Clem Ford: ‘Isn’t it amazing what a $300K education can buy?’

Clementine Ford
·Contributor
·7-min read

OPINION

“Reflecting Shore’s Christian foundations, we focus on developing the whole person - intellectually, physically, socially, emotionally and spiritually. We place a strong emphasis on character formation, challenging our students to be responsible citizens of integrity who seek to serve the wider community.”

So begins the principal’s address on the webpage of Shore School, one of Sydney’s most expensive and ‘prestigious’ schools for boys.

But there was a distinct lack of integrity and responsible citizenry on display from Shore boys earlier this week, when a leaked document exposed a raft of suggested pranks for a muck-up day scavenger hunt.

Shore Schoo North Sydney
This week, a leaked document exposed a raft of suggested pranks for a muck-up day scavenger hunt at Shore School. Photo: Google Maps

The document references the “Triwizard Shornament” as first taking place in 2017, making this the fourth event in which these young ‘men of character’ have been challenged to take on such spiritually enriching activities as ‘shit on a train’, ‘fuck one of your team mates ex [sic] with them there’, ‘score a ‘Boar Hunter - sex with an 80kg woman’ and ‘spit on a homeless man’ (but only after also having a ‘spit roast’ - which, if you are unaware of the term, means to have two men penetrate a woman in her vagina and mouth at the same time - and before jumping off ‘spit bridge’.)

Isn’t it amazing what a $300,000 education can buy?

When Shore became aware of the planned “Shornament”, the administration contacted the police and school parents. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald later revealed that students had been warned participating in the event could cause them to lose their place at the school.

Could.

And so the process in which privileged young (mostly white) men being coddled and protected from real world consequences continues.

Shore School is one of the most expensive single sex private schools available in Sydney. I say ‘available’, but that’s not exactly true - an interview with the school’s former principal in the Sydney Morning Herald last year revealed that the school is now in such high demand that “parents wanting to send their sons there must either be old boys, or lodge their son’s waiting list application on the day of his birth.”

Such is the dynastic legacy of Shore that one family has sent its boys there since the school’s inception, back in the 1890s. That’s almost 150 years of codified privilege, with all the connections, access and inherited power that comes with that.

And as all people - and white boys in particular - who’ve been nurtured through privilege and those aforementioned ‘connections’ understand, power buys you an awful lot of get out of jail free cards.

In fact, one of the challenges laid out in the Shornament’s document was to be arrested and taken to the station in cuffs. For monied white boys who live in mansions on Sydney’s North Shore, a visit to the cop shop is an hilarious jape. They don’t fear being beaten to the point of unconsciousness, left ignored and neglected in cells in conditions that may lead to them dying in custody.

There is a repulsive synchronicity in the fact this document was circulating and the event being prepared for as family and community members of Aunty Sherry Tilbaroo were protesting her death in custody north of the NSW/QLD border, and mere weeks after the family of Aunty Tanya Day were told that charges would not be laid against the police officers responsible for her death in a Victorian watchhouse.

Twiwizard Shorenament
The challenge book was called the “Triwizard Shorenament”. Photo: Supplied

Monied white boys have the luxury of trying to go to jail in cuffs, where they will take photographs with smiling cops to get kudos among peers who are similarly inoculated against police brutality. These are the boys who grow up to be lawyers, judges and government ministers. They make the rules. Why would they ever be concerned about the consequences other people face for breaking them?

But revelations about the plans of these Shore boys to be criminally disruptive (not to mention sociopathic - one challenge not being reported at all is the one which calls for participants to catch a live pigeon and rip its head off) are just the tip of the iceberg for misogynistic, racist and violent practices overlooked in the private school system. And when the same children engaging in image based exploitation, sexual harassment, homophobic bullying and physical violence are also fiercely (and often legally) protected by parents who insist “boys will be boys”, the problem becomes as much structural as it is cultural.

Since writing about abuses in the entire private school system earlier this week, I have been inundated with stories from people who’ve experienced harm at every level. There have been reports of widespread sexual abuse, bullying, gaslighting and victim blaming, sometimes perpetrated by students against each other and sometimes from students to teachers or teachers to students. Students considered less valuable to a private school’s financial bottom line - ie whose parents aren’t regular donors - are often abandoned when reporting harm done to them by the children of the very wealthy. I’ve had numerous girls tell me their reports of sexual harassment and sometimes even assault were buried by the administration, and occasionally even ostracised to the point of leaving school.

These institutions are so deeply entrenched in Australia’s own system of class privilege and constructed ‘aristocracy’ that the prospect of dismantling them seems impossible. Schools like Shore receive millions of dollars in taxpayer funds ($5.5million last year alone) to build ‘state of the art’ facilities so parents can continue to purchase capital and reputation among their wealthy peers. Meanwhile, there are public schools all across the country being held together by sticky tape, whose own facilities don’t even include air conditioning.

The people who defend these institutions will often say they want their children to have the best of opportunities, but what they won’t say is that those ‘opportunities’ are fundamentally rooted not in what they’re learning but who they’re learning it with. Private schools are the junior development teams for the squads that field the upper echelons of power, and their homogeneous, inbred exclusivity is entirely the point.

All children deserve access to the same privileges of learning and education. It is fine for a wealthy person to want an exceptional education for their child; but it is obscene that so many believe their child deserves that education while the child of their cleaner does not.

It may be true that the young men intending to participate in the Shore scavenger hunt made up only a small minority of the school’s year 12 cohort (although I have no idea how many numbers were planning to be involved). But I would feel confident betting money - less than the $33,000 it costs for one year of schooling at Shore, obviously - on the fact that a good portion of those boys are among those privileged by extreme wealth, popularity and unwavering confidence in their own legal and social invincibility.

Of course, there will be no real consequences for this. The students involved will go on to university, where they’ll stay in expensive residential colleges “for the experience” and meet a wider circle of peers whose fathers and uncles and elder brothers and grandfathers will be pleased to meet more ‘good men of character’ to add to their law firms, financial advisors and political pre-selection lists.

And then we will enjoy the great privilege of having them talk to us about how destructive quotas are, because it should be about merit.

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