The SMH this week has been taken with the idea of ‘white flight’ from public schools. On Monday they told us that:
WHITE students are fleeing public schools, leaving behind those of Aboriginal and Middle Eastern origin, a secret report by high school principals reveals. …
In New England, in towns such as Armidale, white middle-class students are flocking to Catholic and independent schools. In their report, principals say this is so the students can “get away from their local school”.
“This is almost certainly white flight from towns in which the public school’s enrolment consists increasingly of indigenous students,” the report says. “The pattern is repeated in the Sydney region. Based on comments from principals, this most likely consists of flight to avoid Islamic students and communities.”
As usual, parental choice is described as bad for ‘social cohesion’: According to UWS academic Carol Reid:
“I’m concerned that social cohesion is going to be at risk through this. I see signs of that. You have a lot of segregation going on.”
And in this morning’s paper, public school lobbyist Chris Bonnor makes his standard claim that the shortcomings of public education are the fault of private schools:
The former president of the NSW Secondary Principals Council Chris Bonnor said having fee-charging schools next to free schools, each with different obligations, had always been a recipe for social division and inequity.
“We need our schools to create strong and united communities, not to build barricades.”
But what is the link between ‘social cohesion’ and groups mixing at school? Behind all this is the theory, most famously expressed in Gordon Allport’s contact hypothesis, that contact between groups will reduce prejudice. At least under the fairly stringent conditions outlined by Allport – equal group status within the situation, common goals, intergroup cooperation and support of authorities or custom – the research I have seen suggests that generally prejudice is reduced. Stereotypes are diminished through experience with individual members of the stereotyped group.
In Australia’s case, all three school sectors provide opportunities for the Australian-born to mix with the children of migrants, and vice-versa. Among the respondents to the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2005, each school type has around 25% parents of students born overseas (the private schools are slightly higher, but we’d need a bigger sample to know if that is real or not). In many cases the contact is unnecessary to change attitudes, which are fine as they are, but it is occurring.
But if there are negative attitudes, just putting two groups together in a classroom won’t necessarily have the desired effect. The US experimented with this in forced racial desegregation of schools. Studies reported in H.D. Forbes’ book on ethnic conflict suggest that in some cases, at least, prejudice among whites in desegregated schools towards blacks was slightly increased. And even after decades of official desegration, informal segregation remains common.
I don’t know why things turned out the way they did in the US, but racial prejudice isn’t necessarily based on attitudes with no basis in reality. The poor average school results of Aboriginal Australians provide some objective basis for parental concerns about ‘peer effects’ in heavily Indigenous schools. In my brief days as a university tutor, a tutorial on Indigenous issues was derailed by complaints from my students about disruptive Indigenous students at their former schools. In those cases, contact hadn’t cured prejudice, it had reinforced it or perhaps created it.
The pragmatic approach in these circumstances would be to worry less about creating ‘social cohesion’ – which is not necessary in most circumstances – and focus on preserving social peace, which is almost always necessary. As I have argued before, there is a big difference between holding prejudiced attitudes and acting on them. Strong discipline in schools is obviously important to preventing kids acting on any ill-feeling. But I would not criticise parents for sending their kids somewhere else. Parents cannot be expected to sacrifice the interests of their own children for the uncertain benefit of other people’s children.
38 thoughts on “White flight?”
Chris Bonner thinks having different types of schools is “a recipe for social division and inequity”. So much for diversity it seems, get the social engineering template out for all schools. Carol Reid thinks “social cohesion” is at risk. I think Andrew is right to argue it is the lack of “social peace” that is the incentive for parents to move their children to another school. Lets face it, the “free” provider has to be pretty sub-standard for people to voluntarily want to pay fees to another provider. My social network comprises lots of government school teachers, and a far higher proportion of them send their children to fee-paying schools than do non-teachers. Even more so than parents, these government school teachers know all about the need for “social peace”.
It’s probably a beat-up by the SMH: taking the old story about growth in popularity of private schools, and attempting to recast it as a flight from ‘multicutural’ public schools. Hence the ambiguous terminology: ‘white’, ‘Anglo-European’, or ‘Anglo-Celtic’, depending on which SMH article you read. Have any of the other papers picked up this story, I wonder?
Tim – And in the Monday story it is the Asian students who are claimed to be scared off by the Lebanese, so perhaps ‘Anglo-Asian’ (not such a ridiculous concept, unless you are preoccupied with skin colour). So far as I can see, only the SMH gave it significant coverage but other papers have mentioned the story.
Actually, the last bit of the “white-hypothesis” that was purported is that parents are also moving away from the East Asian communities on mass is surely false (I’d like to see the data). It seems to me that the reason whites are not going to many of the selective state schools is that the East Asian kids (and a few other groups) are beating them at the exams, so they can’t get in (and the same is of course true for the prestigous course at uni, like medicine — there are complaints about it occasionally). Even for the schools without selection exams (e.g., Epping Boys) it seems to be the case that many whites now want to move there (there is a premium on house prices), as the standards are much higher than other public schools and some of the parents think their children will do better there because of it.
Yes, I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to find data showing Melbourne people less racist towards Aborigines than people in Birdsville who actually live with them. But it does raise issues such as those that emerged regarding the Alice Springs hotel where the proprietor allegedly booted the Aborigines out on the basis that they were scaring Asians away. If we allow Anglo-Asian parents to choose schools for their children (including on the basis of avoiding Aborigines), surely that is not far away from allowing those schools to refuse Aborigines entrance purely on the basis that they were likely to scare Anglo-Asian students away. And if that happens, why not allow the hotel proprietor to do what he wants?
Perhaps Carol Reid and Chris Bonnor know their arguments are logically weak but still use them because they are rhetorically strong. The journalists involved with the story seem to have bought their arguments and shaped their reporting of the issue around them.
Unfortunately rational choice models of discrimination make it very clear that such discrimination is very much socially (and economically) sub-optimal but perfectly rational at an individual level (as you point out). Once again pure laissez-faire is sub-optimal.
“Statistical” discrimination provides a strong theoretic argument for affirmative action. It also provides a strong argument for a better pooling equilibrium such as would be attained if “white flight” or its analogues was not encouraged. Heavy subsidies to private schooling are precisely such encouragement.
Surely it is because current-day public comprehensive schools actually destroy social conhesion that is driving Anglo-Asian families out?
I doubt that private schools are the cause of “white flight”, more a symptom of other factors going on.
Australia did become a socially less cohesive nation under Howard. You can’t have the federal government dog-whistle for 11 years against various races from Aboriginals (1998’s suggestion that they might make land claims on householders backyards was a low point), Asians (Hanson’s unfought maiden speech allegations of yellow peril), Muslims (Kids Overboard and asylum-seekers) and North Africans (occurring briefly during the final months before the election), without it having an impact.
Add to that, the effect that this sort of bigotry has on the forming minds of children and imagine the type of division that causes. No wonder the whiteys try to avoid the scary kids.
Pete- Certainly the left intelligentsia became more alienated than before under Howard, but apart from that it is very hard to find any evidence of a decline in social cohesion. A lack of consistent questions make it hard to measure ethnic prejudice over time, but attitudes to gays improved, support for migration reached levels not seen since the 1960s, and proxy indicators like volunteering and crime also improved.
Your analysis also relies on what I think is an implausible theory about the influence of politicians. While there is some evidence that party partisans will take a cue from their leaders on issues where forming a personal opinion is difficult, I see no evidence that people take their views from politicians on matters that can be decided from personal experience or observation, such as other ethnic groups.
Andrew@11: “Certainly the left intelligentsia became more alienated than before under Howard, but apart from that it is very hard to find any evidence of a decline in social cohesion”
You don’t think Aboriginals, Asians, Muslims, North Africans became more alienated by Howard’s dog whistle politics?
Are you claiming that this didn’t increase racism, seen in all its glory at Cronulla (and cheered on by many of Howard’s backers like Alan Jones)?
Andrew@11: “Your analysis also relies on what I think is an implausible theory about the influence of politicians”
At the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, you don’t believe the Nazis influenced the German people to commit genocide?! I gathered you were a one-eyed Howard supporter, and the Howard support base includes the lunar Right, but, I wasn’t expecting to catch you in such an obvious act of Holocaust denial ;).
Politicians set the tone for what is acceptable thought and speech. That’s what Howard’s ‘Culture Wars’ were about. Ask Janet Albrechtsen, Keith Windschuttle and Co.
Pete – I think there is evidence that some Muslims became less certain of their place in Western societies over the last 10 years, but that was largely a global phenomenon and has little to do with local politics. On the whole, Australian politicians have been very careful to avoid provocative statements, but my work in public opinion and related fields has left me very sceptical about the capacity of governments to persuade the public when the public has strong existing views or alternative sources of information. Propaganda campaigns have little effect; ‘dog whistles’ even less.
The current Ruddmania is the biggest case of follow the leader we’ve seen in Australia for a very long time, but I am confident that the usual sensible scepticism of politicians will reassert itself.
Andrew @13: “The current Ruddmania is the biggest case of follow the leader we’ve seen in Australia for a very long time, but I am confident that the usual sensible scepticism of politicians will reassert itself.”
Probably. The question is: will that be of use to your side? My own feeling is The Greens will replace The Libs as the second major party within 5 years, depending solely on whether a genuine conservative/small-l replacement is created.
As it stands, the Liberals don’t stand for any principles, just what outcomes they can sell to backers for donation funds. Out of power everywhere, they have nothing to sell and the party will starve financially.
Adding to (and partly due to) the problem of financial starvation, it will become increasingly difficult to attract credible candidates, and the only people willing to put their lives on hold and risk their reputations in the bear pit will be unelectable loonies (the sort who joined Pauline Hanson’s party in the 90s, are members of Exclusive Brethren, etc).
Pete – While there is some danger of Australia becoming an effective one-party state, I would put the chances of the Greens being the major opposition party as zero in the medium term and unlikely in the long-term without a fundamental change in the party’s internal culture. I set out some of the reasons why here.
Andrew@15: “I would put the chances of the Greens being the major opposition party as zero in the medium term and unlikely in the long-term without a fundamental change in the party’s internal culture.”
As you disbelieve that politicians can shape the political and social agenda, as you state @11, I can see why that is.
My feeling, by comparison, is that as the Libs become less relevant to discourse (and their primary vote drops to around 15-20%), the Greens will start getting a fair bit more air time in the media and more direct comparisons will be made.
The powerless “elites” in entertainment, academia and the sciences tend to be Greens voters more often than not, and they have a knack for being convincing… whether by sound interpretation of facts and figures or by engaging presentation.
The “crazy tree-hugger” Greens party voter stereotype is more an invention of the Right than an observation of the Left. Same sort of thing generally applies to “political correctness” too, BTW. Very few real examples of these exist out in the wild.
Andrew@15: “I set out some of the reasons why here.”
Pete – The problem with you argument is that you have to set out the dynamic by which it will occur in a short time frame, which can only happen if a significant number of people who previously voted for a right-wing political party (Libs or Nats) decide to vote for the most left-wing party. That seems highly unlikely – as it has over the last 18 months, a decline in the Liberal vote leads mainly to a rise in the Labor vote, not the Green vote. People are far more likely to make a small political leap than a large one.
That is why a one-party state is a possibility, but not the Greens as the major opposition party.
Andrew@17, all that needs occur is for the ALP to grow its vote and for the Liberals to decline enough in primary for the TPP to be calculated between The Greens vs ALP in, say, 10 seats in the House of Reps.
Australian voters really are just like soap consumers: they vote for parties whose brand and policies are familiar and which don’t scare them. With increased media coverage instead of media starvation, and a lack of scary economic rationalist reforms and plans for privatisation (which have utterly failed to deliver anything to those on median incomes or less), they actually become a “safe pair of hands” option.
I doubt they’d be considered “the best” option by the electorate (at least for a while), but, certainly safer than the party infested with various assorted loons the Liberal Party will be by then, after 4-5 years without power and therefore donor funds ;).
Could it take longer than 5 years? Possibly, but, we’re seeing some of the early steps now. The Liberal Party’s been complaining of a massive collapse in funds for the last year or two, and Howard’s courtship of utterly nutty Christian Brethren signaled the party’s desperation. More of that sort of thing post-Howard and the TPP vote split will go well over the psychological 66:33 barrier into electoral oblivion ;).
“Australian voters really are just like soap consumers: they vote for parties whose brand and policies are familiar and which don’t scare them.”
That’s pretty much right, and highlights the Green problem – the brands of the major parties given them a big reserve of strength that helps see them through the inevitable ups and downs of politics. The most recent research I have seen on party identification was this from left-wing pollster EMC.
Despite Green issues receiving major media coverage and all the green indoctrination in schools, and the Liberals having a bad year, Liberal identifiers outnumber Green identifiers three to one in the 18-39 age group. I have also examined Liberal identifiers here.
I have written a lot about the Liberal Party’s problems. But there is no current evidence supporting the conclusion that it won’t be the major opposition party for the foreseeable future.
Andrew@19: “But there is no current evidence supporting the conclusion that it won’t be the major opposition party for the foreseeable future.”
Looks like you’re not a “tipping point” kind of guy ;).
What the 2007 election and WorkChoices demonstrated to me was that a tipping point had been reached. After 11 years of wedge politics and dog-whistles picking off various social groups and pitting them against each other, salaried and wage workers suddenly had an “… and then they came for me” moment of realisation.
Like the Australian Democrats and their support for the GST, I don’t think you’re ever going to win back the trust of the people who felt betrayed by WorkChoices. Like the Aus Dems in their final years, I think you’ll have some ebbs and flows, but, the long term trend will be down.
Your party simply isn’t open enough these days to ideas to rediscover small-l liberalism. Howard, Costello & Co. did a bit too much purging in the 1990s and early 2000s for that ;). Every act in resistance to small-l change against neo-conservativism will be seen in sharp relief by the electorate as proof that you’re still the bastards who forced them to trade their leave and holidays for 2c/hour. Yet, the party ideologues won’t be able to help themselves ;).
Pete – The Democrats aren’t a good analogy, because as I argued in one of my Greens posts they never had a significant sociological base, relying on picking up enough of the ‘general disgruntled’ vote to get them across the line and pick up a Senate seat. Their internal divisions and the rise of more attractive places for that vote finished them off. The big parties (and to a lesser extent the Greens) have support bases that keep them in business even when there is no strong reason for the general voter to support them. That’s why the ALP has always bounced back from massive defeats (eg 1966, 1975, 1996), the 1975 defeat caused by economic failings that affected huge numbers of people, not the small numbers affected negatively by WorkChoices. The Liberals haven’t been defeated that badly at a national level, and the polling shows that the support base is still there. Even during the mess of the early months of this year their primary was still above 30%, about three times the Green primary.
I think your analysis is wishful thinking, rather like some of the silly stuff about the end of the ALP during Crean’s leadership.
white flight has popped up again in today’s Age
Andrew@21: “[…] not the small numbers affected negatively by WorkChoices.”
You don’t know how glad it makes me to see the Liberal faithful clinging to that delusion, Andrew :).
The reality is, for every person directly affected in the short period it was operating, their plight was felt by each member of their family unit and each member of their extended family unit (grandparents, uncles and aunts, friends and colleagues) who worried for them, and their horror stories had resonance with huge numbers of others in similar employment positions.
Andrew@21: “I think your analysis is wishful thinking, rather like some of the silly stuff about the end of the ALP during Crean’s leadership.”
I rather suspect you’re underestimating just how out of favour neo-conservatism is with the electorate, after years of “core and non-core promises, the sordidness of the Iraq venture, etc, and how little your party’s prepared for change since your party purged itself of its Wets for purity. Still, time will tell.
Pete – The point is not that WorkChoices wasn’t unpopular (I have written the most extensive published analysis of that.) It is that the electorate’s sense of grievance passes; political parties have recovered from much worse perceived responsibility for economic misfortune. Your theory needs to explain why the electorate would be much more upset at the Liberals after WorkChoices had been repealed (by Labor) and dumped by the Liberals than it was while it was in force and and supported by the Liberals.
The ‘non-core’ promises were in 1996: if they are such a huge issue you need to explain why the Liberals won in 1998, 2001, and 2004.
Iraq was a much smaller issue than WorkChoices, and it too will largely pass.
‘Neconservatism’ is a uniquely American phenomenon; Howard was a pragmatic populist conservative (if we have to pick a category). That was mostly fairly popular. It probably cost votes in safe Liberal seats, but was either neutral or an advantage elsewhere.
I’m not arguing for the substantive rights or wrongs of any of these positions, just drawing on the public opinion research.
I’d be surprised if the Greens replace the Liberals as the major opposition party: the Greens are economically left-wing and the ALP is economically centre (or centre-right). On the “economic scale” the Liberals occupy a large portion on the centre-right/right and there just isn’t enough space on the economic scale for the Greens to replace the Liberals as the major opposition.
The Greens economic policies would be attractive to reasonable fractions of the electorate, but it’s unlikely that they could attract sufficient numbers of ALP voters (especially the more conservative ones) and for the ALP to attract sufficient numbers of Liberal voters, for the Greens to replace the Liberals as the major opposition.
The Greens may become the majority or major opposition party in some towns or suburbs (as currently occurs) but not nation or state-wide.
Andrew@24: “It is that the electorate’s sense of grievance passes; political parties have recovered from much worse perceived responsibility for economic misfortune.”
What you’re refusing to recognise is that WorkChoices wasn’t an “economic misfortune”. Its direct and intended policy results were to reduce working conditions and pay. That’s a betrayal in the same way as deliberately supporting a GST was for the Democrats and not in the same way as globally high interest rates were for Labor in the 1990s.
Andrew@24: “Your theory needs to explain why the electorate would be much more upset at the Liberals after WorkChoices had been repealed (by Labor) and dumped by the Liberals than it was while it was in force and and supported by the Liberals.”
For the same reasons as The Democrats continued to lose supporters over the GST issue as the years went by, well after 1998. Many rusted-on supporters hang on desperately for a sign that things have changed and the party’s learned their lesson. Inevitably, they’re disappointed as the machine operatives work to keep their power bases.
Andrew@24: “The ‘non-core’ promises were in 1996: if they are such a huge issue you need to explain why the Liberals won in 1998, 2001, and 2004.”
Again, it comes back to the concept of the “tipping point” — where a growing mood suddenly coalesces into solidity. Too many lies told too often. The ALP finally gained a palatable alternative leader (even if they barely have alternative policies) and the rest’s history.
Andrew@24: “‘Neconservatism’ is a uniquely American phenomenon”
Yet there’s Howard in the US receiving salad bowls from loony US neocon thinktanks ;).
Andrew@24: “Howard was a pragmatic populist conservative”
Gotta love it. If he’d spent all that tax money on productive infrastructure investment instead of transparent pork barreling, you’d be calling him a socialist ;).
Pete – As I said, the Democrats aren’t a good example because they never had much of a base, eg the Australian Election Survey found in 1996 2% of voters were strong or fairly strong supporters, compared to 30% for the Libs. The Dems were therefore highly reliant on the floating vote from election to election to maintain parliamentary representation. Their divisions and the GST made them less attractive for that floating vote, as did other places to park those votes, in One Nation and the Greens.
I have never underestimated the problems facing the Liberals. I have written many posts on the subject. But like most political commentators, you are over-emphasising recent events and underestimating long-term features of Australian politics.
Andrew@27: “As I said, the Democrats aren’t a good example because they never had much of a base […]”
The argument’s turning circular. I might retire from this one.
Andrew@27: “But like most political commentators, you are over-emphasising recent events and underestimating long-term features of Australian politics.”
Not really. I’m just aware that political parties are not eternal, especially in a preferential voting system, and the Coalition has neither the financial resources nor the ideological breadth nor the talent to fight against the (true) perception that your party betrayed its supporters by introducing policies directly intended to make them worse off.
I’m glad you’re in denial though :).
Andrew, while I’m here, I must compliment you on the quality of your blog. Contrasted with the columnists from the Murdoch press, your entries are of a much higher standard of writing and show thinking ability. Well done and keep up the good work.
Predictably, the AEU says the solution is – you guessed it – more money.
The 1993 election result for the Democrats showed that their vote could be squeezed – they only won 2 senate seats (probably Qld and SA).
Andrew, I wouldn’t normally post back with an “I told you so”, but, the timing’s too delicious: iconic small-l liberal Petro Georgiou has apparently lost his pre-selection to the neocon Costello-Kroger forces.
It’s exactly that sort of symbolism which demonstrates to those small numbers of remaining small-l voters that nothing’s changed and the Liberals have learned nothing. Your party’s becoming an even less broad church and, in evolution terms, it’s specialising itself into a niche whose path lies in extinction. The hard-line machine men simply can’t help themselves, you see ;).
Pete – He hasn’t lost his pre-selection; just longtime challenger Josh Frydenberg is having another go. Victorian State Leader Ted Baillieu is strongly backing Georgiou. The Victorian party is divided along personality rather than ideological lines. The average Liberal Party member wouldn’t even know what ‘neoconservatism’ or ‘neoliberalism’ was, let alone be a devoted factional adherent of them. As someone who has struggled for 20+ years to explain classical liberal ideas to Liberals, let me assure that ideological understanding is very low.
Andrew @32: “Pete – He hasn’t lost his pre-selection; just longtime challenger Josh Frydenberg is having another go.”
Best of luck to Georgiou then :).
Andrew @32: “As someone who has struggled for 20+ years to explain classical liberal ideas to Liberals, let me assure that ideological understanding is very low.”
I can only wish you the best of luck. As a lefty business owner, I’d say I’d be pretty much bang-on target for a genuine small-l Liberal Party. That hasn’t been on offer by the Liberals at any stage during my lifetime as a voter (late 80s onward). At the best of times, it’s been this “there is no society” Thatcherite crap. At the worst, channeling Pauline Hanson.
Pete – Though I am personally sympathetic to some of the ‘small l’ liberal agenda, I can’t see evidence in the polls that this is generally unpopular. Politically, these small l liberal concerns seem to be largely a middle class matter, which makes Petro a reasonable candidate for Kooyong. The fact that he got only a tiny swing against him last year counts strongly in favour of keeping him.
Andrew@35: “Pete – Though I am personally sympathetic to some of the ’small l’ liberal agenda, I can’t see evidence in the polls that this is generally unpopular.”
It’s like comparing Today Tonight with A Current Affair and judging that people seem to still like it. Flies okay if you avoid looking at the overall trend that people have been switching off their tellies in droves in recent years 😉
(Oh, a quick tip: If your lot really want power back, the first thing they’d do is promise to reregulate the bank sector to end Australia’s gross misfortune of having the world’s most expensive banking system. First party to do that will win the following election.)
Pete – Sorry, I wrote comment 35 rather quickly before running out the door. As you realise, I meant some small l liberal issues don’t resonate with the general population. The public is clearly conservative on immigration and citizenship issues, and no major political party can afford to ignore this. Labor isn’t.
As for banking, though you are right on the polling I doubt many people would seriously prefer the way the banks used to operate.