A leftist agenda is taking over the Australian school system and conservatives blame it for declining educational standards and many of the nation’s problems.
Is the claim true?
If so, can the leftist agenda be removed?
There is some truth to the statement. Classroom discussions and activities in Australian secondary schools are more likely to favour a left wing world view and the teachers delivering those lessons are also more likely to hold a left wing world view.
Language and Humanities subjects (and even the all encompassing subject of PD/H/PE) contain modules which conservatives would consider left wing, and it is certainly difficult for a student to defend a right wing world view in the classroom, or in a written task, when discussing a social issue.
One specific issue is Transgender people in women’s sport. Arguments exist on both sides of this issue, but it would be very difficult for an Australian student in English, History or PD/H/PE to argue that Transgender people should be banned from women’s sport, despite the fact that students are taught to express (almost) any viewpoint as long as they support the viewpoint with legitimate evidence.
How am I qualified to comment on this issue? I’m a teacher of English and History with many years experience in the Australian school system. Subjects such as English and History invite discussions on social issues and History is famously contentious.
Who makes these claims?
Conservative politicians, conservative media commentators, some academics and, according to an ABC article, One Nation voters.
According to the ABC article:
“One Nation voters are turning on the mainstream education system as conservatives across the country express a deep mistrust of what they say is a “leftist agenda” taking over the classroom.”
Why the ABC devoted an entire article to the thoughts of One Nation voters is probably a more appropriate subject of investigation. One Nation voters, however, are not the only critics of Australian schools and teachers.
One legitimate critic is education expert and former English teacher Kevin Donnelly who points to a “march of the left through the institutions”. His book, “How Political Correctness Is Destroying Australia — Enemies Within and Without” was launched by Tony Abbott and Alan Jones, and includes chapters such as “Thought police screening schoolbooks” and “Culture wars: the left’s university loonies”.
Seemingly extreme, but his classroom experience does add some legitimacy to the claims. On the other hand, the statement makes a number of broad assumptions.
Firstly, it assumes that teenagers listen to teachers long enough to be influenced.
Secondly, it implies that Australia as a nation is moving to the left. This position is difficult to sustain. The Liberal National Party ruled for nine years and became more conservative and right wing under Scott Morrison, and don’t appear to have changed under the leadership of Peter Dutton. Furthermore, that same government oversaw policies which were extremely ‘right wing’ in regards to issues such as the environment, immigration, gender equality and treatment of workers. Even the allocation of educational funding was anything but left wing – stripping funding from public universities and awarding millions of dollars to private schools while public schools remain underfunded. Australians voted them back into power in 2019.
If Australia is as ‘left wing’ as critics claim, why is the country planning to open new coal mines?
Why were we forced into a ‘gas-led recovery’ and why do fossil fuel corporations continue to be subsidised by the government? This would never happen in a country with a ‘leftist agenda’.
In addition, the claim ignores another vital fact. School curricula are created by governments. Education departments, politicians and bureaucrats combine to create the content of school subjects. Teachers deliver the subjects. History is extremely political. A teacher’s natural bias can never be removed from a subject, but as Queensland Teachers Union president Kevin Bates reminds us:
“I think that unfortunately what’s happened in terms of the commentariat is these throwaway lines about the left being dominant in education etcetera — it’s nonsensical,” he said.
“The national curriculum is determined as a collective effort from education ministers, from all the states and territories and the Federal Government.”
Even if it is true that Australian schools carry a leftist agenda, can this be changed?
Yes, it can.
The solution is to increase teacher’s salaries.
Teachers salaries in Australia are famously low compared to other professions. So low in fact that many Australians probably don’t consider teaching a profession, certainly not on par with medicine, law, engineering or architecture.
Low wages mean people enter teaching for altruistic reasons. People who are motivated by altruism are more likely to be open minded and tolerant, to believe in the greater good, to want to contribute to society, to defend the natural environment, the oppressed and the marginalised – characteristics which define a person as left wing.
If anyone enters teaching for the money, they’re in for a rude shock.
Therein lies the solution: pay teachers more.
Raise the standard salary of every school teacher in Australia. This must be done at government level. The LNP could have done it during the nine years they spent in power until the recent federal election. They didn’t. Ironically, the same conservatives who bemoan the leftist agenda in Australian schools could have done something about it. They didn’t.
Raising teachers salaries, substantially and in real terms, will attract young people more motivated by money than pure altruism. It will attract people who prioritise the lifestyle afforded to them by a lucrative salary. These people, motivated more by more than altruism, are more likely to be individualistic, conservative and ‘right wing’.
More ‘right wing’ teachers would offset the influence of ‘left wing’ teachers in Australian schools as they deliver the mandated school curriculum, and restore the perceived imbalance. Conservatives, especially politicians, should stop whinging about a ‘leftist agenda’ and address the issue by raising Australian teachers’ salaries.