The Guardian February 21, 2001


Private school outrages

Would you send your child to a school like this? Would you send your 
child to be educated at a school where he or she ran a real danger of being 
abused and then ignored? Australian private schools are now seriously 
examining the outcomes of the latest horror stories to emerge concerning 
treatment of their students.

Last week a court awarded $2.5 million to a man permanently injured by a 
savage caning in a Catholic school in 1984. The week before, a Sydney court 
heard the case of students horrifically abused in Trinity College, an elite 
Anglican boarding school for boys.

The college authorities initially strenuously denied that there is a 
culture of bullying at the school, but the two accused boys testified that 
they themselves had been a victim of similar attacks. One had been the 
subject of an apprehended violence order taken out after he rubbed boot 
polish into a fellow student's face last year.

The State Prosecutor's statement of the events involved in the cases 
acknowledged that such a culture did exist, and the statement has now been 
corroborated by the boys' defendants.

It was noted that during last year the culture of bullying and "rumbling" 
had been left unchecked and that there was "seemingly minimal supervision 
or responsibility by staff", which culminated in the attacks on the younger 
students.

One of the boys accused of the offences was considered a student leader, 
and was highly respected by the college leadership.

The private school system has now suffered significant damage from the 
publicity associated with the latest cases of abuse, and from the court 
case which resulted in last week's massive damages settlement.

In a transparent attempt to shift the blame from the colleges themselves, 
many of the elite private schools have blamed the Trinity students for the 
problems there, in particular the "code of silence among the boys."

However, the father of one of the victims recently claimed that the schools 
maintain their own code of silence, and that "the school's reaction is ... 
focused on managing the media  rather than informing parents who are in 
the dark, or kids who are in the dark and have been all along."

He noted that the College authorities had already found places in other 
schools for the boys who carried out the attacks.

Although the Trinity case raises questions about the supervision and 
security of the students, it also raises fundamental questions about the 
nature of elite private education.

In another response to the events at Trinity, the headmaster of the King's 
School at Parramatta pointed to the widespread nature of bullying as a 
society problem, referring specifically to the Defence Forces' recent 
stand-down of troops to attend special anti-bullying lectures.

Although this also constituted an attempt to deflect responsibility from 
the private schools, he was closer to the mark than his colleagues.

The elite private schools claim to equip their students for positions of 
leadership in the community, and many of their students assume management 
positions in major corporations and the military.

The elite private schools are primarily institutions for the training of 
the future leaders of the various wings of capital, and the widespread 
culture of bullying is surely a reflection of the oppressive and unjust 
nature of capitalism itself.

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