Australian Journal of Cultural Studies
Vol. 3 No. 2, December 1985

On the 'Innocence' of Ideology

Jane Kenway

M. Hogan, Public vs Private Schools: Funding and Directions in Australia, Penguin, 1984. 178 pp.

Public vs. Private Schools was published in July, 1984 amidst the most bitter public debate about school funding since that surrounding the more controversial aspects of the Karmel Report in the early Whitlam years. What sparked the fire was the Labor government's intention, stated in its 1983 funding guidelines, to reduce funds by 25 per cent to 41 per cent of Australia's most wealthy private schools. However, at its centre were issues concerning the relative place and impact of private and state schools in Australian society and the extent to, and manner in which, public money should be spent on private educational interests. Supporters of private and state schools engaged in intense political activity, each seeking to ensure that the 1984 guidelines were to determine new directions for the federal funding of Australian schools for some time to come, it is not surprising that political heat was generated or that the suppressed competition between state and private schools flared. The 'state aid war', as the print media called it, was essentially an ideological struggle, a struggle over meaning between the competing discourses of private school and state school support groups. Each sought to achieve a hegemonic discourse, to establish closure around certain key concepts, to have its particular definition of the situation accepted as universally valid—as common-sense—and to have its sectional interests defined as the general interest.

Michael Hogan's book must be seen as an intervention in the debate. In commenting on the first five chapters, (131) he acknowledges an intervention when he states that:

The original purpose of writing the book was to stand outside the political debate and as a political scientist to point out the inconsistencies in the various points of view and the unsatisfactory nature of ideological argument on the issue. The substantive chapters are designed to give a selection of some of the more important facts about Australian schools and school funding so that when Australians argue about public and private schools they may do so on the basis of knowledge rather than ignorance.


Further, in the last chapter entitled 'A Personal Conclusion', Hogan switches to the first person and offers his own opinion on the 'objective facts and impartial criticisms' contained in the earlier chapters.

In the process, he makes a case for both improved schooling and greater social justice for the 'poor'. My thesis here, however, is that Hogan's intervention is far greater than he admits. Despite his claims of impartiality and calls for social justice, much of the book's content expresses a manner of thinking about schooling which, in a range of ways, actually enhances the cause of private schooling and endorses those current educational practices which contribute to social injustice. Like aspects of the knowledge offered by our schools or our media outlets, aspects of the knowledge Hogan offers are partial and unreflexive. Because the author often fails to interrogate sufficiently his own conceptual apparatus, form of logic and processes of 'factual' selection, and because he often fails even to recognise his own interest base, this book must be regarded as no less ideological than the discourses offered by the primary protagonists in the 'state aid war'. In fact, given the often subtle nature of the ideological processes at work in the text, it could be regarded as more insidious than the overtly interested discourses of the contending parties. I will substantiate this claim later and in so doing highlight the naivety of Hogan's calls for social justice. Meanwhile, it is to the book's style, surface content and absences that I now turn.

There is a genre of non-fiction literature directed towards a lay, rather than an academic audience. It is characterised by the simplification of complex issues, breadth rather than depth and by stylistic accessibility; also it eschews both overt theory and lengthy bibliography (publishers credit the lay public with little intelligence). Public Vs. Private is a good example of this genre. It has a clear lively style, straightforward diagrams, warnings for the uninitiated about jumping to hasty conclusions, and an extensive Glossary (138-164) explaining much of the alienating language of the Schools Commission. Also is covers a wide range of issues, but treats only a few with the thoroughness they deserve. Its theoretical premises are unacknowledged and it asks many more questions than it answers. In short it whets the appetite but leaves one hungry.

Although the Sources section provides a thoughtful and cautionary guide through the welter of government publications on schools and school funding in Australia, it does not lead its lay audience to other publications on the topic. Given his self-appointed role as educator of the public, it is somewhat negligent of Hogan not to direct his readers to such alternative readings in the area as Cleverly, J. (ed.), (1978); Connell, R.W., et al., (1982); D'Cruz, J.V., and Sheehan, P. J.


(eds.) (1975); Maslen, G., (1982); Smart, D., (1978) and Teese, R., (1981). This deficiency is particularly irritating when he makes such claims as 'numerous studies ... have demonstrated' (16) but fails to name even one.

This book is so structured that the first two chapters provide both a historical and current (up to January, 1984) ideological context for the third, fourth and fifth chapters on patterns of schooling and school funding and the issue of the autonomy of private schools. The Glossary is rather strangely placed between the Personal Conclusion (chapter six) and the equally personal, less mild mannered and easily overlooked Epilogue.

One of the more illuminating aspects of the historical component of the book is the comparison Hogan draws between the state aid struggles of the 1960s and early '70s and those which have occurred since the establishment of the Schools Commission and the continued injection of massive amounts of federal money into state and private schools. He aptly notes that whereas earlier political action was directed towards achieving some funding, now the struggle is over the manner and amount. That current religious and political unities and oppositions are markedly different from those of earlier times is also made clear and this is a salutary lesson for the ahistorical arguments of the media and for political activists. Critics who so blithely depict state education as in a crisis of its own making may be rather chastened by the evidence Hogan presents which attributes many problems to both population trends and the government sponsored expansion of the private sector.

In chapter two Hogan explains the composition and national structures of the different pressure groups involved in the battle over school funding and also notes the vested interests which the federal, state and Catholic bureaucracies have in the field. The bulk of the chapter, however, is devoted to outlining the competing discourses of the contending parties and covers the standard issues of rights, choice, democracy, equality, freedom, pluralism, secularism and so on. In the interests of balance, I expect, we are treated to a mode of analysis which see-saws, sometimes in a strained, precarious fashion, from one side's point of view to the other's and which is interspersed with supposedly impartial comments upon the competing validity of the competing claims. This style makes it difficult on occasions to separate comment from repetition. Further, it is often these 'impartial comments' which reveal Hogan's inability to escape from his own Catholic, private school history (more of that later). Certainly it is useful to have the treads and themes of the debate documented, but the manner in which this is done imposes an artificial symmetry


upon the competing discourses, which is simply not an accurate representation.

It is probable that Hogan's perception of such symmetry arises from his liberal pluralist approach to politics (20). In this chapter he depicts the political process as one in which active, informed and rational but nevertheless self-interested and self-maximising individuals and groups compete for political rewards on equal terms. He ignores the crucial ingredient of power and, in particular, the power to have one's discourse endorsed, extended and promoted by the media. In the recent struggle the public was not given equal access to the competing discourses. Rather, it was bombarded by the conceptual-closure and limited logic of the private school lobby; so much so that the Australian Teachers Federation (ATF) had to take out a quarter of a million dollar advertising campaign in 1984 in order to have its case heard at all adequately. Freely chosen, fully in formed self-interest was not possible for supporters of the state system and it is mischievous of Hogan to adopt a style which does not acknowledge the imbalance. The capacity of private school sup porters during previous eras to achieve ideological hegemony via Hogan's neglect of matters of power leads him to decontextualize the various interest groups. In order adequately to understand the various 'state aid wars' it is crucial to recognise that the interested parties do not operate in social isolation but that they exist within complex formal and informal networks which provide their various power bases. The following historical sequence illustrates the effectiveness of the private schools' power base.

The AFT has strong, formal links with the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and consequently with the Australian Labor Party (ALP). As a result of these links, the Labor government repeat ed, in the 1983 Economic Accord, the affirmation in the legislation which founded the Schools Commission. Again a Labor government accepted a 'primary obligation' to state schools. The 1984 ALP National Conference reaffirmed that obligation. Yet in the subsequent 1984 funding guidelines, the government accepted responsibility for the 'dual system' and in many ways gave the private schools every reason to be pleased. Even the wealthier private schools were to continue to receive a minimum grant indexed for inflation. The guide lines were a humiliating defeat for the state school lobby, which declared itself outraged, appalled and betrayed, yet the media happily agreed with the government that an education consensus had been achieved and that the 'state aid war' had ended.

The fact that a Labor government so blatantly favoured private schools in its most recent funding guidelines is a powerful testimony


to the political clout of the private school minority group (around twenty-five per cent of the student population attend private schools.) This clout cannot be accounted for unless one acknowledges strong connections between private schools and society's ruling groups. Hogan makes no such acknowledgment. Neither does he adequately acknowledge the ideological, political and class processes at work within the sectors. For example, despite the fact that the dying Catholic system of schools was revived and able to thrive under Labor's various initiatives across time, Catholics were readily mobilised in opposition to the 1983 guidelines and the 'hit list'.

That the Catholic systemic schools were persuaded that their interests concurred with those of the wealthy private schools (Catholic and non-Catholic), is a testimony not only to an imbalance of power within the private school sector, but to the facility of a small number of wealthy private schools to develop a discourse which unified what potentially—in class terms—is a disparate sector.

Chapters three and four draw from a variety of statistical sources to illuminate the broad patterns of schooling and school funding in Australia. These chapters are particularly valuable because they make available, and comprehensible, figures which would normally not be sought by the general public. Hogan puts some of the statistics together in unexpected and revealing ways. The figures confirm some popular myths and dispose of others. Some of his selections deserve comment, but I shall save this for later. From these chapters we learn about enrolments within and between levels of schooling, sectors and states and we are offered certain figures which permit comparability over time. Teacher qualifications, teacher-pupil ratios and the extent of pupil retention and employment rates are compared between state, Catholic and 'elite' private schools. One illuminating set of figures shows that the state schools catering for wealthy populations are just as successful at retaining students until Year Twelve as are private schools for the wealthy. Again, as in so much literature elsewhere (eg. Apple, (1982); Giroux, (1981); Sharp, (1980); Connell, et al., (1982)), the impact of socio-economic factors upon schooling 'success' is demonstrated. A particularly distressing set of figures arising from 1975 statistics, shows that 1,023 of Australia's schools (catering for 370,000 students) are classified as disadvantaged. Hogan observes that:

Educational disadvantage and inequalities of education opportunity are not diminishing in Australia. They are getting worse as the recession has pushed more Australians into greater hardship (73).


He also predicts that the sense of public education 'as a depressed area' (59) is unlikely to ease, not so much because of 'leakage' to private schools, but because of problems brought about by demographic changes and the difficulties faced by large-scale bureaucracies in responding to these.

In chapter five, the different types of grants available to schools, systems and states and the different funding arrangements between state governments and the federal government are explained, as are the ambiguous aspects of some of the statistics which have been produced by the participants in the 'state aid war'. Again, historical and interstate comparisons are drawn.

Hogan devotes some space to exploring the concept of 'need' as it is employed in the distribution of funds and makes a case against the Schools Recurrent Resource Index and the latest measure, the Community Standard. To Hogan, as to many social commentators, the problem of school needs is concealed by the private/public dichotomy and it is his contention that in times of shortage, the lines should be drawn between wealthy and poor schools, both state and private. This point is argued most persuasively in the Epilogue (168-169). One strong theme running through the book is that there is little real concern about improved schooling for the 'poor', and the figures he produces showing the 'relatively trifling budgetary allowances' (17) for such endeavours as the Participation and Equity Program illustrate this point very vividly (98). In the section on the private schools' private sources of funds, Hogan reveals the differences between Catholic and non-Catholic schools and the former's greater indebtedness to the government. He also shows that despite the private school lobby's claims to the contrary, there are rich schools. However, he fails really to engage with the popular equation between the withdrawal of funds to these schools and their increasing elitism. 'Sacrifice', the great cliche of the debate, is not critically unmasked. The relativity of the term is not noted and neither are such questions asked as why should such 'sacrifices' be made and which social group's interests do they serve? One glaring absence in this chapter is Hogan's failure to address the claim that the Catholic System has expanded at the expense of its poorer schools, and that federal money which should have been spent on needy schools has been spent on establishing new schools.

It is in the chapter on private school autonomy that Hogan's ideological slip is most visible and I shall discuss it at more length shortly. Suffice it to say now that the current constraints and the potential 'threats' to the freedom of private schools are documented


and these include the demands of bureaucracy, equal opportunity legislation, private school teachers' unions and various proposals for 'integrated' and 'supported' schools.

I shall now seek to support the claim which I made earlier, that despite its innocent surface, this book may be regarded as an ideological discourse.

Hogan is unable to escape his Catholic, private school history, despite his best intentions. He employs much of the conceptual apparatus of the private school lobby and he writes largely from a point of view which reflects his history. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the chapter on the autonomy of private schools. He uses the term 'in dependent' schools, even when outlining the schools' lack of independence. He speaks of increasing government involvement in the schools as a 'threat', as 'interference', an 'invasion'. Someone writing from another point of view might have called the chapter 'Accountability' and welcomed the opening up of state funded private schools to public scrutiny. A public voice on such things as admissions policies or on governing bodies might have been regarded as a reasonable exchange for the use of public money to support private educational interests. It could have been acknowledged that it is churlish of the private schools to take with one hand, but to withhold greater accountability and access with the other. To Hogan, though, their hostile withholding behaviour is justifiable. He also asserts that there are 'few' votes to be won through a policy of 'integrated' or 'support ed' schools. Earlier in the text he also seeks to establish the limits of the possible with such claims as:

It is assumed that most Australians accept the fact that Australia has a dual system of education which i8 not likely to disappear in the immediate future and that public money will continue to flow in some measure to both systems. They are very few Australians who seriously propose the complete nationalisation of schooling (24).

The only terms of the modern debate are how much, in what kind of ways according to what principles and for what purposes? (24)

... but each side has the curb of self interest which makes the radical solutions impossible (37).


Hogan provides no evidence to support such claims and even if public opinion were shown to support them, such opinion would be more a consequence of ideological bombardment by the private school discourse than arising from the fully informed self interest of state school supporters. In the context of Hogan's fear that the impending issue for private schools is loss of autonomy, he notes that a Bill of Rights, Equal Opportunity Legislation and the requirements of Teachers' Unions may limit the facility of private schools to demand vast amounts of unpaid overtime from their teachers and to discriminate in their employment practices. Although Hogan concludes that 'any definition of independence and autonomy in a free society must take account of the freedoms and rights of others' (127), his tone suggests a sympathy with the practices of the employers. If this reading is correct, then the it must be observed that Hogan's notion of social justice is rather limited and excludes the rights of homosexuals, women and couples in de facto relationships.

The Catholic private school system is, it seems, in Hogan's blood, and this blood surges through the veins of many other of his arguments and perspectives. Probably his apparent anti-union, anti bureaucracy and anti-state attitudes arise from this source. I shall flesh out one final example. He claims that the primary reason for the existence of private schools has always been religious and that religion is the motivating force behind parents' selection of private schools. Such claims are reductionist and fail to acknowledge the connections between private schooling and social class. The class projects of the non-Catholic private schools, particularly the Anglican and the Catholic Order schools, have always been both blatantly apparent and commonly acknowledged. The religious aspect of such schools usually struggles to be felt. There is also no denying that the sectional cohesion and social advancement of Catholics has long been one reason for the existence of Catholic systemic schools (see Bates, (1982) ) .

This leads finally to a consideration of Hogan's call for good schooling and greater social justice for the 'poor'. We are given some indication of what he conceives of as good schooling by his continued reference to the well-endowed private schools as the 'top' and the 'best'. He makes these Freudian slips while at the same time acknowledging that private schools have monopolized the concept of educational excellence (78). Hogan does admit that some state schools can 'achieve' as well as some private schools and (glory of glory) that some of the former have also 'produced high court judges and prime ministers' (51). Yet when he actually seeks a definition of educational success, the criteria he dwells on (beyond resources and including teachers) are retention, tertiary entrance and employment rates


(63-70). When he seeks in chapter two to assess the merits of the competing arguments about the educational effectiveness of private and state schools, he largely accepts the private schools' claims to be better and offers some very superficial reasons about why this should be. In the process he highlights the supposed assets of private schools and the supposed deficiencies of state schools without attempting to do the reverse (38). It seems that he would like to see all schools become clones of the 'standards of excellence of the best endowed private schools' (40). He is aware that other definitions of excellence and success exist, but is apparently unconvinced by them.

Hogan does not acknowledge that schooling in a capitalist society functions partly to sift and sort, to provide an apparently neutral system which will help to justify the placement of certain people in positions of power and possession of wealth and others in positions of powerlessness and even poverty. Schools prepare students for their place in an unjust society and in ideological terms they help prepare them to accept that placement. Many social commentators have high lighted the connections between valued school knowledge and social class (eg. Ashenden, et al (1985); Ashenden, et al (1984); Wolf and Donald, eds. (1983)). They have shown that certain classes have the power not only to define the knowledge which will be valued and that which will be derogated, but also to provide gate-keeping mechanisms such as assessment, tertiary admissions, etc. These ensure that certain knowledge and the power and income associated with possession of that knowledge are kept in the hands of the few and that those denied access feel reliably informed that they have neither the capacity nor the right to these. To imagine that the schools which cater for the tiny minority of 'high achievers' provide a good model for the rest is to accept a very narrow notion of what good education is, is to endorse a mode of schooling and a curriculum which has proved most unsuitable for the vast majority of students, and finally is to fail to recognise how the current structure of education supports the cur rent class structure of this society. This book challenges neither the content nor the structure of Australian education and this is the central flaw in its call for social justice.

Hogan's solutions to the problems of education for the 'poor' arise from his inadequate grasp of the relationship between schooling and social inequality and his unwillingness to contemplate a schooling system organised upon other than current principles. He writes with moving sympathy of the culture of alienation, despair and apathy amongst many of Australia's youth in the poorer suburbs of our major cities and in the schools that serve them. Essentially though, he blames the victims, their 'environment of disadvantage', their lack of cultural and recreational facilities, community support and security.


He wants government money spent on improving this environment, he wants school funds to attack apathy and despair within schools (16), but he does not want the system or society to change. His politics are those of social conscience. His approach seeks to make the 'poor' more comfortable, to ameliorate the worst aspects of an unjust society. He does not seek or confront the sources of oppression and injustice. Hogan's solution is ideological in that it obscures the processes which work to produce vast disparities of power, wealth, comfort and personal well-being.

To make such claims is certainly not to dismiss the book. There is no doubt that it is a timely intervention in a deeply polarised field scarred by ignorance, prejudice and self interest. Hogan's proclamation that the public versus private dichotomy blurs the much more crucial distinction between schools for the rich and schools for the poor is a long overdue attempt to defy the central logic of the debate. Neither party has ever been primarily interested in the contribution of its particular form of schooling to social injustice, and some of the evidence provided by Hogan gives both sectors and current and previous governments cause for shame. There is also no doubt that the book has the capacity to play the educational role Hogan hopes for it. Read as a starting point and with an open mind, it should certainly enhance understanding of the very complex issues involved in the struggle over funds for Australia's schools. A critical reading of the text will acknowledge its worth, but will also acknowledge the significant ideological processes at work within it.

Jane Kenway teaches at Murdoch University.

I wish to thank Michael Hogan for his generous and thought provoking response to my review which was unfortunately received after the review was submitted for publication.


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