Monday, December 29, 2003

Paul Sheehan Lite

Ah, it’s the silly season in Oz broadsheet world. The Age has gone so naff as to be almost unfit for fish’n’chip wrapping, while today’s SMH carries that quite unusual confection: Paul Sheehan Lite – free (well, almost) of bile, and of obscure stats being wielded as Damoclean nunchukkas.

Not that Sheehan’s ostensible topic – the corporatising of our universities – is an unworthy one. Indeed, it is one close to my heart, mind and bank balance. However, law school dropout Sheehan manages to turn what should have been a worthy-if-ignored sermon into a flighty two-parter about (i) his 1980s law school hijinks as a white male, and (ii) white males being more of a minority than ever in this year’s NSW Yr 12 academic excellence stakes. Maybe it’s just me, but the connection between these, at least in any sense not highly-pejorative of Sheehan, escapes me.

Moreover, some white males at law school in the 1980s (= me, for starters) did manage to get our degrees (hons, thank you) and have lots of hijinks. Oh, and to protest the corporatising of higher education, which all started with Dawkins and HECS.

And at which crunch-point Sheehan, and his anecdotes, drop out – how convenient. Compounding the myopia of his boomer narrative, Sheehan throws this tidbit of consolation to today's young white males:

Although many young men do step up a notch later in life when they find a career path - while many young women step back to have children - this achievement disparity must ripple through the Australian economy and culture. (same URL)

Err, Paul: maybe this is what happened to you and your career in your 30s, but it is certainly not the case for today's 30-something men, of whom only just over 70% are employed full-time. And as one of the 30% "lost generation" here, I can assure Sheehan that the "achievement disparity" which concerns me has little to do with the comparative career success of women and non-white males among my generation. When there's an artificially-created job shortage, someone has to be the loser – and Gen X sure as hell didn't create this shortage.

I only see one "achievement disparity", in fact, and it's all to do with age, not gender or ethnicity.

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