There is no point opening a new school if it merely replicates existing establishments. Most schools essentially use the same structure as each other: they have similar styles, espouse the same values and follow the same practices. The main point of difference between them is in the degree of their conservatism.
How then does Alice Miller differ? In other words, what is the rationale for starting a new school?
Some of the differences are tangible. For example:
1. Alice Miller operates from 10:00 AM to 4 PM, times designed to coincide more effectively with the sleep/work patterns of teenagers. However, the school and its facilities can be accessed by students from 9 AM each weekday. This will enable many students to practise music, work on art pieces, do homework, play chess, continue with projects or assignments. The school will run buses to and from Macedon (or a nearby) station, to meet trains on the Melbourne-Bendigo line that service the 10:00-4:00 timetable.
2. Space is a great luxury in many places. One of the greatest gifts we can offer young people is space to run, to explore, to be. Alice Miller is in an attractive setting, on an 80 acre bush campus, with a five-hole golf course. The property is shared with kangaroos, koalas, echidnas, wombats and platypus. The school is well resourced, with fifteen classrooms, dedicated science laboratories, a professional standard gymnasium, a 10 metre indoor heated pool, and tennis and basketball courts.
3. Students are encouraged to take VCE subjects early in their secondary school careers – from Year 8 where appropriate – to widen their knowledge, challenge them intellectually, help them acquire good study skills, and prepare them for Years 11, 12 and beyond.
4. The VCE is offered in Years 11 and 12. A familiar complaint about small senior secondary schools is the limited number of subjects made available. However we can provide a good range of choices. Students who wish to study subjects not available at the school will be encouraged to take them through the Victorian School of Distance Education, and will be supported and tutored by Alice Miller teachers.
5. Students clean the school at the end of each day. This is part of educating young people to accept responsibility for their own deeds (and misdeeds). The school does not believe that it is in the interests of students to pay adults to clean up messes the young people have left behind.
6. Food is provided at school, at no additional cost to parents. This not only eliminates the chore of making packed lunches each morning, but also, and more importantly, aids in the growth of collegiality, as students and staff eat morning tea and lunch together. Students will take turns in preparing and serving food, as well as clearing away afterwards, thereby learning valuable lessons that will stand them in good stead in their adult lives.
Further differences between Alice Miller and other schools are more abstract. For example:
1. As a small school, Alice Miller can offer a level of collegiality and pastoral care not easily available at larger schools.
2. As well as offering mainstream subjects, from Years 7 to 12, Alice Miller offers courses for young people wishing to specialise in Drama, Art, Writing, Music or Dance. Such specialisation is a rarity in Victoria. Entrance to these courses will be by audition or, in the case of Art and Writing, by presentation of a folio of work. The school may also apply other criteria in the selection of students for arts courses; for example, requiring references from previous teachers or instructors.
3. Alice Miller has a number of features in common with Candlebark, including:
(a) Staff selection: Teachers are appointed because they are pre-eminent in their fields, have a variety of life experiences, are intelligent, adventurous and creative, and are exceptional communicators in the classroom.
(b) An awareness of the difference between knowledge and wisdom and a commitment to helping young people advance in both. The western model of education, far from concerning itself with the acquisition of wisdom as well as knowledge, often fails to recognise, explicitly or implicitly, the difference between the two. An awareness of the difference would show in, for example, the treatment of a literary text as an opportunity to engage with issues such as social division, justice, morality, alienation, `othering’ and discrimination, and the core question of what it means to be human, as well as the more familiar studies of plot, characterisation, style and literary devices.
(c) An emphasis on first-hand experiences. One of the main reasons for the establishment of Candlebark was the belief that young people no longer have the opportunity for first-hand experiences, but instead gain `experiences’ by watching television, playing computer games, and, in the immediate future, using virtual reality devices. At Alice Miller, as at Candlebark, students go on hikes, bike camps, canoe trips and snow camps, as well as trips to galleries, museums and festivals. Both schools aim to encourage the growth of confidence, independence, community and trust.
(d) Many schools pay lip-service to the notion that education should not end at the school gates. Alice Miller — and Candlebark – commit to that notion actively and explicitly. Not only do we facilitate students’ engagement with the world by frequent trips `off-campus’ but we bring the world to our students by inviting everyone from artists to shoemakers, footballers to backpackers, authors to architects, educators to jockeys. People from all walks of life and a variety of backgrounds come and take workshops, give presentations, chat, work collaboratively, or just hang out.
(e) Fluidity of movement between year levels. Many classes at Alice Miller are available to students regardless of chronological age. Between Years 8 and 12 in particular, criteria, such as academic age and motivation are given as much or more weight as chronological age.
(f) Alice Miller has more of the flavour of a university than a typical Australian school. Guest tutors, lunchtime clubs and activities, coffee shop chats with staff and peers about matters philosophical, political and cultural – this is the style of the school.