Last week I published a few thoughts about the way that I see various forces are coordinating an attack on education, and in most cases, the public system of education. Of course, none of this is particularly revelatory – it is the modus operandi for neoliberalism. It is part of a concerted attack on the standards of social democracies and welfare states that people in Australia have come to rely on, and the same arguments that I have made about education can, and have been made about topics like healthcare and infrastructure and other examples.
The procedure appears to be relatively simple. The first thing to note is that it is based on an ideological approach – there is very little evidence that privatisation and ‘small government’ actually is in anyone’s best interests. The traditional argument is that it is cheaper, and it might very well be – at least in the short term. But once all the assets have been sold, I fail to see how it benefits anybody except shareholders. And if that cheapness comes at the price of cutting services, then once again, we have allowed an economy to rule our livelihoods and not, as it should be, the other way around. I acknowledge that any refutation of the neoliberal agenda comes from its own ideological standpoint, and I express that here. But I’m far more comfortable with a standpoint that emphasises human rights and equality than I am with one that emphasises filling bankers’ pockets.
Education – for a very long time – has been safe from the predations of conservatives. Of course, the great battles for a public education were fought and won by progressive forces a long time ago – so long, I think , that we forget that it used to be viewed as something only for the rich. Now, in Australia, children are required to go to school – and that’s something that can only be seen as good. Education goes hand in hand with social cohesion, with lower crime rates, higher incomes and better health. In many ways, and with apologies to The West Wing, it remains the ‘silver bullet’.
But now, at least as far as I can see, in countries like Australia, education is up for grabs. All school teachers are being increasingly instrumentalized – as if a one size fits all model could ever deliver meaningful education in a thousand different school to a million different students. Teachers are required to undertake psychological testing in order to ensure that they are suitable for teaching – what does ‘suitable’ even mean? Graduates are required to get 3 Band 5s now in order to qualify for a teaching course. Of course, it’s all presented as sensible and meaningful and part of the ‘solution’ but it’s not. If people were genuinely interested in raising the quality of teachers (assuming that we need to, in the first place), we’d simply pay teachers more. How’s that for your marketplace economics? More people will want to do the job, which means more people will compete for limited positions, and thus we can select a higher standard.
But of course, that’s not the case – because, despite the flowery rhetoric, that’s not what the policy drivers are attempting to do.