3 JUNE  2008





Where is the definition of Public Education by Organisations?

DOGS call upon USA organisations such as:

  • AASA (American Association of School Administrators)

  • AFT ( American Federation of Teachers)

  • NEA ( National Education Association)

  • PEN ( Public Education Network)

to define public education.

On their websites the above organisations assume a meaning of public education and appear to take for granted that  the general public know exactly what is meant by the concept.

Where is the Definition by Individuals?

The North American organisations are not the only section of the community that seem to merely assume a meaning for the concept of public education. Key individuals also assume a meaning for the concept of public education. For example, read the works of the Canadian writer John Ralston Saul and attempt to discover his definition for public education.

Further, read Benjamin Barber's article 'Taking the Public out of Public Education' in The School Administrator web edition May 2004, and you will read a very good article expounding the value of public education. However, you will not discover a definition of public education in his article.

Australia's Historic Definition of Public Education a Guideline for both Australia and the Rest of the World:

The definition of public education is under attack in both Australia and the rest of the world. In Australia our politicians, press, academics and promoters of private schooling are attacking the concept of public education. In this battle public school promoters like DOGS ( Defence of Government Schools) public put forward an eight fold definition wrought on the anvil of history, logic and experience.

In 1872  the government of Victoria, Australia passed a free secular and compulsory act to cover the state with a universal education system. Underpinning this act was an eightfold definition of a system which was:

  • public in purpose

  • public in outcome

  • public in access for pupils, teachers, parents and geographical location

  • public in ownership

  • public in control

  • public in accountability

  •  public in provision

  • Sole public funding

We urge supporters of public education in both Australia and America to promote a similar definition of public education consistent with their American experience.

Others Attempting to Re-Define the Definition of Public Education in America as well as Australia:

The re-definition of public education is not only occurring in Australia. Whilst crucial American organisations are taking the definition for granted, others are re-defining public education to include private education/schools. The American situation is no exception in the English speaking world. In New Zealand the concept of quality public education promoted by national teacher unions includes private church schools. In Australia there has been a concerted push since the 1970s to include private education/schools under the umbrella of public education. This push is fierce and unrelenting. It has support amongst Roman Catholic operatives,  educational academics, the secular press and politicians.

American Individuals Attacking the Concept of Public Education:

The following two writers are an example of those who are attempting to alter the definition of public education in America:

Frederick M. Hess,' Making Sense of the "Public " in Public Education,'  Policy Report, November 2002, Progressive Policy Institute

Paul T. Hill: 'What is Public about Public Education?'  Chapter Eleven, Primer on America's Schools, The Center on Re-Inventing Public Education (connected with the Brookings Institute)

 Frederick Hess:

DOGS note that the technique used by Frederick Hess is similar to that used by Australian academics, press and right wing think tanks for years. It enables them to include private/church schools in the definition of public education. It is a simple formula. People who are not friends of public education and/or friends of private schools choose part of what is known as public education and then define it as the whole indicia of public education.

Hess provides us with the following examples:

  1. 'Traditionally we call public schools those in which policy makers and oversight are the responsibility of governmental bodies.'

  2. 'Another approach to defining the word public is to focus on inputs. By this metric, any activity that involves money collected by the government should be deemed public because it involves the collection and expenditure of tax dollars.' 

DOGS note that public education is more than governmental oversight and funding. What about purpose, outcome, access, ownership, control, accountability and provision?

 DOGS note that public education is more than the sum of its parts. You cannot define the whole by its parts. For example, an elephant is not defined by the ear or the tail.

Education International

Education International is an organisation that asserts that it is the global federation of organisations representing 30 million teachers and other education workers through 394 member organisations in 171 countries and territories. It asserts that it is the global voice of education workers.

Education International Public Education Definition:

 The following is the definition of public education adopted by resolution at the EI World Congress at Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2004. The definition is contained in a resolution adopted on Education: Public Service or Commodity.

 Public education is a system open to all without discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, culture or social class, free of charge, publicly funded, and managed and evaluated in accordance with the objectives and principles established democratically by public authorities.

AFT ( American Federation of teachers) and NEA ( National Education Association) listed as members of Education International.

Given the limited definition of public education given above, DOGS find it surprising that two of the leading education bodies in the world, the AFT and NEA have been  associated with the above EI incomplete, nonsensical and unwise definition of public education.

Early Warning Signs that E I Definition Incomplete

There were early warning signs that the E I definition would prove insufficient. DID the Americans know they were in trouble when

  1. E I does not claim to be the global voice for public education workers but more broadly, education workers

  2. There was a problem with definition because private school teacher bodies are directly or indirectly members of E.I. Directly, DOGS find that the Independent Education Union of Australia is a member; the Independent School teachers Association of New Zealand Incorporated is a member

  3.  DOGS also discovered that through the E I's connection with a national body like the Canadian Teachers Federation, the Catholic school teachers are members.

Australia's Eight fold Definition of Public Education Compared with E I Definition:

Whatever the E I definition means, it is way short of the Australian concept of public education and the USA public education should consider their position vis a vis a proper definition of public education.

E I.  Definition of Public Education Incomplete, Misleading and Unwise.

The E.I. definition of public education is not grounded in the history of public education. Missing from the definition are

  1. Public in purpose: the most crucial definition from which all others flow

  2. Public in outcome/benefit

  3. Public in ownership

  4. Public in control

  5. Public in accountability

  6. Public in provision.

Parts 3 to 6 ( public in ownership, control, accountability and provision ) are included as missing because the E I definition, whatever it means, leaves it  to be established democratically by public authorities. So, the definition is left up in the air.

Correct Portion of E I Definition:

There are only two parts of the E I definition that are acceptable to the supporter of public education. These are:

free of charge

publicly funded

Inadequate Incomplete Part of the Definition:

The relevant part of the definition is:

public education is a system open to all without discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, culture or social class. This definition leaves out a crucial section of a proper definition of public education. The definition of open to all' should at least cover pupils, parents, teachers, staff and the community and geographical location.

Amazing Parts of E I Definition:

What does the following mean?

Public education is a system.. Is it a system of public schools with a supporting structure or does it mean that public education is a system made up of public and private schools to fit in the private school membership  of E I?

Public education is a system ...managed and evaluated in accordance with the objectives and principles established democratically by public authorities.

DOGS know that leaving the decisions about the definition of public education to public authorities is abhorrent and would be an act of stupidity. The above confusing, incomplete and undemocratic conditional is extraordinary. What does the word democratic mean in this context? What does public authorities mean in this context?

Promoters of public education in Australia would not leave the definition of public education in the hands of public authorities to define any aspect of the public education definition. The definition of public education is a task to be carried out by those who uphold the historic definition, and not politicians, bureaucrats and academics.

 It is a task that can only be carried out by free citizens who  support public education, not careerists, pragmatists, opportunists, and promoters of privatisation. It is an invaluable inheritance handed on to those who support the public good, public education and separation of church and state in a liberal, cohesive, genuinely democratic society.

Americans should learn from the sad Australian Experience

According to the Education International definition, we are supposed to leave much of the definition to be democratically decided by public education authorities.

Recent experiences in Australia indicates that this procedure is wrong in principle and practice. It is fraught with dangers for public education.

By world standards Australia would be considered to have a democratic process. Yet public education supporters would not leave the definition of public education in the hands of the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, nor his Federal Education Minister, Julia Gillard. Nor would they leave it in the hands of the Victorian State Minister of Education, Bronwyn Pike, nor her bureaucratic head, Dr. Peter Dawkins. Nor could they leave it in the hands of any parliament or political party in Australia.

Kevin Rudd , the Prime Minister:

 Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, when Prime Minister elect, in his victory speech declared that old battles between private and public were out. Ever since he became the leader of the opposition in 2006, Mr Kevin Rudd and his shadow minister avoided where at all possible, the use of the words public education or public schools. The concept of public education appears to be anathema to him.

Julia Gillard, Federal Minister for Education:

Since her appointment, Julia Gillard, the Prime Minister's Minister for Education, has taken up Rudd's approach. On Public Education Day May 29, 2008, Julia Gillard, under the heading No More Public Versus Private Debate in the Sydney Morning Herald declared:

Old style education debates need to be updated...There is no point in putting labels on schools. In the government, independent or Catholic systems. It is part of the old education debate.

 A week earlier, in an address to church/private schools she declared:

I believe it's time we got beyond the public versus private debates that has blighted our education debates for so long.

Nor surprisingly, she is promoting private technical colleges. In days gone by this was largely the preserve of the public sector. 

Elsewhere Julia Gillard is promoting shared facilities between public and private schools. Such a situation will lead to public education being unequally yoked with the private school system.

Bronwyn Pike, Victorian Minister for Education:

Unfortunately Julia Gillard's Victorian counterpart, Bronwyn Pike is in competition with her federal colleague in the race to dismantle the public education system.

Since her appointment on August 2, 2007, she has

  • supported PPPs which destroy public in provision; and public in accountability requirements of a genuine public system.

  • proposed the integration of the public system with the Catholic system (The Age, 21 April 2008: 'State to Seek Closer Ties with Catholic Schools'

  • promoted the idea of private school principals taking over public school appointments, thus destroying any pretence of career opportunities for those already working in and committed to the public sector. This proposal will destroy the concept of long term access to job opportunities for committed public school teachers. '(The Age, 8 May 2008: 'Pay Lure for Principals'

  • continuing the fractionizing and destruction of public education. The central nervous system, the bureaucracy has become a mere shell of consultants contracting to other consultants and project managers. There is no central oversight but only abdication and abnegation of any responsibility continuing from the top to the bottom of the education department. Our public schools have been cast into single units,  ready to be picked off by the private sector and zealous religious groups and persons. If you don't think this is happening under Bronwyn Pike, think again! Remember her own religious background and activities.

In the last year Pike has also tendered out the building of at least eleven public school to the private sector, thus attacking the concept of public in provision.

Dr. Peter Dawkins , Secretary of Bronwyn Pike's Ministry for Education

If Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Bronwyn Pike were not enough, you would be crazy to put a 'democratic decision about the definition of public education with the bureaucratic head of the Victorian Ministry, Dr. Peter Dawkins. He is a devoted supporters of the integrated public /private system, namely a system in which public schools are forced into an unequal partnership with private religious schools.

Leave the definition of public education with the public authorities in Australia? What a crazy suggestion!

Leave six out of the eight basic requirements for public education out of the  E I  definition? What a suicidal suggestion for public education !

Supporters of Public Education in the USA should learn from Australia: Fight for a Comprehensive Definition

Supporters of public education need the American organisations and individuals to outline a comprehensive definition of public education. It needs to be fully articulated and fought for in all western democracies before the privatisation experts turn it upside down to suit their plans.



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Last modified:Tuesday, 03 June 2008