Not The Messiah: School Funding And The Political Imagination

Year: 2015

Author: Savage, Glenn

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Since the 2011 federal ‘Review of Funding for Schooling’, Australian school funding has become a hotly contested and highly politicised issue in education policy. The ‘Gonski Review’, as it is commonly known, has emerged as a potent symbol in the politics of class and in debates over the future of public education. Unions, activist groups, journalists and academics regularly position the Gonski funding model as a ‘magic bullet’ that will fix Australian schools by making them fair and equitable. The review is imagined, in this sense, as a ‘saviour policy’ in the war against neoliberalism, social inequality and the growing divide between public and private schooling. In this paper, I analyse the imagination of ‘public education’ inherent within the review and compare this to how the review is positioned in popular media and academic debates. In doing so, I argue that popular debates about the Gonski review and its relationship to public education are often significantly disconnected from arguments in the report itself. Specifically, I argue that the review presents a much more complex and nuanced view of public education, and of the responsibilities of governments and civil society in contributing to the future of education in our nation. In making this argument, I draw upon Charles Taylor’s theory of ‘the social imaginary’ and Appadurai’s theory of the imagination as a ‘social practice’, to argue that the Gonski review is infused by a specific kind of ‘political imagination’ that is increasingly dominant in Australian education policy more broadly. This political imagination frames schooling as an institution through which society can productively balance the dual aims of mutual beneficence and individual liberty. The review seeks to achieve these dual aims through a revised imagination of ‘the public’, which involves a renewed commitment by governments to resourcing schools, but also new roles to be played by philanthropy, the private sector and individuals. This political imagination, I argue, possibly reflects a ‘new kind of liberalism’, but it is not the same as neoliberalism, nor is it an antidote to neoliberalism as pro-Gonski political actors would have us believe.