No place for 1970s collectives
The Australian, 26 April 2017
It would be tempting to respond to the news that Victoria’s teachers are being encouraged to develop “feminist collectives” at schools to counter white male “privilege” with a flippant call for “masculinist” collectives to ensure equality. The well-documented shortcomings of our education system, however, warrant a more nuanced, mature response, with the emphasis on academic performance and teaching quality. Good manners and respectful behaviour have always been important in education; indeed, effective discipline is essential to ensure classrooms are conducive to learning. But the serious shortcomings in Australian education, evidenced in the freefall in our results in basic subjects alongside other nations, leave no room for teachers and students to be distracted by social engineering experiments such as the Victorian government’s Respectful Relationships program. It is already in place in 120 schools across the state with hundreds more to follow.
As Stefanie Balogh reported recently, a survey of school principals showed that teachers who failed to meet the needs of their students, resisted change or were unprepared for lessons were doing more to hinder learning in Australian classrooms than teenagers who were disrespectful or skipped school. Regardless of any student’s gender or socioeconomic background, the most important benefit education authorities and schools can provide is quality teaching to enable all students to achieve their potential academically or in vocational education. Doing so gives young people their best chances of accessing the higher education courses of their choice or achieving prosperity through employment. Basic literacy and numeracy skills — in which many Australian students have major room for improvement — are vital.
Contrary to ideologically driven notions of “white, male privilege”, Program for International Student Assessment data shows Australia’s 15-year-old boys have fallen behind girls in reading by as much as a full year of schooling. Boys, however, outperform girls in numeracy. Apart from engineering courses where males dominate, female university students outnumber males by 3-2. The imperative for school systems, principals and teachers is to give all students the best possible start across the curriculum, then encourage them to specialise in their areas of strength.
The feminist movement, as a major social trend, is a legitimate topic for social studies and history. “Feminist collectives”, however, have no place in the 21st-century school system.