Like the Prime Minister in his Australia Day speech, reading very slowly and carefully when he got to the bit about postmodernism in case he got any of it wrong, Julie Bishop this week looked very shaky and uncertain when detailing the alleged specifics of what was wrong with the schools system. The gospel according to Chairman Mao, eh? Who knew?
When Bishop accused the state education departments of 'hijacking' curricula, that hit-run verb implied a violent, illegal departure from some virtuous norm. What was this virtuous norm? Ratty's fond memories of primary school in the 1940s?
There was also a spectacular flaw in Bishop's 'logic': first-year law students need remedial English classes, therefore one must get rid of pinko trendy lefty bullshit like studying 'texts' (whatever they might be) at once. Spot the hole in that one and then drive a truck through it, amusing yourself the while with a vision of the classroom chaos that would ensue if you sat 2006's kids down in silent rows and tried to teach them formal grammar.
I assume the subtext and real import of Bishop's speech was 'education is run by the states and all the states are Labor so it just must all be vicious destructive trendy lefty crap and we're going to fix it'. Much mirth about 'texts', much insistence on Shakespeare, and no mention at all of the fact that if you're going to push for a higher and higher school leaving age (not because all students can cope with being in school for that long, but because we are in the middle of a technological revolution more extreme in its upheavals than the Industrial Revolution ever was, and with more ramifications for those it puts out of work), then you need to provide subjects that will be of a bit of use to these and other students when they get out into the world, and might stop them, for the moment, trashing the classroom, raping the teacher, blowing up the library and burning down their old primary schools after one too many failed attempts to get through a page of Titus Andronicus. Which Ratty and his henchpersons have, of course, all read.
But no. Put Henry V Part II back on the syllabus at once, you naughty naughty pinkos, or we will *chuckle* take away yet more of your funding.
It wasn't until I took up blogging that I realised in what contempt the humanities, as studied at school and especially at university, are held by a certain kind of person, usually male, who holds that the 'hard' subjects (and there are no prizes for guessing where, as a term of approbation, that adjective might come from) are the only ones worth knowing anything about. This is the problem that bedevils the feds at the moment whenever they try to talk in public about 'soft' stuff like history, language, so-called values and such. In order to talk intelligently (or even just intelligibly) on such subjects -- for example, to know what postmodernism and marxism actually are, much less to understand why they're not only not synonymous as Howard and Bishop seem to think but are, au contraire, pretty much mutually exclusive -- they are going to have to bite the bullet and consult someone who knows the answer. Not some bolshie up-himself right-wing journalist: someone in -- shudder -- the humanities.
I would love it if somebody did something to address the problems in schools, and the states are by no means off the hook here. If the conversation of my friends in teaching is anything to go by, then there is a huge disconnect between departmental rhetoric and classroom reality.
So maybe they should address some of the most serious problems first, like the fact that there are kids in schools and classes that are torture for them, and they respond by making it impossible for the other kids to learn, or the teachers to teach, anything at all. LIke the fact that parents now expect the schools to teach their kids life skills on top of everything else, largely because the parents now need two salaries in order to keep a family going and that means less time with the progeny. Like the fact that there is not enough government money in most state schools and far too much in the private ones, and favouring private schools in the name of 'choice', as a response to the financial reality of most Australian families' lives in 2006, has about it a whiff of insanity.
And I wonder whose fault that could be.