Ideas@TheCentre – The Centre for Independent Studies


Ideas@TheCentre brings you ammunition for conversations around the table.  3 short articles from CIS researchers emailed every Friday on the issues of the week.

‘School shopping’ is a parental right

Blaise Joseph

01 March 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

A “serious problem” in education was identified this week: many Sydney parents are choosing to send their children to government secondary schools outside of their local catchment area (the sheer nerve…how dare they choose what they think is best for their children?).

Some people have seemingly forgotten a basic principle: the government school system exists for parents and their children, not the other way around.

If parents don’t think the local government school is providing what their children need — for whatever reason, those parents have the right to choose a different school. And they should be supported in that choice, not sanctimoniously shamed.

There is also a fundamental moral question here: ultimately, whose responsibility is it to improve a low-performing local government school? Is it really the responsibility of parents of potentially high-achieving students to stay at a low-performing school to lift the average, instead of moving to a better school? Or is it rather the responsibility of the school system (as common sense would dictate) to ensure a decent universal minimum standard, regardless of who chooses to attend the local school?

This comes back to the broader governing principle of subsidiarity. The government should support the initiative of parents and non-government schools who take financial pressure off the government school system.

As my chapter argues in the recently published  Reclaiming Education: Renewing Schools and Universities in Contemporary Western Culture, we need to reclaim subsidiarity as a basis for how we fund schools.

For example, the policy of charter schools (government-funded, privately-managed schools) should be seriously considered at the state and territory level in Australia. Charter schools have more flexibility to cater to the needs of disadvantaged students in particular and are a way of expanding school choice for low-income parents.

At the end of the day, children have varying educational needs and parents have varying expectations of schools, so ‘school shopping’ is rightly embedded in Australia’s education system.

Don’t choose school texts by identity politics

Irene Nocillado

01 March 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

Queensland University of Technology researchers are pushing for more same-sex literature to be included in the Australian secondary school curriculum.

According to them, the introduction of more same-sex material will “better reflect sexual diversity” and “combat hetero-sexism” as the current curriculum “‘silences/marginalises diverse experiences”.

However the texts available for selection are already diverse — ranging from English classics like Frankenstein, Indian immigrant experiences such as Jhumpa Lhairi’s Interpreter of Maladies and sexually diverse films endorsed by the NSW Teachers Federation, like Gayby Baby and Love Simon.

If the materials need to be more diverse, this means that we have to knock some books off the shelf. So what do we bin? Should it be Shakespeare, or perhaps Tennessee Williams… or maybe our own Tim Winton?

However, the problem does not lie in the lack of diversity of available texts and materials — but in diversity becoming the key determinant when selecting texts to teach children.

And this problem is already occurring. Diversity has transformed into a political test superseding literary merit. There is no place for this in education — nor is it the true purpose of education.

CIS Research Fellow Dr Jennifer Buckingham, suggests that electing books for English students should be based on “literary merit rather than fulfilling quotas”. If teachers merely aim to fulfil a quota, children will suffer the consequences and receive a poorer quality of education.

The declining literacy and numeracy results in Australia are already an indicator of this. Instead of concentrating on the basics, educators are promoting and positioning politics in the classroom.

Changing curriculums under the guise of diversity has no place in education. It opens up the classroom for identity politics and introduces an unnecessary political test. Instead, we must prioritise our focus on selecting the best quality literature to keep on the shelf.

Irene Nocillado is a recent graduate of the University of Notre Dame, and an intern at the Centre for Independent Studies.

UNSW gender-activism HR masquerade

Monica Wilkie

01 March 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

The thought police on university campuses have developed a new tool to ensure their students think correctly.

Clubs at the University of New South Wales risk disaffiliation if their executives fail to complete a ‘gender misconduct’ course.

Among other things, the course requires students to rate the level of offensiveness of Tony Abbott’s comments that led to Julia Gillard’s famous misogyny speech.

But this is just the tip of the rainbow spear.

Students are asked whether the following statement is true or false: “Your gender is assigned based on your ­biology and your sex is assumed from your gender.” The correct answer being false.

However, if you did not answer correctly — or like me, did not understand the question — never fear.

As a UNSW spokeswoman said: “If students answer incorrectly, they are given opportunities to amend their answer and should the answer continue to be incorrect, they are given the correct answer.” In other words, there is only one acceptable view regarding sex and gender at UNSW.

Ridiculous as it is, this story is another warning signal about the free speech crisis in Australian universities, which prompted the federal government to commission an inquiry led by Former High Court chief justice Robert French.

Some higher education officials have rejected the inquiry. University of Sydney vice-chancellor Michael Spence called the inquiry a “circus” and “uni bashing.”

But the UNSW case of gender activism masquerading as HR training points to the wider sources of free speech problems on campus.

As Heather MacDonald explains in her book, university HR departments, like academics, are responsible for pushing political correctness and identity politics.

Compelling students to subscribe to ‘approved views’ on gender is a betrayal of universities core function — which is to promote the maximum freedom of thought and expression.

This is an edited version of an oped that ran on Spectator’s Flat White section.