Why I am a conservative
28th September 2009

The Australian newspaper recently ran a series of articles by left-wing activists explaining why they favoured that side of politics, below is my response in an article also published in the Australian.  It helps to explain my views on education.

Why I left the lefties

Kevin Donnelly | October 16, 2009
Article from: The Australian

SIMILAR to Labor luminaries Julia Gillard and John Sutton, I also had a working-class upbringing and our family home was dominated by left-wing values.

We lived in a housing commission estate in Broadmeadows, dad was a member of the Australian Communist Party and I was enrolled in the Eureka Youth Movement.
I still remember Dad screaming in rage at Robert Menzies (aka "Pig Iron Bob") on the black-and-white television, and glossy magazines with heroic pictures of Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong glowing with paternal care and revolutionary zeal.
Dad taught me the cry of liberty, equality and fraternity promised a utopia, one where injustice, discrimination and poverty would disappear and all would live according to Karl Marx's maxim: from each according to his ability, to each according to their need.
It was no surprise that I joined the Secondary Students for Democratic Action in my final year of school and marched in anti-war protests at university. On starting my career as a secondary school teacher it was only natural that I joined the left-wing Victorian Secondary Teachers Association and became the school's branch president.

Given my background and an interest in politics, the next step may have been to join the Australian Labor Party. I never did and, in fact, I turned my back on the Left and joined the Liberal Party.
Why? Looking at my father I realised the socialist dream, in part, was driven by class bitterness and the politics of envy. Following Edmund Burke, I also realised that the need to conserve was equally as important as the need to change and that evolution was preferable to revolution.

As Burke predicted, the French Revolution descended into terror and brutality. Since then, history is littered with tyrants such as Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot who killed and enslaved billions in the name of socialism.

Once society's safeguards and institutions are destroyed, there is nowhere to hide.
George Orwell was another reason I became a conservative. Animal Farm not only presents an allegory of Communist Russia's descent into totalitarianism and the gulag, it also tells us the Left's romanticised view of human nature is misplaced. While Boxer the horse is worked to death, the pigs luxuriate and learn to walk on two legs.

There is also something soulless and reductionist about a Marxist view of the world. As noted by American political and social activist George Weigel, "the deepest currents of history are spiritual and cultural, rather than political and economic". To say that great literature, art and music are simply the results of power relationships denies the creative urge driven by moral and spiritual forces.

The longer I taught in Melbourne's working class, multicultural western suburbs the more I also realised that the Left's campaign to use education as a tool to enforce its ideologically driven view of the world was wrong and counter-productive.
In a speech to the Fabian Society in the mid-1980s Joan Kirner, one of Gillard's mentors and soon to be minister for education, argued that instead of imparting knowledge, education had to be "part of a socialist struggle for equality, participation and social change, rather than an instrument of the capitalist system".

The academic, competitive curriculum, one that represented a ladder of opportunity for working-class kids like me, was condemned as elitist and guilty of reinforcing inequality. As teachers, we were taught that knowledge was simply a socio-cultural construct and left in no doubt as to which side of the class war we should be on.

To gain promotion I had to show evidence of implementing the Kirner government's left-wing policies on multiculturalism, gender equity, non-competitive assessment and overcoming disadvantage.
Ironically, the flagship of Kirner's education revolution, the Victorian Certificate of Education, had the opposite effect of what was intended. Working-class and migrant students, those who could not afford tutors and whose parents were not academically minded, were further disadvantaged.

Fast forward to Kevin Rudd's education revolution and it appears that education is no longer an ideological battleground. Not so. Gillard's promise to positively discriminate and introduce quotas for disadvantaged students to enter university is straight out of Kirner's Fabian manual.

Under a raft of national partnership agreements, school funding, government and non-government, is also now tied to schools implementing the federal government's cultural-left agenda in curriculum, teacher training and registration, overcoming disadvantage, the early years of childhood and promoting more equitable outcomes for so-called victim groups.

Kevin Donnelly is author of Australia's Education Revolution: How Kevin Rudd Won and Lost the Education Wars (Connor Court Publishing, forthcoming).


Responses to this Post

mark mc dougall says:

It is curious that the left in execution becomes centralised and prescriptional and therein fails its own basic tenet. Instead of equality a conceited directorate emerges that reduces the freedom of its subordinate executors. The individual free human becomes servant to the political apparatus, i.e. the teacher is made to impress approved/kosher/government ideology upon the emerging student.
As Life teaches us this is generally seen through with time and fought off in each individuals development. Then why was it mandated?
Absolutely right, the "soulless and reductionist Marxist view" must give way to the "creative urge driven by moral and spiritual forces" if education is to be vibrantly, humanly fruitful.
For this to occur the conceited direcive bureaucrats would have to understand this, to make space, towards Trust! How might we create trust between students and teachers, between schools, society and government? For this teachers would have to be spirited, creative and responsible. The challenge is ours.

mark mc dougall
elermorevale 2287, NSW

 John Kelly says:

I have no doubt that a Marxist view of the world is "soulless and reductive."

The politicisation of literature, namely, the insistence that it be interpreted through a cyclopsean Marxist lens, is an offence against youthful minds and imaginations in our schools.  It is also insufferably boring.

Leftists in Australia persist in the utopian belief that Marxist deconstructionism and ideology will deliver salvation in the form of "social justice".  History, I suggest, says otherwise.

While no reasonable person would contest equal opportunity as a value, to restrict the scope of education to "producing equal outcomes" is to diminish human experience and potential.

Great poems, plays and novels inspire and endure because they reflect and provide for the spiritual dimension of human existence, which includes the moral, imaginative, psychological and aesthetic, not to mention the religious, denied categorically by Marx and his acolytes.

The Leftist agenda is a spiritual, cultural and I daresay economic dead-end: it would see us confined to the depths of Plato's cave.

Alternately, regular experience of worthwhile literature not only, as Yeats woould say, "keeps the good talk going round" but also helps ensure that the soul's eye is turned to the light.

John Kelly
Tranmere, SA



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