SCHOOLS: by Kevin DonnellyNews Weekly
Asia white paper used as pretext to push radical agenda
, November 24, 2012
Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Asian Century white paper represents an unjustified, high-handed attempt to take control of the nation’s classrooms in order to enforce a utilitarian, Asian-centric agenda on schools.
Under the guise of platitudes about confronting the Asian century, the need to be more economically productive and to lift living standards, the Prime Minister will pressure every child to study at least one Asian language. Every subject within the proposed national curriculum, be it music, art, literature or science, will also have to be taught through an Asian perspective.
Worse still, as stated in late October, and notwithstanding the fact that the Commonwealth government neither employs any staff nor manages any schools, the ALP government plans to tie implementation to funding (The Australian, October 29, 2012).
Every school across Australia, government and non-government, and every state government must dance to the piper’s tune or forfeit its right to funding. Ignored is the fact that, under the Australian Constitution, education is the responsibility of the states, not the Commonwealth.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Gillard wants to take control of the nations’ classrooms to enforce her utopian vision. Gillard’s mentor, Joan Kirner, the Victorian socialist-left member of the ALP and one-time state premier, also defined education as a key instrument to enforce her government’s agenda.
In a 1983 speech to the Fabian Society, Kirner argued that classrooms must be “part of the socialist struggle for equality, participation and social change, rather than an instrument of the capitalist system”.
The Labor government’s latest white paper represents a cultural cringe towards Asia that ill befits a proud and independent nation such as Australia. Slavishly calling on schools to promote Asia denies the nation’s past and the origins of our legal and political systems and the fact that we are members of the Anglosphere.
Ignored is the fact that Australia, while geographically a part of Asia, is a Western, liberal democracy and that our nation’s prosperity and safety rely on teaching future generations about our Judeo-Christian heritage and the debt we owe to Western civilisation.
The very things ignored and undervalued by the Gillard-inspired national curriculum are specifically Christianity (which the curriculum treats as simply one religion among many) and Australian history (which does not receive the comprehensive and detailed treatment it deserves).
Also ignored is the fact that countries such as China and Vietnam, far from being bastions of tolerance and freedom, are oppressive regimes where free speech is denied and self-serving oligarchies enforce their wishes on the population.
The surreal pantomime involving the Chinese government’s trial of the disgraced Politburo member Bo Xilai — a clear demonstration that, in the Byzantine world of the Chinese political and legal systems, human rights are at the mercy of party bosses — is reminiscent of the nightmarish world of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Prime Minister Gillard’s race to embrace the Asian century also belies her fetish for a utilitarian view of education — that is, one that defines the work of schools in terms of their contribution to economic growth and prosperity. Little wonder that Gillard, when education minister and deputy leader, described herself as the minister for productivity.
Such a narrow and superficial view restricts the purpose of education to what is immediately useful and what can be easily quantified — hence the empty and meaningless promise to have Australian students scoring among the top five Asian countries in maths and science by 2025.
Talk to teachers and school leaders and it’s clear that classrooms are already beset with bureaucratic red-tape, the cost of complying with Canberra’s dictates and the need to implement whatever is being enforced because of short-term political expediency.
There is an alternative. Education is too important to become a plaything of whoever is the government of the day. Centrally mandated and imposed programs such as the national curriculum, national testing and national teacher registration and certification should be voluntary.
Schools must have the autonomy and flexibility within general guidelines — what in Catholic social teaching is known as subsidiarity — to set their own direction as they are in the best position to reflect the needs and aspirations of their local communities.
Given the lack of teachers and the expense of hiring them, a crucial aspect of delivering the government’s Asia Century white paper is utilising the new technologies.
Overlooked, however, is the fact that education is essentially a human affair and that no amount of surfing the net or entering virtual classrooms can replace face-to-face contact. It is also vital to understand that while technology can provide information, it can never provide wisdom.
As argued by Pope Benedict XVI in a speech he delivered to teachers in the United Kingdom in 2011: “As you know, the task of a teacher is not simply to impart information or to provide training in skills intended to deliver some economic benefit to society; education is not and must never be considered as purely utilitarian. It is about forming the human person, equipping him or her to live life to the full — in short it is about imparting wisdom.”
Dr Kevin Donnelly is author of Educating Your Child: It’s Not Rocket Science! (available from News Weekly Books). The above article is from Online Opinion, at: www.onlineopinion.com.au