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Culture wars, Pyne’s education

Education in Australia, emulating principles established in Mother England has always been class-based, and at times deliberately advanced as a method of social control; to keep the lower classes in their place while providing confirmation of the status of those perceived to be “of better breeding”. The expectation was that young people of culture were to concentrate on refinements to prepare them for their privileged role in society, while the lower classes received preparation for a future in their assumed roles; to provide service and labour.

This was seen to be the proper order of things, and so it remained until the latter decades of the 20th Century. Children were streamed according to expectations, girls from poorer families sent to domestic and commercial courses, boys to practical skills and both sexes of middle and lower classes off to work age 16. All opportunities to do anything different resided with those from a more privileged background.

I am the daughter of a factory worker, Dad worked for Hardie Trading in Footscray as a belt maker. He started his working life with Hardie’s when he was 14 years old, and returned to his old job after serving during the war. My mum earned extra money doing “doctor’s books”. I spent most school holidays and most weekends helping my mother by adding up row after row of numbers and entering the amount at the bottom of the small yellow cards, these were the accounts for the doctors’ patients.

Year 10, I was allowed to go into the Professional/Commercial stream, the expectation being that although I was from a working-class background, that I might have the potential to rise to the position of a clerk/typist.

It was not just an expectation, but an obligation that children who were not from the upper classes should leave school, however, I was allowed to stay another two years.

It was never considered that I should ever attend university, so in spite of passing my Matriculation with honours and receiving entrance into the Melbourne University, I did not go. Achieving Year 12 was the extent that my parents could afford.

This is how it was, there were few expectations that anyone from the working classes, would ever do anything differently. Wars change things. The Vietnam War produced the Youth Culture, Gough Whitlam lowered the voting age to 18yrs. Young people of this time saw that they could achieve just as well as any other; that class, gender and supposed expectations were barriers, but not impossible ones.

I base this push for change on the event of the Vietnam War, but I believe that the ideal of equality and fairness has been a part of the Australian spirit for a long time. We like to see ourselves as a country that promotes tolerance, acceptance and equal opportunity, and also that to get ahead in this country, it means an education.

Given this background, our Minister for Education is now Christopher Pyne and he needs to be quoted (The Australian, paywalled):

“The federal government isn’t responsible for school outcomes, as he [Pyne] attacked Labor’s vow to lift the nation’s schools to a world top five standard.”, so said the then Opposition Education spokesman Christopher Pyne in September last year.

As Christopher Pyne has already decided that he has no responsibility regarding the issue of school outcomes, then it seems that the obvious solution is to cancel the portfolio of Education. Think of all the money that Tony Abbott will save.

Below is worthy of a topic unto itself, the complete and utter neglect of our Aboriginal history. When people challenge me on this opinion, I ask name 5 Native American tribes, now name 3 Australian peoples. Our knowledge of our own people is abysmal, there is no other descriptor – yet with a white supremacy overtone, that the little we do know is “too much”.

History study is also under attack with Christopher Pyne, federal Opposition Education Spokesperson wanting to reopen the history wars. In 2010 Pyne attacked Julia Gillard in her then role as Education Minister, alleging curriculum reform was being skewed to “a black armband view of Australian history”, in reference to the curriculum’s “over emphasis on indigenous culture”.

Once again worthy of a topic unto itself, are we a society based on Western civilisation. I somehow think that the Magna Carta, being a document which failed to achieve peace and ended up rebellion sometime around 1215AD (Anno Domini, in the year of our Lord), although worthy of mentioning is only that; worthy of a mention – from another culture and in another time.

The first draft of the history curriculum had not even included the Magna Carta. “We are a society based on Western civilisation …”

Also, and an attitude which might be considered to be ignoring the rest of the globe;

Pyne claimed that school curriculums gives inadequate attention to Christianity, adding subjects taught on Asia and sustainability to his list.

Pyne also confirms that he prefers a very narrow view of Australia’s culture, one based on one-religion, one belief and in my opinion not valid since we became a nation accepting of others. It is also completely unacceptable that our Minister for Education considers that in a secular country that (any) religion should have any prominence whatsoever, other than in a historical context.

I would now like to quote from the Bradley Report:

A key point of the Bradley Review was to highlight the long-standing under-representation of working-class people at Australia’s universities. Working class people represent 25% of Australia’s general population; however, they represent only 15% of students in higher education.

Indeed, working-class Australians are three times less likely to attend university than other Australians.

In response to these inequities, the Australian Government set up the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program in 2010 and doubled the percentage of equity funding from 2% in 2010 to 4% in 2012.

These initiatives have three aims: (a) to increase the aspirations of working-class Australians to go to university; (b) to increase the percentage of working-class people at Australian universities from 15% to 20% by the year 2020; and (c) to support the academic success and retention of working-class students while they are at university.

This is worth highlighting – that as of last year, people from working-class backgrounds are three times less likely to attend university than those from upper-class backgrounds.

From Christopher Pyne, August 26th, 2012:

The Coalition has no plans to increase university fees or cap places, said the Shadow Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne today.

However now in power:

New Education Minister Christopher Pyne has also opened the door to reintroducing caps on university places, warning any loss of quality would ”poison” the sector’s international reputation.


The former Labor government abolished caps on the number of Commonwealth-supported university places, helping an extra 190,000 students to access higher education. This move to a ”demand-driven system” sparked concerns from some quarters about quality suffering.

Let us think about this: Christopher Pyne’s announcement was that the Abbott government may once again cap university places, a reversal of creating tertiary places, which is essential to tackling unequal access to higher education.

Tony Abbott went to the election tackling the heartland, the core working class areas promoting the definitive that all inequities would be addressed – that boats would be turned around, that money would be saved; but there it ended. Did we sons and daughters of blue-collar workers vote for more chance or less chance?

With apologies to the author, who says it far better than myself but to whom I have no link:

Pyne’s announcement then marks the first real breach of the “Abbott compact”; the explicit and implicit deal he made with the Australian people to get elected. The deal was that they would chuck out Labor, if Abbott promised to leave their core social programs — and the progressive impetus behind them — in place.

Addendum: It seems that according to The Australian, our children don’t need to go to university at all which of course is mere self-justification by this newspaper on behalf of the Coalition.

The previous Labor government’s decision to uncap publicly funded places has undermined that principle and should be reversed. It gave a blank cheque to bloated university administrations whose prestige and remuneration depends far more on the size rather than quality of the student body.

Australia would, in fact, be more productive and prosperous if fewer people went to university.

Did we sons and daughters of blue-collar workers vote for more chance or less chance?


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  1. Dan Rowden

    One of the trade-offs for the Murdoch Press always was that post-election it will be the Government Media Unit by proxy. We can expect much more of that insanity. It’s all a monumental Pyne in the arse.

  2. rossleighbrisbane

    Strange that Pyne wants the Magna Carta taught, given the current position on the detention of asylum seekers.

    From the Magna Carta

    “No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseized of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land”

  3. brickbob

    Yes, educate more twits like Pyne and Downer and keep the dynasty going.

  4. Deena Bennett

    The despair, oh the despair!

  5. diannaart

    An all too true account of the emerging trend of the ideologically driven LNP government.

  6. Richard

    As an educator for thirty years i find it appalling that education is still not based on equality for all regardless of post codes. I made a moral decision to teach in the State system and the achievements (once given the opportunities) of student’s was excellent.

  7. hannahquinn

    Reblogged this on The Kettle Press and commented:
    Ability should be the prerequisite for higher education, not ability to pay or ‘rank’ of birth. As to history wars and religious education, both are anathema to knowledge.

  8. jonathonpatterson

    Reblogged this on jonathonpatterson and commented:
    If you have ANY interest in Education, both in your state and across this nation, I urge you to give this a read. Just another way that the current LNP Government is slowly destroying everything we stand for!

  9. Nevyn

    … And the fact that there is over 40,000 years of Aboriginal history in this land pre-dating white settlement doesn’t seem to matter to him, does it?

    As a percentage of the curriculum, if we devoted a proportional representation of time to the tteaching of pre vs post-invasion it would be what… half an afternoon, just before racing out the door to Christmas holidays? That would be about right to cover history since Captain Cook arrived.

    The man is an entitled, grandiose little twat of the highest order.

  10. David

    The class wars are still well & truly front & center with the younger generation also. I was listening to the silver spoon moaning students on 774 ABC last week saying that their should be caps so it could all be about them, the higher paying students & how time & effort is wasted on students from a disadvantaged background, therefore giving themselves a better chance to achieve. I’m a proud dad whos daughter was able to get to Melb Uni thanks to Labor & scholarships. She was able to achieve high distinctions in everything in her final year of getting her Masters in Teaching except for one where she missed out by less than 1% on one high distinction. She got a position straight away from hundreds of applicants at one of Melbournes best schools & is excelling. A terrific teacher would’ve been lost from education if the Liberals had their caps policy been in place when my daughter entered University.

  11. Ian

    Oh Richard, you call yourself a teacher! I hope it wasn’t a teacher of English.

  12. richo

    Imagine if the Poodle had had to survive in a public school schoolyard! Perhaps then he might have a semblance of how the majority of the world works outside his little enclave of entitlement.

  13. Alison RM

    @ Richard. You say you have been an educator for 30 years, but you appear not to know that plurals don’t have an apostrophe. What sort of an example does that set for your students?

  14. Adam Smith

    I will describe the Minister for Education sitting in our Australian Parliament as a man with a loud mouthed bully in the school yard. He and his fearless leader, having abolished the Ministry for Science are now seeking to reinvent the education curriculum for Australians. I’ve always believed, that the worst policy for education, is a policy that introduces an element of fear, force and artificial authority into the way pupils become to view their place in it. Yet, that seems to be the veiled approach behind this Ministers reactive styled policy-making as he sets out to ‘cane’ manage teachers. The Conservative approach, mired in more or less religious ‘BS’ nonsense, only ever achieves its aims by using a kind of lolly & stick private elite schooled bullying approach. Such treatment destroys the sound sentiments, the sincerity, and self confidence of most pupils. It produces a submissive citizen.

  15. richo

    I am reminded of the Howard sneakery of tying funding to the singing of National Anthems and raising of flags on flagpoles.

  16. Ricky Pann

    Now the bullied becomes the Bully..its nothing to do with Education and all about an ideological war with the Left who is perceived to dominate education and the arts…

  17. rossleighbrisbane

    Excerpt from Liberal Curriculum:

    “Australia – Early History

    1765- No white people were here
    1766 – Still no white people
    1767 – Still no white people
    1768 – Still no white people
    1769 – Still no white people
    1770 – Captain Cook arrives and claims the country.
    1771 – Still no white people
    1772 – Still no white people

    1778 – The First Fleet Arrives on Australia Day, 26th January.

    Ok, that takes care of Aboriginal History. Now we can move on to the important stuff.”

  18. Carol Taylor

    Rossleigh, I certainly saw the irony in Pyne wanting the Magna Carta taught..

    “To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice.”

  19. Carol Taylor

    Ross, you missed..

    1788 – White Christians arrived and thus Australia became civilized. Aborigines joined cricket teams, started to wear clothes, they were then told to p* off until such time as they could return as star ruckmen and full forwards for Hawthorn.

  20. rossleighbrisbane

    Don’t be silly, Carol. That didn’t start to happen until 1789 because the aborigines were very resistant to civilization.
    They didn’t even have the wheel. Or the Magna Carta. And none of them spoke Latin.

  21. Carol Taylor

    Howard considered that universities were hotbeds of socialism and other forms of extreme views..this desecrated the hallowed ivy strewn halls. This was where *shock* even unionism flourished. No doubt about it, higher education must be returned to those people of quality who know about true values – the Queen, the Queen mum, Prince Charles and Diane Camilla, men wearing funny hats..heavens, these days the study body hardly even knows what a scone is.

    Howard saw unionism as the enemy, Abbott sees it as those of lesser value (as compared to his women of calibre) having access to something that they are not worthy of – a university education. You can see this theme in many of Abbott’s statements – the worthy versus the unworthy.

  22. Carol Taylor

    Ross, you don’t need Latin to play for Hawthorn. :mrgreen:

  23. Michael Taylor

    You don’t even need to know how to speak to play for Hawthorn. Or follow them. Just grunt.

  24. rossleighbrisbane

    The Hawks motto is “Spectemur Agendo”. Which loosely translates as “Jeff Kennett’s Ghost has an Agenda”.

  25. rossleighbrisbane

    Although not a Hawks supporter, I can speak, “Grunt”.
    My family were National Party members. I can even translate Barnaby Joyce if he speaks slowly enough.

  26. Bacchus

    What’s a “Hawthorn”? :mrgreen:

  27. richo

    And what about a Hawthorne

  28. Adam Smith

    The Aboriginals had the BOOMERANG and Woomera, great inventions, including the best bush tucker and medicine ever invented, even to this day. Just imagine a world full of Abbott’s rejecting climate change science. The world becomes sick and the Australian Aboriginal with their science save humanity. The LNP are just what they’ve always been, a poorly organised hypocrisy!

  29. Geoff Of Epping

    No doubt Chrissy Pyne’s violin playing brats would agree with him. Yes, believe it or not, he has children and a wife, apparently who is not too choosy. She bred with him.

  30. Gina

    It is appalling that the so called “learned” look down upon the so called “working-class” citizens (the unlearned) Australians, and the very people that ‘supposedly’ voted these morons into their positions of the so called ‘upper class’ bullshit, who’s main purpose of a Minister is to serve their electorate. Yes SERVE their electorate.

    What would really be beneficial is to NOT vote for the morons at the next election because, well, “we are clueless and don’t understand why they want to be elected because we’ve not had the ‘education’ to know better.” Ah yes, sweet revenge.

  31. Adam Smith

    @ Gina, you make a perfectly correct observation, but please permit me to tease it out a little more. The reality is that many in the Liberal Party, the “captains-of-industry & enterprise” including the millionaire Graziers, the farmers usually voting National Party, including also people who vote ALP and others, are sent into private “religious” schools by their parents, and their parents before that. Many are taught to be an elitist class, I’ve met these kind every day. The irony being, a great number of them have never learnt to be progressively scientific at all, but turn out to become a clique of people who engage with their fellow elites to exploit their neighbours in an ongoing distribution for controlling the ownership of capital; capital created by those with only their labour to sell. Forty years ago, I was studying philosophy & economics at Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz Germany and recall a visiting emeritus professor describing this social more thus: “Now these aptitudes are presumably distributed in an ethnically homogeneous population just like others, that is the curve of their distribution has a maximum ordinate, derivations on either side of which become rarer the greater they are. Similarly we can assume that every healthy human can sing if they will. Perhaps half the individuals in an ethnically homogenous group have the capacity for it to an average degree, a quarter in progressively diminishing measure, and, let us say, a quarter in a measure above average; and within this quarter, through a series of continually increasing singing ability and continually diminishing number of people who possess it, we come finally to the Carusos… Let us apply this: Again, a quarter of the population may be so poor in these qualities, let us say here provisionally of economic initiative that the deficiency makes itself felt by poverty of their moral personality, and they play a wretched part in the smallest affairs of private and professional life in which this element is called for. We recognise this type and know that many of the best clerks, distinguished by devotion to duty, expert knowledge, and exactitude belong to it. Then comes the “half,” the “normal.” These prove themselves to be better in the things that even within established channels cannot simply be “despatched” but must also be “decided” and “carried out.” Practically all business people belong here, otherwise they would never have attained their positions; most represent a selection-individually or hereditarily tested… From there, rising in the scale we come finally into the highest quarter, to people who are a type characterised by super-normal qualities of intellect and will. Within this type are not only many varieties (merchants, manufacturers, financiers. etc.) but also a continuous variety of degrees of intensity in “initiative.” So also the great political leader of every kind and time is a type from which there is a continuous variation down to the average and from it to the sub-normal values.” This is a huge subject today, debated at various levels in the echelons of power in our global ‘economist’ governing society. I can easily see why Julia Gillard is regarded as one of the best brains in the world today.

  32. Bob in Waridjuri country

    I must confess that I actually bought a copy of the Daily Telegraph, Thursday 9 October 2014.
    The front page head line is “Teach kids work rules”
    followed by the sub title “Gen Next to be given old-school lessons in work place etiquette”

    The body of the article starts with
    >Teenage Gen Z students will be taught workplace manners as part of the school curriculum … bad attitude to work … source of frustration for … employers. <
    There is no mention of which curriculum, maybe it is state, or just NSW. The whole article could just be a dog whistle.

    To me, this is simply telling kids that work consists of being polite to the the boss.
    And that the workplace has two rules
    -1- The boss is always right
    -2- if the boss is wrong, refer to rule 1.

    This seems to follow on from the talk about Work For The Dole, which will give the kids 'valuable work skills' such as 'being punctual'. Don't these idiots realise that flextime has been in many workplaces since the mid 1970s?
    But not in the menial jobs — my mistake.

  33. Bob in Waridjuri country

    I remember those days > Children were streamed according to expectations<
    As far as I know, I am the only one from my year at that secondary school who went to university.
    Migrating to Australia did help, and the Whitlam reforms helped as well.
    One friend from the old school is now working as a designing engineer. How sad that he didn't go straight into uni.

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