As an historian I would like to share the story of education over the centuries to give some context and a better understanding of our reasons for asking, “what is an education worth having?”
This very question has long perplexed philosophers, church leaders, political and social leaders, educators and the community at large. Even Plato in ‘The Republic’[i] discusses how a society might be educated.
Throughout the late 19th century education acts were passed to enshrine centralised State Government control of education, and the provision of free, secular and compulsory schooling for all children from primary school age. While free, secular and compulsory for all has become a mantra for schooling in Australia it was to take most of the nineteenth century for it to be put into effect.
Those who wished to continue to employ cheap labour, and those poor families for which any few extra pennies made a difference, were not entirely keen on compulsory education. By comparison, there were those who saw a need for more and better schooling, with the growth and application of science and technical subjects.
In Greater Britain this enthusiasm for schooling for all was driven by a liberal belief that it was a responsibility of the State to ensure all children were provided with basic elements; the 3 Rs of reading, writing and arithmetic, while ensuring a reduction of crime[ii] . Charles Lilley, former Premier and Chief Justice of Queensland, remarked that schools were a necessary basis of social order and discipline such that “if the State did not build schools, it would have to build prisons."[iii]
Democrats of the time believed in the need to instil the young with elements of citizenship, introducing history into the curriculum. Reformers believed that compulsory education would be a device to end child labour. Those historians with a revisionist approach argued that this supposed uplifting and civilising was a middle class process to purposefully repress the allegedly inferior culture of the working class, and those ‘outside’ of society such as Indigenous Australians, South Sea Islanders (working the sugar cane fields), Afghans (the cameleers), and the pearl diving Japanese and Filipinos, and thereby impose on them a foreign culture and its values.
While the academic teaching of the history of schooling has declined in recent decades in Australian universities, Craig Campbell and Helen Proctor of the University of Sydney published “A History of Australian Schooling” in 2014, the first systematic history of education in Australia published in thirty years. The book offers invaluable insights into the issues that characterise educational debate, policy and praxis in our states and our Commonwealth. The authors contend that at a time when schooling is more important than ever for families, and where there is great public concern about educational standards and outcomes, it is essential to know what is new, and what is an echo of older agendas, and how these have highlighted the ways in which schooling has helped shape society. Their work speaks to distinctive features of the Australian education system: the strength of the non-government sector, the experiences of Indigenous children, and the relationship with global trends.
When I reflect upon my own teaching experience in this school, and the learning and teaching I received at Lockyer District State High School, I am reminded of the advice of my doctoral supervisor, Dr Philip Gardner, lecturer and researcher in the history of teaching and learning[iv]. He said to me that despite all the research into classrooms his Faculty of Education colleagues will report on curriculum, objectives, management, behaviour and leadership, none will have much impact if you cannot develop a good and decent relationship with the students in the class, and have them believe you truly love and enjoy your subject!
Please click here to learn more about the history of Guildford Grammar School.
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