Bipartisan Education Policies (they’re both bad!)

When I posted the above quote from the AGE as a  tweet above this morning it was because Mungo MacCallum’s piece in the AGE this morning, ‘Pandering to Prejudice’, struck a chord with me as to just how narrow the election debate has been, both in terms of the issues raised and the constituents it’s appealing to and how exasperating I’ve found it.

MacCallum’s piece begins:

What the punters of Rooty Hill want, they’ll get – no matter how irrational.

There are times when it appears that this election campaign is no more than a contest to win the hearts and minds of a handful of drunks in the front bar of a pub in the western suburbs of Sydney.

Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott acknowledged as much last night by locating their simultaneous community forums not in the town hall of a major city but in the RSL club of a suburb 42 kilometres west of Sydney’s CBD, Rooty Hill. The name, incidentally, dates to 1802 and refers to the roots of trees, not the other kind.

But whatever the proclivities of its residents, they are considered by the pollsters, spin-doctors, sociologists, astrologers and other necromancers who staff the campaign headquarters of the major parties to be the ultimate swingers – the ones whose votes on August 21 will determine who governs not only Rooty Hill, but the entire continent.

The town is conveniently centred on the electorates of Lindsay, Macquarie, and Greenway (marginal Labor) and Hughes (marginal Liberal) and is also believed to have a psychological and psephological affinity with other Labor marginals such as Robertson and Dobell on the NSW mid-north coast.

Assuming even a small proportion of these voters were listening last night, Gillard and Abbott had a lot to win or lose on their performances. Which makes it all the more perplexing that both leaders have spent most of the past 12 months treating them like mugs.

It is certainly true that the westies, as they are known with a combination of affection and derision to the commentariat, are not exactly political philosophers in the Platonic tradition. They are, in contemporary terms, the battlers – some very successful ones and some still striving to catch up, but driven more by self-interest than idealism.

They tend to get most of their news and views from the tabloidDaily Telegraph and the shock-jocks of commercial radio, neither of which are obsessively committed to intellectual diversity. But this does not mean that they should all be categorised as a sub-class of urban rednecks, incapable of rational thought.

Their battling includes a great desire for education, if not for themselves then certainly for their children. This is particularly so for the migrant communities in the west. It is easy to characterise some of the suburbs as ghettos, but the word implies a level of poverty that is simply not there. The Lebanese, Vietnamese and Chinese communities in the west are thriving and the second generation is rapidly integrating with the mainstream. But they are, or at least some are, protective of their new home ground, and this is where the less scrupulous politicians have scented an opening. John Howard’s notorious slogan, “We will decide who comes into this country and the circumstances in which they come”, resonated, not because it made sense, but because it confirmed the legitimacy of some immigrants over that of others.

This morning, Radio National did run two pieces on education, a piece on the ‘evolution of the education revolution‘ and a debate between Crean and Pyne on educational policy. Not a lot of depth, but interesting about the computers in schools program, broadband plans, performance based pay and my least favourite, the offensive ‘fast-tracking’ of teachers.  You can download the audio yourself from the links above.

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