So this is how my week has been:
We withdrew Master J from school. Only a term before the end of VCE, only a term before the end of his entire 13 year career. We withdrew him because he could take it no longer. He could no longer endure the place that promised us that they would take care of him, and nurture him, and yes, surprise, surprise, educate him. He came home last week, three days from the end of the second term, broken.
I am his mother. I know broken when I see it.
Mr C and I knew we could fix this. And with every socially conditioned fibre in our body yelling at us all the judgement we will endure for being terrible parents, for not forcing him to make it to the end, for not preventing him from “throwing away his life”, we told him he didn’t have to endure it any more.
And a strange thing happened.
The universe spoke back to us.
The following day Master C got accepted to a tertiary college to study Animation, even though he hasn’t got his VCE, because even though he hated school, he found something that he liked in the form of an apprenticeship studying Printing and Multimedia and that love led to a Certificate IV which is considered a higher qualification than a VCE (who knew) and the college liked that he had a Certificate IV and so they offered him a place.
He starts in September.
But it niggled me. No, that is an understatement. It infuriated me. The fact that at the start of this year in February Master J had so many hopes and aspirations of getting his VCE, with an ATAR score, but by the end of four months, so poorly had the school let him down, that he was a broken young man who completely believed he was a “dropout” and a “loser”.
And so I wrote a letter of complaint to the school.
I wrote how when in year 9 he was so depressed and suicidal he confided in a friend his feelings of suicide, and she, worried as hell, confided in her parents, who for some unknown reason complained to the school, who, without consulting me or offering Master J counselling, suspended him for three days for upsetting his friend. I wrote how when they reprimanded him for confiding in a friend about his suicidal thoughts, without representation knowing he had a disability, they were being negligent to my son, completely disregarding his mental wellbeing.
I wrote how a wonderful teacher that had left the school confided in me that she felt bullied by “management”, and could take it no longer and so she left. I did not tell them that she told me that they actively worked to thwart her efforts to do all she could for her students with Special Needs, because that is hearsay and I have no proof.
I did write how when, desperate, we asked for Master J to do an unscored VCE he left that room, not feeling supported, but victimised by the Head because they don’t believe in a system that closes “many many doors”. I wrote how Master J told me he was a failure for even considering a perfectly legitimate alternative that would reduce his anxiety. I wrote about how Master J was so desperate to complete his VCE, how he hung on trying to make it work, whilst they actively worked against him.
I wrote how he started missing school slipping further and further down the depression ladder and how the school never once enquired about his mental wellbeing but insisted that we supply doctors certificates to prove he was “ill”. I wrote about how systematically every single one of his supports had been removed from him in this, his final year, which had resulted in an anxiety so acute that daily functioning had become almost impossible.
I wrote how Master J could take it no longer and how we felt we had no option than to withdraw him with only a term to go.
It took me a day to write that letter, because I have to be honest I wanted to say so much, but knew I had to be considered, and only state the facts. Because when you are angry, you lose ground by being insulting. It’s true. And so I wrote a letter that only stated the facts of how the school had failed my son in the last six years.
And the school replied.
They threatened us with legal action for daring to complain.
No request to come in to discuss our complaint. No enquiry as to how Master J was feeling. Nothing.
And because I am tired, because I am exhausted from fighting a system that is set up to completely crush children with some kind of difference, I cried.
I cried at all the money we spent on private education truly believing the lies that they told us when they said they were a small school that had an Individual Needs department and a resident psychologist. I believed them when they said every child counts and that they believed every child should be educated in a nurturing environment. I cried at the fool I had been.
I cried because they didn’t even offer my son counselling when he was suicidal, instead they “felt it best” he attend a residential intensive for autistic children away from the school. I cried because Master J could not bare the thought of another change and begged us not to complain, begged us to let him return to his mainstream school and I cried as I recalled every single day of the last two years, watching him fight his anxiety to gain that treasured VCE.
I cried at how much emphasis we place on that qualification, and how much we judge children who don’t get it, and parents who don’t “force” their children to stay in school, even when that 60 year old outdated and outmoded model of education doesn’t work for them.
I cried for how much of a poor society we have become that Heads are more concerned with the Business of education, rather than the wellbeing of our children. I cried as my son grappled with his choice, powerless to do anything else. I cried that a school that had failed him, miserably, tried to bully us into submission, showing my son once again that the world is not ready for him, or anyone else that is different.
I cried as I realised we have become a world churning out automatons, forcing children to fit some cookie cutter system whose sole aim is to feed a system that no longer works for humanity as a whole, where we judge, malign and oppress. I cried for all the years I had fought, and for what?
And then I looked at Master J. And I realised I had fought for him. Every step of the way I had fought for him. And he saw me fight for him. He saw how I went into bat, and how his father did too, and he knew that we loved him, and that he was valued.
And then I noticed something. I noticed how not being at school, knowing he was never going to ever have to be at school again, changed him. Miraculously, it changed him. I noticed how within days, he was lighter, laughing, engaged. I noticed how 13 years of oppression and misunderstanding had not broken him. I noticed how he started to talk of the future, and his place in it. I noticed he was….happy.
And I knew we had made the right decision. Even though I know there will be some tough times ahead, because that is the nature of autism – and life – we had so made the right decision.
And we are considering our options, considering if taking Master J through the process of taking the school to task is worth it – for him. As much as I want to make them accountable, are we truly able to fight the dinosaur? Do we want to? Do we want to put Master J through that? Truthfully, probably not.
And so there was that.
Then, on Tuesday we were meant to know who made it into government, but it’s Friday and we still don’t know. I have to ask, how long does it actually take to count the votes? Aren’t we meant to know the following day? And who is actually running the country whilst they count those votes? And is anyone like me wondering whether or not if the reason they are taking so long to count the votes is because there is some dodgy shit going on?
Mr C continues to look for work. It has been a roller coaster, and every time we dare to hope, we tell ourselves not to because it’s been 10 months and hope seems indulgent and as if we are lying to ourselves. And that totally sucks. Because despite my propensity to depression, I have always been a little hopeful of life.
And today, being Friday the 8th July, is the day that my mom passed away 6 years ago, after lung cancer had ravaged her body. And so I am sad.
And I ponder that. I ponder the circle of life. I ponder how Master J has somehow found himself despite not getting that coveted piece of paper, and how I’m still finding myself, still trying to make sense of a world without my mom in it six years later. And I ponder how random life is.
It is all so random. At times it makes no sense.
But tomorrow will be another day, and somehow we have to hang on until then. Because you have to believe that at some point the sun will shine. And this week, in all the darkness, the sun did shine. It shined on my son. And that makes it all worth it.
Until next time,
0 thoughts on “The yin and yang of the week that was”
I am so glad that he was offered a place, so glad that the load of that oppression has been lifted from his shoulders. My mouth dropped open again at how shocking were the actions and behaviour of that school. If I were you, and only if you thought it was what you still wanted to do, on balance, I would be writing letters about them to others and not talking to the school anymore. I would just send a copy of your letter and the schools response to the education department (I don’t know if they have a say with private schools? They should!) and have you heard of The Autistic Family Collective? THey might have some advice for you. Meanwhile, hold your head up, you have loved your boy and advocated for him and done the best for him at every step. Onwards and upwards xxx
Hey Dani. We are pursuing our options. It is likely a letter will find its way to the Department of Education and Independent Schools of Victoria. I alluded to this in my letter, which is why I think they threatened legal action. I have written to the Board of the school so we shall if that brings anything, though I doubt it will. I will definitely get in touch with the Autistic Family Collective, which I hadn’t heard before. As you say,onward and upward xx
Good for you for pulling him out. Don’t worry, once he starts pursuing his passions and doing what he excels at things will work out. We did similar for our youngest daughter. She was miserable and anxious at school in VCE. She didn’t want to be there and despite opposition from the establishment we pulled the plug. She spent the rest of the year doing short courses to dabble in things she was interested in – Auslan, Creative Writing etc – then she applied for Creative Arts course at Uni at the end of the year and got in, despite no VCE results. The pressure to do education in “this acceptable format” is ridiculous. I tell my kids all the time, “It’s NEVER too late!”
Things will work out. You’ll be ok.
Thanks Leisa. You are right, it is never too late, and in this day and age there are so many alternative ways to pursue things that have meaning to our children. The “establishment” is not the only way. xx
Hi Sarah, you know that schools are all geared to the needs of round pegs – so don’t you dare have a child who is a square peg! They will hammer away trying to bash them in to fit in their stupid round holes without EVER seeing that is abuse and a catastrophic failure on their part.
We go on and on about not discriminating on the basis of skin colour while totally neglecting the criminal discrimination that goes on in more abstract areas of life.
I could write absolute reams on the fights I had on behalf of children with ‘differences’, many of them autistic, inside the UK education system. That was in a college and then later in state schools for children between 7 and 13. I fought and fought with people such as those you describe – Head Teachers were the worst – and was eventually hounded out of a second career that I loved, was good at and still miss.
Your post makes me so sad because it is clearly STILL going on in ‘civilised’ countries all over the world.
I wish your son all the very best for a bright future and some peace for you very soon. x
Oh Gilly, this makes me so very sad to hear. How many good teachers are we losing due to a system that is an outdated old dinosaur. We NEED an educational overhaul and a revolution to bring it about. Here in Aus we have a massive homeschooling movement and I think it is increasing as schools are less and less flexible in how they educate.
Sarah, your post is a light of hope. I’m so sorry to hear what you and your son have had to go through-as I read, I was wondering ‘would this be a private school?’ and sadly, yes, it seems you have been very let down by a school promising something they did not deliver-care and education as per the needs of your child. It must have been horrifying to get a letter mentioning legal action!! Your mum would be proud of the fighter that you are. I’m so happy that your next post has some amazing good news! Enjoying reading your work, and it’s great to hear stories of children finding what they love and going for it! x
Thank you Anna. Sadly it is a private school. We chose it for its small size as opposed to any superior education that private schooling purports to offer (which we know is not the case – outcomes remain largely the same between state and private schools). Sadly, it turned out to be a poor choice, but the future thankfully does still remain positive for Master J. Thanks for reading and commenting. xx