Politics and activism

John Howard and state schools

John Howard commented over the weekend that he thought parents were taking their kids out of government schools and moving to the independents because state schools are “too politically correct and too values-neutral”.

What a crock of shit.

Too politically correct? Values-neutral? What does that mean? That schools that don’t conform to Howard’s nostalgic vision of fifties Australia are too PC? Should I be worried that my kids mix with other kids of different nationalities, religions, races and socio-economic backgrounds every day of the week? Should a school in an area with large numbers of both Jews and gentiles not sing Hannukah songs along with the Christmas songs? Is the value of embracing different cultures by living with them every day not one that Howard thinks is positive? Okay granted some may go overboard in curbing some of the religious excesses of Christmas, but we’re not talking about South Park Elementary here, and it’s an issue with the individual school, not the state system as a whole.

Are state schools ignoring Australian values and heritage, as the acting Education Minister suggests? Well the flag still flies, the national anthem still gets sung, and occasions such as the centenary of Federation, for example, are widely celebrated in state schools. My old school Melbourne High helps with ANZAC Day services. Kids still learn cricket and football. Dammit, last year the school concert included an AC/DC song. You can’t get more Australian than that.

And of course any school – public or private – will give kids a grounding in the everyday values of socially-acceptable behaviour, friendship (the PM might prefer call it mateship), work ethic (well at least a bit, we hope), reinforcing the values learnt at home and elsewhere.

No, to my mind, there are two main reasons parents would choose to take their kids out of (largely free, or at least cheap) state schools and move them into (largely user-pays) private schools. One is by reason of faith, and if parents feel that strongly about their kids getting a particularly Catholic, or a Jewish, or an Islamic or any other education, they are likely to have ignored state schools from the very start. Fair enough.

The other is simply the quality of education provided. We all want the best for our kids, balanced up against what we can afford. While my kids’ school seems to be doing okay, some government schools are suffering greatly from lack of funding, and parents will naturally want get their kids to schools with the best teachers and resources. It is governments which ultimately have control over this — and with two thirds of Commonwealth funding going to independent schools, Howard’s government in particular has the power to do something about it. Parents can only buy so many boxes of fundraiser chocolates.

With the Federal Government’s own study contradicting what Howard said, this smacks of him trying to justify the current funding imbalance. It’s no shock that teachers (from both state and independent schools) and others have taken umbrage. And I’d be surprised if many parents – even in the affluent suburbs of the major cities where his party’s traditional support base is – agree with his stand.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

12 replies on “John Howard and state schools”

What is Howard’s agenda? Is he trying to distract us from something? Is he going to announce some more money for private schools and is setting up a justification in advance? Who knows. But it will become self fulfilling, the more money thrown at private schools, the more government ones are talked down and underfunded, the more parents will strive to send their children to private schools. After all, they want to give them the best possible chance in life. So then you have a good block of voters on board to insist private schools are well funded and no other party will go against that. I would hate to be in that position. That is the choice between going against my ideolgy and beliefs and wanting to do the best for my kids, never mind the money. Of course Labor started it all with their funding of Catholic schools, I guess as a sop to those who came on board from the DLP. Poor Daniel will have to make a decision at some time in the future. Maybe things will have changed a lot by then, or maybe you can take refuge in religion.

I went to a private school (not a very “upper class” one though), and while the school was supposed to be Christian, religion wasn’t shoved down the student’s throats, and we were mostly encouraged to find our own beliefs.
I take great offence at Howard’s statements about teachers, as both my parents are teachers who put in an incredible amount of effort with kids, many of whom start school not even being able to speak English. Perhaps the PM should actually see the kind of conditions teachers work in and the amount of work they put in, not just in the upper-class areas, but especially in the working-class suburbs, and areas with a high immigrant population.

But it is true that the curriculum is left-wing in English, social-studies and history. And some state-school teachers do use the classroom to advance their political beliefs (I speak from personal experience, I went to state schools). English texts I studied included themes such as a dystopic patriarchal theocracy (A Handmaid’s Tale) and memories of childhood replete with sexual perverted vignettes (Summer of the Aliens). My brother studied an English text about Vietnames refugees.

So I think Howard has a point, but I also doubt he’s motivated by a sincere interested in education. I am sincerely interested in education, enough to enrol (but not complete) a Diploma of Education.

Anyway, an attack on what is taught in state schools is not an attack on state schools students or state school teachers. It is an attack on the administrators and the teachers’ union.

I was on the private school circuit and in all honesty I can say I was effed over completely by it. There is a handful of schools in every state that have the status and reputation befitting a “private” school – and these schools are so fnarking expensive that they don’t NEED the funding, but to be honest 95% are just as hard off as the state schools. I went to St Aloysius (worst mistake my parents ever made – do NOT send your daughters to St Aloysius College in North Melbourne, they’ll be stuffed up for life) – that highschool needed the funding I believe it’s going to receive now, though admin will probably take it to get new curtains or something put up in the staff rooms, as they did LAST TIME. Just because parents are sending their kids to a Catholic private school because they believe it’s the right thing to do because of apparent extra resources available, it doesn’t actually mean those resources will be used appropriately.

In an ideal world, all schools would be funded on an individual and AS NEEDED basis. If wishes were horses, then beggars would fly, eh?

Seems the only thing that matches Howards opinion on values in the public school system is his willingness to fund them. What ever happened to Australia being the smart country. Don’t they realise that short changing our education system will systematically lead to lower levels of education for the younger generations. I guess that doesn’t matter to a government that has a shelf life of 3 years and will happily blame their predecessors for such short sighted blunders.

We are all being far too serious. What a pleasant walk I had tonight, past the beautiful buildings, the new constructin happening and the rich green playing fields of Melbourne Grammar.

Of course public schools don’t teach values. John Howard is the only Liberal Prime Minister to have attended a public school. During his stewardship of our country he has told many, many lies – think of ‘children overboard’, ‘medicare and bulk-billing, weapons of mass-destruction, stolen generation and the list could go on. He won his last election on racist values and lies.
Funny, but to my knowledge and experience with my own children and as a newly-qualified teacher, public schools teach tolerence. No school is perfect, public or private, but most teachers and schools work very hard to teach values.
Bullying is supposed to be a problem only in public schools but ask my nephew about his horrible experience is a fairly exclusive Catholic school, a school who refused to do anything about it until my sister threatened legal action. And if bullying doesn’t exixt in private schools, then why have so many installed security cameras to monitor it.
I think the main reason that parents are sending their children to private schools is because they are more highly regarded by the business community (generally speaking, which has always been the case in certein professions. While HSC scores and Uni degrees may help obtain employment, a student with a private school education is often favoured over those with public school education even when all other qualifications are equal. Parents know this and are trying to maximise employment opportunities. And yes, I do beleive the current federal government has a hidden agenda, which is why he attacking private schools. Perhaps he is looking at a performance-based approach but unless all students have access to exactly the same resources, class sizes etc etc etc then this would be totally unfair.


Ren, whilst not trying to undermine your education, the school you attended was not a “Private”, or more correctly, an Independent school. Victoria has three education sectors: Government, Independent and Catholic. Schools such as St Aloysius fall into the Catholic sector, and are not truly independent or private. You yourself admitted the facilites and type of education you received was hardly worthy of the genre of a private school – and cannot be compared to the majority of school which truly fall into the Independent sector.
However, Catholic schools such as Xavier, Genezzano, St Kevins, Sacre Coeur and De La Salle are some of the few truly Independent Catholic schools in Melbourne, as their foundation and mode of governing is different to those in the falling under the Catholic Education Office.

I believe you have not thought this funding issue through properly. Total government funding of schools in Australia is biased towards the government schools sector. The following is a cut from the website of the Independent Schools Council of Australia. The URL for this is
I will not comment on the rest of your discussion!

“Overview of the Funding of Independent Schools

As at May 2003, the most up-to-date publicly available data on total expenditure by governments in Australia on school education is for the 2000-01 financial year or 2001 calender year.

Sources of Independent Sector Income, 2001

Total expenditure by governments on school education was $21.9 billion in 2000-01. Seventy-nine percent of this expenditure went to government schools which accounted for 69% of student enrolments. Twenty-one percent went to non-government schools which accounted for 31% of student enrolments.

Enrolments and Funding, 2000-01

Recent reforms to the Commonwealth funding of non-government schools does not radically change this picture. The non-government sector’s share of total expenditure will increase by a maximum of 2 percentage points.

Government expenditure per student in Independent schools was, on average, some 48% of that for students attending government schools.

The savings to governments in Australia from the education of school students in non-government schools is in the order of $2.7 billion per annum. Savings from independent schools are $1.3 billion of this total.”

john howard needs to take a better look at his statement. if he thinks there is a problem, why doesn’t he do something to fix it.

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