February 14th 2004

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Australia-US free trade agreement: free trade or fair trade?

EDITORIAL: Bush and Iraq: the essential issues

ELECTION: How Labor outgunned the Coalition in Queensland

AGRICULTURE: Political will needed to solve dairy industry crisis

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Latham catches government on wrong foot

OPINION: Regionalism the solution to excessive centralism

STRAWS IN THE WIND : Deschooling or reschooling? / Oxbridge / Pluralism

Death ethics (letter)

Front and centre (letter)

CANADA: Exposing the myths behind 'free market' agriculture policy

ISLAM: Musharraf's ambitious quest to lead the Islamic world

Bird flu cover-up shows that change in China comes slowly

COMMENT: Is President Bush really "dumb"?

BOOKS: Divorce Law and the Future of Marriage, by Barry Maley


MUSIC: Reflections for Peace, Joy and Serenity

Books promotion page

Deschooling or reschooling? / Oxbridge / Pluralism

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, February 14, 2004
Deschooling or reschooling?

When I was at Oxford in the 50's, and London in the 60's, education was a permanent issue, talking point, and occasion for much hand wringing and angst on the part of many of my fellow British Labour Party branch members.

They were thoroughly decent people, not noticeably moved by envy or resentment of the rich, but rather, pity for the underclass who had gone to bad, deprived schools and whose children were going to go to the same kind.

These people would rarely defeat the class system. And rarely would they be sending a child to University - any University.

My Labour Party Branch friends - mostly Left - wanted to do away with those injustices, somehow, but felt guilty because they had had good educations, either at a private school or at one of those excellent grammar schools which England then possessed. And thereby been enabled to advance to a good University.


Not necessarily Oxbridge - although that certainly helped.

Now they had children; and had to decide whether to send them Private, or State.

But, to criticise private schools and call for their retrenchment, while sending your brood to one such, was hypocrisy.

Like attacking the dominance of Oxford and Cambridge while planning your own child's intellectual progress in the hope that he would finish up among the ranks of the big earners and become eminently suitable for membership of the ruling elites, or, at the very least, big earners.

A large section of the British Left, the middle and upper middle classes struggled with this problem. They still do - meanwhile sending their children to the best schools - usually Private - and aiming for the top Universities.

Nowadays, perhaps exhausted by all this guilt, they redirect their flagellation to perform on behalf of the Palestinians, Saddam's friends - Muslim and Anglo-Europeans, people smugglers, and good old global warming.

However, if you look closer, they no longer whip themselves - that's only for SBS sex movies.

A pity - for theirs was an important moral dilemma, with wider ramifications e.g. private medicine versus the NHS.

But the private/public, privileged/deprived battleground for debate and ideological conflict has shifted over the last 40 odd years.

The central issue is no longer just getting a better education, and superior life chances for one's child, but protecting it from dreadful teaching, class chaos and school chaos, bullying, drugs and ethnic conflict; from inept, cowed, buck passing principals; from classmates who remain virtually illiterate and innumerate, but who are still promoted, year after year, so follow the bright, or still conscientious students like loaded dogs. As they are doing here.

In Australia, sensible parents with children in such institutions are often not deceived by the ludicrously high marking formulae, nor the torrents of Credits, Distinctions, and High Distinctions being poured over the student population.

These high marks and scholastic equivalents of Orders of Australia are placebos to the students, and cons of the parents. "My son got three High Distinctions so he must be clever".

And the teachers must be good, and no matter what outsiders say, it must be a good school (the same nonsense is now the rule in our jcolleges and "Universities" ). Sad. But the con didn't last.

It became clear that little Shane could hardly read or write, did very little study, but much internet and tele, was ignorant of, and already incurious about large parts of reality; that little Jo Anne spent so much time raging, gossiping on the phone, or supporting consumerism, that there could hardly be time for serious study.

And their social behaviour was often abominable. Something stank.

But the education mountebanks have long counted on sizeable groups of parents supporting the great cover up.

1. Parents who fervently wish well for their children, so want to believe that they were wrong. To the mountebanks' relief.

2. Parents who have every reason to feel guilty for the neglect they have accorded their children, in the search for their own " freedom" and pleasure and money. Having left them to tele, kinders and school - any school - and being at best fitfully interested in their children's inner life - their feelings, their imagination, their intellectual competence or otherwise ... such parents are most unwilling to face the consequences of their neglect.

So, they are in the business of finding someone to say that everything is apples. And so are the teachers - many of whom have locked themselves into a similar regime of neglect, manipulation and Denial, with respect to their charges.

3. Another group of parents don't care how their children go - whether they play truant or not, bully other children, develop into deprived anti-social or angry beings. Only when someone from the Station turns up, or the roof on the heroin injecting room falls in, might they stir.

But most state school parents aren't like this, and are now increasingly alarmed, and moving to rescue their children.

As many state school parents as have the money are moving their children to private schools, nation-wide but especially in Victoria. And this is what the new big row over state versus private is about.

The education unions, the Labor Party, and our usual journalistic suspects sprang into action as soon as the Prime Minister advised the States to clean up their acts and stop the haemorrhaging of state school students into the private school sector. He was immediately accused of insulting 70% of students, and their parents, and, of course, their teachers.

Whereas, the burnt out Left was insulting the intelligence of everyone, for everyone knows what has happened.

In Victoria one-third of pre-tertiary students go to private schools, with the balance moving, year by year, more in favour of private education.

Were private school fees and charges not so high - scandalously high - I have little doubt but that most Victorian schoolchildren would now be in private schools. Labor knows it - the teacher union hacks know it.


For, over a period of 30 years, they have ruined what was an excellent schools system: superior in most places to our private schools. But then, so are like-minded people dismantling our health system, and our legal and judicial systems.

But the parallels between the English and Australian schools end at this point. The English state school system was always defective - the quite small private education sector delivering a wholly disproportionate number of well educated, motivated children.

The numerous post-war British Labour Governments have done very little to lift State Schools, or Public Hospitals or Medicine. The argument for choosing private over public in England has always been a strong one.

It was not in Australia, until quite recently. People sent their children to private schools for a religious education, or, from the kind of social, networking, even elitist motives which critics still attribute to parents wishing to choose private.

In fact those days are long gone, for whereas most of the top secondary schools used to be State, now very few are. It is not because private schools are better than of yore - rather the contrary - but that the state sector has nose dived, to join the English.

So parents are getting their children off sinking ships.

Naturally the ship owners are screaming, for there's as much money to be made out of coffin ships as seaworthy craft. Ask any people smuggler.

And the crews on these coffin ships have cornered all the life boats and life jackets. Do you think they would give up that R&R without a fight?

Our private schools are by no means perfect: they have the same problems or potential problems. Drugs, weekend booze, raging, bullying, many children victims of divided families. The children take in the same rubbishy media.

But the state children suffer these ills in spades. And private schools suffer the same syllabi; some parts diluted, others tendentious propaganda, or Mickey Mouse: and endure while benefiting from the low standards of assessment.

Religious education is very thin on the ground, but still there in principle. The teachers are not noticeably better than state equivalents, so some are easy to recruit for the blackmailing Luddite tactics which education activists use, more and more frequently, to protect their privileged, unaccountable and now indefensible status.

But the private schools are more work oriented ; they value achievement, so find it advisable to grade students realistically.

Parents paying big bucks demand achievement. Discipline is better - often a lot better - helped by the readiness to fail non-achievers, eject trouble makers and defend teachers.

The private school ethos still pays respect to the need for public order, for conventional morality and tradition (i.e. our history, customs, mores, and values). Patriotism is not a dirty word, nor is nationalism; the importance of authority and figures of authority is tacitly recognised. Family values are not mocked.

This is not authoritarianism. It is the same envelope which used to protect our state school system and ethos.


Australian pluralism: democratic, Judeo-Christian, and humanist. Parents are now paying for that - not entrance to the Melbourne Club.

And there is no visible difference in attitudes on race, gender, or religion, or immigration. But the child is to some extent protected, as he once was in the State system.

That, I imagine, is all Howard was asking for. For state schools and teachers to go back to doing what they once did best.

If the Left union bullies can't be shifted - protected by their clients, the ALP - then the voucher system, allowing freedom of choice for parents and students, must somehow be introduced.

If not .... then the high private school fees which are excluding so many children must somehow be reduced. But are the Left even listening to the rest of Australia?

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