Tags: private schools

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

9 May 2006, Comments Off on Apples and pears

Apples and pears

Author: Helen

Interesting discussion on public education, here and at Crazybrave.

I donít want to be an apologist for KB, but private schools are here to stay, like it or not. As lefties we just have to face reality (Guy)

Don’t forget I was talking about my wish fulfilment fantasy!

Fantasy aside, nothing ever changes if you think too much in the “this is the way it is, so this is the only way it can be” mode. I hear so much of that. With political will, things can change, especially if the government does. Unless the new government is as neoliberal a bunch of nongs as the ones before them.

While there are some filthy rich private schools who deserve a lot less government funding, there are also quite a number of poor private schools who probably deserve more than they get now. I don’t think Labor or any other party is going to get anywhere by smashing non-government schools (in general) into the ground. There ís lots of ordinary parents (see the graph from here – an increasing number) who send their kids to very un-ostenatatious private schools across the country. (Guy)

How many of the parents sending their kids to “poor” private schools are doing so out of real choice, and how many of them are doing so because they’re railroaded into it because of (1) being seen as bad parents if they go public, (2) fearmongering about the roughness, toughness and seediness of their local High, and (3) the actual effects of their local High being run down for lack of funds?

What might their decision be if the local public schools were maintained in excellent condition, resourced properly, and teachers paid properly?

Are some of those schools cranky little fundy academies of various stripes, for which we’ll pay the human cost later?How many of them are just middling-mediocre, not an improvement on anything, but started up in response to federal government subsidies and the fear-driven streaming into anything “private”?

And “smashing non-government schools into the ground”. Hmm. If the prose is going to get that purple, I’d venture to say it’s the public schools which are already getting smashed into the ground.

When we moved to the suburbs and she enrolled at Brighton High School I rocked up for the Mothers Club to be told there wasnít one. How do you raise money then? I asked.
“The government gives it to us” they chorused (Brownie)

That’s Brighton for you. The private schools get a handout too, which was the original trigger for Kim’s (and Mundine’s) placatory statements, but they probably have the sense to shut up about it.

I don’t think parents and teachers should be relied on to provide hours of unpaid labour to finance a public institution through cake stalls. We don’t expect the Department of Premier and Cabinet to run a choccie drive to
get the basic tools for their work, why do schools and hospitals? (Kate)

Damn straight.

…In order to keep my daughter away from the violent children with criminal parents (Brownie)

Oh for heavens sake! I wonder what school Mokbel Minor and Adler Major attended? as well as the offspring of thuggish but wealthy footballers? The private schools are as much a hotbed of bullying and violence as any.

Maybe the girlchild could take you on a tour of her public school? It would address some of your fears, I think.

I went to a top girl’s school (now called Pembroke) in SA for the first nine years of school. I was a failing student, I think now I might have been a bit ADD, but a dreamer and a C-D student, anyway. Something about the high school (Hurstbridge High school, now closed, like so many) woke me up and I turned into a right swot, although no school ever succeeded in making me enjoy sport. I can’t praise those teachers enough. I ended up, in HSC, with results I’d never have dreamed of before.

Some of the Pembroke teachers were kind, some were vicious, but the school didn’t do squat to address my (lack of) learning.

Boarding school was MUCH BETTER – because our local school was in outback Australia, we tended to get novice teachers. The other kids were unruly…

Of course the local school couldn’t compete; Outback australia isn’t the norm. It’s a special case. Of course it’s much harder to provide education, or any service for that matter, in the outback. Would the boarding school have set up its campus there? of course not.

The teachers at private school were much better; and the parents committee was also much more active (like Brownie observed above). (TimT)

Again… What would be the case if public education was properly funded? Are you comparing a school which can’t afford to pay much in teaching salaries to a school which can?

You know, the most offensive part of that way of thinking is the notion that kids whose parents can’t afford private education should be given up on, thrown to the wolves as it were, with other werewolf kids whose parents sprout fangs, and bugger spending anything more on resources. This kind of thinking is a self-fulfilling prophecy as kids fail to learn in depressing and impoverished environments, give up on school, and fail. Then it’s the fault of the school, or the teachers.

The public education system does not have, generally speaking, the same level of resources available to many private schools. (WPD)

Now you’re talking.

If we’re comparing private education with public education we might be comparing apples with pears. But it’s not fair to compare fat, shiny apples with pears from a neglected tree.