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Reel Schools

Schooling and the Nation in Australian Cinema

Josephine May

Reel Schools takes a fresh look at the history of Australian schooling through the lens of Australian cinema from the silent era until 2010. In exploring the relationship between cinematic representation and educational history, Josephine May shows how numerous Australian feature and documentary films offer access to powerful vernacular imaginings about school education in Australia.
May argues that the cinematic school is a pervasive metaphor for the Australian nation. She demonstrates that, while Australian films about schooling have consistently commented on the relationship of schooling to the Australian class structure, they also increasingly explored gender, race and ethnicity at school, especially after the 1970s. From then on the egalitarian dream of school education and the nation’s capacity to generate meaningful futures for the young became increasingly contested.


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CHAPTER 9 – Private School Fantasies in the 2000s 217


217 CHAPTER 9 Private School Fantasies in the 2000s The power of education is surely one of the central narratives of the post- industrial age. It is almost an archetypal myth that if one studies hard, then one will be both a better and wealthier person.1 School systems have evolved to ensure that the socially most advanced children compete as a group, while the least advantaged children enjoy the fewest collective protections and compete most often as individuals.2 While multicultural themes in the school films of the 1980s and 1990s reinvigorated, updated, and contested discussions of the role of schooling in the creation and propagation of an inclusive Australian national identity, the school films that ushered in the new century took up themes arising from the educational trends in the post-industrial era. These trends arose from the establishment and then dominance of neo-liberal governmental approaches leading especially to marketisa- tion of the schooling sector, unprecedented growth of the private school sector, and increasing residualisation of state schools. As will be shown, the school films of the decade 2000 to 2010, in a diversity of narrative styles and genres, continue to affirm the importance of the school as a institutional cinematic setting for reflections on the Austra- lian nation premised on the ‘fair go’. Indeed education in general has become one of the main surrogate sites for hosting the considerable anxiety felt by Australians about the safety, values, and efficacy of the 1 Margaret Simons, ‘Beyond the comfort zone’, Griffith Review:...

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