That’s today’s big story in the SMH: the growing trend over the last decade, in NSW especially, whereby white parents choose not to send their kids to the local public school, particularly for high school education, meaning the public schools have become predominated by indigenous and immigrant children of Middle Eastern descent. The trend has also started to affect selective public high schools on Sydney’s North Shore with large numbers of Asian children. School principals are expressing grave concerns for the implications this trend holds for social cohesion.
- White flight leaves system segregated by race
- Not so great a jump from dem ol’ days
- Long ride across border to school
One principal also made the point that it’s not only private schools that are contributing to the segregation of children:
Social cohesion was under threat, Dr Reid said, from increasing segregation in education according to race, class and academic achievement.
Public schools were becoming increasingly selective on the basis of academic achievement, sporting and artistic ability.
“We have increased segregation inside public schools into the smart and the dumb, the sports capable and the creative. It’s that crude,” Dr Reid said. “It has implications for social cohesion. What do we do if kids are no longer growing up together?”
I grew up attending several schools because my dad had a public service job that meant we moved around. My favourite school was in Newcastle, in an area of high immigrant population, where I was surrounded by a bunch of non-Anglo-Celtic Europeans, considered at the time to be very non-U. Certainly I found that those schools were better both academically and socially than several others I attended which were virtually wall-to-wall WASPs, largely because the kids came from so many different backgrounds that ethnicity became a very low-level concern: we pretty much just rubbed along. I have very little reason to believe that things would be that much different these days, even though the ethnicity of the immigrants considered most non-U has certainly changed. So why the changed perception, especially in Sydney, that if one doesn’t private educate one’s kids one mustn’t really care for their future advancement, and certainly not for their current safety?
Several of my neighbours appear to have succumbed to the perception that their kids would be disadvantaged by sticking with the local public school, although I don’t know whether they have consciously acknowledged a discomfort with the numbers of Aboriginal and/or Lebanese and/or Muslim students: they certainly haven’t voiced such sentiments to me. Their kids go to Catholic schools or expensive private schools, where the majority of the students are Anglo-Celtic and Western European.
My kids go to a public high school (although not our nearest one, because they wanted to go to a technology high school, and our nearest high school is a language high school), and I find myself increasingly given the raised eyebrow when my fellow middle-class urbanite parent-types find this out. This saddens me: we could certainly afford to send our kids to a Catholic school, or to one of the many private schools in Sydney, but we don’t want to. We believe in public education despite the current funding problems: it’s not just about what goes on in the classroom, it’s also about learning about others in your community. The proportion of immigrant and indigenous pupils at our high school is quite high, just as it was at our inner-west public primary school, and I like that. I like it that a few years ago, when my kids were having some troubles with some neighbour kids, they described them to me as “the boy with the curly ginger hair and his brothers” instead of highlighting their aboriginality.
The way in which “white flight” in the USA has contributed to their ongoing crisis in race relations has been well documented. I’m horrified to see the same short-sighted and destructive tendency happening here.