5 Jun 2007, Comments Off on Deveny Survives Mummy Drive-By

Deveny Survives Mummy Drive-By

Author: Helen

“Give me a child when they are seven and I’ll show you an invoice for
– Catherine Deveny

Image from http://dickens.ucsc.edu/OMF/litvack.html

Please, Sir, can I have a realistic allocation of Federal funding?

Fairfax newspapers are pretty much oozing rightwards year by year, as I see it, so it’s a pleasure to read Catherine Deveny’s op ed articles. She’s a writer of the take-no-prisoners style, a bit like a really good blogger (I meant that as a compliment, journos). As a result, while those of us used to the blogosphere just find it bracing, she does stir up the pearl-clutchers and give them the vapours.

Last month, Deveny took on the issue of Federal funding to private schools. (Via Susoz)

Here’s something in the budget that you may have missed: federal funding for private schools will increase from $5.8 billion to $7.5 billion over the next five years. Funding to public schools will rise from $3.1 billion to $3.4 billion over the next five years. Shame on us.

To put this in context, as Ross Gittins points out, “Today, the budget shows public schools getting 31 per cent of the money while the private schools get 69 per cent. But public schools still have two-thirds of the enrolments.” In other words, Federal funding for schools is completely arse about.

Here’s where I stand: private schools should not receive funding. That’s it. We have a police force funded by the Government. If you want a bodyguard or private security, you pay for it out of your own pocket.

Read the whole thing, but I’ll just quote the last two paragraphs:

I added up the cost of fees for what it would cost to send my three children to a middle-of-the-range private school for six years. Not counting uniforms, excursions, transport, building funds etc. And it was about $330,000, give or take. My first thought? No one can be getting value for money. My second thought? I could buy my kids a degree for that amount of money, and I might have to if education keeps heading the way it is. But I’m hoping that my kids will all be tradies. Because the happiest blokes I know are the tradies. People say, “Stop funding private schools? It’s not as easy as that.”

Yes it is. Like smoking in hospitals, gender-based pay and taking babies away from unmarried mothers, funding private education is something we will look back on and be ashamed of.

Well, we can’t have that kind of rampant leftism in the op ed pages of the AGE without a suitable neoliberal reply, can we? so Michelle Hamer, parent of four privately educated children, weighed in the very next day.

Pardon if I pause for a wee cynicism break here. Even if Hamer is employed by the AGE – she writes for the Education Age sometimes – it would truly have been an Olympic feat for her to have read the article on May 23, become enraged, written and proof-read an article in reply, and got it into the OpEd page on May 24. Can you say “confected controversy”? or is it just my
suspicious nature?

Anyway, Hamer is enraged that Deveny should imply that the Federal funding balance is all out of whack. She tries to paint Deveny as disingenuous because she hasn’t mentioned the State component of public school funds. Hamer, on the other hand, is definitely disengenuous because she tries to make that argument without mentioning fees. State schools, of course, don’t have fees, except for the “voluntary school payment” (Ha!) which is less than $1000, while the “better” privates schools cost a small hatchback or sedan per year. This rhetorical pea-and-thimble didn’t work on this public school mum, as I was only further enraged because she reminded me that private schools get money from the States as well as all that Federal moolah, although, in this case, it’s less than the public schools get. Which is simply because the State schools are largely State funded and do not charge fees. Which is why their Federal funding should be greater. QED. etc.

Hamer then descends into what the Americans call a Mommy drive-by, coined by the late great Chez Miscarriage. In case you haven’t come across one of those things before, it’s the kind of backhanded or even downright barefaced rude comment made by Superior Mothers ™ to the Beta mothers. Examples are: “Oh, Taylah-Maddisyn never had a dummy!”, “I breastfed Tarquin until …” (if the age given is above university
entrance, back away slowly); and, “well, if you think the local High school is good enough for your son/ daughter…”

From Hamer’s reply to Deveny, I offer the following examples:

I’m paying for all this, and it’s not cheap. But then you can live on fast food and it’s certainly cheaper…

I will make the choice that I think is best for my children. I won’t buy a new car, a new house or take overseas holidays; instead I’ll invest in my children’s education because this is my right and my choice.

Because, of course, everyone has the money for a new car, a new house, or an overseas holiday. It’s just priorities, people!

Deveny feels liberated that she has put no thought into her children’s education. (My italics}


That’s her right, and if she aspires for them to be tradespeople, then that’s fine too.


Plus a glowing account of the hip and happening nature of her kids’ school, which encourages kids to cook meals! and, it has chooks!

Hoo-boy, she really showed that Deveney woman, didn’t she.

Strangely enough, in another Fairfax article, Michelle Hamer criticises the very mummy-drive-by behaviour she is wielding with such consummate skill:

Somehow, the very intimate act of mothering has become a high-stakes game played out in the very public arenas of our schools, play centres, mothers’ groups and preschools…The mother competition starts from the moment of conception…

Takes one to know one, I guess. She’s also co-author of Gucci Mammas, a satirical – I think – book about being a private school mum. Interestingly enough, when she is not defending her turf, she herself can admit that the private system is not the perfect choice that she makes it out to be when she’s attacking Deveny.

The idea of being at the best school with the best name is a big theme in my new novel Gucci Mamas, and the protagonist Mim becomes confused by why, when she is paying the top fees in the state and sending her children to one of the country’s most elite schools, she hates even stepping foot in the grounds and has rumblings of discontent about the school. How could something so prestigious and expensive be flawed – surely the problem must be in her, not the school? It’s a clear case of the emperor’s new clothes.

When we wrote Gucci Mamas, my co-writer, Lisa Blundell, wanted to have a bit of a laugh at how competitively some women treat mothering, but, along the way, we were occasionally sobered by just how sad that can be.


But I’m still curious about the uncanny warp speed of the Hamer response to Deveney’s piece, I notice Hamer’s had articles printed in the Education Age supplement. (Celebrities Raise the Stakes: Just get the famous and wealthy parents at your school to do the fundraiser. Now, why didn’t we think of that?) You might notice that the dead-tree version of the Education Age is heavily dependent on advertising from private schools, and the Fairfax advertising stream has been under pressure lately. I guess there was some editorial reluctance to piss off the lucrative advertisers in the Education Age and other supplements catering to the AB section of the population, so any bit of incendiary criticism of the private sector had to be followed up pretty quickly with a “rebuttal” to soothe the pearl-clutchers.

It’s all so unnecessary. If you go back and read it again, all Deveny was saying was that private education should be private and public education public. Parents can send their children to Hogwarts to learn Quidditch if that’s their wish, but they should pay for it themselves. Meanwhile, a properly funded public system would offer genuine choice – which is different from privilege.
Crossposted at Road to Surfdom

Comments (0)

  • Richie says:

    I also love Catherine Deveny, even if she did write for The Wedge.

    “I will make the choice that I think is best for my children. I won’t buy a new car, a new house or take overseas holidays; instead I’ll invest in my children’s education because this is my right and my choice.”

    One of the upper-class twits in 21 Up says the exact same thing. It was hilarious at the time, because I thought nobody else could possibly be that clueless.

    Actually, I went to a private school. Ye Gods, I could fill a book with all the examples of elitist bigotry if they weren’t potentially libelous.

  • kate says:

    They just don’t get it, do they? I don’t want to pay for their choice because I don’t have one. Unless we decided to stop renting and live instead in our 17 year old car, we couldn’t even get close to paying a year of fees at one of the mid-level private schools. The ‘tragic’ (by Hamer’s standard) state of our finances shouldn’t make any difference to what our son does for a living, how long he stays at school or whether or not he goes to uni.

    Perhaps Hamer should ditch the private school, sell the car, and take the kids on holidays to India to get some perspective on wealth and sacrifice.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.