What do women and public schools have in common? We pay them less but expect them to do more.
I have often mused over the parallels between the way we see public schools in Australia and the way we see women.
We pay women less but expect them to do much more. Public schools are chronically underfunded, yet teach the vast majority of kids (the poorest, the disabled, indigenous, rural, remote, refugees, new migrants and the behaviourally and emotionally disturbed).
We congratulate fathers for doing absolutely anything for their own children but blame mothers if they neglect the smallest thing.
This always reminds me of how we go into paroxysms of admiration when fee charging schools offer a scholarship to a couple of poor kiddies compared to how we routinely sneer at public schools for struggling with the thousands left behind.
If a scandal hits a private school (I won’t mention Knox, I promise) it is seen as reflecting only on that individual school, but when a scandal hits a public school it is seen as reflecting on all public schools.
When a woman fails, it is seen as reflecting on all women, when a man fails its because he and he alone wasn’t up to it.
I have always believed that the essence of sexism is that we believe men have merit, until they prove otherwise while we believe the opposite about women. So it is with schools. Simply because they charge fees we automatically believe private schools have merit until they prove otherwise (and sometimes, as we do with men, we stubbornly ignore all evidence to the contrary).
We assume public schools don’t have merit (and may indeed be dens of iniquity) until one of them confounds that prejudice. And, interestingly, when a public school does prove it is doing a good job, we laud it and carry on about it in a tone that emphasises just how much of an exception we think that school is.
We do the same with successful women. Wow! We seem to say, isn’t it amazing that a woman (and/or public school) can actually do good work!
Maybe that’s why I fight so hard for both women’s rights and for the importance of public education. If equality matters, and all the evidence indicates that if you want a safe, prosperous, civil society, it does, then our ignorant assumptions about the superiority of one gender (or one set of schools) over another, need to change.