January 20th 2007

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Bushfire crisis: a state of denial

AUSTRALIAN CONSTITUTION: High Court strikes blow against states' rights

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Kevin Rudd - a more formidable Opposition leader?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Government's challenges over AWB-Iraq saga

QUARANTINE: Government to permit NZ apples into Australia

SCHOOLS: Trojan horse in Classical Studies curriculum

STRAWS IN THE WIND: South Pacific blues / Diamonds are an African's worst friend / Modern Madama Melbas / Putin's gambit / The Balibo Five and all that

FILM CLASSIFICATION: Australia's pornography industry suffers setback

ABORTION: Suffering in silence no more

CINEMA: Faithful re-telling of the Christmas story

Pope's back-flip on Turkey (letter)

Lack of Darfur coverage (letter)

Discarding safeguards to pursue human cloning (letter)

BOOKS: GENOCIDE: A History, by William D. Rubinstein


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Trojan horse in Classical Studies curriculum

by John Kelly

News Weekly, January 20, 2007
Educationists quickly dismiss any talk of a crisis in school education as an election ploy by John Howard's Federal Government. However, a postmodernist and radical leftist ideological bias is becoming increasingly apparent in recent revisions to South Australia's Year 12 Classical Studies curriculum and examination questions.

South Australian secondary school teacher John Kelly reports on this latest leftist assault on education.

Classical Studies, a popular subject in South Australian secondary schools since its inception, has, over many years, exposed a wide range of students to the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome - foundational elements, along with the Judaeo-Christian tradition, of Western civilisation.

With the 2004 revision of SA's Classical Studies curriculum, however, this subject is becoming a vehicle for the postmodernist theory and gender revisionism that have eroded the academic credibility and appeal of other humanities courses.

Multiple readings

In 2005, the literature section of the final examination included the question: "‘Multiple readings enable issues to be explored from different perspectives.’ With reference to this statement, discuss some multiple readings of one issue in Homer's Odyssey."

The revised Curriculum Statement had offered no definition of the term "multiple readings", which was making its formal appearance here for the first time. Nor has there since been - despite complaint by many teachers - any explanation of this anomaly by those responsible for introducing the revised curriculum.

Furthermore, a sample exam paper - distributed to assist students and teachers to prepare for the first examination paper set under the new dispensation in 2005 - gave no indication at all of this conspicuously new type of question included in the final exam.

During 2006, a number of experienced teachers, concerned at the direction the new curriculum and exam paper were taking, advised the curriculum designers to place the confusing innovations of the course into the "Special Study" section, where students enjoy some freedom to exercise choice on topics of research that are of particular interest to them.

The exam architects’ response is now evident in this year's paper: no explicit "multiple readings" question but instead - again, in the literature section - this question: "‘Homer's Odyssey focuses on some kinds of love, but overlooks others.’ To what extent do you agree with this statement?"

A curious proposition, to say the least. Cryptic or contrived might be more apt descriptions.

The most obvious kinds of love in this epic are the love between some mortals and divinities; love of homeland and oikos (household); marital love; love of family; filial love; the love of some domestic slaves for their kyrios (master).

A case could also be made for a captain's love for his fractious and querulous crew, demonstrated in Odysseus’ return from his voyage to the Underworld to Circe's island in order to bury the corpse of the drunken sailor, Elpinor, who, on awakening with a disorienting hangover, managed to fall off the witch's roof and die.

The most obvious "love" not included by Homer in this epic is same-sex love. Is this what the question is encouraging students to address with politically-correct piety, and with the inference that Homer should have placed it in his masterpiece for the sake of "inclusivity"?
Germaine Greer

It may be salient here to know that the suitability of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet as a secondary school English text was challenged recently - in an address by Australian feminist Germaine Greer to an audience that included educators - on the alleged basis that it privileges heterosexual love.

Whatever the reason for such a question or the exam-setters’ expectations of answers to it, its focus on what is not in the text undermines traditional scholarship's insistence on the internal evidence available for interpretation - not extraneous speculation or superimposed preconception.

It is educationally ludicrous to direct student attention away from close engagement with the primary text itself to secondary sources where "multiple readings" (i.e., politically-correct theory) are to be found. But then, this re-direction of focus is a more subtle way of displacing texts that have shaped Western society than removing them outright from the syllabus. It also creates a market for opinions that might otherwise not merit publication - especially those bred in sheltered workshop hot-houses.

No wonder students, teachers and, increasingly, parents - as they see the social engineering of their children - are vexed. Initially, "multiple readings" might have appeared to be encouraging a liberal interpretation of texts, i.e., a range of perceptions or understandings of characters and themes arrived at by argument from the evidence actually in the text itself. Such "readings" would be quite compatible with the study of literature characteristic of the West's deservedly esteemed humanist tradition.

Far from fostering openness to a range of textually justifiable interpretations, however, it has become clear that "multiple readings" really means privileging, indeed, prescription, of feminist and same-sex ideologies. Literature is to be read and understood primarily through these Cyclopsian ideological filters, with a pseudo-moral squint conditioned by neo-Marxist constructions of justice and equity.

Cultural deprivation

This is not education. For its architects, though, it represents a triumph in the Gramscian long march through the institutions and the near-completion of the capture of curriculum. For teachers and students, it means deprivation and distortion of their cultural entitlement and severe stunting of the spirit of inquiry.

A further question ought to be put to advocates of postmodernism and gender revisionism who control the Classical Studies curriculum. Why should feminist and same-sex ideologies be entitled to such "privileging", indeed, hegemony? The result has inevitably been the atrophying of a cultural canvas of rich diversity and broad scope - one that has been best respected by the liberal humanist tradition of scholarship that has preserved and promoted it. So, why promote this agenda? Vandalism, among others, is one word that comes readily to mind.

In 2006, a further irregularity occurred with the publication of the 2005 Classical Studies Assessment Report. Under the literature section in the Chief Examiner's Report, in response to the "multiple readings" question, we find:

"Candidates who understood the concept of multiple readings on the whole answered this question well, where they are able to discuss issues for a modern reader, such as concepts of justice, gender relations and feminism."

This, after the exam, was the first formal and explicit indication of the ideology expected by the examiners; a procedural move that serves to confirm suspicions about the lack of consultation in the curriculum-revision process and the setting of the exams in 2005 and again this year.

Nor are doubts allayed by the fact that, in the same report, in a departure from precedent, no statistical analysis of the numbers of students attempting each question on the paper was readily available.

Mid-way through the course of this school year, too, the Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australia (SSABSA) Classical Studies Resources website displayed an unreferenced list of the literary terminology with which students were expected to be familiar for the end-of-year exam.

This was despite the fact that many teachers structure the literature component of the course into their term one program. Leaving aside speculation as to why this tardy gesture occurred, it is noteworthy that, along with some standard literary terms, appeared the following:

"Multiple readings often questions (sic.) ‘gaps and silences’ in texts. This can be read as … ‘Who is not given equal value in the power structures of this society?’" and "The way that different societies interpret the issues of the themes (sic.) are (sic.) referred to as multiple readings."

In this same resource we also read the following examples:

"Athene, although a goddess, has many masculine symbols associated with her (shield, helmet and aegis). A multiple reading of The Odyssey may explore why in Greek society, to be accepted as powerful enough to move and advise within a male society, a goddess must be invested with masculine symbols to legitimise this role.

"The reading would then examine other female characters who lack these masculine symbols, explore the characteristics of these females, and examine why these females are constructed either as passive (Penelope …) or dangerous (Kalypso, Klytemnestra or Helen).

"A character like Kirke sits in the middle: she is a female with a phallic symbol, thus her intermediary status constructs her as able to facilitate passages between the male and female world, as well as between the Underworld and the physical ‘real’ world. Ultimately then, by examining the construction of these female characters, we can formulate theories about power and patriarchal structures in Greek society."

There is little that is "multiple" about this "reading", just as there is little "passive" about Odysseus’ wife, unless it is cynically assumed that to be married and faithful, at that, in themselves qualify her for this distorting label.

Penelope's resourcefulness in the ruse of the loom, employed to stall the eager suitors, and her devising of the contest of the bow endow her with a status equal to that of her shrewd husband: she has wit to match his own, and admirable initiative.

But here is the most revealing line, perhaps, of this tortuous example: "Homer may not necessarily have overtly recognised these, but in constructing his characters like this, he has allowed us symbolic access to deconstruct them in our framework" (emphasis mine).

Will there be a place for non-compliance with what is now, evidently, a rigid ideological orthodoxy masquerading as "empowerment" and liberation? And is realism now to be forfeited to highly confected, esoteric symbol hunting and "gap-filling"?

Then there is the Special Study part of the course, in which students undertake research on a question or hypothesis of their own choosing from within parameters extended by the revised curriculum and present a 2,000-word essay marked by the examiners.

This assignment regularly produced questions such as: "Was the polis of Athens justified in executing Socrates?" or "Why did the Romans depart from their usual policy of religious toleration in regard to Christianity?" or "To what extent does modern medicine owe its origin to the ancient Greeks?"

Gender theory

Today, under the new curriculum, such questions appear to rate less highly than topics like "the influence of the construction of mythological female divinities in Greek religion on the femme fatale stereotype of film noir", a sophistic mixture of psychobabble, postmodernist "interdisciplinary" confusion and gender theory, drawing for research on a solitary film noir source, which was held up as a model of the "new and exciting possibilities" of the revised curriculum.

It should be noted, too, that it is hardly as if there have been no opportunities for students to investigate the portrayal of women, their relationships and their roles in ancient Greek and Roman society.

For many years there have been questions on the exam paper which permit students to focus - in the literature, drama and society sections - on women. There has been no such special provision, of course, when it comes to males.

Under the revised curriculum, we are now seeing affirmative action in over-drive, with special emphasis on gender feminism. No laurel wreaths for guessing why, each year, fewer male teachers appear at Classical Studies conferences and why fewer male students are taking up a subject which not so long ago enjoyed a healthy representation of both male and female candidates.

With this Trojan horse now inside the city, oiled by insistence on the euphemism "interdisciplinary readings" (most students find more than sufficient challenge mastering the names, places, major events and customs of Greek and Roman cultures themselves), Classical Studies is becoming yet another conductor for ideological conformism and postmodernist mountebankery.

It requires no Cassandra or Teiresias to foresee the likely outcome: diminishing student interest and participation, particularly by boys, with a concomitant cultural recession and the aggrandising of the bizarre and superficial - a source, perhaps of weird gratification for those who, in the name of "ground-breaking learning", while enjoying its benefits, demonstrate a Circean invidiousness and antipathy towards Western society and its "patriarchal structures" - and towards anything rational.

This now blatant deconstuction-ist innovation in the revised Classical Studies Curriculum Statement - the deficiencies of which are themselves of epic proportion - and the obfuscatory process by which it has been introduced can no longer be denied.

In view of this, students, teachers and parents should welcome the Federal Government's call for greater accountability in curriculum design and the implementation of a national curriculum whose formulators demonstrate competence and a realistic understanding of the aptitudes and abilities of Year 12 students, together with an appropriate appreciation of the value of the liberal humanist tradition.

- John Kelly.

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