Greg Sheridan, The Weekend Australian, February 2-3, 1985, p. 1, 12.
(Scroll to the end for an endorsement from Hugh Morgan.)
All around the country, teachers are giving our children a diet of intellectual poison.
Syllabuses in the social sciences and value-related areas are being taught, which are deeply hostile to Australia, to the US, to capitalism, to European civilisation, to industry, to Christianity. They, in fact, embody a widespread hatred for our society.
Accompanying the new secular religion of environmentalism are endless Malthusian delusions about the doomed future of the planet because of over-population and under-production, and the evil effects of industry. Out-of-date, contentious and often inaccurate information is given to school children to show them the path of disaster the world is treading because of the sins of capitalism.
Large areas of the State education system have been captured by mediocre talents who adhere to a variety of fruit-cake ideologies with little regard for serious scholarship which conflicts with their views.
In many social sciences Australian students are receiving the worst education possible: plenty of moral anger and little intellectual substance. In peace studies they are in a vice which, on the one hand tries to scare them into pacifism, while on the other feeds them shoddy, anti-American clap trap as a substitute for rigorous analysis.
In sex education and similar courses, values clarification techniques are used to convince students that everything is relative, no one set of moral standards is any better than any other, and that traditional customs are, at best, a curious anachronism.
In human rights education, and other areas that deal with international poverty, updated derivatives of Lenin’s theory of economic imperialism are promulgated to convince students, against all the evidence, that the Western industrialised nations are the cause of Third World poverty. No mention is made of the analysis of economists such as P.T. Bauer or Kenneth Minogue who have demonstrated the falsity of such theories.
National pride is assaulted. European settlement of Australia is increasingly portrayed as some kind of hideous crime against humanity instead of the beginning of the Australian nation.
The general thrust of curriculum reform in Australia in the past few years has been to water-down traditional and academic courses in favour of more “life-centred” and “relevant” courses, designed to be easier and more interesting for students. It is thought that by transforming education into entertainment, more students will stay at school beyond compulsory years.
Much decision-making in curricula has been decentralised to school level, rather than curricula being centrally set. The external examination, the only guarantee of some uniformity and coherence in education, has been steadily eroded.
The curriculum diversification thinking received its major hit in Australia in the Schools Commission document, Schooling for 15 and 16-year-olds. Similar thinking was later followed up in a variety of State education documents, the most influential perhaps being the Swan-McKinnon report in NSW.
This path of curriculum reform is duplicating the US experience of the past 10 to 15 years — which the Americans have pronounced an absolute disaster. The report, A Nation at Risk, is just one of a number of US reports which condemn the diversification trend. In the US there is a backlash against this type of reform and a move back towards academic excellence as the primary goal of education.
The pseudo-radicals who have captured the heights of Australian education are guilty of a grotesque and dangerous hypocrisy. They justify the moral relativism of the values clarification and other similar approaches by saying Australia is no longer a society in which there is moral and religious consensus. Therefore, schools can no longer indoctrinate traditional values.
But in their own indoctrination courses — such as peace studies, human rights, non-sexist or multicultural education — they change their clothes and become old-fashioned social engineers, using education to “raise the consciousness” or “challenge the attitudes” of children.
The educational disciples of the Italian Marxist theorist, Antonio Gramsci, who have been quite influential in education courses in Australian tertiary institutions, hold as a standard part of their mythology that, in a capitalist society, the education system reinforces the ideological hegemony of the ruling class. It is up to idealistic socially aware teachers to provide “critical” education, which challenges this hegemony.
This is almost a mirror reversal of the truth, for education is increasingly one of the major subversive (in the strict meaning of the word) influences in our society.
A recent American book, Why Are They Lying to Our Children? by Herbert London, has caused a storm in US education circles.
It surveys a large sample of the US textbooks and comes to the conclusion their scholarship is shoddy, they are one-sided in presentation, and are overwhelmingly hostile to the US and free enterprise, presenting the silliest Club of Rome-type conclusions about inevitable world shortages of food, energy, minerals and so on.
Mr London demonstrates the error of these conclusions. Similar textbooks are used in Australia and his conclusions are relevant for Australia. Mr London demonstrates the facts. He does not ignore the problems, but neither does he ignore the achievements: that life expectancy has grown in most Third World countries, food production has increased, commonly quoted UN figures on hunger are not only out-of-date but were wrong when first published. Similarly, he demonstrates the dishonesty of many apocalyptic population explosion forecasts. Mr London writes:
With a fear of technology rather pervasive in our news reporting, with some environmentalists encouraging the belief that we have no right to tamper with nature, with literary figures from two centuries cataloguing the horrible conditions brought about by technology, with scientists using inaccurate assumptions to predict future gloom and perhaps doom, it is little wonder that teachers and textbook writers often cannot distinguish between wheat and chaff.
As a result, they become part of a system that disseminates the currently popular, prevailing opinions. Unfortunately, those opinions tend to be wrong, misleading and misguided.
Mr London’s work has been partly the inspiration for similar work in Australia by the Melbourne-based independent education consultant, Peter McGregor. A former teacher, Mr McGregor is the author of a number of studies widely used in schools, and runs the educational consultancy EdVise.
Mr McGregor has looked at Australian syllabuses and textbooks with a similar perspective to that of Mr London. He comments:
Most of the social studies, environmental studies, social science, even geography, English, and some science, history and economic curricula are hostile to the society they are designed to serve. Their attitude to anything in the future displays an economic illiteracy and, often, cynicism that is having a seriously debilitating effect on our young people.
Mr McGregor accuses the education elites, the syllabus committees, and Education Department curriculum branches, of being ideological, illogical and ill-informed. He says:
When you consider the history of doomsaying, and you read past newspaper headlines about the impending catastrophes of shortages of whale oil, timber, coal, oil, and so on and on, and then you read what some of our eminent educators are saying about imminent crises, it makes you wonder whether there aren’t some people in society with a vested interest in peddling bad news, in telling kids that we live in a rotten society, and there is no hope for the future.
The Club of Rome and its apologists, even our own Charles Birch, have been shown to be wrong in their predictions over the last 15 years yet their views are still perpetuated throughout education in most States. They have been wrong on almost every count so far, yet for some unknown reason their ideas are preferred to the known facts.
Environmental guru Paul Erlich who predicted 15 years ago that by 1983 world harvests would decline, steak would be only a memory, and one billion people would have starved to death, is still required reading in our schools, long after his ideas are discredited.
Unfortunately, if you want to dig up the facts on some of these issues, it isn’t easy, Julian Simon’s The Ultimate Resource is probably the best, but a recent American publication, The Doomsday Myth, is only available through the Hoover Institution in America.
Needless to say these books do not figure on Australian school reading lists. Part of the arrogance of the radicals in education has been to simultaneously push their own tendentious views while trying to censor others. The innocuous material of Enterprise Australia, for example, has been widely opposed by teachers’ unions. Similarly, Out of the Fiery Furnace, a pro-mining package, has been stopped from distribution in schools.
Australian textbooks are full of the sort of gloom and doom Mr McGregor and Mr London talk about.
To take just a couple of examples, the New State of the World Atlas, a standard reference book in Victorian schools, has one of the glummest introductory chapters imaginable. It talks of the past five years thus:
Few saw beyond the fading economic light to the gloom in which so much of the world has since been engulfed.
It goes on:
Now, few people in power dare to believe that economic recovery will come easily or be sustained … We must, it seems, accept as inevitable the violent polarisation of wealth and poverty, power and vulnerability, between a minority and the majority of States in the world, and between a minority and majority in each State. We must, it seems, accept as equally inevitable the consequences in conflict within and between societies, which at best make a mockery of the term “civilisation” and at worst will make an end of us all.
The book blathers on in that angry-young-man vein. It is difficult to see what intellectual benefit students derive from this kind of material, but at the least the opposite point of view ought to be put.
Similarly, Charles Birch’s Confronting the Future, which has been widely used in schools, is full of environmental gloom and despair, and anti-growth rhetoric. At one stage Mr Birch writes:
In a world running short of energy Australia has one of the highest rates of consumption per person … Australia could aim to cut by half its rate of growth in use of energy in the decade ahead with the objective of achieving zero energy growth in the 21st Century if not before …
The objection is not so much that this anti-growth material gets into schools, but that the opposite views do not get adequate play, so that students — with no ability to evaluate these claims independently — are taken in.
This, of course, is a major failure with the discussion-group, inquiry-oriented methods of education so popular in the last 10 to 15 years. Students operate on a tiny knowledge base.
Their intellectual freedom is not enhanced by giving them a biased and narrow selection of polemical books, asking them to relate these to their own experience and make up their own minds.
A traditional rigorous academic education, in fact, demonstrates far greater respect for the intellectual freedom of students, because it does not require them to have opinions about issues on which they are almost entirely ignorant. Rather, it gives them knowledge and methods of gaining knowledge which they might later apply to any issue that interests them.
Human rights education is another recent area gaining popularity. The main curriculum aid here has been the book Teaching for Human Rights, produced for the Human Rights Commission. This book relies heavily on the UN Declaration of Human Rights and embodies many of the left-wing assumptions so often found in UN material.
Under the chapter on “Freedom of Assembly, Association, Participation in Public Affairs” there is a section headed “How Far Should Government Be Able to Reach into the Private Lives of Ordinary People?” A role-play is suggested in which students must assume they are being bugged.
At the end of the section, obviously meant to introduce students to the idea of improper government interference in citizens’ lives, a couple of possible lectures are suggested. These are most interesting. They are not from, say, Vietnamese refugees who could tell students about constant government spying in re-education camps.
No, the Teaching for Human Rights group suggests a talk about the Watergate affair, or “about Canberra’s Combe affair and its implications”. In the context of the chapter, the Combe affair is obviously to be seen in a human rights context with Mr David Combe’s rights being the crucial factor. Needless to say, no consideration of the national security aspects is presented.
In the even more ridiculous chapter on “Economic, Social and Cultural Well-being”, shakey statistics are given to prove the gross inequality of Australian society.
Speaking about the international industrial revolution the books says:
European class structures were reproduced in a host of hybrid forms. The fundamental difference between those with capital, and those without, however, remained the same. The latter were invariably obliged, sooner or later, to sell their labour for wages. They were sold whole cultures appropriate to the process, and State, bureaucratic and military power proliferated to service the needs of the ruling class.
The chapter goes on to cite the UN Declaration on Human Rights and the various economic rights people should enjoy. The book then comments:
Socialist societies are directly committed to providing these sorts of things — in ideological terms at least …
The book then suggests a debate on whether socialist or capitalist societies are better at providing rights.
Later in the same chapter the book asks:
How does it feel to those who live in the poorer parts of the world (that is, to most of those who live in the poorer countries, and to those who living in the poorer parts of the wealthier countries) not to have access to the same opportunities as the rich?
It is impossible to believe that this kind of drivel is meant to be a measured, balanced consideration of these issues. Moreover, this type of course exists in an educational vacuum. The children subjected to it are not learning any intellectual discipline, such as mathematics, or science or English or history, which might actually develop their minds and be of use to them.
This has much less to do with education than with preaching the new secular religions, which in our society a majority of people do not embrace, but which a minority believes they can foist on children.
In a superb, and much-neglected, essay in Quadrant magazine in June 1983, Geoffrey Partington, senior lecturer in Education at Flinders University, explores value-related courses in South Australia. Mr Partington questions the role schools should play in moral education. He makes a powerful case that Australian schools have virtually gone crazy in the values they now inculcate.
Up to a decade or so ago, Mr Partington argues, government schools accepted the Christian tradition of ethics. This had nothing to do with formal religious instruction. A certain amount of that was allowed in schools, but more generally schools acknowledged a moral dimension to education. It was a dimension on which both Christians and non-Christians could agree, because to accept Christian ethics did not mean necessarily accepting the Christian religion.
Now, however, in most areas of personal morality, schools adopt a values clarification approach, which broadly means getting students to imagine themselves in a certain situation and to work out, often in discussion groups, how they would have. By this method they “discover” what their own values really are.
Mr Partington writes:
The enormous pressure on our children to expose for public scrutiny their most intimate thoughts and experiences is exerted under the claim that their values will therefore be clarified, but a common result of such activities is to open children to much more radical reorientation in their values and loyalties than even the most aggressively indoctrinative pedagogues have achieved in the past.
Despite their many disclaimers, the Value Clarifiers apply a substantive set of moral judgments. Moral egoism. Christopher Lasch’s “culture of narcissism”, or, more popularly, “me and my feelings” is the core of the moral life proposed by Values Clarification and now fostered by our schools.
Mr Partington examines a number of South Australian social science courses. One accuses British Australia of systematic prejudice against other peoples, and calls Christianity one of 10 major forces in the world, the other nine being communism, Maoism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, capitalism and consumerism.
The area where the values clarification method has probably had most impact is in sex education, which these days travels under a variety of aliases. There is no area in which the overweening arrogance of educators is more evident. Australian sex education courses have adopted attitudes plainly in conflict with the majority of parents, whose complaints about these courses are almost always brushed aside.
Take homosexuality, for example. The Royal Commission on Human Relationships (such a body defies satire) in 1977 recommended that “education should be given to children in schools, to parents, teachers and medical schools about homosexuals and that selected homosexuals should be involved in such programs”. Elsewhere, the royal commission recommended that “education courses should reflect a view of homosexuality as a variant of sexuality”.
In other words, homosexuality was to be presented as a positive alternative lifestyle. Who asked parents if that was the view of homosexuality they wanted given to their children?
The Victorian Education Department, for a time, allowed the use of the book, Young, Proud and Gay, which contained objectionable material. After protests from parents, the Victorian Government banned it from school libraries. Two Victorian teachers’ unions responded by distributing the book to schools themselves.
Yet, as Mr Partington has pointed out in a recent article, books by Enid Blyton, among others, have been disallowed because they allegedly reinforce traditional sex stereotypes.
Other sex education textbooks are equally objectionable. Make It Happy has been used in some Victorian schools. It contains explicit photographs and diagrams and takes a breezy, easy-going attitude towards sex.
On masturbation, it says:
Masturbating is usually a very private thing, although some boys and girls get a kick out of doing it in a group. If that’s how you enjoy it there’s nothing wrong with sharing sex in that way …
Some people feel sexually attracted to animals. It’s not against the law to kiss, masturbate or be masturbated by an animal. But it is illegal for a man or woman to have intercourse or buggery with an animal …
The book also provides detailed instructions on obtaining abortions. Who asked parents if this was what they wanted for their children?
It would be easy to go on quoting other sex education books to similar effect. But the central question remains: who gave educators the right to determine these values? Having abandoned Christian morality, the Australian education system has adopted an entirely fraudulent position of moral neutrality. In effect, it is the morality of the swinging generation, which has managed to combine undreamed-of affluence with undreamed-of neurosis.
The final area worth mentioning is peace studies. No single subject has ever been as fraudulent in its purposes, as shallow in its scholarship, as biased in its politics or as out of place in a worthwhile school as peace studies.
The main thrust for peace studies has come from the teachers’ unions, both government and non-government, almost all of which are under the control of various left-wing coalitions.
The teachers’ unions themselves have been a major part of the broader peace movements in Australia over the past three or four years, and some for longer than that. This alone should disqualify them from formulating peace studies curriculum material on the grounds of bias, but instead they have been allowed to play a central role, with Federal and State government connivance, in the development of peace studies.
If one were designing a course on contemporary Middle East politics one would not, for example, go to the PLO and get them to design the course for you — including the provision of lecturers, reading lists, videos and general background material.
Yet this is analogous to the intellectually corrupt process of syllabus formation in peace studies. In a course on Middle East politics you might ask the PLO for some input (though again you might not) but, if you had any concern for academic integrity, you would not give them the whole course to design, because they are partisans in a dispute which the course is meant to cover.
The Australian peace movement takes a contentious view of the issues of peace and war. It believes, for example, that the presence of US bases on Australian soil does not help in deterrence and therefore make war less likely, but rather that they increase the risks of war.
This contradicts the views of both the ALP and the Opposition parties, yet if the peace movement is the main provider of education material for peace studies, it will become the orthodox view in the classroom.
This is a staggering development for Australia. Left-wing activist groups who support policies which have never been supported by a major political party are being given the right to teach those policies as dogmas in schools.
It is, of course, ludicrous in any event that schools, which cannot even successfully teach all Australian children to read and write, should be trying to teach them “correct” attitudes on international politics. But if they must do this, they should at least provide unbiased courses of some intellectual substance.
The tenor of peace education can be gleaned from the Sam Lewis Peace Prize, which the NSW Teachers Federation awards, and which is officially promoted by the NSW Education Department.
Sam Lewis was a long-time Federation activist also active in the peace movement. An appropriate person to name a peace prize after? Sam Lewis was also for decades a Communist Party member, closely identified with the pro-Soviet faction of the party.
It is difficult to think of a more ridiculous person for Australian school students to commemorate in 1985 than a pro-Soviet stooge who accepted the villainous twists and turns of Stalinist policy. This is the calibre of peace education.
The NSW Teachers Federation recently distributed to schools a pilot resource folder for peace education, an educationally disgraceful document. It asserts generally that military expenditure as such promotes war, a tendentious and simplistic view. It provides a chart of US and Soviet Union votes on key disarmament resolutions in the UN, the implications of which is that the Soviets are more peace-loving than the US.
The general tone of the document roughly equates the US and the Soviet Union. To equate the behaviour and policy of the world’s greatest totalitarian dictatorship with the world’s greatest democracy is, of course, absurd, and it is a position which has never been held by any but a tiny minority of Australians. Yet this spurious even-handedness of equating the US with the Soviet Union, is the best the peace movement can offer in defence against the charge it is effectively pro-Soviet.
The federal resource folder lists various peace groups and their addresses, presumably so they can provide resources. The groups are all the standard left-wing peace groups, including one pro-Soviet group. It does not list, for example, the Australian Defence Association, or similar groups which might provide an analysis of how deterrence maintains peace.
In general, Australian education is a disaster. It is as if the whole Government school system has had a nervous breakdown, and no longer has any idea of its real identity.
Hugh Morgan, “Matters of great seriousness,” The Australian, February 7, 1985, p. 8, as a letter-to-the-editor.
SIR — Your Saturday readers will have been both fascinated and appalled by Greg Sheridan’s article discussing what is currently taught in our schools. Mr Sheridan is to be congratulated for the text and The Australian, likewise, for placing this most important issue on its front page.
Greg Sheridan, without reservation, damns those who are responsible for curriculum development as well as those who have been running our teachers’ colleges for the past 20 years, and training our teachers.
These are the people who are primarily responsible for the nonsense, delusion and fantasy which is so widespread in our schools, which is infecting our children and which, if unchecked, will pull Australia down into an economic and political morass.
Mr Sheridan has been merciless in his comments and analysis. If those whom he castigates decline to take up his challenge and seek, through silence, to allow time and the pressure of new demands to shield their activities and stewardship from challenge and debate, such silence must be taken by governments and electors as nothing more than tacit assent of the education industry to Mr Sheridan’s condemnation.
We are dealing with matters of great seriousness. Australia can recover from ups and downs in economic fortunes. Governments come and go. But 20 years of inculcation of nonsense and fantasy in our schools could mean the economic and political devastation for Australia of the cultural revolution of 1967 in China.
Western Mining Corporation
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