As I mention below, Mikey has subsequently written a very good entry on this; you may find the link in that comment. On his site I have just written:
I am very worried as a teacher of 40 years experience by this, which strikes me as a naked grab for ideological control, something that has been at the heart of the illiberal Howard government on all sorts of fronts. I have ranted at length on my own blog though. I am heartened that up and coming teachers such as yourself are also worried.
Weakening state public education, driving towards eventual privatisation — and believe me they are, as that is the firm belief of the Howard government’s principal education guru Kevin Donnelly — and exercising curriculum control to outlaw anything they see as ideologically unfriendly… Honestly, I never thought I would live to see it! My grandfather, who began his teaching career as a proud state school teacher in 1906, must be spinning in his grave!
I have taken the opportunity to revise this entry.
The main post
In my grumpy critique of Kevin Donnelly some time ago I wrote of what I had begun to see of the Australian government’s agenda:
The general drift of Howard government propaganda, the outbreak of books like Donnelly’s and the endless hours of slagging schools (state) and teachers on talk-back radio have had the end result of undermining faith in government schools. I suspect the government actually wants this to happen, and is quite mealy-mouthed when it denies it. I really think the ultimate objective is a winding-back of government involvement in providing education in favour of a “free market” approach.
Donnelly also writes for School Choices, an American group with the following agenda:
The historical and modern evidence indicates that free educational markets, in which parents have been able to choose any school for their children and schools have been forced to compete with one another to attract students, have consistently done a better job of serving families and nations than state-run systems such as we have today. The superiority of market school systems has gone beyond immediate benefits to students, extending to communal effects such as increased social harmony and protection of minority rights. As a result,
School Choices recommends:
1) Gradually phasing out government involvement in education, and moving towards a competitive educational marketplace.
2) The creation of a subsidy system to enable low-income families to participate effectively in that marketplace. Tax Credits and private scholarship programs would be among the most promising elements of such a system.
[See also my entry for 5 October 2005: “Our Citizens, Governments, and Corporations”, and check all the links there. Then check the links at the foot of my 29 September entry “Welcome to Dr Nelson’s Brain”. See too “Education Unbound – Home”, my 8 July 2005 entry.]
The war goes on, and today’s Herald juxtaposes two stories:
SOME of Sydney’s richest private schools generated tax-free surpluses of up to $4 million last year, while receiving millions of dollars from taxpayers.
At the same time, the schools raised their fees by as much as 9 per cent, three times the inflation rate.
Schools including Queenwood, Wenona, Kincoppal Rose Bay, SCEGGS Darlinghurst and Kambala each received more than $2 million in government funds last year, which in some cases was more than double the surplus they generated.
Cranbrook School in Bellevue Hill recorded a net surplus of $4.1 million last year, compared with $2.6 million in 2004, said its financial statement lodged with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. It received $3.3 million in government funding last year and had fee income of $25.3 million, compared with $23.2 million the previous year.
THE Federal Government is investigating a takeover of school curriculums, arguing millions of dollars is being wasted by the states and territories writing separate curriculums.
The Minister for Education, Julie Bishop, will today outline her claim for the Federal Government to play a much greater role in what is taught in schools.
In a speech at a history teachers’ conference, Ms Bishop will criticise “ideologues who have hijacked” curriculums and are “experimenting with the education of our young people from a comfortable position of unaccountability, safe within education bureaucracies”.
She has commissioned a study to be completed this year on whether one national body could instead write the curriculums for eight subjects, including English, maths, history, physics and chemistry.
Ms Bishop is expected to hint that she could make funding contingent on the states handing over responsibility for curriculum, saying $180 million could be saved by axing “duplication [and] the waste of resources”.
“We need to take school curriculum out of the hands of the ideologues in the state and territory education bureaucracies and give it to a national board of studies, comprising the sensible centre of educators,” she will say…
I smell several rats here. First, if it is “saving money” that drives this push, Story #1 would seem to give a few pointers in that direction. Second, however, it is clear that this is a continuation of John Howard’s cultural takeover, the relentless march of Babbittry, against the hated “ideologues” who have hijacked things from the “sensible centre of educators”, that is those “educators” who agree with just about everything published in Quadrant in the past five years.
Consider the word “ideologue” for a moment. You can read Ideology: A Brief Guide by Professor John Lye, a professor of English at Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario. The term does have its roots in neo-Marxism, and what has always given me the dries about it is that it is so constructed that it can only see right-wing “ideology”, while glossing over its own “ideology”. However, that is precisely what annoys me about what Julie Bishop is saying here, using the current Gnomespeak (or is it Donnellish?) as she joins the chorus smearing often very sensible and progressive curriculum developments as the work of deranged “ideologues” — simply because these developments may not suit the current “political correctness”.
If ever there were ideologues among us then Julie is in the thick of them, is indeed one of them, and her “cost-saving” is actually directed against such nasties as “critical literacy” which may have the shocking effect of enabling people to see through what Julie and John and all the merry gang are saying, and how their particular construction of “reality” works. This government is arguably even more ideologically driven than Whitlam’s or Keating’s, certainly much more so than Hawke’s. What we are witnessing is no mere “correcting of the balance”; we are having a very specific and quite comprehensive right-wing agenda rolled out whether we like it or not. Most unfortunate. I will give Howard this much credit though. He knows exactly what he is doing.
Yes, I can also be quite critical of “cultural studies”, “postmodernism”, “post-colonialism”, “queer theory”, and all that collection of isms and posts. I do not always agree with them, and too often I don’t even understand them. But an educated person needs to know about them, and an educated person will in fact find that the intellectual developments of the past forty years, which Quadrant and our government seek to stamp out, cannot be ignored and do have contributions to make. The general drift of our ideologues in Canberra would be towards a curriculum as centralised as China’s; it is amazing how similar to Beijing the current Libs are (too many of them) in the area of ideological control, not of course in the particular ideology, but in the desire to impose unity and to mark out parameters of thought. Does that seem outrageous? Consider in just how many areas this government is seeking to impose a particular conception of values, a particular world-view. In the past we were told simply to go for it, when it came to educational research and curriculum development. Sure, the government had issues it wanted to prioritise, but it left teachers free to find solutions and to canvass the world for best practices. Not now. We start from Donnelly and Quadrant, not encouraged to question them, and the government devises tests and punishments (they’re good at that) to make sure their will is imposed.
If we turn our backs on the exciting developments in English studies (my area of expertise) over the past thirty years we would become an international laughing-stock for our anti-intellectualism: Babbitt meets Forrest Gump, a perfect George Bush world-view with corks dangling from the Akubra to give it the gloss of “Aussie values”. ** Do make sure you read over the fold 🙂
At the moment I am reading Alan Sinfield’s Gay and After, which comes both from “queer theory” and “cultural studies”, but also from considerable expertise in literary and historical studies of a more traditional nature. I will say more about the book later, but for the moment I will merely say that my thinking benefits from this reading, not excessive in its jargon, challenging in its ideas, and thoroughly worthwhile in the end, even if Sinfield is a bit of an “ideologue” whose works would probably not appear in Quadrant, though they might have in the late 1990s.
Do read also Quarterly Essay Issue 23: The History Question- Who Owns the Past? by Inga Clendinnen, currently on sale at your newsagent. “This is an eloquent, engaging and thought-provoking essay that looks anew at one of the most divisive topics of recent times: how we as a nation remember the past. Written on the eve of the History Summit, The History Question offers real insight into this complex, controversial and integral issue.” She comes down on the side of the angels, in my opinion, rather than that of the current ideologues in Canberra, but at the same time The Left won’t like much of what she says.
Some related posts All are on this blog and are arranged in descending time order.
- The History Summit in Canberra
- It’s more a stampede than a pendulum swing…
- Agreeing with Kevin Donnelly
- Simon Schama on history
- Elizabeth Butel on Text Messages
- Stuart Macintyre and Anna Clark, The History Wars
- Right-wing non-news story #20563
- Where are the crazy left-wing professors?
- Turning curriculum to the Right
- Reactionary myth-makers and education
- Elite girls school ‘kills the study of literature’
- Inequality rules as public purse props up old hierarchies