Much has been written about the current neo-liberal and neo-conservative agendas and the ways in which these are absenting the state from its democratic obligation to educate an Australian public. Neo-liberal agendas legitimate 'market forces', fabricating school 'choice' as a major driver of educational provision, providing public funding to non-government denominational schools at the expense of public schools, and promoting the corporatisation of early childhood services. These agendas place schools in competition with each other, breaking down the traditional coherence of neighbourhoods as students make long, ecologically unfriendly excursions across city suburbs to attend 'schools of choice'. Neoliberalism also involves the importation of the language and practices of private sector managerialism, accountability and quality control into public sector organisations. Accountability reforms, based on a narrow managerialist paradigm, have become a part of the dominant discourses of educational change. The perception that evaluation is positively correlated with improved performance has become an unspoken 'truth' in educational policy reform. Around the world, teachers' work is increasingly constrained by a web of evaluations. While some of this may be necessary, it does lead to a loss of creativity in the face of standardised monitoring, and a loss of productivity as teachers' energies are absorbed by regular assessments and appraisals throughout their professional careers.
Neo-conservatism also comes in several forms. One variant entails a deliberate rationing of education so that there is an increasing gap between the quality of the services available to the rich and the poor (Gewirtz, Ball, & Bowe, 1995; Lewis, Gewirtz, & Clarke, 2000). Another variant--backlash neo-conservatism--leads, for example, to the return of a history curriculum that privileges Australia's British heritage while diminishing the centrality of our multicultural diversity. By sleight of hand, it turns gender politics on its head, redefining 'boys' as the 'new disadvantaged'. Taken together these neo-liberal and neo-conservative agendas represent a substantial shift from Australia's longstanding traditional approach, which was based on a normative commitment to providing an education of quality for all Australians. Far from representing what Australian parents and teachers have traditionally valued, these agendas essentially entail an instability, a constant de-structuring and restructuring of public pedagogies, policies and politics in the name of a narrow and selective interpretation of globalisation.
In this special edition of the AJE, a number of the contributors seek to bring forward the traditional values entailed in educating an Australian public. They revisit key educational policies and pedagogies that have been targeted under the neo-liberal and neo-conservative agendas. The idea is to develop a positive frame for saying what these issues are, how the current situation is dealing with them, what values might usefully inform efforts to reinvent the agenda for educating an Australian public, and what that agenda might look like.
The contributors to this special edition were asked to consider why educational research might matter to students, parents and teachers, and how it might succeed in doing so. Four interrelated, value-rational questions suggested by Flyvbjerg (2001) provided them with a point of departure: Where are we going? Who gains and who loses, and by which mechanisms of power? Is this desirable? What might be done? These questions provide a framework for generating and locating educational research that documents the pressures faced by students, parents, and teachers in relation to the current de-structuring and restructuring of educational policies, politics, and pedagogies. They also suggest a means for identifying, affirming and elaborating suitable interventions in educational policies, politics, and pedagogies. …