Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Obama ubiquitous in American schools

The Obama Campaign has infiltrated college and graduate school campuses throughout the United States. One day last week, on my way to class I was asked if I wanted to sign-up to volunteer for the Obama Campaign. On my way to my seat, I passed a student with an Obama button pinned to her shirt. Before my evening seminar, one of my fellow classmates handed out Obama bumper stickers.

Even away from law school in the comfort of my home I am told that as a young person I should be voting for Obama. In a spoof of ads encouraging parents to talk to their children about drugs, smoking and sex, Penn Badgley and Blake Lively, stars of Gossip Girl, along with some other young people implore young people to, "talk to your parents about John McCain." Sponsored by, the ad opens with Badgley saying, "Mom, Dad, I found this in your room today," as he holds up a trucker hat that reads, "Drill Baby Drill, McCain-Palin 2008." It ends with Lively offering, "And if you're ever out somewhere and you're considering voting for McCain, just call me, and I'll pick you up. No questions asked."

Students are being pressured by their peers and young Hollywood actors to vote for Obama. Voting for Obama is being sold as the cool thing to do. According to the ad, it is time for young people to even have "The Talk" with their parents to convince them to vote for Obama. It should be the other way around: Parents should be initiating another version of "The Talk" with their college-aged children, but this time not about drugs, alcohol or sex-instead, about the upcoming election.

And if parents think this is a difficult topic to cover, author Hugh Hewitt has articulated the case for young people to think again about voting for Barack Obama in his pamphlet, Letter to a Young Obama Supporter.

Hewitt approaches this topic with the seriousness it deserves, laying out the arguments specifically to appeal to young people. He writes, "There are tremendously appealing reasons to support Senator Obama, especially for young people who think the country is broken, its politics bitter and boring, elected officials stupid and President Bush and Vice President Cheney at best incompetent and at worst evil. The only way to change a young voter's mind about supporting Obama will be to sincerely and persuasively explain to them why the charismatic senator from Illinois would be a disaster as the president and how that will gravely impact their future. In short, you have to make an adult case to your adult children based on the facts."

Ultimately, Hewitt argues that Obama is not ready to be President in a time of war and economic uncertainty. His writing style is easy to digest and he gets straight to the point, "Let me be blunt: The government never gives productive people their money back in equivalent economic benefits."

Rather than writing in the abstract, Hewitt uses examples that resonate with young voters. For instance, instead of getting bogged down in the details of Social Security and Medicare, he addresses these topics by asking, "In fact, if your parents are relatively healthy and relatively young, the retirement system isn't even going to be able to keep the commitments it made to them unless those changes are made. Are you ready to step in? Are you ready to have them move in with you?" This question should wake up young people.

Discussing politics can be challenging. But parents should not leave it to other students or Hollywood actors to educate their children on sensitive topics. They should play an active role in educating their children on the candidates. We may roll our eyes, but we are listening.


Lockstep Leftism in Australian academe

Have a different opinion? Think again. The debate is over. A highly politicised ideological bias exists in academia - one harmful to students, damaging to standards and which threatens intellectual diversity - according to the majority of submissions to the Senate's academic freedom inquiry. In nearly all cases, this bias comes from one direction - the left. A prominent academic, Mervyn Bendle, in his submission says it "dominates research programs, publications and textbooks at all levels and therefore influences every aspect of education in Australia".

Pick any controversial issue today - Work Choices, anti-terror laws, Israel-Palestine, or climate change - and in academia these issues have been decided. There is only one accepted view on each - no debate is allowed.

Ask the Cardinal Newman Society at the University of Queensland. Earlier this year it had stalls outlining pregnancy-support options for women - a move that contradicted the student union's policy of safe, free abortion on demand. The Catholic student group was reprimanded, threatened with disaffiliation and faced formal disciplinary proceedings.

Heaven help anyone on campus, academic or student, who dares to question what Dr Bendle calls a "radical orthodoxy", characterised by "theories associated with neo-Marxism, postmodernism, feminism, radical environmentalism, anti-Americanism, anti-Christianity, and related ideologies". Bendle argues this entrenched left-wing culture has its roots in the counterculture of the 1960s. Yesterday's radicals are today's establishment, and now they will tolerate no dissent. Resistance is futile. You will be indoctrinated.

No recent research has been conducted into the ideological leanings of Australian educators, but in the US a 1999 study found more than 70 per cent of academics identified as left wing, compared to only 15 per cent as conservative. In some humanities departments, conservatives are outnumbered by up to 30 to one. The situation is so bad the University of Colorado recently debated creating a "chair of conservative thought" in a desperate attempt to restore some balance.

The scarcity of conservative intellectuals explains the barrage of attacks that emanated from academia during almost the entire term of the former government. These criticisms were on a wide range of different issues, from immigration to industrial relations. Some were justified, yet were almost always from a critical left-wing perspective. This lack of balance demonstrates the much-touted commitment to "diversity" mouthed by all academic institutions is only skin deep. Gender, ethnic and sexual diversity are all the rage, but intellectual diversity is ignored.

Many Australian educators are activists masquerading as academics, agitating for radical far-left causes well outside, and profoundly hostile to, the values of mainstream Australia. One example is Damien Riggs, of the University of Adelaide, who heads an association of academics that seek to "expose and challenge white-race privilege in Australia and elsewhere". His area of interest is "what it means to speak as a white queer person in a colonial nation".

Academics, like any other citizens, are perfectly entitled to their political opinions, however bizarre. The problem arises when these political views influence the content of their teaching. Take the former education union president Pat Byrne who in 2005 boasted that so-called progressive educators "had succeeded in influencing curriculum development in schools, education departments and universities".

Then there are the hundreds of subjects in the humanities, most of which reflect the Marxist obsessions of their lecturers. One subject on tourism "explores travel through themes such as gender, class, race, imperialism, war and . sexuality". Another on design considers "how architecture perpetuates the social order of gender".

One former trainee teacher, Beccy Merzi, told the inquiry: "I became so fed up and disgusted by the continual barrage of criticism of mainstream values, the lack of focus on practical ways of teaching, and the continual focus on minority groups, postmodernism, gender, queer and other studies that I abandoned my teaching degree. "

But it's not only the course content that is biased - it's lecturers' conduct. Submission after submission documented educators using their classrooms to promote their political views and belittling or marking down students who disagreed. "I have been abused and mocked by a lecturer in front of others for refusing to acknowledge the 'genocide occurring in Lebanon' during the Israeli-Lebanese war," one student, Joshua Koonin, told the inquiry.

It's high time that educators learnt that the principles of academic freedom apply equally to students as they do to their lecturers.


Unbalanced history teaching in Australian schools

A column about Australia by David Dale. (For non-Australian readers, witchetty grubs were traditionally regarded as a delicacy by Aborigines; 1770 was the first landing on the Eastern Australian coast by the British)

Think the unthinkable and say the unsayable. That's this column's readers. In recent days, they have advanced these propositions: 1) The best way to make school history lessons more interesting is to teach less about boomerangs and witchetty grubs and more about the Chinese communist party; 2) the best way to make the planet healthier and happier is not eating more kangaroos but eating vegans, ideally with ginger and black bean sauce. Yes, that was vegans, not veggies.

The way this column works is that we raise questions about national identity, and the readers answer them, usually by shredding conventional wisdoms. When I observed that Australian history, as traditionally taught, was likely to leave students with the impression that they lived in one of the most boring countries on earth, 57 readers replied.

Many urged the inclusion of more information about the people who were here before 1770. But Kate, who finished high school in 2005, complained: "Every year between year 3 and year 10 it was witchetty grubs, boomerangs, dispossession or reconciliation depending on how old you were. These are all very valuable topics and should be studied, but on and off for SEVEN YEARS? The statement that we were about to study either Australian or Aboriginal history was usually met with a groan.

"My favourite topics were the Cold War (and the Cuban Missile Crisis), the historiography (not history) of the Crusades, China under the CCP and the Industrial Revolution. Everything I've learnt in those subjects I've used a hundredfold since entering university. No one has asked me about witchetty grubs though...."

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