August 16th 2008

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Solzhenitsyn, towering 20th-century prophet

EDITORIAL: Australia's faltering economy: a way out

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Does Peter Costello have what it takes?

BANKING: Bendigo Bank praised by Reserve Bank governor

INTERNATIONAL TRADE: Why the Doha trade round collapsed

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Plum postings for Australia's new aristocracy

RADICAL ENVIRONMENTALISM: Animal rights fanatics threatening our exports

INTERNET: ISP-level porn filtering moves a step closer

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Musical chairs

EDUCATION: An education system worth fighting for

WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Opportunities for minor parties in WA election

UNITED KINGDOM: London transport bomb plot trial collapses

SPECIAL FEATURE: 1968 Prague Spring remembered

CINEMA: The Dark Knight - Heath Ledger's 'creepy and mesmerising' finale


BOOKS: THE GREAT ARAB CONQUESTS: How the spread of Islam changed the world we live in, by Hugh Kennedy

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An education system worth fighting for

by Kevin Donnelly

News Weekly, August 16, 2008
Our education should defend and teach those values and beliefs on which our continued liberty, freedom and prosperity depend, argues Kevin Donnelly.

Sydney's recent World Youth Day, when hundreds of thousands of young people from around the world gathered for a week of celebration and ritual led by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, wasn't simply a time when pilgrims publicly demonstrated their commitment to God and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the harbour city.

Equally as important was what the Pope had to say about the ills and deceits of contemporary society and the place of the Church's teaching in providing a guiding light in a world riven with moral relativism, individualism and the sentiment, "If it feels good, do it".

In his welcome speech on the shores of Sydney harbour, Benedict said: "There is also something sinister which stems from the fact that freedom and tolerance are so often separated from truth.

"This is fuelled by the notion, widely held today, that there are no absolute truths to guide our lives. Relativism, by indiscriminately giving value to practically everything, has made 'experience' all-important."

Scourge of relativism

Nowhere is the scourge of relativism and individualism more evident than in much of what is now taught in our schools and universities - be it in the UK, Australia, New Zealand or the US.

Advocates of multiculturalism argue that the school curriculum must recognise and celebrate cultural diversity on the basis that it is impossible to argue that some cultural practices and beliefs are superior or preferable to others.

Even science is no longer immune to this creed as much of Australia's school curriculum adopts a relativistic view in which science, instead of being based on an objective view of reality, is considered culturally determined.

The South Australian science curriculum proclaims: "Viewing experiences, ideas and phenomena through the lenses of diverse cultural sciences provides a breadth and depth of understanding that is not possible from any one cultural perspective. Every culture has its own ways of thinking and its own worldviews to inform its science. Western science is the most dominant form of science, but it is only one form among the sciences of the world."

Since the cultural revolution of the '60s, and the Left's long march through the education system, the grand narrative associated with the Western tradition and our Judaeo-Christian heritage has been condemned as Euro-centric, patriarchal and bourgeois.

Within English classes the argument is put that not only is the author dead but, given that reading is subjective, it is impossible to argue that some interpretations are closer to the truth than others.

As a result of critical literacy and postmodernism, classic literary texts are placed on the same footing as graffiti and cell-phone text-messaging, and their aesthetic and moral value are treated as secondary to the students' task to deconstruct them in terms of power relationships.

In part, drawing on the US educator John Dewey (1859-1952), and before him Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), much of education is based on a student-centred approach in which the tyranny of relevance dictates that the curriculum is based on what most entertains and interests the child.

Teachers no longer teach; they facilitate, or are described as guides by the side. Students become knowledge-navigators and adaptive life-long learners, and the idea that to be educated requires being initiated into the established disciplines of knowledge is rejected as obsolete and irrelevant.

The results are clear to see. Not only do many young people leave schools culturally illiterate and unable to cope with the demands of further study or work, but many lack the moral compass needed to navigate an increasingly secular world.

It is also ironic, as argued by George Weigel in many of his recent books, that, at a time when the West is being threatened by Islamic fundamentalism, our education system is unwilling to defend and teach those very values and beliefs on which our continued liberty, freedom and prosperity depend.

Spiritual dimension

There is an alternative, as suggested by Pope Benedict when in Sydney. A sound education requires integrating intellectual, human and religious values - a situation in which both faith and state schools "do even more to nurture the spiritual dimension of every young person".

For faith schools, the challenge is to hold true to their teachings - an increasingly difficult task when the prevailing orthodoxy in curriculum and teacher-training is inimical to the values and beliefs that such schools seek to impart.

For state schools, the challenge is to adopt a liberal view of education, one that does more than promote a utilitarian, self-centred view, or simply reflect a politically correct, ideological stance.

Dr David Green, an analyst at the London-based Institute of Economic Affairs, in summarising an address to the Mont Pelerin Society given by the historian Max Hartwell, describes a liberal view of education as follows:

"The content of a liberal education, he (Max Hartwell) says, should embrace civility, morality, objectivity, freedom and creativity.

"By civility he means respect for other people; by morality, the elementary maxims such as honesty and fairness; by objectivity, belief in the disinterested examination of facts and arguments, without fear or favour; by freedom, the principle that children should be equipped to exercise personal responsibility; and by creativity, belief in the advance of knowledge - not the perfectibility of man, but the possibility of progress."

- Dr Kevin Donnelly is director of Education Strategies and author of Dumbing Down (available for $24.95 from News Weekly Books).

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