The Conversation: we need to talk about diversity
Kevin Donnelly, The Australian, 5 April 2017
The Conversation’s acting chairman Joe Skrzynski, in announcing the resignation of Andrew Jaspan as editor and executive director, said the media outlet was committed to “knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and evidence based”.
Skrzynski argues The Conversation, with contributions from academics and researchers, provides “the public with clarity and insight into society’s greatest problems, at a time when traditional media business models are under challenge and trust in the media is under attack”. The reality proves otherwise. Under the guise of academic rigour and objectivity The Conversation champions a cultural-left group mentality that restricts dialogue and debate.
Education provides a clear example. The Safe Schools LGBTI program, described as an anti-bullying program, is one of the cultural-left’s totemic issues that it wishes to enforce on schools. Marxist academic Roz Ward says it’s really about “sexual diversity, about same-sex attraction, about being transgender, about being lesbian, gay, bisexual”.
Such has been the public reaction against what is clearly an ideologically driven program, the federal government censored it and refused to provide ongoing funding.
Read the contributions from academics and researchers about the Safe Schools program on The Conversation’s website and it’s obvious how the media outlet presents only one side of the debate. Lucy Nicholas from Swinburne University of Technology condemns members of parliament opposed to Safe Schools as “cisgender, heterosexual male politicians”.
When justifying the Safe Schools program Nicholas also repeats the misleading statistic that 16 per cent of students are same-sex attracted, transgender or intersex, and argues there is no evidence the program seeks to indoctrinate students.
Writing in The Conversation, Timothy Jones from La Trobe University describes opposition to Safe Schools as “hysterical”, criticising the commonwealth’s review for suggesting that some of the more extreme examples of LGBTI material “may not be suitable for use in some faith-based schools”.
A third contribution, by academics Jen Curwood and Jacqueline Ullman, argues that “LGBT content and insights should be critical parts of the curriculum”, “homophobia is rampant in many Australian schools” and religious schools should not be exempt from employing LGBT teachers.
Read The Conversation and it’s impossible to find any contributor critical of or opposed to the Safe Schools gender and sexuality program.
A series of comment pieces published in February detailing how to strengthen schools provides a second example of The Conversation’s cultural-left bias. Addressing the question “Is there a crisis in public education?”, Jessica Gerrard from the University of Melbourne repeats the mantra of non-government-school critics that funding arrangements “exacerbate rather than challenge the existing social inequalities that exist” here.
Even though the impact of students’ socioeconomic status on international tests results has fallen from 17 per cent in 2000 to 12 per cent in 2015, according to OECD figures — thus suggesting Australia’s education system is becoming more equitable — Gerrard argues the situation has worsened. Not surprisingly, given the cultural left’s preference for statism, Gerrard identifies the culprit as “the rise of schooling markets and school choice, in which parental choice can lead to further social and cultural segregation”.
The Conversation’s treatment of how history is taught in our schools and universities provides another example of how the media outlet restricts debate. In response to the Abbott government’s national curriculum review, historian Tony Taylor describes those, such as myself, arguing for a greater focus on Western civilisation as “hackneyed cultural warriors”.
Taylor goes on to argue that Judeo-Christianity, instead of being one of the foundation stones of Western culture, is simply “a 1980s Cold War rhetorical fiction recently revived by the Christian Right” and that conservative politicians are guilty of hijacking history to suit their political ends.
Omid Tofighian from the University of Sydney is also critical of Western civilisation when he argues how it is taught at the tertiary level “replicates and reinforces the concept of whiteness”.
Apparently such “exclusionary practices normalised in schools and universities” are the real causes of Islamic violent extremism and the solution is to “dismantle the white curriculum” and to validate “the identity and cultural background of marginalised groups”.
On The Conversation’s website the motto “Academic rigour, journalistic flair” appears and the media outlet’s charter refers to its commitment to academic freedom, having integrity, valuing diversity and being free of political bias.
While such noble aims may have once existed when Jaspan launched The Conversation in 2011, it’s clear that such is no longer the case.
Kevin Donnelly is a senior research fellow at the Australian Catholic University and author of Dumbing Down.