The latest defender of public education

The defenders of public education often portray themselves as high-minded supporters of social cohesion, against ‘divisive’ people like Christians who actually believe in God.

Except for their notion of who counts as ‘divisive’, this is a conservative argument – that social unity is more important that freedom for minority cultures. This is why I have argued that ‘social cohesion’ is often a euphemism for intolerance.

This point was highlighted by the week’s events in Camden, with a proposed Islamic school that had been the subject of heated opposition for locals being rejected by the council on planning grounds (or at least so they said).

Much of the publicity has gone to Camden resident Kate McCulloch, who appeared at the Council meeting in a fashion-statement Australian flag hat (video here). And here is her case for public education:

“I want Muslims in Australia to attend our schools so their children can grow up with our values and, more importantly, so that their mothers can meet Australian mums and see how they don’t have to put up with the sort of treatment they sometimes endure.”

Sometimes you just can’t choose your allies.

9 thoughts on “The latest defender of public education

  1. Andrew why do you interpret her words to mean she is referring to PUBLIC education? I’m blowed if I see any inference that she is. I think she’s making a distinction between ‘Australian’ schools (however she defines them) and ‘Islamic’ schools.


  2. The people who protested to the proposal of an Islamic school in Camden, protested aganist it because it was an Islamic school. If it was an Christian School nobody in Camden would have objected.


  3. When you use the phrase “social unity is more important than freedom for minority groups”, it implies that somehow giving the same amount freedom to minority groups that everybody else gets is likely to cause social disunity. But I’m not aware of any evidence that this is the case, and it seems a strange implication to make.
    Social unity and freedom are both important – however there is something of an assymmetry: very high social unity is compatible with low levels of freedom, but very low social unity is pretty much incompatible with high levels of freedom, as dysfunctional societies essentially force a mode of survivalism on the individuals making it up.

    However, I would never argue that if a minority group was threatening social unity that the solution would be to specifically restrict *their* freedoms: merely to insist that everybody is subject to the same laws.


  4. To clarify, Andrew, I was aware that it wasn’t you making the claim about social unity, but you are suggesting that others are making this claim. I’d like to know who exactly.


  5. NPOV – Check out the first two links. Personally, I think that social unity and social cohesion are greatly over-rated. Civility and tolerance are what I value, qualities that help us regulate behaviour in ways that facilitate cooperation and preserve peace without requiring the more difficult emotional task of bonding with people whose values we do not share.

    But the social cohesion argument is a common one among leftists and conservatives.


  6. Hmm, it’s easy to say social unity/cohesion are over-rated when you live in a country like Australia. Try living in Zimbabwe or Iraq for a while and you might feel differently.

    However, I would tend to agree that policies specifically aimed at maintaining “social unity/cohesion” are probably a waste of time, as they are rather the outcome of policies and cultural attitudes that, as you say, encourage civility and tolerance – and of course economic prosperity. Either way, Australia has never really had a serious problem with a lack of social cohesion, except perhaps between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.

    I’d read the first two links previously, and I scanned them again – I’m not sure I can see can see a clear example of anyone claiming that “social unity is more important than freedom for minority groups”.


  7. NPOV – Those examples support my point. Deep tribal dislikes aren’t going to convert to ‘social unity’ anytime soon. Tolerance and civility are more realistic – though still demanding – goals.

    I’m not sure that people often state their assumptions as clearly as I have done for them, but it is implicit in the arguments they make.


  8. As somebody from a poor family who attended shitty public schools, I think it is a scandalous injustice that the state did not remove barriers to my attending a decent school. The state facilitates middle class people to flee shitty failed public schools, but turns the screws on the poor. I imagine they realise if they allowed poor kids to take that $11,000 elsewhere the public system would collapse over night.


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