Page 3376 - Week 11 - Tuesday, 20 September 2005

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hyperfiction and “multimodal texts which also make use of visual, auditory and digital features”.

In the ACT document, the essential learning achievement that follows reading and writing effectively says, “The student interprets and constructs multimodal texts.” That is to say, the student uses any combination of sound, print, gesture, still images, moving images, symbols and graphics. Does this, I wonder, include grunting and using knuckledusters to beat up teachers and fellow students?

A third category of essential learning achievements reflects a cargo-cult mentality towards technological dependence that would do a Trobriand Islander proud, as though familiarity with hardware and software is an adequate substitute for the formal learning that would enable students to use them effectively.

The fourth category is a set of somewhat loaded social and political subjects, which may or may not be of use for the purpose of propaganda but which, like technology, can only properly be addressed by an elementary, formal learning, which the curriculum changes are expressly designed to exclude.

What is so extraordinary about this rehash of 1960s self-delusion and Clayton’s postmodernism is that the ACT government is proposing to introduce it just when its most enthusiastic proponents have begun to admit the whole exercise was a terrible mistake. Naturally, none of this bothers the minister for education as, literally a child of the 1960s, she appears to be in the thrall of the wholesale nonsense with which that decade’s educational reforms have infected almost all Western schooling. Indeed, her process of curriculum renewal is being undertaken with what appears to be an explicit intention of emulating every harebrained, pedagogical fad of the past few decades.

Everywhere else there is a growing recognition that educational reforms of the past 40 years have not only been unsuccessful in one of the main objectives they proposed to achieve, that is, greater opportunity and social mobility for the disadvantaged, but, in fact, have produced the complete opposite. The only surprise is the enthusiasm with which those on the left sought to undermine the life opportunities of the less privileged in the first place.

These days, they sing quite a different tune. In his contribution to the book Progressive essays, ANU economist and former ALP adviser Dr Andrew Leigh points to the stagnation or fall in literacy and numeracy rates since the 1970s, despite a doubling of resources. The radical orthodoxy of student-centred learning and whole-of-language literacy, claims Leigh, has unquestionably failed their stated purpose. The 1960s reforms were not only produced by a fixated segment of professional educationalists but were designed to serve their interests alone.

In this regard, Dr Leigh draws a parallel with the economic protectionism and monopolies that prevailed throughout much of the past century. Just as high tariff walls, he said, constituted a regressive tax that actually did more harm than good to low income earners, so what he terms the old, producer-driven solutions in education have not worked to alleviate unemployment, poverty, inequality and indigenous disadvantage. He concludes:

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