A Matter of Incongruity: Introduction and Rationale

[Posted Pursuant to Memorandum on Modalities of Completion A Task 2]

We like to see Australia as an egalitarian society, free of the old baggage of Europe and the pathologies of American society, yet the evidence would suggest that we are not and that we are becoming more of an unequal society. Dispelling such ideas regarding the inherently egalitarian nature of Australian society is important, for that recognition constitutes the first step in getting social class out of the classroom.

A recent NATSEM study pointed out that,(Page 7)

“In the OECD database, of the 34 developed nations considered by the OECD in 2010, Australia ranked 26th in terms of poverty rate with 14.4 per cent of persons in poverty compared to the average of 11.3 per cent. Australia has a lower poverty rate than the United States (17.4 per cent) but a higher rate than the United Kingdom (10 per cent) and a much higher rate than the Scandinavian countries such as Denmark (6 per cent) and Finland (7.3 per cent”

Recent work on rising inequality in the advanced western industrial states, including Australia, shows that inequality has not risen due to technological change nor because of relative contribution to society based on the distribution of knowledge and skill, but rather because of inequalities in the ownership of capital. Income inequality and, most especially, wealth inequality are high and growing and the rise in income inequality in recent times itself has largely been a function of gains to income acquiring from ownership of capital assets (Page 10 in the Australia Institute report hyperlinked above). That means social class is an inherently structural feature of contemporary Australian society.

Education, according to the seminal work of Piketty, has historically acted as a force for convergence in society, that is to say it has historically tended to act as a bridge overcoming social incongruity between classes through the medium of social mobility. A major study sponsored by Curtin University and Bankwest on education inequality in Australia observes that public spending on education in Australia has shifted towards needs based funding (Page 106), with areas of disadvantage receiving greater public funds as compared to areas of advantage. Bridging gaps in educational achievement was one the main objectives of the formative Melbourne Declaration (Page15-16).

Yet the data also shows that educational achievement continues to be shaped by patterns of advantage and disadvantage. In Victoria one of the main aspects of relative disadvantage in the school system exists in metropolitan Melbourne, according to the Curtin University study, between the traditional bourgeois south-eastern suburbs, but also the increasingly gentrified and self-righteous inner city, and the outer metropolitan working class suburbs with the Laverton area experiencing the second highest rate of disadvantage in Victoria (Page 77).

Within the system of schooling we have an incongruity, between resources in the public school sector increasingly devoted to needs based funding and the realities of student achievement and engagement, and that incongruity needs to be bridged. It is clear from this analysis that the structural incongruity needs to be bridged not just through greater funding but through teaching and learning strategies embedded within the whole school curriculum and within individual classroom practice. Funding can only be part of the story.

One way of articulating and refining, through continual reflective practise on teaching and learning strategies, pedagogical practice within a given frame of reference, or context, is through a concept map. Our purpose in this workshop is to collaboratively develop a concept map upon navigating through this Workshop Blog as a strategic tool to help us frame the bridging of the incongruities arising from social class and inequality.

Stop, Discuss, Build: Let us first create a mind map with the concept “social class” at its centre. Articulate together as a whole group 10 words that you associate with the concept “social class.” Having done so, in groups of two, articulate a number of phrases that encapsulates the meaning and importance of each word. When we are finished we will place our work upon the Workshop Blog immediately below these remarks. These are the attitudes we share about class that we bring into the classroom