Monday, 9 October 2006

National education

I am suspicious of the current debate about a national education curriculum.
While there is an immediate attraction to a sense of uniformity across the nation I think that there needs to be more teezing out of just what that attraction is all about. If it's the creation of a "level playing field" then that would seem to be a good thing, but if it's the creation of a narrow and perhaps jingoistic conformity to someone's idea of what appropriate values are then this would not seem to be educationally sound.
It is interesting that much of this discussion has been contracted with regard to the humanistic disciplines of literature and history. The other day, for example, Minister Bishop said she did not believe it was appropriate for Macbeth to be examined through the eyes of Marxist or Feminist critique.
The suggestion is of course that schools have reds and lesbians under the bed!
This sort of prejudicial inference doesn't make for impartial discussion.
The average fred or freda probably has no idea what Marxist or Feminist critique is. But it does not seem unreasonable to ask questions about power, institutional injustice and to have a healthy suspicion about the portrayal of women in a play that is exactly about those things.
As with all systems, it seems to me, the process of education is best transacted not by avoiding certain viewpoints but by teaching about them so that genuine choice can be made.
We do not "educate" by limiting viewpoints, we indoctrinate.
A curious under-the-radar example happened in the Sunshine State recently, ABC news reports that "It has been reported that 13- and 14-year-olds at a state high school south of Brisbane have been asked to imagine living as a heterosexual in a mainly gay community."
It seems like a curious, and yet interesting question. And yet we see that Premier Beattie has weighed in and declared it to be inappropriate. The school has buckled under political pressure it would seem.
This is the difficulty. It is not so much deciding what constitutes the national curriculum, but keeping that decision free from populist political pressure.
There should be debate, or perhaps "healthy discussion" about core studies, but this needs to be done in a way that is open and genuine, and not simply dicated by our political masters.

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