Opinion: Public blaming and policy making

by Beth Blackwood18 Jul 2016
In a recent post, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at the University of North Texas, Mark Hlavacik, writes that ‘the recent history of education reform in the United States can be understood as a contest between competing acts of blame’:
 
“Arguments for education reform begin by blaming someone or something for the real or invented failures of […] schools.”

Hlavacik also points out the paradox that ‘although the targets of blame are said to be at fault, they are simultaneously accorded difference-making agency’.

We can trace a similar link between public blaming and education policy development in Australia.
 
AHISA’s national chair, Karen Spiller, has already commented on the relationship between ‘school bashing’ and the way politicians establish a platform for reform.
 
As the forces of Australia’s 45th Parliament begin to shape, so do the competing voices for education reform.
 
Both the Coalition and federal ALP have put forward policies to ‘fix’ a schooling system that is assumed to be in ‘decline’, including initiatives to up the quality of teaching and school leadership.
 
Blaming is a weapon that must be wielded carefully. As Hlavacik warns:

“When public blaming becomes disingenuous or perfunctory, it is often received as a sign that the deliberation in which it appears has lost credibility.”

A brand new Parliament brings with it the opportunity to initiate a fresh – and credible – approach to policy making in education.

To begin, politicians and policy makers could drop their discourse which features teachers and school leaders as ‘targets of blame’.

As professionals, as experts, as the ‘difference-making’ agents, teachers and school leaders deserve a place at the policy table as contributors, not scapegoats.
 
 
Beth Blackwood is the CEO of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia (AHISA).

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