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EXCLUSIVE: The problem with cultures of privilege when you’re building a kid

Adam Voigt: "I’m so proud that we avoided the boastful, arrogant gimmickry that our highest fee-sucking private schools plaster across the billboards of Eastlink."

Still wet behind the ears as a Principal, I was finding my feet at Ludmilla PS in Darwin’s inner suburbs… 

Sitting in my office in 2009, I found myself fortunate to be chatting with an Australian Of The Year.  In truth, I was mostly listening. After all, I was in the company of the iconic Mandawuy Yunupingu of Yothu Yindi fame.

Mandawuy was ailing at the time and coming into Darwin for dialysis treatment. He’d occasionally kill some time between treatments in my office, at my request and relayed to him by his wife Yalmay, who was a valued member of staff.

Let’s be honest, when you’re a white man early in his first Principalship of a school with 60 percent Indigenous kids who face staggering disadvantage every day, you take all the advice you can get.

That it would come from one of Australia’s most prominent Aboriginal men and a former Principal himself was not something to be knocked back.  Perhaps I was also titillated by the romantic notion that a career in pop stardom was actually possible if being a School Leader didn’t quite work out.  Who knows?

Mandawuy helped me understand culture and specifically what makes it.  And, according to us both, it’s the language we use that mostly builds a school’s culture and the kind of young person who grows in it.

And for this reason alone, the Shore School and any other exclusive private school whose students are engaging in the most disgusting, self-designed muck-up day rites of passage they can conjure can’t absolve themselves of responsibility.

They created these monsters.

And rather than wave this putrid behaviour away with a politically expedient “This isn’t who we are” they should actually be admitting “You know what?  This is exactly who we are.  This is what we built these students into.  This is our work on display for you all put up with.”

If they won’t, they should never receive a single cent from the public purse again.  No Australian should be interested in building a future generation of people so bereft of character and so bulging with hubris.  Yet, these puffed up Hogwarts-esque private schools continue to produce such brats. 

Why do they do it?  It’s because that’s what their culture is designed to do.  The evidence is in the very language they use to describe themselves.

When we describe these schools with terms like elite and exclusive, we tell their students that they are better than others by way of their wealth and privilege.

When we tell these students that they are excellent, we insist that they are better for than others for their existence and not for their effort.

When we condone this behaviour by oh-welling about them still having unformed brains or turn our heads muttering about “boys being boys” we let them know that rules only apply to those whose without a Collins St lawyer Daddy to get them off the hook.

The absurdity of fawning over these lazy, archaic, marketing-obsessed institutions when they continually spit in the faces of hardworking citizens going to underpaid jobs on public transport is shameful.

And it’s not just the boys of Shore and St Kevin’s being boys.  Girls from Pymble Ladies College in Sydney also decided that a muck-up day Scavenger Hunt was in order to celebrate the end of their school days.

On the list of activities were having sex in a public bathroom, ordering strippers, eating vomit, and having sex with somebody’s Dad.  Some of the other dares wouldn’t be fit to print in this article.

Predictably, the homepage of the PLC website is adorned with a meticulously groomed white girl adorned in an expensive dress above the tackiest of slogans – Watch Us Change The World.  You’ll forgive me if I need to look away because what they seem intent on changing it into is, frankly, abhorrent.

Mandawuy helped me craft the words that we spoke about at Ludmilla PS.  Emblazoned on the collar of every uniform in the school was “Together We Can Achieve Anything” and we spoke regularly to our values of adaptability, care, community, growth and responsibility.

I’m so proud that we avoided the boastful, arrogant gimmickry that our highest fee-sucking private schools plaster across the billboards of Eastlink.

I’m proud because these words drove a genuine positive cultural shift at Ludmilla PS and because they helped us build better kinds of Australians.

If schools really do play a major role in building future Australians that we can admire, then we should expect that of them.

And if elite, exclusive and excellent are the words that drive the cultivation of the spoiled upstarts spewing from our ludicrously expensive private schools, then I have no idea why we’d fund them.


Adam Voigt

Adam Voigt is the Founder & Director of Real Schools. Built upon years of experience as a successful Principal, Real Schools helps schools to build and sustain strong, relational School Cultures. A speaker of local and international renown, Adam has delivered a TED Talk and is the schools/education expert for The Project”.

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One Comment

  1. Thank you, for most of my education i was sent to a public school. The last few months I spent at an expensive private Anglican school to see if they could improve my academic education ( I am badly dyslexic )

    I soon accepted that I would never be accepted into that community nor would I ever want to join them.

    I left and found a job, I joined the airforce, I worked wherever I could and worked with all manner of people.

    Never again did I meet a collection of vile repulsive arrogant over indulged sycophantic little gits as I did at that school

    Teachers and students included, they were just vile little bullies and cowards stuck together by their parents money and position.

    Thank you for expressing what I have seen and experienced, these schools need to be defunded and made to live in the real world for a change.

    Perhaps their students need to be sent to live in developing countries or indigenous communities ( As individuals not in a group ) so they learn something of life and being the outsider for a change

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