Culture

School’s now focus firmly on what divides us, not what we share in common

Kevin Donnelly in The Australian on Tuesday argued that it’s now clear that the education sector’s ‘politically correct embrace of diversity and difference – the new code for multiculturalism – reigns supreme’:

As reported in yesterday’s The Australian, school officials at Sydney’s Hurstville Boys Campus, based on a literal interpretation of a hadith, told Muslim students that it was permissible to refuse to greet females in the customary way.

So much for the Christian ­admonition “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. And so much for the fact that Australian society only prospers and grows when there is a shared understanding of what constitutes civility and good manners.

… Education now embraces identity politics where the rights and privileges of particular ­individuals and groups nominated by the cultural Left are granted positive discrimination… Whereas in times past schools would teach all students about the values, beliefs and institutions that bind us as a nation and the debt owed to Western culture, the focus is now firmly on what ­divides us instead of what we share in common.Even worse, instead of their ­arguments being properly ­analysed and evaluated, anyone questioning multicultural groupthink is quickly condemned as Islamophobic, racist and intolerant.

As noted by the British journalist and author Patrick West: “Tolerance in the name of relativism has become its own intolerance. We are commended to respect all differences and anyone who dis-agrees shall be shouted down, ­silenced or slandered as a racist. Everyone must be tolerant. And that’s an order.”

The Australian National Curriculum advocates identity politics and the belief that all cultures must be treated equally. Christianity, instead of being acknowledged as one of the foundation stones on which Western culture rests and continues to depend, receives the same weighting as Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism.

While the National Curriculum stipulates that subjects and areas of learning must celebrate diversity and difference, with a special focus an Asian and indigenous perspectives, scant time or attention is given to the history and significance of liberalism within the Western tradition.

The NSW Statement of Equity Principles endorsed by the recently established Education Standards Council also illustrates the way education has been captured by the cultural Left’s long march through the institutions. The school syllabus, associated materials and assessment guidelines all focus on “difference and diversity in the Australian community” where all must be respected and treated equally regardless of “cultural and linguistic heritage, gender, age, beliefs, socio-economic status, location, sexuality or disability”.

… Multiculturalism ignores the reality that some cultural practices and beliefs are un-Australian and that unless we want to follow the example of Britain and Europe, where the policy has led to ethnic ghettos, violence and social fragmentation, education must teach how to discriminate between what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable beliefs and ­values.There is also the irony that the very values that cultural relativists champion, such as tolerance and respect for others, are culturally specific. The liberties and freedoms we take for granted are embedded in Western culture, our Judeo-Christian heritage, and ­historical movements like the ­Enlightenment.

You can read the full article here ($)

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I’m sure they’ll get it right next time

James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal compiled this list of headlines from the past decade, which really speak for themselves:

  • “2006: Expect Another Big Hurricane Year Says NOAA”—headline, MongaBay.com, May 22, 2006
  • “NOAA Predicts Above Normal 2007 Atlantic Hurricane Season”—headline, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration press release, May 23, 2007
  • “NOAA Increases Expectancy for Above-Normal 2008 Atlantic Hurricane Season”—headline, gCaptain.com, Aug. 7, 2008
  • “Forecasters: 2009 to Bring ‘Above Average’ Hurricane Season”—headline, CNN.com, Dec. 10, 2008
  • “NOAA: 2010 Hurricane Season May Set Records”—headline, Herald-Tribune (Sarasota, Fla.), May 28, 2010
  • “NOAA Predicts Increased Storm Activity in 2011 Hurricane Season”—headline, BDO Consulting press release, Aug. 18, 2011
  • “2012 Hurricane Forecast Update: More Storms Expected”—headline, LiveScience.com, Aug. 9, 2012
  • “NOAA Predicts Active 2013 Atlantic Hurricane Season”—headline, NOAA press release, May 23, 2013
  • “A Space-Based View of 2015’s ‘Hyperactive’ Hurricane Season”—headline, CityLab.com, June 19, 2015
  • “The 2016 Atlantic Hurricane Season Might Be the Strongest in Years”—headline, CBSNews.com, Aug. 11, 2016
  • NOAA: U.S. Completes Record 11 Straight Years Without Major Hurricane Strike“—headline, CNSNews.com, Oct. 24, 2016
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Albrechtsen on the “cult of taking offence”

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Janet Albrechtsen

Janet Albrechtsen had an excellent article in The Australian today on the dangerous “cult of taking offence” ($) stifling free expression in the West:

To be sure, America is the home of the modern-day propensity to find offence. If this was a cult called Scientology, progressives would be carefully deconstructing its concerning presence in modernity. But the cult of taking offence is a slyer virus because it is largely unchecked. And it’s running rife on university campuses, where it threatens to do the most damage.

… The cult of taking offence has become a determined game of what Jonathan Rauch has called the “offendedness sweepstakes”, and it keeps lowering the bar on what words, ideas and freethinking analysis are to be mowed down to protect the hold identity politics has over academe. Political correctness, the soul brother of identity politics, may have started out briefly in some quarters as a sweet-sounding search for a very civil utopia imbued with respect for minorities. Now it is the weapon of choice in the pursuit of power and control over ideas, words, books, teaching and much more.

Students seek “safe spaces” to avoid ideas they don’t like and even comedians are not welcome: Chris Rock no longer appears on campus because students are more interested in not offending anyone than sharp humour that may offend. Jerry Seinfeld has said he has been warned to stay off campuses too because they’re too PC.

And the result, best described by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, has been the coddling of the American mind where emotional reasoning now determines the limits of university debates. “A claim that someone’s words are ‘offensive’ is not just an expression of one’s own subjective feeling of offendedness,” they write. “It is, rather, a public charge that the speaker has done something objectively wrong” and must apologise or be punished for committing the offence.

This made-in-America phen­om­e­non is no longer an only-in-America one. Students studying archeology at University College London were recently given permission to leave class if they encounter “historical events that may be disturbing, even traumatising” — in other words, if they are freaked out by bones.

The coddling of the Australian student mind is under way too. Last week at the University of NSW a well-meaning lecturer teaching a class on 20th-century European history told his students he felt obliged to issue a trigger warning about material they would cover. At the same university last year, a lecturer teaching a course on terrorism and religion issued a trigger warning too. Isn’t the trigger in the title? Isn’t history replete with traumatic events?

The Australian asked UNSW, the University of Sydney, Melbourne University, Monash University, Queensland University, Queensland University of Technology and the Australian National University in Canberra about their policies, formal or informal, about trigger warnings. Those that responded issued bland comments about having no formal policy, with some offering statements such as this one from Melbourne University: “We encourage academics to be sensitive to student needs and some may choose to give warnings about confronting content.” Or this from Merlin Crossley, UNSW’s deputy vice-chancellor education: “Some of our academics and teaching teams may choose to provide trigger or content warnings depending on course materials and in some cases possible confidential sensitivities of their students.”

In 2017 Monash University will introduce what it calls “a radical and far-reaching reform of our education and pedagogy” involving an “optional inclusion of content warnings where appropriate”.

… Indeed, there are few signs of Australian academics trying to ward off the American-born disease taking hold on our campuses. Quite the contrary. QUT vice-chancellor Peter Coaldrake told this newspaper last month that the university did not choose to be associated with the current public debate about section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. That’s unfortunate because section 18C, which makes it unlawful for someone to act in a manner that is reasonably likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” someone because of their race or ethnicity, is the legislative extension of trigger warnings that stifle open debate and infantilise students.

… Where does it end? That depends on where we start when it comes to freedom of expression, and currently too many self-indulgent Westerners are starting in entirely the wrong place.

Read the full article here.

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Waleed Aly does not deserve a free speech prize

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Liberty Victoria have just announced that broadcaster Waleed Aly will receive their annual free speech award, the Voltaire Award.

Notably, he was not awarded the prize for actually supporting free speech, but rather his “contributions to many areas crucial to public life,” including on the topics of terrorism and treatment of refugees.

Aly is not being awarded for his views on free speech because he doesn’t actually support Voltaire’s axiom: I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.

In a 2013 lecture, after giving the cursory statements in favour of free expression, he argued for retaining section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

He used the metaphor of the free market to argue against free speech, misusing the idea of ‘market power’ to silence voices he considers powerful:

If free speech is meant to be analogous to the free market, if bad ideas are to be vanquished by good ones in the contest of ideas, then what happens where that contest scarcely exists? Really, it’s like an abuse of market power: a kind of market distortion. There is at the very least a case to be made for regulating speech in these circumstances to ensure that the discourse of the socially empowered is held accountable in some way.

He, of course, seems to miss the point that government intervention in the free speech ‘market’ is an exercise of social power by the powerful, silencing ideas one group happens to find distasteful.

Aly went on to say that society should regulate the tone of inflammatory ideas:

We can also require that, particularly in the case of dangerously inflammatory ideas, that they are conducted with a certain tone that reduces the likelihood of some manner of social explosion.

Liberty Victoria’s decision to award a free speech prize to someone who does not support free speech makes a mockery of the supposedly prestigious prize.

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Maurice Newman on the arrogance of the political elites

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Maurice Newman has an important piece in The Australian this morning argues that voters are fed up with a arrogant political elite ($):

Judged by their on-air performances today’s political elites, like the PM, are captive to a narrow, self-indulgent, outdated, Labor-Liberal paradigm. In their splendid isolation, they are convinced only the extreme, or the uneducated, vote for Pauline Hanson, Jacqui Lambie, Derryn Hinch, Nick Xenophon or other minor parties.

They can’t accept that “smart” voters think differently to them or are tired of what they recognise as a cartelised ruling establishment. So disconnected are they that they believe the masses fall for vague messages of compassion, fairness, jobs and growth. They think slogans that ooze condescension and promote cargo-cult dependency rather than advocate sound financial management and self-reliance fool the majority. In reality, when the people lose trust in their leaders and the system, they pursue narrow self-interest.

Why not? They see unions they never voted for exerting extraordinary influence on public policy. They watch big business win favours from big government at the cost of small business. They know Marxists are indoctrinating their children without their consent and feel powerless to stop it. Without consultation, their freedom to speak is constantly eroded. They feel marginalised.

Meanwhile, the major parties preach brand differentiation. The Liberals boast a broad church but welcome ever fewer conservatives and libertarians. The Labor Party presents as progressive, yet its links to the union movement are medieval and its ever-conscious need to distance itself from the Greens regularly throws up inherent contradictions. Today the brands are as different as Coles is to Woolworths or Ford is to Holden.

For political pundits, support for minor parties can be hard to read, let alone understand. Are the voters genuinely interested in a single issue, are they parking their vote until after the election or, as pollster Mark Textor says, are they sending a message as a pre-election “tickle up” to the parties?

Polling cannot answer these questions. Certainly, tribal loyalty is fading and poll gaming is on the rise. Voters see approaching elections as an opportunity to use polls to leverage the main parties and, in close elections, minor parties can be strategically rewarding.

Inevitably, volatile electorates are diminishing the predictive value of polls. We have seen Brexit, the unchanged New Zealand flag, David Cameron’s unexpected second term and the comfortable win for the Coalition that wasn’t. These results provide evidence that the political class is prone to groupthink and prefers to watch polls than listen to the electorate.

If the voters are gaming the establishment, the political class is using polls to game the people. Recently, a Reuters poll and an American ABC News/Washington Postpoll were exposed as favouring Democratic respondents to flatter Hillary Clinton’s standing.

Whether or not poll manipulation occurs in Australia (was the one before the election, demeaning Tony Abbott and flattering Turnbull, a case?), the people are aware politics is a murky business. They know how unions, crony capitalists and other rent-seekers repay patronage and privilege to the major parties in kind and often with recycled taxpayer funds.

No wonder they have become cynical and mercenary. They are fed up with a system they see as corrupt and self-serving and that treats them as uneducated serfs. They want respect and a government that is culturally confident and economically consistent.

Read the whole article here ($).

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Trigger warnings have arrived at Australian universities

The anti-intellectual and seriously dangerous phenomena of trigger warnings has arrived at Australian universities.

The Age reported late last week that Australian lecturers have begun warning students about potentially graphic or sensitive content:

Australian academics are issuing so-called “trigger warnings” for confronting material in classrooms at the start of each semester, and before classes, to give students the chance to opt out.

These types of warnings encourage academics to not teach ideas, for fear of facing complaints, and students to ignore confronting ideas. And, as has been noted in the United States, there are serious mental health concerns about trigger warnings: they have the potential to establish fears students would otherwise not have, and encourage individuals to avoid addressing their fears.

Continue Reading →

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Queen’s Birthday Honours 2016

One particular honour stood out for me in the Queen’s Birthday Honours:

The Honourable Roman FINKELSTEIN QC… For distinguished service to the judiciary and to the law, to legal education as an academic, to jurisprudence in the fields of commercial and competition law, and to professional organisations.

As Sinclair Davidson notes at the Catallaxy Files:

Ray Finkelstein – the man who tried to introduce media censorship in Australia at the behest of the previous Labor government – has been honoured with the Order of Australia by a Coalition government.

Simply astonishing.

On a brighter note though was the Knighthood awarded to conservative intellectual Roger Scruton in the UK’s Queen’s Birthday Honours. Among many other things, Roger Scruton delivered the keynote address at the IPA’s 2014 Foundations of Western Civilisation Symposium, on liberty and democracy:

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Once again: spending more does not improve educational outcomes

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In classic Labor style Bill Shorten opened the federal election campaign by re-announcing his promise to increase schools funding by $3.8 billion.

However, a report discussed in The Australian ($) last week has once again rubbished the notion that spending more will improve our educational outcomes:

Australia spends $132,945, on average, to educate a student from primary school to Year 10 — double the $66,463 spent on students in Shanghai and 40 per cent more than the $93,630 cost in South Korea, the latest comparative OECD data shows. More than half the students in Shanghai and nearly a third of Korean students top the class internationally in maths — compared with just one in seven Australian students.

One in five Australian students failed the minimum standard in maths in the OECD’s 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), compared with 3 per cent of Shanghai students and 9 per cent of Korean teenagers.

The simple reality is that blindly increasing expenditure, from Rudd-Gillard government’s ‘education revolution’ to the Gonski funding model, has failed to improve educational outcomes.

We need a back-to-basics approach which priorities high quality teaching methods, as well as rewarding capable teachers with performance based pay, if we are going to have any chance of keeping up with our Asian neighbors.

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Sanity prevails: Evangelical Union at USyd won’t be deregistered

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The University of Sydney Union has abandoned their plan to deregister the Evangelical Union.

Faith-based societies at the University of Sydney were facing deprivation of monetary resources and access to campus facilities over their requirement that members be Christian.

However, in a big win for freedom of association on campus, the union announced in a media statement today that faith based clubs and societies would be able to decide the conditions of their membership:

After long and thoughtful consultation with our religious communities on campus, the University of Sydney Union Board of Directors resolved at the April Board Meeting to amend the C&S Regulations to allow faith based declarations as a condition of membership and Executives of faith based clubs registered under the USU C&S program.

The Board has listened to its members and acknowledges the importance of such declarations to some of our faith based clubs and societies.

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