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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

education mantras « Previous | |Next »
May 15, 2007

John Howard in his speech to the Centre of Independent Studies made an interesting comment when countering Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd's call for an "education revolution in the second of his 'Australia Rising' speeches . Howard condemned Labor for an excessively economically based approach. Labor's mantra pressed education "into an almost soulless and narrow form of national economic service. Invariably, this ends up producing not just bad education policy but even worse economic policy."

Huh? That sounds like a Hayekian attack on the grand plan, state coercion and crushing uniformity doesn't it? Julie Bishop on Lateline did decode 'souless and national economic service' in terms of numbers. The ALP only thinks in terms of numbers (eg., increasing school retention rates so that Year 12 retention rates are 90 per cent by 2020) whereas the Coalition thinks in terms of the individual and values such as quality, choice and opportunity.

So what does quality mean? It pretty much means a back-to-basics education traditionalism: basic academic standards, competitive examinations, teacher-directed lessons based on traditional disciplines, clear and readable curriculum material and strong but fair policies on school discipline. Anything progressive--eg., 'no exams--is seen as soulless national economic service. Its not very convincing argument, given the decade of neglect of public schooling by the Coalition in favour of private schooling and its neo-liberal mode of governance.

Educational conservatives hold that English lessons should teach grammar, history is History, not Society and the Environment or Time, Continuity and Change, that geography is Geography, not Place and Space. They are not in favour of diversity of courses or educational approaches.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:24 AM | | Comments (6)


The industrial definition of quality means 'minimum of variation'.

Education "reforms" operate in concert with other policies, including sexual regimentation, racial "othering" (a scapegoat!), the dumbing down of media, IR and sedition laws. Some provide a fait accompli for the concerted attempt to strangle critical thinking and individual self esteem through critical analysis of neoliberal ideology and truth claims. Implemented through apparatus like the AUSFTA comes the hidden payoff for big capital that remains undetected by the peasantry. Dumbing-down damages the ability of the mind to solve problems and assess situations, given the right training and acquisition of an unmediated body of knowledge.
Thus, we are indeed headed down the "Road to Serfdom", but this via the unforseen road of and to fascist feudalism.
I remember reading a book called "Scarlet and the Black", a nineteenth century classic by the French writer Stendahl.
It examined conditions in reactionary monarchist France post- Napoleon; a society dominated by the conspiracy of two symbiotic entities; ultra conservative ideological Catholicism and reactionary statist feudalism, to impose absolute surveillance and correction on all citizens "from the inside out".
Am struck by the similarities with our time. The modern alliance of Opus Dei Catholicism with neo liberal opportunism in our society is now leading to legislation that "empowers" local communities ( like the sinister "congregations" of vigilantes in stendahl's novel) to root out free-thinking teachers. This happens of course in the US, concerning creationism.A parallel move now seeks the removal of arts/humanities subjects from certain "pilot" universities in favour of exclusively "vocational" training ( why not leave this to the TAFES, or post grad educators?).
Now, in "Scarlet and the Black", the objective of an arguably similar program was to eradicate all tendencies toward "self-questioning" ( eg independent consciousness/identity); an undesirable tait for rulers by Divine Right which was a consequence of undesirble Enlightenment questioning from the time of Galileo, Spinoza and Newton, for example. This had brought into question an Aristotelian/ Augustinian medieval world-view, which legitimised as "natural an imposed feudal order only of benefit to a few.
So, a strangely parallel situation exists in our time,it may seem.
Questioning of things like "freedom", "reform" and "efficiency"(for who??) through mechanisms AUSFTA and IR repression, for example, is to be seen as "heresy".
The world, according to people like Huntingdon, Fukuyama and the like has already acheived an almost-Aristotelian sort of denouement, and further examination of a palpably "natural" order is pointless and in fact to be discouraged. Hence attempts to see third world suffering as "normal" and Global Warming as nonsense. But actually, vested interests want questioning and the ability to question to be wound back, because too many people have developed an insight the proposes that the world order is any thing but natural and efficient and that no better way exists to structure human affairs, except through unthinking acceptance of a convenient obscured authoritarianism.

I'm a left progressive but if the current high school state education system, particularly for English, is 'progressive' I'll gladly take conservative. It is an absolute joke of political correctness, pseudo-theory and cultural relativism.

Although I was one of the last on the 'traditional system', my younger sister has had to deal with the garbage of the new English syllabus. I constantly hear horror stories of students hating English and simply withdrawing in utter frustration. I myself, a first class English honours graduate, have had a look at the subjects marked under such profound themes as 'Change' and 'Journeys' and was shocked at the garbage being taught now.

And famous literature critics such as Harold Bloom and Terry Eagleton also agree on how badly English is taught now. PC relativism has made leftist thought bland, pretentious and sterile on the university front and its horrific that this crap has worked its way down to a high school level. I'm anti-Howard, but he's right on this issue.

Interesting. What Howard and Bishop are proposing is more than having national consistency. There can be little variation within the national standards.So state diversity within national standards is not to be tolerated.

I think that Jack Waterford in this op-ed in the Canberra Times is fair on the policy issues:

What the Prime Minister wants, and the way that he says it, is focused-tested, but is sincere enough. He wants more discipline in schools, less bullying, more pastoral care and, in principle at least, more sport. More focus on core subjects, especially in history, geography, science and maths. He wants traditional grammar taught again. He wants schools to foster some sort of civic values and citizenship, not least American-style overt patriotism towards symbols of nationality. He wants objective tests of performance, signs that students are progressing, not least in the fundamentals of literacy and numeracy. On curriculum fundamentals, he wants centrism, seeing little point in state-based differences, but in other vital respects he wants choice, and not only between public and private schools.

However, Waterford argues that John Howard's activism on testing, flags or school discipline allows him to dodge the important issues about science education:
Science education is in a mess. Fewer students are doing it and, though the nation needs more scientists, fewer have any interest in science as a career. They find the curriculum boring.Increasingly, as students have become less interested, so have teachers. Schools are increasingly unable to replace qualified science or maths teachers, and the subject is more and more being taught by teachers for whom it is an extra, unwelcome, string to their bow. It's hardly a crisis of science alone. It's a crisis of maths, too. And (if in a fundamentally different way) of history, of geography (at least as it was once taught), of foreign languages, of the old classics, and even of what is left of English literature after the semioticians and post-modernists.

Waterford's argument is too broad and sweeping.

Natural science needs to be seperated out from the social sciences and the humanites. There are different issues at play here, as the crisis in the humanities is more than the effects of postmodernism. Waterford is playing a red rag on the humanities as it is neo-liberalism and universities being run as businesses which is causing the decline in the humanities.

I concur that one of the effects of back to basic education is a turning away from an education in critical thinking. I guess that mode of questioning (which philosophy defends) is seen as "anarchy in the modern classroom" , rather than an education for citzenship as opposed to a vocational education for a job. You can put critical thinking into vocation education (questioning old ways of thinking about the job for instance) but that is not what Bishop and Howard are wanting to do.

Jack Waterford this op-ed in the Canberra Times states Howard's strategy well:

Howard can reflect traditional or conservative values, but also irritate teacher unions, and (what Howard regards as their instrument) the Labor Party. He has been very successful in selling a message that what teachers want will not necessarily make schools better, improve outcomes, or adapt education to changing needs and times. He is careful not to attack teachers, but will hardly ever hesitate to attack organised teacherdom and curriculums.

The teacher unions are to blame, and by inference, the ALP, which is run by union bosses.