Thursday, November 30, 2006


Australian education has been substantially destroyed by Leftist State governments and the Feds are trying to undo at least some of the damage. Five current articles below:

Moral compass returning in postmodern schools

Kevin Donnelly believes the Left is losing the argument about school values

Education has traditionally been an electoral plus for the ALP, but not any more. As a recent Newspoll survey reveals, the Coalition Government has orchestrated an eight percentage point turnaround and is running neck and neck with Labor in terms of positive voter perception. Jenny Macklin, the federal Opposition education spokeswoman, argues the Howard Government's improvement is the result of cheap populism. She is wrong. As outlined in my book Why Our Schools are Failing, Australian parents are worried about significant issues such as falling standards, schools not being held accountable, the curriculum being awash with political correctness and, with government schools in particular, education failing to inculcate proper values.

That the Left has been wrong-footed in the education debate is clear to see. Remember the electoral impact of Mark Latham's hit list of non-government schools? More recently, take the Prime Minister's decision to finance religious counsellors in schools. When announced, the decision met with the usual mock outrage associated with the cultural Left. Andrew Gohl, president of the South Australian branch of the Australian Education Union, says: "It is totally inappropriate for the federal Government to try to impose ideology in public schools."

The Independent Education Union of Australia, an organisation not normally associated with the Left, reveals it has also been captured by the PC brigade when it suggests the federal Government is being divisive. "Australia is a multicultural, plural society; the strength of its values lies in the richness of its diversity," it says. "But John Howard and his Government consistently undermine this diversity with policies and commentary that divide the community and engender distrust." Even Bob Carr, a former politician usually guaranteed to be balanced and perceptive in his public comments, cannot resist hyperbole when he argues: "What if a poorly attended parent meeting chose a jihadist imam from a small Muslim prayer hall?"

Reality check: far from pushing a so-called conservative agenda, the Government is providing a resource that individual schools, government and non-government, can choose to take up or not. Quite rightly, while counsellors will not be restricted to any one religion or denomination, there will also be restrictions on who can be employed. That the AEU argues against the Government's initiative by describing it as ideological is also a bit rich. Consider how the union's curriculum policies have forced a politically correct, cultural-left agenda on schools, redefining the three Rs as the republic, refugees and reconciliation.

An uncritical promotion of multiculturalism and diversity, advocated by the IEU, also ignores that the overwhelming majority of Australians describe themselves as Christian and that our history, political and legal institutions have arisen out of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Instead of condemning the initiative to give students a clear and unambiguous moral compass to decide right from wrong and to identify a proper balance between rights and responsibilities, opponents of the scheme should be applauding it. For far too long, education has failed in its duty to address such issues. Beginning with the progressive education movement of the 1960s and '70s, the belief is that children should be left to their own devices and that adults should not impose a strong moral framework.

The self-esteem movement of the '80s and '90s, when education was reduced to therapy on the basis that nobody failed, compounded the problem as lessons focused on what was immediately entertaining and relevant to the world of the student. Classic myths, fables and legends such as The Arabian Nights, Aesop's Fables, The Iliad and The Odyssey gave way to popular magazines and social-realism stories about youth suicide and dysfunctional families. History as a subject disappeared, replaced by the study of the local community or figures such as Diana, princess of Wales.

Evident by debates about the nihilistic impact of theory, represented by postmodernism, the most recent example of our failure to give students a viable moral code is the belief that there is no right or wrong, as all values are relative and truth is simply a socio-cultural construct. As noted by John Paul II in his encyclical letter Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason): "A legitimate plurality of positions has yielded to an undifferentiated pluralism, based on the assumption that all positions are equally valid, which is one of today's most widespread symptoms of the lack of confidence in truth."

Historically, the education debate has focused on issues such as more money, smaller classes and more teachers, as shown by debates in these pages during the past 12 months. Equally important is the cultural significance of education, something the Prime Minister clearly understands.


War over school history

The Queensland Government is preparing for a stand-up brawl with Canberra over attempts to impose history as a compulsory subject for high school students. Queensland Education Minister Rod Welford will defy federal Education Minister Julie Bishop and refuse to mandate history as a compulsory, stand-alone subject for Years 9 and 10. "I am happy to mandate some essential knowledge of key components of Australian history into a subject," Mr Welford said. "But it simply does not make sense to mandate history as a stand-alone subject."

History is taught in Queensland public schools as part of Studies of Societies and Environment and is optional from Year 9. Canberra is also facing a showdown with South Australia, where history is available until Year 11 as part of SOSE. Western Australia, where history is called "Time, Continuity and Change" and mingled in a Society and Environment course, is believed to be considering Ms Bishop's proposal. NSW and Victoria offer history as a stand-alone subject. Other territories and states have not made their position clear.

Ms Bishop has refused to rule out withholding money from the next $40 billion education funding round from those states that resist her push for a stand-alone compulsory history subject. "In the last funding round the Government provided $33 billion to the states and territories to run their schools and I believe that the Australian taxpayers would expect us to make the states and territories accountable for that investment," she said last month. Yesterday Ms Bishop's office said: "The Minister hopes the state will agree with the proposal voluntarily."

The warning follows news that a report commissioned by federal and state education ministers found that more than three-quarters of Australian teenagers did not know the significance of Australia Day. Ms Bishop's push for compulsory history in schools has the strong backing of Prime Minister John Howard. On Australia Day, Mr Howard foreshadowed his desire to see history established as a compulsory subject on Australia Day. He has specifically attacked Mr Welford's proposal for blending history with other curriculums. "Too often, it is taught without any sense of structured narrative, replaced by a fragmented stew of themes and issues," Mr Howard said.

Mr Welford last night vowed to strongly support Queensland public schools which want to establish a separate history curriculum. But he believes the practicalities of many smaller Queensland high schools require history be incorporated into other areas such as social studies or environmental education. He warned Ms Bishop that Queensland would not be swayed by Canberra's "rigid inflexibility" on the issue


Teachers get a blast

Underperforming Australian teachers received a broadside yesterday from Prime Minister John Howard and Education Minister Julie Bishop. As the Federal Government presses on with plans to create a more centralised national curriculum, public school teachers are becoming fair game to a Government convinced they're on the nose in the electorate. In Parliament, Mr Howard used a Dorothy Dixer on claims that some Victorian teachers plan to join tomorrow's ACTU National Day of Action to launch a blistering attack on the profession.

"It is no secret to any member in this House that many Australian parents are voting with their feet against the government education system around the country," he said. "And they are not doing it because of funding. "It's this kind of behaviour by teachers that gives government schools a bad name." Instead of attending a "Jimmy Barnes concert" at the Melbourne Cricket Ground teachers should be in their classrooms, Mr Howard said. "As somebody who is rather proudly the product of a government education system, let me say that I worry about this kind of behaviour undermining the quality of government education in Victoria and around Australia," he said.

Ms Bishop told a gathering of National History Challenge finalists in Canberra that the teaching of Australian history had been denigrated in many of our schools. "And I believe that is a shame," she said. She found some comfort in the fact that finalists in the competition had produced sophisticated and intelligent work. But she reiterated her determination to make history a compulsory stand-alone subject for Years 9 to 10.


Teach the facts first: Without the basics, school history is just propaganda

An editorial from "The Australian" below

WHEN NSW Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt said on Monday Australia Day commemorated the founding of our federation, instead of the arrival of the First Fleet, she did more than look like a dill. She demonstrated how she was betrayed by the people who designed the curriculum she was taught at school. As a woman in her early 40s, Ms Tebbutt went to school in an era when history, the study of the past on its own terms, not as a version of the present in fancy dress, was being trashed. Instead of the foundations of history - the facts and dates of events, who did what and why, and what were the consequences - history began to be a collection of stories based on the belief that whatever past winners said was invariably unfair to everybody else. The result is that the woman charged with running the largest school system in the country cannot distinguish between the founding of settler society in Australia and the creation of our commonwealth. But it is a fair bet that while she may not have any idea of the detail of how or why Australia came to be one of the most successful and enduring democracies, Ms Tebbutt was told at school how the settlers, or the founding fathers, probably both, dispossessed the indigenous Australians.

And just as Ms Tebbutt was betrayed then, so are children today. For a generation, our state education systems have emphasised ideology over information in history and literature, assuming the task of the teacher is to create a questioning culture among students, but one where fashion and feelings stand in the way of fact. We have now reached a point where it appears important for students to understand what people felt, rather than to know the facts that shaped their circumstances. As The Australian reports this morning, a simulation exercise used in a Sydney school presented conflict in the Middle East from a militant Palestinian perspective. As a way of inciting ill-informed anger among young people against one side in an immensely complex conflict, this is a winner. But as an exercise in education, it is hard to imagine anything worse. Before students can argue about the Middle East they need to learn the 20th-century history of the region. They need to be aware the British ran much of the region between the wars. They need to know the basic facts and dates of the way the Israelis fought for independence, the way the surrounding states sought to destroy Israel and the way ordinary Palestinians are now caught between Islamic terrorists and the Israeli forces. And they need to grasp that the Palestinian cause is now divided between people who want to make the best deal they can with Israel and fanatics who believe they are divinely directed to kill Jews.

In this, as in every other area of study, it is the job of schools to teach the facts and interpretive skills students need to make up their own minds. It is not their job to indoctrinate young people in some sort of party line that suits the political style of the teacher union leaders, who still see the world through the prism of the counter-culture of the 1960s, which blamed the West for all that was wrong in the world. We are now at a stage where children are being taught an interpretation of the past as if it were fact - the very thing the education apparatchiks always argue they oppose. To portray the European settlers of Australia, or the Israelis for that matter, as invaders, as if the evidence was irrefutable, ensures school students will argue before they have all the evidence.


Hard-Left education chief self-destructs

West Australian Education Minister Ljiljanna Ravlich, close to tears yesterday as she battled an implication of lying from her former top bureaucrat, will today try to save her job before a state parliamentary inquiry. This follows damning evidence given to an upper house committee by former education director-general Paul Albert, who contradicted claims she made in parliament denying any knowledge of a Corruption and Crime Commission investigation into teacher sexual abuse of students.

Ms Ravlich, who has admitted seeking the help of disgraced former Labor premier Brian Burke to counter considerable media, community and teacher opposition to the controversial Outcomes Based Education (OBE), yesterday launched a scathing attack on her former top bureaucrat, claiming that Mr Albert had deliberately withheld information from her. Ms Ravlich has been clinging to her job after a series of blunders and scandals that have rocked the Carpenter Government, including the spectacular demise of police minister John D'Orazio and small business minister Norm Marlborough, who were both ensnared in CCC investigations.

Mr D'Orazio was kicked out of the Labor Party over an inappropriate and secretly taped meeting with a panel beater to discuss the minister's traffic infringements. Mr Marlborough may face criminal charges over evidence he gave to the CCC about his contact with Mr Burke, who was jailed twice in the 1990s and has since become a lobbyist.

Yesterday, Ms Ravlich flatly denied Mr Albert's evidence on Monday that he told her about the CCC investigation on three separate occasions. At times looking close to tears, Ms Ravlich said she had no recollection of the discussions outlined by Mr Albert, apart from a "passing" reference on one occasion. She described his actions as incomprehensible.

The discrepancy renewed the pressure on Premier Alan Carpenter, who yesterday came under fire in parliament as the Opposition demanded to know whom he believed: Ms Ravlich, or Mr Albert, whom the Premier appointed as director-general in 2001 when he was education minister. Giving very careful responses, Mr Carpenter suggested it was not unreasonable for people to have different recollections about passing comments, but he refused to answer questions on Ms Ravlich's immediate future.

The CCC spent almost a year investigating the Education Department's handling of allegations of sexual misconduct by teachers against children before releasing a damning report last month that accused the department of being more concerned with protecting staff than students. Mr Albert said that while he did not go into any detail with Ms Ravlich, he had raised the issue in general terms at meetings in May, July and August. He said that on one occasion in July he recalled telling the minister a draft report had been received from the CCC and it looked bad. Mr Albert was forced to resign over the issue last month.

Ms Ravlich said she was never told the CCC was looking into alleged sexual misconduct by teachers and that Mr Albert's failure to inform her was "totally unacceptable". "I met with the director-general every fortnight, on occasion on a weekly basis, and we would go through a whole range of issues. I would have called Mr Albert virtually on a daily basis," she said. "To be dropping breadcrumbs over the place for a minister to pick up and to, by way of passing, put forward any information in that manner, it's totally unacceptable."

Liberal leader Paul Omodei said the Premier had no option but to immediately remove Ms Ravlich from the education portfolio.


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