Monday, February 02, 2009

Our local school is closed

My elder son is now 5 years old, so 1st grade is within seeing distance and I am already collecting information about schools. In Bulgaria, parents are allowed to choose which public school their child will attend (as long as there are vacant places in the chosen school).
My friends with schoolchildren enrolled them in schools with high requirements. However, their children were not only with above-average intelligence but also very disciplined. The situation with my son is different because of his hyperlexia. He was a late talker and still is more than a year behind his peers in speech. Worse, he rejects the very concept of discipline. As said his classmate, "he doesn't obey at all, never follows orders". So a school with high requirements would hardly be suitable for him. On the contrary, we need a tolerant school where difficult children are not regarded as things to get rid of.
I first thought of our local school, Primary School No. 110. Indeed, our district of Zaharna Fabrika (Sugar Factory) is mixed, so we could expect some Gypsy students. Most of my friends would never consider educating their children together with Gypsy ones, because this automatically lowers the quality of teaching (and if some opponent here objects and starts talking about racism, I would kindly ask him to bring his head out of the sand). However, I would not be bothered if my son has Gypsy classmates, as long as they don't bully him. This is not because I am less racist than my friends but because my son anyway learns what he is willing and ready to learn, rather than what he is taught, so the classroom environment isn't as important for him as it is for other children.
However, as soon as I found the school building (a rather nice one, with noble dark-red colour), I heard that it has been closed, most likely forever. My city of Sofia has so few schools that all of them work in two shifts, so the news of closing a school sounded insane. My mother in-law, who (unlike me) has lived for decades in Zaharna Fabrika and knows all local gossip, told me how it happened.
"The school was closed because it had too few students; as you know, schools with a number of students below the reglament are closed. When the downward trend first appeared, teachers and municipality officials tried to recruit additional students from the Gypsy ghetto. There were many school-age children there, but their parents didn't want to let them attend school. The officials offered the parents benefit money and they agreed. However, when those Gypsy children started going to the school, Bulgarian parents moved their children to other schools. Very soon there were fewer students than before enrolling the Gypsies, so the school had to be closed. I don't think it will ever be opened again. The building will most likely be sold and used for other purposes."
If you ask what happened to the Gypsy schoolchildren - I cannot be sure, but I guess they have returned to their so-called parents and now don't go to any school.
My husband, who had attended School No. 110, was saddened when he heard about its demise. His mother laughed and said that he may now pretend to be sad, but does he remember how after the big earthquake in 1977 he expressed hope that the school building has collapsed?
To end the post - I don't intend for the moment to discuss the big question of educating all children and inclusion vs. segregation. Let me just mention here that if regarding disadvantaged children as mere obstacles to other children's education is troubling, I find at least as troubling the attitude of regarding "privileged" children as little civil servants who are obliged to go to school in order to educate and integrate, rather than to learn. I'll be thankful to readers who share their own experience in these matters.

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