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Education, Re-education And Tony Who?

A few days ago I read that the education system was failing because one in four students don’t complete Year 12.

That interests me because back in the old days, when I was getting a secondary education, it was the kids who failed when they didn’t complete Year 12. Of course, it was a different system them and a certain percentage was mandated to fail.

When one looks at the data a bit more closely, one finds that a lot of the reasons for this are the reasons we already know. High dropout rates in remote indigenous communities, poverty, mental illness and all the other factors that encourage governments to commission reports which recommend that something needs to be done. After receiving the report, the government either buries it or announces with much fanfare that it’s a great report and they’ll be studying it carefully and when they’ve had time to read it more fully, in the fullness of time, something will indeed be done. Why, we may even restore some of the funding that we took away in last year’s Budget.

Now I’m not saying that there aren’t vast improvements that could be made to the education system. I’m not saying that teachers are perfect. I’m just making the point that every time something goes wrong, we blame the education system and then turn around and offer some half-baked explanation of what’s wrong with it.

And speaking of half-baked solutions, did you read Kevin Donelly’s article today which suggested: “Singing the national anthem at school should be compulsory”?

Kevin, you may remember, was responsible for a review into the Australian Curriculum to see how it was working. Which, of course, it wasn’t. After all, it hadn’t been introduced yet, so it’s really hard to argue that it was working. But Kevin and his mate were appointed to review it because they thought that it was far too left wing and didn’t have enough about our Judeo-Christian heritage or Anzac Day.

Surprisingly, they found that it didn’t have enough about our Judeo-Christian heritage or Anzac Day, as well as having far too much about Asia.

You remember, Anzac Day where the diggers went and fought for our right to make things compulsory.

Young Kevin begins his piece with the rather interesting rhetorical questions:

“How far should we go in accepting diversity and difference, the new code for multiculturalism, and allow immigrants to pursue their own values and customs? And to what extent should all those who live here be integrated into Australian society and accept the nation’s way of life?”

New “code” for multiculturalism? Mm, and here I was thinking difference and diversity meant something else entirely.

Anyway Mr Donnelly’s problem is that the principal of a primary school exempted a number of Shite students from assembly where the national anthem was to be sung, because they were observing Muharram, during which time they don’t participate in joyful events such as singing or listening to music.

Ok, I’ve never exactly thought of “Advance Australia Fair” as particularly joyful. I mean I can’t ever remember dancing to it, so if it’s a time of mourning I can’t see that loudly proclaiming our girtness would cheer one up all that much. And you can make your own mind up about the principal’s decision, but I like Kevin’s neat sashay round the wider question to go straight to the heart of the matter.

“All those who live in Australia, especially immigrants, should accept that Australian society is unique and that the types of freedoms and basic rights we often take for granted must be celebrated and upheld.”

So let’s see if I’ve got his position. All those who come here should be forced to accept that Australia is unique – unlike all those other countries which are all the same and just full of foreigners – and that children should be forced to sing the national anthem so that they understand exactly how freedom and basic rights must be celebrated.

Of course, he doesn’t talk about what should be done if I a person decides that their religous practices are more important and simply doesn’t sing. Should they be packed of to some re-education camp where we explain how great our country is until they understand that “multiculturalism doesn’t work”?

Yep, Mr Donnelly was probably chosen for the review of the Australian Curriculum because, like Mr Abbott, he seems more at home in that era when we were concerned that those “new Australians” were bringing in things and strange customs like spaghetti and smashing plates, and we were proud because Holden was Australia’s own and there were so many pink bits on the map which indicated countries belonging to the Commonwealth. And people who weren’t British were “the other”.

And “the other” was wrong. Our way of life wasn’t just better, it was the only way that one could live. That was the thing about the Aborigines. They couldn’t assimilate, and that was a pity. That’s why they’d died off in such numbers. As for the ones that were left, well, what can you do? They don’t fit into Australia, but if they can learn to behave like white people then they’re welcome to stay.

Ah, the good old days.

The switch to Turnbull isn’t just a change of leaders. It’s a whole change of era. During Abbott’s time (and to a lesser extent, during Howard’s), the other side was just wrong. You didn’t need to argue or explain. You just needed to say how wrong things were. You had Tony arguing against an emission trading scheme and telling us that it would be simpler to just put a tax on carbon at one point, then arguing that a tax on carbon was the wrong thing when Gillard did it. If Labor did it, it was wrong. If they’d found a cure for cancer, Abbott would have criticised them for any recently purchased chemotherapy equipment.

So we move to Turnbull and suddenly some of the things he’s saying make sense. There’s a suggestion that he might actually have opinions on some topics that are reasonable. On others, he’s clearly locked in to some policies that are hard to justify, but we seem to have an entered a world where things are being debated on their merits, rather than simply telling us that Labor was hopeless in government and therefore not entitled to comment on any of the current policies. It’s been a few weeks but I don’t remember Turnbull uttering the phrase, “the mess we inherited”… Although that could be because people would presume he was talking about the one left by Tony and Joe.

Yeah, you’re right. He hasn’t changed many of the policies, and on climate change, refugees (an example of the freedom-loving, human rights-supporting Australia that Donnelly loves so much), unions and the rest we’ve still to see any shift. But he did remove Newman as advisor and he did use the words “innovation” and “science” without suggesting that they be the work of the devil. It’s as though we’re actually looking to the future and trying to make a decent plan instead of simply harping about what Labor did, or how great it was when Liberals were last in charge.

And there’s a change in tone. He speaks as though when you disagree with him you’re simply misinformed, not evil. It’s like the difference between swearing at someone who offends you, compared to beating him over the head with a club. While, both may be unpleasant, the former is the beginining of civilzation.

As someone said, “It may be a new toilet, but it’s still the same shit.” While that may be true, I think the current appeal of Turnbull is that he looks modern enough that it’s possible that he can be flushed from time to time.


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  1. pilgrim

    Rossleigh, I feel in harmony with your argument.The need for more students to pursue science was being pushed on ABC 24 this morning, with responsibility being sheeted home to teachers for not making the subject exciting enough.
    Trouble is, nothing is exciting all the time, even the most glamorous courses require hard yakka as well. Many students are wedded to the notion that learning should be fun, and choose subjects that either promise this, or seem to lead to high income in the future. University courses in public relations and marketing are very popular, as are those in commerce and finance. These directions serve the interests of the market, and our capitalist economy – it is sad that young people,. often so idealistic, are seduced early into this value system.

  2. Carlton Longhurst

    Rossleigh, I do enjoy your writings however, there are two things that don’t sit overly well with me. Firstly is your somewhat irreverent reference to the ANZACs; whilst I don’t dispute what they may or may not have represented in the form of ‘The Empire’; they did what was asked of them at the time. As a former serviceman, I am somewhat disappointed when people seek to diminish what they did simply because it might not accord with today’s thinking. Secondly, in reference to Education failings… why is it that our nation has become obsessed with completion of Yr 12? It wasn’t that long ago that Yr 12 was purely for University entrance & nothing else. Not everyone wants to undertake university nor is everyone necessarily suited for that type of study. Does a tradesman really need Yr 12? What about all those unskilled workers, we still need them whatever one might wish to think.. do those folk really need to have completed Yr 12? It’s time this nation stopped using Yr 12 completion as a benchmark for education levels & perhaps really took an interest in educating our children to fulfil the variety of employment roles that are out there & perhaps letting the children set the appropriate course to the career they seek.

  3. David

    Rossleigh…your comment’ ” but I don’t remember Turnbull uttering the phrase, “the mess we inherited”… no me either, however given the snake oil salesman Turnbull is not only a ‘liberal’ dispenser of the viper oil, he also generously distributes the nastier duties to his fellow frontbenchers and the odd anointed back bencher.
    I have heard Cash and Nash, the ugly sisters and Freydenberg denouncing Labor for their past evil deeds, Dutton, Morrison and Corman never stop while the boy wonder Wyatt Roy, who is now allowed to sit in the PM’s chair making up a corum when non contentious material is being debated, also ensured he got a shot in, blaming Labors ‘generosity’ to pensioners for the Govt’s present woes economically.

    Ah yes, the Cobra Mal in the snake pit is milking the workers very nicely thank you. It ensures the ongoing Colgate smile continues to twinkle and he continues the facade that is being swallowed by the majority of the nation.

    Rossleigh, you haven by any chance been anywhere near the road to Damascus lately?

  4. RosemaryJ36

    Does anyone remember the Australian Constitution Act:

    s 116 Commonwealth not to legislate in respect of religion

    The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, OR FOR PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE OF ANY RELIGION, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth. (My capitals.)

    Please note, Mr Kevin Donelly!

  5. Roswell

    Good point, Rosemary. I guess it’s one of those things swept under the carpet.

  6. diannaart


    Have tweeted article to Kevin Donnelly @ESiaustralia

  7. Matters Not

    Carlton Longhurst, you raise some interesting questions that are in fact perennials which have been debated in countless forums again and again. While many in the community see the prime purpose of schooling as ‘preparation for work’, others take a much broader view. Here are some examples:

    The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians articulates nationally consistent future directions and aspirations for Australian schooling agreed by all Australian Education Ministers.

    The Melbourne Declaration has two overarching goals for schooling in Australia:

    Goal 1 Australian schooling promotes equity and excellence

    Goal 2 All young Australians become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens

    Note there is no reference to the world of work. Beneath those broad goals are more specific aims. You can read about them here.

    Probably the famous philosopher of education was John Dewey who argued:

    Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself

    Educators are most reluctant to narrow the ‘education’ experience too early because they want to keep the students’ options open for as long as possible. And that includes the ‘option’ of returning to further study even after years in the workforce. It’s why they promote a broad general education for as long as possible.

    Australia is not alone in that regard.

  8. king1394

    I am frustrated and students are bored by the constant repetition of the ANZAC story, which, although a significant moment in Australia’s historic world view, and a massive tragic waste of young Australian lives, is not the only historic action that students could learn about.

    ANZAC should not be made to stand for the events of Gallipoli let alone encapsulate every aspect of Australian-ness. I have not heard much talk of the spirit of ANZAC as a combination of effort between Australia and New Zealand for common good for example.

    I would like young people to learn also about the Western front in World War I, and the Charge of the Light Brigade … and how that has become related to the modern problems in the Middle East. The far more recent events of World War II in which Australians and New Zealanders were involved would also interest students: some examples ‘The Rats of Tobruk’,El Alamein (where my uncle died), the Fall of Singapore, the Pacific War including the actions of the crew of the Krait.

    I truly do not understand why an ex-serviceman such as Carlton does not think History could also include the major events of Korea, VietNam, Afghanistan, and other overseas actions, if the military adventures of Australian troops have historic value. What about East Timor and the Solomons. …Why is it still the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli repeated ad nauseum?

    By the way, I grew up singing God Save the [Queen] – standing up for that anthem before the movies or any concert or event, and even at private gatherings. I would like to know whether this was of any value in forming my character?

  9. susan

    The Anzac memorial is about Lest we forget the atrocities of war not Lest we forget how war glorifies us all.

    Also, I am really sick of articles and news interviews saying how wonderful Malcolm is without giving any actual facts. Turnbull’s words are not deeds and fairyland journalists won’t advance Australia and protect the planet.

  10. Carlton Longhurst

    @Matters Not; I agree education is not merely preparation for work but, preparation & part of life. The fact is that not all children are ready for Tertiary study and I honestly believe that we may infact be harming our childrens work prospects (which is also part of life) by retaining them in study they do not wish to do. There are other avenues into Tertiary study later in life, Yr 12 becomes irrelevant in that respect.

    @King1394; You are absolutely correct ANZAC is about all conflicts involving Australia & New Zealand not just Gallipoli. In my response to Rossleigh I directed my comment specifically in the context he used. I too wish we would hear more about other conflicts we have been or are currently involved in. As a veteran myself, I am actually upset that in this 100th year of the ANZAC we have missed a great opportunity to draw attention to our modern ANZACs.. we have truly missed a great opportunity.

    @Susan: You miss the point, the ANZAC memorial does not seek to glorify war, it serves to recognise the ultimate sacrifice made by some to protect what we believe in. Please don’t dishonour that; you’re right, war is bloody & in some contexts there are atrocities committed by both sides but, please don’t dishonour those who gave their lives with such a simplistic view of war. Servicemen don’t have the luxury of choosing their conflicts, governments do that for them.

  11. mars08

    … the ultimate sacrifice made by some to protect what we believe in

    Oh please spare me the dribble. It’s been over 60 years since Australia deployed forces to defend anything worthwhile. Of course ANZAC has been hijacked by the jingoists, rabid nationalists and assorted chest thumpers! The original purpose of the commemoration was perverted long ago. Anyone who can’t see that, hasn’t been paying attention.

  12. Matters Not

    agree education is not merely preparation for work

    I don’t think I said that. ‘Education’ is not a ‘preparation’ for work. In fact I am suggesting that ‘education’ and work are only co coincidentally related. While most who are ‘schooled’ will eventually go on to work (perhaps?), the work ‘outcome’ shouldn’t be the driver for the ‘education’ rationale.

    ‘Education’ should be about students escaping the limitations of their current circumstances and exploring the possibilities rather than ‘fitting in’. One’s thing for sure, the world they currently live in, in all its social, economic, technological (and whatever) perspectives will be overtaken very, very soon.

    A good education is not about the present but being prepared for a ‘future’ that is currently ‘unknown’.

  13. diannaart


    9/11 was a gift for John Howard, ANZAC day was stolen by him.

  14. silkworm

    Australia is a Christian nation, not a Judeo-Christian one, as the missing 123rd verse of AAF makes plain:

    With Christ our head and cornerstone,
    We’ll build our Nation’s might.
    Whose way and truth and light alone
    Can guide our path aright.
    Our lives, a sacrifice of love
    Reflect our Master’s care.
    With faces turned to heaven above
    Advance Australia fair.
    In joyful strains then let us sing
    Advance Australia fair!

  15. jimhaz

    People seem to need “myths and role models” – and the Anzacs and Japanese Prisoners of War fill this role a bit. I don’t pay much attention to it. Whatever people do they are caused to do and the Anzacs were no different.

  16. Robert Lane

    No More, of these rossleigh ‘Machinations’ before I have finished the 2nd. coffee for the morning.! ‘Delete the Daily Diatribe’ from the offspring of the 1970’s Commo. students. And delete my subscription from this unskilled rag…!!!

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