The truth is finally out. Over twenty -five years after the ALP Government led by John Cain government in Victoria introduced a new two year compulsory Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) English Study to Years 11 and 12, what has long been suspected a finally been admitted in an innocuously entitled chapter in an equally innocuously book entitled ‘Required Reading: Literature in Australian Schools since 1945’, published earlier this year by Monash University Press. The re-imagined curriculum of the newly introduced VCE imposed on thousands of Victorian schoolchildren in 1990 was in fact – as this book make clear – underpinned by a dangerous Marxist ideology which considered schooling to be one of the many structures of bourgeoisie dominance which warranted destruction in the name of ‘equality.’
In a chapter devoted entirely to a discussion of ‘Text Selection and Curriculum Development of VCE English’, the authors who admit as much opine that the VCE ‘was a brave and imaginative attempt to develop an English curriculum which would no longer privilege the interests of the social “elites.”’ They are clearly of the opinion that the creators of the VCE were courageous social justice warriors, whose ultimate goal was to ensure that the new curriculum would no longer serve the purpose of those interests of the ruling ‘bourgeoisie’, otherwise known as the Australian middle class, the children of which presumably all went to private schools anyway.
It is highly symbolic that the contributors of this particular chapter chose to both introduce and conclude their piece in ‘Required Reading: Literature in Australian Schools since 1945’ with quotes from Louis Althusser. Althusser was a dogmatic Marxist revolutionary, member of the French Communist Party and intellectual leader of the left- wing revolution which swept through the institutions of learning in the 1960s. After strangling his wife in 1980 on account of her ‘revisionism’ he then spent much of the ensuing decade in psychiatric institutions from whence he continued to write prolifically until his death in 1990.
Althusser’s particular contribution to the development of Marxist ideology was that he invented a highly impenetrable language in which questions could be neither posed nor answered. He also claimed that the only valid reason for intellectual endeavour was revolution. By this he meant the overthrowing of all those institutions which he considered to favour the ruling class, such as Church, family, school, trade unions, culture, press, judiciary and education, all of which he categorised as Repressive State Apparatuses (RSA). To Althusser, education served the interest of the few to the detriment of the many and thus needed to be abolished or altered. To that end, Althusser redefined its purpose. ‘Schooling’, he wrote, ‘hails’ or ‘interpellates’ individuals as ‘concrete subjects.’
In the 1980s, both Althusser’s ideology and language were adopted by teachers such as Tony Delves who is cited in the chapter of ‘Required Reading: Literature in Australian Schools since 1945’ under discussion. Delves subscribed to the Althusserian notion that education was longer about the acquisition of knowledge but rather about who you are and where you belong. In an essay published at the time, Delves asserted, with a decent dose of revolutionary rhetoric, that English teachers ‘must be concerned with our students as vital, spontaneous, social beings who are being educated in a culture-destroying and soul- destroying community.’ His ideal curriculum was one in which grammar, structure, vocabulary, punctuation and other such trifles of the English language were to be done away because they are the work of the ‘liberal intellectual.’ For Delves and his comrades, this was all part of the class struggle necessary to achieve the Utopian socialism of their dreams.
Thus the VCE was an outright rebellion by the left against the existing order. Everything was reduced to the lowest common denominator in the name of ‘inclusion’ and ‘diversity.’ Percentages were done away and replaced with thoroughly dispiriting and non-discriminatory ‘S’ and ‘N’- ‘Satisfactory and ‘Not Satisfactory’. The authors of ‘Required Reading: Literature in Australian Schools since 1945’ happily informs us that many of classics were expunged and replaced with a dazzling array of modern texts which honed in on Althusser’s long list of RSAs. Olga Master’s’ Amy’s Children’, Marilyanne Robinson’s, ‘Housekeeping’, and Willy Russell’s ‘Educating Rita’ all undermined the traditional notions of the family. The individual, twentieth century prejudice and discrimination were the main focus of ‘Love Poems and Other Revolutionary Actions’ by Roberta Sykes and ‘In Country’ by Bobbie Anne Mason.
At the time of its implementation, the VCE was quickly sized up by the main daily paper and other mainstream media which took one look at the new reading list and correctly concluded that the ‘Mickey Mouse’ curriculum was a dumbing down and a complete and utter waste of time. In particular, the inclusion of Raymond Brigg’s graphic novel about the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust, ‘Where the Wind Blows’, attracted much condemnation. Much of the uproar also came from the appalled English teaching community who were of the opinion that the new curriculum did not do ‘justice to supporting our cultural heritage.’ And they were, of course, completely justified. This choice of texts was an undisguised exercise in social engineering and it deprived students of their cultural heritage and core knowledge.
Althusser’s diabolical ideology of the 1960s and the language he employed to express it, was thus formalised into Australian government policy in the 1980s by the then Education Minister, Joan Kirner, with the assistance of the teachers’ unions and a handful of left -wing revolutionaries masquerading as educators. This group of individuals, inspired by Marxist critique, performed a massive disservice to individuals and ultimately the nation. While their efforts were contested with varying degrees of effectiveness by successive governments, much of the philosophy and content ultimately found its way into the ill-considered National Curriculum mandated by the Howard government.
Monash University Press no doubt produced the book for the new ruling class of professional educators keen to congratulate themselves on the progress they have made in destroying the pre-existing model of education and imposing their own. But in providing evidence of the motivations and ideologies of those who drove the changes, it has also done a service to those who believe that this was where the rot started and therefore why a reversal of course is now more important than ever.