Peer pressure from Sydney’s posh school pimps

I left school when I was 15; but to be fair that was a pretty common choice in Scotland during the 1980’s — where studying on toward University was not such a common choice(less than 15% of 19 Year Olds were enrolled in a University degree in the UK in 1985). My wife, on the other hand grew up in suburban Sydney, where tertiary education is the norm (>50% of leavers in 2002)— she smashed through an ATAR of 99+ and went on to complete a double degree.

Now that the eldest of our children is in year 6, the time has come for us to decide which High School she should go to — a decision we are ten years behind on by all accounts — it’s fair to imagine a series of heated discussions were had before we landed on a choice we were comfortable with — but that’s not what happened — we agreed pretty much from day one.

Clearly we have a very large gap in our educational backgrounds, yet, our qualifications, or my lack of high school qualifications have had little impact on our respective careers. [Having four kids all but destroyed my brilliant Wife’s career, but that’s a completely different story]. Therefore on balance, we didn’t see a top-tier school having a significant impact on our kids’ prospects.

According to many of the folks I know, parents fall into one of two groups at this point, those who can afford to send their kids to Private school and those who cannot. Now those same folks I know will assert that those who can afford to send their kids to Private School will without doubt do so, and those who cannot afford the fees will find the money, whatever it takes, regardless of the effort required, and send their kids anyway.

But we fall into another camp.

A few years back I was at a Saturday Netball game, I was chatting with a Dad when the topic emerged (as it almost always does) — “where are you sending your kids” — that’s the opener and my heart always sinks. I said I wasn’t sure — his expression immediately switched to a WTF emoji, before he resumed his North Shore veneer. He too had four kids so I asked if he ever questioned the practicality of spending some $700,000 on his kids’ secondary education, in fact, I dug even deeper, what if your kids want to excel in alternative careers that don’t benefit from an expensive education? Will you think the money would have been better spent elsewhere? Clearly he wanted to call the police at this point, sure that I’d alerted him to a crime I intended to commit. He said it had never crossed his mind, he said it wasn’t even a choice. Then came the clanger. The bruising parting shot that’s with me still… With a hand, patronisingly, rather than reassuringly, tapping on my shoulder, he said, “maybe you just have to mortgage up?”.

Mortgage up? How had our lines become so crossed?

I spent a few minutes at the end of the game, hanging out in the carpark, draped over my expensive Italian sportscar chatting with my kids in a most unusual way in the hope that he’d spot me and realise that I wasn’t poor, maybe even give me some credit for being pragmatic. He didn’t. I felt a little ashamed.

Similarly, some years on, after another awkward High-school exchange at a kid’s party, North Shore mum offered sage advice… “Maybe you have to give in, and give your wife what she wants?” Now I’m poor, mean, a chauvinist and my wife has no say?

At least I’m not the only one who’s misunderstood.

To be clear, my Wife and I are in 100% agreement; our divergent educational journeys have taken us to the same point — our kids will be just fine at a good school that we can easily afford; a good school that has a decent level of socioeconomic diversity, reasonable academic results (top 100 in rankings), and what’s more it’s 10 minutes from home — I think we have the best shot at being really happy, with no financial pressure we can focus on being a good family, having great holidays and working on securing our financial future and that of our kids — something that’s increasingly attractive given the challenging times they most likely have ahead of them.

When I tell friends that we have decided to opt for the less expensive option I see a range of expressions including confusion, and pity, and sometimes something that resembles revulsion, but I know that our kids will be just fine, and we will be happy as a family without that overwhelming pressure to perform, which feels like the right place to help kids grow into awesome humans.