Fifth Column

Cancel Culture in Schools

The schools, like the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, are where the politically correct Left has completed its revolution, its “long march” of incremental conquest through the institutions. Consequently, these institutions have gone beyond merely exhibiting left-wing bias. They are now openly remaking Australia in their own image. The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority’s revised Australian Curriculum, presented online in May 2021, should be appreciated in this light.

It is an updated version of what was already securely in place. Much of it has been policy for a while, phased in since 2014. The latest version reflects an intensification of the left-wing ideological activism that has characterised the Left in the Trump and post-Trump eras.

This essay appears in the latest Quadrant.
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The release of the second iteration of the Australian Curriculum makes this clear to anyone who wishes to read it. That is what has alarmed so many who have read it who are not of the politically correct Left. They have been confronted by just how far the politicisation of the curriculum has gone.

The recent sharpening of the cancel culture that has horrified so many people with its merciless censorship and vilification has been in schools for a long while. Cancel culture in schools involves being marked down in essays and exam responses for not reflecting the politically correct ideology of the teachers who are the assessors.

Cancel culture in schools is also reflected in what is not on the curriculum. It can be seen in what is not seen, the topics and issues not discussed, the books that are not on the reading lists, especially the intellectually enriching classics from the canon of great Western literature that are omitted in favour of contemporary texts (published since the 1960s) that promote political correctness. It is as if this foundational knowledge is not worth learning. There is a scarcity of novels, plays and films set for study that do not express left-wing views. If classic literature is not on the list, consider it cancelled.

In English, which is the only compulsory subject, the preference is for texts published since the politically correct cultural revolution of the 1960s, preferably texts published in the last few years so the ideological content is suitably politically correct. They are even selecting texts now on diversity quotas relating to the race, ethnicity, gender and sexual preference of the authors or of the main characters in the text.

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The Australian Curriculum severely limits the study of what would broadly constitute Western civilisation. Instead, it deliberately favours the study of Aborigines, Asia and environmentalism wherever this is conceivably possible. The Australian Curriculum reflects these ideological priorities, which are tactfully and deceitfully presented as educational priorities.

As the Australian Curriculum makes clear, this ideological approach was consolidated by the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (2008), a statement of principles made when all the governments (federal, state and territory) were Labor (although a Liberal government was elected in Western Australia in September just before the statement came out). Regardless of the political complexion of the governments at the time, the senior bureaucrats in the federal, state and territory education systems were of the politically correct Left. And, as usual, they got what they wanted.

The educational costs of this education system have already been extensive and they are becoming worse. Students come away with knowledge that is, at best, patchy and is often ideologically biased, with vital knowledge deliberately excluded. This exclusion is a matter of policy. The Australian Curriculum took up the Melbourne Declaration priorities on Aborigines, Asia and environmentalism with uncritical enthusiasm.

Aboriginal history is extensively promoted in the Australian Curriculum but there seems to be no room for a scholarly approach that appreciates both sides in the fascinating and important debates about Aboriginal history, or for expressing any point of view that differs from the orthodox left-wing Aboriginal activist perspective that the students are expected to adopt, involving: invasion, frontier wars, genocide, stolen generations and institutional racism. The study of the richly interesting histories and cultures of Asia is meant to be laudatory, and this seems to be at the expense of a focus on Western civilisation, which, when it is examined, frequently receives treatment that is critical. This overlooks the fact that so much of the impressive recent progress in Asia has been facilitated by the widespread adoption in Asian nations of Western institutions and practices. 

The study of the environment is devoid of scientific scepticism regarding the highly contested theory of man-made global warming or climate change. Erudite alternative views on global warming or climate change are conspicuous by their absence. These one-sided approaches are hardly educational. The inclusion of topics related to Aborigines, Asia and environmentalism is educationally worthy but their emphasis in the Australian Curriculum is ideological. It is meant to produce political rather than educational outcomes.

And keep in mind the notion of opportunity cost. To emphasise Aborigines, Asia and environmentalism means that other important topics had to fall by the wayside.

But the consequences of this curriculum get worse. This education system is educating our future teachers. In the subject of English, there has been a plummeting of the ability of younger newer teachers (who were educated under this regime) to accurately interpret the meanings of the texts they have to teach to their students. They simply do not have sufficient knowledge to interpret the novels, plays and films they have to teach. They do not know enough about the historical periods in which texts are set, or the periods in which they were written. Nor do they know enough about the history of ideas (for example, liberalism, conservatism, socialism, anarchism, rationalism, romanticism) to pick up many of the messages and meanings that the authors are conveying.

Intellectually poorly equipped, these unfortunate teachers will grasp what is frequently offered to them as a substitute for factual knowledge: postmodern interpretive paradigms, like feminism and Marxism.

But these paradigms are often misleading. For example, the widely studied Year 12 text, the film Rear Window (1954), which was directed by Alfred Hitchcock from a screenplay by John Michael Hayes, is treated by many teachers as being about traditional gender roles and McCarthyism, when a close reading of the film, along with interviews with Hitchcock and Hayes, clearly indicate that it was not. It is a film about the morality of voyeurism that also provided a critical commentary on marriage, presenting it as an antidote to loneliness but not necessarily a path to happiness.

These poor kids are being misled. And if a clever student does present an insightful, accurate answer that differs from their teacher’s misunderstanding of the text, he or she is likely to be marked down for it.

As a private tutor I have been dealing with the horrendous impact of the Australian Curriculum since its phased-in introduction. The downturn in education that followed inspired me to write School Sucks: A Report on the State of Education in the Politically Correct Era, recently published by Connor Court. It deals with both the biased curriculum and the flawed educational methodologies that accompany it, to articulate the full catastrophe.

And don’t be surprised if this ideological approach to education in the Australian Curriculum drives young people away in droves from the further study of subjects like history and literature. It has long been the case that much that is of value that curious young people discover and learn is found outside of school.

This ideological bias in the Australian Curriculum severely limits the scope of inquiry, debate and discussion. Think about that for a moment. For an education system this is a damning criticism. It means that the education system is failing in its core responsibilities. The opposite should be the case. An education system should be widening the scope of inquiry, debate and discussion. Instead, the politically correct agenda is prioritised, promoted, celebrated and legitimised, while other beliefs are ignored, marginalised, disparaged or denigrated. This can restrict the topics for consideration and the possibilities for analytical thinking or reasoning, as well as preclude any opportunity to encourage the valuable scholarly discipline of attempting to achieve the highest degree of objectivity possible when conducting research and analysis.

For someone who loves knowledge and learning as much as I do, the imposition of the Australian Curriculum has been heartbreaking, and the updated version compounds this misery.

Not only does the Australian Curriculum represent a scandalous waste of public resources, it is a cruel injustice inflicted on the young.

8 comments
  • pmprociv

    As a rabid young leftist in my undergraduate student days, I was grossly offended, if not humiliated, by the term “brainwashing”, as it was routinely applied to my ideological inclination. After all, Marxist-Leninism was scientifically rational, by its own definition. Of course, having now grown up, discovering how the “real world” truly operates, I find the degradation of our educational systems and curricula, as described here by Mark Lopez, to be truly disturbing, indeed heartbreaking. This is brainwashing at its best; it would have made Uncle Joe Stalin smile with pride.

  • gary@erko

    In two decades time when these kids have realised the lies, they will be so furious. I’ll be near my century – I hope I get to see that revolution, that revulsion of PC ratbaggery. Hope I’m not too demented to appreciate it and RIP. What can we hope for. This is like a prayer, a plea for sanity.

  • Stephen Due

    Is the problem that the wrong people are in charge of education? Or is it rather that anyone is in charge? The Australian system of State education is an inherently socialist project. Its very existence, unquestioned by the vast majority of the population, is a gigantic advertisement for Leftist ideology. People literally cannot imagine a society in which there were no State schools. If conservatives do nothing else, they should be promoting affordable, independent education. We need to expand the options for parents who do not want the government interfering in the upbringing of their children.

  • STD

    Stephen Due- start here:
    Greek – Communist / socialist- Angelo Gavrielatos- NSW Teachers Federation President.
    This fleabag has an AO for services to education ,he encourages teachers to be “activists”.
    This guy is about as fair dinkum as a used car salesmen or is on the same level as those bought before the banking royal commission- absolute bottom of the barrel people

  • Daffy

    Now this is odd. The rhetoric of STEM (no, not Sport, Travel, Entertainment and Music, the other one) seems to not play out in that English is the only compulsory subject. This leads to an odd imbalance. Girls seem to be more comfortable with English than boys, as a group. So boys as a group are disadvantaged in the ATAR game. as they cannot avoid English, where they might be weak. Girls can avoid maths, a subject where they might be weak. Maths might be a subject where boys as a group are stronger. To balance things up, sex-wise and STEM-wise, maths should be compulsory too. Even if its ‘social maths: mainly statistics and finance at a simple level as the bones of the subject, at least we’d know that everyone who does the HSC knows what numbers can do. Then both boys and girls have a subject in which they are, as groups, comparatively stronger than the other sex. ATAR balance occurs.

  • Stephen

    Is it education or indoctrination? I certainly think it is the latter. My own public school education took place in the 50’s and 60’s and in those days issues that were politically disputable were discussed in a balanced way with all sides respected. To this day I couldn’t say where my teacher personally stood with the exception of my 5th year high school teacher who was very anti Vietnam war. In those days I actually supported the war as I was very anti communist as I still am. I was very much against conscription though and I did attend demonstrations to protest this. I should also point out that attending protests was also a very good way to meet girls!
    My political views in those days were mostly influenced by my parents. Being a (non religious) Jewish family our household was a raucous debating society. My father voted Labor and my mother voted Liberal and their amid their constant debates my own views were formed.
    I came early to the view that conservatives and liberals were both “right” depending on the era and the circumstances. The Conservatives are right in that there are important traditions and customs, many enshrined in the law, that were founded by the blood, sweat and tears of generations that must be preserved. The Liberals are right that changes need to made from time to time in order for moral and material progress to be maintained. If this wasn’t the case Governments would still be elected by males land owners instead of the vote being extended to us all step by step.
    In my youth there were some conservative positions that were outdated. Censorship and homosexuality being good examples and the changes made since then are good examples of the liberals being right. I really hate censorship and the PC are trying hard to reintroduce it in a very harmful form.
    This creative tension between conservatives and liberals is a key feature of a free society and must be maintained. The Marxist PC elites want the conservative voice banished from the public square and this must be energetically opposed.
    One of my fond hopes is that the current school generation will grow up to question their elders and discover knowledge about the other side of the discussion on their own thus leading them to reestablish the correct balance.
    The huge popularity of Jordan Peterson amongst the young gives me hope.

  • Dave Carter

    One of the most pervasive transformations of Australian education is betrayed in the penultimate paragraph- “learning”, used as a noun. We once used the word “education”. “Learning” is a pastime, without a defined goal.

  • Bert White

    Let the Left have their tax-payer funded leftist education system -the state schools and the universities.
    Let the Left have their pax-payer funded news/opinion media -the ABC and SBS.
    But take 50% of the budgets and 50% of the assets of those leftist systems and use them to set up anti-Left education and media systems, devoted to developing empirical capabilities, self-responsibility and free enterprise.
    Note that commercial media, and even commercial education systems just go Left -because that’s where the increasing proportion of people are going.
    So, “privatisation” will not help -contrary to what many free-market fundamentalists proclaim.

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