The privileges the right-wingers insist I deserved

On this week’s Pure Poison Podcast we had a bit of a vigorous debate on the subject of school funding. (Well, “vigorous debate” – Dave expressed an opinion and then I ranted a bit in response. ANYWAY.)

And there was a point raised that I think deserves an airing on this blog as well.

That point is this: those advocating for the privilege of private school kids are advocating for people like Jeremy Sear to receive extra, unearned advantages over other, perhaps more talented and more deserving kids.

See, as has been pointed out before by those who like to personalise every argument (as if it made me some kind of hypocrite), I attended a first-rate private school, Melbourne Grammar. My parents scrimped and saved and took on extra jobs and worked bloody hard to send me there. And, in an environment where the vast majority of my fellow schoolmates were destined for University and the Professions, I then attended Melbourne University as a law student and am, today, fortunate enough to practise law as a barrister – a profession filled with other alumni of my former school.

Would I have achieved this had I been at the local high school? Who knows. (Obviously I worked hard enough to get first-class VCE results; even the most expensive private school can’t actually provide those for you.) The point is, clearly my parents – and all those other parents stumping up what I understand now are yearly fees well into five figures – felt and feel that they were and are getting value for money, that I was receiving a quality of education I would not have received in the public system. Maybe it was the extra facilities and services – I suspect the local high school didn’t have a thriving music program and several orchestras. I suspect it didn’t have a boat-shed on the Yarra down by Princes Bridge filled with rowing sculls. Maybe it was the quality of teachers, being higher-paid than those at the public schools. Maybe it was being surrounded by other students from privileged backgrounds destined for the better remunerated professions – an environment where achievement was expected and difficult students were conveniently absent. Where our basic, fundamental, compulsory education – the 8.45 to 3.15 schooling that the state compels of all children – was in a high-resourced, high-achievement environment.

The point is, whatever those advantages – I had done nothing to deserve them. And yet I enjoyed them, and then competed for University places and jobs with those who had not.

Those advocating for the private school system are calling for more Jeremy Sears to receive privileges in their basic education that they’ve done nothing to deserve. Just think about it. Right now, there are future Jeremy Sears – kids who’ve received every privilege their parents could bestow, but who could nevertheless discover a social conscience at University and become, ugh, lefties – just waiting to take the places at University of other, perhaps more deserving children. Future Jeremy Sears who’ll use their private school education to campaign for, say, The Greens. Future Jeremy Sears who’ll get whatever high-paying jobs you despise, arguing whatever other things it is you despise, leveraging their privilege in who knows what ways to annoy you.

And all because we had a system where the lucky bastards got a fundamental leg-up over everybody else’s kids at the very beginning, just because of their parents.

Why do right-wingers want to help the Jeremy Sears of this world so much?

UPDATE (13/3): Judith Sloan at Catallaxy doesn’t agree with a one-tier school system and abolishing fee-paying schools. Because, you know, “if parents don’t like these types of schools, they will not send their children there”.

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44 responses to “The privileges the right-wingers insist I deserved

  1. jordanrastrick

    Pah. I laugh at your inferior private school privileges, trumped any day by my awesome selective school privileges 😛

    In all seriousness, actually it is an interesting point of comparison, to me. With the rise of coaching colleges in particular, selective schools are now in some ways a lot closer to private schools than when I went to one, in that parental resources and so forth have more direct bearing on who gains access to them (as opposed to access via “merit”).

    On the other hand, plenty of people think taking public funding from private schools is sufficient to achieve a reasonably equitable system of education, but by the above point selective schools surely are a counterexample to that.

  2. Splatterbottom

    We should definitely punish parents who spend more on their children than others. That is just so monumentally unjust. We need special police to confiscate the extra lollies some kids get, otherwise some child, through no fault of their own will be missing out!

    Parents who spend too much time with their children are clearly giving them unfair love and attention and should be jailed to prevent their children from being advantaged over children who, through no fault of their own, don’t receive the same attention. And don’t get me started about children who live with both parents – how unjust for all the children of single parent families. We need compulsory divorce once a child turns 5.

    I went to a private school for two years and the main thing I got from that was a healthy contempt for the spoiled spawn wealthy families.

  3. Bugger it, I left out the bit distinguishing between the fundamental nature of schooling and the other, after-school privileges which wealthy parents can otherwise impose. I’ll put that back in when I get home.

  4. Splatterbottom

    But Jeremy, education fundamentals are similar in both. The results indicate little difference in academic outcome overall. The other factors are more like the ones you mentioned – extra music or sporting opportunities or nicer surroundings, that type of thing. It is a big stretch to argue that there is a difference in education fundamentals. As Jordan noted, certainly in NSW it is the selective state schools that seem to be ahead on education outcomes. You probably don’t like them either!

  5. after-school privileges which wealthy parents can otherwise impose. I’ll put that back in when I get home.

    Lord, I look forward to that after I get back from my bourgeois Gym.

  6. I’m having to trawl my memory here, but I’m pretty sure that the research looking at school performance found that private vs public has very little effect.

    So, why are private school results better? – a large part of the effect is self-selection. Parents who are very interested in and supportive of their kids education are more likely to send their kids to a private school. And those with higher education levels themselves are the ones more interested in their childrens education. And likewise, higher parental educational levels are linked with higher income, making it more likely they can consider this option.

    The biggest predictor of childrens school performance is the parents educational level, bigger than public/private school, or even the quality of the teachers.

    So, are taxpayers getting the most bang for their educational buck by helping all the little Jeremy’s to go rowing on the Yarra? – probably not.

  7. Chris Mayer

    Surely the unsaid thing about private schools is parents want to control *who* their children go to school with, more than their education. Got to keep them away from the riff-raff and all that.

  8. Splatterbottom

    Chris, in my case a reason for sending my kids to private schools is exactly that. I prefer that they do not have to deal with thugs and bullies, that they mix with children from families with similar values, that they go to a school small enough that parents have a say in matters of concern to their children.

    I should add that the schools are small catholic schools with students from diverse backgrounds. They are also a world away from the GPS schools.

    It is not about the academic results. The kids would have done about as well as they did if they went to a state school, maybe a bit better if they had gone to a selective school.

    These are decisions which parents should be entitled to make. I’ve been happy with the outcome for the kids.

  9. “Chris, in my case a reason for sending my kids to private schools is exactly that. I prefer that they do not have to deal with thugs and bullies, that they mix with children from families with similar values, that they go to a school small enough that parents have a say in matters of concern to their children.”

    Whereas I’d argue that NO kids should “have to deal with thugs and bullies” – and if you didn’t have this convenient private school “out”, you – and other parents – would demand better of the public system.

    One of the most fundamental problems with having multiple tiers of education is that it enables the people with the money, and the people with the power, to know that their kids won’t have to deal with the consequences of their decisions regarding the public system.

    On selective schools – I have no problem with extra resources being allocated to the talented. The difference between selective schools and private schools is that the former select their students on talent. The latter select their students on the basis of what fees their parents can pay.

    That said, I don’t think the difference in resources should be all that great. Just because a kid is not scholastically brilliant doesn’t mean they don’t deserve decent opportunities – in fact, those with the biggest problems probably deserve more resources allocated to them on the basis of need. (And if you don’t care what happens to them – think what the community will save by investing in them when young rather than letting their problems escalate and dealing with them more expensively later on.)

    As for religious schools – why should children have their basic schooling co-opted by religious groups looking for converts? Why shouldn’t all children be entitled to a neutral, objective education and if their parents insist on imposing their religious beliefs on them then they can bloody well do that in their free time.

    Meanwhile, fact is that the universities are disproportionately full of private school graduates. That’s the inequality right there.

  10. Um! Aren’t the two Melbourne schools that are year-after-year top or near top of the tree in the academic stakes state schools? And aren’t there quite a few others that are regularly offering the equivalent in academic standard to the private schools as well?

    Equal standing with the posh crowd is possible with all our government run schools. All the government has to do is have the ticker to withstand the private school PR onslaught and transition the bulk of the tax revenue from private to state schools. Where it should be!

    I’m not sure how important a boat-shed and a thriving orchestra is in lifting academic standards. 😉 However, lifting the quality of teachers and providing better facilities certainly is.

    Just how you can justify the existence of a heavily government subsidised private school with three campuses, heated swimming pools, enormous beautifully manicured playing fields, netball courts and a state of the art gymnasium plus $2m invested while some state schools still run cake stalls to cover the basics is beyond me.

    I’m hoping the by the time my kids reach secondary level there will be more Melbourne High and MacRob like schools to choose from.

    It might take a revolution but I’m up for the fight.

  11. you – and other parents – would demand better of the public system

    Jeremy, I tried for a lot of years, to demand better of the education system for my kids and for a better more efficient and functional health system for my patients and myself. There’s only so many times you can beat your head against a wall before saying; “fuck it – I give up”.

    In the case of the education system, the solution was to put my kids into the private system.

    In the case of the health system, my “solution” was to leave clinical practice and head into bureaucracy where I thought I stood a better chance of effective whatever small change I could from within.

  12. I entirely understand both of those actions – you might want to change the country, but you still have to live in it as it is. And I understand progressive people still sending their children to decent private schools if the only alternative is a shoddy public school – you can keep fighting to improve that public school, but there’s nothing gained by damaging your kids’ opportunities in life out of bloody-mindedness.

    The point of all this isn’t to force kids into shitty public schools. It’s to build up the public schools to the point where nobody in their right mind would pay private school fees. The problem is that if you increase the funding for public schools, it’s going to require extra money from the wealthy. And they’re going to fight it tooth and nail while they’re paying five figure school fees.

  13. I went to a private catholic School, fairly small etc etc. It had its fair share of thugs and bullies.

  14. jordanrastrick

    For what its worth, I don’t value my educational experience at a selective school primarily for the educational outcome (I learned/achieved little in high school that has had much direct impact on my life today.)

    I value it because it gave me many friends I have to this day, and most critically an environment in which I was only mildly bullied for being a nerd. There’s some reasonably elevated chance I’d be dead by now if I’d gone to a non-selective school. I don’t know how much better a private school would have been – bullying certainly takes on different forms, but I don’t necessarily think it is less prevalent or traumatic per se. Of course this varies a lot from school to school etc.

  15. Splatterbottom

    Jordan you probably get a better class of bully at selective schools. The dumb ones don’t get selected out. Also, the quality control of teachers is also likely more rigorous.

  16. Better class of bully is still a bully. I’m wondering though, how do private vs public school bullies compare to the typical bullies in the workplace? Thus, how does the experience at either school equip you for dealing with difficult people later in life?

    The parents have an enormous role in this, too. I have a lot of veteran teachers in my immediate and extended family who teach at a range of schools (state, private, Catholic, over their career). The anecdotal evidence (which is, I stress, anecdotal) is that many state-school kids are not poor or from LSES backgrounds at all. These kids carry the latest gadgets and are materially very well looked after. Their parents just don’t value education as a self-evident good, and thus don’t see the point in paying fees. This is especially true of parents whose kids are slated to go straight into the family business full-time as soon as legally possible, or sons who are going to follow Dad in taking up his trade. Certainly not true of all state-school students! (Particularly kids of new arrivals to Aus whose parents brought them here specifically for education and a chance at a better life.) But a surprisingly common story nonetheless, and one that is not widely discussed .

  17. Splatterbottom

    Defixio my experience was that public school bullies got away with more, and it was harder to get rid of them. There were still bullies in the private school, but the bullies didn’t have the same cachet as at the public school, and the private school was more prepared to take action against them. I can remember looking forward to university thinking that people there would be nicer than at school. A sad delusion indeed.

    My experience of workplace bullying was more in the nature of mental games. I’ve been able to deal with it, but I’ve seen a lot of people suffer badly from it. At least school had an end date. If you need the job it can look like there is no escape.

    There is a whole lot of work and controversy about the role of parental expectations in education. A general expectation such as that a child will progress to tertiary education seems to me to be less beneficial than a specific expectation that the child will do well in each subject coupled with close supervision of study habits. When it comes to my own kids I’m somewhere in the middle on that. I tell them often that post-secondary qualifications are essential. I lecture them on the need for study, but only get pushy about it in year 11. In the end the kids have to decide what kind of life they want to lead. Parents can only ask them to make sensible decisions and give them information and advice.

  18. narcoticmusing

    “the private school was more prepared to take action against them”

    The reason for that is that the private school has the right to expel them, the public school doesn’t (not without jumping through dozens of hoops) and can also be forced to take expelled students from other schools.

    I suppose the question is how to address the issue, particularly if you are a public school and are pretty much stuck with the kids.

    Workplace bullying is different again and I’m not sure there is a solution because too often the bully is a person in a position of power that cannot be chastised. It seems too much to simply ask that people are professional.

  19. jordanrastrick

    Jordan you probably get a better class of bully at selective schools. The dumb ones don’t get selected out.

    SB, I’m a tad confsed what you mean by this – the bullies are better at bullying, because they’re smarter? Or they’re better as in less unpleasant?

    Also, the quality control of teachers is also likely more rigorous.

    I wish that were true, but I think the only additional quality control is self-selection – a certain kind of good teacher wants to teach at selective schools, so as they work their way through their system when they’ve accumulated enough seniority (ugh, what an archaic piece of bullshit process that is) they tend to end up at somewhere selective.

    But I had some truly excellent and amazing teachers and some truly appallingly awful teachers (as in I would have fired them on the spot without hesitation if I’d been in charge and had free reign to do so.) And then a quite a few mediocre teachers in between.

  20. Splatterbottom

    Jordan, I had in mind that the bullies public school seemed to be more popular overall than private school bullies . Bullying was more frowned upon by the general body of students there. The public school culture was more law of the jungle, and physical dominance was more respected. Public school bullies were more overtly violent private school bullies less so.

  21. “Public school bullies were more overtly violent private school bullies less so.”

    SB now I know you’re taking the piss.

    SB in his upper class English accent. “Those public school ruffians are so dreadful, they’re smelly, unclean, and have holes in their socks. They speak so course I have to cover my ears, and most times tell mummy that I hate it so.Mummy says for me not to worry, one day I will be a bank manager and get my revenge on those just frightfully awful working class yobs.

    If only it all wasn’t so true.

  22. I know it’s slightly of topic but this piece of public bullying by that increasingly cruel arsehat Bolt is just fucking odious:
    http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/heraldsun/comments/my_favorite_enemy/

  23. returnedman

    SB needs to get out and about in more pwivate schools.

    The culture of bullying is extremely well entrenched. Because it starts at home. And before it gets home, it is developed and nurtured in the boardroom.

    This is why I don’t want my kids associating with the sorts of families who attend elite private schools.

  24. Okay, the more I read of that, the more I think her whole blog is a very, very elaborate piss take.

    Excuse me while I return to work….

  25. The culture of bullying is extremely well entrenched. Because it starts at home. And before it gets home, it is developed and nurtured in the boardroom.

    And here we are back to the notion that every family that sends their child to a private school is run by the High Level Executive Board Director.

    What bullshit.

    Jeremy makes it perfectly clear in his original post that his parents had to scrimp and save to send him to private school; as do we. We choose to send our kids to a private school and for that we don’t go on the annual pilgrimage for cheap knocked off DVDs to Bali.

    And to describe every family that sends their child to a private school as “bullys” is a complete fucking nonsense.

    Get a grip returnedman.

  26. Splatterbottom

    PJH your link didn’t work.

    RM exactly what is your argument? I’m only making comments based on my own experience. I went to public schools and had the last two years in a large and expensive private school. When it came down to it I sent my kids to small catholic schools. I’m glad I had that choice, and resent any attempt to limit it.

  27. PJH your link didn’t work.

    Don’t worry too much about it. If you read the blog he refers to, it’s clearly an elaborate pisstake by someone with a lot of time on their hands.

    I retract my statement about Bolt.

    The “cruel bullying” bit…

    He’s still an arsehat…

  28. You mean you actually read the ill informed bile that masquerades as journalism PJH?

  29. Yeh sure. Gotta keep your finger on the pulse of all opinions.

  30. “Jordan you probably get a better class of bully at selective schools. The dumb ones don’t get selected out. Also, the quality control of teachers is also likely more rigorous.”

    Google Xavier College

  31. jordanrastrick

    lkurgus, it seems Xavier College is a private catholic school. So the argument is not quite the same as the one about public selective schools, although it may apply to other points SB has been making.

  32. “Don’t worry too much about it. If you read the blog he refers to, it’s clearly an elaborate pisstake by someone with a lot of time on their hands. “

    Maybe. There are two possibilities:
    1. It is genuinely the personal site of an ordinary citizen (perhaps with some vulnerabilities), in which case unleashing the News Ltd monkeys is cruel, nasty and irresponsible – bullying, at its core.
    2. It’s satire, in which case presenting it as otherwise on the News Ltd site is deceptive.

  33. returnedman

    And to describe every family that sends their child to a private school as “bullys” is a complete fucking nonsense.

    Get a grip returnedman.

    Let me guess – you’re a private school parent?

    Looks like an own goal to me. By the way, I can’t find where I said “every”.

  34. Point taken, Jordan… but consider:-

    if I were running PR for a private school model that supped deeply upon the public n-pple, to the extent that its public counterpart had to be bottle-fed;
    and if my persistent advice (about how unedifying the spectacle was) didn’t dissuade my masters from demanding even more boobage;
    I’d have to invoke selective schooling as a pretext every day of the week.

    Don’t look at me like that – if my master don’t get his lips on the taxpayers ta-tas, he don’t give me no sugar.

  35. The biggest difference in performance is within the state school system – state schools in wealthy areas (high ICSEA scores) massively outperform state schools in poor areas. And they do that even when the state schools in poor areas receive up to 50% more funding.

    Your parents are the answer, Jeremy. Not the school you went to, or how much money was spent on you.

  36. Pingback: Ain’t no such thing as a free education at Catallaxy Files

  37. PS – we don’t necessarily want to help you, Jeremy. We just want you to have freedom of choice.

  38. And poor kids not to.

    As for the difference between poor and wealthy kids – you don’t think that’s something we should tackle? And that there’s a significant cost to poor kids to have the wealthy kids in their areas – those, for whatever reasons, with a much better opportunity to succeed – nicking off to the fee-paying schools those kids by definition can’t attend?

  39. We want everyone to have freedom of choice. I never said I didn’t want poor kids to have a choice. I’d prefer to give poor families a voucher and let them decide where to send their kids, rather than condemn them to their closest swampy state school. The state system currently does that – it denies the poor any choice in the matter.

    Tackling the gap between rich and poor is a matter for individuals. ie, individuals choose whether to improve their lot in life (or not to).

    What is the cost to poor kids of wealthy kids in a poor area going to private schools? Does it mean there are fewer wealthy kids around that they can rob? What are you on about?

  40. “I never said I didn’t want poor kids to have a choice. I’d prefer to give poor families a voucher and let them decide where to send their kids, “

    What? You think with a voucher, poor kids will get sent to Melbourne Grammar? Are you kidding?

    “The state system currently does that – it denies the poor any choice in the matter.”

    First, kids don’t get to choose their own school, so the mantra of “choice” makes no sense in this area. Secondly, the idea that poor parents could “choose” to send their kids to expensive private schools in your preferred system is utterly absurd.

    “Tackling the gap between rich and poor is a matter for individuals. ie, individuals choose whether to improve their lot in life (or not to).”

    Not if disadvantage is established in the most fundamental way from the beginning of a person’s life, ie their schooling. I’m not advocating equality of outcome, but I am advocating something much closer to equality of opportunity.

    “What is the cost to poor kids of wealthy kids in a poor area going to private schools?”

    1. the wealthy (and powerful) have little incentive to fund and support the public system properly.
    2. the disadvantaged kids get stuck in ghettoes of disadvantage, where hopelessness breeds hopelessness.
    3. the wealthy kids then compete with the disadvantaged kids for university and jobs.

    Did you read my post?

    “Does it mean there are fewer wealthy kids around that they can rob?”

    Cos poor people are thieves and blackguards! Of course!

    Dickhead. I mean, honestly, what a repulsive thing to say.

  41. Reposted from Catallaxy with minor changes.

    Jeremy, your argument rests on dubious premises. The first is that education can be improved with increased funding. As some on the Catallaxy thread have pointed out already, this is empirically false. Another is that education can be equalised somehow. Since there are huge disparities between public schools currently, implying that simply having a public system isn’t very ‘flattening’, I have to wonder what mechanism could be used to achieve equalisation.

  42. “The first is that education can be improved with increased funding. As some on the Catallaxy thread have pointed out already, this is empirically false.”

    Not increased funding alone, but obviously increased funding is part of it. A critical part of it.

    “Another is that education can be equalised somehow. Since there are huge disparities between public schools currently, implying that simply having a public system isn’t very ‘flattening’, I have to wonder what mechanism could be used to achieve equalisation.”

    I don’t think it can be entirely equalised, but the basic 9-3.15 education, the compulsory education that we recognise all children should receive – that should be equal. Equally good. (You’ll note that the commenters on the Catallaxy thread implicitly admit that the public system is second-rate when they argue that an equal system would be bringing the private schools down – they just don’t care, because they can take their kids out of it. But if they couldn’t…)

  43. What a heap of crap they are spinning over at Catallaxy.

  44. narcoticmusing

    Jermey, I couldn’t agree more. The issue as I see it I suppose is that education is likely just a symptom (and ironically the cure) of the greater problem (kinda like alcohol the cause and solution to all life’s problems). Disadvantage, particularly inherited disadvantage, is very difficult to overcome. To equalise the opportunity means, from the start of that life (ie while still in the womb) there needs to be significantly more support. Near the end of Howard’s reign, on one of the few occasions COAG met, they finally came to the agreement that early years education was an important investment in terms of development of human capital.

    Victoria led the agenda on this at the time (although we could be doing better now) and had to sell early childhood education based on longitudinal studies that demonstrated the bang for buck (conservatively $1 spent was $7 saved). So COAG accepted this and early childhood has had significant political will and increases in funding from state and federal levels since (and attention in other ways such as giving kindergarten teachers career structures, support etc, not just $$).

    We need to see the same sort of longitudinal evidence presented with the same fervor. Web sites and league table equivalents do not help schools, it just reinforces that you are disadvantaged and trapped here. We all know that the country would be better off if we could stop poverty cycles.

    I honestly believe that the most significant and plausible mechanism to escape poverty is education. We seem to want poor people to dig a hole under the fence with the sweat on their own back to get out of poverty, instead we need to enable them to leap over the fence ala the great escape via good education. Free, quality education is the most profoundly powerful mechanism a country as well resourced as Australia has to break poverty cycles.

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