Public Education as a Last Bastion of Class Equality

I will never forget the furore in the English faculty when the Executive Team at UNSW decided that the only way to make room for renovations in the campus Library was to throw away books that had not been borrowed in the past two years.  The alleged directive was to discard books that were mostly arts and humanities-based texts…

Seeing these books discarded in the dumpster, was a tragic metaphor of how our culture tends to equate higher values on knowledge that drives monetary outcomes, rather than humanities-based outcomes. It is a vulgar view of knowledge, and it is a narrow interpretation of what it means to be an educated person.

This narrowness is on display again, with the release of the 2016 Federal Budget – whereby teachers’ salaries are tied to student outcomes. Glenn Savage, Senior lecturer in education policy at the University of Melbourne says, “The Coalition has said it will ensure spending is ‘tied to evidence-based initiatives’ that improve student performance, suggesting conditions will be placed on the funding, such as introducing standardised literacy and numeracy testing for students in year 1, and linking the salaries of teachers to the national teaching standards”.

What this really means is that teachers will focus primarily on content to help students pass literacy and numeracy tests and any other knowledge that falls outside of this scope will fall by the wayside.

There is no Governmental incentive for educational institutions to uphold egalitarian ideals on education – and the dominant discourse around public education (which is often derisive) is a witness to this. When citizens acquiesce and adopt this kind of ‘corporatised’ world view of education (and this acquiescence is no more obvious when the middle-classes aspire to send their children to private schooling) – what they are really doing is supporting a system that is designed to keep their offspring in the same social strata.

If we look to our Western European heritage, history teaches us that 150 years ago, public education was non-existent. Government did not fund or support public education – it was at the auspices of a few generous-hearted philanthropists and well-intended religious institutions that opened schools for poor children.

When we fight for public education today, what we are really fighting for is to stop regression to a period in time where only the rich and privileged classes receive quality education.  If we believe in equal opportunities for our children, then adequate funding of public education should be a moral imperative – not an election impetus.

Till next time,

WordSmith Jo