For a while now, I’ve been quite frustrated at the lack of value this country places on thought. This manifests itself in a number of very broad ways – it can be seen generally across our education system, particularly in secondary and tertiary systems, as well as the way we don’t value teachers, academics, writers and others whose realm is ideas, thought and concepts. So far the lucky-ness of this country has been transported from the sheep’s back to the mining boom, but where to from there?
Gillard’s education revolution, begun when I could still believe she believed in anything, could have been the beginning of a change in these values, but sadly I’m yet to see a single revolutionary anything as a result of the ‘reforms’. At the moment from what I can see, our education system from start to post-grad study finish values only mediocrity and ‘yeah, that’ll do’, much more than teaching real thought and challenging established ideas with new ones. There are much more eloquent people writing great things about how our education system can be improved, but the point I’m trying to make here is about value and how we convey value, particularly to those who are in the process of learning.
This of course has a huge impact on Australia’s culture – this can be explored through the complete lack of ideas jobs in Australia. If I want to work as an advocate, a researcher, a writer or a policy developer in the social sciences broadly, then I’m either going to work for/in government, perhaps for one of a handful of think-tanks or NGOs, or in a University. As far as I’ve been able to find, all the rest is done for love, not money. Which is fine, if you want a small number of people who are paid to think, and to foster an elite who are most likely not going to represent the diversity of people in Australia. This leads to stagnation of ideas, replication of the same kinds of research, and policy that is at risk of being developed in the absence of good evidence.
The broader ramification for this situation is that there are a whole lot of people who could make a fantastic contribution to the ideas and innovation economy in this country who are just blogging, article writing zombies in their free time because their ideas aren’t valued by everyone else enough to be in paid employment for them. This burning the candle at both ends is of course familiar terrain for many writers, and happens in many countries. But compare the amount of thinking jobs in Australia, and the diversity of the kinds of jobs, to ideas jobs in a country like the US, and you start to see that the stagnation of ideas in Australia really stems from a lack of value of ideas in the first place.
Very soon, Australia will be a Twentieth Century economy when the world has moved far beyond this. We are a naturally resource rich country, but these are finite resources and we cannot rely soley on this as the basis for our economy. Again, many people have written about the ‘two-speed’ economy which is currently occurring in Australia, with much more authority than I. But going forward, we are in the position to be leaders in technology and services – this requires investment in ideas, both research and development, as well as the education system that allows people to drive innovation. Similarly to science and technology, social sciences are suffocating under a lack of funding and support – some of our most prominent challenges will be attempted to be addressed via social policy (homelessness, inclusion, migration and integration, refugees, drug use and abuse, the list goes on) however we currently place no value on new and innovative ideas and research in the sector. How will Australia meet these challenges when we do not have the intellectual capacity to construct the policy to facilitate the change necessary to do this?