In our recent edition of Nurturing Justice we anticipated a posting that would assess the "Melbourne Declaration" , the statements of education ministers from Australian governments about "the educational goals for young Australians".
We now begin a multi-part series concerned with schooling. In our two previous editions we explored how schools in civil society should give expression to "multicultural justice". This concept has been developed by Jonathan Chaplin in his important and timely publication, Multiculturalism - a Christian Retrieval. It was launched at an LSE/Theos seminar in London on the 20th of October. Our discussion gave particular attention to an instance of "multicultural confusion" which had arisen at a local British school. It had been raised by a panelist, an active Christian political leader, when explaining his opposition to multiculturalism.
In Australia, British debates and political developments retain their interest, not least from historical links and prevailing legal precedents. Many public institutions - including schools, school systems and educational bodies - retain "British trademarks". And so, the seminar "Is there a future for multiculturalism?" remains pertinent for us.
NJ, however, narrowed the focus to consider one facet of that particular British school community's confusion - a confusion we may often face here. Our analysis was sharpened by noting the complex authority-structure that always pertains to the school community and should support it. We argue that a school community should approach and resolve the problems that may arise within it by taking a path along which government, teachers and parents are recognised as the vital and primary "pillars" of the school community. Take any one "pillar" away and the school dissolves. It is from the ongoing mutual inter-dependence between these three "pillars" that just policies should be framed, and any school community's problems resolved. In fact, as we shall argue, it is precisely from within this same mutual interdependence that the school's teachers can legitimately and freely give themselves to the task of curriculum development and implementation in the classroom.
We generally know what we are talking about when we refer to "primary schools" and "secondary schools". It gets somewhat more complicated when we use the term "public school". In fact, the complication with the term "public school" is evidence of unresolved political ambiguities about schools and schooling (derived from British experience). The term "public school", as we use the term in Australia, refers, more often than not, to a particular kind of "non-state", "private", "elite" or "church" school. This problem of nomenclature may also be evident elsewhere in other similar polities and it is also a political problem that eventually will have to be resolved.
Nomenclature problems notwithstanding, we generally know what we mean by "school". All "schools" (of whatever system) which we can identify in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific are not so very different from what we will encounter in the UK, Europe, North America. And these three pillars - civil government, principal & teachers, parents - will also be in evidence there. They are not simply abstractions for the use of theorists in education and politics. Sure, educational theories and political theories have to account for any school's distinctive character, but it is in the running of any school, in the development of the school's curriculum, that each of these "pillars" needs to be rightfully respected and for this to happen each, in turn, needs to rightfully respect the legitimacy of the other (2) "pillars". All three are integral to any school's life because they are presupposed by the authority invested in and exercised within it. The political question we consider concerns with the ways in which such mutual respect is to be given its proper educative expression and with due public-legal recognition and protection. And so, Nurturing Justice makes its contribution to political reflection on schooling, curriculum and our national life.
Our assumption here is that any primary or secondary school's authority structure is necessarily constituted by such interaction and mutual inter-dependence. How each of these three refers to the other two is thus decisive for any particular school's functioning as an educative community; it is also along this educative path supported by these "pillars" that a school's own emerging ethos is generated and maintained. We further suggest that it is from the specific educative space which arises from this mutual public respect between the "pillars" that any school's self-identity comes to expression and should be respected. From this we begin to identify, compare and contrast school systems. But we also suggest that any school community will have to find its own raison d'etre in the midst of the interaction between, and the mutual respect that arises from, these three pillars of a school's public authority.
We might easily identify a school when one is located in our local community, but it may not be so easy to identify the distinct ways in which government, parents and teachers bind themselves together in any particular school's program, or even how this binding comes to expression in any particular school's network of similarly configured schools with which it presumably shares a similar concern and approach to curriculum.
Ever since the Karmel Report of the early 1970s, Australian schooling has slowly but surely recognised the legitimacy of this pluralistic school system. Decisive in this pluralisation was a 1981 High Court decision (the so-called D.O.G.S case) endorsing the view that the Federal Constitution does not require governments of the Commonwealth to discriminate in favour of state-controlled schools. A greater measure of justice and equity now pertains than it did hitherto to schools and to parents who choose other than the ("established") state schools for their children. Such schools, arising from local, parental, community, church and corporate initiatives, have flourished to some significant degree. This is an ongoing demographic and structural development of national significance which governments cannot ignore and so, from time to time, they now offer public statements which explain their view of these developments and do so for the benefit of all citizens, schools and their communities. It is right that they do so.
Our next edition of Nurturing Justice considers the 2008 "Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians". As a government statement, it explains in broad brush strokes, how the governments around the country view the present position and prospects of the nation's schools. Our aim is to look closely at this document - produced by the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs - and to ascertain the prevailing government view of how government should contribute as one of the three-pillars we have previously identified. In that sense we assume that there is legitimacy for such an inter-governmental statement, but at the same time we cast a critical upon the document to identify its prevailing assumptions about schooling, and school curriculum, in national life. We will assess how this document conveys due respect to schools and parents as co-contributors to the nation's schools, as mutually interdependent "pillars" of any school's authority.
is written by Bruce Wearne, Point Lonsdale, to encourage a sustained Christian political contribution by seeking justice in the gentle and merciful rule of Jesus Christ, the ruler over all of the earth's political regimes.
November 2011 © The contents of this email are copyright. Editions may be photocopied or retransmitted in their entirety but not otherwise reprinted or transmitted without permission. "Nurturing Justice" is a project to encourage Christian political reflection based upon wise and loving civic participation. Comments are welcome and should be sent to