The Dog’s Bollocks

Truth is like a dog’s bollocks – pretty obvious if you care to look.

Education is not a just a matter of supplying teachers

Victoria commented about her unhappy experience in moving from professional Pharmacist to teacher:

Well, nice utopian try but, as I alluded to previously, I tried to fill that hole last year and even though my intentions were pure I came up against an entrenched opposition. That is, teachers already in the system have a very negative attitude to those seeking to transfer into teaching from other professions, as is on the agenda of many State governments by way of a solution to the Teacher shortage crisis.

As I began replying to Victoria it kinda grew (maybe ‘cos it’s the second day back at school) so I thought it worth a promotional post:

I seem to recall in an earlier life a Sam Ball teaching Dip Ed in Tasmania in the halcyon days of the liberal arts in the early 70s. I’m saddened to hear that the transition from a professional life to the vocation of teaching was neither successful, rewarding or happy. On reflection, all I can offer is my perspective of why that might be.

Public education has been besieged by the rise of free-market ideology, theory and practice for close enough to a generation. Certainly over the last 15 years, funding of public education has decreased as percent of GDP. Yet the demands on the resource depleted system have grown – teaching and learning, pastoral and community responsibilities like feeding kids breakfast, mandatory reporting of possible neglect and abuse, emotional counseling, etc.

The administration of the public education sector has increasingly been influenced by business management school practice rather than educational pedagogy. Funding and management of schools has commodified education – emphasising performance outcomes and demanding an ever-growing number of measurable indicators to determine if they have been achieved. Unfortunately, the outcomes most easily measured (although not unimportant) have a distorting effect on educational practice by the relentless hoop-jumping pursuit of benchmarks, to the detriment of educational innovation and excellence.

Politicians demand more and more measuring, surveying, assessing and accountability as a way of persuading voters that they care about public education. ‘We will demand the best! (Even if we have no idea about what best education practice might actually be.) Our measurements show that the system is failing. I know, it must be the fault of the teachers! We can’t justify spending wealthy people’s taxation on public schools! We’ll give you a voucher that you can cash in at a McPrivate College, so can buy your upward mobility and acquire the correct “values” in the process.’

I’m not surprised that after 30 years of stultifying management ideology imposed on educational thinking, the people best placed to deliver education might develop a bunker-like siege mentality in addition to enduring the stress of keeping bureaucrats happy at the expense of time working with children.

With underinvestment in education, and a relentless attack on the teaching profession by government and their think tanks such as the IPA and the Sydney Institute, teacher numbers have naturally declined, and consequently it is profession of aging people. Age is fine, because in any profession you need the wise elders, but there’s a marked shortage of younger teachers bringing fresh energy and enthusiasm and driving innovation.

So I don’t see the issue as simply demanding more teachers. It’s more a question of appreciating the importance of good education and a progressive teaching profession. Voters care more than politicians, which is why it’s such a perennial election issue, like law and order. Oddly enough, law and order is built on a well-educated civil society and a reasonable standard of living.

Good educational practice produces people whose innate creativity, intelligence have been honed by the ability to think critically, informed by a broad historical, cultural and philosophical perspective with which to understand the world and make their way through it as peaceful and productive citizens. Such people, I’d argue, will tend to have a politically liberal outlook on life.

Education as an issue, always favors the liberal left political party in a 2 party state. People will vote that way when they aren’t happy with education. From a right wing perspective, the down side is that a decent public education system is going to create people who at least enter adult life with a liberal outlook. Not really desirable, if you want to stay in power. Howard himself has questioned the need for so much tertiary education. Maybe they want to create an economic underclass to make the market-driven economy ever more efficient and profitable? The new IR regime, declining educational quality and opportunity help to drive labour costs down. It will also likely exacerbate poverty, ignorance and crime.

Neglecting education is a long term economic liability. How you go about restoring optimal educational investment is clearly a matter for debate, but the need to do so should be obvious to anyone who values education for its own sake.

Waiting another 30 years, wishfully hoping that the transition to a fully privatised free-market education system will deliver the goods, will create a generation of ill-educated Australians. This would not bode well for our future civil stability or economic prosperity.

Filed under: Big Picture, Economics, Education, Politics

2 Responses

  1. chris says:

    Government education is a form of child abuse.

  2. slim says:

    Government education guarantees education for a significant proportion of people who cannot afford private education. Education is the surest path to a developed society and economy.

    As far as child abuse goes, history suggests that the most extreme forms of sexual abuse and bullying as occurred in privileged private schools.

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The Dog’s Bollocks

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The Dog's Bollocks: "Bollocks" is one of my favourite words, and this is now one of my favourite blogs and I've only been reading it for five minutes. – John Surname

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