Educational Placement Poverty and Generations

April 5, 2024
      In the 2021 Australian and New Zealand History of Education Society (ANZHES) paper,       Lived higher education policy and grand generational narratives at the University of Melbourne 2005-2008: An educational critique of Karl Mannheim and ‘The Problem of Generations’,       I had stated that:         […]




In the 2021 Australian and New Zealand History of Education Society (ANZHES) paper,




Lived higher education policy and grand generational narratives at the University of Melbourne 2005-2008: An educational critique of Karl Mannheim and ‘The Problem of Generations’,




I had stated that:





“Today, personal history is a credible field of scholarship. My argument as a philosophic historian is that Personalism is a better approach in analysis and policy formation than the generational analysis used in the design of the Melbourne Curriculum. Personalism is the intellectual stance that emphasizes the importance for the place of human persons. It is a philosophical movement of two hundred years with Russian Orthodox, French Existential, Polish Catholic, American Protestant and British Idealist histories. Institutions have used generational analysis to mask the personifying effects of political decisions in educational reforms.”



“The new generation degrees combined the drivers of higher education, the ideals, or virtues of the public university, but ultimately, at the end of the process, the expectations were what the new generation would need as an education to be productive citizens of the future.”



“The foundational work of Karl Mannheim comes into the creation of the generational framing of educational policy because of what he laid out as the principles of generational analysis. He took a positivist worldview, not a personable one, and argued that generation follows generation at regular intervals and with mechanical features. He clearly stated that when a person reached the age of 60, they were not educationally productive. The generational analysis defies the principles of lifelong learning, but sociologically it misses the continuing historical threads in learning, which is taken up or rejected across each new generation. Transgenerational revaluation is lost in such policy formation. Mannheim’s critics have loomed large, including Paul Ricoeur.”



“In our own time, the generational work has degenerated in the American pop sociology texts from Neil Howe and William Strauss.”



“Generational analysis took hold of the Melbourne New Generation vision in subtle and conflicting ways. On one side, the Vice-Chancellor had arguments of alternative generational analysis: Aristotle’s ethics and politics, Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, and Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. It was a personable argument of memory and generational nostalgia in relation to the virtues of the public university. Davis had compatibilist thinking, philosophically, and there was an attempt to bring an institutional healing from the disruption of privatisation. Davis was not an economic rationalist but a centrist in the public-private synergy debates, for example, the debate between John Cain and Alan Gilbert.”



“They already had, over the previous two decades, a corpus of generational analysis, degenerated into corporate speak. In the Howe and Strauss argument, by labelling a generation, you had the persona of the student cohort and, therefore, you had the answer to the type of admission program or loan program or career counselling program to implement.”



“Howe and Strauss are not systems sociologists, and their prejudices crossed different frames of understanding. There were two strong threads of old-style progressive conservatism and late 20th century neo-conservatism. You have in their work an American modernist reading of ‘Western-European’ thought. You can see much influence of William F. Buckley in defending a cultural-centric interpretation while appealing to republican virtues. Howe and Strauss generalise global and historical generations in the American local, moralistic, and Whig historiography, and their caricature generational narratives are presented as the cycles of history.”



“It should have been seen for its poverty of analysis among the Melbourne academics, but many academics do not have the education in sociology and history. One of the features of the Melbourne Curriculum was to remedy that problem for the new generation of academics. Furthermore, the sociological studies of the Millennials made it difficult to challenge the rhetoric. At Melbourne the governments’ expectation for a job-ready generation was confused, however, the optimism for young people made it hard to unpack the political rhetoric. The hope of the older generations was that the children would make a better world.”



“The generation narrative is shaped in one of two transgenerational directions, as utilitarian values, or rational-natural ends in themselves – as in Aristotelian holistic flourishing or the transcendental ends in a Kantian humanism.”




“Look to the personable characteristics of all those involved in producing the Melbourne Curriculum. Davis’ argument about the drivers of higher education had greater explanation value than descriptions of what the new generation’s education requirements are going to be. Davis was the national key figure in the public service reform movement from his time with the Queensland Government, during the post-Joh Bjelke-Petersen era. He was part of the neo-liberal thinking of the 1990s, but he had a unique take, different from the Penington and Gilbert generation.”




“The generational analysis generally gets it wrong or cannot grasps the eventuality of the future. The Melbourne Curriculum was a product rather of the personal beliefs shared among the University’s leadership.”





Isaac Arnsdorf has just published, Finish What We Started: The MAGA Movement’s Ground War to End Democracy (2024). He produced an excerpt from the book, on April 4, 2024, entitled, “How Steve Bannon guided the MAGA movement’s rebound from Jan. 6”:




“Bannon especially liked the version of this theory in “The Fourth Turning,” a 1997 book by historians Neil Howe and William Strauss, which ordered American history into generation‐long periods of highs, awakenings, unravelings and crises. The book predicted a coming rise of nationalism and authoritarianism, across the world and in America.”




“Bannon was not merely a student or passive observer of this prophecy; he wanted to be an agent of it, and an architect of the era that came next. So, when he watched Trump glide down a golden escalator to announce his campaign for president, in 2015, his first thought was, “That’s Hitler!” By that he meant someone who intuitively understood the aesthetics of power, as in Nazi propaganda films. He saw in Trump someone who could viscerally connect with the general angst that Bannon was roiling and make himself a vessel for Americans’ grievances and desires.”





There is a deliberateness there. American and Australian sociology and history is different, but there is something of this thinking in our Australian university councils and senates, in our bureaucracies, and in our cabinet room. It is, though, covert, in that views are not openly stated. In that regard, it is not a conspiracy. It is only that persons are conditioned to blame the establishment position when marginalisation occurs, such as educationalist theories and sociological models. In the twist of politics, this dismissal mindset includes the establishment itself. Governments find it easier to stick to the status quo, while at the same time, mourn the establishment position.




A mistake, though, is not to see the local phenomenon, connected, all the way up, regional, national, and global. In 1968 an unknown author wrote “The Uses of State and Local History”, in History News (Vol. 23, No. 12 December, 1968, pp. 233-242). In my review of the academic article, I wrote:




“In the last thirty years local and family history has developed as a cottage industry, for Queensland, as elsewhere in the world. The great difficulty for scholarly historians is that until recently amateur historians – those with no tertiary education in the discipline – controlled the field. Today, the industry – which includes wide ranging fields of, not only local and family history, but also heritage, museum curation, urban archaeology, and librarianship – is a strange mixture of voluntary and professional labour. Boundaries are much more fluid between amateur and professional roles, as well as between the roles of different professionals. If the educative value continues to mean something significant in society, and if history is to continue as something substantive in scholarship, leadership in a history-orientated industry must be in the hands of those historians trained as scholars – at the very least, at the level of four-year (honours) university degree. This also requires such historians, or such apprenticed historians in the midst of their pre-accredited training, to gain work experience in the marketplace, one that is at once regulated and unregulated.”




“Traditionally, it has been an unregulated scholarly market organised by the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, as the peak body, with a few regional historical societies scattered across the state. University historians generally kept out of matters of local history, and struggled to make an impression in state history. The 1990s, in the wake of the Australian Bicentenary, changed market conditions. Unlike the Queensland centenary, academic historians – representing regulated, or accredited and peer-reviewed, scholarship – were much more to the fore in the commemorational events. Queensland academic historians, archetype by the two “Ross-es”, Ross Fitzgerald and Ross Johnston, led the charge into a resurgence of state history. Accompanying this regulated trend, was an unregulated explosion in the formation of local history groups.ii The production of books and paraphernalia in these groups became voluminous, but the quality of work was overall below the standard of regulated scholarship. A few exceptions were evident coming from those educated in the discipline.iii The self-justification in the way the new market operated was that local history groups had worked from community values where the requirements in scholarship were not relevant. However, the blind-sighted problem was that such production was not substantially history, but a production – more often a re-production – of urban myths and legend, built upon gossip, innuendo, and rumour. “History” which was substantially history required skilled judgement on primary source material, working in a framework of a knowledge-base in the discipline. If truth and accuracy are important conditions of social justice, local and state history needed to be written by educated and trained historians. Traditionally, amateur historians ignored issues of conflict and discrimination in their populist productions. The drivers of social reform and equity more often have been academic-based historians. Such an analysis does not equate knowledge and skills to ethical behaviour. Nevertheless, the desire to better one-self professionally can be the source in strengthening community values.”





The extensive quotations in this blog article are an explanation of how local-regional-global society has been changing in “the educational placements” and across the generations. If the professional work is to flourish, then the non-university professionals need to be paid for the work that the Australian universities are, currently, not doing.





Featured Image: The unpaid professional worker. Photo 156666797 © motortion |




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Neville Buch (Pronounced Book) Ph.D. is a certified member of the Professional Historians Association (Queensland). Since 2010 he has operated a sole trade business in history consultancy. He was a Q ANZAC 100 Fellow 2014-2015 at the State Library of Queensland. Dr Buch was the PHA (Qld) e-Bulletin, the monthly state association’s electronic publication, and was a member of its Management Committee. He is the Managing Director of the Brisbane Southside History Network.
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