Yesterday, the media reported that Australia's Prime Minister, John Howard, criticised the education system for "dumbing down" the teaching of English to children. As The Age article points out, his statements follow his condemnation of how History is taught in schools, made earlier this year. On both occasions he has drawn on similar language claiming education has succumbed to "political correctness", "so-called post-modernism" while shunning "the Classics" and " the importance of dates".
There was a strong, united and articulate response from most educators dismissing Howard's claims as "out of touch" and "simplistic". His comments came across as so ignorant and uninformed they blew in and out of the daily press without gaining much traction.
Howard is lashing out at what he believes to be an easy target - the imagined leftist educators that are out to teach critical thinking. He throws around terms like "political correctness" and "post-modernism" with no understanding of the complexity or history of their meaning but simply as a trigger for conservatives and uninformed members of the public.
It is a tired and see-through tactic that he uses whenever he wants to distract attention away from criticism of the actions of his own government and towards some invented social problem.
Despite knowing this, it is hard to know exactly how to react to these inane statements. Yes, they are tactics of distraction and getting heated up about it means accepting the bait. On the other hand, simply dismissing his statements and moving on seems to somehow give validity to the increasing tendency, not just tendency but official strategy, to identify and frame certain sectors of society as "enemies of the state". It is a finger-pointing exercise and I fear that every instance adds to the environment of fear and hatred that this government relies on to remain in power and to invoke its conservative agenda. I do fear. I fear the consequences.
In the same Age article, John Frow, the head of Melbourne University's English Department, makes the point that Howard is waging a cultural war against a phantom enemy; "This is polemics. This is part of some phantom war he (Mr Howard) is waging against an imaginary enemy". But while his enemies are imaginary, it is this exact lack of definition and clarity that enables and facilitates persecution of others. The others may be vague and shadowy forms that hover under the signs of "political correctness" and "post-modernism" today but become very real figures when the hatred hardens from symbolic to physical actions directed at human lives.
Sunday, April 09, 2006
Two organisations I had approached to participate in my research have agreed to be involved. One of them is a Business Development Unit of a very large global telecommunications company based in Melbourne that has been experimenting with new technology solutions for the office on themselves for the last year. They haven't rolled out the solution to any other organisations yet. The other one is a Sydney city council. I was surprised to receive such a fast response from them but the Head of IT contacted me by email and said my project had been approved. Suddenly I can see the research coming to fruition when it felt that I'd never secure a research subject. I'm meeting the Head of IT of the Council tomorrow to discuss the research logistics and timetable. I've also been doing some research on the history of the office at the State Library. It has been interesting to see when references to the office and office equipment and mangement start to appear in indexes of newspapers and periodicals. From the late 1890's you begin to see more and more references to office systems, office equipment and office managment. It correlates with the rise of scientific management theories and the shift from home based and family based businesses to larger "enterprises" that were often located in city centres.
Monday, April 03, 2006
This morning I attended the launch of a HREOC (Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission) inquiry into discrimination against same sex relationships: financial and work-related entitlements and benefits. A few big wigs from HREOC spoke at the launch. I was interested to note how the inquiry gives the everyday stories of individuals a high priority. This is part of a wider strategy to change the views of those in Australian society who currently think that same sex relationships are not equal to heterosexual relationships and to bring to people's attention the impact of discrimination in the legal system on "ordinary Australians". The sharp focus on strategy in the talks and in the inquiry itself seems to echo an approach recently adopted by many sectors dissatisfied by the directions of the Howard regime but trying to accomplish positive social change in spite of 10 years of conservative government. I understand the strategy and I think it is a powerful one but I also have mixed feelings about adopting the same language and common sense ideas about "fairness", "ordinary Australians" and "nationhood" used by the reigning government to enact their own conservative agenda. I also wonder why the inquiry has limited its terms of reference to work-related entitlements and benefits and didn't include other issues such as custody and adoption rights for same sex couples with children.