Australian Catholic Education in new times: New policy contexts and critical perspectives on educating for the common good

Year: 2002

Author: Furtado, Michael

Type of paper: Refereed paper

This paper examines the concept of the common good as it may be employed and applied at many and varying levels in the discourses of educators in Australia. The paper is drawn from the doctoral research of the author into changes in New Times in the usage and context of social justice terminologies and ideas, such as they may be applied to the re-emerged vexed question of the just allocation of public funds to Australian schools, and in particular their Catholic sub-component.

The paper also investigates the extent to which those aspects of common good sentiment which have not been neglected, have been wrested from their corporatist and anti-individualist associations to help serve dominant discourses supportive of neo-liberal and market-oriented policy objectives in education.

The paper argues that the neglect by some as well as the selective and arbitrary construction and use by others of common good terminology, such as 'mutual obligation', in discourses relating to educational funding and resourcing, is a result of the eclipse of modernist redistributive social democratic constructions of social justice, advancing educational virtue propositions in quasi-collectivist public good/public ownership terms.

The paper also posits that the failure to recognise in a New Times view of education and the human person an opportunity to resuscitate and recharge communitarian discourses of social justice by promoting common good ideas as opposed to those advancing a view of education as intended to secure for some a positional advantage in a highly competitive economy.

In particular, the paper points out that because Catholic education, in Australia as well as globally, has been built upon common good philosophies and assumptions, such a loss of association, coupled with an outdated tendency in some quarters to analyse schooling in structuralist-modernist terms, leaves the notion of the common good in education a highly contested but paradoxically a somewhat underdeveloped moral discursive site.

The paper further offers some suggestions to advance and refine common good discourses in Australian education, as a solution to the re-emerged conflict over state-aid between the public and private sectors of education and as a counter to the class-based, neo-modernist terms in which opposition to recent neo-liberal shifts in Commonwealth schools funding policy have been articulated.

The paper explores how current public education arguments critical of Commonwealth funding to independent schools may be strengthened by questioning assumptions relating to the perceived coalition between Catholic and non-Catholic independent schools implicit in current funding arrangements and which exert hidden yet powerful pressures on Catholic education that are inimical to the common good.

The paper concludes by arguing for the relocation of Catholic and other schools serving populations similar to those of government schools into a diversified public sector on the basis of the special character of Catholic and similar schools being a stronger guarantor of compensatory as well as accessible and inclusive educational practices supportive of the common good, than the opposition to neo-liberal ideas currently mounted by counter-hegemonic forces in public education oblivious of contradictions in education policy driven by neo-liberal forces currently dominating public-sector education in Australia.