Politicians not psychologists

Here’s a quote from an ABC News story on rating public schools:

Education Minister Julia Gillard says the “disadvantage” rating will not be used to stigmatise schools.

How could it not?

Most disturbing is that the number of indigenous students will affect the “disadvantage” rating. So on top of getting teased because their school is “bad” (implying that they are stupid), indigenous kids are also being told that it’s their fault.

Very poorly considered policy.

4 thoughts on “Politicians not psychologists”

  1. Simplified history of this (about 12 years, I think):

    1) Media publishes raw results and tries to spin it as an indication of public vs private school performance. Where of course it’s mostly a reflection of intake.

    2) Ed Dept instead publishes results relativised by ASAT scores. This provides a pretty good performance indicator for the top end of schools that the media were focussing on.

    3) Media blames ED for providing poorest quality schooling to disadvantaged communities – as evidenced by the worst relativised scores. It’s obvious to everyone with a brain that this is mostly caused by the home and community environments, not the schools. But noone with a brain reads papers or watches commercial TV news anyway.

    4) ED is of course already giving greater funding to help the disadvantaged schools. They publish data to put out this fire and wait for the media find their next misrepresentation.


    It _will_ be used to stigmatise schools, but no worse than the lack of data was, and maybe some different schools will get stigmatised it next time. Just like the previous publications, the kids don’t care and the parents have a right to know. The government a) needs to make the ratings to assess where funding should go, and b) should never be permitted to conceal its operations from the public.

    We should _always_ be very uncomfortable about the idea of affirmative action. And then in the worst cases of culturally institutionalised discrimination, we need to do it anyway. I think this is one of those cases. The indigenous kids have more than enough stigmatisation not to notice this drop in the ocean, the only way to break the stigma is to help enough of them rise above it to break the stereotype – until then their own self-image as much as anything will perpetuate their cycle of disadvantage.

  2. Thanks for the history on this Greg.

    In regards to point #3: If it’s clear that the poor scores are due to factors outside of school, shouldn’t they be directly addressed by community and social initiatives (rather than additional school funding)?

    I still can’t see how rating schools by socio-economics factors (including ethnicity) of the student population isn’t going to be counter-productive. Using “indigenous” as short-hand for “disadvantaged” may appear practical in the short-term, but it has absolutely no place in government policy.

    State enacted discrimination (positive or negative) reinforces stereotypes and justifies social discrimination. It’s not “us” and “them”, and it shouldn’t be “our” schools and “their” schools.

    What objective purpose are this rating system and website going to serve? To me, it just looks like a way for parents to make sure that their kids don’t go to “disadvantaged” schools (with indigenous kids) – causing more social divisions.

  3. (Regarding #3: I hope a funding a community’s school _is_ a part of said community and social initiatives.)

    As I said, I agree we should be very, very uncomfortable with state-enacted discrimination, but this is why I can’t say never:

    Indigenous is not short-hand for disadvantaged, it _is_ a disadvantage.

    When everyone that sees your skin supposes certain things about you because everyone they’ve known who looks like you has fit that stereotype, when you yourself assume that you will never finish school, hold down a job, save money, avoid alcoholism, stay onside with the law, etc because you’ve never known someone of your race to achieve these things, this is a disadvantage that is going to perpetuate itself. You’d like to hope that you can educate people not to think that way, but it’s very hard to dissuade someone of a way of thinking ingrained into their culture when the supporting evidence is right in front of their eyes.

    It _is_ a disadvantage, and it will continue to be until the cycle is broken somehow. So I don’t reject the idea of “positive discrimination” out of hand, however much my gut tells me it’s anathema. I can completely understand that other people will reject it outright – but then I want to know how _you_ think the cycle should be broken.

  4. There are many Australians who assume that they will never: finish school, hold down a job, save money, avoid alcoholism, stay onside with the law – these are the true criteria for whether someone is disadvantaged, so why not use them directly? (“Subject to racism” should be included in the criteria as well)

    It may well be that 99% of indigenous Australians fall into the above categories (and they would be identified as disadvantaged), but not all will. Moreover, there are many other Australians who will meet the above criteria without being indigenous.

    Saying that such a huge majority of indigenous Australians are disadvantaged that we might as well label them all that way is counter-productive. Close enough really isn’t good enough. It’s lazy and sends the wrong message.

    Government policy that makes such assumptions reinforces notions that “she’s just getting that because she’s aboriginal”. The government should to be absolutely above reproach in *never* using race – not just be very, very uncomfortable with the idea.

Comments are closed.