SCHOOLS: by Kevin DonnellyNews Weekly
Education or political indoctrination?
, February 17, 2007
The triumph of political correctness and the collapse of educational standards in schools can be traced back to radical-leftist ideologies spawned in the 1960s and '70s, writes Dr Kevin Donnelly, author of the newly-released book Dumbing Down (available from News Weekly Books).The 1960s and '70s were not only the time of the May '68 Paris riots, Woodstock, Vietnam moratoriums, counter-culture films like If and Easy Rider and books like The Female Eunuch and Mao's Little Red Book; it was also the time when the political Left decided that the long march through the institutions was the best way to win the class war.
As argued by Michael Gove, in Celsius 7/7
, given the success of Western-style capitalism and the oppressive nature of Communism (represented by the USSR's invasion of Hungary and the destruction of the Prague Spring), this was a time when Marxism was revived "as primarily a cultural rather than an economic movement".
Taking from the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, and European intellectuals like Louis Althusser, the argument was that the education system is an essential part of the ideological state apparatus employed by the capitalist class to exploit so-called victim groups.
One-time Victorian Premier and Minister for Education, Joan Kirner, argued in a speech to the Victorian Fabian Society that the work of schools had to be redefined as "part of the socialist struggle for equality, participation and social change, rather than an instrument of the capitalist system".
Bill Hannan, a Marxist educationalist and largely responsible for the Keating Government's national curriculum statements and profiles, argued that competitive year 12 examinations were unjust. He declared: "We don't have to wait for society to change before education can change. Education is part of society. By changing it, we help to change society."
In teacher training-courses around Australia, the more academic approach to curriculum was condemned as elitist and bourgeois. The works of overseas radicals like Paulo Freire, Michael Apple, Herbert Gintis and Samuel Bowles were widely circulated and, in Making the Difference
— a popular Australian textbook — the argument was put:
"In the most basic sense, the process of education and the process of liberation are the same …. At the beginning of the 1980s it is plain that the forces opposed to that growth, here and on a world scale, are not only powerful but have become increasingly militant. In such circumstances education becomes a risky enterprise. Teachers too have to decide whose side they are on."
The Australian Education Union and professional associations like the Australian Curriculum Studies Association, the Australian Association for the Teaching of English and the Australian Council of Deans of Education have also been strong advocates of a "cultural-left" agenda.
The AEU's curriculum policy, developed during the '80s and '90s, argues that Australian society is riven with injustice and inequality and that the traditional 3 R's — reading, writing and arithmetic — must be re-badged as reconciliation, refugees and the republic.
In her 2005 speech to the AEU national conference, the union president, Ms Pat Byrne, bemoaned the success of a conservative cultural agenda, evidenced by the re-election of the Bush, Blair and Howard governments. She argued: "This is not a good time to be a progressive in Australia; or for that matter anywhere else in the world."
Both the Australian Curriculum Studies Association and the Australian Council of Deans of Education — in publications like Going Public: Education policy and public education in Australia
and New Learning: A Charter for Australian Education
— also argue that education, instead of providing a ladder of opportunity, reinforces inequality and social injustice, and that teachers must work to overthrow the status quo.
So concerned is ACSA about the Howard Government's education agenda that Going Public
, when released in 1998, was described as "unashamedly partisan" and a "call to arms". Although Commonwealth initiatives like national literacy and numeracy tests and supporting parents in their right to choose non-government schools are worthwhile, ACSA believes otherwise.Destructive period
The final chapter of the ACSA book argues that the years of Coalition Government represent a destructive period:
"Derisive comments about the 'black arm-band' view of history and the 'politically correct' thought police have provided a cover for a wave of reactionary policy development which has fanned deep-seated prejudices, hatreds and fears that obviously lurk beneath the cosmopolitan veneer of Australian society.
"Phillip Adams has aptly called it 'The Retreat from Tolerance'. Such attitudes touch every aspect of Australian society, infecting its key institutions and the values that sustain them. Public education has not escaped."
In News Weekly
, over the last 12 months, a good deal of evidence has been presented demonstrating the stranglehold the "cultural-left" now has over the curriculum. Such is the influence of new-age culture-warriors that AEU president Ms Pat Byrne is happy to assert:
"We have succeeded in influencing curriculum development in schools, education departments and universities. The conservatives have a lot of work to do to undo the progressive curriculum."
Whether black-armband history, in which students are taught to feel guilty about the sins of the past; critical literacy, where students are made to deconstruct classic literature in terms of power relationships; or the fact that knowledge is defined as a "socio-cultural construct", the reality is that much of what should be valued in education has been lost.
As a result, education is now confused with indoctrination, on the basis that learning cannot be disinterested or objective as everything is ideological, and thousands of students leave school culturally impoverished and morally adrift.— Kevin Donnelly.