Deconstructing discourse of public education: An urban campaign for public education in Melbourne, Victoria

Year: 2012

Author: Rowe, Emma

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper explores the notion of campaigning for a public school, through the utilisation of preliminary data as obtained from direct-participant observation and interviews with active campaigners in the state of Victoria, Australia.  Multiple campaigns have emerged in the city of Melbourne over the last ten years, actively lobbying the State Government for a locale-specific 'public' high-school. At times, the request is for a 'state' or 'government' facility; however the emphasis is continually on a "local" and "community" school (Dodson Local Secondary School Website, 2012; Lawson High Working Group, 2009; Rowe, Work in progress; Smith High Campaign, 12 December 2011, 2008).

I contend there is a tension in how the 'public' school is delineated and conceptualised, asserting that the discourse itself is grounded in a notion of fixed systemic qualities. Rather than existing as a fluid and interchangeable entity within a globalised place (Apple, Kenway, & Singh, 2005), the campaigners' imagined school subscribes to a firmly-positioned systemic discourse and fixed spatial arrangement. Just as the place in which the campaigners' reside represents a gentrified inner-city locality, the spatial positioning of the school is specific and constitutes an economical commodity. By referring to the school as 'public' or 'community', governmental provisions are implied and expected. There is historical and metonymic slippage (Krimmer, 2010; Scott, 2009) contained within this usage; the public school is associated with its 'free, secular and compulsory' (Grundy, 1972; Wallis, 1984; Wilkinson, Caldwell, Selleck, Harris, & Dettman, 2007) roots, despite the increasing privatisation (Ball, 2007; O'Neill, 2011) and decentralisation (Caldwell & Hayward, 1998; Hannan, 1997) of the public school. Further, the imagined-school symbolically stands for and is associated with a particular value and political system. In this way, the 'public' school essentially embodies far more than it technically delineates.