I went to a private school. Although I didn’t care for school life, I guess I got a pretty good education. I received a partial scholarship to my school, but even so the school fees were a struggle for my parents, and to this day I appreciate their sacrifice. My sister went to a local public high school instead, and so within our family and neighbourhood we could make a good comparison, and I think they compare well: my sister’s education was far from lacking, and we both ended up at the same university.
95% of rapists and murderes are public-school-educated. No offence, but it’s true.
More and more Australian parents are following the same road. Like parents everywhere they want the best for their kids, and education more than ever is seen as the crucial first step in a successful career. I don’t blame parents one iota for choosing the best school they can find and afford.
Like many others, I worry about the implications of this trend for the country. I’m naturally suspicious of any shift in control of such an area of crucial national interest into private control, and what could be more important to the national interest than our schools? I think Australia’s excellent school system has been the main reason we have, for so long, been able to regard ourselves as such an egalitarian and classless society. This comment from the American experience sums it up best for me:
“Our public demonstration of elementary and secondary schools has many problems, but if we turned all education over to the private marketplace, many Americans could not even afford elementary school. Even if we used public vouchers, we would lose one of the fundamental benefits of public education – the chance for children to rub elbows with others from all walks of life. (Those who could afford to would add their own funds to the voucher and buy a “better” education for their children, leading to extreme segregation by income group). This shared experience may not be efficient, in market terms, but it is effective in making democracy work.”
Osborne and Gaebler, (1993). Reinventing Government, Ch1, p. 46.
If private schools continue their expansion, then our children, from an early age, will be segregated into two distinct socio-economic groups. In many cases, the gap will not be vast, but it will be there. And it will grow. I have a picture in my mind of the sort of ethnically diverse group of kids you might see in a government advertisement, but worry whether such a picture could be taken at many private schools.
In the U.S. I saw some really disturbing trends. Public education has had a long and proud history in the United States, but there is an unfortunate bias built into the system. Schools are administered by local school boards, and a great proportion of the funding usually comes from property taxes. More expensive houses, higher tax revenue, better schools. For this reason, there is often an enormous difference in the quality of schools between wealthy suburbs and poorer, urban areas. (Another effect: In California, a ballot initiative to cap property taxes send their schools plummeting to some of the lowest-ranked in the nation.)
The U.S. is also seeing an explosion in religious (“parochial”) schools. This is even more worrisome as a prospect; kids in such schools (if they are not, indeed, home-schooled) spend their formative years surrounded by only ideas and materials that have been carefully filtered to reinforce a particular and narrow religious ideology. It cannot be healthy for a mind to be shielded from competing ideas. In later life, fanaticism and intolerance can only be fostered by kids who have received such a limited education. I know – I’ve met them. They certainly have the courage of their convictions, out of a sheer inability to conceive that a sane person might be able to think differently.
What would I do with my own kids? It’s a tough call. I don’t have kids yet, and I recognize I might feel differently when I do; but right now I feel that there is real value in growing up with other Australian kids in an equal environment. If the school isn’t good enough, then that’s a reason to fight for better schools for all Australians, not to take my kids out of the system.
That’s why I feel that Labor’s response to Howard’s school fees rebate should have been, “A rebate on school fees? We’ll do better than that – we’ll pay for your child’s entire education from prep to year 12 – and we’ll do it at a school in your neighbourhood!” Just enroll your child in the nearest public school near you.
(Originally from http://claytonsouthlabor.blogspot.com/)