Public schooling, politics and community

This symposium examines a series of interactions and intersections between meanings and practices of the 'public' in public schooling, and 'community' in education policy. Meanings and practices concerning 'the public', we argue, are rapidly and significantly evolving (Newman & Clarke, 2009). This includes the form and nature of public institutions and services (i.e. the role of the state and the responsibilities of citizens), and the evolving constitution of Australia's 'public' (i.e. its citizenry), shaped by migration, economic shifts, urbanisation and suburban sprawl. These transformations are not only re-shaping policy imaginations and school reform strategies but are also changing the 'who' of the public (i.e. the kinds of parents, students and other community members engaging - and are imagined to be engaged - with schools) (Fraser & Nash, 2014; Gerrard, 2015). 'Community' is, much like 'public', an ambiguous and capacious term that refers to complex social practices (e.g. Levitas, 2000; Schutz, 2006). Community, in particular, tends to evoke a presumptive politics of positive engagement, consensus and vigour, which more often than not is left unexamined. Current discourses of inadequacy or struggle associated with public schooling (and public services more broadly) can have the effect of loading 'community' relationships with agendas for repair and remediation, often euphemised as school improvement or innovation, and discursively opposed to things like centralised or bureaucratic administration. This co-exists with a series of discourses about 'problem' communities and their remediation through school engagement (such as the 'de-radicalisation' strategies aimed at Islamic families).

The purpose of this symposium is to apply some hard thinking to the politics of 'public schooling' and 'community' from four different perspectives. First, Proctor and Goodwin trace the politics of 'community' and 'public' back into the twentieth century, identifying and examining a lineage of policy debates in which these, and related concepts were mobilised in order to achieve various kinds of changes and stabilisations. In the second paper, Rowe examines the rebranding of urban public schooling, in order to attract higher socio-economic status demographics, to think about the politics of privilege and community tropes. The third paper, by Keddie, considers the politics of public education in relation to school 'autonomy' reform and matters of social justice. Finally, Gerrard, Savage and O'Connor examine the contemporary meanings of the 'publicness' of public schooling in current policy and media debates on school funding, in the context of significant shifts in the understanding of schools, schooling communities, and schools' public purpose.