At the end of last week, the Victorian Association for the Teaching of English convened in Melbourne for its annual conference entitled ‘’Now, Gods, Stand Up for Bastards!” which is a direct quote from King Lear.
Given that the symposium had been designed by English teachers, for English teachers, referencing the Bard, in this case, was entirely fitting. However, it was also completely and utterly misleading.
Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of thinking that Shakespeare and his works was one of the main focuses of the conference. In fact, where he is mentioned, which is just once, it’s in the context of Mean Girls and The Dark Night.
No, the purpose of the conference, as admitted by the president of VATE the week before, was to launch a program of social justice, featuring keynote speakers such as Van Badham, a left-wing activist and self -proclaimed communist, Shen Narayansamay, Human Rights Campaign Director at GetUp!, Van T Rudd, a visual artist who creates murals for ‘radical trade unions and various social justice movements’ and Gillian Triggs, former Present of the Australian Human Rights Commission.
And it cost us $70,000.
As it turns out, Victorian teachers in 2017 are markedly less concerned about Shakespeare and his ilk than they are about indoctrinating Victorian schoolchildren with issues of social justice. Their collective, self-proclaimed task, as they see it, is to ‘disrupt, challenge, experiment, innovate’ in Victorian classrooms.
Over the course of two days, teaching staff from both government and private schools came together to ‘question the legitimate’ and celebrate ‘bastards, the contrarians, the iconoclasts, the dissidents and the marginalised for whom the status quo will not do’.
In doing so, they stated that this would ‘empower’ the language used in everyday life, both at home and at work. This is significant because the teaching profession is now openly admitting that they are using the ideas to transform language, rather than using language to transform ideas.
For example, the first speaker on day one discussed how ‘climate change, poverty and migration’ would necessitate the transformation of both teaching and learning. Following this, attendees were able to participate in a workshop to explore strategies for ‘engaging with and empowering students to speak on issues of class, gender and race’ in the context of the novel The Outsiders.
Later that day, attendees could engage in a lively discussion of Janette Winterson’s novel The Passion to discuss the ‘fluidity of identity, of narrative, of history and in particular the constructed nature of sexual identity.’ In a workshop called ‘Gender Equality’, teachers pondered how ‘the plight of woman over time really hasn’t changed’ and then they spend the rest of the session trying to work out a solution.
Day Two began with a panel discussion on the dangers of fake news, and which skills and attributes will best allow students to become ‘informed active citizens’. Other workshops offered advice on how to approach ‘migration, racism and identity’ as themes in the classroom, as well as a session which introduced teachers to the key concepts of the ‘Respectful Relationship Program’ the state government’s thinly disguised social engineering program of gender theory.
In a workshop entitled ‘Desire and Dystopia: Literary lenses’ teachers found out how to best help students negotiate the complexities of ‘feminist and Marxist’ readings. In total contrast, another workshop later that day advocated the use of tarot cards to help teach reading and writing.
It is apparent from the conference program that Victorian school children are being politicised in the classroom through the language of Identity politics –- the contemporary version of Orwell’s newspeak –- at the tax payer’s expense.
Dr Bella d’Abrera is the Director, Foundations of Western Civilisation Program at the Institute of Public Affairs.
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