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They came for him last summer on the first day back at school. He'd barely taken his seat when they hauled the rebellious punk out of the classroom and frogmarched him to the principal's office.
By God they were going to make an example of him. Did he think he could flout the rules so brazenly? Punishment - strict, merciless - had to be exacted. How on earth could society avoid sliding into anarchy unless everyone obeyed rules?
And so our 15-year-old godson was banished from school. His crime? An offending centimetre of hair dangling over his collar. Nothing more. He was back in class the next day after a hasty trip to the local barber. His parents shrugged. They'd known the rules, they said, when they sent him to a private Catholic boys school.
So I cursed and raged on their behalf, and not just because of the humiliation meted out to a smart, decent kid who never causes trouble.
This, I shouted, was another example of the stultifying pedantry practised by same-sex schools.
When, I cried, are governments going to stop using taxpayer money to fund this anachronistic nonsense? Look at the research. Same-sex schools promote inequity. They blatantly favour the well-off. And there's little science proving single-gender schools offer an overwhelmingly better education.
Besides, I howled, surely a principal has better things to do than robbing a young man of a day's education simply because school rules equate hair length with deviant behaviour.
But my disbelief then was nothing compared to this week after scrolling through an online petition organised by an "Old Boy" of Sydney's exclusive boys school, Newington College.
Newington has incurred the wrath of parents and its well-heeled alumni by announcing it will go co-ed, with the first girls to join its senior campus in 2028. It promises to be a bitter fight. More than 1700 angry Newingtonians have signed the petition calling for the decision to be reversed and the principal to be sacked.
If the many spelling and grammatical errors littering the petition are reflective of past teaching standards at Newington, be grateful you never sent your kids there.
Still, it's worth wading through these linguistic thickets because once you realise this is not satire, that these people genuinely believe in the superiority of elite same-sex education, you might agree why schools like Newington do not deserve a cent of taxpayer money.
These are not traditionalists bravely trying to protect a valued heritage. They're self-entitled elitists frightened by the encroachment of the real world.
"Pandering to the woke madness of the 2020s is a terrible look for this venerable school," sniffs one irate parent. "There are innumerable benefits for boys to learn and grow without the distraction of girls during adolescence."
Aah, yes. Those distractions. Poor little Jenkins, his adolescent frame already having to shoulder all those heavy textbooks and shining laptops every day. How will he cope having to hide all those unwanted erections as gale-force winds of female pheromones howl down every corridor?
Honestly, you can't make this stuff up. "Boys were crying uncontrollably and became very sad when they were told," declares another parent. Really? Girl germs are still a thing?
"What will become of the Old Boys Lecture theatre and the Old Boys ovals?" wails one petitioner getting directly to the heart of the matter. "Are they set to be renamed to Old Peoples Oval?"
Tut-tuts another: "The enormous cost of changing to co-ed would be better spent elsewhere."
Fear not, my frightened friends. The expense of changing those signs and the construction of female toilet blocks will undoubtedly be subsidised by the rest of us.
Real government funding for private education has increased at almost twice the rate over the past decade as that given to public schools. And Australia is the only country among OECD nations giving money to private schools and allowing them to charge extra fees.
Other countries insist on setting fee limits while stipulating that those schools also enrol students from poorer backgrounds. Australia doesn't because the old boys network and the private education lobby prevents any push for an equitable playing field.
In fact, our unquestioning fetish for private schools is so great that two years ago we gave them $14 billion more than we handed to universities.
"What are they trying to do?" wails another signee to Newington's petition. "Make Newington like a co-ed state high school?"
Finally, a constructive idea! Public schools may have their problems. But coping with entitled snobs is not one of them.
HAVE YOUR SAY: Did you or your children attend a same-sex school? Do you believe boys and girls-only schools provide a better education? Is it time the government overhauled funding for the private education sector? Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
- The proportion of households behind on their energy bills has reached a five-year high, adding to signs that the financial pressure on families from high living costs and interest rates is increasing. The Australian Energy Regulator has reported that almost 3 per cent of residential electricity customers are more than 90 days in arrears on their power bill while those claiming hardship has jumped to 1.4 per cent - both readings at their highest point in five years.
- In a year of grim news, the newly-crowned Political Cartoonist of the Year, Fiona Katauskas, wanted to bring a lightness of touch to her work - with still a sting in its tale. Sydney-based Ms Katauskas, whose work had appeared in The Echidna, was bestowed the honour by former journalist and Old Parliament House chair Barrie Cassidy on Wednesday, ahead of the opening on Thursday of the 2023 Behind the Lines exhibition, showcasing the best of political cartoons this year.
- Hopes that the federal government will provide more cost-of-living relief before Christmas have been delivered a blow after Treasurer Jim Chalmers warned the mid-year budget update will not include "heaps of new initiatives".
THEY SAID IT: "An all-girls school may not be for every woman. Just those who one day want to rule our city, state and world." - Tom Hanks
YOU SAID IT: Anthony Albanese has urgent work to do if he's going to repair his relationship with an increasingly cranky electorate.
Julie writes: "I am profoundly disappointed with the Labor government, in particular for adopting AUKUS and continuing to approve coal and gas projects. It is hard to differentiate between Labor and the Coalition these days in terms of policy. Both parties have far too many career politicians which means they are only interested in their career progression and find no time to serve the people. Labor has lost the plot in terms of social responsibility and I sincerely hope that both parties lose to independents in future elections. I do prefer Albo to the abominable Dutton though."
"I sympathise with your unease, John," writes David. "There are more than a few things about which both the sensible-centre and left-of-centre are miffed. Progressives kind of expected something a little more serious on the winding back of fossil fuel extraction, hoped for something a little more serious on the fairness of the stage three tax-cuts, whistleblower protection and truth vs propaganda. We are concerned about AUKUS and our too close an association with an increasingly deranged and unpredictable Uncle Sam. And there is the sad spectacle of Albo (and the crew) trying to out-Dutton Dutton on border protection. Not being Scott Morrison, fine, but attempting to be an ersatz Dutton just ain't. The good ship 'Honeymoon' has foundered and I don't see a lot of life-boats."
Rob writes: "The collective fickleness of the Australian electorate is manifest in the recent analysis of how they were manipulated by fear and ignorance to vote down the Voice referendum, while still agreeing to the principle by something like a 3/4 majority. The opposition is so bereft of policy, talent and principle my hope is that some may drift to independents rather than vote out an entirely competent government, which has stumbled a couple of times recently. Surely the disastrous Abbott era is still fresh enough in people's minds to sway them away from the politics of 'No'."
"Dutton naturally displays the passionate commitment of a leader devoid of intent to implement," writes Gary. 'Unfortunately for Labor, he's articulate and convincing! In response, Labor and Albo appear tentative and fragile; failing to shirt-front the Opposition's outrageous tactics. Get back in the game, Labor, and stop gifting freebies to Pete and the Potato Patch."
Christine writes: "I have to agree that the Albanese government has been somewhat underwhelming on a number of fronts, especially climate change and the stage three tax cuts but I have to take issue with your accusations of excessive travel by Albanese. His travel has been on the same level as his predecessors and in his case has delivered benefits. Improvement in Australia's international relations and trade restrictions with China are examples. Enjoy your morning mail immensely."
"Totally agree with you that PM Albanese needs to follow through and with conviction," writes Cate. "Dump the LNP agenda-lite issues, toss them in the bin where they deserve to be and stand up with his and the ALP's own policies and do better. Drop AUKUS, drop stage three, etc. The ALP have done well and are so much better at governing than that other party booted out last election. Still the ALP need a reminder that it was not winning the last election that got them into government; it was the people saying they had had enough of the other rorting self-interested lot and wanted something different."
Thomas writes: "I have never considered that Albanese's leadership credentials were ever suited for the top job of PM, when he was elected by the party room as the preferred Labor leader. As a leader of an Australian government, the PM has to govern for both sides the political divide. To achieve change that's sustainable in our society, the PM has to be collaborative and inclusive, which he spruiked when talking about holding summits with business and union leaders. I understand that 'trustworthiness' is a key ingredient for Albanese's leadership and government. However in the eyes of the voting public, they are weighing up the balance between 'broken promises' and 'hip pocket' issues. Housing and cost of living is central to defining how the Albanese government survives its term of government. Therefore 'broken promises' can only be sustained to a degree if incentives are forthcoming to those in the community."
"It is not so much Labor's performance that has been the problem, although it could have been improved," writes Sue. "It has been the performance of the bod in charge, that one, you know, what'sisname? The one that is shown in photographs boarding a plane to go somewhere else, or at a meeting overseas. You know. That bland, forgettable person. Much as I don't like Dutton, he has a personality - well, perhaps not, but he has a presence - which Anthony lacks. I suspect that if Labor is to continue in government Jim or Clare are much better options as leaders and this early part of the electoral term has given them the opportunity to show their worth."
Michele writes: "I think you are being a bit harsh on our Prime Minister. We have had too many years with the Coalition who overspent during COVID, making the working people pay back overpayments and allowing the big companies to falsely claim that they were in trouble, then not putting in legislation that forced them to pay it back. This overspending led to inflation and you want the current government to 'look pretty' while they are being financially responsible. The corporations then continued to increase their prices, making the Reserve Bank keep interest rates higher than could have been the case. Unfortunately those who are not well educated believes all that garbage that Dutton and his ministers have been putting out, because he sells it so well. What do we really want from our government, honesty, integrity and financially responsible, or lies, deceitfulness and bullshit?"