January 20, 2014
The rewrite of the national curriculum by the Abbott Coalition to bring it in line with the values of the conservative tradition was to be expected. The Coalition had explicitly promised as much, given Pyne's repeated characterization of it as leftist ideology, dumbed-down content and falling standards; and their rejection of critical literacy, whole-language and a child-centred model of pedagogy.
Conservatives in the Coalition ---- which has become the institutional face of the conservative movement --- have always been in favour of a more traditional approach to teaching: that is, one where teachers teach, students learn and there is an agreed body of knowledge, understanding and skills that need to be addressed at each year level. They are deeply opposed to the expressive or social liberalism of the 1968ers and they adhere to the principle of ordered liberty.
The 'ordered ' is crucial here as conservatives hold that the integrity of the social fabric must be ensured even when this conflicts with individual liberty. The paramount value for conservatism, then, tends to be a principle of authority.
This conservatism stands for the state having a duty to maintain order and promote virtue. Politics in this tradition is the art of achieving the maximum amount of freedom for individuals that is consistent with the maintenance of social order. They endeavour to reunite the disparate conservative factions ----traditional conservatives appalled by the secular mass society surrounding them; libertarians repelled by a Leviathan state that threatened free enterprise and individualism; and those alarmed by the rise of the Green-Left----by focusing their attention on the dangers of liberalism--or the Green Left (code for Marxism) and social conservatives.
Australian conservatism aims to fuse the basic ideas of traditional conservatism and libertarianism. The primary goal of education is to familiarize students with an existing body of truth, of which Christianity and free enterprise are the foundation. For them, the principles on which the conservative political position is base are derived from the nature of man, and from the truths that God has revealed about His creation.
Australian conservatism is not classical liberalism, which conservatives see had been significantly weakened by utilitarianism and secularism. Most classical liberals are seemingly unable to distinguish between “the authoritarianism” of the state, which suppresses human freedom, and the authority of God and truth. Conservatives see themselves as trying to save the Christian understanding of the nature and destiny of man.
The problem these conservatives have is their increasing dependence on an electorate that is largely rural, based in WA and Queensland and white. This gives rise to an entrenched strain of political paranoia; the identification of their own values with the country as a whole; and an undercurrent of racism. Pyne gives voice to this by saying that he review includes history, which, in the now familiar conservative talking point, contains too much Asia and Aborigines and not enough Anzac Day and business success stories. White colonial Australia needs to be foregrounded.
Kevin Donnelly, one of the reviewers and an educational conservative, adds to this talking point in his articles in the mainstream press, which are primarily about how the education system is getting wrecked by left wing teachers bent on undermining traditional Australian society and its Judeo-Christian values.
The conservatives increasing dependence on a largely white rural, based electorate in WA and Queensland means that this undercurrent in their base has a strand of racial distrust and an angry, bitter exclusionism in which those with different preferences and values become almost definitionally “un-Australian.”
And so we have the replay of the culture and literacy wars around the review of the national schools curriculum.