Morgan Begg On IPA VCE Text Book 3AW Afternoons – 19 February 2024

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19 February 2024
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The Institute of Public Affairs’ Morgan Begg joined Tony Moclair on 3AW Afternoons to discuss the IPA’s research into the new VCE rules on texts.

All media appearances posted onto the IPA website are directly related to the promotion and dissemination of IPA research.

Below is a transcript of the interview.


Tony Moclair:

It’s been revealed that woke books made up the bulk of the VCE English reading list. Now I have a young one at home doing VCE. English is part of the list. He hates reading books though, so good luck to teachers.

I haven’t asked him what books he’s reading because quite honestly, he wouldn’t tell me, expecting the sort of grumpy rant that a man in my position would give him. But the list has come out today. Well, no, the list has been analysed by the Institute of Public Affairs, and it’s had a look at the Victorian curriculum and assessment authorities list of books for 60,000 students doing VCE. It’s revealed that more than half of the 2024 VCE English texts promote radical identity politics, and only 6 out of the 36 are from the classic Western canon, that being Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Sophocles, I guess the foundational texts of Western civilization.

The article was in the Herald Sun, and if you are a subscriber to that and you do find this article, the comments make for very interesting reading. I’m about to speak to Morgan Begg, Director of Research at the IPA, but I did really like this as a comment in the Herald Sun. Somebody wrote, “It seems to me that if people like the book’s philosophy, then it’s education. If they do not like it, then it’s indoctrination. Culture wars are everything these days, not a lot of critical thinking.” Good afternoon, Morgan Begg.

Morgan Begg:

Good afternoon. Good to be with you.

Tony Moclair:

Is it just a question of one’s particular perspective, you don’t like it because you’re a conservative organisation? If you’re to the left of conservatives, then you’re going to think that this reading list is great.

Morgan Begg:

Oh, well, the left may very well think that. No, that’s not the basis of our research. The reality is that we’ve done a proper assessment of the texts on the text list, and it is dominated by texts which promote a particular philosophical and ideological view. That’s just the reality of it. Our researcher, Lana Starkey, actually read every single book and item on that list, and through an analysis of the themes and the subject matter and the content, the reality of the list is just what it is. It is dominated by one particular point of view.

Tony Moclair:

At 133693, I’m very keen to know what books you read at school or what book you would put on the VCE reading list. 133693. There seems to be an assumption that all teachers are ideologically in lockstep and that this reading list would be greeted with cheers in every staff room throughout Victoria. That’s not necessarily the case though. In fact, I know it’s not the case. How is the list decided? Who’s behind it?

Morgan Begg:

It’s a great question. So the full list of 36 texts has been set by essentially education bureaucrats, the VCAA. Now a teacher is required to select five texts from that list, and you would think that 5 out of 36, that’s an abundance of choice. But there’s actually very complex rules that have just come into force this year, which actually limits the choices that teachers have. So you might be a parent and you’ve got a son or a daughter studying year 12, and you might trust the English teacher, and you might think they’re great. But the reality is, based on the rules that are in place for English teachers, their hands are actually bound. They cannot avoid selecting the ideological texts even if they wanted to.

Tony Moclair:

Well, give us an example then of, let’s say, you described them as what extreme, or there’s a key word in there, radical, if you want to put it that way. What sort of things do you think transgress or are far too ideologically skewed for year twelves to be reading?

Morgan Begg:

So the content that we’ve identified comes in three forms. So it’s racial politics, decolonisation theory or gender theory. So for instance, Meyne Wyatt, who’s an actor, one of the texts is an appearance by him on ABC’s Q&A in which he essentially rants about the history of colonialism, the history of Australia and white Australians. And even in that text, it propagates the historical falsehood that indigenous Australians were in the past legally administered under a Flora and Fauna Act.

Tony Moclair:

Oh, man.

Morgan Begg:

Now no such policy or rule was ever enforced in Australia, and it absolutely should not be, on any kind of educational material, taught to students. So that’s completely out of bounds, in our view. You’ve also got a book like Things Fall Apart. It’s an African novel, which is considered a decolonisation manifesto. Again, how important or critical or necessary this is for year 12 students in Australia to learn is really in question. And you’ve also got things like an essay by Tim Winton, which is a complaint about things like the oppressive power structures and toxic masculinity, which is embedded and metastasises in families. So a lot of really strange ideological material that is really taking up a lot of space on the VCE English text list.

Tony Moclair:

You would be worried then about skewing. The obvious question would be, and we all know the answer to this, is there anything that counterbalances that? And there is such a book that details the benefits of colonialisation, and there are many, the benefits of masculinity, anything that celebrates, let’s say, values that you at the IPA might celebrate?

Morgan Begg:

If you want to learn about those things from either perspective, I think no one’s stopping a student from doing that. I think that’s really for their own time. This is an English classroom. Of course, I think one of the big concerns in this list is just how few items of the classical Western texts there are. And of course, you think of things like the writings from Ancient Greece or Shakespeare or Dickens or any number of classical literature which elevates the human spirit and has universal values, these should be the standard that English students should be taught, because not only they’ve got universal values, but they’re also of a high quality. So for an educational setting, that should be what they’re learning. But as we see in our analysis, they’re completely swamped, and then they’re almost impossible for an English teacher to select them.

Tony Moclair:

Are you an optimist or a pessimist about a seventeen-year-old, let’s say, reading any number of these books and emerging with the ability to think critically?

Morgan Begg:

Well, this is the big question. Are our schools teaching critical thinking or are they teaching critical theory? So this is not how to think, but what to think. And unfortunately, a lot of students will take this in, and it will really shape how they see the world. And these texts, they have a really divisive and negative portrayal, particularly of Australia. And they’re leaving school and they’re going out into the real world in many cases with these negative attitudes. So I think it’s really concerning. A lot of students, of course, they’re smart, and they’re on top of it, and they can see it for what it is. But we can’t just trust, we can’t leave it to faith that that will happen. I think what’s happening right now, I think it goes too far and it needs to change.

Tony Moclair:

All right. Well, thank you for that, Morgan. My theory is the people coming up with the list of these books want everybody reading them to be as miserable and pessimistic as they are, at the end of the day. I think there’s a self-serving reason behind the choice of these particular texts. Morgan, thank you for your time this afternoon. I appreciate it.

Morgan Begg:

Thank you so much.

This transcript with Morgan Begg talking on 3AW Afternoons from 19 February 2024 has been edited for clarity.

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