Tell us we’re dreaming.

I recently read an opinion piece in the Australian national newspaper, the conveniently named “The Australian”, on funding school reform. The piece, entitled “School Reform must be funded” and sub-titled “But maybe we need fewer academics thinking up ways to spend our taxes”, written by Cassandra Wilkinson, identified that the coming cuts to higher education because of the apparent impossibility of paying for school reforms in any other way. No-one, sensible, is arguing that the school cuts can come out of thin air, I make explicit reference to realities such as this in my previous post, but it does appear that Cassandra is attempting to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the academics, for this sorry state of affairs (“the growing influence of the university sector on early childhood and school education is partly responsible for the now necessary cuts to higher education.”, from the article).

It is the professionalisation of teaching, and the intervention of education academics to convince governments that early educational investment, potentially at the expense of the family unit’s role in child rearing, that has convinced governments that money must be spent here – therefore, it is our fault that our argument is leading to money coming out of our pockets. I cannot think of a more amazing piece of victim blaming, recently, but then again I generally don’t read the opinion section of The Australian!

Now, you may immediately say “You must be quoting her out of context”, here is another extract from this rather short opinion piece:

“In addition to the public costs being generated by education academics, we have public health academics driving an expensive “preventative health” agenda that includes mental health checks for kids and public advertising about the calorie content of pizza; safety academics driving up the cost of road building and tripling the price of trampolines, which now come with fencing and crash mats; and sustainability academics driving up the cost of housing.”

Not only are people concerned about education driving up the cost of education but we have increased all other prices through our short-sighted adherence to preventative health, safety and sustainability! I keep thinking that Wilkinson, who has some quiet excellent social project credentials if I have researched the correct Cassandra Wilkinson, must be making a satirical comment here but, either my humour is failing (entirely possible), she has been edited (entirely possible) or she is completely serious and we in higher education have brought doom upon our heads by dint of doing our job. The piece finishes with:

“It may well be that the real efficiency savings will derive from a university sector employing slightly fewer academics to dream up new ways for governments to spend taxpayers money.”

and whether this is intended to be satire or not, this statement does raise my hackles.

Right now, most of the academics I know are trying to dream up ways to meet our obligations to our students in terms of a high-quality, useful and valuable education under existing restrictions. The only tax spending we’re trying to do is on the things that we can barely afford to do on the monies we get. I’m assuming that Cassandra is being satirical but is just not very good at it – or is assuming the role of her namesake, in that no-one will actually take her seriously, which is a shame as the approach that she seems to be supporting is not just saying that the only place this money can come from is higher ed, but that we should shut up because of how much we’re costing decent, family-centered Australians. If only I had that many column inches in a large-scale distribution paper to put my case that, maybe, people should stop talking about what they think we’re doing, or their fuzzy memories of old Uni days and bad movies, and come down and see what we’re doing now. Shadow me for a month. Bring running shoes. But, hey, maybe I’m just lazy, soft and dreamy. How would I know?

The rich dream of luxuries, the poor dream of staples. We are dreaming of having enough to do our jobs adequately and these are not the dreams of rich people.

Maybe I’m just too tired right now to see her humour in all of this. I seriously hope that I’ve just got the wrong end of the stick, because if this is what the social progressives are saying, then we may as well close up shop now.

2 Comments on “Tell us we’re dreaming.”

  1. Liz Phillips says:

    I cannot help but think back to all the examples of rebellions in history where the citizenry that barely gets by rebels against the rich. Unfortunately, what Wilkinson fails to realize is that academics across Australia and America are, quite honestly, poorer than than the complainers…perhaps to the extent of joining the rebellion against establishments that hoard the wealth.

    And yes, people who think Dr. Nick Falkner and his department are loafers who eat caviar for breakfast, cruise on yachts during lunch, pay ghastly sums to grad students to teach classes and grade papers, and basically sponge off the government funds really SHOULD follow you around for a month. I think that at the end of the week, the minion would beg to be released for tired body, burnt-out brain, and sleep deprivation–not to mention not much of a personal or social life compared to theirs because being an academic comes with an intellectual and ethical parasite that prohibits less than 99% of your entire being be GIVEN to education for mere pittance.

    And how would I know this? Because I teach. Because to be the very best, I not only teach, I research and continue to enroll in courses to make me even better. I am so busy doing social work, parenting, designing good lesson materials that rich publishing companies are too sorry and ill-informed to develop themselves, and teaching that I don’t have time to sleep more four hours each night.

    I am fed up with people who THINK they know what I do. I’d love for a complainer to follow me around. Hey, Nick, maybe your complainer would like to come over here and follow my trail. As it stands right now, I have 15 days off this summer including Saturdays. Not bad for 8 weeks of summer break. Oh, wait…that 15 days does include Sundays–I just got accepted into an INTEL six-week course on Assessment Analysis, and I will be taking Modeling of Physical Science Methods class for a week with grad school credit for a total 32 independent hours on top of the 8-5 weekday class. Maybe I can convince the shadow person to do all my homework so I can sit by the pool and still get an A. Because an A is the only grade I ever expect of myself NO MATTER WHAT.

    And just so taxpayers know, if teachers like us ever leave the profession, things WILL fall apart to a great extent. We do the work of many; when we walk away, it will take more than one to fill the gaps. I appreciate those before me, because as I filled their gaps, I noticed holes that were left behind. Those are potholes nobody ever things to fill. Solid education needs funding. Taxpayers need to understand that academics pay taxes as well. A solid academic program will look like a cobweb in no time if people attack Education instead of address the real problem.


    • nickfalkner says:

      I am always aware that, for all of my complaining, there are people out there doing it a lot tougher than I am in this sector; that’s just within Australia where the Uni you are at can mean the difference between a manageable existence and a very desperate and anxiety-ridden existence. Moving out of my sector (Higher Ed) and my country to the school system in the US and it gets so much _worse_. I take a lot of inspiration from you, Liz, because you’ve been slogging away at this, doing great things and, because of the sector and the place you’re in, you do probably twice as much slog as I do, without any of the ‘high level Uni’ benefits that I enjoy at the same time.

      I’d be scared to try and do your job – because I think I understand how much work you have to do. And yet you do it because you, like all good teachers, know what the job is and, sadly, good people have to step in when unthinking people make changes that cut off education at the knees.

      I completely agree that what we’re risking is the 200% teachers leaving the fold and going somewhere that will give them their lives back. I call them the 200% teachers because they’re not just doing their own job, they’re covering for other staff slots that aren’t filled, they’re putting useful education on top of their standardised testing requirement and they’re putting in extra hour after extra hour to make sure that one of the most valuable tasks in the world, the education of the next generation, is done properly.

      When you lose one of these people, you make a two-person hole (at least) in a Swiss Cheese system that is already more aroma of cheese than cheese. Take away enough cheese and you have nothing.

      People balk at paying a 200% teacher a commensurate wage – in fact, 100% is often seen as too much. Local districts and governments demand freezes (effective salary cuts) and actual salary cuts because of a perception that any bad teachers anywhere means that we’re all bad, somehow.

      Love what you’re doing, Liz, and let’s hope that one day the lesson sinks in. Until then, I’ll keep advocating for change and reaching out to make people understand that education is worth funding and worth fighting for.


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