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Let's not confuse the education of values with the value of education

By Gwynn Mac Carrick - posted Friday, 7 May 2004

In the perfect world, our schooling feeds and waters the enquiring mind, and teaches us to expand our thought rather than blinker it. To question even the most established knowledge. To think empirically and artistically. To think linearly and laterally. To grapple with orthodoxy and heterodoxy. To discipline thought as well as to set it free. To not be afraid to look foolish in order to learn. To not be enticed into accepting anyone's viewpoint as the final word. To:

read not from one book only
rather from a hundred sources gather honeyed lore,
thou art else that helpless bird, whom once its nest is plundered
ne'er can build another more

Contrary to the position held by our Prime Minister, schools are not, and ought not be, the source of a value system. This is because education should serve no master lest it falls prey to subversive ends


Indeed the opposite is true, the aspirations of an educational institution ought be to offer information in a value free or at least value neutral setting. Indoctrination of values is a contradiction born out of fear. We should not be afraid of ideas or encouraging our children to think freely, to experience the emancipation of curiosity, free from judgment or sentiment.

Poets more eloquent than I, have captured in imagery the boundless human intellect:

Something brightened toward the north.
It caught his eye, they say,
And then he flew right up against it.
He pushed his mind through
And pulled his body after. Skaay

Most mornings we turn a door handle and walk out into the larger world (Ralston Saul 2001). The degree to which that world is constructed or real is the degree to which we question it, and the degree to which we push our mind through the veil of perceptions.

Education is the process by which we learn to harness the power of the mind to take each of us to unchartered places. A journey upon which we learn to sift through the available information and make informed and reasoned deductions. The happening by which we learn to scrutinise, as well as draw pleasure, allowing us to listen to world news and hear the sub text, to listen to a piece of classical music and understand its deepest promptings.

We develop the mind informally through experience, reading and travel and formally through a progression of primary, secondary, and for some tertiary, levels of sophistication.


But what does John Howard mean by values?

If by values Howard means that children today are less mannerly, I will wager most parents do not send their children to school to learn "please" and "thankyou" or to be socialised.

If by values Howard means his own values, then curricula in Australian schools will need to be re-written to reflect dogma in preference to ideas.

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About the Author

Gwynn MacCarrick is a Human Rights lawyer based in Hobart. She has appeared as Defence counsel before the UN Special Panel for Serious Crimes in East Timor, has worked with the Office of the Prosecutor at the UN Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and in between her domestic criminal practice has taken up various postings with the UN High Commission for Refugees. Gwynn is undertaking a doctorate in international criminal law at the University of Tasmania Law School.

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