Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Private schools as queue jumping

“Marking Time” an ABC mini-series that finished last night, was not much chop. It suffered from a weakness shared by the grossly over-praised Japanese Story – too many totemic externals (cultural difference, 9/11 and Tampa in the former; cultural difference and the outback in the latter) and not enough character arc and nuance.

The dad character in “Marking Time” especially gave me the shits. Played by the same guy who was the Machiavellian mayor in “Grass Roots”, his unflappable small-l liberalism in “Marking Time” was an empty caricature – you could just tell that the dad was possessed of an almighty wheeler-dealer inner-bastard, champing at the bit to get out and about.

Anyway, I raise “Marking Time” because its bleeding-heart dad did at least manage to get one good line in – calling private school kids, with their artificially-enhanced employment prospects, as Australia’s real queue jumpers.

Here, the facts prove the well-known “old school tie” anecdotes (PDF). A (non-Catholic) private school education is a much better predictor – and so guarantor – of full-time employment at the age of 25 than either higher education or academic ability/sheer intelligence. In a recently-published study, “Dynamics of the Australian Youth Labour Market” (same URL), the second-bottom and second-top “Achievement” quartiles were close to, and sometimes overtook the top quartile in avoiding unemployment (Table 15, p 30). Although the authors of the study don’t spell out as much, the reason for this counter-intuitive result is almost certainly connected with another finding, that secondary school type significantly affects the probability of unemployment: “By age 25, unemployment among those who had attended [private (non-Catholic)] schools was close to zero” (p 31).

The ramifications of this are obvious; or so you might think. Dumb people are being bought jobs by their parents. The only twist in it is that the job-purchase money is paid many years in advance, and not as security for a specific job. Without such refinements, of course, private school fees would be unquestionably seen for what they are – a weaselly bribe which destroys the level-playing field, lifelong, for the honest and/or poor.

Arguments to the contrary, in favour of private schools, invariably trot out two things: “choice” and parental sacrifice. “Choice” is a canard – while I am philosophically against compulsion, few private schools offer anything actually alternative to the status quo; the usual point of difference being simply that they are Better Than The Public System. If this is a fair “marketplace” for educational services, then Stalin (via his two-tier communism) was a tireless merchant and shopkeeper. Then again, Stalinist free-marketeers appear to be alive and well in Burnside, SA (same URL).

The “parental sacrifice” argument is even more ridiculous. Of course it’s a financial sacrifice – bribes, as with other contracts of dubious legality, always are. Think of the hours a sex slave is supposed to work to pay off her debt – an arbitrary sum, of course, which can be unilaterally adjusted during the life of the contract, as the need arises. Similarly with fees paid to people smugglers; in both cases, there is a strong public policy force (at least in Australia) for condemning, preventing and refusing to enforce such contracts. Private school fees should arguably be thought of in the same terms; as money paid to buy what should not be buyable, under any terms.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?