The other day I was leafing though one of those free shiny lifestyle mags, when a smiling bearded young face stirred a memory. A closer look and a flip though my old school magazines from the small inner city boys’ school where I used to work confirmed it. This very cool photographer and rapper was indeed the lad I last remember perched on the windowsill in the middle of the English class.
Sounds like a make or break teacher moment worthy of a Hollywood movie in which Michelle Pfeifer saves the kid, the class and the whole education system with some swelling music, a nervous caress of her long flowing hair and a sincere teary stare. But hang on Michelle, it’s Room Nine aka the dungeon, the teacher doesn’t have a Hollywood career to fall back on and the boy isn’t jumping – he’s singing.
He was a funny, cheeky kid and it was nearly home time, so I told him he had a lovely voice, that he was clearly accessing his Welsh heritage and let him entertain us a bit more till he happily climbed down to a forest of hi-fives. You couldn’t do that everywhere but it was a small close-knit school with a high tolerance for difference (46 nationalities at one count). The boss wasn’t one for tick-sheets and form-filling and he kept his staff rev-ups short, funny and relevant. On thing he said that has stayed with me was: Look out for the lost ones. And everyone did. This boy could have been lost; he had quite a few challenges in his young life, which he has clearly overcome.
So I dropped him an email along the lines of: if you were the boy singing on the windowsill in Room Nine c 1999, hi and well done. If not, ignore this, and great photos. The reply came back:
Yes it is! I don’t look at all like my old self… eg the large beard and the shaved head
This is the nicest surprise to my day, week, even month. I cant stop smiling / almost in tears! How did you find me?
I have been working fairly hard at lots of things for a long while and I think I have finally found something that suits my personality and skills. If you have seen my work it’s very theatrical and humorous which stems from my love of being a kid, and the love of being a kid was thanks to my wonderful experiences growing up, which includes the part that I think really made me who I am and that is school. I remember everyone at Marist and even my primary school. I could keep writing all day to catch you up with where I am now but I’m not sure how many words I can type in a single email!
I am having my exhibition opening night on the 23rd April that I would love you to attend. Please let me know if you would like to attend and I’ll put you on the door.
Again thanks for making my day! Hope to talk soon
You can probably see where this is going, because on Friday we are going to witness the spectacle of our leaders squabbling over the Gonski educational reforms that, to quote Fran Kelly on ABC Radio National this morning, is a policy you’d think we’d all like. What’s not to like about putting a lot of money into schools, teachers, disadvantaged and under-achieving students? Insuring funds for early childhood support, kindergartens, schools and the universities is surely a no-brainer.
Education is the only sure bet in the horse race of competing interests, but it’s a long one. We won’t get our money back for years, if ever, but what do we want – a higher return on our cash or a better, cleverer Australia in which our brilliant innovators are nurtured and the rest of us have the wherewithal to live fulfilled lives driven by purpose and effort? Schools have always been important but in an increasingly transient society not always able to rely on its traditional structures such as extended family, the churches, local communities, it may well be the only catch-all safety net we have left. And it has to be guaranteed by public money.
But the Gonski plan, which goes some way toward looking out for the lost ones is endangered for a few reasons inexplicable to the average punter.
- The government’s ability to ruin a perfectly good policy by terrible delivery – in this case twinning it with a $2.8 billion cut in funds to the university sector so that becomes the main story, and a free kick for the opposition. Obfuscating the message seems the only thing this government is good at.
- The toxic political climate ensures that everything – even the welfare of the next generation – is fair game in the bloodsport that is Australian politics. Knee-jerk, smart-arsed responses such as “Conski, not Gonski!” from the Shadow Minister for Education aren’t helpful. He’s entitled to his view, but isn’t Australia entitled to a measured, intelligent and respectful debate on this vital policy area?
- The states – in varying degrees – are quibbling about the money even though it is considered by many to be a generous offer from the Feds. Campbell Newman says this state can’t afford to be part of the scheme but as a local who has worked in Queensland schools for thirty years, I’d venture to say we can’t afford not to. He seems like a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing (My Dad, c1956) evidenced by one of his first initiatives- axing the Premier’s Literary Prize. Not only did it send an appalling message to our young people, already seduced away from reading by the plethora of other distractions, it was, apparently, fiscally dumb as well! (Megalogenus, G (2012 April 7) Newman’s Axing of Literary Awards Spells Return to Bumpkin State. The Australian)
- And the states can afford – pardon the pun – a bit of statesmanship. The ALP is in retreat all over Australia, there’s no need to play politics on this. They don’t have to agree to everything, only approach this vital issue with the gravity and respect it – and we – deserve.
Another generation is poised on the window-sill of life (ouch…terrible segue but you know what I mean). Do we want them to fly or fall? And a song would be OK too.
Dylan’s email reproduced with permission, and his photography is being exhibited at the Judith Wright Centre, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane on 23rd April 2013. Go to dylanevans.com.au for more details, and to check out his work, which is brilliant.