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Middle School – A lesson in growing up together

by David Scott, Middle School Principal

I have a confession to make…I went to an all-boys independent boarding school. Go on, admit it. You just judged me a little bit, didn’t you? I can’t blame you. Looking back – and even at the time – the whole experience was a tad surreal.

At 12-years of age, I, along with 22 other fresh-faced boys, entered a world in which socks were to be worn knee-high, hair was to be kept above the collar, and shirts were to remain tucked in; a world in which the sole purpose of interval was to find the most inventive way to destroy each others’ uniforms (ripping off shirt pockets was de rigeur!); a world in which teachers’ names were contorted in the most pleasing of ways to resemble selective parts of the male and female anatomy. But, despite all of that – or, more likely, because of it – my second confession is this: I loved it!

Perhaps it was just that the all-boy environment was the right ‘fit’ for me. I loved playing sport, enjoyed the humour and hijinks, and thrived in the camaraderie of this atmosphere. But I’m keenly aware that not everyone had the same experience as me. And for these boys-now-men, my bet is that the all-boy environment was a chief source of their woes.

The ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, said that Co-education creates a feeling of comradeship. He advocated teaching of both the male and female sexes in the same institution without showing any discrimination in imparting education.

Plato may have got it right, yet co-educational schools like Kristin clearly face an additional set of challenges. Boys and girls living together have obvious differences in terms of their needs when compared to single sex schools and clear boundaries, values and codes of acceptability are much more pronounced in the co-educational environment. The physical layout of the Middle School and the management and staffing structures all help to ensure that positive interaction between boys and girls is appropriate. At the same time, all our students know the consequences should these values and codes be broken and understand what is expected of them.

At Kristin, it’s our experience that friendships develop in a very natural way. This happens because there are so many opportunities in which girls and boys can choose to take part in a pleasant, well-supervised environment. Friendships develop naturally and genuinely because the mixing is a by-product of the event. This friendly atmosphere continues into the classroom allowing young people to express their views openly and assertively. For both girls and boys, the co-educational experience provides a more realistic way of training our young people to take their places naturally in the wider community of men and women. It helps to break down the misconceptions of each gender about the other and provides an excellent foundation for the development of realistic, meaningful and lasting relationships in later life. Middle School students at Kristin leave with a high level of respect for others, but also an understanding of co-operation, self-discipline (not self-interest) and resilience.

This does not mean that we have a one-size fits all approach. The needs of individuals are recognised and met in lots of different ways that allow all students regardless of gender, race, creed or age and stage to find their pathways and passions and can flourish.

Plato was attributed with this quote back in 427 BC:

"The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise".

But I think I will finish with this, again from Plato:

"Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses them to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each".

This surely is the lesson we all learn in growing up together.