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.

Education policy rolls dice

Fiona Mueller

27 February 2020 | IDEAS@THECENTRE

“Both today and 20 years from now, I want Australians to be in control of their future.” At the very least,  Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s vision for the nation is ambitious.

Two decades from now, the children starting school this year will be 25, and their future is massively dependent on how well they are educated.  But the vision for education looks scarily like a roll of the dice.

The next 10 years will be guided by the Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration, the fourth in a series of road maps signed off by the Federal Education Minister and all states and territories.

Some people will be happy with the Declaration’s recycled, globalist language and experimental proposals for improving student performance.

But statements like: “As the importance of a high quality education grows, so does the complexity of being an educator” offer little evidence of building on solid foundations.

Have quality and complexity only recently become the main game?

As Australian curriculum, assessment, teaching and other standards go steadily downhill, school education is now a $60 billion a year bet that pays off only for some.

Australian policymakers are embracing a 21st century learning agenda that paints the future as volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA).

This VUCA world was part of the response by the US Army War College to the fall of the former Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The futurists love it, and various interpretations have been adopted enthusiastically by educators as they try to anticipate the needs of the children of the new millennium.

But it’s a dark and pessimistic outlook — fixated on jobs lost to artificial intelligence and other technological trends — and it permeates the work of organisations such as the OECD, whose Future of Education and Skills 2030 Project is influential.

What’s emerging is intellectually and pedagogically shallow, a wholesale shift towards a curriculum focusing on skills that — as per the Alice Springs document —  “support imagination, discovery, innovation, empathy and developing creative solutions to complex problems”… these allegedly being “central to contributing to Australia’s knowledge based economy.”

The vision does at least include the occasional reference to “development of deep knowledge within a discipline … appropriate to students’ phases of development.”

The visionaries cannot have it both ways. A sovereign nation must have an effective, efficient educational agenda.

It is time for our leaders to ensure that all Australian students will benefit from a sophisticated, rigorous education delivered by highly-trained subject experts.  That is what being in control looks like.


Quarrel, oath and failure

Monica Wilkie

27 February 2020 | IDEAS@THECENTRE

In the latest example of institutional neglect the University of Oxford, is considering making the study of Homer’s Iliadand Virgil’s Aeneid – optional.

At Oxford, large portions of the Iliad and Aeneid are read in Greek and Latin – subjects mostly taken by students from private schools, and Oxford is being pressured to attract more pupils from state schools.

Unfortunately, Oxford’s proposal is unsurprising as they have favoured hollow identity politics over maintaining a rigorous education in the classics.

A campaign to ‘decolonise the curriculum’ in British universities has gained popularity, winning a non-Sussex royal endorsement from Meghan Markle, because the current curriculum is “male, pale and stale.”

Such searing literary analysis was echoed by an Australia high school English teacher who bemoaned “Why are so many “classics” written by old, dead, (usually) straight white guys?”

These comments are indicative of universities obsession with ‘new thinking’ and ‘new ways of learning.’

When students are encouraged to ‘unlearn’, and “to be brave enough to…demolish social norms and build new ones” is it any wonder universities have neglected the classics, especially the teaching of Greek and Latin?

But, as one student opposed to Oxford’s changes remarked “Oxford remains one of the few places in the world, if not the only one, in which students must read a substantial amount of [The Iliad and Aeneid] in the original.”

Removing such a requirement in the name of equality will harm future generations as the knowledge of Greek and Latin is lost – entirely.

Oxford could address educational inequality by looking at increasing the number of students studying Greek and Latin – a change schools, parents and teachers would support.

But Oxford have, like Prince Paris, shot Achilles and run away – a simile fewer will understand as the Iliad is read less and less.

Although the ‘decolonising the curriculum’ crowd insist their way is necessary to “confront exclusion”, in reality, all they end up excluding is beauty and greatness.



Seeking purpose in life

Steven Schwartz

27 February 2020 | IDEAS@THECENTRE

This week saw Ash Wednesday mark the first day of Lent. In churches across the country, priests admonished the faithful to “remember that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return.” These words offer a salutary reminder of what awaits all of us. In the meantime, we spend our years trying to give meaning to our lives.

There was a time when religion and communal traditions provided answers to those who questioned life’s purpose. In our secular age, when religion has waned and many of our communal traditions are crumbling, answers to life’s eternal questions become ever more difficult to find.

Without a set of touchstones or guidance, it is all too easy to fall into the black pit of nihilism.

Almost 100 years ago, the eminent historian Sir Keith Hancock said that “Australians look upon the state as a vast public utility” designed to solve life’s most difficult problems. Nothing has changed.

As a society, we have made a Faustian bargain. We have traded our souls and consciences for a trivial and inconsequential government paternalism.

Many, perhaps most, Australians reject the traditional answers to life’s purpose, but they still keep asking the same questions. Why am I here? How should I live? Governments cannot answer these questions, and it seems our public schools and universities have given up even trying.

Lent is a period of sacrifice but also of contemplation and reflection. In the lead-up to Easter, as the government contemplates how to legislate for religious freedom, it should eschew the pretentious bombast and manufactured outrage that has sadly become the routine mode of our political discourse. Politicians should admit that there are limits to what governments can do to provide people with a purpose in life.

This is an edited extract of an opinion piece published in Quadrant Online as ‘No Longer at Ease … in the Old Dispensation’