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Posts Tagged ‘ideology

The Battle for Their Minds: Ideology and the Future of Education in Australia

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This is an article that didn’t make it into the last issue of Quasimodo for 2006 due to technical issues. I didn’t want to waste it so I thought I’d use it as a filler.

Some time before he drank that fateful glass of hemlock, Socrates pointed out that “the unexamined life is not worth living”. Here at Notre Dame, our Core Units give all of us an opportunity to examine aspects of life in Philosophy and Ethics, and to learn about ideas. Our Core Units and other humanities courses are opportunities for us to think.

Very recently, the Honourable Julie Bishop, Federal Minister for Education and Training, gave an address to the History Teachers’ Association of Australia conference at our lovely Fremantle campus. In her speech, she outlined the Howard/Bishop regime’s manifesto for changing the way history—stories of life, of our societies and of our world—is taught and, ultimately, examined in our schools.

Apparently, the need for this change is driven by concerns, as outlined in quite emotive language, of the dangerous “social engineers” in the education departments of the Labor-controlled states: “Ideologues who have hijacked school curriculum and are experimenting with the education of our young people”. It just makes you quiver in fear, doesn’t it?

As Aristotle observed, “All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth.” Ms Bishop’s policy developers appear to have come to just that conclusion.

The (Big L) Liberal plan outlined by Ms Bishop is to implement a single national curriculum to be co-ordinated by a National Board of Studies which will not be under the influence of the nasty (little l) liberal intellectual ideologues. No longer will there need to be a fear of social engineering, because, as we all know, the Liberals aren’t at all into stacking boards with their own ideologues. Appointees to the ABC, the Australian Communications and Media Authority and the nuclear-energy inquiry task-force over the last decade have all been completely, 100%, certifiably, absa-diddley-doodily ideologically neutral… or maybe not.

Paul Keating claims Howard’s regime is on its own mission for ideological domination. “Whatever John Howard believed I stood for philosophically,” said Keating, “I was never tempted nor had the temerity to subjugate professional opinion by formalising adherence to any set of rules or philosophy in government-owned media institutions … Yet the only apologia for this brazen interference by the Howard Government is the new whispered word balance, which decoded means … let’s hear more from us” (emphasis added).

The example of the new content requirements for the ABC can be seen mirrored in education policy.

The National Board of Ideology Free Studies would essentially deal with the influx of “fads” in school curricula which Prime Minister Howard has previously identified as “black armband history” that tends to apologise for facts about the past (generally in order to learn lessons for the future) which amounts to “little more that a litany of sexism, racism and class warfare.” Howard prefers the “‘traditionalist’ view of a good education… in opposition to the more fashionable, progressive views that have held sway in schools and universities.”

Oh! Shock, horror! Heaven forbid! Intellectual progress!!! Asking questions, understanding about life, our societies, the world. Now that’s bad education policy for you.

According to the Howard/Bishop regime, kids need to be learning about facts, dates and figures. Hrmm, yes, that’s a great way to get kids excited about history, since it was soooo interesting already. But actually, there’s absolutely no need to entice the kids to these classes: Julie Bishop’s history would be compulsory. Because “students need to be equipped with the fundamentals, essential and enduring skills and learning that will help make them informed and productive citizens” (emphasis added).

There have been worries that the primary function of social and political institutions such as law and education is merely the promotion of economic efficiency. And there you have it folks: students need to be educated in order to become productive citizens. Drones who know how to construct proper sentences as they work in their desk-mule jobs for corporate firms all around the country.

Ms Bishop sees the status quo as being affected by “too much political bias”. What she seems to be forgetting is that history is inherently biased: it automatically arrives from the view point of whoever wrote it down and that fact cannot be escaped. In her speech, Ms Bishop highlighted key things children should get out of their history lessons:

Every schoolchild should know, for example, when and why the then Lieutenant James Cook sailed along the east coast of Australia. Every child should know why the British transported convicts to Australia and who Australia’s first prime minister was. They should also know how and why Federation came about, and why we were involved in the two world wars.

But if we ask ourselves these questions, ideological answers cannot be avoided. Cook sailed to Australia on orders from the British Government to find more land in order to expand their empire. Convicts were transported to Australia to deal with the ever-increasing prison population in Britain and some were petty criminals who only stole out of desperation in times of economic hardship and class subjugation. Australia’s first PM was Edmund Barton, who believed that “the doctrine of the equality of man was never intended to apply to the equality of the Englishman and the Chinaman.” Federation came about in order to ensure the economic security of Australia and the first non-administrative act of the new Commonwealth Parliament was the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 (Cth); the foundations of the White Australia Policy. We were involved in the World Wars following the lead of the British motherland seeking security in Europe.

Asking questions is actually quite subversive. She probably should’ve left the ‘why’ bits out if she didn’t want ideology taught in history lessons, and just stuck to proclaiming the importance of learning facts and dates about dead, white males.

Examining history and literary texts through ideological analysis and debating ‘themes and issues’ is a means to examine life. Because, really, what is the point if we just walk though life without giving it any thought? It is only through asking questions, seeking knowledge and making our own conclusions that we as a society can progress and improve. But as Cicero succintly lamented, “the authority of those who teach is often an obstacle to those who want to learn.”

Written by Sunili

13 November 2006 at 5:01 pm

Encouraging Conversation

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We don’t need no education

We don’t need no thought control

No dark sarcasm in the classroom

Teachers, leave those kids alone

Looks like Gregory Melleuish’s been listening to too much Pink Floyd… His latest column about liberal education raises some very valid points about the stagnation of intellectual debate.

To collapse many conversations into one is to reduce the vitality of the intellectual life of a society or culture. For ideas to develop and grow, individuals holding those ideas must be in touch with those who hold different positions so that they do not grow complacent and arrogant in their own rightness.

Apparently this stagnation occurs because there are too many whacko-lefties in universities. But surely if Tories weren’t too busy making money, there might be a more “fair and balanced” intellectual status quo in universities? So how about properly funding universities and paying people properly for their intellectual contribution to society, instead of forcing brilliant minds to the stupor of the corporate world? (Argh, my tongue appears to be stuck to my cheek… must be the weather.)

Greg observes that the problem of “academic conformity”

prevents any form of vigorous conversation occurring within the universities. Instead, it is left to journalists and mavericks such as Keith Windschuttle to engage the academics from outside the universities. The result is not a conversation but a shouting match that is more like a gladiatorial spectacle than a debate.

I totally agree. Pseudo-academic insurgency merely prevents proper discussion, analysis and solutions. We shouldn’t encourage intellectual blowback. Furthermore, the purpose of education is to encourage people to learn and make choices based on their analysis of all the information available. The presentation of only one perspective is “thought control”.

Greg’s solution to this odious scourge

is to create the conditions under which other institutions, including private universities, think tanks and institutes, are able to flourish.

But isn’t that just building a Colosseum in which intellectual gladiators may fight, rather than encouraging a civil approach to intellectual debate? Governments should provide “a more favourable environment” for intellectual conversation by supporting universities properly.

Providing tax breaks for think-tanks isn’t going to solve anything.

Update: A reply to the comment left by my Good Friend Anonymous because I have a cheap-arse comments system (can anyone help me out with that, not looking at anyone in particular?) which won’t accept over 1000 characters…

First of all, I reckon you should put your name to your opinions. You don’t have to leave contact details, but it really looks bad when you have to hide in Anonyland.

In any event, this is an issue of education policy. What I’m saying is that you can’t run around crying that universities aren’t up to scratch (which is what Greg was doing) when you support less funding for them (which is what, let’s face it, Greg does). What we need are universities which are able to hire enough staff from diverse backgrounds and keep them there so these institutions are able to provide students with the opportunity to understand all facets of the debate.

The problem at hand is that universities are unable to have enough staff to teach classes let alone provide differing viewpoints, further exacerbated by the fact they just can’t attract the right people by paying them properly (although another issue is whether Right people want to be involved in the first place; they seem to happy sitting on the side lines having a whinge).

The think-tanks Greg wants tax breaks for are not “true think-thanks”. They are intellectual lobby-groups. They do not ‘thoroughly [discuss] all options’; they present very partisan opinions in the hope of influencing decision makers. They are not an arena for encouraging “vigorous conversation”, they are participants in the inevitable “shouting match” which results from the fractionalisation of the intelligentsia.

If it needs to be made clearer for you, Anon, what I’m saying is that Greg can’t bemoan the lack of intellectual conversation in universities then argue the best way to solve this problem is to encourage external shouting.

My solution, to repeat myself in case it was *misread* the first time, is to encourage conversation within universities so THEY really can be “true think-tanks”, and this should be done through providing proper funding and support for what they were established to do, cf pumping up partisan gladiators with ridiculous tax-breaks. Of course, if we’re supposed to be so obsessed with tax breaks, yes, give them to the universities, but not hacks from think-tanks.

Written by Sunili

20 December 2004 at 9:44 am

Posted in education

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Fighting God-policy

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After yesterday’s debate on The Balance of Creation over at Rob Corr’s, I was interested to find this post in my Nation LiveBookmarks folder this morning. Katrina vanden Heuvel outlines the systematic infiltration of Creationism into US education policy and the “rightwing assault on the Enlightenment [which] extends well beyond putting creationism on equal footing with evolutionary science”.

The article ends with a warning to those of us who find this trend disturbing…

People of reason must be savvy, and just as tough as the intolerant Right, in defending scientific discovery and the ideal of human progress from the retrogressive forces now rallying behind this White House. With a messianic militarist in the Oval Office, social conservatives are seizing the initiative and assailing the Enlightenment. Time is not on our side.


Written by Sunili

19 November 2004 at 1:27 pm

Posted in blogging

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