In the beginning

The real story behind EPAT (from one who was there)

The man had killed the thing he loved,

And so he had to die.

Oscar Wilde: The Ballad of Reading Gaol

The intended content of this small offering should be obvious from the title, but I would like to begin slightly differently and work towards it in a somewhat circuitous way.

Quite recently (August 2020), at Michael Peters’ instigation, I had my first look at PESA’s latest publishing vehicle, PESA Agora, and I was blown away by two things. The first was the number of names I came across in both PESA Agora and EPAT that I recalled from the past: in no particular order, Gary McCulloch, Rima and Michael Apple, Nick Burbules, Colin Lankshear, Susan Robertson, Andy Gibbons, Linda Stone, Peter Roberts and so many others – dear friends and/or distant colleagues from many years ago, all of whom I had neither read nor had contact with for two decades. It was exciting to find them all again, still going, still writing, still evolving and contributing … while I had virtually stopped.

I do have an excuse, of sorts. When I retired in 2000, I had assumed, reasonably given certain promises, and the fact that they had granted me Emeritus status, that Macquarie University would continue to utilise whatever talent I had through unpaid consultancies, mentoring activities, some teaching, post-graduate thesis supervision and the like, and that I would more-or-less continue, in a smaller office, with my academic activity. However, as soon as my last Doctoral student had passed through the system and no longer needed supervision, one morning I found the contents of my office, less my computer and floppies that held my life’s writings delivered to my front door. I went to the University to retrieve my computer, only to find that my swipe card no longer admitted me to the building, and I soon learnt that my computer and floppies had been ‘lost,’ my library card cancelled, my office re-allocated and my email account re-routed into the ether such that many people who tried to contact me believed that I was either dead or uncharacteristically rude. Notwithstanding that Macquarie did contact me on my 80th birthday, with a glossy brochure suggesting I might remember them in my will, I was out!

Being out meant I had to look to other activities, and given my lifelong concern with schools, teachers and putting philosophy into practice, I turned to involvement with several schools, teachers and unions. But, consequently, my reading became sporadic at best, and although I wrote a few pieces for EPAT, I fell further and further behind the literature (a feat most members of my staff at Macquarie had long turned into an art form), and I lost track of my colleagues, their writings and my journal. That first encounter with PESA Agora not only brought it all back to mind, but it made me realise just how much had changed, and I wondered what the present generation knew of the beginnings and evolution of EPAT (and why I just called it ‘my journal’).

I’m now back on topic, but many would recognise that it is a topic many times raked over, e.g. Bruce Haynes and Michael Peters separately in EPAT, 41(7) [Celebration of 40 years] James Kaminsky in EPAT, 20(1); Les Brown in EPAT, 19(1), along with other more distant accounts. I am doing it again in order to set the record straight. There were two ‘great moments’ in PESA’s struggle to gain editorial control of EPAT and turn it into a fully refereed journal that have escaped the attention of the above commentators, the first three of whom were not there at the time, while the fourth, Les Brown, was the victim of both and was possibly happy not to recall them.

In the beginning was Leslie Melville Brown, a Principal Lecturer in English at a Teachers’ College, who had a strong enough liking for philosophy to have published a book, General Philosophy in Education, in 1966. The times favoured Les. Consolidation was beginning in higher education and teachers’ colleges were being replaced by or morphed into other things. Thus the University of New South Wales (UNSW), which had ‘Science’ as its motto, suddenly had a School of Education added to it (across the road from the main campus, mind you) for the purpose of providing a Diploma of Education for those of its graduates who sought to become teachers. Les Brown was appointed as the first Head of that School, and as the consolidation process guaranteed that displaced Principal Lecturers would, although most had never published, automatically become associate professors upon their re-placement (much to the chagrin of long-serving well-published senior lecturers), Les was now Head of School, Associate Professor, and had a secretary – Elaine. More of her later.

Les was not a great philosopher, but he did have a love for philosophy and, unlike many in the field at the time, he was well aware of C. D. Hardie, author of Truth and Fallacy in Educational Theory (1946) and Australia’s first Professor of Philosophy of Education. Les sought to become the second. He was energetic, well-organised, and although softly spoken, ambitious. He was Head of School; he could now fashion it in the image he desired (and, in doing so, he did become professor and thus fulfil that ambition).

The School of Education at UNSW was strictly post-graduate, offering a DipEd course for intending teachers and postgraduate Masters and Doctoral Programs for those qualified to enter them; and Les fully intended to make these courses philosophically oriented. His original staff had three philosophers of education beside himself: Shirley Smith, Ken Simpson and Cec Field. He then created a position for me, and, on my advice, also created a position for Michael Matthews. Next came Martin Bibby, and finally he landed his ideal big fish, Jim Gribble. Thus, in an academic staff of twelve, there were eight philosophers, two sociologists (one a PESA member with a strong philosophical leaning) and two educational psychologists. In addition to this, the ‘method’ staff was also unusually philosophical, with historian Jim Fitzgerald writing his PhD on Althusser, and two science people well versed in the philosophy of science.

I doubt that any school such as this ever existed either before or after; and Les wanted to take his philosophical interest and influence further, thus launching a journal of philosophy of education, which he accomplished as a one-person show in 1969. Les conceived of the idea at a time bereft of a supportive environment. He convinced UNSW to enter into a junior alliance; he succeeded in signing up Permagon Press as a publisher; and he threw in a large amount of his own money as well. Getting that far was no mean feat, but now came the extraordinarily difficult part of getting the journal up and running.

To make a journal a functioning success, an editor has to do at least nine things: announce the journal, set up a guaranteed subscription system and list of libraries and individuals, call for contributions, send the contributions out to referees, select the content to be published in each number, send the material to the printer, edit the galleys, return the edited galleys to the printer, and pack and post the printed version of each number to the subscribers. Younger readers should be aware that in the ‘pre-email-with-attachments’ days some of these tasks were far more difficult, and exceedingly more time-consuming than one might imagine, and it would be surprising to find one person managing all of them and at the same time running a large university school. This is where Elaine comes in.

Les was the master puppeteer and held all the strings, while Elaine did a great deal of the hack work. She handled all the typing and postage (long-distance and international calls were frighteningly expensive and there were mountains of typing), as well as setting up physical and phone meetings and, it being derigueur in that age, made sandwiches and provided tea and coffee at all the required times. Without her, the task would have been impossible (and as we shall see, it all came crashing down); with her Les could concentrate on networking, selecting the content to be published and proofreading. Appointing an unofficial Assistant Editor (yours truly) even relieved him of most of the third task.

Now, the astute reader will have noticed that, in the re-appointed tasks, I left out ‘sending the contributions to referees.’ This was because it was never done. Les may have had an occasional article glanced over by a colleague, and this did increase very slightly after PESA was formed. But EPAT was not a refereed Journal, and it did not become so in a serious sense until its twenty-first Volume in 1990.

Sacrilegious though this may seem now, it made pretty good sense back at the beginning. First, we have to consider who those possible referees might have been. There was no local Society. There were few, if any, courses in Philosophy of Education and consequently few teachers in Australia, leaving almost all of the possible referees in the UK and, frankly, uninterested in this fledgling colonial ‘magazine.’ And what would have happened if Les did try to have submissions rigorously refereed? The article would have had to be sent off, probably to the UK, by snail mail (and it really was terribly terribly slow); then the long wait till the referees got round to doing the job; then more waiting for the snail mail returns; and then what about the decision? What if the referees said ‘Reject’? There would be no copy for the next number. What if they disagreed? Try to find a third ‘tie-breaker’ and repeat the above process! No, thank you. And worst of all, what if they said ‘Revise’? That would mean long correspondence with the author, returning the article (by snail mail), waiting for the revisions to be made and so on, by which time the next Volume would have had to be printed and in the hands of subscribers.

No: Les took a pragmatic option. The journal was his, and so he could print what he wanted. It would be two issues per annual volume with four (occasionally five) articles per issue. There were two criteria for an article being published. First, Les (whose networking skills resulted in a highly prestigious authorship for the pre-PESA volumes) would have to approve it, which ruled out virtually anything that was critical of Richard Peters and analytic philosophy in general, not to mention radical, subversive and Marxist contributions. Second, it had to fit. And as we shall see, it was this latter point that brought about the first ‘great moment’ in EPAT becoming what it is today.

The new journal would obviously benefit from a nice symbiotic relationship, and the formation of the Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia – PESA in 1969-1970, with Les the driving force, gave EPAT the community it needed, while the existence of EPAT gave PESA the journal it needed. Thus, by 1972, EPAT had a vital and growing subscription base and a wider readership, and PESA members had a seemingly content-friendly journal to which they could submit papers. But trouble was afoot, on both feet.

PESA, now the life-blood of EPAT, wanted naming rights – Journal of the Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia, thank you – which Les agreed to, as well as much greater editorial control, which Les did not agree to, and thus, notwithstanding what one might find printed on the inside cover, EPAT continued as a largely unrefereed Journal. Meanwhile, on the other foot, Permagon Press pulled out, causing more of the financial burden for publication to fall on PESA. Les’s position was decidedly weakening, but he hung on as EPAT and PESA proceeded on near-to parallel paths. And then came the first ‘great moment.’

In 1975 a young lecturer at Christchurch, Brian Haig, submitted a paper: ‘The Logic of Ability Concepts,’ which Les wanted to publish in volume 7, number 2. But there was a problem. Three of the papers were already locked in; Brian’s was competing with a shorter piece; the publication date was looming, and Brian’s paper was too long. Les was faced with a dilemma: print the non-preferred British paper and return Brian’s with a request to shorten it (and thus miss at least volume 7) or shorten Brian’s paper himself. Les chose the latter. But he hedged his bet. After he had gone through it with red ink, he asked his trusty assistant to look over his handiwork and offer comments. I was aghast. I was an untenured probationary lecturer. So I did look over it, and I told Les that, while I disagreed strongly with what he had done, it was probably a decent enough job. Les was happy, but in his sincere desire to give an up-and-coming person a publication, he really messed up on the ‘means/end’ relationship. Brian’s amended article was published, and, when it hit New Zealand, it was as if the entire Tasman had hit the fan. Brian went ballistic, sending a violent letter (by snail mail) to Les insisting that, in the next number of EPAT, he spell out what he had done and also publish the entire unedited article. Brian also wisely enlisted the aid of the more senior Ivan Snook, who wrote much the same, but in his measured calmness. Now, Les was never one to back down or admit an error, but, in attempting to turn his defence into attack, he made a big mistake. He explained that he had consulted his Assistant Editor, Kevin Harris, who supported his decision.

Now Ivan went ballistic. Assistant Editor? Kevin Harris! Ivan roundly reminded Les that he had, and had side-stepped, an Editorial Advisory Board elected by PESA and of which I was not a member. Les eventually rode the matter out, but, with his secret revealed, his credibility was further questioned and his position was seriously, almost mortally, weakened. PESA attacked by opening its books and showing Les how much money the Society with no voice had spent on EPAT. Les, in turn, raised his voice by opening his wallet and paying back every cent. And I got my comeuppance a little later when Les, under great pressure from PESA, agreed to publish my ‘Peters on Schooling,’ which he had previously labelled as ‘rubbish’ and a disgrace to both the discipline and to his School of Education, but held off till I had gone to London before removing the 1200 words he disliked most. He had now lost my support, which turned out to be of little import because the second ‘great moment’ was about to hit – one which Les would not survive.

In 1976, UNSW finally discovered the disciplinary imbalance in the School of Education and hired a Professor of Educational Psychology. This professor was supposed to have equal access to the services of the School’s secretary, but, whenever he sought it, he found Elaine busy, most often on EPAT business. He, therefore, undertook careful research, and soon after presented the Vice-Chancellor with a detailed dossier showing that up to 60% of Elaine’s time, and an even greater percentage of the Head of School’s stationery, postage and telephone allowances were being spent on EPAT. Immediate action followed, resulting in Les being deprived of secretarial and financial support for EPAT in one hit. Now, with the journal mortally wounded, he had little choice but to put in motion his side of the handover of EPAT to PESA. Still, it took another decade.

Interestingly, notwithstanding the long and bitter struggle, PESA members did not exactly rush the opportunity to become Editor of the Journal (which is understandable given the job requirements – see above), and, at first (simultaneously upon Les’s retirement from UNSW), the task was handballed literally across the corridor to Jim Gribble. But little, if anything, changed. A note that EPAT was the journal of PESA, and a page listing the Editorial Board, did not mean that PESA members saw the journal as representing them, nor that the Board was seriously involved in the journal’s production. In actual fact, it was still largely a one-person show, with content not surprisingly still reflecting that which Les Brown had supported, while rejecting more challenging approaches. Sadly, the journal of PESA was not the ‘journal of choice’ for PESA members, or at least those who were most prolific in growing the literature of philosophy of education. EPAT had become moribund, rather than a progressive world-class refereed journal.

It took until 1986 for EPAT to literally move north, officially and symbolically ending Les’s association, but, unfortunately, it passed to an inexperienced editor who, notwithstanding that he began the process of linking the journal with a respected international publishing house, did the journal little good and almost ruined its finances and reputation. And still, as late as 1988, and although it displayed an entire page of editors, editorial consultants and a board, it was not fully or properly refereed. For example, I submitted a paper in late 1987, to which the Editor responded by return mail: ‘You shorten it and I’ll publish it.’ I shortened it, and, true to his word, he published it, along with a paper and a ‘response’ of his own, which together made up two of the four articles in volume 20, number 1, but of the 24 people listed in the categories above, just one (apart from the Editor himself) had seen either the papers or the response before publication.

Finally, it all changed. David Aspin became Editor in 1990 and, under his wise and experienced leadership, EPAT became the fully refereed internationally respected journal that it should always have been. Jim Walker continued and furthered David’s work through to 1999, and then the new millennium brought forth a new millennial – Michael Peters – who, armed with all the electronic wonders of the new age, has taken EPAT, and with it PESA and now PESA Agora [with Tina Besley as its Project Manager & Editor, Sean Sturm as Deputy Editor and others on the team], into realms we couldn’t have dreamed of back in the days when we proofread galleys sent by snail mail and fought for the right to submit our work to the judgment of a neutral blind refereeing process.

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Full Citation Information:
Harris, K. (2020). In the beginning: The real story behind EPAT (from one who was there). PESA Agora. https://pesaagora.com/columns/in-the-beginning/

Kevin Harris

Kevin Harris is Emeritus Professor of Education at Macquarie University. As a schoolteacher and then an academic for almost fifty years, he is fully conversant with publicly perceived outbreaks of educational crises, and maintains his faith in the proven excellence of our teachers and the world-class reputation of our academic researchers, to save our children from allegedly slipping too far down spurious world-wide rankings.