My kids had, respectively, 2 and 3 years of city education – in an excellent private school that came close to beggaring me – before we moved permanently to the country. Here, two massive changes took place: my children, then aged 9 and 8, were educated almost exclusively in Afrikaans; and they didn’t have to wear shoes to school in summer.
I’d had concerns about the language issue but the attitude of the headmaster put these to rest: although my children were to be the only English-speakers in their respective years, he was confident that they’d cope. ‘Kids at this age are sponges for new things, including language and culture,’ he said.
He was right. Within a year my daughter was speaking fluent Afrikaans, and while my son never took to the spoken word, when he matriculated last year he won not one but two prizes for ‘excellence in Afrikaans by an English-speaking learner’.
The no-shoes-in-summer factor echoed a wider ethos: much of the catchment area of the school was farm folk, people for whom the term ‘disposable income’ was meaningless because they never had much of it. So there was a merciful absence of the peer pressure that exists in city schools, for kids to have the latest in natty threads and trendy technology, and to keep up with the little Joneses. I can’t recall any of the learners, for instance, having a cellphone, a personal accessory that is, apparently, de rigueur for any city kid from age 6 upwards.
There were two other factors that made country schooling great: an absence of any drug culture (even though we were only an hour’s drive from the nearest big city, it seemed that this was far enough to keep that particular danger at bay); and an absence of shopping malls, which excluded the possibility that our tweens and teens might hang out with potentially unsuitable company in the afternoon. Instead, they rode their bikes, fished in the dam and climbed trees.
There were (and are), of course, downsides. Our village has no high school, so when my kids left the primary school, their daily stroll was replaced by a fairly long bus ride to the next biggish town. Also, in their early teens (about 12 to 15 or so), they were often frustrated by the feeling that they were ‘missing out’: their city friends were mall-ratting, going to movies and having parties, while they were stuck in a backwater where ‘nothing ever happens!’ (my daughter’s regular wail around that time).
And when my son’s bank account was cleaned out when he was on a visit to the city by scammers who pulled a card-swap on him while he was drawing money from an ATM, another downside became apparent: having passed their childhoods in a country town where ‘crime’ is limited to very occasional petty theft, my children lack the street-wisdom of their city peers.Is there a difference between country teens and city teens?