You will recall that Stuart Macintyre recently reviewed Kevin Donnelly’s latest polemic in The Australian. Today Donnelly has replied: Education not to be toyed with. Macintyre’s review is penned with a thumbnail dipped in bile: Kevin Donnelly responds to a critique of his new book.
STUART Macintyre’s so-called review of my book Dumbing Down, about the parlous state of Australia’s education system, in The Australian Literary Review this month unfortunately teaches the reader more about Macintyre’s prejudices and idiosyncrasies than what the book is about…
As does Donnelly’s account of Macintyre’s The History Wars.
Those who have read Macintyre’s book The History Wars, in which he famously compares Prime Minister John Howard with Caligula and extols Keating’s big-picture politics on issues such as reconciliation, multiculturalism and the republic, will know, notwithstanding his arguments in support of “academic honesty” and against resorting to “personal abuse”, that Macintyre often fails to follow his own advice.
I have read The History Wars and don’t remember the Caligula comparison, or even more importantly the context in which it may have appeared and the tone of the passage involved. I do recall that Macintyre was remarkably generous about some of his opponents: Geoffrey Blainey in particular. I gave my verdict on The History Wars (one of my Best Reads of 2006) last year: Stuart Macintyre and Anna Clark, The History Wars. Donnelly and I must have different editions…
Pursuing his misguided obsession with Outcomes Based [Satanic] Education, Donnelly writes:
In arguing that I fail to explain what is meant by outcomes-based education, Macintyre also shows he has either not read the book or, if he has, is guilty of misrepresentation. Not only does the book provide a definition of OBE in its glossary but it also gives a detailed analysis and description of Australia’s adoption of OBE in recent years.
Macintyre writes: “The suggestion that outcomes-based education licensed an abandonment of education standards is false: on the contrary, it was an application of evidence-based methodology to the measurement of standards.” Not only is such a sentence a prime example of the type of edu-babble that bedevils education, but the claim that Australia’s adoption of outcomes-based education is based on evidence that it has been successful, here or overseas, also is wrong.
As outlined in Dumbing Down, when outcomes-based education was introduced into Australia, it was experimental, it had been adopted by only a handful of countries and, according to NSW’s Eltis report, there appeared little evidence that it had been successfully implemented elsewhere.
Unfortunately the 2003 Eltis Report says no such thing. It does raise practical problems in terms of teacher work load and wording of outcomes and a number of other things, but is certainly supportive of assessment procedures based on outcomes. Read the report for yourself if you don’t believe me, and when you have read it take Donnelly in future with the many grains of salt he merits. See also Worried about outcomes based education? on my English and ESL site.
I thought Macintyre revelled too much in his analysis of Donnelly’s infelicities of style, thereby outing himself as a bit of a pedant perhaps; Donnelly in just the two examples I have cited has outed himself as a propagandist who parades his prejudices and partial readings (even misreadings) as facts. Not for the first time.
You may note below that Kevin Donnelly himself has commented on this post already, less than an hour after the post went up. I thank him for the Caligula reference, which I now quote:
…When the term of Michael Kroger on the board of the ABC expired, the government appointed the former Liberal staff-member and researcher for the Institute of Public Affairs, Ron Brunton. Not content with the prime minister’s biographer on the Council of the National Museum, it added his former speechwriter — perhaps we should be grateful that John Howard prefers power-walking to equestrian exercise or his regard for history might have tempted him to follow the emperor Caligula and make his horse a consul.
Macintyre is referring to the undeniable penchant of the Howard government for stacking key cultural organisations with friendly bodies, and it is fair to say Howard is following precedent in that regard, unfortunately. Reading Donnelly’s article today you would wonder in what respects Howard is like the mad and homicidal Caligula, and what justification Macintyre might have for such an odious comparison. Now we know: Macintyre’s rather lame joke actually says Howard is not like Caligula, fortunately; Brunton and the other Howard appointees may well resent being compared to horses.