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.

Woke Wars

Monica Wilkie

19 February 2021 | IDEAS@THECENTRE

The latest Hollywood cancellation has raised the usual hackles. But the problem is that a vacuum in virtuous authority is being filled by vacuous celebrities.

Gina Carano, a star in the Disney+ sensation The Mandalorian was fired from her role; had her spin-off show cancelled, and was dropped by her talent agency, after a social media post in which she compared America’s polarised politics with Nazi Germany.

Holocaust comparisons are particularly pernicious because they have the combined effect of downplaying a horrific, historical event, while exaggerating present-day concerns.

Our public discourse would be greatly improved if everyone stopped using Holocaust metaphors.

And leave aside the usual tired truism that, ‘private companies can hire and fire whomever they please’ — this does not come close to addressing the issue.

Actors, singers, directors, novelists, anyone in the entertainment industry, is there to do one thing: entertain. Why do we expect them to do anything outside this?

We seem to have imbued our entertainment class with a certain moral authority. We expect them to be thought leaders and to speak on important issues with the wisdom and rhetorical skill of Quintilian.

Interviews with celebrities will regularly delve into areas such as climate change, immigration policy, or myriad other topics.

Hollywood heartthrob George Clooney — best known for looking pretty while pretending to be a doctor — regularly opines on climate change and mocks anyone who disagrees with him.

Cardi B, famous for rapping about the female anatomy, decided this Valentine’s Day to share her musings on chivalry.

Perhaps our desire to elevate celebrities as amateur philosophers is because traditional spheres of moral authority have slowly been eroding.

Once, people might look to religious or community leaders, extended and immediate family, or even historical figures for guidance on how to act.

But as each of these areas has been ‘problematised’ by a world view that does not see any value in history or tradition, people have been left searching.

And the glittering lights of the entertainment business have proven an attractive lure to those otherwise shrouded in darkness.

Calling time on an untimed syllabus

Glenn Fahey

19 February 2021 | IDEAS@THECENTRE

The government’s decision to torpedo the controversial pitch for an ‘untimed syllabus’ in schools is a win for all NSW students, parents, and teachers.

An ‘untimed syllabus’ idea was the chief recommendation to the NSW government reviewing the curriculum and is motivated by the discredited ‘stage rather than age’ push.

It claims students should be tracked, not by what they know for their age and grade, but by how much more they know compared to the previous year. Effectively, it suggests students should move at their own pace, rather than each trying to meet the same bar.

Supplanting ‘absolute’ measures of student achievement with ‘relative’ measures of their progress is popular with education academics; but in practice, it’s a threat to students, parents, and teachers.

For better or worse, students’ achievement level — not their progress — is what matters for their post-school work and study prospects. Their future enrolment and employment decisions will be made on who’s the highest-achieving candidate, not who’s the ‘most improved’. The school system must better prepare them for this reality, not shield them from it.

Recording student achievement against grade-level expectations, and even compared to their peers, is an important educational task. If students aren’t at a proficient level, it signals the need for remedial efforts from teachers and parents.

Stunting that process is a recipe for a low-expectations trap, where struggling students study a syllabus years behind where they should be, rather than their schools seeking to lift them up to standard.

The dirty secret about an untimed syllabus is that it most hurts underachieving and disadvantaged students. Students who start behind risk staying behind — since their progress is tracked from their starting point, not a common end point.

But it’s perhaps teachers who will breathe the greatest sigh of relief. Teachers already have their plate full meeting the differing abilities of students across their classroom, before trying to simultaneously teach students across multiple syllabuses. As all teachers know, it’s their pedagogy that should be flexible to meet students’ needs, not the curriculum itself.

The NSW education system can be resurrected from its currently diminished status. But this will only be possible by thwarting persistent efforts to undermine academic expectations and standards.

This is an edited extract of an opinion piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald as Ditching academics’ fantasy a win for education.

Dismal understanding of democracy

Joanne Tran

19 February 2021 | IDEAS@THECENTRE

The apathy young Australians have for our democracy can be traced to dismal knowledge of essential civics and citizenship.

According to the National Assessment Program – Civics and Citizenship, only 38% of Year 10 students (15-16 year olds) have sufficient knowledge of the importance of democracy and national values.

The report shows that it is not that students are disinterested — it is the call to action that’s evolving. Rather than understanding the implications of their choices at the ballot box, they’re more enthusiastic about joining social movements. They’re passionate about fashionable, progressive causes and influenced by social media rather than traditional sources.

The lack of basic understanding of our democratic system might help explain why the latest Lowy Institute poll on the importance of democracy shows that a significant 45% of Australians adults under the age of 30 would prefer a non-democratic government or are indifferent to the system of government they live under.

It’s little coincidence that young peoples’ declining knowledge about our democracy and nation is matched by diminished appreciation for it. This doesn’t bode well for the health of Australia’s liberal democratic society.

The results of the poll combined with the dire results of young people nearing the voting age proves exactly why we should reject calls to lower the voting age to 16. While it may be motivated by a desire to engage more voices in issues affecting them, it would simply worsen — rather than alleviate — existing problems. Ultimately, this means disenfranchising the rest of the electorate and would likely result in an explosion in protest votes.

Millions of young people will be voting for the first time in the upcoming election. The education system’s civics and citizenship results provide an early detection system for the health of our democracy. The apathy young Australians have for our democracy as shown in the results can be traced to dismal knowledge of essential civics and citizenship.

Having a democratic system of government is envied in many parts of the world. All the more reason that the responsibility is taken seriously as we are to live through the effects of the policies the elected government implements.