May 18th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Green energy policies freeze out the poor

EDITORIAL Religious freedom will be suffocated if ALP elected

FEDERAL ELECTION Majors fling barrels of pork in the way of disillusioned voters

CANBERRA OBSERVED If independents rule in House, stability is a goner

SOCIETY 'Ladies Wanted' flyers lure women into porn

CULTURE AND SOCIETY The last of his tribe

ECONOMICS Trading in the toxic legacy of neoliberalism

TECHNOLOGY The wheels come off Tesla's electric dream

HISTORY OF SCIENCE Faith and reason and Father Stanley Jaki Part 1

STATE POLITICS Notes from the hustings

A TRIBUTE TO LES MURRAY A man of the Word: the poet and the Logos

MUSIC Workhorse themes: Sonic sub-rhythms

CINEMA Avengers: Endgame: Marvellous final chapter

BOOK REVIEW The left has our schools in bondage

BOOK REVIEW Philosopher hits all the right notes

OBITUARY Bob Hawke: astute politician; flawed policies


EDITORIAL How Scott Morrison routed Labor, the Greens, GetUp and the left media

Books promotion page

The left has our schools in bondage

News Weekly, May 18, 2019


by Kevin Donnelly

Wilkinson Publishing, Melbourne
Paperback: 240 pages
Price: AUD$29.99

Reviewed by Christopher Murray

Readers who follow the national conversation about education will be very familiar with Kevin Donnelly. He has published several books, writes often for daily newspapers, appears on television and was appointed as one of two reviewers of the Australian Curriculum under the Abbott government.

His voice is authoritative. He knows education inside and out and has followed the trends pushed by progressives on generations of students in Australia.

This particular book is a compilation of previously published articles and opinion pieces, so many of the ideas and stories will already be well known to interested parties. However, this does not lead to the work being dull or repetitive. Rather, it is helpful to have in one volume a narrative that tells of an overall trend in education. That story is about how the left has taken over the establishment and is using it to influence the hearts and minds of future generations.

We are reminded in the second part of Donnelly’s title what is at stake: the futures of Australian children. Education is something all people are invested in, whether they have children or not, because those who will govern us in the future are being educated now, for better or for worse.

Early in the work, Donnelly relates a story from 2004, when the Howard government was returned for another term at the federal election. The editor of a national English teacher’s journal lamented this occurrence, arguing that English teachers had failed to teach their charges how to think. Doesn’t this sum up the problem with education rather neatly? An English teacher views his work in the classroom as political, and believes that he and other teachers have the duty and right to dictate to students what correct thinking is and how to apply it at the ballot box.

Most parents believe that English as a subject should cover the rules of grammar, teach children how to write and express their ideas properly and persuasively, and how to read and understand a variety of texts. Others may rightly expect more: namely, that students receive from their teachers the accumulated wisdom of the Western Canon of Literature, are introduced to the best writers of the past and present, and learn how to evaluate literature against certain criteria. Yet the editor of a national journal for English teachers saw the English classroom in a different way: as a means to control the thoughts and opinions of students and mould them in the political image of the left.

Here, in this story, Donnelly’s main thrust is neatly encapsulated: political correctness is destroying education by perverting its ends and jeopardising the futures of Australian children in the process.

In this work, Donnelly does not just complain. It is not simply a chronicle of the multitude of bad ideas and programs that the cultural left has implemented since the 1960s. Rather, he offers solutions that pass the common-sense test.

For example, he argues that parents must do more. Teaching children to res­pect adults, including teachers, ought to begin long before formal schooling, and the responsibility for teaching this lesson rightly belongs to mothers and fathers.

Similarly, a teacher’s time ought not to be taken up with teaching “everything from bike education to stranger danger, water safety, obesity, healthy food, cyber bullying, resilience and how to sit still and concentrate”. These, of course, are not lessons that parents should leave to teachers, but teach themselves. Parents must raise their children, not expect schools to do so.

Another common-sense solution that Donnelly often repeats is the need for experienced teachers to mentor those at the beginning of their careers. Australian schools have a terrible attrition rate, with 30 to 40 per cent of new teachers leaving the profession in the first four years.

Rather than expect a new teacher with no practical experience in the classroom to be an expert, older teachers should mentor and guide them, allowing them to observe lessons, giving them constructive feedback and helping them better perform the craft of teaching.

This work comes at an important time. Australia is slipping down the rankings in several international reports. Literacy results show that Australia has dropped from fourth to 16th in the world, mathematics from seventh to 25th and UNICEF ranked Australia 39 out of 41 high-middle-income countries delivering quality education programs.

These appalling figures come despite increased funding to schools. The investment of billions of dollars is not paying off. The left’s solution? Further increase funding. Pay teachers more. Use more technology.

Jargon abounds in the sphere of modern education: “21st-century education”, “research-based practice”, “best practice pedagogy”, “flexible seating”, “open learning spaces”, “every day matters” etcetera ad nauseam. It’s sickening, because it’s empty. It is just fluff that schools say to look and sound good, while the standards continue to drop.

Some may think it a wonderful thing for little Johnny to be illiterate so long as he can choose between a comfortable bean bag and a bar stool and has his tablet computer for company, but Donnelly and others possessing common sense disagree. Let’s get past the words and actually implement best practice pedagogy and research-based practices, like genuine phonics instruction and the tools to write well.

Let’s make every day matter by giving children an education that matters every day, rather than getting them to turn up as though it matters, and then using the time to instill political correctness and persist with practices that obviously are failing.

This book is an important contribution to the national debate on education. Parents would benefit from reading it as it outlines programs and ideas to be at least wary of, if not altogether avoid. Teachers will benefit from perusing the pages as it offers solace: some common sense amidst the cacophony of insane voices advocating the whole language approach to reading, the so-called “Safe Schools” anti-bullying program, a mediocracy instead of a meritocracy, and the abolition of standards.

Teachers who are of a conservative bent especially will find refuge in these pages and in knowing that they are not alone in their profession, which is overrun with progressives.

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