Mixing at school (again)

Commenter Charles isn’t giving up on his claim that country public schools confer particular advantages in tolerance-producing social mixing:

In the country you go to school with the doctor’s kids (unless they are sent off to a private school, in which case the doctor’s kids miss out, they really don’t know what they missed and really aren’t in a position to comment) and the kids of the local drunk. …

I think the issue is important, private schools segregate the student population, in my view it is a real problem and going forward we are going to suffer for it.

There are too few doctors in the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes to say anything meaningful about whether they are more likely to send their kids to government schools in the country than the city. But professionals generally are more likely to send, or have sent, their oldest child to a government school in the country than the city, 68% compared to 54% (2005 figures).

I doubt tolerance would be enhanced by the children of doctors and drunks mixing. For the doctor’s kids, seeing the products of social pathology first-hand could be rather more off-putting than thinking about the children of drunks in the abstract, as unfortunate victims of circumstance. And for the drunk’s kids, the doctor’s kids could well seem like terrible snobs.

The better argument here might be that perhaps a little middle class culture might rub off on the drunk’s kids; anyway that’s what the public school lobby argue when they complain about the ‘residualisation’ of government schools, so that only people who can’t afford private schools or don’t care about their children’s education are left.

But for the sake of argument lets assume that there is some tolerance advantage to class mixing. Is this an argument for public schooling generally?

As the ABS’s social atlas publications show, there is a quite high level of socioeconomic segregation. Indeed, the private schools SES funding model uses this segregation as a basis for setting funding levels. The public school system, based on kids attending their local school, will generally reflect this socioeconomic segregation. Country schools are at least a partial exception to this, because to get a sufficient number of students they have to draw on a wider geographic area, with a greater mix of social backgrounds, than would a metropolitan school. So the argument Charles makes for country public schools is an argument against metropolitan public schools.

In urban areas, a traditional voucher system (with equal funding per voucher) would probably produce more class mixing than the public school system, because religious affiliation is more socioeconomically mixed than residential accommodation.

And again we need to consider for-profit schools, the owners of which won’t care where you live, where you go to church, or what your parents do. If social mixing is important, for-profits may be the best model of all.

3 thoughts on “Mixing at school (again)

  1. An interesting analysis, Andrew, as always. It all seems plausible to me right up until the last paragraph.

    The owners may not care, but the parents sending their kids there may care a lot about what ‘class’ of children their own are mixing with. That would obviously have an effect on the decisions the owners make.

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  2. fatfingers – I agree that some parents will prefer their kids not to mix with the lower classes. That’s a demand-side factor. But with the current system there are also supply-side factors, residential socioeconomic segregation in the public school system, and fee-level driven segretation in the private schools.

    Incidentally, under my preferred ‘voucher’ model the SES funding model would be preserved, since I am not convinced that the benefits of equal vouchers are large enough to warrant the additional public expenditure. But on the assumption for the sake of argument in the post that mixing was desirable, I mentioned that the traditional voucher system with for-profits would do a better job of facilitating mixing than the existing system of public schools.

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