November 30th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Free Trade: what's in it for us?

EDITORIAL: Let East Timorese refugees stay

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Medicare a 'sleeper' issue for Liberals, Labor

HUMAN CLONING: Research Involving Embryos Bill stalls in the Senate

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Pub with no beer / Sheep in sheep's clothing

AGRICULTURE: US free trade deal: will it help sugar farmers?

MEDIA: Bali "interrogation" photo sends wrong message

REFLECTION: Clyde Cameron on Archbishop Mannix and Bob Santamaria

LETTERS: Ted Serong (letter)

EDUCATION: Schooling SA-style: an exercise in planned mediocrity

EDUCATION: Dumbing down: the saga continues

ASIA: How many missiles are needed to make one China?

COMMENT: British media's royal flush

BOOKS: Rule Britannia: The Victorian and Edwardian Navy

BOOKS: Rethinking Peter Singer

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Dumbing down: the saga continues

by Bob Denahy

News Weekly, November 30, 2002
Writing in his memoirs over twenty years ago Bob Santamaria, in typically sardonic style, noted that Australian governments allocated large amounts of money to "what is charitably called education".

The truth of what Santamaria claimed was never more clearly illustrated than in the examinations recently taken for the New South Wales School Certificate by over 80,000 Year 10 students.

For the opening assignment of their English Literacy examination, students had to read and answer multiple choice questions about a speech given by a young girl at the Centenary Commemoration Ceremony held in Melbourne in May, 2001.


On that occasion Ms Hayley Eves said, "At the outset I acknowledge the Wurundjeri people, the traditional owners of the land on which we now meet."

She later added, "I know in my heart that young Australians want to heal some of the actions from our past. Reconciliation represents a path for healing the divisions between non-indigenous and indigenous Australians."

She went on to say,"Young Australians today grow up with a great sense of equality between the sexes. Australian women have made a great contribution to Australia and to the world in the past 100 years. They have struggled for equality, for recognition and acknowledgement of their own aspirations as women, and while things are great for me as a young woman in 2001, many milestones have only recently been achieved. I hope in 100 years time when Australians gather here once again, that if they are addressed by a female Head of State, a female Prime Minister and a female Leader of the Opposition, no one will think it unusual."

Students had to decide whether, in acknowledging the Wurundjeri people, Hayley Eves shows that "she respects their stories and traditions" or "accepts their connection to the land." As regards her comments on women's liberation, students were directed to consider whether the speech illustrated that "Australian women have now received some recognition" or "Australia has lately accepted the idea of a female Head of State."

What, one might reasonably have asked, has all this to do with English literacy?

The next segment of the exam involved consideration of a lengthy passage of prose with, once more, multiple choice answers. It was about a film, believe it or not, on aborigines called Yolngu Boy.

The panorama concluded with an excerpt from a film review: "Yolngu Boy immerses the audience in the stunning panorama of Northern Australia and the richness of Aboriginal culture ... There is an overwhelming ‘sense-of-place', haunted by the intruding presence of white culture, that challenges our perception of Australia".

Students were next asked to ponder and appreciate a poem by Alanis Morissette titled "Utopia" and then answer multiple choice questions about it. One stanza went like this:

We would stay and respond and expand and
include and allow and forgive and
enjoy and evolve and discern and inquire and
accept and admit and divulge and
open and reach out and speak up.

The concluding stanza ran thus:

This is utopia this is my utopia
This is my ideal my end in sight
Utopia this is my utopia
This is my nirvana
My ultimate.

After having their thoughts elevated by the sublimity of this poetry, the students were brought back to reality by the next question where they were invited to appreciate the thoughts, aspirations and achievements of a female member of a rock band, "Killing Heidi." The singer, 17-year-old Ella Hooper, was interviewed by Dolly magazine.


Amongst other things Ella said, "I am really lucky because I was very empowered from the age of six. My parents are really good like that. They are totally accepting, broad-minded people and I've always been around all kinds of people, not just the ones who might be a bit more conservative in the way they feel, act or dress ... I don't think anyone should have to conform. Wear what you want, and more so be what you want to be."

The concluding question in this section of the paper revolved around a computer web site dealing with Gender, Social Justice, Multiculturalism and Aboriginality.

The exam was held on the morning of November 11. Students sat for their science exam in the afternoon. Linda Doherty, education writer for The Sydney Morning Herald, wrote about the exams in the next day's edition of the paper. The headline ran, "From angst to ovulation, exams test tuned-in teens." (The science paper had included a diagram of the female reproductive system and examined the path of an unfertilised egg.) Doherty interviewed an English teacher and Year 10 adviser at a Sydney High School who was quoted as saying, that he found "the up-to-date nature of the exam refreshing and challenging for students."

Others might disagree with that assessment and conclude that much of education in contemporary Australia is blatant brainwashing with no attempt to even disguise the fact. The History exam the following day, for example, was supportive of the Vietnam moratoriums and the feminist agenda of the Women's Electoral Lobby.

One wonders whether the Government should abandon its role in education completely, as it has already seen fit to do in so many other areas of national life. When a government is subsidising a system that endeavours to brainwash children in values and political opinions contrary to the wishes of many parents, we are witnessing a not-so-subtle form of tyranny.

At no small cost to themselves, more and more parents are deciding to abandon government-sponsored education.

The reluctance of education bureaucrats and others to adopt a voucher system in education, as advocated recently by Malcolm Turnbull, is understandable in view of the ever-increasing percentage of parents opting for private education. A voucher system would really facilitate choice in education.

Even in the private schools students can be ‘got at' via text books and exams made compulsory by education bureaucrats with their political, social and cultural agenda, though teachers at such schools are probably more liable to warn students of the dangers and provide alternatives.

It is little wonder that, in America in the millions and in Australia in the thousands, students are being taken out of school and taught by their parents. Bob Santamaria's epithet, "charitably", would probably not be needed when such endeavours receive the title "education".

  • Bob Denahy

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