School refusal won’t be fixed by blaming parents

Credit:Illustration: Matt Golding

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The tough love described by Victoria’s shadow education minister, Matthew Bach, sounds ideal but one size does not fit all (“School refusers need to receive tough love”, The Age, 31/1). School refusal is complex. We did everything in our power to get our child to school, but there are days – and sometimes weeks – when unless you tie the child down and cart them out in a straight jacket there is no way physically to get them to school. I’d like to see Matthew Bach try.

I found the situation distressing – not just because I felt so strongly that my child should go to school (and I am a teacher), but because I was blamed and the school offered little to no support. It was treated as “behavioural” and not a mental health issue.

The shadow minister should be asking why an increasing number of our children feel so anxious about going to school. Are schools failing these students? Stop focusing on the parent and the child as the problem – offer parents the help they need.
Linda Hibbs, Ringwood East

‘Magic’ will only get you so far
Matthew Bach’s tough-love solution is simplistic. Combining lockdowns during grades 6 and 7, ADHD and diagnosed anxiety disorder meant that our son hiding in fear under the Doona could not be persuaded with tough love to get back to school. I wish it had been that simple. What worked was amazing (and severely under-resourced) wellbeing educators, school co-ordinators, a stint in Virtual Schools Victoria, psychologist, paediatrician and OT. Luckily, we could afford all this. It will be harder now, though, as Medicare-subsidised psychology sessions have been halved. Don’t tell a parent that tough love fixes everything. Just like teachers, parents can work their magic as long as they have the appropriate resources.
Name withheld on request

Not trying to be best friends
Regular school is so threatening to my child’s nervous system that she is physically unable to get out of the car some days. Even when she desperately wants to. Her brain goes into fight/flight/freeze because of school. I’m not trying to be her friend; I’m trying to parent a beautiful autistic daughter who is trying her best to attend a school not made for her in a world run by people who don’t yet understand what true inclusion means. Please understand the heartbreak felt by me (and other parents) is not because we’re trying too hard to be our child’s best friend.
Cindy Van Dongen, Albany, WA

Teachers can make a difference
I once taught a student with severe depression. This student’s mother told me I was the reason their child got out of bed and came to school. Matthew Bach is right, most teachers do an amazing job caring for students. The system needs to reduce the workload for teachers to do more to support them and their parents in creating an environment the kids want to be in.
Frank Flynn, Cape Paterson

Schools don’t cater for variety
School refusal stems from much more than anxiety. It can have all sorts of origins, not least bullying, parents unable to provide school uniform and equipment, and undiagnosed medical conditions or learning disabilities. Then there’s the fact that schools are not structured to cater for the variety of humans we entrust to their care. With 40 years’ experience in both state and private schools, I could make a long list of what can cause students to be disinclined to attend on a regular basis and to be fairly miserable while there. Consider the physical classroom – usually too many kids crowded in, and prep students expected to sit still for most of the day, at an age when learning through play is the best way.
Fay Magee, Trentham

Commonsense approach
I taught Matthew Bach. He was a fine student and an intelligent and logical thinker. He is spot on about school refusal. It says a lot about a politician who swims against the tide and articulates a commonsense commentary without fear or favour.
Tim Habben, Hawthorn


Shame for our city
Our heartfelt sympathy and prayers to all the Nelson family on the tragic demise of Veronica (“Coroner in tears as he damns bail law failings”, 31/1). As a Melburnian I am shocked and dismayed that our current legal system has failed this young woman. Why was 37-year-old Veronica Nelson without legal representation when arrested and not given medical assistance. I cannot believe this has happened in supposedly the world’s most liveable city. I sincerely hope the coroner’s views are upheld and the recommendations of the review of the bail justice system are put into practice.
Geraldine Gonsalvez, Dandenong

Crying in the wilderness
I wish to congratulate The Age on outstanding coverage of the death in custody of Indigenous woman Veronica Nelson. Your editorial highlighted the many failures of all the departments who had let her down so badly, and which culminated in her death.

Many organisations and good people have been trying to reform bail laws for years but have felt as if they were “crying in the wilderness” as nothing was done. Now with the coroner’s damning report published on this inexcusable death, I hope action will be taken so that such terrible situations never arise again.
Glenise Michaelson, Montmorency

Lack of Voice apparent
I don’t know when I have felt more ashamed of Australia. The death of Veronica Nelson is so shocking that it brought the coroner to tears, a man whose job is continually confronting. It also brought me to tears. For anyone who has any doubt about the need for the Indigenous Voice to parliament to be enshrined in our Constitution, surely this event must dispel that doubt. Our First Nations people have been so displaced, so robbed of hope for themselves and for their children for so long by a system which, often with good intention but not always, has failed them.
Judy Kevill, Ringwood

The first questioner on Monday night’s Q&A on the ABC said “I know nothing about the Voice. So why should I vote for it?” I turned off. I hope someone told him to just Google it. What did he expect? A team of experts to knock on his door and say “Excuse me sir, we are here to help you with a personally tailored program containing everything you need to know to be an ordinary Australian citizen.” I’m sick of people who can’t be bothered paying attention and using that as an excuse for opting out.

And it needs to be pointed out that ignorance of the Voice is not a rational justification for voting No, it’s only a rational justification for not voting at all.
Ian Robinson, Cowes

The first Noel returns
Last week those on the progressive left were nodding their heads in response to Noel Pearson’s comments supporting the Voice. But this week, conservative Pearson has returned. As well as education, he lists health, welfare reform, criminal justice and economic development as areas in which left-wing policy approaches have not worked very well (“Progressive policy partly to blame in the Alice: Pearson”, 31/1).

If Pearson applied his rule of thumb that we should “do approximately the opposite to what progressive thinking says we should do”, he would oppose the Voice because most progressive thinkers seem to support it. But that would be too consistent and predictable for Pearson.
Rod Wise, Surrey Hills

Argument for a Voice
I hope Noel Pearson focuses on an Indigenous Voice to parliament without getting side-tracked blaming “left-wing policies” in education and health for the problems in Alice Springs. As an early literacy teacher I’m dismayed and conflicted when I read reports of Pearson promoting Catalyst, yet another “Science of Reading” instructional program for kids despite his experience with similar failed programs. But it is an argument for a local Indigenous Voice to be heard about what’s best for Alice Springs.
Susan Mahar, Fitzroy North

Inconvenient truths
Jenny Sinclair is certainly not impressed with electric vehicles (“Why I won’t go that extra mile and buy an EV”, 31/1). Perhaps she doesn’t realise you can buy a spare tyre at the time of purchase. It has to be carried in the boot. A little inconvenient. EVs run OK in the snow country, the completed charge range may be a little less.

With today’s EVs the range is commonly between 450 and 500 kilometres. This range will increase with the coming models. The charging network is expanding all the time. Newcomers Ampol and BP have commenced rolling out charging stations with 120 and 600 respectively planned.
Buying an EV is a big decision, and it will probably be a little inconvenient for a while compared to an internal combustion vehicle. The reward is you are helping to change the mindset where people think they have the right to pollute. EVs will be increasingly charged from clean electricity as the renewables roll-out continues. Considering her other green efforts, it’s a shame Jenny Sinclair is not prepared to go the extra mile.
Dennis O’Hara, Wanniassa, ACT

Their time is coming
Jenny Sinclair encapsulates the anxiety felt by many people when considering purchasing an EV. Apart from the exorbitant cost, many Australians have aspirations of buying a caravan and doing the lap of Australia. At this stage EVs just won’t do the job.

Nor were people convinced when the first horseless carriages roared into town early in the 20th century. It took 20 to 30 years before the car became a reliable and trusted form of transport. EVs are in their infancy and the technology is improving daily.
Graeme Lechte, Brunswick West

Show some restraint
The RBA is doing the heavy lifting to subdue inflation and it is getting no thanks for doing so (“Bank tips cash rate will hit 4.1% this year”, 31/1). In the meantime, most states and the federal government are making no effort to contain inflation. They are too busy spending lavishly to maintain their popularity.

If monetary policy is the only tool we use to subdue inflation, interest rates will reach a painfully high level. Governments have to come to the party by restraining their expenditure and using fiscal policy to help the Australian economy return to a much healthier 2 per cent rate of inflation.
Now that wage inflation is on the horizon, there is an even more urgent need for fiscal restraint.
James Hearne, Kew

Strips bare
Melbourne’s strip shopping centres need an urgent makeover. Hundreds of drab deserted shops screaming out for occupancy. Are councils sitting on their hands? Penalise the owners for not lowering rentals of shops. Even better still, change regulations to encourage immediate access for the homeless.
Vic Langsam, Abbotsford

Support goes both ways
The two contrasting headlines in the property section of The Age sums up our society. One is about a Toorak mansion with all the bells and whistles that can be yours for a mere $37 million. The other is about the plight of young people couch surfing, missing meals etc just to survive (“Tanay slept on a couch for months. Some of his peers faced even worse”). These international students presumably are injecting significant sums of monies into our universities and the local economy, not to mention doing those jobs that Australians can’t or won’t do. Surely the universities and society in general who are and will be the beneficiaries of their education should be doing more in catering for their needs?
Peter Roche, Carlton

No comparison
Your correspondent asks what the difference is between Russia and Israel (Letters, 31/1). Israel conducts raids to prevent terrorists attacking its civilians, and attacks terrorist infrastructure. It has on many occasions attempted to negotiate a peaceful two-state outcome, including generous offers of a state, but the Palestinian leaders have always refused. Russia launched an unjustified and unprovoked invasion of a neighbouring country and relentlessly attacks its civilian infrastructure.
Danny Samuels, Malvern

Beacon of democracy
Israel is a pluralistic society and a champion of women’s and gay rights. It continues to be a beacon of democracy in a region dominated by autocratic and murderous regimes. Russia is a kleptocracy under authoritarian rule, where political dissidents are routinely murdered. Russia is also waging an unlawful war in Ukraine. Let’s not confuse the two.
Joel Feren, Caulfield

Destined for more
On Q&A, Craig Foster said he’s comfortable with his role as chair of the Australian Republic Movement. An articulate, humble and reasoned man, he is sorely needed in the mainstream body politic.
Dennis Richards, Cockatoo

Price, not value
Who cares if a valuer has declared the Blue poles painting is worth $500 million? It’s not like we’re ever going to sell it (The Age, 30/1). It’s still the same painting, providing just as much enjoyment. If anything, we’re just paying more to insure it now. It seems Australians’ woolly thinking about house prices has now crossed over to the arts. Will we instinctively apply negative gearing by borrowing against the equity to purchase a lesser painting?
Gregory Hill, Brunswick

Chance connections
As classmates in medical school, we were surprised to see our letters printed side by side in Tuesday’s Age, and even more surprised to find the subject of one letter (by a neurosurgeon) was on immunology while the other (by an immunologist) was about the artificial brain, ChatGPT.
James Goding, Princes Hill; Graeme Brazenor, Mount Eliza

And another thing

Credit:Illustration: Matt Golding

Artificial intelligence
I asked the AI computer program ChatGPT: “Don’t you know who I am?“
It didn’t. So far, so good.
Paul Custance, Highett

Artificial Intelligence? (“Time running out to subdue AI”, 31/1) Probably better than nothing – there’s very little of the real thing!
Margaret Skeen, Pt Lonsdale

Radioactive man
A female friend, always enamoured of her husband, said recently that he “blazes like a thousand suns”. Then again, he drives that WA stretch of road now known colloquially as radiation highway.
Moray Byrne, Edithvale

I hear that the radioactive capsule that “fell off the back of a lorry” is on sale to the highest bidder on the black market.
Myra Fisher, Brighton East

Australian Open
Is the attendance at the Australian Open (“Open smashes records as grandest of slams”, 31/1) counted using the same method as the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park?
Phillip Ross, Somerville

I was almost convinced by Novak Djokovic’s newfound humility, till he came out in the prepared glitzy “22” jacket.
Ron Slamowicz, Caulfield North

Does Noel Pearson really believe that the opposite of progressive thinking on criminal justice is what’s needed? Does he want to see more Indigenous kids and adults imprisoned?
Denny Meadows, Hawthorn

Why is it that we expect First Nations people to unanimously agree on the Voice when we, ourselves, split about 50/50 on most issues.
Bernd Rieve, Brighton

Benjamin Netanyahu wants more Israelis to carry weapons. I’m sure he would also like to see Palestinians doing this in keeping with the two-state policy.
John Cain, McCrae

Blue poles: Gough Whitlam’s gift to the nation that keeps on giving.
Tony Delaney, Warrnambool

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