July 2nd 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY CFA dispute may end up burning Victorian Labor electorally

CANBERRA OBSERVED July 2: Independence Day or Groundhog Day?

EDITORIAL Expect shockwaves as Britain votes on EU exit

CLIMATE CHANGE Coral bleaching way overdone by reef saviours

EUTHANASIA Victorian report closer to truth in dissenting voices

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Trump v Clinton race revealing of state of U.S.

SEXUAL POLITICS Transgenderism and the triumph of marketing

EDUCATION Deconstruction and other rot at school

POLITICS AND ECONOMICS Two heretics: Hilaire Belloc and R.H. Tawney

FREE SPEECH From disagreement to discrimination: section 18C

LITERATURE Tolkien, Golding and Hell

SOCIETY New lease on life for freedom machine

MUSIC AND ENTERTAINMENT Talent shows grind down singers, grind out drivel

CINEMA Puppet people pull the plug: Me Before You


BOOK REVIEW Friendship under fire

Books promotion page

Deconstruction and other rot at school

by John Kelly

News Weekly, July 2, 2016

For some years in academia the terms “deconstruction” and “theory”, the brainchildren of Derrida, Foucault, Horkheimer, Adorno, Althusser, Gramsci and others who regard literature’s role primarily as an agent of Marxian societal change, have enjoyed pride of place, or ideological hegemony, and been the staple diet of students in university English faculties throughout Australia and elsewhere.

Brave new schools.

The New Left’s capture of curriculum is amply documented in works such as Roger Kimball’s Tenured Radicals, Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, Geoffrey Partington’s Teacher Education in England and Wales and numerous articles and books by Kevin Donnelly.

More recently, however, “deconstruction” and “theory”, advanced by Australia-wide curriculum statements and the implementation of the Australian Curriculum, have become embedded in the working vocabulary of English and Humanities teachers in secondary and primary schooling, where it is also becoming common terminology and required interpretative methodology among their students.

Both terms are designed and employed as instruments of critique and socio-economic change, and have found a largely receptive hearing especially among those concerned to redress injustices perceived to be entrenched in Western society, especially in matters of race, gender, class, and environment.

Ironically, this almost totalitarian state of affairs is partially a product of Western culture itself; or, more precisely, of the large-scale abandonment and ignorance of the best of its educational heritage – the integration of Greco-Roman humanism and Christian revelation.

From the days of ancient Athens, where the seeds of democracy were sown, schooling was geared to political ends: the exercise of citizens’ rights in the Assembly.

The Academy of Plato added to this pragmatic function a contemplative or sapiential dimension that valued the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, truth and wisdom being esteemed as the source and summit of the human soul’s potential and the mind’s exercise.

Most of the early Christian thinkers, such as Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria, well versed in disciplines such as epistemology, ethics and rhetoric in the Socratic, Platonic and Aristotelian metaphysical tradition, promoted a synthesis of humanistic learning and Christian revelation, of reason and faith in harmonious relationship – the latter being regarded as completing the exertions of the former.

With the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment, however, this synthesis was sundered: reason not only asserting autonomy from divine revelation, but also limiting its scope to secular and pragmatic ends. Voltaire’s “Ecrasez l’lnfame” (“Wipe out the infamy”) became the catch-cry for secular ideologues’ de-Christianising agenda. The goddess of Reason was enthroned in Notre Dame Cathedral, literally and metaphorically, to announce and celebrate a coming of age whereby humanity, unencumbered by revealed religion, could walk and stand alone in independent secular splendour.

Uprooted from its origin and goal in truth and God, reason becomes a closed circuit, producing either enfeebled scepticism or pragmatic activism, the latter directed exclusively to creating a better world unaided by the “opiate” of religious premises, including, as Hegel posited, any goal that transcends the historical process.

 In the new dispensation, freedom, disconnected from truth and the values it undergirds and articulates, becomes either individualistic and arbitrary, or effectively obliterated by the absolutist state – as writers such as Huxley, Orwell and Solzhenitsyn have prophetically warned, and events in contemporary history outrageously attest.

In schooling, what’s it to be, then?

 A perpetuation of the postmodern status quo, turning out students for whom questioning everything in terms of race, gender, class and environment is exhaustive of education, in concert with a trenchant activism, the agenda of which is determined by elitist ideologues? Or a re-discovery, re-valuation and renewed commitment on the part of Christian schools to a curriculum that avoids, on the one hand, the extremes of a fearful fundamentalism, and, on the other, an equally closed and intellectually stifling ideologised rationalism?

John Kelly is a secondary school teacher in South Australia who has been published previously on educational issues in News Weekly.

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