Thomas Sowell wrote that, “Intellectuals enjoy a similar insulation from the consequences of being wrong, in a way that no businessman, military leader, engineer or even athletic coach can”. As a consequence intellectuals refuse to abandon their pet theories no matter how often their theories fail in the real world.
Nearly a decade ago, the Gonski Report recommended a raft of changes to Australia’s education system. The report was “filled with motherhood statements and meaningless drivel” and demanded billions of dollars more spent every year. So naturally teachers’ unions and a left-wing Labor government jumped at it.
Yet for all its grand promises and tens of billions of dollars, Gonski was “an abject failure”. Not only did it not bring about the promised revolution in Australian eduction, standards actually declined. But as always, despite its abject failure the “reformers” are not just refusing to abandon the theory, but want to go even further. Cue Gonski 2.0.
If the original Gonski was a farrago of motherhood statements and theoretical gobbledegook, this second crack at the nut is even worse. This time it doesn’t even try and disguise its ideological agenda. In what it calls a “radical overhaul”, Gonski advocates doing away with knowledge-based learning in favour of teaching “critical thinking, creativity and social skills”. But while these may sound like bureaucratic puffery they actually disguise a more alarming agenda.
“Critical thinking” is one of the great intellectual monomanias of our time. Almost as much as “science”, or “sustainability”, “critical thinking” is a favourite, virtue-signalling buzzword of the elites. Those who fancy themselves as “liberals” are especially given to singing the praises of critical thinking. For instance, the Australian Greens have mentioned it repeatedly in their policy manifestos.
Now, I’d agree that critical thinking is a very fine thing. But the problem is that almost invariably what intellectuals and ideologues mean by “critical thinking” is really indoctrination.
When the sort of ideologues who want to “radically overhaul” the education of our children talk about “critical thinking”, they do not mean genuine dispassionate logical analysis and scepticism, “to value knowledge and thought … without the intrusion of any other considerations whatever”, in the tradition of Socrates and Matthew Arnold, but rather a particular kind of ideological conformism.
What they mean by “critical” is not objective analysis or discernment, but rather “criticism” of certain unacceptable ideas and uncritical conformism to acceptable ones. For example, when a Marxist academic (and overwhelmingly academics today are Marxists) claims to be teaching a “critical perspective”, almost always what they’re actually demanding is that their students conform to their Marxist worldview.
Already higher education has notably been captured by a rigid ideological conformism enforced by faculty and staff. The Scopes Monkey Trial of leftist punishment of Thoughtcrime came when Canadian grad student Lindsay Shepherd showed a class a recording of a debate broadcast by Canadian public television. Shepherd was hauled before an academic star chamber. Terms like “alt-right”, “white supremacist”, and “Nazi” were flung about. When Shepherd released her recording of the proceeding, a firestorm erupted.
What the Shepherd affairs shows is just how deeply and broadly higher education has already been infiltrated by ideological intolerance. Higher education is supposed to be the one place where genuine critical thinking flourishes. But as surely as “freedom” came to mean “slavery” in the Ingsoc of Orwell’s 1984, in today’s academia “critical thinking” has been warped to mean ideological conformity.
Having subdued the universities, the ideologues now have their sights set on the schools.
They’re already going after childrens’ bodies with their creepy “gender education” programs, and usurping parents’ rights with such proposals as allowing schools to administer contraceptives without parents’ knowledge or consent. Now they want to come for our childrens’ minds.
Make no mistake: when academics and ideologues claim to want to teach “critical thinking, creativity and social skills”, what they really mean is that they want to indoctrinate our children to think and behave exactly as they want them to, without question or choice.