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English curriculum and the culture wars

By David Long - posted Thursday, 23 January 2014

While there were good reasons for the Howard government's electoral loss in 2007, John Howard deserves some recognition for his defence of a more traditional view of Australian culture, a view that had been largely under attack from left wing ideologies. At the time of Howard's election in 1996, the paramount ideology being promoted was multiculturalism. Nothing irritated the left more than Howard's white picket fence image of Australia for that image was sepia 1950's and English, suggesting a time before multiculturalism questioned what Australia stood for.

The multicultural war was being fought on two major fronts when Howard came to office.

The first front was opened with the black armband view of our founding which characterised the British colonisation as a white invasion of aboriginal lands and the massacre of the noble savage who was merely defending his way of life. As a part of that front, collective guilt was assigned to everyone for the earlier policy of removing aboriginal children from their families. It mattered nothing that today's aboriginal leaders are largely members of what are called the stolen generation or that they obtained an advantage by being removed from the primitive environment


The second front and the one that continues to this day was the displacement of the Western intellectual tradition of by multiculturalism. Coupled with the left's insistence that Australia's immigration programme be sourced from Asia, multiculturalism was the nation's prayerful retreat before the advancing barbarians: peace and harmony at any price.

In a war fought more tactically than aggressively, John Howard did not so much confront the left head-on as outflank them with a view of Australia beyond ideology that appealed to the middle class battler. In effect, he gave them prosperity as the political goal so that they forgot about the collective guilt the left were keen to inflict on them.

Howard defeated the left's ideology pragmatically; unfortunately, he was unable to defeat it theoretically and it remained a fertile garden within the universities.

It is worth noting that had Howard not introduced Work Choices, a policy that threatened the very prosperity of his Battlers and which cut through the bridge he had built into Labor heartland, he would probably not have been defeated by Kevin Rudd.

Howard's replacements at the head of the Liberal Opposition, at least until the arrival of Tony Abbott, had no serious disagreement with any policy of the Rudd government. What this meant, however, was that the Liberal Party was attempting to appeal to those who had voted against them, on the same grounds as the ALP. In fact, the only area of disagreement between Labor and the Conservatives was the extent of the Rudd government's purported wasteful response to the global financial disaster.

However, since that expenditure was going chiefly into middle class pockets, wasteful or not, the argument fell on deaf ears. The real basis of the Conservative revival in John Howard, had passed unobserved. Compare how many column inches were written and how many speeches made criticising the excesses of the Building Education Revolution school projects and how much was written about what would be taught inside those buildings.


The fact that the most scornful rejection of Howard's view came from the universities and the university-educated middle class, rather than "Howard's battlers", proves without doubt that the left's ideologies are transmitted through our education system and that it's power base is housed in Australian universities. It proves, that multiculturalism was always going to be fought as an education war.

This unsavoury fact was confirmed in 2009 with the release of the draft uniform national English curriculum. Even a cursory reading of the draft national English curriculum for years kindergarten to year 10 would have revealed that the left had re-opened hostilities in their culture war. At that point, Howard's legacy was lost for the Opposition had not bothered to read it.

Literacy, the power to read and understand the written contribution of the most thoughtful men and women to Western civilisation is an intellectual power that has to be trained over time. In its place those in charge of drafting the curriculum substituted a sham called functional literacy.

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About the Author

David Long is a lawyer and writer with an interest in classical political philosophy and Shakespeare. He has written previously for The Bulletin and The Review.

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