March 26th 2005

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: EDITORIAL: Indonesian President in Australia

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Behind the skills shortage in the not-so-clever country

FOREIGN TRADE: The perils of bilateral trade agreements

SCHOOLS: Teacher unions enforcing the gender agenda

SPECIAL FEATURE: Murder and insurrection: Lance Sharkey in Singapore

BIOETHICS: UN backs ban on human cloning

OPINION: Cutting the abortion rate - the political options

THINKERS: Philosopher of greed: Ayn Rand

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Dicing with our future / China rampant / Double standards?

INTERNATIONAL LAW: Behind the Timor Sea Treaty dispute

HONG KONG: China's man in Hong Kong quits

ASIA: Australia has role in great power contest

PAKISTAN: What role should Islam play in Pakistan?

Unemployment only five per cent? (letter)

How can we save our schools? (letter)

Urban riots a 'wake-up call' (letter)

BOOKS: FEWER: How the new demography of depopulation will shape our future

BOOKS: NELSON'S PURSE, by Martyn Downer

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Teacher unions enforcing the gender agenda

by Dr Kevin Donnelly

News Weekly, March 26, 2005
As reported in Melbourne's Herald Sun recently, last year a trainee teacher, after telling the class of her lesbian relationship, had her teaching round cancelled. Apparently, the principal felt that her behaviour was wrong and that her actions brought the school into conflict with its parent community.

Victimising or abusing people because of their sexual preferences should not be allowed. As such, within the workplace, there is no room for mistreating individuals or penalising them because of what they might do in their private lives.

At the same time, within the classroom, it is also wrong to introduce students to sensitive sexual matters about which most parents might be concerned and that the wider community might find unacceptable.

Welcome to the gender wars! Since the mid- to late '70s, much of the education debate has centred on the supposed disadvantage suffered by migrants, working-class kids and women. More recently, gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people have become the new victim group.

Teacher union

The Australian Education Union is a strong advocate of the gender agenda. The union not only argues that GLBT people have a right to teach sex education and that any treatment of sexual matters should be "positive in its approach", but also that school curricula should "enhance understanding and acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people".

Forgotten is that many parents would consider the sexual practices of GLBT people unnatural and that most parents would prefer their children to form a relationship with somebody of the opposite sex. This is apart from the fact that many parents expect that it is their duty, not that of teachers and schools, to teach such sensitive matters.

Those advocating normalising GLBT behaviour also conveniently forget that, according to some estimates, only 1.6 per cent of Australian men identify themselves as gay and 0.8 per cent of women, when asked, describe themselves as lesbian. Notwithstanding all the rhetoric, heterosexuality is still the norm.

In addition to the teacher union, various state and national English teachers associations are also active in wanting to use the classroom to promote the rights of GLBT people and to undermine what is termed heterosexuality.

The encyclopaedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender and queer culture defines heterosexuality as " ... the assumption that women and men are innately attracted to each other emotionally and sexually and that heterosexuality is normal and universal".

Advocates of the gender agenda argue that sexuality, instead of being biologically determined, is a social construct. As such, there is nothing inherently superior or preferable about being heterosexual, and students can be taught that sexuality is simply a matter of choice.

Groups like the Australian Association for the Teaching of English (AATE) also argue that Australian society is essentially undemocratic in that there is an ingrained prejudice against GLBT people and an unfair and misguided preference for being heterosexual.

While most parents expect the job of English teachers is to teach reading, writing and how to value good literature, the AATE argues that teachers should become new-age, cultural warriors in the front-line of the battle to normalise what many consider aberrant behaviour.

In the words of one AATE journal article, teachers must teach students to recognise "the various ways in which gender categories are tied to an oppressive binary structure for organising the social and cultural practices of adolescent boys and girls".

The result? Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is attacked for unfairly privileging heterosexuality and traditional fairy tales like Cinderella criticised for presenting a stereotyped view of gender.

Associate Professor Ray Misson, the head of the Department of Language Literacy and Arts Education at the University of Melbourne, also argues that traditional approaches to English teaching unfairly discriminate against GLBT people and that teachers should explore ways of ensuring that "heterosexism might be countered in the English classroom".

In a workshop given at a conference some years ago, Misson also argued that homosexuality should be normalised. He said: "Nothing is going to change until homosexuality becomes more visible, until it is accepted as an everyday fact of existence, indeed as something contributing to the richness and well-being of a diverse society".

Australian society is remarkably diverse and tolerant of difference. As such, what individuals do in their private lives is their business and nobody should be abused or discriminated against because of their sexuality.

At the same time, it is wrong for teacher unions like the AEU and subject associations like the AATE to try to enforce their gender agenda on classrooms.

  • Dr Kevin Donnelly, director of Education Strategies and author of Why Our Schools are Failing (2004), is former chief of staff to federal minister Kevin Andrews

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