Ongoing politic debate in New South Wales is centred on major funding cuts for education. As has been well reported, significant cuts to the public education budget and a freeze on non-government school funding has brought about significant public debate and reactions from a broad sector of society. There are two levels of this dialogue that I find interesting. First, there is the outcry at fiscal contraction of education funding – something that is much appreciated. While I still feel there is much that could be harnessed through a cross-sector response, it continues to appear that historical divides are too large still, but this is interesting in the discussion of public intellectualism in education. Second, and interesting from a theoretical perspective, is the role of affiliation to the local school. This is a timely topic as Megan Crawford (Cambridge), Tim Simkins, John Coldron and Steve Jones (Sheffield Hallam University) presented a paper at ECER in Cadiz (Spain) entitled The restructuring of schooling in England: exploring the ‘local’.
For me, it is useful to think here with Roberto Esposito’s contribution on ‘community / immunity‘. Working from the Latin word munus, he argues that community, and specifically communal ties, are a reciprocal, inexhaustible, circulating gift that does not belong to anyone in particular. The opposite of community is immunity. To be immune is to be free from communal duties. For Esposito, modern society places immunity at its core, and this brings Luigi Pellizzoni to argue that immunity is central to understanding the specific condition of modernity, and by virtue assessing the social implications of the modern on forms of administration.
This is timely topic of discussion as the contemporary managerialist project replaces organisational forms, such as schools, based on community with individualistic or private models. This elevates the importance of the contract within the administration of immunity. Such a contract allows for the fulfilment of one’s desires without engaging in personal, enduring relationships with others. This is an underlying generative principle of the school choice agenda.
In doing so, the ‘school community’ – the mythical entity that combines both geographical affiliation, but also an emotional attachment to the local – becomes little more than a nostalgic imagery of a bygone era where schools, particularly the local public school, were a central feature of communal identity.
As the effects of consumer sovereignty are embedded and embodied in most, if not all, aspects of social life, I am left wondering to what extent are contemporary families, students, staff engaging with and have a sense of beloging to their local school (regardless of sector)?