End sectarianism towards minority schools

End sectarianism towards minority schools

A response to NSW Policy “Religious Freedom in a Secular Society”

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Socialists routinely uphold government schools as the only schools worthy of government funding. I feel strongly that this perspective is based on an old hardline super-socialist culture that we have otherwise chosen to abandon.

While it is true that some private schools have promoted socially conservative views about evolution, women’s roles and sexuality, so too have some government schools. I believe these concerns should be addressed through universal curriculum standards rather than attacking educational diversity by only funding government schools

Educational inequality desperately needs to be reversed, but not all private schools are elite and not all elite schools are private. A policy which links funding levels to educational need is going to be more effective in remedying educational inequality than a black and white policy that funds one type of school and not another, depending upon who founded the school.

Although I live in Victoria I wish to put forward a fundamentally different viewpoint re the following sections from the NSW Socialist Alliance Policy: Religious Freedom in a Secular Society

  • support a universal, free, public and secular education which promotes freedom of though(t), healthy personal development [,] and a scientific understanding of the world;
  • withdraw all government funding from private or religious schools.

These policies are not consistent with our support for the retention and enhancement of Indigenous schools which teach Indigenous culture, including Aboriginal spiritual beliefs, which are based upon non-scientific and non-secular creationist theories. In fact our appreciation of social science tells us that the teaching of these non-scientific spiritual beliefs is essential to the healthy personal development of Indigenous youth.

In particular these policies are not consistent with our support for the picket currently being staged at Ballerrt-Mooroop College. Although this school is currently being funded by the government, if an Indigenous co-operative came forward to buy out and run this college as a private school, SA would be obliged, under the terms of the above policy, to withdraw its support for the only Indigenous college in Melbourne. In fact, we would be obliged, under the terms of the above policy, to call upon the government to cut off any funding to Ballerrt-Mooroop College.

Socialists support self determination for all oppressed ethnic minorities. This necessarily involves supporting the right of all ethnic minorities to form their own schools. We cannot then dictate to these minorities that their religion, which is often inseparable from their culture, cannot be incorporated in the running of their schools.

It is an ill-conceived policy to financially blackmail migrant families to send their children to mainstream schools where they quite reasonably fear their children will experience an oppressive racial backlash in the playground if they have a dark skin, foreign accent or religious dress or practices, particularly in times of war or the emergence of right wing racist social movements. The above policies tell non-English speaking families that the Socialist Alliance intends to financially ruin them unless they acquiesce to an educational environment where they quite rightly fear racism, can’t communicate with their children’s teachers, can never reasonably aspire to be on parents’ committees or school councils and where teachers simply don’t understand their needs.

Migrant children often fall through the cracks in government education and are streamed towards the lower end of the job market. Migrants are desired by Australian capitalism for their productivity and therefore have not been exterminated like the Aboriginal population. Nevertheless they are subjected to assimilationist pressures in schools which further harm their self esteem, including enforced “Anzac” identification and a school term and culture based on Christian celebrations. Our white educators cannot simply wish away or deny their biases, however progressive they might aspire to be. For the foreseeable future, migrant families’ chances of ameliorating educational disadvantage are sometimes significantly better at private schools run by their own communities and we have to respect their choices.

The above policies lump top elite schools and struggling church schools in the same basket. The policies also ignore the fact that numerous competitive government schools in wealthier and inner urban areas have taken on private school-like elitism. Such schools are less needy of funds than poorer and church schools alike.

What are we saying to honest hard working parents that seek a better world through the Socialist Alliance and a better education for their children through a non-government school? We oppose your choices? We’re going to take money from your school and force it to close down? A family from a church school handed out our how to vote cards at a polling booth at their school, during a recent election, to encourage their church school community to support us — I was on the edge of my seat right through the election eve party, after I was introduced to this family, lest they discover our “progressive” policy of bashing their school.

Comrades it’s time to drop this sectarianism towards progressive Christian communities, Aboriginal children being educated in their “unscientific” culture and migrant families’ anti-assimilationist choices. I propose we change the abovementioned draft policy as follows:

Remove these policies:

  • support a universal, free, public and secular education which promotes freedom of though(t), healthy personal development [,] and a scientific understanding of the world;
  • withdraw all government funding from private or religious schools.

Replace them with these policies:

  • support national curriculum standards of sex education, social equality, evolution and physical education being taught to all children in all schools
  • provide all female students with the culturally sensitive option of receiving sex education and physical education in a single sex setting
  • support the amount of government funding given to schools being determined by each schools’ level of need and disadvantage with the aim of providing all students with equal educational opportunity.