17 August 2010

Supporters of public education who in the past have toyed with the Labor Party idea of a ‘Needs’ policy for mythical ‘poor parish schools’ are starting to wake up that State Aid to sectarian schools is bad for public policy and even worse for public education.

In an article in the latest Dissent which was in part reproduced in The Age of August 16 at page 13, Richard Teese the Professor and director of the Centre for Post-Compulsory Education and Lifelong Learning at Melbourne University has finally admitted that ‘the expansion of private schooling drains the public system of resources and diverts scarce funds into a predatory sector.’ The DOGS have always claimed that the sectarian sector was parasitical, living off the host, namely the public Treasury and the public system of education. It is heartening to find a well renowned academic going further to articulate in the media that sectarian interest groups in Australia have now entered the ‘predatory’ phrase.

 When dealing with the Labor Party’s mirror image of Conservative policy, Teese notes further that

   It is a failed vision of public schooling that subjects the Labor Party to the indignity of scavenging on the scrapheap of failed educational reform. The Greens, by contrast, start from the premise that public schooling is intrinsically valuable and the best vehicle to engage all children. They want a public system that is recognised as among the best in the world.’

DOGS note however, that a genuinely public system is one that is public in purpose, outcome, access, ownership, control, funding accountability and provision and can never be compared with a sectarian system which is only public in funding. It is because Richard Teese and others who espoused the Labor Party Needs policy in past decades have never confronted sectarian interests and questioned public funding of these institutions,  that the public system is in serious decline. Too many in the public education camp have been content to compromise on the State Aid and religious question in past decades. Even now the silence from all except the Secular Party and a few independents is deafening.  DOGS are now in the unfortunate position of being able to say: We told you so”.

Teese however, asks a question of the major political parties with their bipartisan education policy:

   What sort of consensus is it that combines national testing, national performance reporting and a national curriculum with a feudal mix of public and private schools, differently funded and administered?’

DOGS have been asking this question for the last fifty years. What is currently occurring in Australian education constitutes a large stride back into the past, into a class ridden, sectarian, feudal society. And for all the rhetoric about ‘the national interest’ and the search for a ‘healthy economy’ our politicians are spending billions and more billions on the duplication of educational facilities in response to a sectionalist religious lobby.  One can only wonder whether behind the doors of insecure middle class Australian parents being preyed upon by the religious lobby lurks would-be aristocrats in disguise. Teese points out that, like the Coalition, Labor is ‘protecting those parts of the feudal regime that are truly medieval – confessional schools serving church and sect, and the grammar schools with their Episcopal or ecclesiastical patronage that barely covers their corporate rears. ‘

Richard Teese is mystified by the irrationality of the current bipartisan educational policy of the major parties. Although they represent the modern state, public schools are now seen as the sector of second choice. The Coalition criticizes them as ‘value free, sub-standard and given over to ‘social engineering’. They initiated testing in the 1970s but it is now the Labor government that is perfecting the testing instruments guaranteed to impose market responsiveness.

Rather than a national treasure to be preserved and strengthened, both major parties see public schooling as a sector to be ’fixed’, and intend to do this from the one tool box – ‘ national curriculum testing and reporting, payment by results, the market place and school autonomy.’

Although Teese claims that neither party sees that the harder they drive the privatization agenda, the weaker they make the public sector. He spells out the simple fact that the expansion of private schooling drains the public system of cultural and academic resources, makes schools unviable in size and mix and diverts scarce funds into an over-resourced and predatory sector. 

He takes comfort in the fact that the Greens start from the premise that public schooling is intrinsically valuable and the best vehicle to engage all children. Recent ‘leaks’ in the Greens campaign camp however, indicate that some candidates in Victoria and Tasmania have been worried by the ‘sectarian’ vote.

Teese is correct in saying that Australia needs a national system of schools, and for this reason the major parties are not worth voting for.  But he should go further to analyse why the sectarian interests in this country have gained so much power that they can dictate education policy, divert billions of dollars from the public treasury into church property and enterprises and set up a ‘feudal’ system within our twenty first century democracy. This story is as old as the story of the relationship between church and state, but in Australia the crunch point came in the DOGS case in 1981. If citizens want to catch a glimpse of what goes on in the corridors of power and the workings of the cancer in the body politic, then they are welcome to read the book entitled ‘Contempt of Court’ on our website.

Meanwhile, DOGS suggest that supporters of public education put the major parties last on their ballot papers and look for candidates that are strong enough to support public education and advocate the separation of religion from the state by the withdrawal of public funding for sectarian schools.





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