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Beware education's gender agenda - it's not just for Play School

By Kevin Donnelly - posted Tuesday, 15 June 2004

Is promoting a lesbian lifestyle to primary school children a rare event? And are the producers of the ABC's Play School alone in their battle to normalise what many parents would consider unnatural behaviour?

In fact, in recent years several education groups have sought to introduce gay, lesbian and transgender studies in the classroom and to convince schoolchildren that such practices, along with being heterosexual, are simply lifestyle choices open to all.

Ignored, according to an Australian survey cited by Patrick Goodenough ( Pacific Rim Bureau Chief), is that only 1.6 per cent of men and 0.8 per cent of women identify themselves as homosexuals and lesbians respectively. 


Also forgotten, according to ABS 2001 figures, is that while there were 2.32 million mum-and-dad families in Australia there were only 2,187 same-sex couples with children.  The reality is that gays, lesbians and same-sex couples with children are a very small minority and such groups do not represent the mainstream.

The Australian Education Union is a strong advocate of a politically correct approach to gender. Under the heading Sex Education, the union's policy paper argues that gays, lesbians and transgender individuals have a right to teach sex education and that such learning should be "positive in its approach".

National and state English teachers associations are also strong advocates of the gender agenda. Since the late 1990s, conferences as well as official publications such as English in Australia have sought to undermine more traditional approaches. One issue is entitled Gender and Sexuality and the journal showcases articles such as: "Boys and Literacy: Exploring the Construction of Hegemonic Masculinities" and "Only Your Labels Split Me: Interweaving Ethnicity and Sexuality in English Studies".

In the first named paper, the rationale for teaching gender issues is so that "the workings of dominant models of masculinity on the lives of girls and boys can be examined ... Once such a platform has been established ... it is possible to initiate students into an active and effective exploration of alternative versions of masculinity".

Most parents are happy for their children to develop a traditional sense of what it means to be male or female. But English teachers are told that they must help students recognise "the various ways in which gender categories are tied to an oppressive binary structure for organising the social and cultural practices of adolescent boys and girls".

At a past national English conference, Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli, the then gender equity officer for the South Australian Catholic Education Office, argued that while English teachers regularly deal with disadvantaged groups in the classroom, homosexuality and AIDS were largely ignored.


To remedy this situation, she said (in the jargon much loved by educrats): "I am proposing that this new form of hierarchical dualism can and should be resisted and challenged. Using the English classroom as a site for resistance, AIDS-phobia can be addressed and integrated with the overall thematic landscapes and narrative treatments of prejudice and social injustice."

The South Australian Education Department also argues that gender is a social construct. As stated in the Gender Equity section of the South Australian webpage: "The current construction of the gender order also supports heterosexuality as the norm. Social constructions of advantage and disadvantage are of human making and therefore capable of change."

The belief is that heterosexuality should not be privileged and that existing gender roles reflect inequitable and unjust "dominant power relation[s]" and education must be directed at the "deconstruction and reconstruction" of such roles.

As a result, traditional literature, such as Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, is attacked for promoting heterosexual love and books such as The Magic Faraway Tree and traditional fairytales such as Jack and the Beanstalk are attacked for presenting boys as masculine and physically assertive. As argued in a primary classroom unit of work entitled Fracturing Fairytales: "Fairytales provide common and popular classroom teaching activities. However, as these present powerful images of gender-specific roles, and, in particular, negative female roles, the attitudes, beliefs and values inherent in them need to be critically examined and challenged."

No wonder parents are voting with their feet in search of schools whose values better reflect what happens in the home.

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This article was first published in The Australian on 8 June 2004.

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About the Author

Dr Kevin Donnelly is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University and he recently co-chaired the review of the Australian national curriculum. He can be contacted at He is author of Australia’s Education Revolution: How Kevin Rudd Won and Lost the Education Wars available to purchase at

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