The Australian Multicultural Foundation recently launched a series of books for primary schools titled Harmony and Understanding. The rationale for the series is to "foster a better understanding and respect for cultures and traditions of Australian society".
One hopes that the editors of Jacaranda Press's Year 7 and 8 textbook SOSE Alive 2 will study the Harmony and Understanding material, because they are in urgent need of guidance about what constitutes religious intolerance.
In its teachings about medieval life, the Jacaranda book presents the Catholic Church in a negative light, portraying its teachings as based on fear and its monks as indolent and selfish. As if that's not bad enough, the accompanying CD vilifies icons central to the Church's faith.
One of the scenes shows a medieval village where a heretic is about to be burned. Close by is a religious figure holding a cross incorporating the figure of Jesus; after clicking on the cross it changes into what appears to be a witch's broom. Whether intended or not, the implication is that Catholicism equates with witchcraft and superstition. In the same scene, several religious figures are shown looking at the figure tied to the stake. On clicking on the head-piece of what appears to be a senior member of the church, it changes into a dunce's cap.
That students are expected to see the Church as the villain is confirmed when they click on the word "heretic" inscribed above the victim's head. It changes to "heroine" and there is no doubt where the allegiance lies of those responsible for the material.
The most unsettling thing about the Jacaranda book's treatment of Christianity is that it illustrates, once again, how left-wing thought police have succeeded in their long march through the education system. Forget Woodstock, Vietnam moratoriums and flower power; the cultural revolution of the '70s and '80s was also about the way education was identified as a critical instrument to overturn the status quo.
Former Victorian education minister and premier Joan Kirner told the Fabian society in 1983: "If we are egalitarian in our intention we have to reshape education so that it is part of the socialist struggle for equality, participation and social change rather than an instrument of the capitalist system."
Instead of acknowledging Australia's success in providing prosperity, stability and peace, leftist teacher academics argue that society is, in the words of one textbook set in teacher training courses during the '80s, "disfigured by class exploitation, sexual and racial oppression, and in chronic danger of war and environmental destruction".
In teacher training, as noted by Monash educationalist Georgina Tsolidis, teachers were told "to instil in our students feelings of self-worth premised on the value of what these students already knew and the value of what they wanted to learn, rather than the intrinsic worth of what we wanted to teach. Our job was to produce young adults who would challenge the status quo through skills of critical inquiry."
While education has always been concerned with the search for the truth, it is obvious that "critical inquiry" means something different. Since the release of the Keating Government's national curriculum during the early '90s, history has been transformed into studies of society and the environment with a politically correct stance on multiculturalism, feminism and environmentalism.
Early European settlement is described as an "invasion", instead of celebrating what we have achieved as a nation, students are taught "black armband" history and Australia's Anglo/Celtic culture is presented as simply one culture among many.
In English, everything from Shakespeare to tissue boxes to Australian Idol is considered a worthwhile text for study as students are taught to deconstruct texts in terms of how those more privileged in society are able to dominate and marginalise others.
Even science teaching has fallen victim to cultural relativism. Instead of recognising the primacy of Western science, the South Australian curriculum argues that different versions of science are simply sociocultural constructs.
The consequences of the long march are clear to see. Students leave school culturally illiterate, with a fragmented view of the world. Worse still, given the politics of envy and the spiritual emptiness of postmodernism, many students also leave school ethically challenged and morally adrift.
Kevin Donnelly is author of Why Our Schools are Failing (Duffy & Snellgrove, 2004). This article, which first appeared in The Australian, 17 April 2006, is adapted from an address to a Quadrant dinner in Sydney on April 12, 2006.