why i’m sending my kids to public schools

I’ve ranted about this issue before. I’m vocally against the principle of private schools. So is Justice Michael Kirby. Below are some of his thoughts from his interview with Fran Kelly on Radio National this week. But first…


I know parents want to provide the best thing for their own kids. And they feel that private schools provide a better start in life.

But two issues.

1. I don’t know that fancy pools and excursions to Tuscany make for a better education. When I got to uni I was surrounded by private school kids…I was one of a few public school kids studying law at ANU (I don’t think this is to do with grades alone…more that I think law is pushed more as a career at private schools…which ain’t necessarily a good thing). I remember being astounded by how much hand-holding my peers required to keep up with the course load. This is a generalisation that might offend. So let’s put it this way – I reckon the “self-led” approach required to get ahead in public schools sets a kid up well for life beyond school. In all kinds of ways. Not least of all that it instills awareness of a fuller spectrum of the human experience.

2. The “my kid deserves the best” attitude perpetuates the growing divide in schooling quality between public and private. While ever good, engaged, smart parents send their kids to private schools, it drains resources from public schools.

My beliefs are these:

* The two hallmarks of a just society are the same (high) standard of education and health for all. What chance does a kid have if these things aren’t accessible to them? With a decent education a kid that comes from nowhere has choices.

* Good, engaged, smart parents have an obligation to all kids, not just their own.

* Good, engaged, smart parents can turn a school around – make a public school a vibrant, nurturing space that attracts great teachers. And they can ensure their children get a good education. They don’t need fancy pools and excursions to Tuscany. They don’t need private schools.

* The more good, engaged, smart parents that proactively support the public school system, the better for our society.

* This issue matters. It really does.

Here’s some highlights from the interview.

I cried hearing his take. This stuff matters. You can listen to the podcast here.

Michael Kirby: In the High Court in my day, and even today, only one justice in my day was me, was educated in public schools. And, given that 67% of Australians are educated in public schools, that is itself a question. Now, why is that so? And, in my opinion, where your educated, your schooling, your values, the democratic secular values that I received in my public education, really are hardwired in me. And the values affect the decisions you make. We can pretend they don’t. We can hide them. We can disguise them. We can not reveal them in our judicial opinions. But they’re down there, affecting the decisions, affecting the way we see words in the Constitution or statutes and so on.

Fran Kelly: If those decisions, as you say, are hardwired into you at school, then every parent, a lot of parents have a dilemma – they want to support the public school system but they want to their kid the best chance. On those statistics, to give their child the best chance there for a future in the law is to go to a private school.

Michael Kirby: Well, I’m sorry Fran, but if we take that view, we will wind down the great Australian experiment. We were the first continent that from sea to sea had public education, free, secular and compulsory.

Fran Kelly: So we should be investing in it?

Michael Kirby: Absolutely. And fewer manicured lawns and swimming pools in private schools, if necessary. We should be putting our money where 67% of the population has its children.

I suspect this issue will divide opinion a lot. Do you think parents should consider the greater good when making school choices?

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