And the same message underpins private school scholarships; the idea that only the very gifted can attend such schools for free has the paradoxical logic of both validating the high fees and creating an illusion of meritocracy or superior moral worth. Still, if I had a dollar for every parent I know sweating on the outcome of their child’s scholarship exam, I’d be as rich as the elite schools themselves. Interestingly, the private school lobby likes to say that parents choose these schools for their “values.” I’m not sure what values are at work in the scholarship system. The private schools would say they’re bequeathing opportunities to less advantaged kids. But these schools cherry-pick kids whose achievements will advantage the institution by attracting yet more fee-paying students. The only “value” exemplified is the value of commerce, with students analogous to high-yield investments.
These schools are in the business of sowing doubt, gutting state high schools of aspirational families and shredding egalitarianism. That’s not surprising; most businesses are driven by self-interest. But where Australia takes the cake for stupidity is paying these businesses for the privilege of undermining educational equity, and by extension, our nation’s economic growth.
We’ve heard time and again private schools claim an entitlement to public funds on the basis they’re “taking pressure off the public system.” In truth, they’re doing precisely the opposite. Luring high-performing students from the public system – whether by scholarship, other inducements or guilt-laced promotion – weakens the cultural mix at government schools, lowering expectations of the remaining students and transforming these schools into options of last resort. And these “residual schools” are punishing on the public purse, requiring more equity funding to compensate for the concentration of kids from low socio-economic backgrounds, and more money for remedial and other interventions.
From Julie Szego’s “Private schools and their bankrupt propaganda” in The Age.