Separatist schools

Apropos of this blog’s recent Kirpanning, I’ve put together a piece for Online Opinion which explores the notion of separatist schooling, and what it might mean for Australia.

Like Sunwhite rice, these schools cling, and separate.

Read there. Stoush here.

Advertisements
Posted in education
27 comments on “Separatist schools
  1. philiptravers says:

    And if all the money ties up didnt exist,and requirements of behaviour re religious matters,and dress,what then is, as now, the difference between public and private schools!?Different buildings at different locations!?And yet the advantages in having that for both sets has not been considered in some way.I use to live in a town called Ballan in Victoria, there was a state school a Catholic school,and a Anglican -Church of England Sunday School building. A fire ripped through the Catholic school I was attending and the Anglicans offered the Catholics the use of their Sunday School building,which then occured,until the new primary Catholic school was built.The fire was the only drama,and the State School competed against us occasionally in sport etcetera,and that relationship wasnt that hostile,accept football tended to be.What I am getting at is this, if the public and private sectors had a deep and ongoing cooperation, that found ways of cutting down costs genuine concern for each others kids development even the swapping of buildings and use of each other facilities,not out of cheapness but, building in relevant advantage,and even teaching staff and time,where appropriate,and with teacher acceptance, would any of these separations be outside the inglorious tent!?And the differences between earlier years and later years at school.And why arent there university students visiting and working at schools generally,as ways to cross skills over,and be paid for doing so,and yet may not necessarily be teaching related!? That is science experiments and other means at skill developments.I just do not think,the money going into education really spreads the buck efficiently,and then the different lobbies within education are competing for every available public buck.If they worked more closely and defined their operating needs,and pupil and student needs then the societal needs, then maybe more players could eventuate without any drama of considering them separatist types.The whole idea of public education and private needs new thinking,so that it isnt a matter of competing interests for available monies or influence but that the diversity isnt a cost born unwillingly,I think the way forward is to encourage closer and deeper relationships,and then offer up some new potentials like more flexible use of assets,across schools as buildings and facilities,and buildings and facilities having more flexible uses in themselves across the school years without disturbing present uses.Country Australian schools of whatever type have advantages and disadvantages now,and yet sharing the advantages to increase the facilities is a last on the horizon.If city kids had more of a chance to experience the country they would be better off health wise to a certain extent,the same is obvious and apparent also for academic reasons.To experience country Australia as a young person should be a right as much as being able to assess major capitals…the diversity of schools across the State and nation would suggest a real possibility for real education.And maybe ,a holiday for parents away from kids too could eventuate.The whole question of public private education if tackled creatively could reduce a lot of problems other than educational requirements of non-adults now.

  2. SRK says:

    One thing which struck me about the article is the lack of argument for the claim that there is a deep tension between “social integration” and “separatist schooling”. You describe two periods where there is a contrast in the number of students enrolled in separatist schools, and then you say ‘If we are to accept that separatism is a contrary force to the desired goal of social stability and cohesion…’ Hang on, why should we accept that?

    Anyhow, suppose we do. A thought I had reading the second part of the article – and this is just a bit of armchair speculation – is that one of the strongest motivations for parents sending their children to independent schools is the academic benefits. So I wonder if perhaps the most efficient way to support the goal of “social integration” is to focus on improving quality of teaching. That would reduce the incentive for parents to send children to separatist schools (again, assuming that that is a motivation).

  3. David Rubie says:

    SRK wrote:

    one of the strongest motivations for parents sending their children to independent schools is the academic benefits.

    Speaking as somebody who was suckered by this fallacy, it’s partially true but generally used an extra bit of evidence rather than the guiding principle.

    The captive mind-set goes like this: most important are the social climbing aspects, followed by a view that the local public school is a den of drugs and violence, followed by academic concerns. How do you get sucked into this? Speaking to your peers. Peers have a very big effect on the choice of school – in much the same way that we pick plumbers, electricians and lawyers (by asking our friends) their secondary tales of the awfulness of the local public school drive many decisions towards private schooling.

    How powerful is this? We were in denial for about 3 years with our eldest child. When we finally pulled the pin I can’t tell you consternation that was caused (divorce level arguments). Changing your childs school seems like a very big hurdle once you’re captured by the subset of lies that keep private schooling an attractive option.

    Our local public school is a complete revelation. I can’t say they’re all like that, but this one is great. Every bad thing we feared about public schooling was a total fabrication largely of our own making.

    Having said that, there is a very strong undercurrent in Australian society to only mix your precious offspring with either their equals or betters. In this particular (smallish) town there has been an experiment with removing zoning on schools which has been bitterly opposed by some parents and is about to be shut down. Guess which parents cried the loudest?

  4. mbahnisch says:

    Generally, there’s not a lot of religion in a lot of the purportedly religious “greater public schools” so I think there are separate arguments here – the social integration one is inflected quite differently when it comes to posh private schools and “faith based schools” which is where this debate kicked off in the UK after Tony Blair privileged the latter.

    n truth, there is little that is private or independent about any school given the economic reality that so many have grown dependent on public funding, and face ever more prescriptive government guidelines as to the curriculum they teach. Furthermore, as all schools have intense interrelations with their local community, they cannot escape ethical responsibility for the effect they have on the public sphere around them.

    That’s a good point – and in Canada and the UK where almost all schools are effectively owned by the state (even if sometimes run by religious groups) it’s a major factor in the debate whereas it tends not to get the airplay it deserves here in Oz.

  5. mbahnisch says:

    These were the years when Mediterranean migrant children were teased for having salami in their sandwiches instead of Vegemite, and when even well-heeled families had few qualms about sending their precious darlings to the same school as the kids from the wrong side of the tracks.

    I’m not so sure about this claim, though.

    At least in Queensland, going to secondary school at all was very much a privilege of the minority until the late 50s. Most people used to leave after grade 8 and “scholarship” – there were very few state high schools at all. When I finished high school in 1984, about 60% of the students at my state high school had disappeared after grade 10. So you had, and I dare say would still have to a lesser but still significant degree, a significant structuring of opportunities related to school retention which in turn were very much influenced by the educational and class backgrounds of parents.

    Secondly, the Catholic schools vs. public schools divide represented and reproduced a big social cleavage which certainly didn’t foster social integration. And within both types of school, there was significant hierarchisation according to class (in Qld there’s no zonal system so you can send your kids to any state high school – except the one selective one – so “good” ones tend to attract “better” pupils from the same broad geographic area in the cities).

    Thirdly, and again I’m open to correction for other states, the elite still sent their kids to the GPS schools overwhelmingly throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s and still do.

  6. Tony D says:

    There is the perspective that the reason to send kids to school is to learn.

    I would argue that the social skills are more important than the academic – and they are learned in the playground, not the school room. People are generally not fully paid up members of the human race (except biologically of course), they have to be sort of bounced around by the brownian-motion of society in order to fit in. I mean, just look at Brendan Nelson or Tony Abbott.

    Hmmmmm, I think that’s a paraphrase of Terry Pratchett, can’t remember what book though.

    Elite schooling encourages elitism and exceptionalism – and what fun that is eh?

    That said, the sheer quantity and quality of narcotics available to me and my class mates whilst at our wholesome private school was far, far higher than anything the kids a public schools could get their hands on. Think about it – which student has more disposable cash? Private schools are the more lucrative target market.

  7. gummotrotsky says:

    I would argue that the social skills are more important than the academic – and they are learned in the playground, not the school room. (emphasis added)

    In other words, we leave it to kids to teach kids the manners and conduct they will bring to adult society when they’re deemed legally mature and competent enough to enter the adult world of work, politics etc.

    Am I alone in thinking that this might be a slightly daft approach to the teaching of something as important as social skills?

  8. exilemerc says:

    SRK: “one of the strongest motivations for parents sending their children to independent schools is the academic benefits.”

    Well SRK, if that were true, it would be fair enough. But unfortunately for parents who think this is so, there is a paucity of evidence to support their sincere belief. In other words, they are paying over-the-odds for a “product” of dubious providence:

    a) Independent schools can and do disguise their low-achievers by enrolling them in TAFE, by expelling them, or best of all, by enrolling them in the International Baccalaurate, which sounds awfully prestigious, but which keeps their low-fliers from dragging down the HSC average. If I ran the International Baccalaurate in Australia, I would be spitting chips about this degradation of my brand.

    b) Empirical studies have found no difference in the unviersity achievement level of publicly-educated and “privately”-educated learners. In fact, there is a slight statistical effect to show that public-school educated school children do better at tertiary level, though it is only a weak effect.

    c) Once controlled for socioeconomic background there is no statistically significant difference between public and private school populations.

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but the “academic benefits” argument doesn’t stand up. The two systems are indistinguishable in terms of final effects on people’s life trajectory, once you control for background factors such as being born into an advantageous environment.

    But if it makes you feel better, that’s OK. Plenty of people swear to the beneficial effects of their current brand of snake-oil. They’d feel rather foolish otherwise.

  9. SRK says:

    Mercurius: my apologies for not being clear. Let me disambiguate a claim I made in my initial comment. I said “that one of the strongest motivations for parents sending their children to independent schools is the academic benefits”. There are two ways in which this can be read.

    1: The academic benefits of independent schools are one of the strongest motivations for parents to send their children there.
    2: One of the strongest motivations for parents to send their children to independent schools is their academic benefits.

    I meant the second reading, not the first. The second reading does not entail that independent schools have academic benefits (of course, the first reading does so entail).

  10. silkworm says:

    What you really meant to say was: One of the strongest motivations for parents to send their children to independent schools is the perception of their academic benefits.

  11. exilemerc says:

    Thanks for clarifying SRK. It might be even more truthful to say that “One of the strongest motivations for parents to send their children to independent schools (that they will own up to) is the perception of their academic benefits.”

    There are a lot of motivations that parents won’t own up to – like social-climbing – that somehow never show up in the list of reasons. Moral vanity often wins out in such discussions…it’s like those polls where people say they’d prefer more services to a tax-cut, because that is a nobler answer – and then they vote on the hip-pocket election after election…

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually not cynical about such motivations. They’re understandable in the context of a society that sees education as a private asset, not a public good. I just get impatient with that slice of the population that won’t own up to their own venality.

  12. Tony D says:

    Gummo @ 7

    No mate, you’re not alone in thinking it’s daft – but don’t forget the other behavioral modification factors like parental influence (aka ‘brainwashing’ as I referred to it on the other thread). Parental indoctrination may serve as a term as well. In/out-group dynamics play a massive part too, though that probably falls under the playground.

    Conflicting values from the various groups – yay.

  13. aidan says:

    I get the feeling that for a lot of parents it is important that they be seen to make a choice, whatever that choice might be. So simply packing the kids off to the local school is too .. default.

    So in some cases this choice is another public school “with a better reputation” or a private school.

    Personally I don’t think you can overestimate the value of a neighbourhood Primary school. The social networks, the sense of belonging, the ability to interact with peers without having to get mum or dad to drive you three suburbs away to play with your mates. I think this is important stuff.

    I have been amazed by the commitment of the teachers at the local public school. They are fab and the first thing I would do if I was made emperor would be to cut out 80% of the bullshit assessment they have to fill out for the kids. It takes time out of their day that could be more usefully spent teaching the children.

  14. David Rubie says:

    gummotrotsky wrote:

    Am I alone in thinking that this might be a slightly daft approach to the teaching of something as important as social skills?

    For starters gummo, most kids learn their social skills at home. The schoolyard/lunchtime stuff I would contend is very hard to teach. There are some mindsets that you just cannot replicate if you don’t think that way (think school bully or socially dominating schoolgirl for example). There’s nothing more painful than watching girls interact in schoolyards (the note passing, ostracisation for perceived wrongs etc.) but since that’s the kind of behaviour they’ll encounter in workplaces, but can’t learn at home, I say let ’em at it.

  15. gummotrotsky says:

    … most kids learn their social skills at home.

    I’d suggest, first, that that is a gross oversimplification – at best, kids learn the first rudiments of social skills at home – how to get on with parents and siblings. That’s if we assume that they all come from statistically average Australian families, with Mum, Dad one sibling and one permanently on the way.

    That situation doesn’t provide a lot of opportunity for practice in getting on with a range of adults or a wide range of other kids. At the age of 5 we take them out of that environment – either a sanctuary or a pressure cooker, depending on the colour of your glasses and the stresses on the family – for the most active part of their day and more or less toss them in at the deep end.

    I’m trying to avoid a nostalgia trip here, but before me family migrated to Oz, I managed to put in a fair bit of time socialising with grandparents, great aunts, cousins etc, largely because a lot of the members of my extended family lived within walking distance. Whether it made me any better at adapting to the schoolyard is open to debate – any evidence I’d present on that score would be anecdotal and biased – but there wasn’t the same huge leap in scale.

  16. David Rubie says:

    gummotrotsky wrote:

    but there wasn’t the same huge leap in scale.

    There would be few kids who are taken from a small nuclear family and dumped straight into a 1000 kid school. Most have a gradual exposure to larger groups now: mothers group, playgroup (10-15 kids for a couple of hours a week), childcare for some, then pre-school (10-50 kids), then primary school where most of the younger children are segregated at play if the facilities permit it.

    Primary school is a bit of a leap, but I would think for most kids the exposure to larger social groups is reasonably gradual. It can be confronting for some kids to end up in a big school after being sheltered in smaller groups, but most find their feet quickly and a little independence isn’t going to hurt them. They need to be able to function as little independent units at some point, make their social mistakes, read the signals that others are giving out, without hanging off an apron string.

  17. aidan says:


    They need to be able to function as little independent units at some point, make their social mistakes, read the signals that others are giving out, without hanging off an apron string.

    I agree, but I also know from my own experience that some kids are just better than others at the social interaction thing. From my observations girls seem to fare better than boys at the early stages.

    We took great care to minimise the degree of change to try to smooth the socialisation process by enrolling our son in a local preschool where the majority of the kids also went on to the local primary school. We were also aware that the local primary school is small with a real emphasis on the kids looking after each other. This was pretty important for our son but for other kids this would not be such a priority.

    But in the end, he was on his own. We helped out with suggestions when we could but he just had to muddle on through. To his credit he seems to be coping very well.

  18. bahnischba says:

    Even the normal seperatism after punctuation marks would help!

    David, it’s just not ethical to say “but since that’s the kind of behaviour they’ll encounter in workplaces, but can’t learn at home, I say let ‘em at it.” Some kids end up dead.

    Every school in Qld must have a behaviour management policy with an anti-bullying component, but there is bullying in every school. The girls are less physical but can be even more vicious.

    If we believe in educating the ‘whole child’, and we should, social education can’t be confined to a classroom. Supervision in the schoolyard and other extra-classroom settings should not be just a duty of care, it should be part of social education.

    The primary school our youngest went to taught philosophy to all kids. Behaviour issues observed in the school yard were grist to the mill in discussing ethics.

    The secondary school he went to (a Catholic private school) had a similar view of its responsibilities and devoted more than double the staff resources to counselling that you would find in a government school of similar size.

  19. bahnischba says:

    At #5 Mark said:

    I’m open to correction for other states, the elite still sent their kids to the GPS schools overwhelmingly throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s and still do.

    That’s right, I think. I went to a Lutheran boarding school in the 50s that was set up for farmers’ kids and the sons and daughters of missionaries in PNG. Back then it was also a cheap Australian boarding school and attracted a certain clientele of ethnic Chinese and Indians from SE Asia and Fiji who mostly weren’t Lutherans. Missing were the truly rich.

    The school our youngest went to had a multi-ethnic mix from 50 countries and over 150 suburbs (500 kids), a real melting pot, but no truly rich.

    Philosophically I’d always argued for the elimination of private schools for reasons that include the inherent value of heterogeneity, but it’s an academic argument, essentially a waste of breathe.

  20. David Rubie says:

    banischba wrote:

    David, it’s just not ethical to say “but since that’s the kind of behaviour they’ll encounter in workplaces, but can’t learn at home, I say let ‘em at it.” Some kids end up dead.

    Maybe at Vincent Price Waxworks High School. A bit OTT don’t you think?

    It’s not ethical to shield kids from everything. Protecting them is fine, but children aren’t the fine bone china that the Disney Corporation would have us believe. Genuine problems of bullying exist, but there are good channels for dealing with them including withdrawing your child from the school.

    A far greater amount of violence to children happens in their own homes, not schools. I’d be more worried about addressing that I think than trying to scare up a moral panic about schools

  21. mbahnisch says:

    It’s not ethical to shield kids from everything.

    But kids don’t get shielded, David, the consequences of bullying get dealt with. When I was in high school the prevailing attitude – from some teachers even to physical violence – was “it’ll make men of them”. In some cases, down the track, and I don’t think Brian is being hyperbolic with his comment – it may have led to suicide. We had about 5 suicides from 150 seniors within about 3 years of high school finishing.

  22. David Rubie says:

    mbahnisch wrote:

    We had about 5 suicides from 150 seniors within about 3 years of high school finishing.

    That’s a terrifying number of kids and incredibly sad. I still think it’s drawing a fairly long bow to relate it entirely back to school though.

  23. mbahnisch says:

    Yep it was awful. I’m not saying school was the sole contributing factor, but in a number of the cases where I knew the person reasonably well (and certainly in one case where it was a good friend), I think bullying at school contributed.

  24. suzeoz says:

    I think in these sorts of discussions it’s useful to make a distinction between primary and secondary school, because there is quite a big difference in proportion of kids in public/private schooling in both. ie many more people will send their kids to a local public primary school but shift to private school for high school. That’s when the ‘higher academic standards/more resources/ arguments come into play. My child is at a public primary but I can see that the pressure to go private will increase as he gets older.

  25. suzeoz says:

    PS Not that we are planning to go private but all around us other parents are.

  26. bahnischba says:

    It’s not ethical to shield kids from everything. Protecting them is fine, but children aren’t the fine bone china that the Disney Corporation would have us believe. Genuine problems of bullying exist, but there are good channels for dealing with them including withdrawing your child from the school.

    A far greater amount of violence to children happens in their own homes, not schools. I’d be more worried about addressing that I think than trying to scare up a moral panic about schools

    Yes, David, kids need to learn independence and how to stick up for themselves and violence in homes is a worry. I’d like to know, however, how it is considered OK for kids to be bullied at school or anywhere else.

    There are not “good channels” for dealing with bullying except in a few rare schools. Removing your child from the school is simply not an acceptable solution and often doesn’t help. Bullying results in the loss of self esteem and it’s a weakness that the bullies in the new setting are likely to sniff out.

    We had the experience where our child was bullied in the classroom, in the playground, at cricket and at scouts. There are many ways for those in leadership positions to handle the situation badly and we experienced quite a number of them.

    We did remove him to another school – I used to drive past about 10 schools (none of which I had any confidence in) to the other side of town. We also saw a psychologist who specialised in self esteem problems in the young and parted hundreds of dollars in the process.

    By contrast nothing happened to the bullies and there is a fair chance they are bullies still.

    The school we took him to and the secondary school we selected out of about 10 that we considered both saw social education and the development of independence as a central and serious part of their mission. You get lots of lip service but a serious and effective effort is rare.

    I happen to think that bullying is endemic in our society, so you’ll forgive me if I seem a bit impatient about it. Violence in the home and bullying in schools and work places are all of a piece, in a sense.

    Mark’s rigt, BTW, I wasn’t being hyperbolic. You couldn’t say that every young person who suicides was bullied at school, but I’d argue that it is often a factor and, importantly, that what happens in the school yard should be drawn fully into a holistic educational program.

Comments are closed.

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.
%d bloggers like this: