How English is defined and taught as a subject illustrates how successful politically correct woke ideology has been in infecting the nation’s schools. With learning how to read and write, drawing originally on the works of the South American Marxist Paulo Freire, the focus is very much on what is described a ‘critical literacy’, which argues learning a language, and education more broadly, must be emancipatory and liberating.
The true purpose of education, in Freire’s words, is to allow students
… to perceive themselves in dialectical relationship with their social reality … to assume an increasingly critical attitude toward the world and so to transform it.
In 1974 Freire toured Australia, and since that time academics in charge of teacher education and professional bodies such as the Australian Association for the Teaching of English (AATE) and the Australian Curriculum Studies Association have championed his radical philosophy.
An editorial written for a 2004 edition of English in Australia, bemoaning the re-election of the conservative Howard government, illustrates how pervasive this Marxist inspired approach to English became. The author, Wayne Sawyer, argues teachers had failed to adequately teach critical literacy and must redouble their efforts, as Howard being re-elected proved students were easily duped and unable to think clearly. Sawyer argues,
What does it mean for us and our ability to create a questioning, critical generation that those who brought us balaclava’d security guards, Alsations and Patrick’s Stevedoring could declare themselves the representatives of the workers and be supported by the electorate?
Critical literacy and associated feminist, gender, sexuality and post-colonial theories have also had, and continue to have, a significant impact on how literature is now taught. Before the cultural-Left’s campaign to take control, literature was generally restricted to those novels, short stories, plays and poems that had something significant, profound and lasting to say about human nature — how people interact and relate to the wider world, how we perceive and cope with the myriad challenges and issues we have to deal with as we journey through life.
Literature, especially Greek, Roman, Celtic and Norse myths, fables and legends, also deals with the predicaments, heroes, archetypes and feelings that underpin much of Western culture and that speak to our inner emotional and spiritual selves, what YB Yeats refers to as Spiritus Mundi. Such archetypes and myths deal with love, betrayal, courage, sorrow, forgiveness and the need to find a more spiritual and transcendent sense of meaning in what is an often unforgiving, transient and challenging world.
Instead of a focus on the moral and aesthetic importance of literature, one where students learn to understand human nature and empathise with others, the emphasis is now on deconstructing so-called texts in terms of power relationships and critical theory. In a paper delivered at a AATE national conference, Maria Pallotta-Chiaarolli argues that the English classroom must be re-positioned as “a site of deconstructionist and interventionist strategies when challenging/resisting dominant discourses of marginalistaion and prejudice”. Examples of prejudice include “homophobia, heterosexism and AIDS-discrimination” along with “racism, ethnocentrism, classism and sexism”.
How history is taught in schools has also been dramatically redefined to make it politically correct and woke. While no one is suggesting that schools and the curriculum should embrace an overly celebratory and positive approach, what the Australian Geoffrey Blainey describes as a “three cheers view of history”, what students are presented with unfairly undermines and critiques both Western civilisation and Australia’s foundation as a penal colony and its evolution since 1788.
As detailed by Stuart Macintyre in The History Wars, more radical approaches to teaching history emerged during the heady days of the Vietnam moratoriums and the rise of the counter-culture movement. Macintyre writes,
In the 1960s and 1970s, critical approaches to Australian history questioned established interpretations of settlement and progress. Historians pursued voices frequently absent from the national narrative. Social historians of feminist, migrant and Aboriginal perspectives challenged the exclusiveness of traditional historical approaches.
How history is detailed in the Australian national curriculum from the preparatory to year 10 illustrates how successful the cultural-Left has been in redefining the subject. Like other subjects, students are told in the history curriculum Australia is a multicultural, secular society characterised by diversity and difference and where various cultures, ethnic and race groups interact and live.
Even though Australia owes much to Western civilisation, Judeo-Christianity and Enlightenment values such as rationality and reason, the curriculum promotes a relativistic stance where all cultures and histories are treated equally and deserving of recognition and respect (except, of course, European). Even worse, it’s possible for students to study history across years seven to ten without ever learning about ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, medieval Europe and epochal events like the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution.
Three of the cross-curricula priorities informing history, in addition to other subjects, are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, sustainability and Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia. While there are literally hundreds of references to indigenous history, culture and spirituality, the impact and significance of Western civilisation and Judeo-Christianity is treated in a superficial and fragmented fashion.
Christianity is rarely, if ever, mentioned, and while the dark side of Western civilisation is emphasised (including slavery, mistreatment of women, the ‘stolen generation’, mandatory detention and the civil rights movement both in Australia and America), indigenous culture and history are presented in a positive light and beyond reproach.
In relation to Asia, and similar to the way indigenous culture and history is treated, students are presented with a sanitised picture. It is a picture that ignores and air-brushes from history the millions starved, tortured and killed under dictators Mao, Pol Pot and Ho Chi Minh. Whereas Australia is a Westminster, parliamentary democracy where people’s rights and freedoms are protected there is also no mention in the national curriculum that the majority of Asian countries are totalitarian, single-party regimes where property can be confiscated, and people imprisoned and denied the rights we take for granted without any protection or recourse.
Cultural relativism and identity politics prevail, ignoring the reality that Australia’s political and legal institutions and much of our language, literature, music and art are inherited from Europe and Ireland and the United Kingdom. While the numbers are diminishing it’s also true Christianity remains Australia’s mainstream religion, and that the nation’s political and legal institutions and way of life are indebted to Christianity.
This is an edited extract from Kevin Donnelly’s The Dictionary Of Woke, to be launched in Sydney on September 20 by Chris Kenny, the host of Sky’s The Kenny Report. Bookings at https://www.trybooking.com/CCBUP