Another education debate and an election must be just around the corner. Decisions on the distribution of the education dollar will be the stuff of intense lobbying and comment in the coming months.
As Christians and their schools scramble for what they see to be their “entitlement” two questions need answers. Do Christian schools threaten the future of inclusive, publicly funded government schools; and are Christian schools, by their very nature, a denial of the Gospel they preach?
In Canberra, ministers attack government schools and further institutionalise educational inequality. In Victoria, government schools are begging for “funding to replace leaking roofs, collapsed ceilings and exposed asbestos”; in New South Wales, government schools are “forced to put up with 10 years of stinking, blocked toilets, and years of termite infestations”.
At the same time Christians are boasting of schools with “mountain retreats”, “heated indoor swimming pools”, “seamless resource centres”, “computer laboratories”, “basket ball courts and lovely gardens”, as well as “award winning libraries”.
In short Christians and their schools are booming. Never before have there been so many, and never before have they been so rich. One principal, after lunching with a group of parents, was able to brag that he had delivered $9 million for a “science complex and a 500-seat concert hall”. At a time when the church attendance is rapidly declining, Christian schools, with access to an increasing amount of government cash, are able to deliver continuing position and privilege to the church.
As a result, they become enthusiastic and significant partners with governments in maintaining that access. They become complicit, first of all, in setting the terms of the debate.
When governments chant the market mantra of consumer choice, pastors and priests will not be far behind preaching parental choice. If a political party dares talk of a distribution based on need, and re-directing the education dollar to children and schools which are poor and marginalised, it will be governments and Christians together, Pentecostal and Protestant, who will gird their loins for “class warfare” and attack hit lists of the richest Christian schools.
When government ministers use weasel words like “getting back to basics”, or the need to “teach values”, to attack government schools and their teachers, it will be principals of Christian schools, who will claim, that “the consistent quality of teaching in most private schools is better than the alternative”.
The plundering of the inclusive, government school dollar, to sustain exclusivity, is unlimited. Maintaining market edge in the highly competitive world of education preoccupies the Christian school.
Single sex male Christian schools, for example, which recently recognised the need to become coeducational, began raiding neighbouring schools. Two such schools, “sucked 340 girls into their systems”, and the victims of these “educational juggernauts” were “the local government schools”.
Another Christian school, shopping for elite young athletes, poached “the entire year 10 girls volleyball team” from the local government school. Incidentally, there was no such raid on the local schools, for kids with disabilities, children of single parents or children whose parents were unemployed. A government school principal after a raid on his staff, by a Christian school, accused it of a “blatant and highly unethical head hunting exercise”.
How do such policies and practices line up with the demands of the Gospel they claim to preach? How do Christians and their schools, with, “new performance halls, libraries, gymnasiums, swimming pools, tennis courts, ovals, specialist computer areas, creative arts centres and purpose built early learning centres”,(note the plural!), respond to a Gospel that asserts that the judgment of God is determined by response to the hungry, those who are thirsty, the prisoner and the stranger? Perhaps, students “baking muffins for the homeless”, might not count at this point!