Have Catholic schools made Catholics an ‘isolated sub-group’?

These people often form a narrowly focused school that is aimed at cementing the faith it’s based on … If we continue as we are, I think we’ll just become more and more isolated sub-groups in our community,”

Barry McGaw

McGaw is quoted in the context of an article about the proliferation of new ‘faith-based’ independent schools. Of course nobody can know for sure what the long-term consequences of these schools might be. But history provides an interesting case study, the role of Catholics in a majority Protestant society, Australia. For centuries, Catholics and Protestants viewed each other with suspicion, and though very rarely violent this was true in Australia as well. Catholics have always maintained separate schools. According to the 2005 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes (AuSSA), more than half of all current Catholics attended Catholic schools, government-funded since the 1960s. Only one of the Protestant groups (the Baptists) even gets to 20% ‘other non-government school’ attendance. And being very numerous, Catholics could if they wanted to create a society of their own within Australian society. But do they?

I’m sure most readers could reflect a moment on their own social circles and realise that Catholics are an integrated, and integral, part of Australian society. The AuSSA finds Catholics are more likely to join unions than Australians in general, and have average rates of participation in sports groups and voluntary associations (though perhaps Catholic, I can’t tell from the data). They are more likely than the general population to agree that being a good citizen requires understanding other people’s opinions. Despite the Pope’s views, they are more likely than the general population to support gay marriage. Half of them even agree that public schools don’t receive their fair share of the budget. In 1996, a third of them were married to Protestants. I doubt the public school lobby can find any evidence that heading on to fifty years of state aid has made Catholics more isolated or more a ‘sub-group’. But of course why bother with data when prejudice can get the conclusion you want with no effort?

One of the frustrating things about the public school lobby is how rarely they seriously argue their case. Ironically enough, their belief in public schooling seems to be based on faith.

‘Social cohesion’, a euphemism for intolerance

I am an atheist, but as Damon Linker argued in The New Republic last year, atheism is divided in its attitudes towards religion. Linker’s article is a critique of the ‘ideological atheism’ of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, which believes religion is a dangerous superstition that must be stamped out. He quotes Dawkins describing Catholic education as child abuse, and Harris wanting ‘public schools [to] “announce the death of God” to their students’.

Linker prefers, as I do, ‘liberal atheism’, which is to:

…accept, … that, although I may settle the question of God to my personal satisfaction, it is highly unlikely that all of my fellow citizens will settle it in the same way–that differences in life experience, social class, intelligence, and the capacity for introspection will invariably prevent a free community from reaching unanimity about the fundamental mysteries of human existence, including God. Liberal atheists accept this situation; ideological atheists do not.

Ideological atheists would take the side of two critics of church schools quoted in today’s Age. In a feature article, psychologist Louise Samway as reported as saying of Christian schools:

these schools are balkanising the community, “driving us apart”. “Values are the foundation of human bonding,” the psychologist and educationist told The Age. “If we don’t have agreed values that everyone can understand and respect, that are common, it leads to a whole lot of disparate sub-groups that are suspicious of each other.”

More importantly, Barry McGaw, head of the new National Curriculum Board, is quoted in a news article as saying:

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Work and life in balance

The 2006 ABS time use survey results were issued today, giving us another chance to review the claims of left-familists that our time needs their regulation.

The ABS classifies time according to activities, but also into the categories of ‘necessary time’, such as sleeping, eating, and personal hygiene; ‘contracted time’, such as work or education which have specific time obligations; ‘committed time’, such as child care, domestic duties and voluntary work, and ‘free time’, what’s left.

All household types record a slight drop in ‘free time’, by 0.5% to 2.1% of the day, between 1997 and 2006. Most household types also saw slight drops in ‘necessary time’. For households with kids, the greatest gains were in ‘contracted time’, with increases ranging from 0.9% for couples with kids over 15 to 5% for lone parents with kids under 15. Except for the latter group, there were also gains in ‘committed time’.

So does that ‘contracted time’ figure mean people are working longer hours? In 2006, the average man who had a job spent 7 hours and 56 minutes at work and 58 minutes on associated travel. In 1997 he spent 8 hours and 3 minutes at work and 60 minutes travelling. In 1992 he spent 7 hours and 53 minutes at work and 54 minutes travelling. (I’m getting the comparison figures from How Australians Use Their Time 1997.) So there is really no trend here. Even the traffic problems constantly in the news are hard to see in these figures.
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Does policy matter for the Liberals?

If this morning’s Newspoll (pdf) on which party would best handle various issues is right, the Coalition’s policy change to support signing of the Kyoto protocol has seen it drop 10% to 15% as the party that would best handle the environment. That’s their lowest score on the evironment ever. Their decision to drop WorkChoices has seen their rating for industrial relations drop 7% to back where it was when the original WorkChoices was in force.

Their decision to defend the Howard government’s record on the economy has seen them drop 9% as the party that would best handle the economy.

Their unknown policies on a range of other issues have seen similar drops in health (9%), education (8%), water planning (7%), welfare and social issues (7%) and national security (11%).

So whether the opposition agrees with the government, disagrees with the government, or has no policies the results are much the same.
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What a public opinion difference one word can make

Between mid-1997, when Newspoll first asked its respondents about whether the ‘stolen children’ should receive an apology, and a Galaxy/GetUp poll in early February 2008 on whether its respondents agreed with the goverment’s decision to say sorry to the ‘stolen generation’, public opinion moved only 5%, from 50% in favour of the apology in June 1997, to 55% over 1-3 February 2008.

Ten days later, on 13 February, Kevin Rudd said sorry in Parliament. Over 15-17 February, Galaxy/GetUp! polled again, with exactly the same question. The proportion in favour had shot up 13% to 68%, with ‘strongly agree’ up 10% and ‘somewhat agree’ up 3%. A Newspoll published in The Australian came to almost exactly the same conclusion, with 69% in favour of the apology.

That’s a pretty remarkable shift I think, though it seems that it was almost entirely Labor voters who changed their minds. Between the 1997 Newspoll and the 2008 Newspoll the proportion of Coalition supporters backing an apology went from 44% to 46%, while the proportion of Labor supporters in favour went from 61% to 85%. This was the problem faced by the hapless Dr Nelson. John Howard had turned this issue into one that was more partisan than it should have been, and far more politically important than it should have been.

But it seems that the Coalition would be on stronger ground resisting compensation. Another Newspoll question asked about that, and found just 30% in favour. 56% of Labor supporters are against compensation. They are sorry, but not that sorry.


Youth Minister Kate Ellis has announced a ‘consultation’ on the impact of voluntary student unionism. There is a discussion paper available here.

With three weeks to get submissions in, it sounds like the government wants its views confirmed rather than informed. The fun here will be watching all the players in this dispute trying to come up with coherent justifications for their position.

Before the election, Labor’s then shadow education minister Stephen Smith said:

The key thing is making sure the services that have traditionally been sustained by the student groups are there for all students to enjoy into the future: childcare, sport and rec facilities and the like. ..[it is] the responsibility of the National Government and the universities to sustain those services. Those services are currently withering and dwindling on the vine. We will not allow that to occur.

But if the government isn’t offering universities any extra money, that can only be done by taking money away from education or research activities. And why should university students be entitled to childcare assistance not available to the general population? To the extent that student union provided childcare ever made sense, that was before it started raining cash on almost anyone who decided to reproduce. And will Labor’s higher education ‘revolution’ really begin on the sporting field?
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The long, painful recovery from bad election defeats

The 2007 federal election wasn’t the rout I feared , and so we are (probably…) not in the situation in which an unelectable opposition rather than good performance keeps the government in power. But a poll in today’s Sydney Sun-Herald shows the unfortunate long-term consequences of such defeats, in this case the 1999 NSW state election.

According to the story accompanying the poll:

Three-quarters of voters think the health system is poor or just fair, and almost two-thirds have no confidence that the Iemma Government can make improvements….

Only one-in-five gave the Government a tick, with 18 per cent saying its performance over the last year had been good, and 2 per cent saying it had been excellent. In contrast, 39 per cent said the Government’s performance was just fair and 38 per cent declared it poor.

But how will they vote?:
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Do Aboriginal Australians suffer from ‘existential aimlessness’?

According to The Age‘s report, one passage in particular of Brendan Nelson’s ‘sorry’ speech seemed to upset the crowds watching the broadcast:

Alcohol, welfare without responsibilities, isolation from the economic mainstream, corrupt management of resources, nepotism, political buck-passing between governments with divided responsibilities, lack of home ownership, under-policing and tolerance by authorities of neglect and abuse of children that violates all we stand for, all combine to still see too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living lives of existential aimlessness. [emphasis added]

I associate ‘existential aimlessness’ with European intellectuals rather than Aboriginal Australians, but I think I understand what Nelson is getting at. This is that the dismal physical conditions and limited life prospects of many Aborigines must lead to a disproportionate number suffering from the psychological maladies that flow from meaninglessness and hopelessness. But the literature on well-being and ill-being suggests caution in inferring mental states from living conditions.

For example, the 2004-05 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey asked various well-being questions of its respondents. 7% said that they felt ‘without hope’ all or most of the time, and another 13% said that they felt that way some of the time. But 62% said that they felt that way none of the time.
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HECS deters theory wrong again

The Education Department has quietly put on its website (in the file marked ‘Appendices’) the ‘equity’ student enrolment data. It’s more bad news for the ‘HECS deters’ theory, though good news for social mobility. The 2005 25% increase in student contribution amounts has had no negative effect on the proportion of students classified as being of low socio-economic status (using the proxy of postcode). In fact, they slightly increased their share of commencing students in both 2005 and 2006, and of all students in 2006 (there was a lagged effect in 2005 of a lower-than-usual intake in the previous year).

Low SES enrolments in the private sector are also up in asbolute and percentage terms, though there have been so many new institutions added to the list between 2005 and 2006 that the two figures are not directly comparable.

However, I would not read very much into these figures. This is a very flat indicator. If you round the numbers, every year since data collection begain in 1991 the overall share of low SES students of total enrolment has been 15%. In the two years for which there is data for private sector, it has been 13% after rounding.
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The teaching labour market

Andrew Leigh and Chris Ryan’s valuable paper on school productivity (pdf) received lots of media coverage today, including a page one story in The Australian. They find that numeracy fell over the period 1964 to 2003, and literacy and numeracy fell over the period 1975 to 1998. It is a loss of productivity because we have put more resources into schools but have achieved worse results. In particular, we have spent a lot of money reducing class sizes, though the Leigh and Ryan paper confirms previous research showing that this has no positive impact on test results.

What it does have a positive impact on is the teacher’s workload. Teaching attracts people interested in, by the standards of the professional labour force, a low number of work hours per year. At least implicitly, they have traded-off higher wages for less work. This trend is self-reinforcing, because it attracts to teaching more and more people who would rather have time off than earn more money, and their interests increasingly dominate the union’s bargaining strategy.

The ABS’s school statistics shows a significant decline in the proportion of teachers who are male, and who are likely to think of themselves as family breadwinners. Between 1986 and 2006 the proportion of teachers in government schools who are male dropped from 42% to 30%. The drop was less severe in private schools, from 37% to 33%, presumably because some private schools offer better salaries than government schools.
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