Friday, June 5, 2015

How do you educate an 'above-average' girl?

Sermons and study take all my words. You can always read a sermon! (Just click on a link in the sidebar.)But I have nothing new for the blog. Instead, here's a piece I wrote for Zadok Perspectives way back in March 2014. I thought of it again as we have recently filled out the forms for high school.


“Welcome to Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above-average.” With these words, Garrison Keillor hit the nail on the head: I live in a suburb where most kids are treated as above-average!

We expect big things from these ‘above-average’ kids; and so we are regularly caught up in conversations about high school. For decades, Victorian state government policies have pushed middle class families into private schools, with the result that rough boys and troubled kids make up a disproportionate part of the public school population. Parents of above-average, quiet girls know this, and are running scared.

As the mother of a bright and gentle ten-year-old, I experience this fear all the time. Surely, say friends, you wouldn’t send her to the local high school? Surely you wouldn’t sacrifice your daughter to your principles? When are you doing the private school scholarship exams?

And I waver. Of course I want her to have the best education possible; of course I want to give her every opportunity to thrive – and in our system, that implies private school. I have no doubt that she would be pushed harder and further at an excellent private school than at the local high, and I am also worried that classes at the local high will be more about discipline and less about teaching – so I feel scared, too!

But Jesus asks us to live in love, not fear; and when I set my fear aside, I remember that I have other concerns, too. I am concerned about the deep injustice of a two-tier system, where those who are privileged have access to private school, and those who are not, get a lower-status education. I am concerned that friendships with children who have a sense of entitlement and an assumption of privilege will affect my daughter’s expectations, and her soul. And I acknowledge that my daughter is deeply grounded and resilient; she’s not going to let a few rough boys push her around. So, holding these things in mind, I am trying to make a decision that best coincides with our faith, our values, and my daughter’s needs. And several things occur to me.

First, all children are precious in God’s eyes, not just my own kids. I can’t level the playing field and guarantee equal opportunity for all kids, but I can choose not to prioritise my own child’s access to education. Using the public system feels fairer.

Second, my daughter is already salt, light and yeast in the world. She brings her qualities – keen intellect, calm self-assurance, warm hospitality, quiet maturity, a sense of fairness – into every classroom she enters. These gifts will be valuable anywhere, but especially in a place where they are in shorter supply. Instead of removing yet another bright, gentle girl from the public education system, what is needed is for her, and many others like her, to stay.

Finally, I want her to keep loving across boundaries in the particular, not in the abstract. I don’t want her to love ‘those refugees’ or ‘those poor people’ or ‘those indigenous kids’ out there somewhere. I want her to love like Jesus: to love her neighbour, and for her neighbour to be, quite often, unlike her. I want her to stay with her friend for whom she takes a piece of fruit every day; her buddy who doesn’t speak English; those kids she’s friendly with who have low IQs or Asperger’s syndrome or who otherwise make her classroom interesting. Our local high school includes upper middle class to sub working class kids; kids as thick as two planks and kids who are well above-average; kids from 52 nationalities; and kids with various mental health problems. I reckon it’s a pretty good place to practice being a Christian.

Private school may be able to provide a fast-track to university and access to those who will one day be powerful; private school may grant more opportunities for extension; private school may be both more empowering and kinder than the local high. On the other hand, the local high will grant my daughter more opportunities to be a Christian: to be salt, light and yeast in the world; to love across boundaries; to be closer to the margins.

And Jesus never asked us to maximise our opportunities or to race to the top of the ladder. Instead, he told us to love God and one another – from this, everything else flows. So if learning to love is the be all and end all of our life’s work and calling, the local high might be the better choice. Even for an above-average girl.


  1. Thanks for this. Your philosophy is the same as mine, but it was helpful to read the reflections of an actual parent on the matter. When I advocate for this kind of approach I think I often forget the fears the parent has for their child - I go all rational and forget the emotions. I wish your daughter the very best in her public school!

    1. Hi Heather, The silly thing is, we actually have a very good public school. There's no need to worry at all! Even so, there are surprising pressures to send her to a private one, so it has taken a bit of time to relax into our position. This post is part of it.


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