To understand the success of the cultural-left’s long march through the institutions one needs to go no further that how school education has been radically reshaped since the late ‘60s. This was a time when students in Paris took to the streets, Vietnam moratoriums erupted across the Western world and a youth- oriented counter-culture movement took centre stage. Up until this point, schools based largely on the concept of a liberal education were concerned with developing future citizens who could read and write, were culturally literate and had the knowledge and skills to be productive members of the community.
In history, students where taught the grand narrative associated with the rise and evolution of Western civilisation beginning with ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome and moving on to medieval Europe and what is now the UK and Australia. Literature involved those myths, legends, fables, novels, plays, poems and short stories associated with the literary canon that had something enduring and profound to say about the nature of human existence and what D. H. Lawrence termed ‘the relation between man and his circumambient universe at the living moment’. The role of teachers, instead of being cultural-left ideologues bent on indoctrinating students, was to be impartial and to initiate students into the ‘conversations of mankind’.
One of the early attacks on this more conservative, liberal view of education and the role of schools came from the new sociology of education movement with its Marxist-inspired critique of Western society and capitalism. In the early ‘70s, the English academic M. F. D. Young argued there was nothing inherently worthwhile or beneficial about the established disciplines as knowledge is a social construct calculated to preserve the dominance of the ruling class. In America, Bowles and Gintis condemned schools for reinforcing inequality and disadvantage arguing ‘inequities in education are part of the capitalist system, and are likely to persist as long as capitalism survives’. Schools became key battlegrounds in the struggle to bring about a socialist utopia.In Victoria, the one-time education minister and premier Joan Kirner best illustrates this Marxist critique of schooling when arguing at a Fabian meeting in 1984: ‘If we are egalitarian in our intention we have to reshape education so that it is part of the socialist struggle for equality, participation and social change, rather than an instrument of the capitalist system’.
Professional organisations like the Australian Education Union (previously known as the Australian Teachers Federation) and the Australian Association for the Teachers of English also argued schools should adopt a socially-progressive approach based on Marxist-inspired critical theory. The AEU’s curriculum policy developed during the ‘70s and ‘80s argues Australian society is riven with inequality and disadvantage and that the role of the curriculum is to empower so-called victim groups including girls and working class, migrant, indigenous and LGBTIQ+ students. As a result the AEU has consistently argued against a curriculum that privileges academic subjects and a commitment to meritocracy and competition. The AEU also opposes governments funding Catholic and independent schools and is a vocal supporter of the gender fluidity Safe Schools program and students’ involvement in the Extinction Rebellion climate day strikes.
Since the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, the AATE has argued on the basis that capitalist society is inherently oppressive that students must be empowered to critique and deconstruct language and literature in terms of power relationships and identity politics. As argued by Marxist Paulo Freire, the critical literacy approach to English encourages students to see ‘themselves in dialectical relationship with their social reality (and) to assume an increasingly critical attitude toward the world and so to transform it’. Such is the extreme cultural-left nature of the AATE’s approach to English-teaching that the editor of its national journal, after the re-election of the Howard government in 2004, argued teachers had failed to properly teach critical literacy because so many young people appeared to have voted for a conservative government. More recently, based on its advocacy for the rights of LGBTIQ+ students, the AATE advises teachers against using the pronouns ‘she’ or ‘he’ in class.
A more recent development that undermines a liberal view of education is the emergence of a range of cultural-left, politically-correct theories including Neo-Marxism, deconstructionism, postmodernism and feminist, gender, queer and post-colonial theories. While often in conflict, all are alike in targeting schools as a key battleground in the culture wars.
Drawing on Althusser’s concept of ‘ideological state apparatus’ the belief is that if radical change is to occur then the cultural-left must take control of institutions like schools and universities.The Safe Schools program is the most egregious example of how dominant the cultural-left now is. Supposedly an anti-bullying program, its designer admits it is more about imposing radical gender theory on primary and secondary schools.
Our mandatory national curriculum involving all subjects from preparatory to Year 10, provides another example of the dominance of cultural-left theory. Cultural relativism prevails where students are told Australia is a multicultural, secular society where diversity and difference prevail and two out of the three cross-curricula priorities teachers are told to include in what they teach are indigenous and sustainability. As a result in history, English, music, art and even mathematics and science there are literally hundreds of references to indigenous history, spirituality and culture while Western civilisation and Judaeo-Christianity are either ignored or treated in a superficial and fragmentary manner.
In the civics and citizenship curriculum students are presented with a subjective definition of citizenship where ‘Citizenship means different things to people at different times and depending on personal perspectives, their social situation and where they live’. Citizenship involves multiple perspectives that ‘reflect personal, social, spatial and temporal dimensions of citizenship’.
When analysing the impact of the cultural-left’s long march through the institutions much of the focus is on tertiary education. Equally as significant is the way the school curriculum has been radically redefined to embrace a rainbow alliance of theories calculated to promote a one-sided, ideological view about the purpose of education and the relationship between schools and the broader society.
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Dr Kevin Donnelly is the author of A Politically Correct Dictionary and Guide (available at kevindonnelly.com.au)
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