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The IPA’s war on schools

The IPA is no longer even performing the masquerade of being a thinktank. It is rather a culture war factory for the right; its American-invented campaign on schools risks pushing even more people out of teaching.

Michael Pascoe’s excellent column savaging the IPA illustrates its commitment to greed at the expense of everything. At a moment when Australia is beginning to reckon with which low-lying (and forested) communities will soon become uninsurable in the face of the climate emergency, the IPA is still pushing false doubt about the science.

It seems shortsighted to fight tooth and nail for one’s own children to live in a world much harder and more expensive than the one the combatant was raised in. It seems confused, if not hypocritical, to demonise just policy for asylum seekers at the same time as hounding politicians to shape policy that will displace millions in the next few decades.

Their campaigns, however, are much more myopic than even these contradictions suggest. Teachers learnt with glaring clarity over the worst of the pandemic (so far) that their allocated role in society, stripped of romantic imaginings, was childminding. Teachers are intended to keep youth off the street until they too grow old enough to join their parents in wave slavery and debt peonage.

And yet the IPA, shorn of actual research, has filched from American playbooks the savaging of teachers and schools as the culture war that will keep it relevant and bring its chaotic political arm back to power.

Teachers battle a grinding job that makes holidays a necessity to avoid harming hyperactive masses of children and recalcitrant teens. Constant pressure of arbitrary benchmarks and counterproductive testing makes teaching too often a matter of training children to surmount pointless hurdles rather than to relish all that is around us to be learnt. Battalions of demanding parents treat teachers as servants or miscreants, while administrative demands bow shoulders under an unbearable load. At night, while friends gather to socialise, teachers contemplate the preparation and marking that must be done. Metrics, data entry and reporting are constant nagging requirements.

Most young people would rather be playing or socialising, as any parent who tries to marshal unwilling offspring will tell you. Trying to galvanise the PlayStation, TikTok and Netflix generation to engage with lessons they resent is a constant demand on energy that leaves the teacher exhausted at the end of the day. The computer in the classroom (laptop, iPad or phone) will offer instant excitement compared to mastering the use of apostrophes.

Too many teachers are older, and could not have safely taught in the classroom during the pre-vaccine pandemic, with threats to their own health or those in their care at home. Nonetheless, the distance education option of the lockdown era was extraordinarily difficult and has brought back a generation of children of vastly different accomplishment. Some cannot sit still for a class’s duration while others were nurtured and extended by parents who had the time and capacity to do so.

Looking out for the mental wellbeing of students, while trying to meet impossible standards is a constant struggle. There are so many conflicting roles demanded of a teacher that day to day, they are worn away to bare bones.

There are few experiences as exhilarating as igniting the magic of excitement in young people about a new idea or a challenge mastered, but buried in the erosive rest, it is not enough to keep many teachers in the profession.

We are facing a teacher shortage at the moment, as a result of all these drains, with many deciding that there are much easier ways to pay the bills that don’t leave one a sickened wreck at the beginning of every holiday (before reengaging with the preparation for the following term).

So for the IPA to choose this moment to declare war on teachers is to shoot itself in the face. Who is going to provide childcare so that all the wage slaves can keep churning out the profits for its residual funders?

Bella D’Abrera is the voice of the IPA’s campaign on schools, Class Action, named in a threateningly legalistic fashion. In July, the IPA promoted an advertisement for the campaign on Facebook aiming to arouse average Aussie parents to work to control what is taught to their children. The linked video is labelled with a “Warning” with an accompanying warning logo, followed by “insane racial ideology at Aust schools.” The post claims that “Critical Race Theory”(CRT) is being taught at Australian schools. This is arrant nonsense. CRT is a university level discourse in some American law schools that aims to see where old racism is encoded in longstanding systems. This fabricated culture war battle over schooling was invented by Republican activist Christopher Rufo, who believed it offered a frightening sounding name that would galvanise ignorant Red-state parents.

The label is applied to any attempt to convey history in any but the most bowdlerised fashion to suit white bigots who will not hear any of the pain of the settler colonial experience. (In Britain the label is used to criticise any but the most celebratory account of the British Empire.) It is not about teaching guilt, as the IPA and radical right activists chant, but about teaching a more balanced view of history than most adults are aware existed. Our historical understanding is so partial because the history taught has been so sanitised.

D’Abrera also harps on about the “identity politics” taught in schools, and apparently fostered in universities, omitting the fact that there is one and only one identity they do want taught. Any allowance for diversity in schools is made the subject of hysterical scandal.

As Noel Turnbull pointed out here, schools are exciting and busy places, because of the hard work of teachers, with no sign of the perversion and shame that the IPA’s American gambit would have us believe.

D’Abrera is the director of the Foundations of Western Civilisation Program at the IPA. This program’s focus is an Orbanist dogwhistle, a polite version of the Great Replacement conspiracy that says Elites (Jewish people for the hardcore devotees) are consciously destroying western civilisation by importing people of colour and inculcating shame about the only truly worthwhile civilisation to have existed. Orban’s utter loathing of diversity – cultural and personal – is clearly visible throughout the IPA’s work.

The IPA has become a culture war factory with barely any research to justify the label “thinktank” and the tax perks it claims. Borrowing this particular culture war, however, is utterly self-defeating. The radical Republicans wish to destroy public education; their campaign to harass teachers and drive them out of the profession is productive in that light.

For more pragmatic Australians, as we saw in the worst of the pandemic, without teachers, work becomes extremely difficult.

This shortsightedness is a bizarre own goal looming for the IPA.

This was first posted on Pearls and Irritations as The IPA launches campaign to harass teachers. Why?


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  1. pierre wilkinson

    In certain red states in the good old US of A the teacher shortage is welcomed as an opportunity to introduce non-secular educators who believe that the entire syllabus should be predicated on the bible’s teachings – or at least their rather narrow interpretation of what they think the bible should say

  2. Michael Taylor

    Pierre, in the USA it’s going to get worse before it gets worse.

    And from there, it can only get worse.

  3. Canguro

    I think her name is Dr Bella d’Abrera, not Ambrera. Does it matter? Not really, though I expect she’d arc up if she read this article and saw her name misspelt.

  4. Andrew James Smith

    Interesting article, and one would suggest that the IPA and broader radical right libertarian ‘free market’ networks are promoting their agitprop through various channels and fronts, but lead to the same ends, in this case nobbling broader education.

    Like the whiffs of autocracy round Dubai UAE and ‘Singapore on Thames’, their actual muse, ‘segregation economist’ James Buchanan was involved with Pinochet’s Chile and developed his ‘radical right libertarian’ policies (behind Friedman, Rand et al.) to mask segregation in the deep south; as historian Nancy MacLean learnt when researching school &/or gender issue in segregation (Buchanan’s name was everywhere), hence, described it as ‘Virginian School’ of economics (vs. more formal or respectable Austrian-Chicago Schools of economics).

    One would also add another IPA related think tank i.e. CIS in Sydney which has presented ‘research’ on maths teacher training demanding a return to instructor centred and no individual ‘discovery’ activities; leads one to presume that essential higher level skills development is being avoided a la Bloom’s Taxonomy or ‘hidden curriculum’, especially trying to disappear ‘analysis’ and encouraging (respect for) ‘authority’.

    Described as ‘an emphasis upon ‘explicit instruction’ versus the more contemporary ‘constructivist approach’ of building knowledge and self learning’.

    Then add analysis of data, discourse in humanities and science, especially climate & Covid etc. to return to a 19th century status quo of eugenics i.e. everyone knowing their place below and respecting the 1-10% on top or status quo; quite base.

  5. Terence Mills


    Interesting that these so called free markets are really nothing of the sort.

    At the present time we are seeing ‘free markets’ manipulate energy output (OPEC ) for financial gain which in turn fuels inflation. We then see central banks around the world increasing interest rates to tackle inflation which instantly pumps more money into bank profits.

    Are these free markets ? They appear to be highly contrived and controlled.

  6. Clakka

    It would appear there’s something precious and to be nurtured in the gametes of the ‘elite’. So predisposed to fiddle, and meddle, it is rumoured that formation of their special ‘class’ is embedded via largesse in the risen-from-olde, and grand, spiffing schools of the world. Along with masterful pointed patronage, to elevate those marked with the laissez-faire of the richly deserving. What could ever go wrong with such a circuitous, tried and tested curriculum?

    But for the logos, ethos and dedication of the intelligent and tireless peer-reviewed researchers, teachers and technicians, nothing at all. Blimey though, since democracy, breeding like rabbits, those wriggling whigs are rigging it against us, using their peers against our peerage, our bling and our realm is threatened by numbers. By God’s word, best endow them with correctitude, open the coffers, marshal the pretenders and spread some loot to ward off the treason and reason.

    Strike me pink, it always made sense, and even if it has to be pounded into them, in the long run, it’ll surely make more than cents.

    Noblesse oblige.

  7. paul walter

    It is fascist neoliberalism, intent on ending consciousness, as with public broadcasting also.
    It is a Stepford doctrine whos ancestry goes back to nazism, except that it kills from the inside rather than just physically, clumsily. Death of historical memory, a type of lobotomisation…
    “Give me the child and I’ll give you the adult”

  8. Steve Davis

    A great article, thank you.

    The influence of right-wing think tanks has been extraordinary – they re-shaped the world for a while with their push for free trade and the like, but their influence may be diminishing. For example, a few years back the WTO was always in the news, but we don’t hear too much about it these days.

    Have people started to wake up to the lies, or is that just wishful thinking on my part?

  9. Phil Pryor

    Bella D’Abrera seems to have long been a raving romanist ratbag covered by genuine qualifications so as to pursue the insolent evangelism of old imperialist righteous supremacist intusiveness. She is on the nose and widely disregarded, often attacked for clear shoddiness, opinioneering, puerile assertions which diminish her apparent stances. I taught over half a century and over 50,000 hours in various subjects and situations. It was never easy seeking truth and good outcomes, for superiors, programs, “philosophies”, policies, political ministers and attitudes all impeded progress mostly. As for the IPA, Far Canal as they say in Venice. Strident primitive overconfident assertion is disreputable. Western civilisation over recent centuries was driven by policies of greed, theft, murder, slavery, acquisition, humiliation, racism, classism, all coated in religion, royalty and impure filth.

  10. King1394

    While all the criticism of teachers, and the rigid curriculum, coupled with interruptions of COVID are all truly causing terrible effects in education, it still remains a profession that treats many new graduates to a lottery of insecure casual placements rather than nurturing them into a secure career. As an older graduate at 60 years old, it was impossible to get a permanent position as an English/Society&Culture teacher, although I applied for placements all over the State. Having previously spent 14 years in high school classrooms as a teachers’ aide, I did not lack school experience.

  11. New England Cocky

    Hmmmm ….. Time to expel the IPA from the Charity Class.

  12. leefe


    So-called free markets are as free as the speech 99.99% of ‘free speech” advocates want: mine but not thine.

  13. Lucy Hamilton

    What an excellent set of comments. Thanks so much for all that thought-provoking and entertaining commentary.

    Thanks for that about the CIS, Andrew. I’d missed that element.

    Thanks for the spellcheck, Cangaru. You can see how little I thought of the subject, only augmented by Phil’s diatribe.

    Really good point, King. Teachers are treated pretty darned badly, especially the new applicants. The lack of funding and respect is depressing.

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