The Return of Class Warfare in Australia

When everyone in a social grouping, national or even international, accepts a common standard of social, moral and ethical behaviour, the social order is consistent and stable.To achieve this, our institutions, particularly education, focus on ensuring that participants are adequately socialized to meet that grouping’s standards.

This socialization process teaches students, the decision makers of the future, the knowledge and values they need to be good citizens. In turn, they pass that onto the next generation. The National Curriculum actually says pretty much that in the header statement on their web site (

The Australian Curriculum sets consistent national standards to improve learning outcomes for all young Australians. It sets out, through content descriptions and achievement standards, what students should be taught and achieve, as they progress through school. It is the base for future learning, growth and active participation in the Australian community.

What they are not saying is that there is an underlying process, governed by teachers and school rules. Students are required to conform to certain behavioural patterns – if they do not, then they are processed under the schools behavioural code. I suggest this is far more important, far more relevant, than the formal learning. It is here that students learn the behavioural standards and common values of the grouping.

Inconsistencies or aberrant behaviour are rejected by the group and practitioners are shunned until they accept the norm. Outrageous aberrant behaviour is treated as criminal, usually invoking a legislative based retribution. People who are extravagantly distant from the norm, who do not even come close to accepting the norm are usually treated as “mentally unstable”. But it all starts in school.

Teachers understand these things, even if they never talk about them. People, i.e. parents, politicians, welfare workers, factory workers, they too know these things, but they do not talk about them either. It is like an elephant in the room, everyone sees it, but no-one wants to discuss it. What is worse, there is, inherently, an economic barrier to education for a large percentage of the population that they will never overcome.

It is very arguable that the education process has always been equal and egalitarian in this country. Schools in the leafy green areas have traditionally performed better than schools in the industrial rust belt areas. I suspect this comes down to self perception, parental encouragement and is based in class.

Australia has always kidded itself that it has been a “classless society”, which has never been true. The divisions of classes were not that stark until the last 20 years. We used to have a large upper-working class, middle class and lower upper class, with actually very little separating them. The assessment of whom belongs to which class has been very broad until now. This perception has been drilled into each generation by the public education system, as that has declined, so has the “classless society.” So essentially, an education system that encourages class, which our does these days, will create the class divisions, again.

This is a very unpopular perception because it flies in the face of the accepted wisdom – but the emperor is without clothes.

Our forebears decided on a public, secular education system. They believed, obviously, there was a strong connection between the class system and education. Religious based schools were never really encouraged, except by those who could really afford it. All the large , first ranked, prestigious, private schools in Australia are Anglican or Uniting, btw. These have been challenged by Lutheran and very few Catholic schools in recent years, mainly due to  extraordinary funding from the public purse. There are few non-denominational schools near the first rank schools and they too are being funded from the public purse – but these are other issues.

That secular education has been eroded by the Conservatives, and was not seriously challenged by the previous Labor Government. Too little too late, which has since been undone by the incoming neo-conservatives and their Friedmanite adherents. Effectively, what they have done is cemented privilege into the education system. And herein lies one of the major challenges of the future.

The Conservatives are treating education as a commodity, to be purchased like wines. Really expensive wines versus a cheap plonk, if you like.

Our forebears resisted the lure of private schools when they first introduced education, but that siren is proving too seductive to the rhetoric of the Conservatives now. The real test of the Conservative stance will not be seen for many decades, perhaps centuries, well after we are no longer around to see it. In the past, the outcome has usually produced blood and death and I cannot see why anyone would think that this time will be any different.







About colinfraser

I claim the title of educator, because I want to be more than "just" a teacher.
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