Education

The Victorian government’s war on Christmas

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Today I have a piece in The Australian on the Victorian government’s dangerous Christmas carol ban:

This is a cultural turning point. The Victorian government isn’t just banning Christmas carols; this is an attempt to strip away the meaning of Christmas. It’s an overt attack on one of the most significant events in the Christian calendar.

The decision goes to the heart of good education. Christmas, and all the ceremony and custom associated with it, has been a significant religious and cultural ritual for 1700 years. A ban on these traditions is a denial of our history. Suppressing aspects of the Christmas celebration denies a cultural heritage that has formed the basis of Western civilisation and that underpins our understanding of life and liberty.

A well-rounded education should include lessons on Christianity and its contribution to who we are today. We can’t expect the next generation to defend the values of Western civilisation if they don’t know what they are.

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A timeless piece on freedom of expression on campus

Benno C. Schmidt Jr

Benno C. Schmidt Jr

The Wall Street Journal‘s “Notable & Quotable” section republished this great piece ($) by Benno Schmidt this week, on attitudes towards freedom of expression on campus. Despite being published almost 15 years ago, every word of it still applies today:

On many campuses, perhaps most, there is little resistance to growing pressure to suppress and to punish, rather than to answer, speech that offends notions of civility and community. These campuses are heedless of the oldest lesson in the history of freedom, which is that offensive, erroneous and obnoxious speech is the price of liberty. Values of civility, mutual respect and harmony are rightly prized within the university. But these values must be fostered by teaching and by example, and defended by expression. When the goals of harmony collide with freedom of expression, freedom must be the paramount obligation of an academic community.

Much expression that is free may deserve our contempt. We may well be moved to exercise our own freedom to counter it or to ignore it. But universities cannot censor or suppress speech, no matter how obnoxious in content, without violating their justification for existence. Liberal education presupposes that a liberated mind will strive for the courage and composure to face ideas that are fraught with evil, and to answer them. To stifle expression because it is obnoxious, erroneous, embarrassing, not instrumental to some political or ideological end is—quite apart from the invasion of the rights of others—a disastrous reflection on the idea of the university.

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The deafening failure of open-plan classrooms

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Walking around Australian schools today, it is hard to miss the large, barn-like rooms housing hundreds of students.

We were promised ‘agile learning areas’, built on collaboration, flexibility and student-centred learning. What we got was far from a conducive learning environment.

It seems, however, that we may finally be waking up to the failure of another progressive educational fad, with The Age reporting that while schools ‘knocked down walls to revolutionise learning‘, they are now putting them back up to reduce the noise, distractions and disruptions.

On a teaching placement, I regularly observed a class of more than 50 students in an open-plan environment. Chaos is the only word that could be used to describe it. Students routinely went missing, noise levels were extremely high with conversation rarely on-task, and concentration and focus was almost non-existent. One student even flat-out refused to do work at all, declaring ‘my home is my learning environment; school is my play environment’.

Student complaints included that it is ‘so noisy I can’t even feel myself think!’, ‘you can never hear the teacher even if you try’, and ‘I don’t even bother listening because no one is quiet while the teachers are talking’. The negative impact of noise is supported by recent research showing that 50-70 per cent of children learning in open-plan classrooms were unable to hear their teacher very well, or at all, when the other classes were doing activities.

Research shows that children learn best when their environment is orderly and engaging. The establishment and enforcement of clear rules, expectations and boundaries help children build a sense of self-control, responsibility and accountability for their actions.

Open-plan classrooms fail this test. They are an environment more synonymous with chaos than with learning, and the sooner we recognise this, the better.

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Melbourne school bemoans the need for students to learn facts and be competitive

IB

In a Victorian first, Preshil school is set to phase out the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) and replace it with the International Baccalaureate. Principal Marilyn Smith explained that the decision to scrap the VCE was due to “it’s narrow focus on competition” and a need for learning that didn’t revolve around “just learning conventional facts”.

The decision follows in the steps of a growing progressive Left trend to erase competition from all walks of life and create a magical utopia where everyone is a success story simply because they exist. This ideology also manifests itself in some junior sports where scores are no longer kept, or in the most utterly insane cases, where teams that lose by more than 5 goals are declared the winner!

It’s nice to think that, after millennia of striving for a better life, free of war, poverty, hard labour and disease, we can simply down our tools and finally bask in the warm and fuzzy glow of life. A life where we can all just stop competing, be nice to one another, and where nobody ever has to feel sad or disappointed ever again. Oh, and we can stop worrying about learning those pesky “conventional facts”.

Back in the real world, however, we see that it is in fact a desire for a better life that motivates us to compete and constantly better our past efforts. Nowhere is this more evident than in the continual growth of free and competitive markets around the world, lifting people out of poverty on an unprecedented scale. Rather than holding us back from from a better life, competition is delivering us to it.

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The ‘left-wing conspiracy’ in teacher education courses

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High-quality teaching is fundamental to student learning, and research shows that it is the largest in-school factor influencing student outcomes.

That is why Dr Jennifer Oriel’s warning ($) that university courses are shaping a generation of teachers to champion postcolonialism and neo-Marxism should be taken very seriously. Dr Oriel cited recent IPA research which showed that from 2004 to 2014, the number of Australian universities offering postcolonialism as a subject increased from 15 to 21, and of the 34 universities surveyed, post­colonialism/imperialism was the third most commonly offered history subject.

Dr Bill Allen however, disagrees. In an article in The Australian yesterday, Dr Allen argued that no ‘left-wing conspiracy’ exists inside teacher education courses ($) to create teachers hostile to Western Civilisation and Australian values. He claimed that in his own experience, most students studying teaching have never heard of neo-Marxist educational theorists Paulo Freire or Herbert Marcuse, and that even though students knew of Karl Marx, it didn’t matter because they don’t know ‘how Marx’s ideas might apply to their thinking about being a successful teacher’.

My own experience studying teaching has been Oriel’s reality, not Allen’s.

In one subject, an entire week was devoted to Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy, and how from the 1970s to today, ‘important social movements such as feminism’ have ‘blossomed’ as teachers ‘started to actively resist schooling structures that were seen to privilege a typically white, male and European viewpoint.’

We were told that as educators, we have an ‘important role to play as “public intellectuals”, who should fight the forces of social and economic oppression within which schools operate’. This is informed by critical pedagogy advocate Henry Giroux, who contends that neoliberal politics, pop culture, and corporations are negative ideological forces which must be fought in schools.

Only last week, I sat in classes that denigrated non-government schools, argued for trigger warnings in the classroom, and derided the idea of individual responsibility.

If there is no left-wing conspiracy in teacher education courses, I must be confused.

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In defence of Germaine Greer

CardiffU

Cardiff University


This is the first and only time I have ever written in defence of Germaine GreerThe fact that Greer may cancel a public lecture at Cardiff University in the face of opposition from an online petition accusing her of holding ‘misogynistic views towards trans-women’ should concern anybody who believes that a university campus should be one place where freedom of speech is sacrosanct.

On 22 October, a Change.org petition was launched calling for Cardiff University to cancel Greer’s upcoming lecture, Women & Power: The Lessons of the 20th Century, saying:

While debate in a University should be encouraged, hosting a speaker with such problematic and hateful views towards marginalized and vulnerable groups is dangerous.

Within three days this petition garnered almost 2,000 signatures. And so Greer joins the ever-increasing and diverse list of speakers – ranging from lesbian feminist Julie Bindel to French Front National leader Marine Le Pen – who have been ‘no-platformed’ from UK university campuses.

This is not limited to the United Kingdom. Lukianoff and Haidt recently wrote about the institutionalization in America of this new climate of ‘vindictive protectiveness’, warning that microaggressions and trigger warnings had risen quickly ‘from obscurity into common campus parlance’.

Australia is also not immune. The campaign that pressured UWA to withdraw from establishing an Australian Consensus Centre is an example of a ‘No Platform’ mentality creeping into Australian universities. Change.org was again used to launch a petition, with almost 6,500 supporters arguing that the Centre should not be supported as ‘Lomborg’s views are dangerous‘.

I may disagree with most of what Germaine Greer says, but that is exactly the reason that I would love to hear her speak. Engaging with thinkers you disagree with, and having your own ideas challenged in the process, is at the core of a university education. Spending your student days wrapped in the cotton wool of agreeable ideas might lead to a safe and comfortable journey through your university degree, but it won’t be an intellectually engaging or rewarding one.

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Rigorous debate no longer accepted practice universities

If the recent Bjorn Lomborg saga has proven anything, it’s that the standard of debate in Australian universities is in a dire state.

Leighton McDonald-Stuart, editor of On Dit magazine at the University of Adelaide, had a great article in The Advertiser yesterday, on the deterioration of academic freedom at Australian universities:

How do we expect our society to advance when new ideas cannot be discussed because of an unwillingness by some precious, self-centred students?

These same students also want to limit free expression by mandating the use of “trigger warnings”, as well as censoring books they find uncomfortable or challenging. A “trigger warning” is a device that has emerged in the past two decades that seeks to warn a reader where a post traumatic reaction may be induced based on the content.

This has gone from warning of a discussion about rape to now including things such as “how many calories are in a food item” and “drunk driving”. The discussion of these things doesn’t actually harm anyone, it’s just that students now demand to live in a cotton-wrapped world.

Great works such as The Great Gatsby, Metamorphoses and Mrs Dalloway have been banned from university reading lists simply because some self-absorbed students find the content emotionally challenging and upsetting.

Seemingly anything that infringes on a student’s apparent “right” to feel comfortable is cast out and banned from campus (including Mexican themed parties).

Further, the attitudes of the ever-increasing number of “social justice warriors” towards those who they disagree with is creating an environment that is not conducive to the exercise of speech, of free thought, and of debate.

Continue reading here.

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Sensible words from MIT on divestment

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The well-known MIT (that is, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, not to be confused with the smaller and unrelated Melbourne Institute of Technology) has rejected calls for it to divest from fossil fuel investments.

In a very sensibly argued statement explaining its climate change policy, MIT President L Rafael Reif said, in part, that:

In our judgment, the deliberate public act of divestment would entangle MIT in a movement whose core tactic is large-scale public shaming. This would retard rather than encourage the open collaboration and ability to hear new ideas that are central to our research relationships, central to our ability to help government and business think creatively together, and central to our ability to convene and inform the thinking of those with opposing views.

While MIT is still a climate change believer, and is by no means the only institution to reject divestment, its recognition of the shallowness of the divestment campaign should still be welcomed.

It is a shame that the staff of UWA and Flinders University do not share MIT’s aversion to public shaming and engaging with people who don’t conform to groupthink.

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Government hoists the white flag on academic freedom

bjorn-lomborg-huffington-post

Yesterday, the federal government surrendered to the hysterical demands of the vocal minority to Bjørn Lomborg’s Australian Consensus Centre.

Sarah Martin reported in The Australian today: 

The Institute of Public Affairs, a free-market think tank, accused the government of “hoisting the white flag” on academic freedom.

… IPA executive director John Roskam said the move was “terribly disappointing”.

“I think it is a victory for censorship. I think it is a victory for closed minds,” [Roskam] said. “It is a terribly disappointing day for Australian universities and for academic freedom.”

Read the full article here.

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Failure of Lomborg centre a victory for censorship

MRcover

The Turnbull government’s decision to abandon funding for Bjorn Lombørg’s Australia Consensus Centre reveals the dire state of academic freedom in Australia, according to free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

“This is a victory for censorship and group-think,” says Morgan Begg, Editor of the IPA’s FreedomWatch.

“By making this decision, the government has surrendered to the demands of the Centre’s hysterical opponents, who only want a narrow range of views heard at universities.”

“Universities should be a place for students to expand their minds and have their beliefs challenged. This decision reflects how far away from that ideal our universities currently are.”

“The belief of the Greens’ higher education spokesman Robert Simms that ‘this is great news for the academic integrity of our universities’ reveals that opposition to Lomborg’s centre is explicitly censorious and intolerant of opposing views.”

“Bjorn Lombørg’s research on development and poverty is world-class. The real victims from this decision are the students,” says Mr Begg.

For media and comment: Morgan Begg, Editor of FreedomWatch, Institute of Public Affairs, [email protected]

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