I have always loved looking after children. Helping them to learn and grow over this important part of their lives was always something I wanted to do, so when I began my training as a primary school teacher, I was excited about getting into the classroom and looked forward to teaching them the essential knowledge they would need to develop into intelligent and capable adults.
It did not take long for me to realise, however, that this was no longer the priority of primary education; what I thought was a simple matter of imparting knowledge to the young has instead become a sophistic, politically-driven and invasive profession. I quickly saw that my role as a teacher seemed less about teaching children than about transmitting strange theories of ‘social deconstruction’, alienation and the faults of our civilisation.
Subjects like ‘Diverse and Inclusive Classrooms’ focused on the ‘decolonisation of the curriculum’ and ‘critical theory’ for children; ‘Educational Foundations’, referenced Marx and other socialist literature on education, and literacy and mathematics seemed to focus more on the gender-biases present in picture books, or the ‘maths anxiety’ suffered by ‘disadvantaged youths’, rather than on reading ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ or learning one’s times tables.
Every element of my primary teaching masters has been dominated by crude political bias, and nearly every tutor, subject and assignment I have completed has sought to ‘deconstruct’ the education system that I was originally intending to join, in one way or another. These have included everything from investigating the underlying racism or sexism present in my placement schools to penning essays on the ‘special’ and ‘different’ ways we will be required to teach Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. A large part of my final assessment as a graduate teacher required me to write a justification for deferring to an Indigenous support staff member for assistance when teaching ‘on country’ as this will ‘enhance understanding for Indigenous students’ in a way that I, as a non-aboriginal, apparently never could. Though it is good to learn about Indigenous culture, it is dominating the curriculum enormously. Most of the children I have worked with know more about Indigenous Australians’ experiences of discrimination than they do about their own country and family histories.
The institution of education itself now seems so ashamed of itself as an oppressive hierarchical system — the idea of teachers being above students — that it now strives constantly to give children ‘power’ and ‘a voice’ in their education, as opposed to teaching them, as, by teaching them, we are apparently exploiting them with our systems of dominance, and should instead leave them as a blank canvas where they can cry, scream and fight about how to spell banana because nobody will be oppressive enough to tell them.
As I have progressed through my training, I have felt my cohort growing increasingly hostile to traditional approaches and subjects (such as teaching maths and English). What started as a relatively open-minded cohort, are now fomenting with rage over the most basic facets of education, and constantly search out any political imperfections they can find in our course material. Lectures on the dangers of pornography to children on the internet quickly descend into accusations of devaluing sex work, with cries of ‘Sex work is real work! It is valid work!’ resonating through the lecture hall.
In Humanities, too, Aboriginal elders are brought in to accost us about our failures, as ‘whites’, to understand what the word ‘Warrung‘ means, and to pick out individuals for public shaming in the lecture hall; who bow their heads as they admit that they do not know.
Despite my education, I always imagined that, within the walls of the classroom, I would be able to teach the children primary mathematics, English, history and science as I wished. I hoped and anticipated that this was just university silliness and that, when it came to the real thing, children, not political activism, would be the central focus
Alas, when I arrived at my first placement school, I found that the weekly planner was largely focused on the children’s upcoming assembly performance about the stolen generation and among the materials and picture books on their desks, I found “How They Lived Before the Whites”, among other guilt-instilling picture books.
After these subjects were taught, I was then sent to help teach ‘resilience’ sessions, directed at grade 5/6 students teetering on the edge of hormonal angst and confusion, who were encouraged to “Cry! Cry it all out!” as they were asked to share painful memories with the class. This was followed by videos and readings about death. It was unsurprising that these poor confused children were leaving the room crying; angry, frustrated and uncertain about how to regulate such emotions while being exhorted by their teachers to cry.
I believe it is a great thing to learn about Aboriginal culture at school and to talk about being a strong and resilient person. However, it is equally important to learn about maths, English and other areas of history, and for the classroom to be somewhere where children can learn the fundamental tools and knowledge of life so that they can learn from the past and make good choices in the future.
I do not believe that these aspects of the curriculum should override basic numeracy or literacy. Though the curriculum now has central personal and social capabilities and Indigenous Perspectives components, which can feature in every lesson if the teacher decides, they should not dominate to the point where children are running around crying about death and making board games where white people chase Aboriginals from their homes when the dice is rolled (as happened in one of my classes).
I am yet to begin teaching professionally, yet I have already been trained (in one of the most highly respected academies in the land) as a full-blown deconstructionist of the western capitalist hegemony. Every principle and every discussion in some way revolves around inclusion, diversity, the faults of our country and the foolishness of the people before us who thought that literacy and numeracy mattered.
If politics today are aiming to destroy our institutions, it’s doing a sensational job at deconstructing our primary schools. What it is failing to do, however, is to educate our kids.
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