, belligerent parents out there that should have their breeding licences revoked, but since when has a teacher been afraid to confront parents over the failings of their offspring? Either I grew up in a parallel universe, or things have gone awfully soft in the two decades since I graduated. Junior was in the wrong, we were in the wrong for failing to keep a proper eye on him, and as a result, we're going to pay for it. Is that now such an alien concept that it almost reduces education staff to tears of gratitude? Have we created a system where one of the primary aims is to shield teachers from having to break unpleasant news to parents about the behaviour, ability and performance of their sprogs?
Christ, harden the fuck up, people. And take some god-damned responsibility for your stupid actions, or those of your offspring, whilst you are at it.
It really is time for state schools to start recruiting RSM-types as they retire from the Army. Their job would not be too teach (even though they would have spent 20 years teaching pig-ignorant troopies how to handle weapons in a manner least likely to kill all the wrong people), but simply to walk around the school yelling at kids. Preferably, they'd brace them against a wall and just yell at them for a minute or two - putting the Fear of God into them as it used to be known. The idea is to create a Pavlovian reaction - you put all teachers in suits, and then have the ex-RSM-in-a-suit yell at people. After a while, whenever a normal-teacher-in-a-suit opens their mouth, the kids leap to attention and say "Sir!" and all that sort of thing.
A bit of flogging wouldn't go astray either. Or some stocks.
The other job of the ex-RSM would be to yell at the teachers. When soft-and-floppy young just-out-of-Uni teacher walks up to the ex-RSM and says, "Excuse me, can you help me with this difficult parent?", they can be yelled at for 5 minutes and generally told to harden the fuck up and deal with the issues. So long as the ex-RSMs are scarier than even the scariest parents, that should not be a problem. That may require arming them in some schools, but so be it. I'm sure the kids will be used to a bit of gunfire, given all the drive-by shootings we're having down here at the moment.