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.

Idealising communism

Tom Switzer

03 November 2017 | Ideas@TheCentre

TS Bolshevik revolution 1Next week marks the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution. November 7, 1917 was not just one of the most influential events of all time, it ushered in the most terrifying period in human history. In the matter of scale, the Russian revolutionaries and their later successors in China and elsewhere achieved a record of far more deaths than either world war. According to the London-based project to create a Museum of Communist Terror, 15-18 million people died in World War One; 40-80 million died in World War Two; and 80-100 million died under communist regimes.

Yet 100 years later, many young people in the West are ignorant of the ideology that inspired Lenin, Trotsky and millions of their worldwide followers. According to YouGov surveys, only 55% of American millennials think communism was, and still is, a problem. A third of young people believe US president George W. Bush murdered more people than Soviet dictator Josef Stalin did. And about 70 per cent of young British people have never heard of Mao Tse-Tung, the communist revolutionary whose regime murdered tens of millions of Chinese.

The British Labour Opposition’s treasury spokesman, John McDonnell, identifies with the Marxist cause — even once waving Mao’s Little Red Book in parliament. Meanwhile, the Irish post office recently released a special national stamp to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Che Guevara, the Marxist revolutionary who became Fidel Castro’s right-hand man during Cuba’s communist revolution of 1959.

George Orwell once wrote: “We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” One such man is James Bartholomew (a former guest of CIS), who is behind the move for a Museum of Communist Terror, which will document all the people murdered in Communist regimes — from Eastern Europe to Latin America to East Asia. Writing in the UK Daily Telegraph recently, he argued: “The fact that, through no fault of their own, young people know very little about the terror, torture, executions and famines that took place under Communism means that they have limited intellectual defence against the apparent idealism of extreme left-wing ideas.” Something to ponder on the centenary of the Russian Revolution.

Indigenous students’ hard-won literacy progress

Jennifer Buckingham

03 November 2017 | Ideas@TheCentre

JB Good to great schools 1Improving the persistently very low literacy level of Indigenous children in remote areas of the Northern Territory and Western Australia is an urgent but extremely difficult task.

A new evaluation of the Flexible Literacy for Remote Primary Schools Program (FLFRPSP) implemented by Good to Great Schools Australia (GGSA) finds early signs that the Direct Instruction and Explicit Direct Instruction programs are improving reading and writing, despite the initial resistance in some schools and sectors.

The evidence presented here, as well as an extensive literature gathered around direct instruction, demonstrates that this pedagogy can and should have a positive impact on children’s literacy outcomes.

The report methodically sets out both the obstacles and the potential for success. One of the most pernicious problems is high levels of teacher and principal turnover. Northern Territory FLFRPSP schools had average teacher rates of 161% in 2015 and 58% in 2016. Most had to replace their principal at least once a year — sometimes two or three times.

The challenges of teaching children in remote schools to read and write standard Australian English are numerous and complex. For the majority, English is their second language, and for some their third language.

Many children have supportive families and come to school eager and ready to learn — but there are also many with dysfunctional home lives and congenital learning difficulties. School attendance is generally poor. It is easy to understand why progress is hard won.

Nonetheless, there has been progress. Measurement of improvement in the Northern Territory was hampered by the absence of early literacy data for schools in the government sector, so the clearest statistical gains have been in Western Australian schools.

The report — produced by the Centre for Program Evaluation at Melbourne University — takes a balanced but positive position on the potential future impact of the FLFRPSP, cautioning that “educational reform in any complex environment takes times and deserves time.” Would that all programs were evaluated so thoroughly and honestly.

Faith and reason inseparable

Peter Kurti

03 November 2017 | Ideas@TheCentre

PK reason 1Myths persist about the unreasonableness of religious belief — especially Christianity. Fashionable intellectuals pitch religion against science, saying rationality is the highest principle of the universe.

Overlooked is Christianity’s vital synthesis of the Greek philosophical tradition that gave rise precisely to the form of reason from which the intellectuals have attempted to divorce faith.

Far from being the enemy of reason, faith — as Greg Sheridan wrote last week — is the basis of reason. “Science tells us a great deal about how,” he said, “but nothing about why.”

For the discovery of truth to be more than a series of non-rational, subjective assumptions, we need to remember that religious faith needs to be a part of reasonable discourse.

Not only does Christian theology entail formal reasoning about God; the discipline of theology, as a form of reasoned enquiry, is foundational component of what we refer to as ‘the West’.

And emphasis on our minds’ ability to apprehend reality — including philosophical and religious truths — is woven into the very fabric of the West, says scholar of religion Samuel Gregg.

The concept of reason is broader than the limits of the empirically falsifiable, something emphasised by Pope Benedict XIV in his 2006 lecture delivered at Regensburg:

“The world’s profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their more profound convictions,” Benedict said.

By the application of reason, human beings exercise the capacity both to comprehend and to shape their social reality, to exercise moral judgement, and to make reasonable choices.

In this way, human beings grow as reasonable people and so are able to build human communities which defend human dignity from the subversion of character and courage.