A SCATHING rant against a Melbourne selective school by a student at its end-of-year assembly has provoked a maddened response published in the school’s newsletter.
At a gathering of students and teachers of Melbourne High School during the week, a student express why he “no longer believed” in the inner city selective school and that his fellow students had lost faith in the institution.
But the school’s principal has hit back, claiming the root of the boys’ revolt was the school’s decision to cancel events that promoted a “meat market mentality” and “misogynistic” behaviour, including a strip show.
At the assembly, Year 12 student leader Ben Qin said he had planned to use his time on the stage to reflect on the challenges he had faced at Melbourne High, but recent events had caused him to change his mind.
“I say what I am going to say because I want the school to understand how we’ve come here, how we’ve ended up here with this tension between the school and students,” he began.
Mr Qin acknowledged that his year was “perhaps a bit privileged and ungrateful”, but said they were pressured with unrealistic expectations.
“Yes we are academically gifted, but we are also teenagers, so we are disrespectful, we are petulant, we are volatile,” he said.
“Someone who once wholeheartedly believed in this school is telling you you don’t understand your students any more. You don’t know who and what we are.”
Mr Qin’s confident speech was received with raucous applause and a standing ovation. Fellow students praised the student leader sharing the video on Facebook.
But for those outside of the school, the context of complaints remained a mystery.
Today the school has released its newsletter with principal Jeremy Ludowyke providing a comprehensive rebuttal, and explaining just what the student’s rant was about.
In his editorial, Mr Ludowyke claimed the school had decided to modify, cancel, or ban various senior student events that promoted a “meat market mentality” at odds with the school’s values.
To students’ disappointment, Mr Ludowyke wrote, the school had cancelled the senior social, around which social media posting “had increasingly descended into sexist and misogynistic puerility”.
A second activity known as the “House Captains’ Strip”, where student leaders would perform a strip show at the school’s year 12 formal, was also banned.
“The cultural tropes of a strip show easily tumble into the same locker room culture and this is borne out by the complaints the school has received from female staff members and guests who reported feeling very uncomfortable and offended by it,” Mr Ludowyke wrote.
The last of the cancelled or modified activities from which Mr Ludowyke claimed Mr Qin’s dissatisfaction stemmed was the annual tradition of the student “Milk Run”.
Mr Ludowyke explained the milk run involved “students drinking milk and lemon juice until they vomit”.
“In a manner which will be all too familiar to many parents, the participants then walk away without a second thought for who will clean up after them,” he said.
“For the past two years, the year 12 leaders have been charged with cleaning up afterwards and on every occasion it has been left to the staff to undertake the very unpleasant task of cleaning up a substantial amount of vomit.
“This year, a modified event which maintained the milk but not the lemon juice was suggested and organised by the students.”
Changes in these three events, and the approach to the way they were enforced, appear to be at the root of the student-teacher divide.
In his speech, Mr Qin conceded he had “encouraged a small degree of liberty and rebellion at the very end of school”.
“I stood by the culture of Melbourne High School and its most valuable resource, its students, and my words,” he said.
“This school, its history, and its future, are only ever as good as its students. This is a balancing act, and the school has lost its balance.”
But Mr Ludowyke rejected Mr Qin’s complaints.
“It was the contention of our passionate Year 12 speakers that the School has not given the Year 12s the necessary space just to be what they are; adolescent boys,” he wrote.
“I do not accept that this is true, but it ignores the fact that the School has a clear responsibility to inspire them to be boys of a certain kind.”
The speech and following newsletter post have reportedly prompted community outcry among current and former members of the Melbourne High community.