Catholic Education in Australia…
The recently retired Vice-Chancellor of the University of Notre Dame Australia, Dr Peter Tannock, leaves behind an enviable legacy in what he has achieved for the Catholic Church in this country in the realms of the infrastructure of primary, secondary and tertiary education. Perhaps not surprisingly given that there are few channels for vigorous debate in this country on policy directions about anything Catholic, there has been very little public debate within the Church in this country on the philosophical and theological objectives of Catholic Education. Peter Tannock in many ways was a colossus and well-schooled in the long traditions of Irish-Catholicism of honed political pragmatism that was able to screw favours out of whichever political party was in power or whatever the political ideologies of the moment that ruled public sentiment across this nation. In short, Dr Peter Tannock was a "deal-maker" of quite extraordinary talent. Very rarely did he operate in public, pursuing his objectives through the media and attempting to influence public opinion. Whether playing in the field of secular politics or ecclesial politics he was the ultimate back room operator and private deal-maker who knew how to deliver results where it ultimately mattered. In the tradition of those great Irish "builder-priests", not to mention nuns and brothers, who often, by the sweat of their own labour, as much as by the deals they struck with local tradesmen, built the infrastructure of the Catholic Church in this country in the 19th and first half of the 20th Century, professional people knowledgeable of how infrastructure on the sort of scale involved in the crafting of a nation's Catholic education system are in awe of what Dr Tannock achieved in his nearly four decades in senior leadership positions for Catholic Education in this country.
For those with their ear to the ground though there has also been some quiet questioning of parts of his legacy particularly at the level of the ultimate goals and objectives of a Catholic education system, not to mention the deals that were orchestrated with the Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney to give Notre Dame University a privileged foothold on the East Coast but with huge implications that could compromise Catholic tertiary education in this country for decades into the future. Personally I have mixed feelings on these matters. On the one hand I sincerely doubt that without the talents of an individual like Peter Tannock we simply would not have an infrastructure as superbly funded and structured as the one we have today. On a visit to Australia in the 1990s the then international head of Catholic Education, Cardinal Pio Laghi, described Catholic education in Australia as the "jewel in the crown" of Catholic Education anywhere in the world. One presumes he was principally speaking in terms of the quality of its infrastructure and the stability and scope of the funding arrangements that had been achieved in comparison to other countries. I sincerely doubt there is a single other individual across this entire nation who had the skills, the political talent, the "deal-making" capacity, and, when needed, the ruthlessness, that Peter Tannock has demonstrated who could have pulled off what he has pulled off. The downside though is that the entire system is also characterised by Dr Tannock's pragmatism and until now there has been scant discussion of policy objectives, philosophy and even the theologies (the understanding of the relationship God calls us into through the sort of education infrastructure we build) that underly what has been built. It's all very well having good philosophies and theologies but unless an organisation can find the individual(s) with the political skills to impliment them those "lovely ideals" aren't worth much.
Today's lead commentary by Dr Michael Furtado was triggered by Dr Furtado coming across the interview I recorded with Dr Tannock, originally for OnLine Catholics, but now also archived on Catholica [LINK]. Dr Furtado has had a long scholarly interest in the deeper questions of policy direction that have perhaps not been as easily raised and discussed when policy direction was almost single mindedly under the control of one man who was able to sway prime ministers to his vision as easily as he could Cardinals and Archbishops — albeit there might have been many others in positions of responsibility on commissions, governing bodies, and even amongst overseeing bishops, but they largely learned to dance to the Tannock baton with a not surprising appreciation of knowing who had the skills to deliver the funding arrangements without which no ideas can sing. Dr Furtado argues that with fewer of the poor having access to Catholic Education in this country today it is time to start asking some questions about policy direction. …Brian Coyne, Editor
The legacy of Dr Peter Tannock…
Professor Peter Tannock, a distinguished son of the Australian Church, has undoubtedly been, more than anyone else, the architect of the current Australian model of Catholic education that is private or privatised. In no other country in the world, with the exception of the United States, where the political culture, as reflected in the US Constitution, is unbudgingly committed to the separation of Church and State, are Catholic schools private sector schools.
This used to be the case in Australia for about a century until the late 1970s, when the High Court eventually pronounced judgment on the view that the Catholic school is not a Church and as such is entitled to receive public funds in respect of its educational goals. Prior to that Catholic schools, which had originally been part of the broad provision of school education reflecting the evangelising commitment of Catholics to school education in Australia, had been forced into raising their own revenue through the withdrawal of state aid.
In the 1970s an offer was made and a model proposed whereby the perennial state aid battle could eventually be put to bed through reference to an arrangement operating in different forms in various other countries, whereby Catholic schools are fully funded and part of a diverse provision of schools made available to the public without reference to the payment of fees.
For a variety of reasons this offer was never fully explored and I made it my scholarly pursuit (MA in Public Policy by Research, UWA; PhD in Education, UQ) to research and examine the terms and conditions whereby this has happened elsewhere, the effects of this and especially in New Zealand in comparison with Australian arrangements, and the likely future trends in terms of affordability as well as important questions of access and social inclusion that attend the investment of, governance of and accountability for public funds in the Australian Catholic schools context.
In general, the arrangements obtaining in other countries, with the singular exception of the United States, where Catholic schools are in dramatic decline and receive no state aid, were to eliminate the last vestiges of a troublesome clerical factor in politics usually based around the Catholic schools question and severely constraining of its prophetic voice on political questions.
It is, for instance, commonly known that the acquiescence of the Church on broader political questions was bought in interwar Germany through a concordat on the Catholic schools question. In return for this the record shows that no German Catholic Bishop, with the exception of Bishop Galen of Munster, spoke out against Nazi atrocities, and when he did this he was jailed for being in breach of the concordat.
Fewer Catholics than ever before send their children to Catholic schools…
While I do not think that the situation in Australia is so dire, there is a paradox in and a price to be paid for all this, which in real terms means that fewer Catholics than ever before, by Dr Tannock's and Cardinal Pell's own admission, now send their children to Australian Catholic schools, and the largest component of such a missing group are Catholics from low SES families.
Moreover the Catholic precedent for school funding has now inevitably been extended to all private schools at great expense to the public purse and especially public education, which rationally must forego those aspects of its revenue that reflect changes in enrolment from the public to the private sector (10 percent in as many years).
It is here that the Catholic social teaching on the common good kicks in if it is to have any meaning. Catholic educational teaching, as incontestably reflected in the principles of Catholic social teaching, rejects the proposition that Catholic education serves a private individualist, positional advantage position, and proudly proclaims that its purpose is to serve the public rather than the private good.
Of course, from reading through Dr Tannock's narrative of events, everyone knows that Australian Catholic schools are committed to a voluntary, philanthropic, even charitable dispensation of drawing their clients from a wide cross-section of the community. This reflects practices embedded from a time before the nation state got involved in the purposes of schooling and especially in recognising and meeting claims relating to universal rights to a freely-available school education from a variety of providers, when the wealthier Catholic schools, even from within the same congregational provision, paid for the poorer schools.
Part of the school settlement in other countries, in addition to the full-funding of Catholic schools in return for a curriculum that meets such universal rights claims, is the critical question of providing a comprehensive education. The purposes of such an education broadly reflect the universal recognition of the importance and value of schooling in influencing the life-chances of children, through, for instance, access to employment, something that Peter Tannock rates highly in his interview published on Catholica Australia.
The compromise inherent to privatisation…
As a Professor of Education and a former education academic Dr Tannock would be familiar with the view that the provision of a comprehensive mode of schooling is the only way society, whether Catholic or otherwise, has discovered, of embedding the principles of social justice and the pursuit of the common good in schooling, otherwise privatisation, because it is premised on selection and the affordability of fees, privileges social reproduction, and counters the democratic and socially just purposes of schooling.
There are several prominent Catholic educators in the United States and the UK, such as Gerald Grace, O'Keefe and O'Keeffe, Michael Hornsby-Smith, Thomas Oldenski and other congregational collectives, such as the Jesuits and the Christian Brothers, who pronounce on the value of this in relation to educating for a faith that seeks justice.
When I interviewed him for my PhD, Professor Tannock explained in answer to a question of mine on this topic, that he agreed with such a proposition and that Australian Catholic education was committed to and offered a Catholic education for all who sought its services. He further explained that by this he meant that there was an Australian Catholic education available for all persons seeking such a thing, regardless of the size of their wallet. In saying this Peter Tannock either did not fully understand or had little sympathy for the above view, simply because no such universally equal and fully comprehensive system currently exists within Australian Catholic school provision.
Thus, while Australian Catholic schools educate admirably for charity and the formation of a philanthropic and mollifying attitude towards the poor, the poor themselves by virtue of such a policy disconnect now either do not find themselves in our schools or, where they do, such schools reflect a separatist and socially exclusive, specialist and segregationist arrangement that is decidedly at odds with the principles according to which schools in other countries, whether Catholic or otherwise, draw for their revenue from the public purse.
By way of example, it is commonly agreed that there are still Australian Catholic schools for the wealthy, others for the middle-class and a few for the poor, which evidently reflects and certainly does not address the presumed commitment of Australian Catholic education to combat social exclusion and social reproduction and helps create through its schools a set of conditions to ensure that Catholic schools serve the common good.
In order therefore to offer an education for equal opportunity and social inclusion, itself a principle with which informed readers of Catholica Australia, with a commitment to Catholic social teaching as well as a policy literate approach to engaging with the polity to advance those aspects of the social justice project conveyed through school provision, will readily identify, Australian Catholic education must address a very different context, categorically altered from that of the 1970s, that now confronts us.
At the present moment the Commonwealth government, rightly in my opinion and reflecting universal developments, proposes the removal of the artificial boundaries of public and private identity that currently frame the Australian discourse of school renewal, curriculum and funding, and proposes instead another that is committed to the very principles of social justice and inclusion that public funding providers must uphold in their provision of education revenues for something that is so important to the lives of future citizens, whether Catholic or otherwise.
At a juncture when the Australian Catholic University, perhaps in response to the success of Notre Dame, now proclaims itself as a university for the public, instead of a private university, and where no structure exists in the Australian Church at national or local level for lay Catholics to raise these questions, it is impressively commendable as well as necessary that Catholica Australia encourages a discussion of these issues for the common good of all Australians.
Dr Michael Furtado
As a footnote to this article I might point out that before he left his position at the University of Notre Dame, Dr Tannock authored a history of the University which is published on the UNDA website which for the first time describes something of the incredible feat involved in establishing the university in the early days soon after it was found their chief sponsors were in significant financial difficulties. The history can be found at: www.nd.edu.au/university/history.shtml. …Brian Coyne
©2008Dr Michael Furtado