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When Private Schools Are Like Castles, How Can Students Adjust To The Real World?

State-of-the-art facilities don't teach you about life.

07/04/2017 6:58 AM AEST | Updated 07/04/2017 6:58 AM AEST
Princess Pictures
Every castle needs its Queen.

I wasn't prepared for what I saw when I dropped my kids off for a school holiday activity on the campus of an elite Melbourne private school.

I didn't go to private school myself, and my kids don't go to private school, but I'm not one of those battlers with a grudge whose hard-knocks-public-school experience left them bruised and determined to pull the silver spoon from everyone's mouth. I'm from Canada where most people, rich or poor, probably went to a public school. So I didn't know what to expect when I walked onto the campus of, I'll call it 'Shady Acres,' to retain its anonymity. Ancient trees did line the driveway.

The school was a palace. It had rose gardens and manicured hedges, and little cobblestone pathways that led you past a century's worth of capital improvements: Victorian brick and sandstone gave way to steel and glass, and zinc cladding. It was Hogwarts meets the Guggenheim.

To go here was an investment. To have gone here was an insurance policy, a name, a network to fall back on.

Now this was a high school and it had facilities to rival the best universities in the world. This place didn't stop at offering computer labs with up-to-date software. This high school had a purpose-built concert hall, a three-story music school, a fully rigged arts performance center and an Olympic size swimming pool. It had libraries (plural), 'flexible teaching spaces' hooked up to the national broadband network and a chapel with acres of stained glass. It had synthetic and real grass sporting ovals, both regulation size. To top it off, the campus offered a majestic view of the distant hills, to be contemplated from a hilltop vantage point just above the smoggy haze of the city below, a city the students of this school would one day conquer.

I was conflicted. On the one hand, I thought it obscene that government money gets poured into the coffers of private schools like this one, while many public schools remain under funded and underequipped.

On the other hand, I thought it altogether right that a place of learning should draw so much energy and support. Valuing education offered me no conflict of interest. Students should be nourished and given opportunities to thrive.

But I glimpsed the idea behind this place as something more than just providing educational opportunities. This school played its part in supporting an elitist subculture. To go here was an investment. To have gone here was an insurance policy, a name, a network to fall back on.

Did this place breed the culture of privilege and entitlement that I occasionally saw in students when they eventually made their way to my university classroom? Was a place like this responsible for some of my students' expectations that everything would be handed to them, that there was always a right answer to every question and that success in life was assured, no matter what their talent, skill or dedication?

It struck me that a school like this, for all its amenities and history of excellence, had a weak point, an omission.

It struck me that a school like this, for all its amenities and history of excellence, had a weak point, an omission. It didn't represent the real world. A world where, in every workplace and every business, from corporations to government departments and not-for-profit organizations, workplace culture has shifted towards doing more with less. A culture of responsiveness where necessity breeds innovation, a culture of competition where deprivation drives a hunger to succeed.

Can those lessons be taught in a place like this where students are given everything that others think they 'need' to succeed? Can that culture be experienced in a place where a state-of-the-art facility is built to cater to junior's every passing whim or hobby-level interest?

Can these students adjust to the real world? Or will their edenic experience of life at an elite private school forever condemn them to feel underwhelmed by what comes next?

I don't know. You tell me.


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