IN 1991, I did something that once would have been beyond imagination. I enrolled my eldest child in an elite private school. Financially, the six years were to be a terrible burden. Emotionally, it was not easy. I was acting against my background and my culturally formed inclinations. However, there was no choice. The local state primary school failed my daughter so badly that she needed both a clean start and careful nurturing. At the start of sixth grade she was functionally illiterate and could write little more than her name.
When Lucy was in first grade and I realised she was not beginning to read, her teachers told me I had unrealistic expectations. In later years, I was told a story about “Lenny the late developer” and assured she would catch up in her own time. By fourth grade she was teased by other children because she could not connect letters to sounds. I was told she had “to learn to roll with the punches”; then she was “becoming a behaviour problem”. When she was in fifth grade I had a full-time job and could afford to have her privately assessed. This was how I discovered the precise nature of her dyslexia (auditory conceptual dysfunction). The school principal told me that she was not the kind of student who would be helped by the excellent Macquarie reading program. I persisted, and she was allowed to begin to learn. Private education removed my daughter from the children who had bullied her throughout primary school and the system that had failed her. The school gave her one-on-one tuition at no extra charge throughout Year 7 English, and taught her the rudiments of mathematics, which she had not learnt at her state school. Rowing and other school activities boosted her self-esteem. She later graduated from university.
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