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My Old High School

Tags: school wesley
This post is going to get me a lot of ill feeling, but it is inevitable.

I attended a Methodist school when I was a kid; it had grades KG-12, and I was there for most of my grade-school experience.

The Methodists, as is well known, were always eager to establish schools wherever they went, and Wesley College was no exception.  But it was located in Colombo, Ceylon (later known as Sri Lanka), which was a British Colony at that time, in the early 19th century.  Half a century or so later, Ceylonese politicians awoke to the disturbing fact that almost 90% of the country did not participate in the political process.  There were several good reasons for this: Government was conducted almost exclusively in English (while the majority of Ceylonese spoke other languages exclusively), and the rural majority was not educated to, and wasn't encouraged to, participate in government.  (The rural population was more educated than in most countries; there was nearly 80% literacy, but their focus was on history, literature and religion.)

In the mid 50s, a small minority of members of Parliament put through a blitz of public education and meetings and rallies, to encourage rural voting, with a promise of making government services available to those who spoke only the indigenous languages.  (This will strike my readers in different ways, but it was an inevitable step in progress; there's no point in deploring the long-term liabilities of it.)

The citizens proposing these innovations formed a party that was swept into power in 1956, and soon afterward, there was a massive move to nationalize Christian schools.  Christian schools were given the following choice: be taken over by the Government, offer education for free, in which case the Government would assist these schools, while the schools had to submit to minimal supervision by the Education Department; or offer education entirely funded by tuition fees.

Many schools were taken by the Government, e.g. Richmond College, a sister Methodist school.  Wesley elected to remain private and free, funded mostly by the Methodist Church, and minimally by the Government.  Yet other schools, e.g. Trinity College, elected to become private.

Over the next half-century or so, Wesley found it almost impossible to overcome its financial problems. Meanwhile, an enormous proportion of Wesley alums happened to have been descendants of European settlers, called Burghers.  They were proud of their Wesley traditions, and took them with them when they emigrated to Australia, when the pro-native-languages policies made Sri Lankan society understandably less comfortable for them.  In Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, declining finances and declining Government spending on non-military items meant that Wesley's finances became desperate.  The Sri Lankan society was evolving frighteningly rapidly; and new, for-profit, Western-oriented (read: schools that prepared Sri Lankan students for foreign examinations) proliferated, and the Sri Lankan Methodist Church found its leadership being far more evangelical in nature, with a few parishes (called Societies) moving towards the media-oriented worship format of US Mega-Churches.  It is difficult to say, but the Methodist Church was in no position to send any finances in the way of its schools, Wesley College for boys, and Methodist College, for girls.

Meanwhile, the mission of schools such as Wesley caused conflict.  Were they intended to supply an education in the tradition of the 1950s, for affluent, fee-paying students, or were they intended to continue to provide a quality education for the disadvantaged minorities that lived in the vicinity of the school?  There was a long tradition of Buddhists, Hindus and Moslems from the area around Wesley College, which had generally been poverty-stricken, finding a quality education at Wesley, despite their inability to support the school financially.  Now, if the school were to continue to provide an educational home for disadvantaged youth, and if the Methodist Church's priorities were different, and focused on retaining its membership, which was increasingly interested in Fundamentalist theology, approaching that of the Charismatic denominations, Wesley would have to find its financial support from elsewhere.  One of the most recent heads of the school looked abroad, and found support among the alumni in Australia and the U.K.  They established a capital fund for the school, and succeeded in raising a significant endowment by Sri Lankan standards, but an extremely modest one measured against the endowments of schools in the US, for instance.

The Australians, having borne what appears to have been the brunt of the capital campaign, naturally expect to have some control of how the money is spent, and how a new Principal of the school will be appointed.  The Principalship of Wesley College is such a burdensome responsibility, that it is well-nigh impossible to get a capable person to take the reins;  and even if one did, he or she is sure to be vilified by any of the several different power-blocks that vie for a say in the future of the school.

Perhaps the answer is in compromise; maybe the school should re-invent itself as a private, fee-levying school on the lines of the lines of the for-profit (and some not-for-profit) new schools that prepare students for foreign exams, as the Australian Wesley Alums want.  Perhaps if at least half the students are fee-paying, it would be possible to extend scholarships to exceptional youth from the traditional neighborhoods whose sons attended Wesley.  After all, the Government has an obligation to educate all the youth, and cannot outsource an entire neighborhood to a Christian school, and continue to insist that fees not be levied.

So, we only have questions, and no answers.


This post first appeared on I Could Be TOTALLY Wrong, But ..., please read the originial post: here

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My Old High School


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