“The Right Kids?” Thoughts On Education, And Tony Abbott Is Right

In a substantive directional statement on policy that should be welcomed by his detractors, Tony Abbott has today said that the “right kids” should stay at school beyond year 10, and that the rest could be wasting their time. His position ought to be applauded.

One of the great frauds in Australian politics is that the Labor Party is “the party of education:” it is a load of codswallop, and based in nothing other than elitist chatter and sycophantic media coverage.

Apparently the ALP has devised a new “incentive scheme” to keep kids in school until the end of year 12; the bait is a potential extra $4000 per child for doing so.

Another Labor bribe, this time aimed at its self-decreed educational standards.

Rather than sink the boot into the ALP directly, on this occasion I’d like to share some thoughts and personal anecdotal experience of this issue.

The Labor Party, increasingly over the past 40 years, has sought to move Australia to an environment in which anyone with less than a university degree would be compromised on their journey into the world.

And compromised as a recognised functional member of society; no degree, in Labor eyes, equals no value.

Never mind how ludicrous such a position might be.

And never mind the real, real value of experience — which, outside true professions (law, medicine, dentistry, vet science, etc) — is of far more value than a bit of paper.

This lunacy reached its zenith 20 years ago, at about the time my disenchantment with so-called “education” at a university exploded.

I was one of the smartest kids in the joint at high school; my TE Score (Queensland Tertiary Entrance rating) of 920 in 1989 placed me in the top 4% of the 46,000 graduating year 12 students that year.

I was also — by peer sentiment — the “most likely” to achieve anything I wanted.

Yet I hated (REALLY hated)* university; I detested the Journalism course I had fallen into when I missed out on a Law placement; and after finishing the introductory Journalism units and kicking that stream aside, I was mortified by what passed as “English” in a department in which I nonetheless completed a double major, and livid at a Government department in which if I wasn’t a Socialist I was shit beneath certain lecturers’ feet.

Ultimately I dropped out of the university; my $10,000 Hawke/Dawkins/Keating era HECS debt is paid, but I have no degree and in the eyes of Labor Party policymakers, no value as a human being.

You see, university degrees make you human, when you’re the “Education Party.”

But applying for jobs…answering advertisements 20 years ago for positions I know now mandated no more than a bit of common sense and an ability to turn up every day required a degree (and preferably a post-graduate qualification) and an impeccable academic record.

Even in sales and marketing, where I’ve earned my living for most of the 19 years since leaving the university…I love the advertising and media industry, and it’s not for the stupid or the meek; but it is also a place where a level head, a healthy dose of common sense, and a refusal to tolerate fools is far more valuable than a piece of paper from a university ever will be.

But there’s nothing wrong with me; I’m still the smartest bloke floating around, viewed one way; I’m vastly employable, have a nice little family, have intelligent interests, and a lot of friends just as smart as I am who provide vital intellectual stimulation, nourishment, and lots of discussion.

Why would I need a degree?

It seems to be more of a salient question than I’d realised until today, because finally — finally — other people are talking about it too.

It’s a simple fact that some people aren’t cut out for formal education; people who want to be hairdressers, tradesmen and the like have nothing wrong with them.

They just don’t belong in a school, and so many of them nowadays finish year 12 because they feel they have to, only to commence apprenticeships they could have begun two years earlier (and made far more productive use of their time than sitting in a classroom).

I’m someone who is suited to formal education, but ended up in the wrong course (if anyone can explain to me why Maths/Science results should be considered for entry into a Law course — whose only prerequisite subject is English, which I have always had well-covered — please explain it to me)!

And speaking personally again, today it’s too late — life has zoomed me off into other directions, and responsibilities as a husband and a father are prohibitive of a return to study for three or four full-time years (and three or four full-time years of earning either nothing, or the pittance that is Austudy — if I’d even qualify for it).

There are an awful lot of young kids trapped in the education system — that’s right, trapped — with no academic aptitude whatsoever, no interest in their curriculum, and no prospects of achieving much more from high school than a cataclysmic bomb-out.

But rather than lording it over these kids to finish year 12 (as if it were some task fundamentally essential to the propagation of life or something), I think Tony Abbott is right: some of them shouldn’t be there, but equally, there are other things available to those kids that can make them every bit as successful in the world, in their own way, than the kid who is able to become a lawyer.

The Howard government made a big investment in apprenticeship training schemes; I think Abbott’s discussion on the issue probably seeks to build on that.

Vocational education — as opposed to academic education — is a noble thing; who’d have ever thought the ALP would vacate this ground, and that the Liberal Party, as it has done for nearly ten years, become the chief advocate in Australia of the tools and the trades?

And let’s at least make mention of the kids who do finish year 12, bypass any further education, and go off to brilliant careers in service industries, sales, or private enterprise: these are instinctive pursuits, not academic ones.

Doubtless I’ll get pilloried for a) alleged anti-Education opinion, and b) for defending Tony Abbott’s musings on this issue.

But a little bit of common sense goes a constructively long way, and from that perspective, I’m very happy to see this issue surface.

Simply stated, kids who want to work but are naturally unsuited to academic education have alternatives, and those alternatives should not be denied, deferred or fudged in the dubious name of portraying “year 12 retention figures” as some sort of poster achievement.

In closing — and just for the record — the ALP (in Treasurer Wayne Swan’s “mid-term budget outlook” or, simply, mini-budget) today cut $241 million out of university funding over the next four years.

I’ll bet the student rent-a-crowd that always mobilises against Liberal governments will remain silent, and at home.

But it illustrates the point that even the “Education Party” takes its “responsibilities” in this area expediently, and is all too ready to sink the knife when it thinks its own credibility and prospects of survival are threatened.

What a sick hoax. What hypocrisy. And what a joke!

*Tony Glad, Tony Thwaites, Colin Hughes, Chris Tiffin and Joan Mulholland…you are exempt from this analysis.