John Howard commented over the weekend that he thought parents were taking their kids out of government schools and moving to the independents because state schools are “too politically correct and too values-neutral”.
What a crock of shit.
Too politically correct? Values-neutral? What does that mean? That schools that don’t conform to Howard’s nostalgic vision of fifties Australia are too PC? Should I be worried that my kids mix with other kids of different nationalities, religions, races and socio-economic backgrounds every day of the week? Should a school in an area with large numbers of both Jews and gentiles not sing Hannukah songs along with the Christmas songs? Is the value of embracing different cultures by living with them every day not one that Howard thinks is positive? Okay granted some may go overboard in curbing some of the religious excesses of Christmas, but we’re not talking about South Park Elementary here, and it’s an issue with the individual school, not the state system as a whole.
Are state schools ignoring Australian values and heritage, as the acting Education Minister suggests? Well the flag still flies, the national anthem still gets sung, and occasions such as the centenary of Federation, for example, are widely celebrated in state schools. My old school Melbourne High helps with ANZAC Day services. Kids still learn cricket and football. Dammit, last year the school concert included an AC/DC song. You can’t get more Australian than that.
And of course any school – public or private – will give kids a grounding in the everyday values of socially-acceptable behaviour, friendship (the PM might prefer call it mateship), work ethic (well at least a bit, we hope), reinforcing the values learnt at home and elsewhere.
No, to my mind, there are two main reasons parents would choose to take their kids out of (largely free, or at least cheap) state schools and move them into (largely user-pays) private schools. One is by reason of faith, and if parents feel that strongly about their kids getting a particularly Catholic, or a Jewish, or an Islamic or any other education, they are likely to have ignored state schools from the very start. Fair enough.
The other is simply the quality of education provided. We all want the best for our kids, balanced up against what we can afford. While my kids’ school seems to be doing okay, some government schools are suffering greatly from lack of funding, and parents will naturally want get their kids to schools with the best teachers and resources. It is governments which ultimately have control over this — and with two thirds of Commonwealth funding going to independent schools, Howard’s government in particular has the power to do something about it. Parents can only buy so many boxes of fundraiser chocolates.
With the Federal Government’s own study contradicting what Howard said, this smacks of him trying to justify the current funding imbalance. It’s no shock that teachers (from both state and independent schools) and others have taken umbrage. And I’d be surprised if many parents – even in the affluent suburbs of the major cities where his party’s traditional support base is – agree with his stand.