God knows what the proposed new centres for reluctant and difficult learners are going to be like. Images of watery soup and Ivan Denisovich spring unbidden to the mind. Because, of course, the new centres are nothing more nor less than gulags dedicated to re-education.

You can hardly blame the association of principals for wanting what we call “school refusers” to be dealt with off-campus. These kids are trouble and can monopolise a disproportionate amount of your time. The government, which is insistent that all students be “encouraged” to remain at school until early middle age (identify, please, the writer’s use of hyperbole), is providing neither resources nor understanding. But who in their right mind would want to teach at these places?

The suspicion is that the government means to push those spiffy young grads they have been touting in the media (and who are currently receiving a crash course in those skills, which the rest of us were made to acquire over the several years of a graduate degree) into the front line.

The prospect of danger money is hardly the incentive Big Sister believes it to be — particularly if it ends up getting spent on psychiatrists and drugs. Youthful altruism ain’t enough, as the spiffy grads will soon discover.

We have all seen the fourth season of The Wire and it is a caution. And what, pray, is going to be taught at the centres? Jane Austen and Hamlet? Broken English more like it.

Where presumably Borstal Boy becomes a set text or one of those discouraging Young Adult titles that appear to romanticise the very kind of behaviour that has landed people in the gulag in the first place. Should they survive to the Easter holidays, you can see the spiffy young grads emerging from the trenches like soldiers at furlough riddled with trench foot and lice, an aversion to sudden, loud noises and uncontrollable shaking. You so hope the government has learned the lesson of the Somme.

Otherwise it will be wave after wave of terrified young people going over the top at the blast of the whistle only to be cut down metres from the trench.

Should someone make it to the wire before being picked off, their ragged corpse turned scarecrow will serve as a warning to all those who imagine that square pegs may be rammed into round holes.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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