Mary Delahunty opened Curdled Milk: Schoolyard Memories by asking the audience to raise their hands if they remembered free school milk, and a sea of hands went up. Not mine, and I was thankful for it as the authors recounted their own memories of small bottles of milk warmed in the sun.
The exclusivity of their schools did not save private school boys Ned Manning, John Marsden, and Jon Doust from curdled school milk. Manning remembered forcing himself to drink every mouthful of the thick, sour stuff lest he be punished for wasting it.
Delahunty suggested that the modern education system has its own version of curdled milk. Good ideas, like free milk, which go horribly wrong upon execution.
Manning believes there are very few truly bad teachers. No teacher enters the profession and remains there, unless they truly want to improve the lives of kids. It’s all the other ‘stuff’ that gets in the way of teachers’ good intentions. The curdled milk it seems is in the system, not those fronting classrooms.
The Candlebark school, wildly popular after only 7 years of operation, was John Marsden’s answer to a sick education system and boring kids. After years spent teaching, Marsden lamented that the kids’ conversations were getting boring; they only ever talked about what they had seen on TV. He realised that these kids were being denied first-hand experiences. Candlebark aims to avoid providing curdled milk by letting kids loose on the world where they can experience life first-hand, uncorrupted. They also provide fresh food so they avoid the off-milk in the literal sense also!
Jon Doust thought the milks of his youth captured perfectly his experience of education.
“I had a milk intolerance, which is a wonderful metaphor for me because I was also intolerant of school.”
A true wild child, Doust spent his school years sneaking out of the boarding house in the wee hours to surf for a few hours before running back to sleep through his lessons. Enjoying giving the wrong answers in class, Doust says the only thing he ever gained from boarding school was writing – thanks to the letters he sent to his mother each day.
“We are at risk of the infantilisation of a whole generation,” Marsden said. Bringing their wide-ranging experience of teaching and connecting with youth, Manning, Marsden and Doust agreed that teachers have to have courage to overcome the barriers put up by regulations and excessive paperwork to connect with kids authentically and to allow them to connect with the world.
After all, “their very souls are on the line” said Marsden, who was met by nods from the panel and enthusiastic applause from an audience overflowing with teachers.
Emily Handley is a Southern Cross University Media Student.