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The Stupid Country: How Australia Is Dismantling Public Education

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This book warns of a future where the hardest schools for Australian parents to get their kids into will be public ones. With insight, passion and a great sense of urgency Chris Bonnor and Jane Caro show how government, anxious  parents, the church and ideology are combining to  undermine public schools. The Stupid Country is not a one-sided defense of public education. Bu This book warns of a future where the hardest schools for Australian parents to get their kids into will be public ones. With insight, passion and a great sense of urgency Chris Bonnor and Jane Caro show how government, anxious  parents, the church and ideology are combining to  undermine public schools. The Stupid Country is not a one-sided defense of public education. But it challenges us to consider whether we really want to continue stumbling blindly down our current  path,  risking the health of our public schools and everything they have created—our prosperity, unity, stability—even, perhaps, our democracy.


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This book warns of a future where the hardest schools for Australian parents to get their kids into will be public ones. With insight, passion and a great sense of urgency Chris Bonnor and Jane Caro show how government, anxious  parents, the church and ideology are combining to  undermine public schools. The Stupid Country is not a one-sided defense of public education. Bu This book warns of a future where the hardest schools for Australian parents to get their kids into will be public ones. With insight, passion and a great sense of urgency Chris Bonnor and Jane Caro show how government, anxious  parents, the church and ideology are combining to  undermine public schools. The Stupid Country is not a one-sided defense of public education. But it challenges us to consider whether we really want to continue stumbling blindly down our current  path,  risking the health of our public schools and everything they have created—our prosperity, unity, stability—even, perhaps, our democracy.

42 review for The Stupid Country: How Australia Is Dismantling Public Education

  1. 5 out of 5

    Trevor

    If you are Australian you really should read this book. Obviously enough, the title is a reworking of ‘The Lucky Country’ – a book title that was intended to be ironic, but has become local idiom to describe Australia as if we really are 'lucky'. The only hope is that this book doesn’t prove to be equally prophetic. Australia has a deeply perverse school funding model and this book helps to explain why. Also ironically, it was the Labor Party that caused much of the trouble with school funding a If you are Australian you really should read this book. Obviously enough, the title is a reworking of ‘The Lucky Country’ – a book title that was intended to be ironic, but has become local idiom to describe Australia as if we really are 'lucky'. The only hope is that this book doesn’t prove to be equally prophetic. Australia has a deeply perverse school funding model and this book helps to explain why. Also ironically, it was the Labor Party that caused much of the trouble with school funding and that great hero of the left. Gough Whitlam, that was the main culprit. The Labor Party had been out of government for 23 years by 1972 and mostly because the Catholic Church had opposed the ALP (which it saw as being dominated by communists) by the creation of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP). Whitlam saw funding Catholic schools as a way of alienating the DLP from their support base. The tactic worked and the Labor Party won the election – but this left us with a situation where the federal government was to go on providing funds for private schools indefinitely - creating a virtual voucher system. Under the Frazer government federal funding for state schools (which had always been the responsibility of the states, but had been supplemented by the Whitlam model) was slashed, but assistance for private schools was greatly increased. This situation was made infinitely worse with the election of the Howard government. Howard would proudly say he was Australia’s most conservative Prime Minister – but he wasn’t really conservative at all, but rather a radical free market neoliberal. He pumped out the rhetoric of ‘choice’, complained about the 'politics of envy' and caused a storm by claiming that public education had been taken over by values free, post-modernist leftists. He forced schools to erect flagpoles and to hire school chaplains – unqualified religious types supposed to assist staff and students with their spiritual needs. That is, he did his best to break down the division between church and state. His government also did all it could to encourage the creation of more private schools – providing funding virtually without preconditions. And this is the problem. All private schools in Australia receive a large part of their funding from the government – it ranges between 42 to 82 % of their funding – and yet they have virtually none of the restrictions placed upon them that state schools do. For example, states schools are required to accept all children into their schools – but private schools can pick and choose. In fact, private schools are exempt from anti-discrimination legislation. In certain cases they can even decide to exclude disabled children. The point is that private schools are placed in a position of a remarkable advantage when it comes to competing with government schools – not only do they receive government funds ‘no questions asked’ (they are also exempt from freedom of information laws) but they get to set their own fees to help keep out the riff-raff and they can, at any time, kick out students who are under-performing and these MUST be taken by the local state school. This book destroys a number of myths about public schools – not the least that they provide a better education than state schools. In fact, where state schools have students of similar SES backgrounds they generally do better than private schools. The book also provides evidence that state school students (with the same university entrance scores) do significantly better at university then those from private schools. This is surprising as private schools are always much better funded and have much better facilities than state schools who must rely solely on ever diminishing state government funding. But private schools have the disadvantage of having to be very conservative in their teaching – they market themselves on their academic performance and so their teaching is limited to highly selective and highly demanding subjects that will provide access to the best universities. Students unlikely to make the grade are advised to leave, and other students from other schools who are doing well are encouraged to come to the school on the basis of scholarships. Essentially, the system is a scam that steals from the poor to provide exceptional services to the rich. But the teaching in such schools is spoon-feeding and therefore a disservice to the students. Now, the greatest irony in all of this stealing from the poor to give to the rich is that the private schools are generally run by churches. Often these are Christian Churches – you might remember that Christ bloke – he was always banging on about the poor and hanging around with prostitutes and that kind of thing. Hardly a reputable character, obviously. Well, fortunately his Churches aren’t likely to make that kind of mistake themselves, they make sure their schools have no poor people in them at all. I used to live beside Brighton Grammar School and it has a sign that informs passing plebeians that the school grounds are private property and that trespassers will be prosecuted – so much for the Lord’s Prayer. The main concern this book is seeking to address is the fact that the remarkable advantages the private schools receive and the diminishing student population within Australia mean that Australia is building a duplicate (and incredibly expensive) education system. Not only is this denying resources to the poor, but it is taking students away from the schools the poor attend making these schools increasingly unviable. But governments refuse to close private schools (whether they even have the power to do such a thing or not no matter how small or ineffective the school is, is another matter) and so it is state schools that are likely to be shut down. This is a real issue. State schools are secular, compulsory and free – and private schools are certainly not secular and decidedly not free – closing public schools in preference to closing private schools should be an issue not just to crazy left-wing types like myself, but even to free market lunatics. It would be particularly amusing if the local private school that is kept open by unquestioned government funding in preference to the local state school was a Muslim school – I'm just saying, of course. Or would it be even funnier if it was an Exclusive Brethren school? I guess it depends on your sense of humour. The authors make the point that the countries that do best in international educational achievement comparison tests are not those countries with the most competition in their school systems, but rather the opposite. In fact, they point out that Poland used to have a school system that streamed kids according to ability. But they were so shocked by how badly they did on PISA that they changed their entry requirements to increase equity in school enrolment and immediately rushed up the scale of countries. We know what works – if you want to improve country's school results you don’t test schools, you don’t shame schools, you don’t offer performance pay to teachers or increase competition – you increase equity. You make education an investment, not a positional advantage to be bought by those who can afford it. You seek equality of opportunity, not in words (like in the Melbourne Declaration) but in deeds. You fund education and you judge the effectiveness of your education system on how well it educates the least advantaged in the community - not the most advantaged. The problem is that the middle class in Australia has been convinced they can achieve advantages for their kids at the expense of everyone else’s if only they can send their kids to private schools. The fact is, all this really does is destroy the chances of poor kids – such segregation has never been shown to improve the lot of middle class kids at all. For what we take to be the supposed benefits of ‘choice’ we condemn a growing number of our children to substandard education. But they will be revenged on us. Their ignorance, caused by our neglect, will punish us with lower economic growth (capacity issues in the economy) and a grossly more unequal, violent and troubled society. This is the choice we are allowing to be made in our name. It is time we did something to reverse this tragedy.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    A damning indictment of how Howard took the Australian education system back 50 years. Should be compulsory reading for all politicians and parents.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Elysia

    Excellent. Couldn't agree more with the arguments raised in this book regarding Australia's education system. This has definitely discouraged me from wanting to teach in private schools. A must read. Excellent. Couldn't agree more with the arguments raised in this book regarding Australia's education system. This has definitely discouraged me from wanting to teach in private schools. A must read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    With the Abbott government scrapping the Gonski reforms, this book is more relevant than ever before.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Polly Dunning

  6. 5 out of 5

    Debbie Korn

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dennis Fernandes

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jude Alford

  9. 4 out of 5

    Caterina

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kate

  12. 4 out of 5

    Meredith Dougherty

  13. 4 out of 5

    Travis Lines

  14. 4 out of 5

    Hollie

  15. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

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    Justine

  17. 5 out of 5

    Bruce

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kirsten Em

  19. 4 out of 5

    Dane McFarlane

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lynley

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    Janel

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kim Marie

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    Alethea

  24. 4 out of 5

    Shaun

  25. 5 out of 5

    Toryn Green

  26. 5 out of 5

    Chris

  27. 5 out of 5

    Emmoreton

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nando Nandon

  29. 4 out of 5

    Charmaine

  30. 5 out of 5

    Hayley

  31. 4 out of 5

    Pip Tlaskal

  32. 5 out of 5

    Tony

  33. 4 out of 5

    Heather

  34. 5 out of 5

    Jess

  35. 4 out of 5

    Michael Robson

  36. 5 out of 5

    Chris

  37. 4 out of 5

    Juana Van

  38. 4 out of 5

    ZaraS *book reviewer

  39. 4 out of 5

    Sophia

  40. 4 out of 5

    Char Starr

  41. 4 out of 5

    Shanus

  42. 4 out of 5

    Shelley Watters

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