One of the joys of being a parent is that I see that my son is (so far..let’s hope it continues) a much happier childhood that I had at his age. He is a good looking fit lad, unlike me who was teased due to being fat, and he is much more sociable having a group of close friends, unlike me who was quite lonely and I couldn’t really nominate anyone to be a reliable ‘friend’. So my schooling was difficult socially, something that was amplified when I migrated to Australia.
So I have to be careful that I don’t project my experiences on him, and that is why I heard that John Brumby proposed a ‘camp’ for years 9 I immediately felt as sense of rebellion.
My experiences of going to a ‘camp’ were miserable and alienating affairs. They were ordeals where I was counting the hours where I could be back home safely, so the thought that if I was 14 or 15 I had to go away from home, somewhere uncomfortable and cold in the country (because that seemed to be the criteria when I was at school…part of the ‘toughening up’ process) as part of compulsory school because the government told me so awakens in me a sense of revolt. Yes, some kids will love going to a camp. I can see my son absolutely loving it. It is an highlight of the year for him, which is something that gladdens my heart. But while there are kids like my son, I am sure there are plenty of kids which were like me, alienated, maybe liking the academic bit but hating anything ‘social’ like sport, dances or camps.
The policy states that “Through the program, students will be removed from their ‘comfort zone’ and challenged to develop life skills such as self-reliance, leadership, independence, respect, teamwork and caring for others.” That’s all well and good. But it assumes that every student has a ‘comfort zone’ to be removed from. Firstly this may not be true. Some children of that age unfortunately may not have a ‘comfort zone’, and second maybe the comfort zone that they created for themselves is the only thing that is keeping them sane. I know that this was my own experience and being removed from it is certainly very stressful. Because unlike school, where you could seek refuge during non teaching periods like lunchtimes and recesses in the library or a quiet corner, in a camp there is no escape. For 24 hours you eat, sleep with other students, and if you add this with things that may be problematic like an ‘outdoor activity’ which may provide more ammunition to potential tormentors the camp will turn in a very negative experience – totally the opposite of what is intended.
Of course looking after the mental well being of students has become a much more important feature since I went to school. My impression was that in the 70’s when I was in High School, bullying was virtually ignored unless it became physical violence, teachers saw it as part and parcel of growing up and believed that students should just ‘deal with it’.
So I hope that if the plan is implemented care is taken to understand that not everyone is cut out for, as the policy defined it ‘Outdoor challenges’. There will be plenty of students who are not fit, are uncoordinated and really don’t care about finishing a training course or whatever.
Or perhaps give the choice for those who really want to get out of town to do so. I am sure that you don’t need to be at a school camp to teach career counselling, financial planning or drug, alcohol and mental health awareness. Some kids may need to stay in their comfort zones a bit longer to do so. There is plenty of time for them to have opportunities to get out of them later in life.