Jean Blackburn: A social democratic vision for education

Year: 2019

Author: Hayes, Debra, Campbell, Craig

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The emergence of Jean Blackburn (neeMuir) as one of the most significant makers of Australian educational policy from the late 1960s to the late 1980s must have surprised many. She had been a mother, wife and teacher from the mid-1940s, and there was little obvious prelude to the working relationship she developed with PeterKarmelwho wasVice Chancellor ofAdelaide’sFlinders Universityfrom 1966 to 1971.[1]Nevertheless, Blackburn underwent a swift transition from consultant and drafter for the South AustralianKarmelreport,Education in South Australia(1969-1970), then the nationalKarmelreport,Schools in Australia(1973) through to appointment as Australian Schools Commissioner (1973-1980). Her role in the production and implementation of the Schools Commission’sGirls School and Society(1975)and the most innovative of all anti-poverty educational programs in Australia, the Disadvantaged Schools Program, consolidated her policy eminence(Committee on Social Change and the Education of Women 1975; Connell, White et al. 1990).

The arguments behind the reports and programs with which she was associated were grounded not only in the social democratic visions ofLaborgovernments in South Australia and Australia, but also in Blackburn’s socialist and feminist life experience and thinking. In this paper we survey the sources of this thinking, including the meaning and impact of Blackburn’s communist and feminist experience as it emerged from the late 1930s.