Quarterly Essay 35
Radical Hope: Education and Equality in Australia
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- October 2009
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In Radical Hope, one of Australia’s most original and provocative thinkers turns his attention to the question of education. Noel Pearson begins with two fundamental questions: How to ensure the survival of a people, their culture and way of life? And can education transform the lives of the disadvantaged many, or will it at best raise up a fortunate few?
In an essay that is personal and philosophical, wide-ranging and politically engaged, Pearson discusses what makes a good teacher and recalls his own mentors and inspirations. He argues powerfully that underclass students, many of whom are Aboriginal, should receive a rigorous schooling that gives them the means to negotiate the wider world. He examines the long-term failure of educational policy in Australia, especially in the indigenous sector, and asks why it is always “Groundhog Day” when there are lessons to be learned from innovations now underway. This is an essay filled with ideas and arguments and information – from a little-known educational revolutionary named Siegfried Englemann, to the No Excuses ethos and the Knowledge Is Power program, to Barack Obama’s efforts to balance individual responsibility and historical legacy. Pearson introduces new findings from research and practice, and takes on some of the most difficult and controversial issues. Throughout, he searches for the radical centre – the way forward that will raise up the many, preserve culture, and ensure no child is left behind.
“It is time to ask: are we Aborigines a serious people? … Do we have the seriousness necessary to maintain our languages, traditions and knowledge? … The truth is that I am prone to bouts of doubt and sadness around these questions. But I have hope. Our hope is dependent upon education. Our hope depends on how serious we become about the education of our people.” —Noel Pearson, Radical Hope
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Praise for Radical Hope:
"A work of universal significance in which Pearson once again shows himself to be Australia’s most powerful contemporary thinker. His essay is essential reading for all who care about the true nature of the society we have created in Australia. For the first time in my life I encountered here a mature insight into the private hells produced by the very kind of failed education I received as a boy growing up at the bottom of a class ridden culture in London after the war." —Alex Miller
This issue also contains correspondence relating to the previous issue QE34 Stop At Nothing by Annabel Crabb. Correspondence relating to QE35 Radical Hope will appear in the next issue.