What’s Left of Our Cultural Inheritance?

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21 March 2023
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In this article, Brianna McKee is to contextualises and disseminates the findings of the IPA’s research into the teaching of history in Australian universities, conducted as part of the IPA’s Foundations of Western Civilisation Program. The Foundations of Western Civilisation Program was established in 2011 to defend and extend Australians’ understanding of the influential, historical role of the West in establishing many of the liberties enjoyed by members of our society.

Though it may come as a surprise to a postmodernist, 3,000 years of Western history offers some viable solutions to modern-day problems. After all, the human condition has not changed that much.

These timeless ideas and values should be at the heart of our education system. Great thinkers and leaders, from Aristotle to Churchill, should tower over our children’s school curricula. Concepts like democracy, the rule of law, and human rights should be taught and celebrated at our universities.

Sadly, the giants of Western history and philosophy have been purposely consigned to the dustbin, making way for identity politics, Critical Race Theory, gender fluidity, and sustainability. It is little wonder the OECD’s latest report reveals Australia’s education standards have been spiralling downwards for more than 20 years.

Forget about inspiring the next generation of Australians by immersing them in the achievements of Western Civilisation, Australia’s youth are instead required to focus on issues of class, race, gender, and sexuality.

This was a key finding of a landmark audit conducted by the Institute of Public Affairs which examined 791 history subjects offered across 35 Australian universities in 2022. According to the IPA research, tertiary institutions teach more about ‘race’ than ‘democracy’ (86 subjects compared to 33 subjects), ‘identity’ than the ‘Enlightenment’ (64 subjects compared to 25 subjects), and ‘sexuality’ than the ‘Reformation’ (54 subjects compared to 17 subjects).

Preschool, primary, and secondary schools aren’t faring much better. The National Curriculum has preschool students rapping about climate change before being taught the alphabet, and learning about ‘Invasion Day’ rather than the profoundly important benefits of the Westminster inheritance.

Postmodern theory is being taught at the expense of literacy, numeracy, and a balanced understanding of history. While it is deeply disturbing that our schoolchildren are falling even further behind those in Finland, Singapore, and Shanghai in mathematics and science, it is perhaps even more worrying that our community is losing the collective memory which is necessary to appreciate, preserve, and maintain the progress our society has made to date. If for nothing else, it is needed to ensure we do not repeat past mistakes.

It is deeply regrettable that neither side of Australian politics appears willing to address this existential problem. Accordingly, it is left to a few remaining groups in civil society, such as the IPA, to preserve, protect and defend the Western canon.

This was a core focus of this year’s IPA Academy program. Held in February, the program was designed for tomorrow’s leaders and focused on individual, economic, and political freedom and the wealth of thought supporting these ideas. Attendees heard from academics and political and private sector experts on topics ranging from Ancient Greece to Enlightenment philosophy, to free speech and the birth of free markets.

Embracing new technologies while retaining tried and tested institutions, values, and methods was also discussed – something our current leaders would do well to remember. Key issues such as harnessing nuclear energy and Australia’s current geopolitical position were addressed and debated, all the while equipping participants with the skills to communicate their beliefs.

The goal was to encourage young leaders to think outside the box and to build on proven ideas to come up with innovative solutions to modern problems. In short, they were being asked to fill the vacuum left by those institutions responsible for the education of young people.

As our public institutions capitulate to the forces of political correctness, and so are increasingly unable or unwilling to pass on the values of freedom and democracy, it is up to us who cherish these institutions to perform this vital task.

Programs like IPA Academy, though currently small, can be highly effective. The old Roman proverb, The human race lives by a few, speaks to the potentially powerful influence of those who dare to make a difference. At IPA Academy 2023, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott quoted this proverb during a speech about leadership in challenging times. Regardless of how noisy the crowd, regardless of how determined they are to shut down debate, the wisdom of the ‘few’ can still be heard.

Great sacrifices were made to win and maintain the freedoms and lifestyle we continue, for now, to enjoy in the West. Sacrifices will need to be made by current and future leaders if we are to preserve our way of life for future generations. It remains to be seen whether young leaders step up to the task. But the good news is we don’t need that many, just a few.

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