Noel McCoy; Ignorant on Education

Posted: October 19, 2008 in Australia, Education, News, Politics
Tags: , , ,

Recently I posted about how the Young Liberal Party had whined to their grown up counterparts in the Liberal Party and managed to get a Senate Inquiry into supposed unfairness in the education system.  Noel McCoy , national president of the AYL, has recentlywritten an opinion piece which really does demonstrate the rather frightening mindset of the Australian Young Liberals as well as their apparent ignorance of how Education actually works.

Education, not indoctrination

By Noel McCoy

Some years ago, former Victorian Premier Joan Kirner issued a call to arms.

“Education has to be reshaped so that it is part of the socialist struggle for equality, participation and social change, rather than an instrument of the capitalist system,” said the former Labor minister.

And academics around the country have responded.

“A major task for Leftist activist academics is … to connect education with community struggles for social justice,” says Dr Gregory Martin, who was a lecturer in the School of Education and Professional Studies at Griffith University, Gold Coast Campus. He also happened to be a member of the militant National Teachers Education Union and the Gold Coast branch of the radical Marxist group, Socialist Alliance.

For Dr Martin, education is a channel for conducting a Marxist revolution. He praises radical Marxist educators such as Peter McLaren (a proponent of so-called critical pedagogy) for their work in what he describes as “laying the practical groundwork for the possibility of a revolutionary situation by ‘stretching out’ a Marxist line into various social movements.”

Down in South Australia, the research of Grant Banfield, a lecturer in education at Flinders University in South Australia, is “informed by commitments to social justice and human emancipation.”

“In particular,” as his biographical note goes on to say, “his work is directed towards the application of Bhaskarian Critical Realism and Marxist social theory to an emancipatory sociology of education.” Banfield has also helped develop curriculum material for anti-nuclear activism by school children.

In fact, there is a long list of education academics in Australian universities who hold similar radical views. The evidence-based list with supporting references and documentation was tabled at the Senate Inquiry into Academic Freedom. (A copy is available on the Make Education Fair campaign website.)

As a result, teaching courses in education faculties at Australian universities reflect the same sort of radical thinking.

The University of New South Wales subject, Power and Resistance in the Classroom, “examines the dynamics of power and knowledge in the classroom, teachers’ work, youth resistance and state ideology”. Another subject, Culture, Identity and Education encourages students to “become critically aware of the debates on multiculturalism, gender, race and ethnicity and the interpretation of policies in practical application in pedagogical contexts.” Similar subjects are offered in teaching faculties at universities in Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.

As would be expected, where ideological activism is entrenched in the academia of education faculties it flows on directly into school curricula and teaching. After all, universities provide the theoretical underpinning for school curricula not to mention the training of future school teachers.

As just one example of curricula, John Gore, who was chief education officer of Human Society and Its Environment, a subject which is taught at all levels of the NSW school curriculum, reported in 2001 that the curriculum would reflect the desire to engage “critical pedagogy” which would enable teachers to “engage these students in a pedagogy that will change their understanding of their world and free them to change their lives.”

Pat Byrne, the head of the radical-left Australian Education Union summed up the effect of radicalism on school curricula when she declared in 2005: “we have succeeded in influencing curriculum development in schools, education departments and universities. The conservatives have a lot of work to do to undo the progressive curriculum.”

Apart from the foolish gloating, Byrne also goes wrong in thinking that “conservatives” are seeking to impose an agenda replacing the radical-left agenda.

What Byrne misses is that as Liberals, we value the Australian traditions of intellectual diversity and academic freedom and want to see those traditions continue.

As I told the Senate Inquiry, we do not want a right-wing or left-wing or any-wing education.

Rather, the Australian education system ought to be characterised by, balance, fairness, intellectual diversity and tolerance for opposing points of view. As one submission to the inquiry put it:

“One of the key values of our educational system should be to encourage students to explore a range of ideas and determine for themselves how to perceive the issues of our day … We don’t want a dependent society of zombies, who fall into radical ideals without properly assessing the substance of those values.”

In an environment where there are constant reports of poor teacher quality and an inability of teachers to effectively manage classrooms and therefore teach, the focus on ideology and social change is hurting our school education.

The Government urgently needs to conduct root and branch reform of education departments if it is serious about getting teachers into our schools who are equipped with the skills and tools needed to meet modern education demands.

It needs to ensure that there is a back-to-basics approach to teaching with support for traditional academic disciplines.

How incredibly out of touch McCoy obviously is with the reality of education within Australia.  Take, for example, the Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS) which is what the entire education curriculum of Victoria is based on.   What is the underlying basis of VELS? Critical thinking;  Throughout the entire framework, that is the entire point and purpose of it.

How incredibly hypocritical McCoy is being as well.  Leftist bias within the education sector?  Even if true (and that is an incredibly huge ‘if’), McCoy is completely ignoring the bias of the right within schools.  What am I talking about?  Let’s take a quick step back and I’ll make the general statement that religion and conservatism tend to walk hand in hand with each other – sure, there are exceptions throughout the rule but it tends to be the general trend.  It is interesting that McCoy makes little to no mention of the numerous religious schools currently in operation that openly encourage very conservative values to their students and actively enforce that values on staff members.  I have worked in schools that teach, as science, things that no scientist would regard is anywhere near true (such as dinosaurs and humans living side by side) and impose such draconian standards on staff members as not being allowed to live (even platonically as a mere housemate) with a member of the opposite sex outside of marriage (they get the sack if they do).

What also strikes me about McCoys piece is how incredibly paranoid is sounds, extremely reminiscient of the “Reds under the bed” cries of the 1950s where anyone who didn’t sign half a dozen proclamations of loyalty in their own blood was obviously a commie spy.

But those are general statements and quick responses, let’s take a handful of specifics and see what we can make of them, hm?

“Education has to be reshaped so that it is part of the socialist struggle for equality, participation and social change, rather than an instrument of the capitalist system,” said the former Labor minister [Joan Kerner].

I have to admit, I agree with that statement and don’t see how it could be rationally argued against. Take a look at society around you; parents are under incredible pressures from the workplace and it is leaving them with less and less time to actually teach their children about such vitally important things as justice, equality and what it means to be part of a vibrant society.  Very few people could argue the point that it has now been left up to school to effectively and practically teach these lessons … simply how to be a proper person.

And that is very important.  It is no good at all just churning out young members of society who simply become cogs in any given workplace.  That is not how a proper society is built or how one should even exist; down that path really does lie the horrors of nameless factory lines, mindlessly assembling products like autonomons.

The University of New South Wales subject, Power and Resistance in the Classroom, “examines the dynamics of power and knowledge in the classroom, teachers’ work, youth resistance and state ideology”. Another subject, Culture, Identity and Education encourages students to “become critically aware of the debates on multiculturalism, gender, race and ethnicity and the interpretation of policies in practical application in pedagogical contexts

And yet McCoy fails utterly to mention any of the rather conservative based classes that happen in various Universities (take the Australian Catholic University, for sake of an example) which quite clearly use class time to spread forth rather conservative beliefs and reinforce the teachings of the Catholic Faith through such worthwhile areas of study such as Theology.

So yes, let’s complain about students being given a proper opportunity to look at society as it stands today (pluses and minuses) but leave people alone to study rather irrelevant two thousand year old texts of dubious worth.

As would be expected, where ideological activism is entrenched in the academia of education faculties it flows on directly into school curricula and teaching. After all, universities provide the theoretical underpinning for school curricula not to mention the training of future school teachers.

That’s a very telling paragraph, one which really does demonstrate how completely ignorant McCoy is of education policy.  Where does school curricula get formed?  Within the department of education, overseen by an idependent body.  It then gets submissions from the public in a really rather transparent process.  McCoy, on the other hands, gives the impression that he believes that Universities strap teaching students down into chairs, wire their eyes open and brainwash them to teaching ‘leftist propoganda’ each and every day.

What Byrne misses is that as Liberals, we value the Australian traditions of intellectual diversity and academic freedom and want to see those traditions continue.

There are several examples which go against this very point he’s trying to make.  These range from the way the Liberal Government cut funding to all levels of education, placed truly bizarre conditions on finding to education facilities of all types (along the lines of ‘fly the Australian flag or you don’t get any money’) and so on.  Let us not also forget how the Liberal Government sent out supposed curriculum material (if my memory serves, it had to do with ANZAC day) with the faces of their Ministers plastered all over them, something which no one appreciated.

And to end this entry, let’s look at the last line:

It needs to ensure that there is a back-to-basics approach to teaching with support for traditional academic disciplines.

Here’s a clue; the old ways do not work with the new generation.  Times change, students change … they need something different to engage them.  The society they will grow up in simply has no room for people who studied under old (and really rather stagnant) systems of education.

Take technology for example; the children studying today will grow up to live in a world which will routinely use technology we can not even imagine today.  The old educational system taught students how to use things in front of them, not the skills to properly understand and master things that have yet to come about – and that’s where critical pedagogy is so very superior to how things used to be done.   It simply is not enough to teach students how to do any specific thing, you need to teach them the skills and strategies to master things which they can not even yet imagine.

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Comments
  1. luke weyland says:

    Minor detail: Socialist Alliance is not a Marxist group.

    Socialist Alliance is strong on issues as human rights, – such as those for women, workers, students, refugees& gays. Strongly for environment and sustainable development including strongly advocating taking immediate steps to make massive reductions to climate change. Strong on Anti War – support the right for self determination, support immediate return of all troops from Afghanistan and Iraq and oppose US intervention in Latin America.

    Socialist Alliance is a political organization made up of activists who adopt a socialist, but its members do not necessarily a Marxist perspective.

  2. SCART says:

    Good article Matt. I gotta agree with my comrade Luke about SA not being Marxist although several if it’s members are. We’re pretty broad and have everything from social justice based “greens” through to revolutionary “reds”.

    Good to read intelligent responses to the propaganda the right wing flood the media with.
    regards

    SCART of
    The MOLOTOV

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