Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 25. 3rd October 1973
The class basis of NZ education
The class basis of NZ education
If the education system in New Zealand is a means of preserving the privileged position of the elite, the owners of capital and their managers, then schools and universities are operated to a large extent on the taxes of those whom they discriminate against. How do schools discriminate against the oppressed and preserve the elite's privileges?
School is not based on the experiences of the pupils which is the first requirement for a liberating education for the unacademic majority. School is academic and based on book learning. It is not surprising that pupils who have a home background where books and education are highly valued should succeed at school. If university attendance is taken as an indication of success in the school system, then the inequalities made in our schools can be demonstrated. Table one shows that it is children with parents who have achieved academic success who are more likely to go to university.
The majority of university students' parents achieved some academic success in spite of the conditions prevailing when they were attending school, namely depression, then war, which would have forced a premature end to many school studies. What percentage of today's parents achieved UE or higher while at school in the 1930s and 40s? Even in 1969 only 22% of school leavers achieved UE or higher. Yet 49% of male university students had fathers with this qualification or higher in 1969, and 60% of female students had fathers with the same educational level. Students from academic backgrounds are disproportionately represented at university.
More revealing is the job and income status of university students' parents. From tables two and three it is evident that the incomes of most university students' parents are in the upper income bracket, and their jobs are high status jobs. 21% of all male students and 26% of female university students in 1969 had parents with combined incomes of over $6000. Most university students' fathers have middle class jobs; 36% of male and 43% of female students' fathers' jobs are in the professional, administrative and executive category.
The extent of the disproportionate representation at university of the children of higher income and status groups is indicated by national census figures for incomes and occupations as represented by tables four and five. Although the figures are not strictly comparable, the disparity is so obvious that it cannot be a statistical inaccuracy caused by a lack of strict correlation.
Almost 60% of New Zealand males between the ages of 45—54 earn below $3000 (in 1969); female students from parents of that income bracket were 33% of the total number of female university students. 28% of the total number of male students had parents of the same income bracket. The addition of the wife's earnings may alter the picture a little, but the degree of disparity in a society which has egalitarian pretensions is significant.
It should be remembered that in a veritable tax haven like New Zealand it is possible for the wealthier sections of the community to legally misrepresent their incomes. The most stark picture of the class background of New Zealand university students is gained from the statistics relating to their parents' occupations. Only 5% of university students, male or female, have fathers whose occupations is semiskilled or unskilled. Yet this type of occupation accounts for over 40% of the labour force.
One final indicator of the inequalities of our education system is to be found in statistics relating to the achievement levels of Maoris, in an education system which deals with middle class Pakeha experiences in a middle class Pakeha manner. In 1969 only 1.7% of Maoris leaving school were bound for university compared with 11.6% of non-Maoris. The 96 Maoris bound for university formed less that 2% of the number of school leavers with that destination, although Maoris comprised 11% of all school leavers.
Children whose environment is not school orientated — those from lower class backgrounds — tend to do poorly in school and therefore tend to wind up on the bottom of the social hierarchy. This does not mean they are less intelligent than those who succeed in school. These school failures have a deep knowledge of their social and physical environment, and they display great ability at getting-by in it. They do not understand that their environment at school does not deal in that, and it deprives them of the opportunity to find someone to help them achieve this understanding.
Most so-called slow learners, for example, display great ability in breaking school rules. For them it is easy to get to their lockers between period without getting caught. They know all about the things to be found in the hills around their valley. Some children from farming backgrounds are academically clueless, but there isn't anything they can't tell you about baling hay. If baling hay were the sole criterion for judging IQ then many of our 'brightest' minds would be morons.
Of course, these impressions about the intelligence of the failures in our school system cannot be proven; our way of testing intelligence is very academic, relying on word skill and mathematical logic. An indication of the discrimination inherent in these tests is shown by the fact that children of teachers do better than any other group in them.
Less subtle discrimination
Discrimination in our schools is not always as subtle as this. The New Zealand school system is increasingly socially stratified. Thus schools in wealthy areas with wealthy ex-pupils have good facilities, those without make do with what the government provides. Government finance to schools is weighted in favour of the upper forms. The more sixth and seventh formers a school has, the more money it gets from the government; it is the middle-class schools that have more pupils in these forms. These schools get more teachers and more heads of department for that reason.
The resulting lower staff/student ratios and the greater opportunity to work with more favoured upper forms means that these schools are flooded with applications for vacancies. Thus they get the best teachers. A favoured school in Christchurch gets 100 to 150 applicants per position. The non-favoured schools in Christchurch are lucky if they get 20. On a national scale Christchurch is a favoured area. Capitation grants from the government which provides books and other learning resources are also weighted in favour of the upper forms. Schools with 'good' middle class pupils are favoured over other schools by government policy.
School amounts to what must be one of the greatest thefts of all time. It conditions people to fit into an oppressive work system and alienating society. They are required to be conditioned so that they will accept this system which provides those with capital their unearned profit. School also steals from the majority the words that are necessary to understand that system and overthrow it by imposing academic study and instilling dead knowledge into pupils.
School is orientated towards selecting the future top level technocrats and bureaucrats who will manage society in the interests of the capitalists, and who will receive a much more handsome reward for their efforts than the ordinary worker in the factories and offices. It is these elites that benefit from depriving the oppressed of political power and the words necessary to understand their oppression. And, as has been shown, the elite is replenished largely by the children of the elite.
The chance of the lower class children of going to university is much slighter than that of the elite. They are discriminated against in the way the school is funded and supplied, by what the school teaches and page 11 [unclear: he] way in which it is taught. Yet they [unclear: re] paying for this system which [unclear: perpetuates] their bondage. The cost of training [unclear: people] to provide profit for the capitalist [unclear: is] borne largely by the taxpayers, most [unclear: of] whom are oppressed by the system, as [unclear: tables] six and seven show. The funds [unclear: necessary] to run schools are in effect [unclear: defrauded] from those who have been [unclear: de-humanised] and whose children are being [unclear: dehumanised] and discriminated against.
Who pays the cost?
Although the figures again are not [unclear: strictly] comparable, they do give an [unclear: indication] of the extent to which the lower classes pay to keep going the system that d[unclear: ehnmanises] them. In 1969 direct tax on incomes comprised 85% of the total amount of taxes. This means that in 1969 $111,347,800 of the government's expenditure on education would have come from direct taxes. Those with incomes below $3198 paid about 54% of direct income taxes in 1967—68 while children of the less than $3000 income bracket attending university numbered 28% for males and 33% for females.
Ignoring the discrepancy of $199 in the statistics, and assuming that tax proportions were roughly the same for 1969, about 20% of the taxes paid by the lower income group were being used for the selection of the new elite from the upper income group. This amounts to about a $20,000,000 subsidy if educational taxes were placed on a fair payment by benefit basis (i.e. selection for university).
Salaries and wages taxation in 1967-68 was 77% of the combined taxes of wage and salary earners and self-employed groups. Taxes from this source for educational purposes amounted to $86,000,000. Semi-and unskilled workers pay about 40% of this amount. Students of semi-skilled and unskilled worker parentage at university number 5% of all university students. Therefore, this occupational group paid $30,000,000 to keep up an education system that would discriminate against their children's efforts to raise in the social hierarchy. It may be argued that the figures are grossly large as only a small proportion of educational expenditure is devoted to university education. This criticism would miss the point. The whole education system stops the oppressed from understanding our society and debars their progress up its social [unclear: gradations].
The entire educational system is therefore of no value to most of the lower classes; in fact it is a positive burden on their efforts to take political power and thus become more fully human. The education system from primary to university level operates to preserve the economic, political and social power of capital and management. It is geared towards conditioning all-those who go through it to accept the status quo, and to select the elites to govern society; the final stage of this process is the university and it cannot be examined in isolation. In its role of selection, school discriminates against lower socio-economic groups, and these groups subsidise the elevation to the elite of the children of the wealthy. If one considers that all taxes are paid ultimately by the people who produce the wealth of the community, then the extent of the subsidy is huge.
The oppression of our school system does not end here though. For if the oppressed were aware of their condition they would want to change things. The other aspect of education is the blinding of the oppressed to the truth of their society, conditioning them to accept the status quo and stealing the words from them that are necessary to understand it. This will ensure that they will spend dull passive work lives to provide profits for a few (many of them not even New Zealanders) to spend on idle, luxurious, leisured lifetimes.