Monday, January 4, 2010

Debt blowouts and private schools

The media has been on the warpath about the family debt blowout over the last four years. It’s the latest beat-up. Whipping boy or stalking horse – take your pick. I’m a depression baby, so I’ve always been canny about expenditure. If I can’t afford something I don’t buy it and I know about delaying gratification. But I suspect younger generations have grown up with a different mind-set. Saving for a rainy day is now a lesser part of the psyche, national or individual. There’s an intriguing double-standard here.

There was a recent talk on the radio about happiness. The speaker claimed there was less today. It’s hard to quantify such feelings. But from my vintage it seems to me that for years the advertising industry has worked hard to leave us feeling dissatisfied and therefore want to buy products to ease that feeling. Collectively we’ve bought that message. Wrinkles on your face – that’s the end, sexually. Your car doesn’t corner well - buy ours, it will. It takes time to cook a meal on your own – buy ours, it’ll make you instantly part of the group. Do you believe your cat is happy with its present food – content your kitten with this scientific balanced diet. You deserve a better home. And exciting holidays. And so on.

Possession does not guarantee happiness. I accept that poverty makes it difficult, indeed in instances renders it impossible. With that fear lurking the dissatisfaction industry has the seedbed to render its claims credible. Happiness like astonishment does not come in league tables. It is not a competitive game.

At a different but relevant tangent I’ve learnt that with no press fanfare or critical comment the Government has set aside $2.6 million to enable Year 9, 10 and 11 students to attend private schools. State aid for private schools! Is the Government saying state schools aren’t good enough? There is this myth that private schools are better. Again it is a target of the dissatisfaction industry. Public health bad! Private health good! Public schools bad! Private Schools good! Scholarships for smart students; a rerun of the 19th century.

The belief underlining the policy is that the state school system is no good. Where’s the evidence that private schools are better? Where is value addition at its greatest. When I was in the secondary inspectorate I visited private schools; a few were excellent, some were good, a handful mediocre and one or two of a standard of which we were very critical. State schools had the same range. The belief is an American import. Their system cannot be compared with ours, it’s comparing oranges with bananas they are so dissimilar.

The policy will mean some of their best students will leave state schools as they reach the higher levels depriving them of leadership, scholarship and sporting skills. It denies the concept of neighbourhood schools? It devalues the work of thousands of hard-working teachers.

Schools reflect the socio-economic background of their students. To increase the intellectual grunt at the higher levels of the private schools will inflate their examination results. This in turn will become self-perpetuating.

I rarely use this word for policy. I do for this one. Humbug!

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