All men are not equal

Amongst certain Aussie tribes, the colloquial term "goneski" is used as a play on the word "gone", meaning used up or finished.

It is also applied to any person thoroughly befuddled by alcohol or love, incapacitated by serious injury or someone obviously guilty of criminal proceedings.

If you're "goneski", you're screwed. It's all over bar the shouting.

I thus found it an unfortunate coincidence that the most important changes to our nation's education system in years were named the "Gonski Reforms", after their author, businessman David Gonski.

It didn't seem to bode well for their adoption.

Some people might blanch at the idea of a multi-millionaire investment banker and financier such as Gonski giving the rest of us advice on public education, but it strikes me as perfect.

More than most, Gonski would be aware of an ugly little fact of life: all humans are not equal.

Born to wealth and educated at the best institutions this country has to offer, Gonski must know how much the accident of birth and life's disproportionately distributed opportunities can shape a life.

Politically incorrect as it may be to say it, the harsh truth is we're born unequal, and live myriad unequal lives. Then we die.

Even our death and the way the world views it is unequal (as we saw graphically in Boston and Iraq recently). Some of us get state funerals and obituaries published on the front page of the newspaper. Some of us liquefy in an armchair before we're found three months later by a gas company worker.

"Nature has not read the American Declaration of Independence or the French Revolutionary Declaration of the Rights of Man," wrote Pulitzer Prize winning historians Will and Ariel Durant.

I'm pretty sure nature's not seen a copy of Australia's Equal Opportunity Act, either.

Frustratingly, nature makes some people smarter, prettier, stronger, more creative than others. Hereditary inequality thrives even within families and is amplified by complex societies.

Some of us are born into stupid wealth and privilege, some of us poverty and dysfunction. Some of us are born in Australia, some in Somalia. Some of us are able-bodied. Some of us get an "education".

"Nature loves difference as the necessary material of selection and evolution," write the Durants. 

Competition underscores our inequalities. Some are eaten. Others eat.

Some toil. Others Tweet.

Philosophers and priests might contend our souls are equal but the reality in Australia is we have hundreds of laws to enforce an equality that does not, never has, and never will exist in nature.

This is the paradox of "freedom": the more of it we have - the less oversight - the less equal we become. The strong, the rich and exceptional dominate the weak, poor and stupid.

To even reach for equality, we must give up many "natural" freedoms, submit to laws and pay taxes to help those with less abundant physical, mental and economic gifts.

Even then, the best we can hope for is "an approximate equality" from our legal system and educational opportunities - a society where all of our potentials are nurtured and given the chance to bloom.

This is why education matters. It's why early education and the funding we give it matters even more than how we endow our universities and technical colleges.

By the time a child becomes a youth, the inequalities of birth, geography, class and opportunity have largely crystalised. A burst of subsidised university fees is not going to help the blue collar teen who can barely spell because his primary school was a dump staffed by indifferent gumps.

"Even the children of Ph.Ds must be educated and go through their adolescent measles of errors, dogmas, and isms; nor can we say how much potential ability and genius lurk in the chromosomes of the harassed and handicapped poor," write the Durants in their collection of essays The Lessons of History.  

The necessity of education is not a political viewpoint, it's an undeniable lesson of history. It strikes me as uncharitable and disingenuous to argue the contrary, because to deny its transformative and equalising power benefits most those not in need of it.

If we do nothing, the strong, the rich, the exceptional win by default.

Prioritising and improving our primary and secondary education systems is arguably the only way we can level life's playing field - at least at the beginning of people's lives.

Then nature takes over once more.

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Please don't take it personally if I do not reply to your email as they come in thick and fast depending on the topic. Pease know, I appreciate you taking the time to write and comment and would offer mummy hugs to all.