On Monday night I had the pleasure of hearing Noel Pearson deliver the annual Bishop Manning lecture. Pearson is founder of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership. In discussing the complexities and challenges facing indigenous communities, Pearson explained that he saw himself as a radical centralist – someone committed to left wing objectives through right wing policies.
As Pearson explained, the free market approach assumes that everyone is educated and can therefore make an informed choice. The paradox is that if you have no education, the market isn’t free. The problem with the left wing approach is that you get caught in a cycle of more programs, more money, more administration. One side wants to keep handing out fish, the other the rods. Pearson’s view is use both to achieve an effective and equitable outcome.
At the centre of schooling is the child but for decades we’ve focussed on either the fish or the fishing rod. It resonates with Michael Fullan’s theme that educational change will only ever come from the middle. The top (government) cannot be relied on because governments and policies frequently change. On the other hand, when you give the bottom (schools) too much autonomy, you cannot build systemness.
The middle provides coherence so both school and system grow in tandem. No-one is left behind. I believe the teaching profession needs a coalition of central radicals to keep us focussed on the middle.
And that’s what Noel Pearson is attempting to do – build systemness so that no-one is left behind.