THREE new books about schooling, the first a polemic, the second a polemic disguised as a guide for parents, and the third a scholarly history – all dwell on that uniquely Australian mistake, the three-sector system of government, Catholic and independent schools. In doing so they (and this review) illustrate one of the reasons for regarding it as a mistake. We spend so much time and political energy talking about this second-order problem, from irreconcilable points of view, that we can neither concentrate on nor agree about matters of genuinely educational importance.
Marion Maddox’s Taking God to School is the starkest illustration of the point. A senior academic and a team of researchers have spent much high-quality intellectual effort in exposing what everyone already knows, sort-of: that governments have aided and abetted the rise of fee-charging religion-based schools and hence the decline of free and secular state schools, and have smoothed the path of religion into the state schools as well.
This is not to suggest that Maddox’s excellent efforts are beside the point. Unfortunately the reality constructed by the sector system makes them very well directed indeed. The most startling and troubling of Maddox’s exhaustively documented revelations concern the dark and fringy kind of religion which suffuses some small independent schools and (as a recent incident in Victoria illustrates) some federally supported programs in government schools…
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