Experiment: Finding the message behind the words.
My PhD supervisor makes a very funny gesture when describing the word “discourse”. He sort of moves is fingers around like he is able to touch the individual molecules in the air. Discourse is not the same as truth, it is just the different messages around a topic that leads to the “well, everyone knows” kind of understanding.
Recently, a colleague sent me this article about a student railing on the wrongdoings of her school on Speech Day (I had to look it up, it is a private boarding school sort of farewell thing that parents are invited to). What the student said is not that shocking to me. The speech detailed the school’s unrealistic obsession with perfection in their students, that elite schools are obsessed with “money, image, and advertising”, and that the school is”run more like businesses, where everything becomes financially motivated” (Taylor, 2015). The student described the school as a place “where more value is placed on those [students] who provide good publicity or financial benefits. I’d love to see Ravo [the nickname for the school] work towards something better where each member of the school feels valued equally” (Beers & Crane, 2015). The study body rose in a standing ovation, so they must have agreed with what was said on some level. None of this is shocking to me, what is very interesting is the response. The response to these allegations had a certain tone, a “party-line” of sorts, and adds to the discourse around elite schools in avery interesting way.
First, I should point out that this was a female student and a “captain” and valedictorian meaning she must have been one of the top students graduating from the school and in a role of responsibility (perhaps similar to a “study body president” in the US). In response to the accusations from her, a former captain, Georgia Stewart, submitted a comment to the Sydney Morning Herald saying that “This particular account is inaccurate and defames the strong egalitarian education culture instilled by so many of the outstanding teachers and leaders at the school” (Stewart, 2015). The former captain continued that “the characterization of Ravenswood as a corporate institution with profit as its driving motive, above consideration of students, is both unfair and an insult to those who work tirelessly for those in their care” (Stewart, 2015). Another former captain, Sam Wright, wrote that the speech was “indulgent”, that “it is both naive and ignorant to blame the school for teenage girls’ insecurities” and that “[insecurities] are by no means exclusively felt by Ravenswood girls and certainly not brought on by the school’s management”(Beers & Crane, 2015). I find both of these reactions fascinating.
First, that Stewart defended the school so vigorously is not shocking. In fact, it adds to the discourse of elite schools. Of course, a former student must come to the defense of this school, because she views her own heritage at that school as an important factor in her own image and reputation. Only students from image-conscious schools care about the image of their school, that’s a major reason why they attended this particular school. Nowhere in this captain’s comments did she discuss her education, critical thinking, or personal connection with the community. She said it was fair and that she wanted to defend the reputation — maybe even a reputation as competitive.
Sam Wright’s comments add another dimension to the discourse on an emotional level. The statement about insecurities perpetuates the elitist image that these schools hope for. There is no loss to this school if a student complains that they never felt good enough, that just adds to their reputation as “elite”. The former captain individualized the problem, as if the insecurity of a single student must be that student’s personal failing and the school environment has no bearing on the situation.
In the responses I’ve read to the school, there is little or no denial of the cut-throat nature of the school or competition. The student was personally attacked for her individual failing and blamed for taking away from the celebratory occasion. Also, many responses seem to back up her claims.
The discourse surrounding this school is that it is elite, challenging and only for the best of the best. Although this speech “went viral” and many responses may seem negative toward the school, all of these elements add up to the kind of discourse the school wants. I guess it must be true; All publicity is good publicity.
Beers, L. M., & Crane, E. (2015). Former Ravenswood captains hit back at speech made by Sarah Haynes. Daily Mail Australia. Retrieved fromhttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3350414/Insulting-indulgent-former-Ravenswood-captains-hit-speech-Sarah-Haynes-said-elite-girls-school-financially-motivated.html
Stewart, G. (2015). Captain’s speech doesn’t represent the Ravenswood I know. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/comment/captains-speech-doesnt-represent-the-ravenswood-i-know-20151207-glhzhk.html
Taylor, D. (2015). Ravenswood captain accuses school of putting image ahead of welfare. ABC. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-12-07/ravenswood-captain-calls-out-schools-privilege/7006918doi:http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-12-07/ravenswood-captain-calls-out-schools-privilege/7006918