The true meaning of education

Last night’s 7.30 Report “debate” between fed government and opposition education spokesrobots, Julie Bishop and Stephen Smith respectively, was remarkably civil. Most likely because the opposition has decided to agree with just about everything the government says, while complaining it isn’t spending enough – without detailing how much extra the opposition would spend, on what or where the money would come from. The usual business of being in opposition, in other words.

Clearly both sides were under strict instructions to avoid tricky ideological issues, despite Kerry O’Brien’s best loaded-questioning and goading. For instance, just what is Julie Bishop going on about when she keeps sticking the boot into the plague of postmodernism that’s supposedly making our kids stupid?

KERRY O’BRIEN: Julie Bishop, a big part of your emphasis on national curriculum relates to, for instance, teaching Australian history, but not necessarily a critical analysis of that history. Kevin Rudd today promised a curriculum that involved both the teaching of Australian history itself and also teaching interpretative and analytical skills in relation to the literacy. Do you have a problem with that?

Note how she misses a sterling opportunity to stick the boot into left-wing teachers’ unions and postmodernism and all that relative interpretation nonsense . . . by not answering the question at all.

JULIE BISHOP: In fact, Kerry, our proposal for a national curriculum is much broader than that. We’ve got a report commissioned that focussed on the curriculum that could be developed in five core subjects: maths, physics, chem, English and Australian history. And, as you are aware, we held an Australian history summit last year and called on experts to develop a model curriculum. That is under way now, and it is much broader than just the narrative. Our point, of course, was that in order for people to understand Australian history, they have to see it in a narrative way. But a model Australian history curriculum is currently being developed and I’ll take that with a proposal for a national curriculum to the education ministers’ meeting in April. It is on the agenda. If the state and territory education ministers are happy to work with Stephen Smith on a national curriculum, then I’m delighted that they’ll be able to work with the government of the day and by April we should have a level of cooperation that will please us all.

A far cry from her speech last year to the History Teachers’ Association of Australia, in which she complained:

Parents are right to be concerned with courses of study that would have students deconstructing that trashy reality show Big Brother, rather than learning the classics of Australian literature like Banjo Paterson, or Shakespeare. Contemplating a movie poster rather than analysing Patrick White?

And students should not be forced to interpret Shakespeare from a feminist or Marxist perspective. They should bring their own interpretations and values to these works of literature.

How politically savvy of her to slag off English teachers at a history conference. But what utter bollocks.

What’s wrong with interpreting Shakespeare or Big Brother in terms of relations between the sexes or the power struggle between classes? Whether it’s Lady Macbeth entreating the gods to “unsex me here, / And fill me from the crown to the toe full / Of direst cruelty: make thick my blood, / Stop up the access and passage to remorse” or the infamous turkey-slapping incident in last year’s BB, are these not valid and relevant frameworks for discussion?

And what’s this pseudo-individualist nonsense about students bringing their own interpretations – don’t they do that already anyway?

And just what do conservatives have against the idea of interpreting a text critically from a variety of perspectives?

Let’s see how a truly conservative government approaches it. Read what Singapore-based themediaslut has to say about how the Singaporean education system beats creativity and independent thinking out of students from an early age. And to see the results, go no further than the Singapore Art Museum where you can boggle at the plodding unoriginality and uncontroversy of Singaporean contemporary art. Not to worry, at least it leaves more time for shopping.

In other words, ‘postmodernism’ doesn’t make kids stupid, but a lack of critical skills and creative thinking makes them docile, compliant and obsessed with sport, clothes, cars and celebrities.

Conservatives don’t want students to learn critical thinking skills because they don’t want people to apply those skills to the statements of right-wing politicians, the actions of business and government or to society itself. Just keep watching Big Brother, buying stuff on credit and doing what we tell you, kids, it’ll all be fine.

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