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Ali Clarke: Old and new clash in the Petri dish of the schoolyard


The falling status of the humble ham sandwich as an appropriate school lunch has Ali Clarke wondering about the conflict between nostalgia and the new realities of the classroom.

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Remember the days of the old schoolyard, we used to laugh a lot, oh don’t you?

Seventies fans will know immediately these are the eternal words sung by Steven Demetre Georgiou, back when he was Cat Stevens before changing faith and name to become Yusuf Islam.

The song goes on to reminisce about schoolyard love surrounded by imaginings, simplicity, all kinds of things and warm toast for tea.

Ah, dear Yusuf, as our kids return for another crack at school this week, I can’t help wondering what your hit song would sound like if written for today’s kids.

Remember the days of the old schoolyard

We used to text a lot, oh don’t you?

Remember the days of the old schoolyard?

When we had covid masks and we had

School based apps and we stressed

And needed SSOs, yes, I do

Oh and I remember fees.

Ok, so that shows why he’s the songwriter and I’m just a two-bit hack who sings them badly.

My point is, with so much in our world changing, I sometimes think we forget our schools are perfect little Petri dishes where everything new meets the memories of the old (ie: the reminiscing of us parents).

The days of fresh milk bottles, tuckshop jam donuts and white bread have been replaced with no nuts, lunch box monitoring and sushi sales.

Gone are the splintery see-saws, marbles and heavy-balled games of brandy, replaced by compulsory hats, no tackling and protective cushioning on goal posts.

Our kids will never know the joys of ink spills or chalk duster fights since it’s damn nigh impossible to throw around a smartboard. Gone are the canes and writing lines, replaced with repairing relationships, parent-teacher pow-wows and behaviour support plans.

This nostalgic conflict was summed up in one story this week, courtesy of a note sent home to parents suggesting the humble ham sandwich should be ditched in favour of healthier options, on the advice of the Cancer Council.

Predictably the idea got stomped on from the usual channels of shock jocks, politicians and TV hosts, with most commentary starting with, ‘Back in my day …’.

I’ll admit, as someone who ate a meat pie and lamington every Friday during primary school, I led with my gut which had me more focused on, well, my love of ham in my gut.

My initial reaction was, ‘Oh Come on’, but given my schooling days weren’t enough to turn me into a doctor, I thought I’d at least have a read rather than writing it off.

I genuinely can’t remember my mum and dad knowing anything I did at school until the report card came home.

So, I looked into the Cancer Council’s report, and found out that according to them (and the World Health Organisation) processed meats like ham and salami are classified as Group 1 carcinogens, and that isn’t great on the causing cancer scale.

Apparently, it’s all to do with a chemical that gets broken down when red and processed meat is digested, and that chemical can damage the lining of the bowel.

Will I stop sending my kids to school with the occasional ham sandwich?

Probably not.


Because they love it and even though I’ll keep an eye on how much of it they’re eating from now on, it didn’t hurt me when I was a kid (I think).

So there you have it.

In spite of all of the science, I’m still swayed by what I’ve known and what I’ve been taught all those years ago.

They truly were formative years.

Perhaps that’s why some of us find the ‘new’ way of teaching so confronting.

I might be incredibly old fashioned, but I miss when teachers were called Mr and Mrs and we had to stand when they entered a classroom.

Yes, some of them had an aura of fear about them, but I prefer to remember the respect.

When my children come home and talk about Rachel this, and Robert that, I don’t even know if they’re referring to an eight-year-old or their educator.

Does it really matter? Probably not, but when I hear more and more teachers are struggling with the behaviour of both children and parents, I wonder when it all started to change.

There’s no doubt I was one of the lucky ones. English was my first language, I was rooted in middle-class suburbia and I could handle the prescriptive style of learning schools favoured for so many years.

I could listen, collate and recall. I could do what they told me. I could sit and pass tests.

Of course, with the selfishness of youth, I had no idea that so many others struggled. I wonder at times how many fell by the wayside because there was nothing else on offer.

Now, school is a veritable smorgasbord of subjects, assessment methods and learning experiences.

My kids come home with their public school iPads and pull up the latest video they’ve created or pull out a 3D printed object.

Their every move is catalogued by various apps which, if I can ever work out how to log on to them, means I can check what work they need to do, what work they are doing and see their smiling faces holding up the finished product.

I genuinely can’t remember my mum and dad knowing anything I did at school until the report card came home.

Ultimately, I guess you can’t ask for much more than to know your child is safe, challenged and supported as they learn, and that school is a positive experience for them.

If that happens, then maybe one day they’ll write fondly about the days in the new schoolyard…  ham or no ham.

Ali Clarke presents the breakfast show on Mix 102.3. She is a regular columnist for InDaily.

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