Class Action – What Is Happening Inside Our School Classrooms

Dear Reader,

My name is Colleen Harkin, and I have joined the Class Action team at the Institute of Public Affairs as the program’s National Manager. I want to start by thanking you for supporting Class Action by subscribing to this newsletter.

Education is important to me because it provides children with the skills and knowledge they require to become responsible citizens leading productive and independent lives. It’s fundamental to what we expect from our schools. Unfortunately, so much of what is going on in schools today, demonstrably undermines our students and their future.

I know this because I have been a teacher in primary and secondary schools and an education consultant, both here and in Japan. I also completed a Master of Education. Motherhood made me change paths but I returned to teaching a few years ago, when I received notice that in order to comply with a new regulation regarding my teacher registration, I needed to complete some teaching days.

When I walked back into the classroom for casual relief teaching, what I saw was alarming.

I witnessed a complete loss of student self-discipline, teacher autonomy, and school discipline; the proliferation of Individual Learning Plans, support teachers, and never-ending movement in the room; progressive new teaching methods being used to deliver the content to students resulting in diminished outcomes; and deterioration in (and sometimes total lack of) academic integrity in what is delivered to the students. These are all contributing to the serious and worrying decline in education standards across Australia.

Don’t get me wrong. Teachers have never worked as hard. But they are overwhelmed with administration, regulation and so many (completely unrealistic) demands that too much time is spent, not teaching.

In this email though, I’d like to speak with you about the National Curriculum, what it is, what it mandates (version 9 is rolling out as we speak) and the so called ‘progressive’ agenda that has ensured regression, not progression of our education standards. I also want to share with you what a recently released report by the Productivity Commission says about the state of our education, and one solution to our education woes which is being bandied about – that must be opposed.

I am glad my email resonated with so many of you. As you pointed out, education should be about imparting knowledge, not using emotions to convert young Australians into activists to causes.

In this email, I am sharing something that I am often asked for – a list of books that are based on universal values that benefit all children instead of the woke literature they are often exposed to.

And if you live in Melbourne, I have an exciting event to share with you for children between the ages of 12 and 16 that will share the truth about the Great Barrier Reef with them.

The National Curriculum is harming our children and Australia

Upon my return to teaching, what I witnessed inside classrooms was that from the get-go, core academic building blocks have been devalued and life-long skills have been compromised.

In their place, starting at the foundation years, students are proactively taught to become activists. From the earliest grades, it teaches young Australians there is a climate emergency so great their lives are in imminent danger. It inculcates an insidious culture of collective guilt of our history. It teaches students to be ashamed of being Australian. And if that does not make them anxious enough, it also teaches them gender fluidity under the guise of ‘safety’. The Curriculum presents these ideologies exaggerated to the point of absurdity, instilling fear and anxiety.

These ‘learnings’ are omnipresent, weaselling their way throughout the entire Curriculum from kindergarten to year 12 and in every subject. And it is all presented as fact, void of interrogation, rigor, balance or alternative.

I call it the ‘woke cloak’ and it shrouds the entire education system.

This National Curriculum which every state and territory leader of all political persuasions has signed off on, mandates that every subject and every year level are taught through the prism of what they call ‘cross-curriculum priorities’. These are:

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History and Cultures

Asia and Australia’s Engagement with Asia

Sustainability

Here are a few things I witnessed in schools that are directly originating out of the ‘cross-curriculum priorities’.

I saw year 1 children being made to say ‘Sorry to the Aboriginals for the Stolen Generation’; classes reciting an ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ every morning; and schools with Aboriginal flags flying everywhere (though I never saw the Australian flag fly or the anthem sung just on its own). I saw classes where young children must learn an Aboriginal word on their spelling list each week. At one school, there was an LGBT flag in every classroom. At another, students were being taught to believe and say that mankind will be struggling for oxygen in the next decade.

What I didn’t witness was a balanced investigation into the achievements of Western Civilisation, and how Australia came to be. If discussed at all, it was invariably denigrated.

These are just some of the examples from my time as a relief teacher working across all Victorian school types (government, Catholic and private) and all year levels.

Little wonder then that 16 per cent of youth report feeling negative or very negative about the future. Four out of ten say they are hesitant to have children in the future. Seventy-five per cent of late teens say ‘the future is frightening’. [Read here]

This is why the IPA’s Class Action program is so critical, and why I am so excited to join the team. Class Action’s charter is to research and build resources that empower parents and students with knowledge and capabilities to become independent and proud citizens, and expose them to a balanced and positive reflection of Australia, its history and place in the world. It will challenge the National Curriculum to offer a higher quality education that will lead to improvement in education outcomes.

Schools fail the productivity test

The Productivity Commission is the Australian Government’s independent research and advisory body on a range of economic, social and environmental issues affecting the welfare of Australians.

Every five years, the Productivity Commission undertakes an overarching analysis of where Australian schools stands in terms of their productivity performance in a report called the 5-Year Productivity Inquiry: From learning to growth. The report is focused on three main areas: supporting students so that they can become productive adults making positive contributions to society; supporting teacher productivity; and improving the data we have on schools of Australia.

Last month, they published the interim 5-Year Productivity Inquiry report. It makes for grim reading. [Read here]

The report found that despite governments spending over $100 billion a year on education:

Between five per cent and nine per cent of Australian students do not meet year-level expectations in literacy or numeracy

One in five young people aged 11-17 reported high levels of psychological distress, even before the pandemic

Teachers are struggling under the weight of excessive workloads

Even before the release of the interim report, former federal education minister Alan Tudge wrote in The Australian:

Teacher’s unions will push Labor down the path of insisting more money is the answer, but it is not.

Instead, there are three changes needed that are beyond a federal-state funding agreement: changes to how students are taught; what they are taught; and the school disciplinary environment in which they are taught. Why these three? Because that’s what the research shows matters most in student outcomes. [Read here $]

The lesson lottery

Recently, there has been some media conversation on ‘Ending the Lesson Lottery’ – a discussion about the varying standards in lesson quality, the unreasonable time it takes teachers to research and prepare lessons and what can be done about it.

The current ‘solution’ suggested by some is for ‘the government to provide teachers with quality assured ready-made lesson plans and materials’. [Read here $]

I agree that national standards of the fundamentals are indeed desirable, and at first glance, this new shared portal might seem like a good idea. However, it whitewashes (can we even use that term anymore?) the issues and misses the core problems in our schools entirely. There are:

The curriculum is overloaded, ideologically driven and undisciplined

Teacher training is ideologically driven and neglects foundational professional skills development

There are unrealistic expectations on teachers to provide individual learning plans for multiple children in a given class. It is simply not possible to plan for and teach individually to all these ‘individual’ requirements.

This notion of a shared resources portal must be rejected as it will create yet another behemoth bureaucratic department to oversee and approve classroom material content. And worse still, it would hand further power to government over what children are taught.

We can see the manifestation of the National Curriculum mandated guidelines and priorities in some of the examples I shared with you earlier in this email. Why on earth would we acquiesce to giving government more control and power over our children by letting them dictate specific lesson plans? We need government less involved in the upbringing of our children – not more.

The real emergency in our schools is to teach a simplified curriculum that focuses on the fundamentals. We need fewer things taught at greater depth. We need the complete removal of the cross-curriculum priorities to allow integrity and rigour in academic content. That would be a good start.

I need your support to highlight these issues and build the momentum and support necessary to address the ‘woke cloak’ currently choking the education of our children. Please share this post with your friends and family concerned about the future of young Australians, and encourage them to subscribe to this regular Class Action update from me on IPA research into what is happening inside our school classrooms. [Share this post]

I’ll end with something the wonderful late Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said because it encapsulates what the IPA is trying to do with Class Action: ‘We need to stop just pulling people out of the water. We need to go up stream and find out why they are falling in’.

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Colleen Harkin

National Manager, Class Action Program and Research Fellow