The English Curriculum’s Comorbidity

Australian schools are coming out of shut-down, where for many weeks they have been sheltering from the COVID-19 pandemic. During this period the internet has proven of great value by allowing teachers to continue interacting with their students remotely, talking, listening and exchanging documents via computer.

One effect has been greater involvement by parents in their children’s education. With distance schooling parents can discover what their children experience in the classroom. So it was, sitting beside my 13-year-old son, I viewed his English teacher present parts of the NSW curriculum for that subject. My reaction is expressed in the following letter of 30 April 2020.

Dear [Teacher],
This letter concerns the English curriculum for Class 8E.

I’ve been helping my son … with his Year 8 English assignments and notice that Lesson 4 does not deal with the subject of English.

The first question [of that Lesson] might come from a course on identity politics. It asks students to define and give examples of “social inequality, racism, segregation, ghettos, discrimination, civil rights, slavery”. The second question involves researching the victimhood of African-Americans in the United States. Students are asked to research slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, the Ku Klux Klan, Rosa Parks, the freedom rides, and the Black Lives Matter Movement. Not one question was directed at literature, texts, poetry, or songs. The topics are also deficient with respect to understanding the lives of African-American, which is a larger story than victimhood.

I don’t see how researching Rosa Parks or the racism of the Ku Klux Klan helps children understand poetic techniques or rhetorical devices. The questions do not seek to elicit such information. Neither do they engage with Australian culture.

Lesson 4 is not at all about English, and all about politics and society viewed from an extremely ethnocentric and pessimistic Black-American perspective. Students are not provided with opposed viewpoints.

This contrasts with an earlier lesson concerning Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech, which asked about rhetorical devices such as rhythm and rhyme. Lesson 6 is devoted to this speech. The speech has some relevance to English, despite being extensively plagiarised. Putting that aside, and King’s degrading treatment of women, it would have been preferable to teach about your students’ own culture. Why not the great wartime speeches by Menzies and Curtin (or Churchill and Roosevelt) in their stand against German and Japanese ethnic aggression, or the poetry and prose written by Australian prisoners of war subject to barbaric treatment?

You do suggest Lesson 4 is relevant to Australia in your spoken instructions, available online for the students. No Menzies or Curtin or POWs. Instead you adopt an indigenous perspective, and a decidedly pessimistic one, claiming that Australia has had a long history of racism.

“… [racial discrimination] is quite ingrained in Australian history, sadly, through all the stolen generations, the fact that indigenous Australians weren’t even counted as citizens in the 1960s, they were still classed as flora and fauna. … Australia has a really dark history with racial discrimination and segregation.”

I have to say, that is untrue and a slur on Australia and on the ancestors of your students. Like other societies derived from Europe, Australia is highly individualist, with relatively low levels of ethnic solidarity. Well before federation indigenous Australians were British subjects and had the vote in all colonies except Queensland and Western Australia.

The example you give to the class is the Federal Government’s recent lock-down policies to contain the COVID-19 virus. You note that Aborigines are asked to stay at home if they are 50 years or older, but other Australians only when they are 70 or more. The cause of this difference, you say, is great racial or social inequality, which is shameful for Australia. No reference is made to causes that lie within indigenous communities. All the causes are matters of shame for Australia.

“So, the racial or the social inequality in Australia is so poor that indigenous Australians are classified when they’re 50 as 70. That is quite shameful; that’s not something we should be proud of as a country. We know there was a huge learning gap between indigenous Australians and white Australians so I think it is really imperative and timely that we should look at the social inequalities in our own country.”

Are these ideas – in the written assignment and your statements to the class – part of the NSW school curriculum? Does the NSW Department of Education require them to be taught?

If they are required, I should like to read the applicable part of the curriculum. Could you send me a reference or link?

Even if you are constrained to inflict this on the children there might be room to soften the Department’s propaganda with cautions, for example pointing students towards material relevant to the study of English that doesn’t defame their country, ancestors or heritage. Shouldn’t teachers protect their students from hateful ideologies?

I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,
Frank Salter

P.S.  I have instructed [my son] not to submit Lesson 4. I cannot think of a way for him to answer the questions while remaining within the subject of English. Again, your suggestions would be welcome.”

The teacher never did reply or send a curriculum link. Instead a deputy principal telephoned. He sympathised with my annoyance, but pointed out that if the lessons were changed he might receive another visit from local Aboriginal activists and be accused of racism. I counter-pointed that English in New South Wales has descended to ideology because teachers are expected to instruct pupils on non-literary subjects about which they are ignorant, such as American history and the sociology and psychology of race. Why not stick to analysing texts? The deputy principal explained that knowing how badly Black Americans have been treated helps students understand the emotions express in their speeches and songs.

I continued that my son’s class also studied the Stolen Generations. That is another contested, politicised subject. And it is being taught from one radical minority perspective. None of these subjects is like algebra or physics. There are different points of view.

I could have added that by substituting ideology for scholarship, the curriculum distorts students’ understanding of society. For example, it does not describe emotions expressed by blacks who are conservative or politically neutral or who do not resent whites or for whom identity politics is unimportant. Expressions of black victimhood and the social theory meant to explain it are both cherry-picked from the same narrow ideological perspective. That is the approach of the NSW Department of Education and has been for decades.

The deputy principal suggested I forward my letter to an English adviser in the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA), a body responsible for developing the curriculum. My covering letter of 11 May 2020 contained the following message:

Please find attached a letter of complaint I sent to my son’s Year 8 English teacher at [his] School. The letter explains that I do not attribute all or even most of the [English lessons’] bias and national defamation to the teacher but to those who set the curriculum. I would appreciate receiving your response, as someone involved in curriculum development. Can you shed light on how high school English became politicised? Is there anybody involved in curriculum development in the NSW Education system who disagrees with the present direction?

No reply has arrived and I am left with stark choices – leave my son in the public school system, pay for a private school, or undertake to school him at home. The first two options leave him exposed to the present ideological curriculum. Home schooling still must operate within the curriculum, but I would be able to filter out or soften its most damaging elements. I’m thinking about it.

While my son remains at school I shall do what I can to shield him from the curriculum and those teachers who uncritically convey it.

Frank Salter is the author of The War on Human Nature in Australia’s Political Culture

24 thoughts on “The English Curriculum’s Comorbidity

  • Petronius says:

    Mr Salter I sympathise with your predicament. So the teaching of English has now become a vehicle for pushing progressive-left ideology. In what way is this different in essence from the educational propaganda of the world’s past and present totalitarian regimes?

  • Rob Brighton says:

    Catholic Education provides no protection against such mental abuse regrettably. My then 17-year-old son was required to study feminist poetry as his major subject. Not star wars or something that might capture a young man’s imagination but feminist poetry. They simply do not care.

  • gareththomassport says:

    Having guided 2 sons through the Catholic and Independent education system into the big wide world of free enterprise, I sympathize with anyone trapped within the education system. I feel grateful my sons have turned out to be independent, analytical thinkers, who were always cynical about the attempted indoctrination within the school system.
    My wife, a teacher, insists we would home school if faced with the current issues pervading the curriculum.
    I don’t see any real options, though the non-state system still seems a better bet. The march of socialism through the institutions is largely complete.

  • Lonsdale says:

    For God’s sake, why don’t you with children and grandchildren turn your computers towards politicians and education departments and complain. And organise public meetings and invite Frank to speak.

  • citizen says:

    Hello, thanks for your article Frank.

    I had a similar experience with my child a few years back. . My child told me that in English (!) class they were discussing a piece by Tim Winton in The Guardian about toxic masculinity. Here’s the link to the article they were studying:


    I let my child know what I thought about the article. I didn’t want hm to take away from it that all men are toxic and I thought this was particularly unfair to a young boy.

    I also spoke to the teacher. I was incredulous that this exercise was part of the English curriculum,

    I am very happy with my child’s independent school but the teacher (who is very dedicated BTW) left me with the impression that she didn’t really see what the problem of introducing concepts of “toxic masculinity” into a group of year 9 kids in an English class was a problem- even for the boys. It was all about getting the kids to appreciate different texts types.

    English is not about the study of literature etc. It’s quite sad and kids are missing out. Why would a student love English when the way that it taught is just a MASSIVE DOWNER!

    My advice is to encourage your child to read and help them discover wonderful literature. When they have to do exercises like this as part of English, make sure they know it’s a nonsense and not English at all. Here’s the email I sent to my child. I felt that I had to really engage with what was being presented to him because I didn’t feel they would get it in their English class.


    That’s a thought provoking article. Thanks for sending it through.

    My thoughts for what they’re worth.

    I do worry when some groups or small interactions with groups (ie the surfers) are used (ie here by Tim Winton) to make huge generalisations about men and masculinity not to mention jumping to toxic masculinity.

    I also get annoyed when a group characteristics (ie here the skin colour white) is used to make a generalisation about privilege. Why are whole classes of people deemed privileged (he talks about unexamined privilege) because of:
    The colour of their skin;
    Their maleness?

    Surely we judge individuals, as individuals, not by reference to a “group” that they may belong to. Using a group identity is lazy post modern nonsense that gives no weight to individual characteristics or individual experiences. Who says that white man don’t also experience disadvantage? Every story is different and classifying all white man as privileged is just playing identity politics.

    It would be interesting to hear your class discussion. Do you think what Tim Winton says about the surfers and the way they talk goes on with your group of friends and your year ? I don’t think that kids “projecting and rehearsing” is anything new. They have always done it and it’s not particularly toxic. Though trash talking girls is particularly disrespectful. Girls can be toxic too. When I watch that awful show the Bachelor or MAFS, the way both girls and boys behave is so appalling. I do agree that boys look for clues and that’s why dad and I have always tried to raise you kids to behave properly and respect yourself. Fathers especially need to set really good examples for their children and sadly some don’t. Luckily yours does (and mine did).

    Generally, I’m a huge admirer of Tim Winton as a novelist. He writes so well and really presents authentic characters. He captures a lot in a small number of words and, like all good writers, he respects his readers by allowing them to join the dots. You should definitely read some of his books. I’d start out with Cloudstreet and then maybe move onto Breath.

    In Breath, Tim Winton draws on his experience as a surfer to describe the experiences of two very neglected boys. The adults in the novel do not behave well and the boys suffer consequences.

    I think what Tim Winton says about the culture and the rights of passage is absolutely spot on. A lot of the loss of those traditions is tied up with the loss of religion among many people. This has been replaced by a vacuous materialistic culture. Some young people sadly do have to fend for themselves, with the adults in their lives unable to pass on important truths about what constitutes a good life. Dare I say it, but one thing that I love about your school is how serious the school takes its traditions and the high expectations that are placed on the students.

    I could say lot more about this article but it’s late so I’ll just end by giving you a little tip – some men are toxic but masculinity isn’t.

    Love mum

  • gary@erko says:

    Seems there could be a call for someone to establish a conservative tutorial co-operative, with a central agency where parents can contract a suitably qualified tutor to assist with homework, and help steer their children through this.

  • rod.stuart says:

    It all started when we thought it a good idea for the government to manage the education business. Since then, it has become the indoctrination business. Ditto the ‘health’ business.

  • rod.stuart says:

    “The most urgent necessity is, not that the State should teach, but that it should allow education. All monopolies are detestable, but the worst of all is the monopoly of education.”

    Frédéric Bastiat

  • SB says:

    I’m astounded that you would waste your time challenging this. Why don’t you instead point the finger at where the blame truly lies: with so-called conservative state and federal governments. For decades they have allowed the Left to control the agenda in education and every other public institution in the country.

  • Lonsdale says:

    SB – finally someone points out the obvious.

  • Lawrie Ayres says:

    I note that in choosing a candidate to contest the Eden-Monaro by-election the liberal Party has nominated a woman who is a strong believer in climate change. That tells me the leftists have won yet another round and that the candidate is a non-thinking, gullible waste of space. No wonder education is a disaster zone.

  • Wayne says:

    What a sad state of affairs. I sympathize with the parents who must feel impotent rage at having no means to address this situation.

    Time for school vouchers although the curriculum could still be a problem.

  • wmrbuck says:

    There is hope in the natural tendency of children to rebel.

  • jimriddell says:

    It is amazing that in an article and a debate about English there is no mention of Shakespeare, Keats, Austin, Conrad, Faulkner, Vonnegut, HH Richardson, Tolstoy, Balzac, Zola, etc, etc. But I am also aware that pushing left agenda has been going on since the early 1970’s.
    PS. If you want to confound a lefty……remember Martin Luther King’s birth date…….15/1/1929…………and its OK to call them Negroes………he did!

  • Tony Thomas says:

    I’ve documented in many Quadrant pieces how this brainwashing starts in kindergarten and up through primary and then secondary, reaching its great flourishing in the universities. Frank Salter’s piece is terrific in exposing more samples of what goes on in the “closed” green-left world of secondary schooling. I am currently documenting for publication the leftism at Sydney University which borders on taxpayer-funded insanity.

  • Peter Sandery says:

    To gary@erko, I suggest you look up the Generation Liberty project that the IPA has set up in an attempt to resolve the dilemma you mention.

  • Ross Williamson says:

    Private schools are the same. It started in the 60s. But for the need to have pieces of paper for vocational reasons, you would never send an innocent child to one of these places.

  • talldad says:

    Home schooling still must operate within the curriculum, but I would be able to filter out or soften its most damaging elements. I’m thinking about it.
    Home education requires a significant commitment of you and your wife, particularly in daily time commitment and supervision, so it is not a decision to be taken lightly.
    You would be required to teach with the curriculum framework of NSW and demonstrate to an inspector that your choice of material fulfils the goals of the curriculum in the seven or eight subject areas (I am in Victoria and can’t recall the fine detail any more).
    However, you will find it a most satisfying solution to the dilemma in which you find yourself caught. There is plenty of good quality curriculum material available both locally and overseas, and you will be able to handle it just as the teachers do – by staying ahead of your student/s in the texts. And you will find good support from a network of fellow home educators.
    I would encourage you to investigate the option seriously.

  • talldad says:

    Oops – block quoting failure on the first para.

  • DG says:

    Ah, my experience with one of my nieces. In year 7 she had to write about the ‘Asian voices’ in a book by an Asian writer. Nothing wrong with a good book by anyone, but to ask a child with no world experience and no idea what might constitute an ‘Asian’ voice (which part of Asia? India? North Korea?) is either cruel or risible. But either way tendentious stupidity. If I had been her parent I’d have written to the teacher in similar vein to Frank.

  • Doubting Thomas says:

    DG, I agree entirely. Speaking as someone who has spent years in “Asia”, I find it appalling how ignorant many people are in the West when referring to “Asians”. The British media and, from discussion with some British acquaintances, I infer, the general British public (and to a lesser extent our own) seem to be impervious to the fact that there are few, if any, generic Asian traits, let alone “Asian voices”.
    Not even the scandalous behaviour of the authorities in failing properly to identify and prosecute the notorious “Asian” grooming gangs in the UK (overwhelmingly Pakistani) can jolt the people out of their racist ignorance. Better that people imply that all or any Asians, of whatever region or culture, are involved than specifically name and target the real culprits. That would be racist, doncha know!

  • bomber49 says:

    A million years ago in the 60s we studied Huckleberry Finn in English and learned how negro slaves were regarded as tradable untermenchen. A better way to learn history and an appreciation of Mark Twain

  • whitelaughter says:

    Home schooling isn’t just for weirdos any more. The number of parents disgusted with the worthless rubbish in schools means that large numbers have taken up the challenge, and have assembled considerable resources to assist in the task.
    Because socialisation is an important aspect of schooling, home schoolers arrange (or did before the lockdown) for regular meet ups so the children can play and study together.

    Don’t ‘consider’ it – *research* it. You will be pleasantly surprised.

  • Michael says:

    Elizabeth Beare, Michael’s Wife
    I’d suggest to a teacher interested in putting up a well-written and forensically researched piece about aboriginal history and ‘the stolen generations’, for discussion purposes, should present students with some of Keith Windschuttle’s writing on the topic.
    If not, why not? you could ask.

    When do group lessons under home schooling actually become a ‘school’ under departmental rules?
    Having a variety of teachers is very important in my view, something home schooling does not offer unless parents share the load with other home schooling families, for example on different days etc or perhaps call in experts on certain subjects. A relief for the over-burdened parents too, I should imagine.
    Home schooling has its fans, but I don’t think it would have suited me with my four.

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