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Seitz, John Arnold (1883–1963)

by Andrew Spaull

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

John Arnold Seitz (1883-1963), educationist, was born on 19 September 1883 at Carlton, Melbourne, son of Edward Seitz, Swiss consulting engineer, and his Victorian-born wife Sophia Maria, née Seyforth. He attended several state schools before secondary schooling at Hawthorn and Scotch colleges. Arnie, as he was known, followed his father's interests by studying engineering at the University of Melbourne. His education was studded with distinctions: he was dux of Scotch College in 1900 and winner of the Argus and Dixson university scholarships and faculty prizes in mathematics and engineering. In 1906 he was Victorian Rhodes scholar to Merton College, University of Oxford (B.A. (physics), 1909; M.A., 1928). He did not take out his Melbourne B.C.E. until 1932.

Returning to Victoria, Seitz was a senior master at Scotch (1910-14) and headmaster of Hamilton College (1915-21). In 1921 he joined the Victorian Department of Education as a physics teacher. After six months at University High School, Seitz was appointed lecturer in secondary school science method at Melbourne Teachers' College (1922-24). In 1925 he joined the board of secondary school inspectors, travelling extensively through Victoria, supervising the growth of state high schools. In 1929 he was appointed chief inspector of secondary schools, following the decision of the director of education Martin Hansen not to confirm the appointment of the acting chief inspector, Julia Flynn.

Seitz's leadership of the secondary schools division occurred during a period of stagnation in high-school education. Although neither philosophical nor progressive, he contributed a lengthy, thoughtful analysis of secondary school curricula to P. R. Cole's The Education of the Adolescent in Australia (1935). One proposal which he later applied was to separate secondary teacher training from that of primary teachers, a move which damaged the training of primary-school teachers who lost access to the university. Seitz served on the university council and the Council for Public Education in 1933-48.

In November 1936 the government appointed Seitz director of education. Aged 53 he could anticipate a long, fruitful period of leadership, but he was to be disappointed as Victoria's educational malaise continued almost unabated. Some of this was due to the prolonged effects of the Depression and the war; much was attributable to conservative Country Party rule, which led to constant conflict between the teachers and the government. Seitz used his office to ameliorate some of the bitterness between the Victorian Teachers' Union and successive ministers, but was unwilling to challenge his political masters. Not until after 1944 could rural school consolidation be introduced. He was more decisive in developing specialist services such as the curriculum and research, school libraries, and psychological guidance branches in the department. At the same time, on advice from senior officers, he introduced on-going, rather than a benchmark, review of the primary-school curriculum as well as stressing internal examinations in secondary schools—except for the matriculation year. As chairman of a review committee he carried out the Labor government's intention to rationalize adult education agencies under the umbrella of the new Council for Adult Education (1947). In 1945 he was prominent in drafting the new constitution of the standing committee of the Australian Council of Education. That year he was appointed adviser to the Australian delegation to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization conference in London.

Seitz's retirement in 1948 was marked by a combined Education Department-Teachers' Union dinner. The meeting was more to honour his friendly and fair-minded disposition than any outstanding accomplishments on behalf of state education. He was appointed C.M.G. in 1949. In 1950-57 he worked in the accountant's office of the Colonial Gas Association.

In his youth Seitz had been an accomplished cricketer and Australian Rules footballer. He earned a blue at Oxford for cricket and played Rugby for his college. Later as a stubborn batsman he played for the Victorian XI, captaining the team in his fourth, and last, season (1913-14). He was later an administrator at the Carlton Cricket Club and president of the Victorian Cricket Association (1947-62). He was also active in the Melbourne Bread and Cheese Club and the Old Scotch Collegians' Club (later Association), which he served as honorary secretary (1913) and president (1933). On 20 March 1913 at Parkville, he had married Eleanor Ida Agnes Dunn; there were no children. Eleanor was a strenuous worker for the Yooralla Hospital School for Crippled Children (president, 1937-62). Survived by his wife, Seitz died at South Melbourne on 1 May 1963 and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Education Department (Victoria), Vision and Realisation, L. J. Blake ed (Melb, 1973)
  • R. J. W. Selleck, Frank Tate (Melb, 1982)
  • Education Gazette and Teachers' Aid (Victoria), 11 Dec 1948
  • Victorian Teachers' Union (Melbourne), Teachers' Journal, 20 Dec 1948
  • Age (Melbourne), 2 May 1963.

Citation details

Andrew Spaull, 'Seitz, John Arnold (1883–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/seitz-john-arnold-8382/text14715, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 22 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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