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STRUGGLE FOR A NEW PUBLIC DEMOCRACY

School, Community and the State.

Tony Knight


Graduate School of Education
La Trobe University
Bundoora
Victoria
Australia, 3083 E-Mail : t.knight@latrobe. edu

Paper presented:

British Education Research Association Annual Conference The Queen’s University of Belfast. Northern Ireland. 27 - 30 August, 1998.

ABSTRACT

This paper is a case study of a school community and its struggle to maintain itself in the face of state mandate for closure. Northland Secondary College, a Melbourne ( Australia ) co-educational urban school of 474 students, had been selected in 1992 for closure as part of intensive cuts to the state education budget. Northland had long defined itself as a ‘community school’ with strong commitments and success in meeting the educational needs of Koori (Aboriginal) students. This local community school reacted strongly to news of closure, and for a period of two years resisted the full weight of the state through a series of court procedures, media campaign, and public defiance. Northland during this period maintained a ‘rebel school’ conducted by thirty volunteer teachers. The empowerment for parents and teachers was through the constructive role of conflict in a popular struggle for social justice. The lessons for students was through the power of organised resistance to uphold ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘due process’ procedures for previously dispossessed voices. The lesson for the state was that the present management model of administrative governance directing state education, with it’s intrusive, regulatory and corporatist world view, proved inadequate in dealing with the plurality and hybridity of this modern community. In particular, one inhabited with urban aboriginal cultures. Recent academic writing has pointed out the power of the ‘local’ in influencing community ‘needs and wishes’. However, the Northland experience is that local power and commitment is one part of of a change process. The ‘local’ has power to define important knowledge only if informed by broader general ‘theory’. Theory in the Northland context was in part dependent upon complicated historical / cultural interpretation of indigenous law , balanced with forms of secular modernist curriculum. It was in essence a cross- cultural perspective.

This ‘general theory’ included the aboriginal interpretation of important knowledge, that is, inclusion of family history (‘dream time’), and its central relationship to the education of aboriginal students (see example, Appendix 1).

Setting the context.

On the 21st November,1992 the newly elected Liberal State government in Victoria (Australia) under the leadership of Premier Jeff Kennett, announced the closure of 55 government schools as a part of State budget cuts. Northland Secondary College was one of the schools nominated to close. It was the start of the State government cutting of the education budget that resulted in the closure of 300 schools, and the loss of more than 8000 teachers from state education.( Hayward, 1996)

Ryle (1992) in discussing a first report on the events in the Age newspaper said ‘the closure of Northland Secondary College - long the home of the disadvantaged - took staff by suprise’. The school had the impression that with an enrolment of 474 students in 1992, and a confirmed enrolment of 508 for 1993, it was safe from threatened budget cuts ( remembering that the previous Labor state government had started the process of state school mergers and closures). Northland in 1992 had the largest enrolment of Koori students( Aboriginal) of any school in Victoria (approx, 65) and had been mentioned in the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody (1991) as an exemplorary model in Aboriginal Education, and an example of what could be achieved in mainstream schools:

‘So successful has the school become in helping Koori children realize their potential that Koori parents from across Victoria have begun to enrol their children there. One student is from Arnhem Land, another from Queensland. In 1989, the then Preston East Technical School had twenty Koori students. In 1991 it has nearly sixty”.

Aboriginal students have historically experienced serious problems in gaining access to, and maintaining themselves within the public education system. Government reports over the years have been uniform in confirming this relationship,ie, Commonwealth Poverty and Education Report,(1976, Ch.6 ). The most recent commentary made by Commissioner Wootten, as part of The Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody, is as follows:

By and large.....the schools which Aboriginal students have been forced to attend have been culturally hostile environments. The schools and their curricula, and their teaching methods, had naturally been developed, and their staffs trained to be effective instruments for passing on the culture of the invaders. Indeed, it rarely occurred to anyone that the schools, or for that matter Australian society at large, did reflect a particular culture or values....

The alien character of schools designed to socialize children into a different culture inevitably made schools a bewildering and unpleasant experience for most Aboriginal children. This was commonly exacerbated by the arrogance of those who accepted the dominant culture as unquestionable. - impatient and dismissive teachers who saw in cultural difference only delinquency and stupidity, and cruel and prejudiced fellow students imbued at home and in their own communities with the certainty of their own racial, cultural, intellectual and moral superiority.

( Regional Report of Inquiry in NSW, VIC., and Tasmania, Part 7, pp, 359-360)

Koori parents, and others at the Northland school were instantly galvanised into action at the news of closure and following

the State Government announcement, members of the Northland school community declared they intended to take public action against the decision, and that they were prepared to take legal action. In the years leading up to the Government announcement, Northland had developed a theory of inclusive education, ie:

1) every student provided with equal encouragement to success in all classroom activities;

2) a school culture and curriculum that was inclusive to cultural diversity;

3) the principles of persuasion and negotiation as central to school authority and governance process.

This general theory was to assume considerable political significance.

There is an important historical background to the Northland School providing insight into why this particular community engaged itself in a protracted and bitter political struggle against the state, and by this refusal, resisted validating state power over pedogical issues local to this school. Long suppressed voices discovered a public platform for claiming their ‘rights’, which included the right to determine and voice what was defined as important knowledge in their community. (Chesterman,et al,1997).

THE SCHOOL.

Preston East is an industrial suburb of Melbourne with high unemployment and a diverse working-class, racial and ethnic population.

Preston East Technical School was established in 1960 as the first co-educational Technical School in the state of Victoria. In 1969, the Principal William Gross enabled Preston East to become the first school in Victoria to have a nurse attached to the school to look after the health and emotional needs of students; this included home visits. From the outset this was a school linked to its community. For example, during the 1970’s, students had relationships with a variety of community projects, and during the 1980’s, the year 12 woodwork classes, as part of the general vocational curriculum, did ‘home maintenance’ work for senior citizens, and students visited the long-term ill at local hospitals.

From a 1990’s perspective these early school/ community projects appear as somewhat ‘folksy’, but it also indicates how these actions developed a sense of public memory within this community.

LaTrobe University, School of Education, set up a two year educational Task Force Team, with selected members of staff. It was a graduate B.Ed. In-service project. The curriculum was centred around the ‘needs’ of the school ( as defined by the school). It was a ‘teacher as researcher’ program with an action- research focus. Team members were expected to both develop theory and implement policy and programs over the two year period within their own school. This ‘ bottom- up’ policy development was in direct contrast to the ’top-down’ mandates of state policy at the time.

In 1985 the school initiated the building of a creche on the school grounds. David Knight a teacher at the school was project manager; Norman Day a Melbourne architect was appointed as designer of the creche. Students in the school became directly involved in numerous aspects of the building process. The project became a part of the vocational and academic curriculum. The creche was a resounding success and was awarded ‘The Age’ School Award, and Premiers State Education award in 1986. The creche served the needs of both the local community, and members of the school staff. It was particularly useful for female members of staff with children, who were able to use the on site facility, and maintain their professional status as teachers. This was also the case for students who could use the creche in family emergencies rather than miss school because of ‘baby sitting’ at home. (The creche continued to operate during the two year‘closure’ threat because of community support, and is alive and well in 1998.)

Preston East Technical school was the first school in Victoria with an Aeronautics program The program worked closely with Aerospace Technology, Qantas, and The Civil Aviation Authority to build a Zenith Trainer aircraft, and to train students as pilots. The school was to expand quite significantly the accepted curriculum of Vocational Education.Bill Maxwell, the resident principal, initiated a ‘whole school approach’ to school management. The basis of this approach was to ‘decentralise’ control within the school. Parents and students were directly involved in all school activities, not just as ‘participants’, but as partners in the political process. A central premise to school aims was the way in which the school defined itself as a ‘community school’, not as a Koori school. This was an agreement made by all school constituents at the time.

By 1992, Preston East School had been renamed Northland, and had enrolled the largest concentration of Koori students in the State.

The present Principal, Raffaela Galati-Brown ( 1995), stated;

‘the school had a long history of commitment to, and success in, meeting the needs of Koori students. Over a period of ten years Northland developed a school culture based on the premise that a sense of personal worth and support was an essential prerequisite to learning. It reached out to the Koori community for assistance in providing effective support structures for Koori students and the Koori community. It worked hard to sensitize its staff to the values and needs of the Koori community, and to develop understanding and rapport between the Koori community and non- Koori community within the school. As such by 1992, Northland was a living example of what real National Reconciliation is all about’.(p.4)

In summary, at the time of school closure in 1992, the school had developed over a period of 30 years a store of good will within the local community, combining a history of stories and narratives of support, emancipation and pedogical struggle. The school was able to draw on this reserve of good will at a time of crisis. It was not a neutral start.

SCHOOL CLOSURE: PUBLIC AND LOCAL REACTION.

School reforms......’have been well received for no other reason than it is realistic, it is professional,and it is compassionate’

Premier, J. Kennett, The Age, 21-11-92.

Reactions to the news of large scale education cuts were immediate and from a number of sources (Bruce, 1992; Slattery et al,1992). Northland outlined tactics at a school meeting that included, stop-work meetings, legal action, and demonstrations on the steps of Parliament House. Gary Foley, an Aboriginal Rights campaigner, and parent of a student in the school, addressed the meeting. Gary Foley was to have an active leadership role, and a large influence on future school proceedings during the next two years ( Drevelov, 1992 ).

Both Federal and State Labor politicians lent their voices in a mounting public criticism of State Liberal education policies in general, but over Northland in particular. Sympathy for the Koori community within the school was starting to bite into public consciousness. ( Farrant, 1992)

ROLE OF THE MEDIA

During this period, the aboriginal activist Gary Foley, broadcast regular radio programs which were very influential in gathering mainstream support for the Northland case.

Gary Foley at the time had been very critical of the media ‘blackout’ of the EOB (Equal Opportunity Board ) case. He was a vigorous and articulate critic of government and media editorial policy throughout the whole campaign ( Boreham, 1993)

The weight of critical discussion in general, raised concern as to the role of a Government who wanted to govern without ‘the interference of courts and boards’, who do have the power to rule on decisions made in Law. The Northland dispute had moved the Government to a discussion on these issues, and went to the heart of defining ‘freedom of speech and ‘due process’ in a democracy.

Gary Foley maintained his weekly radio broadcasts on 3CR; the ABC

( Australian Broadcasting Commission) also ran regular interviews with the Principal, Raffaela Galati- Brown on radio 3LO morning and ‘drive time’ programs. The ABC ‘7.30 Report’ on Television also ran a series of lengthy interviews with principal and supporters. Using the media to keep alive the issues and debate within the public domain, was significant to the general strategy of resistance adopted by the school community. Without a systematic media strategy, it is doubtful whether wide public support would have been developed, and in the long term, the government held to be accountable.

STUDENTS ON THE FRONT LINE

In December 1992, two Koori students, Muthama Sinnappan and Bruce Foley, acting as representatives of the school community, made a claim against the State Government to The Equal Opportunity Board (EOB) claiming racial discrimination in the closing of their school. They made their claim on the basis that no other school in the state provided the same access for Koori students to the public education system as Northland Secondary College.

The EOB after consideration of their claim, decided on the 16th January, 1993, to reject this first bid to have the school opened for the school year 1993. However, the EOB Board did stipulate that their might be a case to be heard about the closure of the school. The door was left open for the school to maintain its campaign ( Bruce,1993).

The next step in the school campaign came when Northland teachers, parents and students, announced their decision to blockade the school and keep it running, thus disregarding the State Government decision to close the school (Conroy, 20-1-93). The following day, January 21st., a writ was served to the State Supreme Court on behalf of the school, to overturn the EOB’s decision not to keep the school open during 1993

( Bruce,1993). It was to be the start of a long and difficult struggle. It was to test definitions of public democracy.

THE ‘REBEL SCHOOL’.

Against directives from State Education authorities, a ‘rebel’ school was set up for Koori students at Northland starting February 1993. Deidre Bux, the Koori educator from Northland formed a ‘rebel school’ for NSC Koori students ‘who would otherwise be on the streets’. On the first day of the school year, it was reported that ‘70 students turned up at Northland for classes conducted by 30 volunteer teachers- either volunteer unemployed or retired teachers. A number of schools at the time were fighting closure, but Northland was the only school to hold ‘rebel classes’ (Galati-Brown,1995:1).

The Minister of Education at the time- Don Hayward- had stated that he desired to seize the assets from the schools that had been closed down and ‘give them to schools that needed them’. On the basis of this threat, many schools changed locks to keep workmen out of school buildings, Northland did not change locks as was reported ( Muller,et al,1993). The EOB had passed a ruling that all Northland assets were to be ‘ frozen’ and not to be taken by the Department of Education. As legal proceedings were still proceeding on behalf of Northland at The Equal Opportunity Board, the Government was not able to move against the actions at Northland. The new set of keys remained symbolically in the hands of ‘Rebel School’ staff. Deidre Bux was the strength behind the Northland ‘rebel school’, a committed Koori educator, whose people came from the Yorta Yorta tribe along the Murray River; she was determined to keep alive Koori cultural values alongside the secular curricula within the general teaching of the ‘rebel school’. The Rebel School was an example of both an emancipatory form of culture balanced with the maintenance of basic pedagogical skills in students. Deidre Bux was supported by a committed group of volunteers. This struggle to maintain and invent essential cultural values is as Paul Willis (1990) has stated, the very stuff of survival.

‘Rebel school’ locked out.

On January 14th.1994, the government locked out the Rebel School with the use of 24 hour security guards assisted by guard dogs. Even though the case was still in court the government was obviously determined to assert its authority. First to offer help to the Northland Rebel School was the Uniting Church, offering a church hall in nearby Thornbury. The Northcote City Council then offered the use of a sports pavilion in Mc Donell Park. This later offer was accepted and this is where the Rebel School remained until the whole school was reopened.( Galati-Brown, 1995: p6). Of the 27 NSC Koori students that tried other schools in 1993 only three remained in the State Secondary School system at the end of 1994. Attendance at the Rebel School fluctuated during 1994. There were a variety of reasons, none the least was that a winter spent teaching and learning in a sports pavilion challenged the strongest commitments. Principal, Raffaela Galati-Brown (1995) commented that ‘many ex-students did not go to the Rebel School, but stayed at home or on the streets and some of them got into trouble with the police, fulfilling the warning of the Royal Commission,16.1.12.’.

Non attendance as a result of alienation and failure in the schooling system can bring young Aboriginal people into direct contact with the courts....Aboriginal youths who are legally required to be at school, but who refuse to particiate in the system by way of non attendance or poor performance resulting in their early leaving - are more likely to be subject to police surveillance and intervention by the welfare and justice agencies. (p6)

ROLE OF THE COURT

Short lived jubilation.

To newspaper headlines ‘ Koories Jubilant Over Northland Reprieve’, The EOB in its reassessment of the Northland case in December 1993 decided in favour of the schools submission and that the school should open in 1994. The court ruled in favour of the two Koori students ( the claimants on behalf of the school) that they had been discriminated against by the closure of the school. Gary Foley commented:

‘one can only hope that satisfaction [ can be derived] from being the first community in this state to bring the Kennett bulldozer to a halt’; he also

asked the Government to accept the EOB decision gracefully’( Boreham, G, 1993).

A Government spokesperson was cited as saying that Minister Hayward ‘had been wrongly advised’ that the Koori program run at Northland could easily be transferred to another school. The school in response commented that 200 students had lost a year of their education,’ having either refused to attend other schools, or been unhappy and failed the year’. ( Boreham,1993)

The day after the court decision the school was planning the reopening, past staff were contacted, ex-Koori students of the school enrolled in anticipation, and general rebuilding of the school community planned.

Painter writing in The Age (9th. December,1993), hinted that the battle might not be over, and that the Government might decide to continue the ten month old legal battle. This was perceptive comment at the time. However, the editorial of the same newspaper on the same day ( The Age. 9th. December) was sharply critical of the EOB decision, and commented that the EOB ‘should only deal at an individual level, rather than policy making’. Government interpretation of due process procedure was being tested, and raised ire in government circles ( Painter, 1993a)

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

The State Government acted quickly in response to the Court decision. Eight days later the Education Minister Don Hayward announced that the Government intended to challenge the EOB decision to reopen Northland Secondary College. This notice of appeal stopped Northland from opening in 1994. The governments general point of opposition was that the EOB decision was’ legally flawed’ ( Magazanik,et al,1993). This was not the only tactic employed by the State Government against the school.

THE TURNING POINT.

The early part of 1994 was not easy for everyone at Northland, especially as the Government had clearly signalled its intention to return to the courts in what would be an expensive campaign against the Northland community. It was to bring forth the full weight of the state in support of its ideological position against the school.

Summarising this point at the time, Principal Raffaela Galati-Brown made these comments:

“For the whole community then - much was at stake. For the Koori community

it was their future and even the lives of their young people, for the teachers it was a way of working with young people which was incredibly demanding but to which they were totally committed, to the non-Koori community the school was its centre, its heart”. (p6)

The State Government by its singular determination to pursue the closure of the school, and against all the arguments in favour of a culturally pluralist approach to curriculum development, failed at all levels to see the cross- cultural significance of Northland Secondary School.

1994: A LONG DRAWN OUT LEGAL BATTLE WITH THE STATE

.....The long running battle over Northland Secondary College was a struggle for the Government to show that it has the right to govern, and that he was determined to win....

Premier Jeff Kennett ( Farrant, D.,and Painter,J., The Age, 16th December 1994)

The decision by the EOB in favour of Northland was appealed by the government on the 24th January,1994. Justice Beach of the Supreme Court in his judgement ruled in favour of the Government. However, Justice Beach overturned the EOB judgement on a technicality, a point of law. He did not overturn the EOB primary finding relating to the:

Justice Beach’s decision was appealed by the school to the Full Bench of the State Supreme Court on June 4th. 1994. Again, Muthama Sinnappran and Bruce Foley, Koori students, represented the community on the case to the State Supreme Court on behalf of the school community. The student representatives developed the logic and evidence for the case in consultation with a range of adults including legal advisors and Koori elders. The development of the case was thus a community effort. The community developed an argument persuasive enough to present to the Supreme Court appealing against Justice Beach’s decision.

On the 3rd. August, the Full Bench overturned Justice Beach’s decision and unanimously agreed that the Government had discriminated against Koori students at Northland. The EOB was ordered by the Supreme Court to ‘rethink’ its decision on the Northland issue , saying that ‘discrimination’ had occurred, but that a solution other than reopening Northland could be satisfactory ( Gregory,et al, 1994).

While members of Northland community were pleased with the Supreme Court decision, the concern was now whether the Northland school site would have a future catering for the education of Koori students.

The Equal Opportunity Board would now make the final decision. (Richards, 1994).

After 18 months, two EOB hearings, and two Supreme Court hearings, it had taken this time before the initial decision by the EOB that discrimination had occurred, to be upheld. The struggle between School and State had assumed considerable political significance.

JUDGEMENTS: IMPORTANCE OF DUE PROCESS.

On August 4, 1994, The Supreme Court made the judgment that the issue be referred back to the Equal Opportunity Board, giving the Board the advice that even though discrimination had occurred in the Government’s decision to close the school, ‘reopening Northland may not be the best way to redress discrimination’.

The cost of the dispute to the State tax payer was estimated to be four million dollars. However, the State Government again declared that it might appeal this decision. The court ordered that both sides to the dispute had until the middle of December to make submissions regarding the judgement, but that it could be only overturned by a higher court

( Painter, 1994).

Finally, the EOB finished their reassessment ( December,3rd.) of their earlier decision and ordered that the school should be reopened ‘immediately’. The EOB ordered the Department of State Education to have the school ready by the start of February 1995. The Government was still open to appeal the decision. A former Principal of the school, Bill Maxwell, called on the Government ‘to stop wasting money on lawyers , and start spending it on students’ ( Richards, 1994a).

IT BECOMES PERSONAL:’ WHO RUNS THE STATE?’

The Premier of the State, Jeff Kennett, then threw himself into the middle of the dispute by declaring that the fight over Northland Secondary College was a test for his government, and ‘that he was not willing to back down’. Premier Kennett defended his move to again appeal the court decision, saying that the Board had interfered in the functioning of his Government(Farrant,et al,1994). The Premier had put the issue in the broadest context- ‘Who runs the State?’. Passion and commitment were high on both sides of the struggle, and Northland supporters stated that any third appeal would be ‘vigorously opposed’ by them. Aboriginal Activist Gary Foley was quoted as saying that the initial reason for closing the school was to spare an $800,000 maintenance bill, but that the legal battle had ended up costing four million dollars, and that enough was enough ( Farrant, et al, 1994).

Once again the Government returned to the Supreme court to appeal the EOB decision that the school should be opened for school year 1995.

The Government and Premier appeared fixed in their position of non- negotiation - a position not unfamiliar to observers of Premier Kennett’s political style. However, in the meantime, the two Koori secondary students, Muthama Sinnappin and Bruce Foley, were gaining a first rate education in political functioning and the intricacies of ’freedom of speech’.1. They decided along with the Northland community, to appeal to the High Court over their allowing a stay on the previous appeal, while the Government appeal to the EOB was being heard. This was a sign of growing confidence within the Northland community to act proactively in anticipating Government moves.( Painter,1994a)

The Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne weighed into the struggle at this time with the comment: ‘the time has come to spend money on education and not on legal battles’; and Victorian builders offered free goods and services to have the school ready for the new school year ( Richards,et al,1994).

The Government in considering its tactics would outline to the Supreme Court that it considered reopening Northland ‘too expensive’. It also hinted that win or lose the Government would possibly look at the powers of the EOB in the future and perhaps ‘lessen its influence’. This was a continuation of the Government tacticians wielding the big stick, small stick,in order to weaken the resolve of the Northland Community; and to influence the broader community by inferring that somehow Courts were trespassing on Government mandates (Green, 1994).

IN DEFENCE OF LOCAL DEMOCRACY.

In January 1995 the Victorian Supreme Court found in favour of Northland Secondary School and that the school ‘should be reopened in one week’. The state Government declared it would not initiate a High Court challenge to the decision, thus calling an end to a long and acrimonious dispute. The Supreme Court decision was based on their finding that the Equal Opportunity Board had been ‘within its powers’ when it ordered Northland to be reopened. The Department of School Education expected to spend a million dollars to open the school, $200,000 more than the initial repair bill that was one basis for the school being closed in 1992. Critics of the Government campaign were quick to point out that the whole campaign had cost the taxpayers of the State between 4 and 5 million dollars ( Gregory,et al,1995).

While many senior education officials stated that they had enough of the ‘Northland saga’, Premier Kennett was quoted as saying that he accepted the court decision and wished the school well. However in the same interview he hinted that the Government would attempt to lessen the power of the EOB (Equal Opportunity Board), meaning this would involve not allowing the EOB to act on decisions made by the Government.( Green.1995). The Rebel School continued to the end of the struggle, fifteen students were still in attendance.

DEFINING IMPORTANT KNOWLEDGE.

A progressive postmodern requirement is that we be not too

certain of our certainties, that we operate contrary to the

exaggerated certainties of modernity. The dialogue among

differences means that we can, with the possibility of victory,

contradict the antagonists.

Paulo Freire, 1996. ‘Letters to Christina’.

Northland Secondary School always defined itself as a community school. By this it meant that it sought to involve local residents and students in policy making and governance participation. This model expanded the concept of accountability as defined by State, ‘Schools of the Future’ legislation, and challenged the increasing trend toward centralizing of the curriculum. The Northland case study does present itself as an interesting example of a school - community oriented perspective, a striving for local democratic practice. This in contrast to the sterile alternative presently in vogue of market and management accountability in schools; what Goodlad (1998, p, 670) has described as ‘a default narrative of economic utility {that} has taken over’.

The succession of court judgements were transformative events, in that, each judgement was locally managed and gave authenticity and ownership in the governance process in the school.

At the heart of core concerns, was the intense need to participate in decisions defining important knowledge. Defining important knowledge becomes an interesting and contested struggle especially in a population inhabited by indigenous peoples. This was essentially a struggle over fundamental issues of ideology and cultural interpretation. It came down to a political struggle over the right to determine both the ends and means of schooling. Market force and ‘steering from a distance models’ of educational planning, will by definition, exclude local ‘negotiation’ in favour of accountability being vertical to centralised authority.

The literature describing local social-action struggle is focussed primarily over the ‘use and distribution of resources’ ( Held, 1987,297); this was not the primary concern of the Northland community. For Northland, it was in the defining of important knowledge relevant to members of their school. The school had since 1960 developed a strong linkage to their local community; school policy was always inclusive to the diverse needs of its community, its doors were open to all irrespective of background. The education of Koori youth includes quite complicated cultural and historical interpretations of aboriginal law and family history (‘dreamtime’). For the general school student community, they were also drawn into this realm of cross- cultural understanding as part of their general studies.

The Koori community strongly felt that the initial school closure was another example of how a State government had totally misread the cultural needs of their community and school. (All this also has to be seen within the general context of Mabo / Wik, High Court Land Right decisions. Decisions and debate that continues to divide the general Australian community.)

Examples of this kind of community action sustained successfully over time are rare. Croxteth Comprehensive school a decade earlier is one interesting and successful example. In a working class, high unemployment area of Liverpool; the school was nominated for closure by Government mandate in 1982. The local community refused to accept the decision arguing that Croxteth had a serious social and cultural need to maintain the school, and parents took over the school in July, 1982. After a two year struggle with the State, parents and community managed to keep the school open ( Carspecken, et el,1983,pp 154-161; Barton, et al,1985,pp 62-87).

In an interesting discussion on local systems and school governance, Reay and Ball (1997,89-101) make the case for community needs and local political goals as ‘high priorities’ in order to counteract ‘dismembering government legislation’. (p155). Parents in this model were not defined as’consumers’ within the present ‘schools as business model’, but as political partners. Reay and Ball (p,161) In their discussion of a ‘local needs’ model, make the point that parents in their sample worked to identify ‘the needs and wishes of different communities in the locality’, giving parent opinion a significant political role in public processes. Knight (1995, ch.15) had similar findings on ‘parents as political partners’ with Melbourne case study data.

There is an unstated set of assumptions, or prudential rules, embedded within the previous research findings on the value of public opinion. John Stewart Mill ( [1861] 1958, p,43) made this case for valuing public opinion:

‘The rights and interests of every or and other persons are only secure from being disregarded when the person interested is himself able, and habitually disposed to stand up for them...... human beings are only secure from evil at the hands of others in proportion as they have the power of being, and are self protecting.’ 2.

However, the Northland experience also indicates that local power and community confrontation is one part of a change process. The ‘local’ has power to define important knowledge only if informed by broader general democratic theory ( Pearl and Knight, 1998; Dahl, 1989 ).

One aspect of urban life, ‘diversity’, has traumatised antiquated school systems. The modern city is distinguished from the pre - modern rural by the rich diversity of experiences. Education policy not only does not deal with diversity, it attempts to coerce all students into a bland sameness. The struggle for a new public democracy in this case study was foundered on a plan of action that was carefully constructed, with the reasonable assurance that there would be popular support for, and ownership of the plan. It was that simple and that difficult.

The Northland experience does present a case study for the potential for those schools defining themselves as community oriented, rather than the bleak alternative of market and managerial accountability. The increase in State mandated policies (and centralised testing) take authority from local school communities, thus reducing teacher and community initiatives and judgements to use their own ideas.Just the opposite to the lesson we need to be teaching students about responsible citizenship. Producing responsible citizens is best done in places where responsible citizenship is at the heart of the school’s life (Meier, 1997, pp, 23-24)

In conclusion,the present corporate model of administration currently directing Victorian Government schooling is woefully ill-equipped to deal with the plurality and hybridity of the postmodern ‘community’, and in particular, one dealing with urban Aboriginal cultures. Northland Secondary School and its local community struggle, is an all too rare example of effort to assert a clear and agreed upon role for inclusive community schooling, in the face of new State managed orthodoxy in education.

The final word from the Principal, Raffaela, Galati- Brown (1995.8):

‘No one should underestimate our tenacity. We will

not become a homogeneous, nice, conventional

school; we are proud of being a genuine community school,

of our mult-cultural focus; of our large Koori

population; of our preparedeness to question and find

alternative solutions to problems.’

NOTES.

1. Freedom of speech: the ‘right’ of secondary school students to criticise adult authority, and to express unpopular opinion in appropriate forums, is raised within the general context of these complicated court actions. It is an interesting example of how students ( teachers and parents) were able to bring ‘freedom of expression’ through the ‘schoolhouse gate’.

2. Where government ‘steers’ policy from the background, therefore denying school communities a voice in defining education policy important to local community, the role of the state as ‘guardian’ is raised. Dahl (1989, ch.5) argued for the ‘rejection of guardianship in public affairs’ ( that is, ordinary people, the ‘guardians’ insist, are clearly not qualified to govern themselves, p,52). Drawing on the history of 20th. century authoritarian political systems, and with reference to democratic practices, Dahl argued that ‘guardianship will stunt the moral capacities of an entire people. At best, only a democratic vision can offer hope, which guardianship can never do, that by engaging in governing themselves, all people, and not merely a few, may learn to act as morally responsible’ (p,79).

3. The author is indebted to, Raffaela Galati-Brown , Bill Maxwell and Stephen Ball for their useful and constructive comments on earlier versions of this paper.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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This document was added to the Education-line database 27 August 1998