Two events occurred in January that have alarming parallels. The Book Thief
was released in cinemas across the country and Education Minister Christopher Pyne announced yet another review of the school curriculum.
The movie is based on the book by Australian author Markus Zusak. A synopsis of the story is here
. While one would assume that there is some literary licence in both the book and movie, the burning of books in 1930’s Germany is fact. The ‘book burning’ was a staged event to remove ‘unGerman spirit’ from society and is discussed on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website
In a symbolic act of ominous significance, on May 10, 1933, university students burned upwards of 25,000 volumes of ‘un-German’ books, presaging an era of state censorship and control of culture. On the evening of May 10, in most university towns, right-wing students marched in torchlight parades ‘against the un-German spirit’. The scripted rituals called for high Nazi officials, professors, university rectors, and university student leaders to address the participants and spectators. At the meeting places, students threw the pillaged and ‘unwanted’ books onto bonfires with great ceremony, band-playing, and so-called ‘fire oaths’. In Berlin, some 40,000 persons gathered in the Opernplatz to hear Joseph Goebbels deliver a fiery address: ‘No to decadence and moral corruption!’ Goebbels enjoined the crowd. ‘Yes to decency and morality in family and state!’
It is well documented that the Nazi Party was very successful in modifying the mindset of the German population in the lead up to World War 2. Communication in the ‘teen years of the 21st century is considerably better than the 1930’s with the internet and faster travel across the globe allowing people from different countries and cultures to meet and interact on a regular basis. It is a common occurrence for events around the world to be reported as they occur in 2014 due to the use of satellites and the internet — Goebbels' practices would need to be updated if they were attempted now.
While some countries do attempt to restrict the use of common electronic communication technologies, the results are variable. For example, North Korea severely restricts
use of the internet but there is a domestic communications framework and some links to the ‘outside world’. There was considerable reporting of Dennis Rodman’s recent basketball tour of North Korea — including singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Kim Jong-un, the North Korean Leader (here is a link
in case you want to relive this momentous event). North Korea also thought it was a good practice to remove all public references to Kim Jong-un’s uncle who was recently executed for a crime against the state. Unfortunately, the alterations were discovered
and the story reported worldwide in The Guardian
If book burning and restriction of communications won’t work to alter the mindset of a population in 2014, what will?
’, sometimes referred to as ‘capture bonding’, relates to a situation from which people cannot escape and may bond with their abductors or abusers and demonstrates one intriguing way that mindsets can be changed. It was first described after some bank staff were held captive in a bank vault for six days in 1973 while the criminals were negotiating with police. The bank staff identified with the criminals and refused assistance to leave the vault, as well as defending them once the stand-off had ended. In a similar fashion, you could argue that the mass displays of ‘affection’ for Kim Jong-un and similar leaders that do get reported in Australia demonstrate some level of acceptance of the status quo despite documented hardships, such as lack of food or shelter; and it could also be said of the German population of the 1930’s when it accepted the need to ‘cleanse their culture’.
Education is another way. School age people are impressionable as they rely on their ‘teachers’, both inside and outside the classroom, to guide them. Harry Chapin (a US singer/songwriter who tragically died in a car accident in the 1980’s) wrote a song
about altering the mindset of school children.
In announcing the curriculum review Christopher Pyne said
he wanted the national school curriculum to have a greater focus on the benefits of Western civilization.
Also, in an opinion piece written for The Australian
(reported in Fairfax media outlets
) Pyne wrote:
concerns have been raised about the history curriculum not recognising the legacy of Western civilisation and not giving important events in Australia's history and culture the prominence they deserve, such as Anzac Day.
Australia’s national curriculum is developed and written by an organisation called ACARA (Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority). The body is funded by government and is also responsible for the national annual NAPLAN testing and ‘My School’ website. Professor Barry McGaw AO is Chair of the ACARA Board
, Mr Tony Mackay is the Deputy Chair, and it has 11 other members, representing the Australian Government and all education systems (independent, government and Catholic) across states and territories.
Yet Christopher Pyne, an MP since 1993 — he was 25 at the time — and prior to that a ‘practicing solicitor … and senior member
of the Liberal Party’ tells us that ‘ACARA is ‘not the final arbiter
on everything that is good in education'. Pyne obviously thinks he knows better than an eminent panel of educational professionals.
Christopher Pyne’s announced review of the Australian national curriculum will be headed by Kevin Donnelly
and Ken Wiltshire
. Donnelly was Chief of Staff in 2004 for Kevin Andrews (of ‘Workchoices’ and recently ‘the $200 for marriage counselling’ fame). They each come to the review with strong pre-existing views on what should be done.
Donnelly has stated:
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.
Multiculturalism is based on the mistaken belief that all cultures are of equal worth and that it is unfair to discriminate and argue that some practices are wrong.
Perhaps of more concern is Donnelly’s work in designing a school program to discuss peer pressure and decision making funded by Phillip Morris
— the manufacturers of a number of cigarette brands. Donnelly is also on the record
as saying that Australian education has become too secular, and the Federation's Judeo-Christian heritage should be better reflected in the curriculum.
Wiltshire has described the current educational funding system as a failure and suggested in 2010 that the independent politicians holding the balance of power should support the Coalition. Pyne
acknowledges that not everyone will be pleased with his choice of who will review the curriculum, but insists it will be ‘objective and fair’.
‘It's not possible to appoint anybody to review the national curriculum who doesn't have a view on education,’ Mr Pyne said.
‘The important point is to appoint people who are going to bring an intelligent and considered approach to the review, and both Kevin and Ken have a long history and experience in education.’
Various state education ministers, teaching unions, other political parties, as well as at least one state’s Parents & Citizens association, have rubbished this claim. The former Tasmanian Education Minister (a member of the Greens) stated
: 'The Abbott government’s overhaul of the national curriculum appears to be a ‘brainwashing and propaganda mission'.
It is said that the sum total of human knowledge increased exponentially in the 20th century, and continues to do so. As evidence, your car, provided it is not an ‘old banger’, has more computing power than NASA relied on to get Apollo 11 to the moon
In 2008 all Australian education ministers agreed to the ‘Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians’. It commits to supporting ‘all young Australians to become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens’. This document provides the principles and scope for the development of the Australian Curriculum
. Many educational institutions promote and pride themselves on producing ‘successful lifetime learners’ as a result. The reality, with human knowledge increasing at an exponential rate (as the comparison between Apollo 11 and the modern car demonstrates), is that no one person can ‘know everything’. Or as Michael Legrand said: ‘The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize the less I know.’
Book burning and the imposition of restrictions on the use of online material doesn’t work. If books are removed from circulation, the book is either available for sale from another jurisdiction or can be accessed online. Australians apparently excel in the breach of copyright laws through downloading
entertainment from the internet: it stands to reason that if people are being encouraged to become ‘successful learners’ and ‘active and informed citizens’, as planned by Australia’s education ministers in 2008, they will be skilled in the tools and knowledge necessary to discover for themselves information that they are interested in or need to know. A part of this process will be the ability to determine if the information is reliable. So how does a government develop a compliant citizenship that believes the myth of the superiority of ‘western civilisation’ or the ‘evil’ of alternative lifestyle choices
? It withholds teaching of the ability to discover and assess information that is relevant to the individual while the individual is impressionable. The Jesuit premise of ‘Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man’ has been tested by the 7 Up
English television series since 1964 and, admittedly from a small sample, seems to have some basis of truth. (Australia’s current prime minister received a Jesuit education
While the concept of reminding our school students of Australian historical events rather than the date Columbus ‘discovered’ America has merit, should we be concerned about the deliberate choice of two conservative ‘experts’ to conduct a review of the educational system? Of course we should! While Pyne, Donnelly and Wiltshire are entitled to their opinions, where are the differing opinions that would promote balance and integrity in this proposed review?
Why the urgency to replace portions of a national curriculum that is so new parts of it have not yet been implemented?
How do we ensure that our children have the ability to think critically rather than just absorb (sometimes useless) information as was done in the past?
How do we justify to our children that a government minister with a clearly ideological agenda sidelines the body set up to manage a national curriculum? What do you think?