The institutions of my youth

02:10, Sep 14 2012

Before yesterday I'd never really considered what it might be like if the schools I went to no longer existed. It's just not something that has ever occurred to me. I mean, I don't in the course of a normal day spend much time reminiscing about my school days, unless I happen to be having one of my infrequent catch-ups with high school friends.

But I suppose that yesterday wasn't exactly a normal day.

When I saw the headline that said dozens of schools in Christchurch would be closing or merging, I did what any normal person does. I scanned the list for the names of the schools I went to. With some dismay I learned that I'd scored a full house. My primary school is to be merged. My intermediate is to close, and my high school is to be relocated.

I haven't been to any of these schools in years and yet I felt very sad. I hold great fondness for my primary school, I cringe at the thought of my intermediate and I belatedly have come to appreciate my high school. And despite having nothing to do with any of them for a long time, I still think of them as mine. Schools do that to you, I think. They put their mark on you. They are the places in which you find out who you are and what you can do.

For instance, it's not for no reason that I avoid the colour bottle-green at all costs. It comes from wearing the colour every weekday for five years, excepting holidays when strategically ripped jeans, fluoro T-shirts and kung fu shoes were the garments of choice. Actually, now that I think about it, maybe the bottle-green wasn't so bad?

School. It scars you for life (and teaches you to have better taste in casual wear).


Much is often made of the Christchurch propensity to inquire as to which school you might have been to and it's often given as evidence of a certain kind of snobbery.

I'm sure that's probably true of some people. There is an old boys' network that presumably needs some mechanism to identify its members beyond the wearing of the school tie and a smug facial expression. But most Christchurch people aren't in the old boy's network. Take me, for instance. But then I went to Linwood High. We didn't have many people we could justifiably look down on so snobbery was never a motivating reason for asking what school people went to. Usually the answer to that question was followed by "oh, were you there at the same time as...?" There are only a couple of degrees of separation in Christchurch, after all.

I'm not going to claim to be nostalgic for my school days. I remember them as a time of unpredictable skin, awkwardness and insecurity. I wouldn't go back even if I had some magical ability to do so. Being a teenager sucks and serves as a "things could be worse" perspective keeper as we struggle with the stresses of adult life. The "at least you don't feel weird about your body/sexuality/place in the universe/missed opportunity at being Mrs Johnny Depp" mood enhancer, if you will.

But it's fair to say that a lot of the memories of your early life are made at school. A school is more than just jungle gym equipment and classrooms. It is greater than the sum of its parts.

And that's why people in Christchurch are feeling unhappy today. That's why they're angry and upset. I don't work at a school, or have kids who attend one and even I am surprised at how disappointed and aggrieved I am by this turn of events.

Part of this is down to the fact that we've lost so much already. But we'd mostly come to terms with that. All the buildings we'll never be in again - so many you could spend all day listing them - all the familiar things we miss, the people that we've lost. We've managed through that and it hasn't been fun but earthquakes can't be reasoned with. We were at the mercy of natural forces.

But how much more do we have to have taken away from us? Just how "resilient" can we be expected to be? I don't know a person who can stand to hear the word "resilient" any more, by the way. We felt like we'd got through the worst of it, we really did.  The earth has settled significantly. I actually can't remember the last time I felt an earthquake. That statement in itself feels miraculous. But now, for a lot of the city, the world has suddenly and unexpectedly turned topsy turvy all over again. And we're not resilient actually, we're bloody fed up.

We don't understand why this is happening the way that it's happening and I personally am not best pleased that the Minister of Education doesn't seem at all inclined to actually answer reasonable questions as they are put to her by journalists. It strikes me as a touch disrespectful, actually. In fact, it makes me furious.

So here's to Linwood Ave Primary, Linwood Intermediate and Linwood College (formerly high school). It seems that things are about to change for you, the institutions of my youth. We didn't always get along but I'll miss you when you go (if you go).

Christchurch question: Which school did you go to? Person question: How would you feel if it wasn't there any more?

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