Education

Too Male or Too White: Selecting Texts for Schools

It seems it was not enough for the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, and its text selection advisory panel, for almost all of the texts on the prescribed list for Year 12 English to be by left-wing authors, or to reflect left-wing perspectives, or to promote left-wing values, or to make left-wing arguments in favour of left-wing positions on issues drawn from left-wing agendas; they decided it was time for text selection to be by politically correct quotas.

In regard to the domination of the curriculum by the politically correct Left, we have reached the next stage in the political-correctness revolution. The culprit behind this development is the steady rise in popularity of postmodern theoretical perspectives in the education bureaucracy. And it seems that no one was there behind the scenes to shout: Have you forgotten something? We are supposed to be teaching English!

This essay appears in the most recent Quadrant.
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To be selected for the text list, it is now no longer good enough to be left-wing; if an author is male or white he may not make the cut. Yes, they are choosing texts for study, or rejecting them, according to the gender or colour of the author or the gender or colour of the main protagonists in the story. Yes, it has come to that.

In 2018, Year 12 students could be asked to critically compare Anna Funder’s Stasiland to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. But in 2019, Year 12 students could be asked to compare Anna Funder’s Stasiland to Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Anna Funder’s text stayed on. She’s female. But George Orwell was dropped. He’s male and white. Kazuo Ishiguro was added. He is of Japanese ancestry but raised in Britain. (He can therefore be classified as “Asian”.)

Comparing Anna Funder’s examination of life in totalitarian communist East Germany to George Orwell’s philosophical critique of Stalinist totalitarianism (presented in the form of a novel) made great sense. It was a worthy educational exercise. Comparing Funder’s work of literary journalism and social history to Ishiguro’s fanciful fictional text about the mistreatment of a hypothetical subclass of clones created to provide body parts for transplant surgeries is absurd and of little or no educational value. But there were quotas to fill. Consequently, the number of “established works” or classics on the official text list fell from a precarious eight out of thirty-six texts to an even more precarious seven out of thirty-six. There were quotas to fill and “dead white males” had to be sacrificed. 

In the March 2019 issue of the VCAA Bulletin, the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority proudly announced: “As we approach International Women’s Day on Friday 8 March, for the first time the number of works written by women on the VCE English and English as an Additional Language (EAL) and VCE Literature text lists exceeds the number of works written by men.” This is a statement more suited to a political activist than to an educator. Although this admission was made to their own in-crowd, at least they have finally come clean. There was a political agenda behind their text sections after all. They were using the text list to wage their own war against patriarchy. And notice the casual reference to International Women’s Day, taking it for granted that we should all accept that this or any other politicised day should have anything to do with the content of the English course.

With these education elites only able to rotate on or off the list about 25 per cent of the texts each year, it is clear that they have been pursuing this agenda for a while and the text list for 2018 was already stacked to a stage just short of when they could make their triumphant political announcement. There were still a few of those pesky male authors to kick off the list. But with that finally achieved, it was time to celebrate. And let’s not forget that some of those pesky white authors had to go as well.

How did it get to this? First, the rise and rise of the politically correct Left has, since the 1960s, gone through successive stages, becoming more audacious in its demands as its successes mounted and as its control of key socialising institutions consolidated. In addition, it has simultaneously been informed and transformed by the rise of postmodernism, which helped to radicalise its demands. It is largely due to the influence of postmodernism that the politically correct Left has, on many fronts, become obsessed with pursuing its reform agendas by applying quotas (determined on the basis of race, ethnicity, class, gender and sexual preference) and the politicised academics and bureaucrats in the education system are part of this trend.

Let’s examine a crucial document in regard to this shift towards text selection by quotas. It is a survey of VCE English text lists over a ten-year period from 2010 to 2019: A Report on Trends in Senior English Text-Lists. It was conducted by two academics at the University of Melbourne who had direct experience in English text selection for the Year 12 curriculum, Alexander Bacalja and Lauren Bliss. It articulates the thinking behind the push to have more female authors than male authors on the English text list. It is a document that provides insights into the thinking behind the next phase in the political correctness revolution. It is a document dripping with postmodernism.

The well-known and often repeated expressions “education has lost its way” or “political correctness gone too far” seem pathetically inadequate to describe the anti-educational thinking behind this document. It is evidence of the elites in the education system waging war on their own culture (while unsuspecting taxpayers are paying for it).

With the research having been funded by the Victorian Association for the Teaching of English (VATE) and the University of Melbourne, the document stated in its preface that it is “advocating for greater diversity” in text section. And, as we well know, “diversity” means diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, class, gender and sexual preference, not diversity of ideas. And this inevitably means rejecting white males because that is the only way that this “diversity” can be achieved. And because so many authors in the history of literature are white males, this means rejecting a great deal of our literary heritage (including some of the finest contributions) on the basis of race and gender. Again, in this document, that old trick of using the racial and ethnic diversity of the population is drawn on as a rationalisation by the politically correct Left to bring in the kinds of reforms they always wanted to bring in anyway. If they consulted these racially and ethnically diverse families they might discover that they have different opinions on the manner in which they would like to see their children educated.

The survey highlighted the preponderance of novels and other traditional forms of literature on the curriculum. Taking its cue from postmodernism and its tendency to consider all text types “to be equally worthy” regardless of whether they are of high culture or popular culture, the document advocated the inclusion of “video games” as texts to be studied in English classrooms. And from a background of postmodernism and constructivist educational theory the document argued that these video games are relevant to young people’s lives. (I hope these video games were designed by women, otherwise: Oops! There goes our gender balance.) Of course, the inclusion of video games as texts would mean that other texts would have to be pushed off the list. This advocacy reveals a postmodern mindset evident among education elites, a mindset that has moved dramatically away from prioritising educating young people about the history of literature and its major works.

You can graduate from high school in Australia and not know nearly as much as you could or should. As a private tutor, too often I find myself in discussions with concerned parents about their son’s computer-game addiction. When I first meet these parents, they plead with me to do what I can to guide and inspire their son to read quality literature. Many of these parents are Asian. I’m sure that these parents, and others, will be very impressed if the study of “video games” is added to the English curriculum.

The survey also found that most of the texts were set in Britain, North America, Australia and New Zealand. This is hardly surprising, since the subject is English and these are mostly English-speaking regions that have produced English literature. But to the postmodern, post-colonial, politically correct mindset, this constitutes a problem. Those are places where white people are found. Apparently, there were not enough texts set in Asia, Africa and South America. They even provided a bar-chart to show it. To the postmodern, post-colonial, politically correct mindset, this graph reveals something that has to be addressed.

Text selection is therefore not to be about choosing historically significant, quality literature regardless of race or ethnicity; it’s about choosing texts on the basis of race and ethnicity. As the document argued, the “majority of Australians born abroad are from Asia, and not Europe”. Again, Asians (who are never consulted on these matters) are used by the postmodern, post-colonial, politically correct elites to rationalise bringing about the changes that these postmodern, post-colonial, politically correct elites want for education in Australia.

In regard to the gender of authors, the document made its feminist political objectives clear: “a deep engagement with literature and the arts in a classroom environment can have positive effects on gender bias and carries with it the potential to alter sexist views of authors and creators”. This is social engineering, not education. Education is about providing knowledge and developing skills, but the focus here is on changing views that the politically correct do not like. The document also lamented that there were no “transgender” authors on the lists. This part of the document also expressed the displeasure that it is mostly “male authors and creators who form the ‘canon’ of Western literature and the arts”. Hence, according to the principles articulated in this document, male authors, like George Orwell, had to go. And if this document is as influential as its insider authors hope it to be, you can expect other male authors from the canon to follow him. A graph in the document showed that by 2019 the number of female authors outnumbered the number of male authors. So, this problem had been, in their opinion, fixed. But to stay fixed, selection decisions on the basis of the gender of the authors will have to continue.

The document also complained that too many of the main characters in the texts are male, and it included a graph to show this. But they were pleased to point out that by 2019 this imbalance had also been fixed. There was now an equality of male and female main characters among the thirty-six texts on the list. I’m sure you are all delighted to hear that. However, the document went on to complain at length that there was an “over-representation of heterosexual characters”. And this proves a point about the dangers in appeasing postmodernists. No matter what you do to please them, they are never satisfied. The more you do to appease them, the more they find to complain about. They are condemned with the affliction of permanent outrage. They are people to be pitied rather than followed. If you follow them, you end up wrecking everything.

This tendency to never be satisfied is also evident in the way the document complained about the content of the texts set in Australia, even though the Australian texts have been almost universally politically correct and left-wing since long before the period covered in this survey. Amusingly, they even summarised the variety of “themes” of the texts set in Australia in postmodern, politically correct terms as: “Race”, “Religion” (which is a subset of ethnicity), “Class” and “Gender”. But this was not good enough. Apparently, the texts were too male, too white and there were not nearly enough texts created by “indigenous” authors or featuring indigenous themes and issues.

The conclusion of the document was predictable. Although the document claimed that there were some “positive trends”, such as achieving gender “equality” in terms of male and female authorship and in the balance of genders among the main characters, it sternly noted that “the privileging of texts from the British Isles was alarming”. Again, comments like this make you wonder whether these postmodern educators have completely forgotten that they are supposed to teaching English.

Let’s apply their postmodern, politically correct thinking to other subjects to see how absurd this thinking has become. Suppose you were to study one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, Mandarin Chinese, and there was a literature component to the subject. Despite this being a major international language (as English is), you would expect to mostly be studying Chinese authors who set their stories in China. You would not demand that Chinese education authorities balance the genders and races of the authors or the global settings of the texts to include more white people. Instead, you would expect them to deliver the best course in Mandarin Chinese that they could provide.

I am interested in psychology. Many of the best authors on the subject are Jewish people. Should I read the texts that I believe will be the most informative, or subject my choices to quotas, to try to balance my text choices with more Muslim authors? Would this be a fruitful way to approach the subject?

My interests in psychology and literature led me to research the genre of romantic fiction. It is one of the most successful genres in publishing, constituting at least a third of all fiction sold. Almost all the authors of romantic fiction are women who write for women. If you read about the art of writing romantic fiction, as I have done, you inevitably find yourself reading from the experts—who are women. Should my reading have followed quotas so that half of the authors I consulted were male?

I am also interested in military history and theory. Consequently, I have read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. I did not choose this text because the author is Asian. I chose the text because the author is a philosophical genius and I would be enriched by reading him. Great literature is there for us all to appreciate, regardless of the race or gender of the authors.

As we enter the era of postmodern, politically correct text selection by quota, it may soon be less likely that high schools will be introducing young people to great literature like Homer’s Iliad or Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Instead, the ultimate text set for study would be one that was written by a transsexual, Aboriginal lesbian whose multimodal text was set in China but featured indigenous themes and had a gender balance between the male and female lead characters, some of whom were gay.

Texts should be chosen for educational reasons, because of their literary merit, historical significance, and their cultural and aesthetic value. Choosing texts by politically correct quotas is wrong. It is representative of an education establishment that has forgotten its proper role. Choosing texts by quotas should be stopped.

Dr Mark Lopez teaches English in Melbourne. This edited extract is from the forthcoming book School Sucks: A Report on the State of Education in the Politically Correct Era, to be published by Connor Court.

 

11 comments
  • casesyd

    Four years ago one of my son’s English assignments was, “The majority of Australian’s do not come from Britain, so it’s time for a new flag. Design your own flag.” I said to him, “Why don’t you just draw an Australian flag because you don’t want to change it.” He said, “No, I will get into trouble,”

  • Ian MacKenzie

    A neo Marxist education system compelling students to participate in identity politics. A politicised legal system and public service. A corrupt police force imposing the will of an incompetent, dictatorial premier. I can see why it takes border closures to keep Victorians in.

  • SalivatorX

    Just some minor quibbles, I would not describe 1984 as a critique of ‘Stalinist Totalitarianism’. Orwell based the book on his experience and insight developed in the British bureaucracy. Also, ‘post-modernism’ is not intrinsically the enemy. There are benefits from that disruptive perspective, but when it is left post-modernism, it is of course a deception. And finally, I think it can be misleading to highlight the source of left-leaning curriculum changes as beholden to political-correctness. PC is a moral and anxiety driven overlay to mind-control, rather than just a form of social decorum. PC adherents, subconsciously serve a state agenda to shape social perceptions and behaviour, using a system of guilt regarding fake constructions of ‘oppression’, ‘injustice’ and discrimination. Apart from that, an interesting analysis. I would like to see how the other states play this game.

  • Stephen Due

    The fundamental cause of this problem is the socialist system of State Schools. First, it gives mediocre bureaucrats control of what is essentially a system of mass indoctrination. Secondly it downgrades literature to the level of mass entertainment.
    Literature is about life. Great literary talent can be used to corrupt minds and morals and therefore to foster what are essentially substandard, depraved lives.
    Literature is about the battle for the human soul. The problem in the curriculum is not identity politics. The problem is an inability to distinguish right from wrong. Every conceivable depravity is amply catered for in ‘great’ literature by talented authors of every colour and creed under the sun. But a literature curriculum that is not communicating wholesome goodness and moral courage is worse than useless – because it has disconnected itself from the great enterprise of life.
    Good teachers will have their eye on the clock. Life is short. “The grass withers and the flower fades….” The window of opportunity in which character is formed is fleeting.

  • pgang

    All of which is true, but I don’t think Orwell’s dreary prose rates as literature either.

  • Stephen Due

    pgang. Neither do I

  • Marcus Harris

    There’s nothing new in this essay. Should we grieve or just hope that the tertiary institutions impose better English standards.
    As for our ABC and their logo “ Think Big” wasn’t that a race horse therefore horse ship!

  • lbloveday

    I only managed to read the first 41 pages of Orwell’s 1984. Just as I stop watching films I find I don’t like, I do the same with books (didn’t with school-mandated novels of course, read to the end).
    .
    Also stopped reading Peterson’s “12 Rules…” at page 79 (after almost stopping when he claimed “we **all** have twice as many female ancestors as male”) where he wrote of cats and dogs”
    .
    “They kill things and eat them. Why? They’re predators, but it’s just their nature. They do not bear responsibility for it. They’re hungry, not evil.”
    .
    Cats eat all the birds and mice they kill??

  • Salome

    I’m not sure Stasiland ranks as a literary masterpiece (but, hey, I had to read Soledad Brother when I was at school), but I’m relieved that it is still on the syllabus. Someone might learn something from it.

  • Robyn

    And no-one in the Great Educational Bureaucracy of Australia has any clue as to why our students are dramatically sliding down the international ranking scales. Nor can anyone be bothered addressing the problem in any meaningful way.
    Our children may be mediocre spellers, readers, writers and mathematicians but they sure know how to deliver a welcome to country and pressure their parents over the use of plastic in their school lunches to say nothing of choosing a gender and crushing the heteronormative patriarchy and its handmaidens.

  • wlgrwalker

    Yes, high schools and universities are supposed to be teaching English literature, but many are not. Solution? Go independent and compete against our failing educational institutions. That is what I’m doing after having taught at an Australian university for 20 years and witnessed first hand how bad the situation has become. Go to Bill’s School, at billschool.thinkific.com and do my course on poetry. Students get no credential, but they will improve their capacity to describe, understand, and enjoy poetry in English.

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