Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Chapter 48 from: J.J. Ray (Ed.) "Conservatism as Heresy". Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co., 1974
The New Education
By: F. P. JUST
EDUCATION IN AUSTRALIA has been characterised over the last few decades by the unremitting importation from abroad of uniformly erroneous innovations which, before being thrown out, have retarded our children. These are frequently uneducated and unhappy in the middle and upper school, and bored in the lower school. One educationist after another, seeing that all is not well, prescribes a remedy; and in almost every case it will simply be another heady dose of the same kind of stuff that has caused the trouble, one more measure that will decrease the child's intellect and make his path through tertiary studies and life in general more difficult.
One catch-cry echoes above all the others that come and go. It is the complaint about 'cramming'. This is the word used nowadays for the acquisition of knowledge, and it is presented as the malady of today's children, whose minds are allegedly over-taxed by the vast amount of data which we ask them to absorb. This is a tempting hypothesis, but it does not stand up to examination, and not even the children themselves will accept it. Indeed, they know much better than many an educationist what is wrong with them: They may complain of overwork, for assignments and discussions are laborious, time-consuming and frequently time-wasting. But they will never complain of 'crammed' heads, for they only wish that after so much effort their heads were indeed crammed with more clear facts, whether in arithmetic, spelling, grammar, history, geography, or any of the upper school subjects.
We have a crisis in our schools, but it is not a crisis of too much juvenile intellect, any more than it is a crisis of manpower and materials. It is a crisis of intellectual depreciation brought on by a series of fallacious ideas and methods imposed by so-called pedagogical 'experts'. Both teachers and pupils suffer from it, and however it may manifest itself in the classroom, it is basically a lack of confidence in one's subject, a failure to devote oneself singlemindedly and wholeheartedly to the usually demanding task of teaching and learning the minutiae which constitute the substance of most disciplines, whether they be tables, foreign verbs or historical facts.
As more and more unsuccessful innovations have been introduced over the years by 'experts' believing they had found a short-cut to knowledge, it has become increasingly difficult for good, experienced teachers to retain or recover their trust in their own tried subjects and methods. As for the young ones, they frequently emerge from training with only the latest, or second-latest, fallacy in their methodological armory. Catch-cries such as 'we must avoid cramming' and 'we must teach pupils how to think' (instead of what to think) are both causes and effects of all this wrong pedagogy.
And now, at the very time when the conception that education is the development of the intellect -- i.e. the accumulation of ordered knowledge -- most needs reinforcing, we have one more massive dose of anti-intellect virus administered by the 'experts' and again prescribed by overseas educationists. It is a classical case of prescribing the cause as the remedy.
Educationists used to be pedagogues, that is to say that when they talked about educating children they talked as teachers experienced in one or more disciplines, and the core of their thinking was centred on the imparting of knowledge to pupils. Then many forsook their disciplines and began to speak as self-styled experts on teaching methods, or, if their leanings were in the direction of ethics, sociology and politics rather than psychology, they became self-styled experts on curricula. It would seem to the cynically-minded that the last qualification for being a present-day educationist is to be an expert in a particular discipline taught in schools -- and knowledge of the subject does not seem to matter.
Of all the innovations with which educationists have bedevilled our schools over the years, the New Education would seem to be the most pernicious. Emanating seemingly from the curricular rather than the methodological variety of educationist, it promises not the destruction of a particular discipline by the use of a wrong method, but the destruction of all or most of the disciplines, and their replacement by a core of unintegrated sociologically-oriented general topics, in which the only common factor is what the New Educators call their 'relevance'. In its extreme form it promises the virtual elimination of school as we know it.
At this point, it becomes impossible to ignore broader ideological considerations, if one is to honestly pursue a discussion of our school crisis. At the risk of alienating the sympathies of teachers who have agreed with the arguments so far presented, but who are unwilling to look Old and New Left strategies squarely in the face, one must go beyond education if one is to explore New Education.
It is not for nothing that one of the original producers of the currently controversial 'Little Red Schoolbook', which is only an extreme manifestation of the spirit which animates the New Education, says this: 'The book has nothing to do with education. Its sole aim is to train a future generation in radical anarchy.' The apparent discontinuity between, say, the New Left anarchists of the 'Little Red Schoolbook' and -- for example -- certain Christian educationists who seemingly dream of some new Garden of Eden, the apparent disproportion between the conspiratorial activities of some young Maoist activist teachers and the introduction of nondisciplinary core subjects in some church school, should not blind us to either of two things:
* There is no question of ideological identity between all the adherents of the New Education;
* There is nevertheless ideological affinity, and the spirit of regenerating society in some manner or another is predominant in all its devotees.
They are all sociologically inspired and all anti-traditional, and they all derive, consciously or unconsciously, from the Rousseau-Marx-Marcuse school of thought. From Rousseau to Bishop Robinson is not even a stone's throw.
The precise effects, present and future, of the New Education on schooling may be summed up by saying that many teachers are concentrating not on imparting a body of knowledge within a given discipline, not on teaching English, mathematics, history, geography, etc., but on changing young human beings and thereby changing society. This they do with varying degrees of lucidity, according to the groups to which they belong, but they all share a common contempt for a large part of the academic content of their subjects, and a common dislike of subjects involving the learning of large bodies of detailed facts. Indeed, one of their main catch-cries, as already mentioned, is that the acquisition of facts, whether they be historical dates, formulae or Latin verbs, is 'cramming'. Naturally, mathematics and the physical sciences, although sometimes badly mauled by wrong methods and incompetence, have suffered the least in New Education, perhaps mainly because nobody has as yet had the audacity to propose that they should be thrown out.
The New Education scheme, of course, also places great emphasis on creativity -- that is to say the study of our great cultural heritage in literature and art is replaced by the creation by juveniles of generally worthless trivia. Again the pupil is denied the knowledge which will allow his judgment and taste to mature.
Languages, which likewise contain a great body of sociologically irrelevant detail, have fared less well, and as well as being practically destroyed in many cases by methodology and ignorance, have reached a stage where their absence from the curriculum has often been suggested.
Poor old English grammar has been dead for years, as can be seen in the speech of many of our pupils and students.
The essence of the New Education is that the core of the curriculum should be the 'relevant' subjects, excluding history as much as possible and concentrating on the social issues of the day.
Whatever grandiose ideas and elaborate systems may be brought to bear on the elaboration of these 'relevant' subjects, where 'relevant' frequently means 'relevant to the teacher's sociological aims', in practice they resolve into projects, assignments and discussions, written and oral, on such things as television, apartheid, aboriginal rights, social injustice, abortion, sex, pollution, conservation, etc. All of these topics to be treated by uneducated children under a teacher who is virtually responsible to no one, for we must not forget that another of the new catch-cries of the New Educationist is that the teacher must be free of all the constraints of inspectors, prescribed curricula and examinations.
The evil of the New Education lies not so much in the choice of topics such as the ones just listed, which of course are stimulating and may be edifying; nor indeed essentially in the fact that they are frequently presented in a biased manner. It lies in the fact that these current topics deprive the child of all possibility of becoming properly educated, of becoming proficient in a number of separate disciplines and basic fields of knowledge, from spelling and arithmetic to history and literature and languages. In all fields in which knowledge of and training and practice in handling large bodies of data are required, our secondary students are generally lamentably poor already -- largely due to fallacious methods and unsatisfactory teaching over the past few decades. Behaviorism, Piaget, Cuisenaire, look-and-guess spelling, audio-lingualism, have all led to low academic standards within various disciplines.
But the New Education will essentially lead to non-education, and this, of course, is precisely what the originators of the campaign want. The old, generally unformulated notion behind our democratic system, including our education, is that controversial sociological subjects with their vast factual and moral generalisations should be left marginal to the basic subjects at school, and become the subjects of political debate in the world at large, where each of us has one vote in democratic elections. Many teachers, with varying degrees of lucidity, instead of trying to produce educated people who will later democratically vote on political issues, are encouraged by the New Education to directly indoctrinate uneducated children with their own answers to these issues. They are by-passing our democratic system -- and we have seen in what general direction -- and at the same time are neglecting to educate our children.
And let us not doubt that their task is easy among the children. It is so much more effortless for everyone concerned to formulate vague theories about contemporary society than to extract and analyse a set of historic facts. And apparently so much more relevant to generalise about current issues than to learn French or Indonesian verbs.
The New Education, for the ninety per cent of teachers I have not mentioned, is a challenge. They will not only have to combat the ten per cent who are already its adherents, and the big guns of education in the faculties and teachers' colleges, but the stream of new adherents who must inevitably emerge from training into the schools. Democracy in general must see it as a challenge, for even if all political motivation were removed from it, it would still remain a destroyer of education. But there is no doubt that those who have exported it to us from America see it as a destroyer of society.
I believe that only parents, and I mean each individual parent, can effectively combat the New Education. Not necessarily, or even desirably, by invoking the political factors expounded in this article, but simply by insisting that our schools maintain their traditional core of basic subjects such as mathematics, chemistry, physics, English language and literature, languages, history, geography, and that teaching within these subjects be efficient and objective.
There are no more inspectors and no more examinations until matriculation and our children are at the mercy of an individual who may or may not be worthy of his charge; we are their sole protectors. If we fail to protect them, whatever the political consequences of our failure, we shall see them pass through school without acquiring more than a fraction of the knowledge and thought processes -- including particularly a historical perspective -- which from time immemorial have marked an educated person and have contributed to the development of the only culture in history that has been able to indulge in the luxury of even thinking of the welfare of the whole world.
On 22 May 1972 the "Melbourne Herald" published an article in which I made a plea for a return to traditional learning in our schools, and called upon parents to protect their children by personal action against the latest fallacy from abroad: the New Education. But the response to this article from all quarters, teachers, parents, students, has been so overwhelming that colleagues and myself believe we are entitled to call upon the government for some official action. Parents in particular will be satisfied only by an inquiry into what is going on in our schools.
The main points of my article were these:
l. Over the last few decades, wrong methods and the abandonment of scholarship as the main aim of education had destroyed the value of much of our schooling, and produced a crisis of 'non-education' in our schools.
2. The New Education, with its rejection of the basic disciplines in favour of sociologically 'relevant' topics on the one hand, and individual juvenile 'creativity' on the other hand, would deal the deathblow to education.
3. The New Education with its inherent tendency to place contentious social issues (and suggested solutions) before uneducated minds, had opened the way for indoctrination of our children and the consequent subversion of democracy.
4. That whatever we may think of 3, our present educational system, having abandoned syllabuses, inspection and examination, left our children entirely at the mercy of individual teachers who might or might not be worthy of their charge. This point is irrefutable, and alone would warrant action at government level.
Criticism of my article has mainly consisted, apart from personal attacks, of loose restatements of the case for the New Education emphasising its 'relevance' in our modern world. I am accused of being in an ivory tower because I believe that children should have a store of basic knowledge before they deal with 'relevant' subjects. Colleagues and I, and most parents and teachers, do not accept the theoretical case for the New Education, and are dismayed at the results of its practical application. In particular, we believe that the sense of frustration among so many of our school-children comes precisely from the failure of modern schooling to provide them with basic knowledge within recognised disciplines.
But let me move from generalisations and take a specific case of gross non-education from our bulging files. A successful young English teacher, A, finds his Leaving English Literature class (no syllabus, no examination as for Higher School Certificate, HSC) boycotted this term.
On making inquiries he finds a young colleague, X, who frankly admits that he instructs all pupils to examine subjects for their relevance and adds that obviously pupils consider Shakespeare irrelevant. X further states that they often find his own subjects irrelevant so that he teaches them what they want, and as a matter of fact, has taught them mainly sex during first term. He adds that personally he has nothing against Shakespeare, and suggests that A makes himself more relevant with some . . . sex.
When one realises that such cases are simply normal, predictable implementations of New Educational theory, one is not prepared to accept such vague reassurances as those of the Director-General: 'The schools now have a little more freedom and, on the whole, this is good'. The whole Education Establishment knows that the individual teacher now has practically unlimited freedom until he comes up against HSC. And we believe this is scandalous.
Without presuming to anticipate the outcome of any inquiry, we believe that any measures taken to remedy the present critical situation should involve the following considerations:
* The determination of curriculums and syllabuses and methods should be essentially in the hands of a board or boards consisting of representatives of the community and of experts in a particular discipline, and not in the hands of so-called educationists (who may be psychologists, sociologists, political scientists, philosophers, etc.).
* State examinations or some form of external assessment should be re-introduced so that every child may be encouraged to strive conscientiously to obtain at any of a series of levels a certificate which the pupil and everyone else knows is worth something. Not only will this measure begin to restore efficiency in teaching and motivation in learning, but it will alleviate the pressure on universities since the pupil will see other worthy academic goals apart from matriculation.
* All experimentation should be subject to control by the new board or boards appointed and subject to parents' approval; discredited methods should be replaced by order of such board or boards.
* The role of such bodies as education faculties, teachers' colleges, departmental research branches, Victorian Universities and Schools Examinations Board, VUSEB, (which instead of conducting examinations has abolished all of them except HSC, through which it now lets eighty per cent of candidates instead of the usual seventy per cent) and the Australian Council of Education Research, should be closely scrutinised and defined.
Our ideas, which such considerations would help to implement, are not elitist. On the contrary, they are based on the unshakeable belief that we elders owe it to our children to give them the basic knowledge which in turn will enable them to choose their own specialisation with that lucidity and confidence and self-esteem that only possession of such knowledge can give. To calculate reasonably well, to spell and write and read and speak reasonably well, and to see the world with some historical, geographical and scientific perspective, should be the inalienable right of every normal young Australian. Only imported educational aberrations and their local devotees are robbing him of it. It will soon be too late if the government does not act now.
... I speak as a parent, as a citizen, as a teacher, and as a linguist, in any case as someone who has spent his life learning languages, teaching languages and trying to learn to read and write and speak languages. I wrote an article, two articles, in the Herald, and the response was overwhelming in the sense of the interest displayed. And I have hence been asked to talk to you today.
... The points I made were four, and I shall deal with them one by one in the light of criticism aimed back at me by the Education Department in the interview in the Herald, 28 June 1972, and I think obliquely in a supplement in the Age, 3 July 1972.
... The first point I made was that over the last few decades, wrong methods and the abandonment of scholarship as the main aim of education had destroyed the value of much of our schooling, and produced a crisis of 'non-education' in our schools. By noneducation I meant basically the failure to provide our children with that store of basic knowledge, basic data, facts, information, which hitherto in our culture have been considered the essential furnishing of an educated man's mind, and I meant at the same time an unwillingness on the part of children and of some teachers to persevere along that hard path -- and it is hard -- of setting children the sometimes arduous task of absorbing these things, which are often seemingly unrelated, seemingly unimportant, and in the opinion of many educationists -- and I hasten to add that I do not put all educationists in the same boat -- irrelevant. 'Relevance' is the key word of the modern education, or the New Education.
Now let me discuss this first point. I mentioned wrong methods and approaches, and I named them. They do not belong to what I defined quite closely as the New Education. I might say that my critics do not seem to have read my articles with the accuracy that one could well demand of them. I think it is about two columns before I talk of the New Education. I talk about the preceding decades, I say we have a crisis which is due to a large extent to such things as behaviourism, the philosophy behind many of the approaches, and which is non-intellectual, Piaget, who stated that numerical abstractions could not be made by children, and so forth, look-and-guess method of spelling, which I can assure you my children have passed through, where they say 'What's that? What's that? What's that?', Cuisenaire, and audio-lingualism, of which I can speak with great experience, and whose effect, I may say, has been disastrous. All anti-intellectual, all opposed to cultivating the mind by creating a store of ordered knowledge, all opposed to pointing out what order there is, for there is order, and all inefficient.
Behind these approaches and methods I have named, there are certain basic attitudes which belong to the Department or to some members of the Department, and which are apparently the official view of the Department.
There is an unreasoned aversion for learning by rote. Why? The Department states at the same time, within a few lines of this, that education should be a preparation for life. But everyone, except some educationists, knows that learning by rote is part and parcel of life, the most efficient method known to man of absorbing a large amount of data. The Boeing 747 pilot learns his cockpit drill by rote, the doctor learns his anatomy by rote, the engine-driver learns his signals and operations by rote, by heart, nobody seems to know where the word 'rote' comes from. Why cannot Johnny enjoy the right of access to knowledge by learning by rote? Only educationists will deny him it. Their answer will be 'because he has to be taught how to think'. But you know, 'how to think' consists of a very few simple rules for handling data. The rules are not complicated, philosophers have defined them. It is the data Johnny needs, and he has not got them.
The same pathological aversion for grammar: (except, thank goodness, for the Minister). You learn your language by using it, they say. Yes, you do. But you can end up with the crudest, bluntest instrument of communication possible, unless you learn at the same time how it works, all its resources, all its mechanisms. If your environment is uneducated, you will learn its crude, blunt instrument of expression; if your environment is educated, you will lose -- lose -- some of the sharpness of its means of expression. History shows, quite clearly I think, that no finely developed language is automatically self-perpetuating. The best southern English is maintained by the best traditional education. If I may be permitted to take an example from history. The whole history of Romania, of that part of the world controlled by Rome, is an illustration of what happened to Latin, which very rapidly, when all the organisation of the empire broke down, disintegrated into mutually unintelligible dialects which grew even smaller in their area of application until not only was Spain quite unable to understand Rumania, but Italy was unable to understand Southern France, and finally little bits of one country could not understand other little bits of the same country. Of course I am simplifying, but it is since the advent of a literary standard and of schools that these languages have once more become sophisticated, sharp instruments of expression of our culture. Through education in language. Through linguistic analysis.
... I believe we owe it to every one of the underprivileged, and I mean mainly the linguistically underprivileged, to give them the means to distinguish between 'He done real good' and 'He did really well'. Whatever educationists may say to this, that grammar will not transfer, let us not believe them. It will transfer. It won't transfer of course if Johnny goes home to a milieu where they all say 'He done real good', but it will transfer if all our schools begin to teach all our Johnnies how to speak so that the uneducated environment becomes diluted with culture. We will soon have an instrument which is not as blunt as that which produces 'He done real good'. 'He did real good', of course means something to us. I hope I can sometimes do real good. But it does not mean the same to an uneducated person. Communication is impeded, although my example of course is rather special.
What is education for, inter alia, if it is not to remove such barriers to communication created by ignorance of the structure of educated English. Let us give all our children every help possible in communication by showing them the orderly structure of language. Make them aware of language, of the tool and expression of thought. Teach them words and notions by reading books, not writing their own juvenile creations.
You know, there is something cynical about people who say it does not matter how you spell or how you write. Something cynical, because they are people in high places and they know very well that they would never have arrived in these places, if they had been unable to write and speak correctly, and they know jolly well that for the whole foreseeable future of Johnny, it will matter, fundamentally.
And finally, and now I speak as a University teacher of languages, make it possible for some of them to become outstanding students of languages and humanities in general.
... The same pathological aversion for competition. No examinations. As the Department says, better a purely relative assessment of an individual's progress than an objective assessment of an individual's knowledge. Examine a child's progress, not his achievement in scholarship. What of the preparation for life of which the Department speaks? Is the Jumbo jet pilot fit for flying because he knows more of his cockpit drill than the last time, or the surgeon fit to operate because he is making progress in this or that? Life needs knowledge and skills, not relative individual progress.
But apart from examinations, how can the systematic elimination of all forms of competition be a preparation for life, let alone an incentive for learning? I understood we still lived in a society in which there was still some competition. The answer to this conundrum, of course, will be found in the ideology of New Educators, who as we shall see are not preparing children for our kind of society.
Finally let me mention the laborious assignment method. One word as a father who has slaved over assignments for many years. I have done projects on dairy farms in Denmark, dairy farms in Queensland, dairy farms in the Western District. I am not an expert on dairy farms, but I am an expert on drawing and illustrating them. In addition, my children, even the most ignorant, are all expert commercial artists. Assignments no doubt have great value, but let us remember how time-consuming they are.
... And so we often find our children poorly taught, deprived of the incentive to learn, and sometimes ready to give up trying and misbehave. They are too often bored and frustrated. Naturally, not in all schools, but already in too many. And often the rot has already set in by the end of primary school, when the child is already conscious of his inadequacy. Why were they not shown how much order there is in this universe? Children love order, and too often we have only given them disorder. Why are they not set objective goals to compete for against others? Why is there nothing that really counts much before HSC, when they get into the big school? They are not dupes, they know what internal examinations often mean. They are adrift, and soon, if they come up against a subject or a master who demands hard detailed study, they rebel. Anyone who is in close contact with schools knows that it is becoming increasingly difficult to interest pupils in the amassing of detailed data required by some of the traditional subjects. Our children know little, they are set no goals. And when HSC goes, as promised by the Minister, it will soon be chaos. I may be totally wrong, but I don't think so.
I have been accused of 'coining a tag'. I have not had that honour. I have been told 'there is no such thing as the New Education'. Well, I picked the title certainly among many I could have chosen because it is current in American literature and because it is on the lips of millions of American parents. And I defined the thing. It is not the title adopted by the devotees, its exponents, certainly, who are very wary about adopting any name since the debacle suffered by Dewey's 'Progressive Education', which is now, I would say, under that name completely discredited. But here it is, coming back, and back under some new name. I picked a name that was convenient for me, and I defined the thing; it is the thing that is important and I could have called it 'Relevant-Creative-Non-Classroom-Situation-Education'. but I chose the 'New Education', and the Department, I may add, after saying 'no such thing exists' spends the whole of the article defending it and saying that it is better than the old. So there you are.
And this brings me to the second of my points. For our children coming up from primary school, ignorant and conscious of their ignorance, are invited to enjoy the latest of all the pernicious imported educational innovations: the New Education. The point was, in so many words, that the New Education, with its rejection of the basic disciplines in favour of sociologically 'relevant' topics on the one hand, and individual juvenile 'creativity' on the other hand, would deal the death blow to education.
.... The relevant and the creative: With the poorest store of basic knowledge imaginable, in many cases, our children are invited to discuss what they would see on television anyway: education, television, apartheid, aboriginal rights, social injustice and inequality, conservation, pollution, women's lib., abortion, premarital intercourse or vice versa, drugs, sex, etc. in a core of subjects which replaces history, geography, English; not quite yet mathematics, but physics and chemistry are being also rapidly 'relevantised', so that we have pupils who have never heard of H2SO4 busily engaged in making an ecological study of their environment. We must not be surprised if some of their conclusions are erroneous, for one cannot study the environment without basic chemical and physical data any more than one can solve contemporary social problems without basic facts and historical perspective.
And yet how difficult it is becoming to interest them in data-amassing subjects. They are restive before all that store of knowledge that once distinguished an educated man from an uneducated one. They are restive before all the data of the physical sciences even. But they are creative. They make films, they write novels although they have not read any. As for the lower school, they may create or do anything. See the way to learn English as described in the Age supplement.
They also have, along with discussions and assignments on relevant subjects, and the creation of juvenile art -- and this comes up from primary school and goes into the physical sciences as well -- what you might call 'smorgasbord learning'. The classroom situation is replaced, and from the tenderest years pupils are invited to help themselves to knowledge of all kinds much like children serving themselves from a smorgasbord table -- this is wonderful in theory, and disastrous in practice.
All of the New Education is the same. It would be good if it worked, but it doesn't. The New Educator's favourite expression is 'There is no evidence to suggest'. Well, there is; all the evidence in the world, if one is willing to look. Many educationists have findings other than those of the New Educators. There are even plenty of authors who know that grammar is indispensable. And there are millions of parents in the Western world who do not need any further evidence to prove to them that New Education is simply more of the old Dewey rubbish. The New Education does not work. At least as far as scholarship goes.
And this brings me to my third point: indoctrination. The third point was that the New Education, with its inherent tendency to place contentious social issues together with suggested solutions before uneducated minds, had opened the way for indoctrination of our children and the consequent subversion of democracy.
The ideology behind the New Education is that the imparting of knowledge, the cultivation of scholarship, of the intellect, must take second place to the transforming, the regenerating of society. Back in the twenties, the socialist Dewey of 'Progressive Education' had talked of adapting children to society, but this was only a front for his real aim, soon openly expressed, of adapting society through the children. The New Education is no different in this respect to Progressive Education. Everyone behind the New Education, the 'Relevant-Creative-Do-It-Yourself Education', talks of creating a new society through the children. If there are some New Educators who are not trying to change children, I have not met them, and they are dupes. But the devotees are pursuing aims going far beyond the imparting of knowledge.
Some are quite frank. They are training for revolution. Others are training for quickened evolution. All have some Utopia in mind, some a Marxist millenium, some a Garden of Eden, some an anarchist paradise, where all are equal, all are deprived of nothing, and all are free to do as they please. All, even the most discreet, are willing to express their condemnation of our present society. Even in the Age supplement you will find, alongside a quotation or two from Dewey, one of the favourite myths of the New Educators, coming all the way down from Rousseau in the 18th century: the myth of the purity and wisdom of youth, and the corruption and stupidity of adult society. All of them are anti-intellectual in the sense that they are not interested in cultivating the intellect. None of them would claim to be experts in a particular discipline.
In Victoria, according to the Minister and the Director-General, source of most innovations and the New Education is the Curriculum Advisory Board, of thirty-five members, most of whose work is according to the same source carried out by a Steering Committee of ten. I have received a roneoed or carbon -- not a printed -- copy of the list of members of this Steering Committee, and found that the list is twenty not ten, the explanation given being that there are co-opted members from experimental schools, etc.
These people consist of two Department Directors, four Education Research Officers or Assistants, one psychologist, four university educationists, and nine teachers. Or something very like that. These are the faceless people, and I call them faceless advisedly, because they are virtually unknown to all the parents whose children are going to be fundamentally, one is tempted to say monumentally, affected by their decisions, who have introduced the New Education into our schools. There is no representative of the community at large, and as far as I know, no leading practitioner of a traditional discipline. They are all educationists, and some of them appear to be self-styled. Some of them, perhaps the most active, are true devotees of the New Education in the sense that they fully share the ideologies I have just mentioned.
We should therefore not be surprised that they recommend such things as absolutely no competition in school life. As devotees of the New Education they are not preparing for an open society of free competition. They are preparing for a socialist society of some kind. Certainly not a capitalist society. Certainly not the kind of society I myself happen -- just happen -- to want my child to grow up into. And yet they have charge of my child. I am not complaining about this vision of a new society at all, I am simply complaining at the way they are going about bringing it into being. At least one of the members sees the products of Victorian education as an intellectual proletariat and a revolutionary vanguard.
Where are the scholars thinking of scholarship on this committee, whether they are New Educators or not? If one thinks that I am exaggerating, and that our Education Department cannot contain such non-conformist elements, let us remember that sixty-three members of the Psychology and Guidance Branch have publicly expressed their admiration of that little Marxist-Anarchist manual for combating bourgeois values and authority, and doing, before you are in your teens if you like, anything you damn well please. Some psychologists! Some guides!
On the Steering Committee, there is not one representative of the community at large, although there are senior members of the Department, with whom I have no quarrel, except insofar as they have fostered the New Education. And yet these people, neither leading scholars, apparently, nor representative citizens, but so-called educational experts, are introducing radical curricular innovations which are fundamentally affecting the lives and destinies of our children, and the whole future of our country. These faceless people have usurped the role of legislators.
We thought the destiny of our children and our country depended on our democratic vote. These legislators, it is true, can only advise. And they are, under the eyes of a democratically-elected Minister. Are we to take it then that the New Education represent the considered policy of the Government? If so, parents, I am sure, had no idea they had given this mandate.
This Committee, can only advise, for in the new organisation of education in our State, schools and individual teachers can practically do what they please. However some of the New Educators are already turning out teachers especially trained to indoctrinate.
'The politicisation of education' is a respectable slogan in some quarters in which teachers are trained. And here I shall stop because I can go no further without names. But I can assure you we have documents which validate such a mild statement. And these teachers, and any others who wish to indoctrinate, will soon be producing the uneducated but indoctrinated minds of which I have spoken in ever-increasing numbers.
Disciplinary troubles will certainly multiply in schools and, in particular, political agitation will increase as more and more politicised young teachers join forces with more and more politicised pupils. I am looking to the future and hoping we can avoid such developments, but we already have such things as this -- the students' Bill of Rights (just some of an enormous amount of New and Old Left literature found around schools). We already have head masters afraid to act because of organised student retaliation. And let us not think that they are not organised by adults. It will soon be too late to stop all this.
The fourth point is that children are already, because of the present system of no prescribed curriculum, no syllabus, no inspection (although there remains a vestige of the former inspectoral structure), no examination, entirely in the hands of the individual teachers. The teacher may be, like most present teachers, a good, competent, conscientious person who teaches proper subjects. But the system allows him to be incompetent or lazy or unmoral or a complete political brainwasher. As far as I can see there is no real check on the teacher's freedom until a situation becomes so intolerable that there is a direct confrontation with the Department or the law.
And this, we say again, is scandalous. Millions of dollars of public money are being provided to let someone teach your child almost anything he may think fit. This is not a proper system of public education. We already have plenty of evidence concerning some of the things already being taught. And the New Education is only just beginning.
We believe that the scandal of this position is only equalled by the fact that the paper qualifications and assessments of our children, as well as any unofficial assessments given verbally, are also in the hands of an individual or individuals closely connected with the child in question. Not only does this sometimes place an intolerable burden on the teacher, but children know that many of these certificates are not worth the paper they are written on. When HSC suffers the fate of all other external examinations, our children will know then that our generation has finally thrown them to the wolves of non-education. Chaos, I believe, will result.
We therefore reiterate our request for an inquiry. Without presuming to anticipate the outcome of any inquiry, we believe one or two things can be stated.
We believe that there must be some form of external assessment, as stated in my article, but we believe that we may not have to go back to the old system. Would it not be possible for those who have chosen to do tertiary studies to choose HSC and go straight through to it, according to prescribed curricula and syllabuses; and for those who wish to leave school earlier,, to choose a lower examination? When the latter leave, for further studies or not, they will have a certificate that everybody knows is worth something, and they will have had motivation in attaining it.
There are other alternatives. Let us look at them and be open to change. But we cannot leave the assessment of a child's performance to the school itself.
But there is a basic principle which we think must be considered in the organisation of education. It is that the control of education should be placed essentially in the hands of a board immediately answerable to the Minister and consisting essentially of representatives of the community and representatives and experts of the various disciplines. The educationists are there for research, advice and training, but let us make sure that our education system is kept out of the hands of the behavioural and social scientists, psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, political scientists, etc.
We must have machinery to see that no experimentation is undertaken which does not have large a priori chances of success. One does not cut a man's head off to see if he will grow another. There are experiments going on throughout Victoria, such as the one in the Age supplement (which I do not hesitate to call unmitigated balderdash) which would never have got down to the level of our children if minds other than those of New Educators had examined them, if a board had brought to bear upon them all those considerations which should be brought to bear on any radical form of experimentation. We are dealing with children and not guinea-pigs, and it does not matter whether nine schools or ninety schools are concerned. Each child has only one life and its education should be sacrosanct.
Finally, and we believe that this would automatically ensue from any reorganisation of education along the lines suggested, we must all be ready, all of us who boast of how open we are to change, to be prepared to change back, back to something we once did before, if therein lies the solution to our problems.
We do not think that things will get better overnight. We are very conscious of having simplified at many points, of having ignored some of the pressures of our society. But we are also conscious that some of the worst pressures on our families are coming from the schools, and will come from them more and more unless we act now. The generation gap is being widened by education.
*This chapter comprises three parts. The first originally appeared in the Melbourne Herald, 22 May 1972, and the second is a sequel from the Herald, 22 June 1972. The third part is part of the text of a talk (an address given at a Melbourne University Graduate Union luncheon, 5 July 1972) that offers rebuttals of criticisms provoked by the two articles.