Schools Again. The Flag and Patriotism.


Shaun Carney in today's Sydney Morning Herald sets out the case for the Rudd government having a longer-term strategy with the school data currently creating a fuss. So that sneaking suspicion I put in the last post might be what's really going on, which would be great for everybody.

Carney sums it all up very well.

The flight of the middle-class from the state sector, stimulated in part by the Coalition shovelling increasing amounts of taxpayer dollars into private schooling, has been relentless. This process has fed on itself, creating a middle-class mentality that assumes that state schools are a place of last resort for parents who could afford something better.

Exactly what happened, the conservatives always do this. It's what they believe, that the public system is a safety net only and the real action should be in vibrant private enterprise. Of course politically they rarely say this, gushing about the wonders of the public system. They say the same thing about medicare and public health, all the while doing everything they can to dismantle it.

Now for the meat.

Education Minister Julia Gillard has always had her eye on 2012, when the current four-year funding arrangements - which are very generous to private schools - will come up for renewal. Everything that is going on now in the Government's education policy is aimed at devising a new way of channelling Commonwealth funds into schools from 2012.

Of course, Gillard could have killed the Howard government's funding scheme, based on the dodgy application of income profiles according to postcodes, immediately in 2008, breaking an election promise Labor had made a year earlier. That would have been the preferred option of the AEU. But it would now be politically dead if it had done that.

Instead, it's building a case for change. The thinking is that the Coalition had more than 11 years under Howard to establish the status quo, so it will take several years to put together and sell an alternative case.

To devise a new, more equitable way of paying for schools, the Government is amassing information; the My School site is part of that strategy. But there are other elements. Gillard will keep on demanding more information from private schools about their sources of money.

This is part of a broader strategy of raising levels of accountability. She will demand better performances from state sector teachers and principals, but as the public comes to understand just how much the private schools expect to be underwritten by taxpayers, Gillard will be playing the accountability card there too.

That sums it all up beautifully. Gillard and Rudd would love to be able to say to the education workers that this is what they're doing, but politically they can't because it would look like class warfare, and would also be electoral poison. So they're hoping they'll read between the lines. (There are no signs of it so far, you get some tired old class warriors in those organisations.)

It's sad and bizarre that it's electoral poison to say that private interests are rorting the public purse, and that the already privileged are screwing the rest of us. We love to boast about Australians being all for a 'fair go', and mateship. In reality Australians are deeply infected with the same sort of aspirational affluenza that drives Americans. Schooling has become as competitive as sport.

We love the myths about being Australian, another beaut is that we're ocker. The vast majority of Australians aren't, any politician for example with a bit of a larrikin streak is deeply despised. Australians are generally extremely conservative, and aren't the rebels they like to imagine they are. If you look at what Australia Day has become, with sweeping flag-waving patriotism, you can see how much more like America we are than we might want to admit. Australia was never a patriotic country historically, it was a pragmatic country of misfits trying to find a way to live together. The healthiest and sanest basis for any nation. Now the push is on to replace all this with hand-on-heart, flag-in-your-face national pride and patriotism.

Most Australians live right on the coast, as if they can't get far enough away from the land itself. (As John Clarke pointed out in his usual brilliant way, the city is where we live, and the 'bush' is where we like to pretend we live.) In suburbs that look the same as suburbs in any other part of the world.

All the flags on Australia Day made me nervous, because underneath that symbol there's often pretty much nothing. No real love for the physical land itself or any understanding of how it works. Yes for some it's just a nice symbol, and there's nothing wrong with that. But you can sense that for many the flag is a symbol of exclusion, not inclusion. It's how flags are nearly always used, in all parts of the world. It's a badge saying "we're the real thing, you immigrants fuck off". In fact there are many FB groups that say this right upfront, proudly displaying the flag. It's history again, the generation who saw the horrors of nationalism in the 20th century in the two wars are now almost gone, and those that came next maybe haven't realised how ugly nationalism always turns out to be.

So be proud to be an aussie. If the flag makes you feel good, go for it, symbols can be great. But if you want to use it as a banner to make out like there's some sort of pure Australian, and the rest of you can all go home, then you can go fuck yourself. Australia has always been a mixed bag of everything, and that's what's been fantastic about the place. If we start turning it into some pathetic game of defining what a 'real Australian' is, God help us all. I had a dad who grew up under the Nazis, I know how that sort of flag-waving inevitably turns out. It's not pretty.

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