A friend once told me that he considered school to be a prison for children.

When I thought about it, it did seem like a good analogy.

Schools are a convenient way of incarcerating those pesky five to seventeen year olds during the waking hours of each weekday.

It is a reverse of those day release programmes they have in real prisons.

By the age of about five, children have stopped taking those refreshing naps (refreshing for the parents, that is) and they begin whining about being bored, start to raid the kitchen cupboards for junk food, and they find it entertaining to fight with siblings and pets.

These days the only way to get any kind of peace is to invest your hard earned money into expensive electrical items such as large screen TVs, DVD players, and home computers choking with game programmes.

Then there are the video game consoles and Ipods and any other “must-have” toy being flogged by cunning advertising agencies (a.k.a. devils in disguise).

And we all know just how much added expense this technology will mean when you have to feed it with the latest game programmes, DVDs, CDs, Internet downloads etc.

It is little wonder that, years ago, some grown-up invented compulsive schooling under the pretence that once little children reached five years of age they needed to learn important stuff.

And the clever part of this plan was that the children needed to leave the family home to learn this important stuff.

When I began school (just a few years after the Ice Age melted), it was compulsory to attend seven years at primary school and then three years at high school.

After that you either entered the workforce or continued on for another two years at high school to qualify for university or a technical college.

In more recent times, this ten year sentence has been increased to thirteen years as kiddies in Queensland are expected to continue to year twelve (or equivalent) with a recently added preparatory year before year one.

Yes, committing severe crimes in the adult world will result in lesser sentences in prison.

My dislike of school began at a very early age.

Apparently, during my first week of school, my teacher approached my mother to inform her that, although I was participating in and completing the required schoolwork, I was doing so whilst crying quietly.

Of course I would be crying! Any sensitive child would cry.

I had spent the first five and a bit years of my life playing unhindered and happily in the comfort of my own home with my mother preparing meals for me as needed.

My mother even went one step further in enriching my preschool years by kindly presenting me with a baby sister to entertain and to torment.

Then for no apparent reason, except as some inexplicable punishment for having too much fun, I was put in a prison uniform, handed a little school bag containing a plastic lunch box and dropped off at a large “educational” facility filled with strangers.

It must have been traumatic as I have vivid memories of that first school room. If I were to return to that Brisbane institution tomorrow, I would be able to walk directly to that room (a.k.a. prison cell) and point out the very position of my desk.

I don’t remember the tears but I suspect that they were an involuntary response to my trauma and they simply slipped out of my large blue-green eyes and rolled down my chubby cheeks and on to my wooden school desk.

I do remember the little wooden desk and the smell of the Clag glue as I pasted the various shapes of coloured paper onto a large sheet of paper.

Because my family shifted residences a few times, I had to change primary schools four times.

I can still recall that hollow feeling in my stomach as I would turn up to yet another institution filled with strangers and hope that I would eventually find a friend to play with during the morning tea and lunch breaks. It would happen but not for a week or so.

My favourite times at primary school were the art lessons, the swimming lessons and the Friday afternoon sport.

Other then art, swimming lessons and sport, my next favourite school activity was watching the hands on the school room clock turn oh so slowly about its face.

I am sure that those school room clocks took 120 minutes to reach an hour.

Fortunately I was good at sport which meant that I would be able to escape school lessons on Friday afternoons to play netball and softball against a team of kids from some neighbouring school.

More importantly, it meant that I was not locked up in that hot box of a school room with sweaty, smelly peers and those less than enthusiastic teachers.

Yes, we did it tough back then in the sweltering Queensland days of summer. Winter wasn’t much cooler either come to think of it.

We had bare wooden floors and a couple of windows pushed ajar in the hope of catching a passing breeze. No wonder concentration waned and teachers’ tempers rose.

I vividly recall one episode in Year 7. A disruptive boy (there is always a disruptive boy in any school room about this planet) was testing the patience of our normally placid male teacher. After a number of warnings, the boy was told by the teacher that if he was to disrupt the class once more, our very tall and muscular teacher would throw the boy out of our classroom window.

Well of course the boy disrupted the class once again. Our teacher, true to his word, marched down the school room, grabbed the boy by the pants and shirt and carried him towards one of the open windows. The class watched in astonishment. We were all aware that our classroom was on the second floor of the building and therefore we knew that our classmate was about to suffer some sort of injury once he hit the ground below.

As our teacher reached the open window he seemed to hesitate for a moment. Somewhere within him sanity must have kicked in and he swivelled on his rubber soled shoes and carted the boy towards the classroom door and dropped him outside the room onto the verandah.

I think I can speak for all of our Year 7 class when I report, decades later, that we were more than a little relieved.

Compared to my primary school experiences, my children were pampered beyond belief. They had air-conditioned class rooms, carpet on the floor, a refrigerator for their lunch boxes and it seemed like they were forever on some sort of interesting excursion away from the classroom.

And, what is more worrying for me as a parent, they seemed to be happy to leave home and go off to prison, I mean, school.



Clifton, Australia

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