Gonski 2.0 – Are we there yet?
Two academics from Southern Cross University recently wrote an article called “Seven Reasons People no longer want to be teachers”. They were careful to place research links to most of their claims as they outlined their suggestion that if people were leaving the teaching profession, or were not wanting to train as a teacher, there were at least seven good reasons why.
Soon after this article was posted, Mr Gonski and colleagues released a report, commissioned by the Government, called Through Growth to Achievement: Report of the review to achieve educational excellence in Australian Schools. It outlined three priorities, accompanied by recommendations across five areas to address the priorities.
Does the ‘Gonski 2.0’ plan give us cause to be optimistic in the face of critiques like those by Drs Bahr and Ferreira? Or are in we for more of what Seymour Sarason described in his now somewhat classic text, The Culture of Schools and the Problem of Change, (1982), that the “more things change the more they stay the same”? (p. 116)
Some commentators (e.g. Bill Louden 2018) have already noted some shortcomings, such as not recognising that part of what is being recommended is already occurring. Others (e.g. Glenn C Savage) have noted that the report ignores other previous significant reports (like the 2014 Donnelly and Wiltshire review of the National Curriculum), and that it is repetitive of certain (ideological) educational thrusts of recent times.
Whilst it is encouraging to see our political leaders committed to education for our young, and for them to be concerned to improve outcomes for all students, an almost tragic aspect of the report is that it manifests a profound incapacity, perhaps from unwillingness, to discuss education philosophically. There are many unstated assumptions within this report, and perhaps one of the most dangerous is that education is simply about knowledge and skills.
For example, if one reads through the twenty-three recommendations and seventeen findings, one can see that there is no reflection on character, beyond achievement of competencies that tend to be process oriented. This is represented through the language of ‘general capabilities’. Such rhetoric, in turn, reflects a withdrawal from the consideration of the relationship between core sequential knowledge, capacities, and commitment.
The report is utterly silent about this last aspect – commitment. It carries within it the assumption that simply giving people more of what they believe they need – students and teachers – must improve results. If that were true, then the millions of dollars spent over the last decades would not have resulted in such a decline of results. A deeper reflection would see a report that also recognises that the character of people and the character of the social structures in which they undertake educational tasks is critical to understanding the cultures of schools and resultant possible change processes.
In contrast to the reductionist approach of this latest Government report, James Davison Hunter noted that in earlier times character was linked to an explicitly moral standard of conduct, but that currently in the West, a vision of personhood is dominated by “emancipation for the purposes of expression, fulfilment, and gratification.” (p. 7)
He mapped how:
The content of moral instruction changed – from the “objective” moral truths of divine Scriptures and the laws of Nature, to the conventions of a democratic society, to the subjective values of the individual person…. Finally, there has been a transformation in the purpose of moral education itself – from mastery over the soul in service of God and neighbour, to the training of character to serve the needs of civic life, to the cultivation of personality toward the end of well-being. (pp. 146-7)
This report does not make explicit the moral purpose of the educational reforms, beyond a vague form of egalitarianism that assumes that equality means the same outcomes for everyone. Even if that were desirable and achievable (and both of those assumptions need deeper discussion and testing), what is to be done with these possible achievements?
The lack of reflection of these deeper purposes, that are inherent in educational practice, has direct implications for what happens in our schools:
The problem in democratic theory is that it leads to indefensible propositions about the neutrality of the
state. The distinction most regularly made is between ‘neutral’ secularity and ‘partisan’ sectarianism.
Though some continue to press this distinction, ever since Polanyi, it has been less and less tenable… The
public school will represent and attempt to inculcate values that a particular family may find abhorrent to
its own basic beliefs and way of life. The family is then faced with the choice of (1) abandoning its beliefs in
order to gain the benefit of a state subsidized education, or (2) forfeiting the proffered government
benefit in order to preserve the family belief structure from government interference. (Last section by
Stephen Arons 1976) [Footnote 12 on 295,296]
Dr. Stephen Fyson
Centre for the Future of Schooling/ AC
 Seven reasons people no longer want to be teachers, from The Conversation.
By Nan Bahr and Jo-Anne Ferreira Posted 16 Apr 2018, 8:47am
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-04-16/seven-reasons-people-no-longer-want-to-be-teachers/9661878 [Downloaded 2/05/2018]
 Gonski, E. et al. (2018). Report of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools. Commonwealth of Australia
 Hunter, JD (2000). The Death of Character: moral education in an age without good or evil. Basic Books
 Rappaport, J. (2000). Community narratives: Tales of terror and joy. American Journal of Community Psychology, 28, 1-24.
5/17/2018 08:56:11 am
Stephen - this is a really insightful article. Thank you. I appreciated particularly your articulation of the concerns around the lack of mention of character formation - that the report sees education mainly as the acquisition of knowledge and skills. As Christian educators we need to stay alert to what these publications say and what they dont say as we seek to create an environment for our students which forms them 3 dimensionally - spiritually, socially, emotionally, physically and rationally...
Leave a Reply.
CFS researchers and staff contribute regularly to the FSB. The aim is to keep you in the loop as to the range of our activities, perhaps suggesting points of common interest.