A taxi-driver friend of mine recently enrolled into a teaching degree. He says he wants to fight 'disadvantage' in schools where it begins. I do understand him. In the taxi business the only time you encounter 'disadvantage' is when a non-paying customer smashes a beer bottle on the back of your head. As a teacher you expect you encounters would be a little less traumatic. One would hope. The unfortunate thing is that even if my friend tries his best as a teacher, not a few of his pupils will probably graduate to smashing bottles over unfortunate taxi drivers' heads. The story of why that is has to do with 'disadvantage' - not what the word means but how it is used within the education system. What is 'disadvantage' anyway? If we are running a marathon and you start fifty meters behind the rest of the field, that's called a disadvantage. It's not you - it's your starting position. Now lets say you walk into a typical public school classroom somewhere in the Northern Suburbs of Melbourne. Down the back are a few kids whose dads are drunk by mid-afternoon. That's called alcoholism. In the corner is a boy who covered in bruises. That's called physical abuse. At the front are a couple of kids on Ritilin. That's called ADHD. And the rest of the room is peppered with the pupils whose dad went out one day and never came back. That's called broken families. Or you could lump all of those problems together and call it 'disadvantage', but that wouldn't tell you anything other then 'That class at the and of the corridor - stay away from it.'
The education sector is famous for eviscerating the meaning of words. Violence becomes 'impulsive behaviour' and bigotry is renamed 'cultural stereoptypes'. But this verbal deception is more then just misleading. The education system can not possibly correct unacceptable behaviour if it can not even call that behaviour by its' name.
A teacher-friend of mine once remarked that the education gurus once took exception to the words 'problem child'. That's labelling, and we can't have that, can we. Instead of 'problems' they started using the wold 'challenges'. Fast forward five years and 'challenges' wasn't good enough either, so the new buzz-word was 'opportunities'. In the staff room the teachers would joke with each other: "I had so many 'opportunities' today in my class. Look at all the bruises I got." "Oh, that's nothing. I had so many 'opportunities', I barely got out alive." Changing the words around doesn't make the problem go away. It just makes it that much more difficult to fix. Right now the school system is facing quite a few challenges of how to turn children into well adjusted and responsible adults. And no, I wouldn't be calling them 'opportunities'.