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Friday, 25 July  2008  Perfect School

John Marsden is a popular Australian children's author who's also spent a lot of time working with and teaching young people. And now he want to open his own, perfect school.

JOHN MARSDEN, AUTHOR: Schools are very good at appearances, they're very good at putting up a nice image, but to find out what's really going on in a school, you need to look a little deeper.

And one way to do that is look at the incidentals, check out what's happening at recess and lunchtime, the way teachers interact with students as they move around the campus.

Do they make eye contact, for example, do they smile and call people by their name?

GEOFF HUTCHISON: It's Wednesday morning and John Marsden is at the Glen Waverley Secondary College doing what he does best - filling kids' heads with ideas.

JOHN MARSDEN: They haven't got time for full stops or commas, so when you write that, you might have them saying, "Oh my God where can I go I'll turn left a big mistake it's a blind alley a dead end alley what can I do I can't get over the fence I'll get in the dump master no too late he's seen me". You might have no punctuation for a page and a half because you want to convey a sense of breathlessness and excitement and panic. That's fine. There are no rules, just conventions.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: He's softly spoken and ever smiling and comes across a touch whimsical, but that would sell him very short. John Marsden, teacher and author, has sold more than 3 million books, not because he writes cute fiction for kids, but because he writes in their voice about the real issues of adolescence - fear, doubt, life and death.

JOHN MARSDEN: We all lose our voices. We all end up like that and the challenge to you as writers but more importantly as human beings is to get your voice back.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: For years, John Marsden has been arguing that Australia's schools, be they state or private, are full of rigid structures and overbearing rules, cumbersome frameworks which hinder learning.

JOHN MARSDEN: The idea of engaging with intellectual and challenging topics and ideas and questions is good. If we start from those principles, then it becomes much easier to get a sense of how a school should function. You start to realise that there shouldn't be a kind of enmity between adults and young people. It should be the opposite. There should be a wonderful alliance, where we're all moving creatively towards understanding things in as profound a way as possible.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: Should we be slightly sceptical of mission statements and glossy brochures and attractive reception areas?

JOHN MARSDEN: We should just tear them up, not even look at them. They're not worth anything.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: And now, having spent 25 years in the classroom, having visited literally thousands of Australian schools, as one of the country's most successful authors, John Marsden intends to realise a dream.

On this 485-hectare property, less than an hour from Melbourne, he's planning his perfect school. It's time, he says, to put his money where his mouth is.

JOHN MARSDEN: One of the first things a school should pay attention to is the physical environment, whether it's in the city or the country, that beauty is important and we should value it and we should surround young people around it so that they grow up in that atmosphere of beauty.

JOHN MARSDEN: What I want is a school full of surprises, a school that's innovative and flexible at the same time as we do maintain that academic standard. I want a school that's got a sense of humour. I want a school where we say "yes" to things instead of "no".

It seems like most schools have a banner fluttering from the flagpole with the word "no" written on it. In creating a school, I want the perfect school. I know I won't get it but I must always aspire to it.

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English Bites - Perfect School
story notes

The incidentals are the less important parts of something.

recess and lunchtime
Recess is the short morning break, before lunch. Itís usually only 5 or 10 minutes. Lunchtime is the longer break when the students eat lunch and play.

A campus is a school grounds.
Schools also have classrooms, where the lessons are, the school yard, where the children play and the staff room, where the teachers go.

make eye contact
To make eye contact means to look someone in the eye.

Notice that the possessive apostrophe is used after the 's' when referring to more than one.

Example: It's Wednesday morning and John Marsden is at the Glen Waverley Secondary College doing what he does best - filling kids' heads with ideas.
more information: possessive apostrophe

sell him very short
To sell someone short is to not describe all of the good things about them.

Example: Never sell yourself short in a job interview.
Click here for more idioms and common expressions.

Here sold is the past participle of the irregular verb sell.
more information: sell

This word is spelled differently when it refers to the head of a school. See today's spotlight for more.
more information: principal & principle

Here spent is the past participle of the irregular verb spend.
more information: spend


is going to

put his money where his mouth is
To put your money where your mouth is means to actually do something you've been talking about, or to give money, time or effort to a cause that you say is important.

Example: The government say they want to improve the roads, but they won't put their money where their mouth is.

full of surprises
not boring

innovative and flexible
Innovative means always trying new things, and flexible means able to bend or adapt.

a sense of humour
A school with a sense of humour is a place where you can have fun.


Is it a principle or a principal?

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