EDUCATION: by John KellyNews Weekly
Reclaiming the school syllabus
, August 2, 2008
There is no more crucial front in the "culture wars" than education, argues South Australian secondary school teacher John Kelly.The Gramscian "long march" through Western society's institutions has all but converted formal learning - especially in the humanities faculties of academia and, within them, the English and History departments - into a process of leftist indoctrination.
However, it is now meeting with a growing body of criticism by educators such as Roger Scruton, Roger Kimball and Kevin Donnelly, as well as church leaders such as Cardinal George Pell and Pope Benedict XVI.
These critics, and many others, reject the subordination of knowledge to ideological ends, affirming instead the pursuit of beauty, goodness and truth as the real goals of learning; and that this process itself is of inherent worth, and indispensable to society's progress.
The stakes in this battle are high, with curriculum control and content at a premium.Unremitting secularism
At issue is nothing less than the formation of the hearts and minds of our young, and their entitlement to access, through formal education, Western society's cultural and religious basis: the Graeco-Roman and Judaeo-Christian tradition, which former Chief Justice Lionel Murphy determined to eliminate as the basis of our legal system in favour of a secularism that today is unrelenting.
For all the suppression of legitimate criticism, denial and cultural vandalism perpetrated on generations of students since this "long march" began in the 1960s, there are, nonetheless, real signs of hope, if not yet cause for rejoicing.
With gathering momentum, the intellectual tide is turning against neo-Marxist ideology in its various forms of "class, gender and ethnicity". Along with this is a growing public awareness of the "great disruption" which, largely through the instrumentality of postmodernism, has assaulted the very foundations of the West's literary achievement.
Rising, too, is a renewed and deepened appreciation of the animating nexus of art, philosophy and religious faith, that, as Kenneth Clarke recognised, is indispensable to the confidence needed for civilisation to advance at all.
The issue before us now is how to ensure that the literary works, values and best practices of traditional learning can remain accessible for students.
Part of the answer to this question lies in a collaborative effort by students, parents and teachers to insist on and produce a distinct alternative to the systemic mediocrity, camouflaged under selectively favourable reports, and, over years, stealthy gradualism in implementing "political correctness", now embedded in much curriculum - especially in the pivotal subject of English.
While the term "education revolution", as used by the Rudd Government, might, for some, signal a belated admission of the critical condition of Australia's schooling in most states, it will take more than rhetoric and symbolic gestures to meet the real needs of our schooling's primary stake-holders: children, parents and teachers understandably concerned about defective content, "constructivist" methodology and "outcomes-based" assessment.
Moreover, with the steering committees and taskforces for the coming National Curriculum controlled by theorists and educrats who have devised and overseen the leftist ideologising of schooling and the diminished standards it has produced under the catch-cry of "equitable outcomes", we can expect only more of the same.
If the Australian Council of Educational Research's evaluation of Year 12 curriculum is any indication, the National Curriculum to be implemented by 2011 will merely serve to perpetuate the status quo
. Advocates of traditional education will continue to be marginalised, with the effective autonomy even of private schools being further eroded.
What, then, can be done?
The study of English is necessary and affects every student, and has been the focus of most public debate in recent times. There are teachers who regard their role as more than "facilitators" and who see the Western canon of literature as more illuminating, profound and conducive to producing growth than flooding lesson-time with faddish technologies and dumbed-down reading and viewing material.Alternative syllabus
These teachers could, in consultation with parents, themselves compile and offer an enriching and appropriately challenging syllabus.
This syllabus would be one that encourages youthful imaginations and minds to inquire and venture beyond prescribed texts that dominate the debased syllabi to which they are currently exposed and likely still to be bound under the National Curriculum.
The works on this syllabus would exhibit aesthetic merit, moral seriousness and developmental appropriateness at each level of primary and secondary schooling.
Its content would omit the myopic criteria of "contemporary relevance" and narrow "interpretation" under the strictures of "class, gender and ethnicity" only - a reduction largely responsible for many able students' boredom and disenchantment with English.
It would also halt, by its emphasis on the central role of literature, that "massive retreat from the word", which George Steiner saw as in danger of being superseded by "image and number", with a resultant depletion not only of writing skills but also of the depth necessary for spiritual and cultural resilience.
The works included would also address themes of universal significance in human experience, a reality anathema to postmodernists.Rewarding exercise
The compiling of this syllabus, would, in itself, be a stimulating and rewarding exercise for teachers and parents. Its value for students, who could be involved in the process, should be obvious.
It would, too, relieve the burden on taxpayers of their hard-earned money being directed to a costly overhaul of teacher training and a dubious industry of "professional development", too often now the employment agency of unsuccessful classroom practitioners.
It could, as well, provide an antidote, if necessary, to any dumbed-down and politically correct prescriptions of a National Curriculum that fails to respect the rights and responsibilities of parents as the first educators of their children.
And, of course, it could go a long way to contesting "provider capture", meeting the real schooling needs of those whom authentic education should serve: children and parents.- Readers interested in developing and contributing to this project are invited to contact News Weekly.