Do you know who said this? ’When we believe schools will fix everything, parents abdicate their responsibilities and politicians handball their obligations…. And let’s not forget those government services and the support they are meant to provide. Families wait too long to access the support they need and services don’t co-ordinate with one another. So that’s another gap’. Was this the Shadow Education Minister, Head of the Teachers Union, or an investigative journalist?
Who Said This?
It is none of these. These are lines spoken by Nova, a fictitious character in Gabbie Stroud’s novel ‘The Things that Matter Most’. The story is set in Boltford, an Australian country town hundreds of kilometers from Sydney in central NSW where ‘The lazy Bolty River literally drew a line in the sand and the imposing Boltford Bridge acted as the portal from ‘this side to the other’.
Nova, principal of a small Catholic Parish school, her teachers, students, and parents are a microcosm of Boltford, some living this side and some close to the factory on ‘the other’. This shapes each person’s private story. It is a particularly challenging start to the school year with the temperature in the 40s a routine accreditation pending, a disaffected family suing the school for failing to meet their child’s needs and a parent journalist eager to expose the shortcomings of the school and staff. The narrative unfolds through the personal stories of each key character whose lives have been shaped by the side of the gap on which they live and how they arrived there. Through it all weaves the story of one family struggling to survive. The characters are imperfect and the decisions they make range from unwise to unethical, but they are compassionate, committed and dedicated to their profession.
How is the Book Relevant?
While this is fiction it speaks to the challenges currently faced by many teachers and schools. Anxious to accommodate the requirements of parents and their children, Nova and her staff find themselves accepting responsibility to solve a situation that resides within the broader community which they cannot effectively change. When they fail, they and those in authority locate the blame inside the school causing enormous distress to each person.
Authority, Responsibility and Education
Where once the boundary between school, family and community was clear, social changes from the 1980’s and the introduction of Social Emotional Learning has made schools increasingly responsible for children’s well being and altered this boundary. Without the attendant authority to fulfill this responsibility it is inevitable that those who are most vulnerable will ‘fall through the gap’.
This novel directly addresses this dilemma, highlighting the human cost for teachers, parents and children and the risk that dedicated and compassionate teachers will find the price too high and leave the profession. It also reflects how those who are most vulnerable, the children, may pay the highest price.
Stroud, Gabbie The Things that Matter Most Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest NSW 2023