“White Flight” from schools.

On October 28, 2011, in Analysis, Articles, Commentary, by mkennedy

Image created by sixninepixels.

Image created by sixninepixels.

By Michael Kennedy

One thing that can be said about the mainstream media, is that concerning real issues, they are often behind the times. “White flight”, a phenomenon which has been around for centuries elsewhere in the world, for quite a few years now in Australia, finally gets a mention in the Sydney Morning Herald.

An article titled “Fears over ‘white flight’ from selective schools” 1 examined the shrinking diversity in elite, selective schools. Dr Christina Ho of the University of Technology Sydney found that what is essentially racial segregation by voluntary means occurring in elite private schools (and no doubt occurring in public schools as well, though the article didn’t touch this). As the article lacks further detail aside from pointing out the obvious, the article itself is not really worth further comment. What is interesting though, is the comments from the readers. If the Internet has done one good thing for news, it’s to allow readers to comment thereby opening up a window to the thoughts of the public on what is being discussed currently. One can learn far more about what’s happening around them, from readers comments than from journalists.

Many of the comment writers make the point that Asians study hard, have strong academic discipline, and as a result are more likely to achieve entry into elite schools by acing the exams. There is little doubt that this is true, and many of the comments go on to say this.

Commenter “Plus one anything you say” writes

I think “observer” is on the money. It doesn’t take much to see how much of a stronger work and study ethic immigrants have, compared to Australian-born. The hours and hard work Asian students put in has so many rewards – awards like the Young Australians of the Year, contributing to our strong academic reputation worldwide. If “white” (fairly inflammatory work there, sub-editor) kids aren’t going to work hard, they miss out.

It’s questionable whether Asians add to our ‘strong academic reputation’. It’s questionable whether Australia has a strong academic reputation at all. What’s left out, is that Asian nations don’t have a strong academic reputation, as evidenced by the simple fact that people do not go to these nations to study, but come to White, Western nations to be educated. Everyone assumes that hard work in trying to succeed in exams is the only path to intellectual creativity and innovation, but the results speak otherwise.

Another commenter called “Teacher” writes this quite succinct Orwellian comment, summing up Political Correctness’s desire to restrict freedom of speech. With teachers like this teaching Australians, it’s no wonder academic standards are failing. “Teacher” writes…

Australia should stop asking questions about race because race questions lead to race statistics, statistics lead to racist theories and racist theories lead to divisive and offensive articles like this, and to racist policies.

Commenter “Bourkie” writes…

f they were born in Australia then they are Australian; they all have Australian accents. The racist ‘White Australia’ policy based on false supremacy of europeans (implying inferiority of asians and indians) has been proven wrong. These stats only prove one thing, and one thing alone – tall poppy much?

So if “inferiority” of Asians has been proven wrong, then is this commenter implying they are superior? Besides, the ‘White Australia’ policy was not based on simple ideas of supremacy, but rather the idea that this nation was created by and belonged to whites. Discriminatory immigration practices have much more to do with ensuring the prosperity of the people who take part in the nation, than in some notion that others are simply inferior. It is Politically Incorrect to view the “White Australia” policy as anything other than simple minded. “Teacher” says so.

Other comments are from parents, who shed light on why ‘white flight’ may be occurring.

Commenter “Nero” writes

Does the ethnic mix add up to a good thing? A friends child enrolled in the school and left after a year: she reported being one of two anglo Australians in her class and of being ostracised by the others – at lunch the chinese australians spoke chinese and the indian australians spoke indian and did not mix. When there were group assignments they were labelled the ‘dumb’ group, presumably based on ethnic grounds given she was previously a school captain of her primary school and maintained an A average. This report may not be indicative of all the classes, indeed I doubt it is, but it has certainly coloured the view of families that know this fine young woman.

Here is the problem though with anecdotal reports – they give perception and not fact.

“Blaubaer” writes

Well, contrary to the political correct comments, I have a daughter coming up to Year 9 and I would like her to go to MacRob, however, I do have reservations about sending her to a school where 93% of the school population are Indian or Chinese.

Finally “labour out” writes

What a surprise. Melbourne has already become a city of tribes in so many ways.

It is true that Asians (and Indians) in Australia, the USA and other Western nations place great emphasis on study, in achieving good results and in gaining position. This may not just be a modern phenomenon, but an indicator of a deeper cultural difference, a difference in perspective between East and West, as to what education is for, and what the goals of education are.

In Australia, the parents have power over the teachers, the parents dictate terms to the and demand results. In East Asians nations, it is the teacher who is respected, and the idea that a parent could chastise the teacher for not doing a good enough job would seem strange in an East Asian community.

Whats behind cultural differences in study habits?

A study which appeared in the “International Education Journal” 2 authored by Joseph Kee-Kuok Wong looked at the differences in perception between the two cultural groups. Joseph writes…

Kirkbride and Tang (cited in Chan, 1999) stated that Chinese students preferred didactic and teacher centred style of teaching and would show great respect for the wisdom and knowledge of their teachers. The fear of loss of face, shame and over modesty made the Western participative style of learning less acceptable to them. However, Biggs (1996, p.59) believed that “Chinese students were more active in one-to-one interaction with the teacher as well as engaging in peer discussion outside the class”. 3

He then goes on further to discuss the difference in learning styles between Chinese and Australians.

Chan (1999) believed that the style of Chinese learning was still very much influenced by Confucianism that is dominated by rote learning and the application of examples. However, Biggs and Moore (cited in Biggs, 1996, p.54) highlighted that there was a distinction between rote and repetitive learning. According to them rote learning was generally described as learning without understanding, whereas repetitive learning has the intention to understand its meaning. They believed that the influence of tradition and the demands of the assessment system had affected Confucian Heritage Culture (CHC) students’ choice of using a repetitive strategy in learning. The Western student’s learning strategies starts with exploration followed by the development of skills.

Loyalty is emphasized on Confucianism, as it was the only way a young scholar could make has way into the civil service of the ruler. During China’s communist revolution, Western ideas about education were purged and textbooks and exams were controlled by the ruling party. Confucian ideals were reintroduced. In Communism, the one party dictates education standards and outcomes, and one can only ascend by meeting the requirements of the party. As it has always been part of the Chinese way of life, Communist ideals survived longer in the East than in the West where they were rejected as soon as the population was free to. In Communist China, one cannot make their own destiny through free enterprise or personal inventiveness, but must attain a position by satisfying someone else s requirements, regardless of whether those requirements provide anything valuable or not. This is a situation which may sound familiar to wage slaves here in Australia!

Joseph writes…

The Chinese authoritarian education system, which demanded conformity, might not be conducive to the development of creative and analytical thinking. Furthermore, Chan (1999) claimed that Chinese students were being assessed mainly by examination with little emphasis on solving practical problems. Smith (cited in Couchman, 1997) believed that the Taiwanese students’ learning styles stressed reproduction of written work, and factual knowledge with little or no emphasis on critical thinking. Ballard and Clanchy (cited in Kirby et al, 1996, p.142) agreed that the Asian culture and education system stressed the conservation and reproduction of knowledge whereas the Western education system tended to value a speculative and questioning approach.

The differences in approach to education, and therefore education outcomes have a deep cultural basis. Societies in which conformity, position and successfully meeting the criteria set by a hierarchy for entry to positions of prestige (in particular where such positions are highly valued) will produce a culture among its people whereby they can most successfully meet these requirements. While there may be an innate talent towards rote learning and academic discipline, which is perhaps why these traits have become culturally valued, the question raised by the initial article about ‘white flight’ isn’t a simple matter of superiority.

International students bring with them a lot of money, and educational institutes are no doubt going to gear themselves towards making as much as they can. As Asian institutions are heavily exam based, exams being a test of how a student meets a set criteria prescribed by an authority and a test of rote learning, much of the study involved is geared towards simply passing the exam. Joseph writes, quoting experience of Asian students from their own home country.

The assessment system for Asian higher learning institution is generally more examination based. The style of teaching and learning is aimed at helping the students to pass the examination.

Two experiences from the home country in Asia….

Yes, this is what most of the students do. It is very exam based. They only look for the information that they get then can pass. It is very exam based, they only teach you to pass the exam. Probably also the students want it that way. [8]

and another

Before I came here…teacher will tell you everything and then you just read, memorize, and then go to the exam, that is all. Most of the students do not need to express our own opinion. [9]

This is quite the Western or Anglo-Saxon style, which tends towards group discussion.

Joseph writes

Asian students seldom did assignments in their home countries like here, so they are not familiar with the requirements of an assignment. They are unsure how to produce a good assignment, where to look for the relevant information, how much is enough and the format of the report. In the university here students no longer just reproduced what they had learnt.

Elite schools in Australia are quite exam based, entry is after all based upon an examination. There may even be a shift towards exam based assessment in order to appeal towards the Australian educators fastest growing market. Some of the comments in the Sydney Morning Herald article were bemoaning the decline of a broad based curriculum in these selective schools, where music and sport were being sidelined for raw, pressure cooker style tuition.

The simplistic comments that many may make, that we are simply inferior academically don’t really hold any weight. There are deeper cultural differences. Being a school drop out isn’t as shameful as it is in Asia. Bill Gates, Sir Alan Michael Sugar, Henry Ford, George Bernard Shaw and Vincent Van Gogh are just some examples of school drop outs who achieved success and respect. There are many, many more examples. Thomas Edison didn’t even go to school. In the West, one can attain wealth, respect and success without formal eduction, by self education. It isn’t necessary to be bestowed a position by meeting the criteria of an authority, which was principally how in the East, one advanced themselves.

Unfortunately here in the West, we are moving towards a mentality where authorities and a few select people in power decide the criteria, and one must meet the criteria to go anywhere or achieve recognition for success. Our education system, partly from the demands of parents, is moving more and more towards simply providing the skills a hiring manager would seek, rather than to provide a well rounded, educated and thinking member of society. More and more focus is put on children to ‘compete’, do better in exams and attain skills which look good in resumes. That is to say, we are heading towards the Eastern model.

The criteria that one must meet to achieve some success defines what it is that people will become skilled in. If in order to achieve success, one must do well in exams, than the end result will be to produce people who are primarily are skilled in completing exams. If in order to succeed, we create an environment where being a good self-salesperson is most important in getting a good job, then we will produce people who’s primary skill is in selling themselves.

The role of education in society.


Therefore, we must ask ourselves as a nation what we want people to be, how we want them to develop and find a place in our society. Do we want people in our society to be educated, well rounded, worldly and capable of critical though? Do we want people who are narrow minded and skilled only at rote tasks? Do we want innovators or fakers? Do we want creators and innovators, or parasitic middle men? What we demand from students will be what they produce. How our socioeconomic system rewards people and what it rewards people for, will determine what our strengths and skills will eventually become. If becoming a scientist or engineer isn’t rewarded well, then we will see fewer of them.

The fact of the matter is, that despite the over representation of Indian and East Asian students in Western elite schools, they still home here from abroad to study. White people do not go to the mother countries of these International students to get a good education. Most of the subjects were primarily created and developed in the West. If competitive cramming and pressure cooker style really did produce better results, then why is it that there is are many more Chinese and Indians who want to move here, rather than vice versa? Why is it that most of the technical and medical innovation still occurs in the West? There may be many Indians who work in the IT industry, but someone else had to make the industry, develop the technology and create the field of computer science in the first place. This act of creation is becoming less and less valued, as we seek more and more for our educated people to do mere rote work.

Education should be about producing people who are capable of creating a high quality of life for their society. If what we want to produce in our society is the best quality of life possible, then our education system should be geared towards producing that result. As it is, despite the eagerness of many people who want want to argue against Australian nationalism and why we need the East, the fact is that the people of the world are voting with their feet, and the ‘lazy’ Australians are producing a more sought after society and quality of life. There is nothing to be gained by trying to match the competitiveness that exists in other nations, in fact, we may lose overall. That is, if we are sane and value quality of life over abstract academic results. Many “anti-racists” will argue that Europe desperately needs workers from the third world, yet those from the third world have consistently failed to create a society they themselves want to live in, and Europe, despite its economic troubles is still preferred. Likewise in Australia, where according to some, are unable to function without importing the rest of the world, have managed to create a prosperous country without this supposed requirement.

Some Australians seem to understand this. The issue regarding ‘white flight’ in schools isn’t just one of whether white people are competitive enough, or smart enough. It’s one of what type of society do we want to produce.

Commenter “bleebs” writes

I believe that as a result of the so-called white flight, selective schools are increasingly forced to be too narrowly focused on knowledge instead of nurturing the many intelligences and creating a *whole* person, which is why I, for one, won’t be sending my children to one, even though I can. Happiness and life satisfaction brings its own success and wealth.

“Michaelc58” writes

Whether ‘pressure cooker’ and ‘arms race’ education produces better people and is desirable and fair to those who want a balanced childhood is, of course, another question.

“Rob” writes

Sure, your kids can keep up. Simply emulate the imported practices designed, in essense, to trick the system (that is, get a normal kid into a school for exceptional kids by way of rote learning).

But do future children in this country no longer deserve the childhood you can so fondly remember simply because your political persuasion encouraged the importation of a far more competitive brand of human being?

Seems like a race to the bottom of the ‘quality of life’ index. Study, work, die.

There was a deep shift in Western consciousness, away from a strong, inwards looking purpose and sense of destiny and real progress towards a more modern, aimless, purposeless attitude, where things are done just for the sake of being done, and if they can be done better, then so be it. It is because of this, that people no longer see the consequences of this world view. For some who put ‘anti-racism’ above everything else, above even common sense, they argue that this is just xenophobia, sour grapes and laziness.

But whether it’s competing with someone who is willing to work extra hours for less pay and less conditions, or someone who is willing to give up any extra-curricular study and activities that make one a well rounded citizen in order to do well in exams, it’s not just a matter of not wanting to compete. It’s a matter of deciding what type of society we want to create. There is no point losing your rights, your quality of life and time to engage in human relationships and hobbies, for extra productivity for no other purpose than extra productivity. There is no point becoming an intellectual robot for the purpose of just doing well in exams and getting placement positions in institutions. In both these scenarios, these conditions come about because someone is arbitrarily setting criteria, criteria which may be of profit to them, but not for the rest of us, or for society in general. We educate ourselves precisely in order to not have to toil and to constantly have to work harder for diminishing returns.

If people don’t want to return to Victorian era industrial squalor, then we have to be able to understand that the austerity that is being demanded of us by plutocrats isn’t a natural inevitability, but because of decisions made by those who hire and control our industries to allow this to happen. If we become a society where children have no other purpose than rote study for exams, then it will only happen because we have allowed educators to set these criteria. If we choose prosperity, elevating the human condition and betterment of the quality of life, then we have to demand from people, and teach people the qualities which bring this about. This can only come about by questioning authority, by having the intellectual courage to challenge the statements made by those who shape our society. By not accepting the premise that we have to compete in a race to the bottom, and demanding that those who choose for us to compete so they can profit, to restrain themselves for the sake of our society and the well being of the next generation.

The Western attitude towards education and work has historically paid off very well, producing without a doubt, among the most, or what was once among the most enviable societies on the planet. “White Flight” may be partly driven by feelings of alienation, partly by a lack of a desire to compete with the offspring of “Tiger Mums” and partly, and perhaps most importantly, a realization that the practices and attitudes that we are importing are from places less desirable than ours, and their adoption here may very well make our own society a less desirable, less humane place to live.

We are certainly on the way down that path, as we are being asked to give up our Western ideals, even our very own racial existence, for the benefit of a few greedy autocrats and for social experimentation of the misguided Marxist left. The self guilt and self hatred that has been pushed onto us has made us devalue the ideals which created a society the second and third world want to flock to, and made us discard them out of guilt, self punishment and undeserved feelings of inferiority. Quality of life, making life itself worth living is no longer the goal and ideal it was once, and we are adopting more and more an ideal where life is something to be ‘endured’, and one where the harder done by you are, the better you are.

1http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/fears-over-white-flight-from-selective-schools-20111016-1lro2.html “Fears over ‘white flight’ from selective schools”, Catherine Milburn

3Chan, S. (1999) The Chinese learner-a question of style. Education and Training, 41(6/7), 294-


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