In 1985 Greg Sheridan, a journalist for the Murdoch-owned Australian, wrote a front page article entitled ‘The lies they teach our children’ which was essentially a tirade against the broadening of the school curriculum of the 1960s and 70s and the role that teachers were playing in it.
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…
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.
Sheridan criticised the way the curriculum was being set at the school level rather than centrally, the teaching of environmentalism as being anti-capitalism, the teaching of human rights as Leninist, the teaching of social sciences for claiming gross inequality in Australian society, and the teaching of values-clarification rather than Christian ethics. He described values-clarification as discussion groups where students imagine themselves in various situations and consider how they would behave. Sheridan was concerned that “a common result of such activities is to open children to a much more radical rendering of their values and loyalties”. He claimed that the curriculum in general was subversive:
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.
Such views continue to shape the Australian curriculum. Donnelly, when he was chief of staff to the Minister for Employment in 2004, argued that political correctness, education fads and left-wing ideas had skewed education in Australia so that teachers spent their time advocating homosexuality, multiculturalism and Aboriginal concerns rather than teaching the three Rs.
In 2006 the Australian Minister for Education, Julie Bishop, argued that a “back-to-basics uniform national curriculum” was necessary because left wing “ideologues” had “hijacked” the curriculum and school students were subjected to “trendy educational fads”.
In 2007 Australian state education ministers promised to eliminate the subject “Studies of Society and Environment” which had been a key learning area and replace it with “the traditional disciplines of history, geography and economics”. And Prime Minister John Howard labelled school curricula as “politically-correct” with traditional subjects such as English, history and geography being displaced by “incomprehensible sludge”.
The changing school curricula stirred fears of rebellion and lawlessness, and social disorder amongst some business people and their allies. Business leaders and conservatives disliked the growing activism of school students which seemed to arise from the broadened school curricula. Teachers were accused of being left-wing and “espousing an anti-business, or anti industry stance”.
From the point of view of business leaders in the US: “Too many people were studying foreign policy, hiring practices, job injuries, pollution and product-safety… Knowledge was out of control… The protest period had brought together too many people who had learned they had a right to criticize the whole system”. Writing in a right-wing conservative magazine, The Public Interest, Heather MacDonald attacked the progressive trends in education:
One overlooked corner of the academic madhouse bears in particular on graduates’ job-readiness: the teaching of writing. In the field of writing, today’s education is not just an irrelevance, it is positively detrimental to a student’s development… Rather than studying possessive pronouns, students are learning how language silences women and blacks.
The “unravelling of traditional norms and values” and the perceived rise in teen rowdiness, lewd language and drug use by young people was also blamed on schools and their progressive agenda, which lacked discipline. Similarly employers blamed schools for the poor dress, lack of subservience to supervisors, poor motivation and lack of a work ethic in young employees.
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