Age Melbourne 20 November 2017
Recently I was quoted in The Age regarding the recent VCE English exam andhowone of its sections read like a green-left newsletter.I also brought attention to the perceived over-emphasis of green issues in the broader humanitiescurriculum.
Of course these comments provoked a predictable backlash from the usual suspects, including Age columnist Matt Holden. This is an important debate that strikes at the heart of cultural and political discussion in Australia. Educating school students is one of the most important responsibilities state governments around Australia undertake.
English is the only subject that is compulsory in year 12 in Victoria. It is so important that young Australians are taught to communicate effectively.The Victorian curriculum asserts that English aims to help young people ‘‘become ethical, thoughtful, informed and active members of society and plays an important part in developing the understanding, attitudes and capabilities of those who will take responsibility for Australia’s future’’.
Essentially the curriculum, at its core, is aimed at giving school leavers the skills to question our society and make it better. It’s obvious to any reasonable observer, and indeed critical thinker, that there is a cultural, ideological and philosophical emphasis on one perspective over another in our humanities subjects.
Dominating themes of class tensions paint a bleak, negative and depressing view of our humanity. Rather than encouraging students to think clearly about moral dilemmas, which maybe encountered in their lives, students are force-fed a diet of cultural and moral relativism. At this critical stage of their lives, students should be learning broad concepts about our common history and the shared values that makes Australia the envy of the world.
I am not suggesting that politicians should be able to dictate the contents of the curriculum; rather that the curriculum should reflect the ideas and the traditions that have stood the test of time. The curriculum should conserve and pass on our shared cultural inheritance. It should distil what the generations who have come before us have deemed to be worth knowing as well as equipping young people with the technical skills and values they need to negotiate a complex economy and an advanced democracy.
But, lamentably, identity politics is seeping into the classroom. The decision of the Victorian Association for the Teaching of English to invite former Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs, GetUp! campaigner Shen Narayanasamy and left-wing activist Van Badham to deliver speeches at their conference is evidence that one perspective, the cultural left, takes precedence over all others.
The conference agenda confirms the left-leaning allegiance of the organisation, with an over-emphasis on identity politics. It’s time to take identity politics out of the classroom and focus on equipping our school leavers with the skills to think critically for themselves and makeup their own minds about our most pressing political, social and economic issues.
Of course,we want our students to engage passionately in debate around important social and moral issues, but such discussions should be based from a neutral position that allows for balance and input from all sides of the debate.