I had a ‘delightful discovery’ of my own last week. And that is, young people today (i.e. millennials) understand what’s going on in the world, both socially and politically, a whole lot better than many in the media want to give them credit for. What’s more, many are starting to understand just how vacuous the social agenda of identity politics truly is.
Take for instance the fiasco surrounding the English 1 paper last Monday involving the now infamous, Mango. No sooner was the exam over, then those currently sitting the Higher School Certificate in NSW were online trying to work out who this mysterious Ellen Van Neerven – was she Dutch – and in particular, how her poem was connected to the question: ‘explain how the poet conveys the delight of discovery.’
What has since become clear is that the piece is not only full of sexual innuendo involving an eight-year-old girl, but the “delightful discovery” that is being made is anything but obvious. Paul Forbes, from Charles Sturt University, summed up the issue well:
Whatever the allegorical content may convey, students were asked to assess literature that clearly had alternative meanings sight unseen. As a process of assessing students’ capacity to interpret literature this was an abject failure; this is clearly a work whose meaning must be studied. The at-face-value words cannot be relied on. Students were asked to interpret something whose content and meaning would not be apparent to the naive reader. The failure is not on a moral question but on asking students to do something they had not been prepared for and against which general principles would not work.
Significantly, Tony Burke, himself a poet and Indigenous literature academic, also suggested that the HSC student’s response as a whole was an example of their ‘entitlement’ and in particular, racism. However, when asked about how he would’ve responded he said:
It seems like a stupid question actually. Just on that initial reading the question didn’t make sense to me at all.
So, the students did have a legitimate concern after all! Or is Burke now being ‘entitled’ and possibly even racist himself?
A student who sat the exam spoke of the frustration with the situation as follows: “No one’s going to be allowed to disagree with the author because she’s, 1) A woman 2) Aboriginal and 3) Queer. It’s like the perfect storm of discrimination.” As young people are only all too aware, that’s how virtue signalling works. In fact, according to someone else I interviewed, “Victimhood has become the new virtue.”
It wasn’t going to be long then before pieces like the following appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald. The author, currently in year 11, patronisingly says to those currently sitting their exams, “it is appalling that students basically my age feel entitled to contact, attack and degrade the author of a poem they couldn’t analyse. And it is clear to me that what underlies the online reactions to Mango is a pervasive sense of racism and sexism in students.”
Um, no. What she doesn’t understand was that this was a sight unseen text. That means that you’re not given any context as to either the author’s cultural background or the poem’s original setting. The only thing you would have been able to work out was that she was a woman. Seeing that the poet also identifies as being queer I’m surprised she didn’t accuse her entire generation of rampant homophobia, as well as being racist and sexist.
Unfortunately, one particular student, Josh Provost, made the mistake of producing a meme, inspired by the “infinite monkey theorem,” which postulates that even a primate randomly striking keys on a typewriter will eventually produce a piece of coherent literature. He explains the course of events as follows:
After the exam I said to the boys and the girls in the common room, that was a pretty bad poem. It was like someone has thrown a typewriter over the fence at Taronga Zoo and they’ve just pumped out a poem for us…I went home, typed in “infinite monkey theorem,” grabbed the first photo, put it up and said, LEAKED IMAGE OF THE AUTHOR OF ‘MANGO.’ I had no clue she was Indigenous and if I did I understand the connotations of monkeys and people of colour – given that knowledge, I wouldn’t have posted.
To his credit, as soon as Josh Provost understood his mistake, he immediately contacted the author to personally apologise. But the online retribution had already begun, with his personal information being distributed online (known as “docxing”) which meant that both he and his mother started receiving abusive text messages.
One of the most intriguing Facebook comments I saw on the HSC Discussion Page was one by someone who, after reading my original article, wrote: “How is it that only a website pushing a far-right agenda wrote a pro-student article?” He was given the following reply: “Because the right-wing is far more intellectually honest than the left-wing these days.”
What has become patently clear is that the NSW Education Department has been high jacked by the identity politics implicit within postmodernism. The once ‘gold standard’ of the HSC is nowhere near as bright as it once was. Maybe that’s why more and more schools are choosing the International Baccalaureate. Because, at least in the IB, you’re objectively assessed on what you truly know.
One consolation we have from this extraordinary episode is that we now know that many millennials are not taking their soma as Aldous Huxley suggested that people would be doing in his Brave New World. There is hope for the future as more and more of the younger generation begin to understand how they have been duped by postmodernist propaganda and many of its teachers.
However, there still remain many unanswered questions about the conduct of this exam and the particular role of NESA. For the community’s peace of mind we need to know how NESA will re-establish their reputation as a credible standards agency when they allow this sort of fiasco to occur, how they are going to mark this exam fairly given that tens of thousands of students are affected, and what review of the process in setting HSC papers is being proposed?
Mark Powell is the Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Strathfield.
Cartoon: Ben R Davis.
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