Monday, June 13, 2005


Her Majesty will be agog. Banished for decades from student premises where her portrait, often defaced, doubled as a dart board, the Queen is about to be hung by a mob of conservative heretics. A coterie of pro-Liberal student leaders at the University of New England is bent on ransacking politically correct queer rooms and women's departments with the abandon that brought down communism's Berlin Wall. Earlier this year the student council voted to install an Australian flag and a picture of the Queen. Two weeks ago students at this rural NSW campus voted narrowly in favour of seceding from the National Union of Students, saving themselves $40,000 a year in affiliation fees.

Though not as sexy as another decision - to hold a UNE beauty pageant, with categories for swimwear and evening gowns - it was an inevitable inflammatory step for an executive keen to represent heterosexuals and men in a mischievous dig at the gay and lesbian officers who are part of campus furniture across the country. "They want to go back to the 1950s," fumed UNE education student Tony Maslen, who takes earnest umbrage at this flip, hip parodying of the causes dear to his parents' baby-boomer generation. The spate of sacrilege sits comfortably with a demographic among which moleskins outnumber pierced tongues.

One outbreak does not make a revolution but UNE's charge would be useful proof for US commentator Brian C. Anderson who, after interviewing 50 students in a population of millions, hailed a right-wing insurgency sweeping American colleges in his book South Park Conservatives. Anderson argues that the Left's stranglehold on universities is weakening, even at Berkeley, that Californian crucible of '60s ferment. "Never has the Right flourished among college kids as it does today," he writes.

Young Republican chapters, gun clubs, student newspapers ripe with anti-liberal satire and conservative speakers are in renaissance, Anderson says, while support for abortion, taxing the rich and environmental programs is on the wane. His thesis is that Comedy Central's irreverent television cartoon South Park, which butchers sacred cows, has emboldened a generation of kids sick of moral relativism and family breakdown.

Australia is not America. Our gun lobby is weak, affirmative action for blacks is not mainstream, evangelical religion, while enjoying a growth spurt, is not entrenched. That said, there is change afoot. John Howard's children ate their educational "greens" with a TV diet of Widget the World Watcher, Captain Planet and school projects on recycling, yet last month the Australia Institute reported that 14 to 25-year-olds are least concerned of all age groups about the earth's welfare.

Today's students were born as communism crumbled and seem to lack ideological connections. They took their first steps as the Hawke government reintroduced university fees and they have grown up with the Coalition in power.

Leah Sanderson, student president at the University of Queensland, was dining on fish fingers and Milo at a friend's sleepover the night Howard won office. Ten years on she is struggling to whip up protests over commonwealth legislation for voluntary student unionism, which the Left predicts will be the final nail in activism's coffin. Yet Sanderson does not belong to any party. "I couldn't put words to my political persuasion," she says, echoing her contemporaries' disdain for ideological labels, in contrast to the slavish devotion many show to brand names worn on T-shirts, jeans, shoes and mobile phones.

Paul Donegan, her counterpart at Melbourne University, also shirks alignment with any party. "I can't even articulate why," he says, conceding that one-size-fits-all allegiance is "frowned upon. People see it as uncool." Donegan disagrees that South Park conservatives are taking over Australian universities. This "soft Left" Melbourne undergraduate prefers the term passive conservatives to describe a hyper-individualism forged in the competitive pitch for tertiary places, fee-paying jobs, real estate and a family down the track if you can squeeze children into an increasingly crowded life.

Historian Francis Fukuyama predicted in 1999 that this century would see the return of conservative norms as society corrects for the political extremes of the '60s and '70s, which he labelled "the Great Disruption". Some commentators also theorise that human beings are wired genetically for a preference for stable ways, and even religion. Australian twentysomethings are evidence that the pendulum is swinging. Femininity is back, with girls paying big bucks for pretty dresses and accessories. Boys too spend on cosmetics and hair gel. Fashion is hot. Ditto consumption, a pastime scorned by the free-love values of the communes and caftan crowd.

Students these days are likely to be living at home with parents whom they regard as close friends. According to new data from the Australian Institute of Family Studies' Australian Temperament Project, which has followed 2500 children since 1983, the great majority are working or studying; they rarely argue with parents; most act responsibly, and intend overwhelmingly to marry or settle down with long-term partners. "My impression is one of quite strong traditionalism," says project researcher Diana Smart. They might wear tie-dye T-shirts and decorate rooms with retro lava lamps, but this is not a generation given to rowdy, overt protest. They fill their iPods with Van Morrison and Eminem. They plug in to personalised networks, not social movements. Phones are the most common addiction. They have embraced Gallipoli and Anzac Day, perhaps marching in support of Australian war veterans while also opposing our involvement in Iraq.

"They are so savvy," says Neer Korn, analyst with the Sydney-based social research firm Heartbeat. "There is much more distrust of institutions. You say the word corporation, they think bastard. You say priest, they think pedophile. They are post-sexist, post-racist, post-multiculturalist, truly postmodern." Consider the thorny ethical dilemmas debated by 16-year-olds at a Melbourne school: genetically modified crops, euthanasia, in-vitro fertilisation, cloning, pornography, sterilisation of sex offenders, ordination of women as priests.

Policy prescriptions dictated from a head office have been rendered obsolete by the breadth of contemporary debate and the rapid pace of technological change. "Students may be conservative on one issue and Marxist on another," says Natalie Hepburn, student president at the University of Western Australia. "I would never join a party."

Many of the present crop of student leaders had environmentalism drilled into them at school but arrived on campus not knowing the difference between Liberals and the ALP. Institutional attachment to trade unions and political groups has been in decline since their mothers began feeding them organic baby food. The introduction of voluntary student unionism later this year - if no Coalition senator crosses the floor - and new industrial laws promoting individual contracts will surely accelerate discomfort with collective action.

Rose Jackson, daughter of ABC journalist Liz Jackson and student president at the University of Sydney, believes activism on her campus has shown extraordinary resilience, given these trends. "Young people are not [uncaring] but we're constantly given the impression we can't change anything," she says. "I'm cynical myself about how much impact I can have and disillusioned at times about what I can achieve."

Electronic petitions and email are the invisible modus operandi that suits students these days. Elizabeth Shaw, who edits Pelican, the student paper of the University of Western Australia, says the demonstration against voluntary unionism attracted hundreds while thousands more signed protests against the Government's proposed reform. Schapelle Corby's trial in Bali provoked a flurry of email petitions, according to Shaw, because "we're young, we travel, we think that perhaps this could be me". She says: "Things are quite fluid. There is a reluctance to join parties but people remain active on issues that affect them."

The Australian Temperament Project confirms high personal interest but low collective participation. Eighty-four per cent of the 19 to 20-year-old group made a personal effort to recycle or care for the environment and 81 per cent voted in an election. But numbers dwindled dramatically when it came to attending a meeting (16 per cent), demonstrating in a march (6 per cent), lobbying government (6 per cent) or joining with others to resolve a neighbourhood or local problem (7 per cent). Self-interest and the safer territory of improving facilities increasingly absorbs a leadership that 30 years ago waded boldly into Middle East conflicts, nuclear weapons, apartheid and the Springbok tours. At Melbourne's RMIT University, the politicians who contested last year's student election on opposition to the Iraq war were skewered by those advocating better computers and library resources. RMIT's student president Dinesh Rajalingam says "people are interested in their own life". He predicts a rise in Christianity not yet apparent in the churches' head count.

At Adelaide University, the pro-life Democratic Club is more vocal than ever, with a protest against pro-euthanasia philosopher Peter Singer that matched the Left's disruption of Alexander Downer's visit. The university's student president David Pearson is apologetic for abuse of the Foreign Minister because this fed allegations of feral lefties in a climate of creeping intolerance for extracurricular campaigns. "We get told that student unions should just focus on delivering better computer resources," Pearson says.

Two months ago vandals trashed the George Duncan Room, named after a gay lecturer who died in Adelaide parkland allegedly as a result of police violence. They scrawled homophobic vitriol over the walls. The attack is more likely an aberration than part of a South Park-style campaign to offend minorities, but student orthodoxy is being recast.

Patrick Gorman, president at Perth's Curtin University, typifies the new order. He is a member of the ALP but opposes abortion. While he wants campus office-bearers to represent women, gays, and indigenous students, he bridles at the idea of an environment department. "I can see the need to help students who are oppressed, but a tree does not have difficulty studying," Gorman says.

Conservatism, pragmatism, even derogatory references to individualism, are baby-boomer pigeonholes. Today's rebels might be tamer and more like their grandparents in holding family dearer, but the passionate-hearted among them will reinvent the world. Just wait.


Endangered species -- male teachers

A task force in Maine looking into why boys are falling behind in school - a nationwide phenomenon - recently released this data: Since 1980, the number of male teachers in the state's elementary schools dropped from 30% to 17%. The trends of boys struggling as male teachers disappear may be just a coincidence. But many educators suspect a link.

So far, debate on teacher gender has focused on secondary schools, where men make up a third of teachers, down from half 20 years ago. The National Education Association, which tracks this trend, offers these explanations: dated notions that teaching is women's work; modest salaries that lower the profession's prestige; and the belief that men enter the field to "teach the subject" while women enter as nurturers.

To achieve better balance, some school districts are trying to lure more male mathematicians and scientists into high school teaching careers. On the other hand, there's no parallel effort at the elementary school level, where all-female staffs are becoming the norm. That might not worry most parents, who assume women are a natural fit at that level.

It should, however, worry the parents of the many boys who leave the elementary grades with marginal reading skills. The reading gap between boys and girls widens considerably in middle schools. That's a major problem because nearly every student now encounters a verbally demanding college-prep curriculum in ninth grade.

Boys aren't doing well in this new environment, in part because in elementary school they're not getting the message that reading is a guy thing. And with fewer male role models in the classroom, the likelihood of receiving that message only diminishes.


School choice legislation is all the rage in 2005: "To date, 2005 has been a banner year for school choice legislation, with at least 17 states considering choice proposals. In addition, President George W. Bush's 2005-06 budget calls for expanding the federal school choice plan: The $50 million 'Choice Incentive Fund' would allow cities to receive federal funds to pay for tuition vouchers at private and religious schools. According to the Alliance for School Choice, governors are leading the charge on the state level."


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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