Features Australia

What did you not learn at school today?

18 August 2018

9:00 AM

18 August 2018

9:00 AM

It’s hard for a student at university these days, with all the awful things they (that’s the authorised pronoun for he or she this week) has to put up with. Just look at these words. ‘One cannot permit unique opportunities to slip by for the sake of trifles.’ Have you ever read anything as shocking? Students and staff at Exeter University in England hadn’t, and went into meltdown when it appeared in an email sent out by their careers department. Because – O mein Gott! – it turned out to be a quotation from the late Erwin Rommel, Hitler’s field marshal and besieger of Tobruk.

The careers department had doubtless imagined that by circulating this exhortation Exeter students would be uplifted and inspired to nobler heights of scholarship, spurred on to equip themselves with a degree in anti-white studies or feminist intersectionality as a means towards gainful employment. Then someone pointed out its origin and all hell broke loose. ‘A Nazi politico-military fascist aggressor quoted on campus!’ the cry went up, ‘It’s as bad as Trump!’ The university wrung its hands in contrition, apologising ‘unreservedly’ for ‘any offence’ and explaining that the quotation was selected by a staff member who had no idea who Rommel was.

You can picture the hapless staff member facing his accusers. ‘Rommel? Sorry, guys, when I saw the quote I thought it was from one of those gurus who help you unlock your inner potential, sort of life coach.’ One imagines the frantic consultations with Wikipedia, and then – notwithstanding the learned intervention of the professor of history advising everyone not to get upset because, according to contemporary theory, Germany’s war campaign was only ‘one narrative among many’, and an invalid post-imperialist one at that – the abject apology and the grovelling assurance that ‘additional processes’ are ‘in place’ (where else in today’s jargon?) ‘to ensure this doesn’t happen again.’

Would a similar university employee be any more literate here? Exeter is generally reckoned as one of Britain’s saner universities, pleasantly located in a cathedral city and not quite as much in thrall to shrieking harpies and pussy-whipped crybabies as Oxbridge, or in our own country, the University of Sydney. Some serious study still goes on there, and when last counted, all the statues of Exeter’s past white male benefactors were intact.

It’s depressing enough that anyone could imagine grounds for offence at a desk-calendarish observation about taking the tide at its flood, even if Attila the Hun had said it. Actually, as a scourge of the Western cultural heritage, Attila would probably be deemed OK on campus, as would Mao if the words had come from his Little Red Book. Mass-murdering communists are more favourably viewed in academe than mass-murdering Nazis (which Rommel was not). Still more depressing is that someone who has received enough formal education to be on a university staff should not recognise a name that anyone over 40 who‘s ever watched a war movie knows. And more depressing again is that ignorance of this sort is no longer unusual. Talk to any secondary or tertiary student about anything at all that used to fall under the heading of ‘general knowledge’ and you will be confronted with an abyss of incomprehension. What has happened to the ‘good general education’ most people used to get?

One frequently hears laments from employers and others that today’s graduates can barely read and write. If this is true there is a likelihood that the West will lose its accumulated store of learning, that only the specialisations of an elite will remain, technology for savages, unanchored in a general culture and morality. A dispiriting prospect, but there is a worse one – that we shall not only descend into mass ignorance but lose our freedom as well.

There is a political dimension to the current state of education. Young people, as surveys in this country and overseas show, are leaning left. In Britain the sinister Jeremy Corbyn, an unreconstructed Cold War red-ragger, is worryingly popular with young new voters. In Australia a recent YouGov Galaxy poll found six out of ten millennials favour socialism. Is this traditional youthful radicalism or a direct result of what is taught in schools and universities? Particularly in humanities courses, students have been exposed to all the supposed evils of capitalism, colonialism, ‘patriarchy’ etc., while the horrors of life under the Left, the economic failures, the misery of mass impoverishment, the prisons and gulags and censorship have been downplayed or excluded. How can young people have any idea of what communism and socialism were really like? Unless the balance of the curricula in force in the West is corrected to reflect historical truth, kids now in kindergarten will in a decade or so be voting for the Left and the bleak way of life it promises.

You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to conclude that leftist bias in education is at least partly due to leftist elements in the educational establishment. Conservatives have begun to notice and lament this ideologisation of schooling but no one seems to have much idea what to do about it. A Ramsay Centre or one liberal arts college like Campion in Sydney won’t make any difference. It is what is taught in all schools and universities that must be revised. As Tony Abbott put it in this magazine (‘Australian Books’, 4 August), our national curriculum ‘stipulates that all subjects must be taught with an indigenous, an Asian, and an environmental perspective but almost nowhere does it mention Christianity and the consequent Western civilisation that shaped us.’ Why? Because the first three are obsessions of leftists and the last is their bête noire.

If ever we have a real conservative government the school curriculum must be its first reform, and here’s a simple way to do it. Reinstate mutatis mutandis the curricula of the 1960s, the last era before all the ideologically driven academic and classroom ‘experimentation’ in education began, the last era in which people who had been to school emerged grammatically, numerically and culturally literate. Excise the partisan from the syllabus, teach proper history, teach philosophy, teach students to think – that will inoculate them against university silliness. If we can’t or won’t do this the ballot box will ensure that under leftist hegemony we continue our slide into ignorance, identity politics and national disunity and that, far more importantly than not knowing who World War II generals were, future generations will never have heard of such hard-won liberties as parliamentary democracy and free speech.

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