Dispatches From the Moderate Left

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A Tale of Two Teachers (Aust)

Costello's recent complaints about the anti-US sentiment being stirred up by left wing teachers across the nation got me thinking about the political inclinations of my teachers. Looking back, I think only two of my teachers expressed political views - my yr 10 Australian history teacher (Mr. Dempsey I think) and my yr 12 Enlish Teacher (Mr. Meadows).

Mr Dempsey was a bit of a soft teacher but I really enjoyed his classes, even if discipline tended to get out of hand. His left wing views cropped up into the syllabus every now and again, he'd talk about the silliness of us still having a monarchy when discussing federation and highlighted Aboriginal massacres in the colonial period (though it's a crying shame that such a thing might be considered a left wing view). He also made the observation that Bjelke-Petersen was the closest thing we've ever had to a fascist in Australia when we talked about the Nazis - he used his abolishment of freedom of association (you technically needed a permit for a gathering of 3 or more people in a public place) and his rampant gerrymandering as examples of this. All in all though, it was pretty soft stuff and none of us felt like we were being indoctrinated.

Things were a bit different in my English class. Yr 12 English was the most political subject I did because at the time you had to do about a third of the year on "issues" which was basically current affairs. The teacher was a really funny guy but also a tough disciplinarian, so classes were much more of a one way street than in my history class. The main "issue" we looked at was how to treat heroin and the reading pack Mr Meadows gave us was one very large Andrew Bolt article and two small Andrew Bolt articles (conclusion: lock them up), and then a really fuddy duddy left wing opinion from, I think, Jill Singer - and one of the Bolt articles was a rebuttal of that article. Guess what his political leanings were.

From what I remember the discussions mainly consisted of him arguing with us until we agreed with him and in the end I did agree with him (forgive me, it was my only exposure to the issue at that point in my life). I also spoke with him a few times outside class and gave me some P J O'Rourke books which at the time I thought were incredibly smart, well researched and hilariously funny. In short, this teacher did actually turn me into something of a hardline right-winger for a while, especially as we had in-class discussions on other political issues which basically went the same way. Like I said, I didn't have much exposure to political ideas at the time - though my parents were both fairly staunch conservatives and as a child I'd always barrack for the Liberals, sports-team wise, at elections at their behest.

I don't know what happened after that. I only really got a political consciousness once I got to uni and started reading the newspaper (the Hun, because a uni subscrition was $5 for the year instead of $20 for The Age) and somehow a year of reading the Hun turned me completely off conservative politics. I picked up The Age subscription the next year and haven't looked back. I actually picked up an O'Rourke book at the end of 2nd year and tried to read it and I was amazed at how differently I perceived the writing. I realised that he was an absolute hack and his humour and argument incredibly reliant on straw-men. His books contained no real journalistic insight, they were just immature and extremely simplistic rants.

The point of this unusually personal post is that I don't think teachers really have that much of a long term effect on people's political outlook - certainly no more than others in our lives. Also I think the idea that all teachers are left wingers is vastly overstating the case, though this is obviously a fairly small sample size.

As an aside, Costello's accusations of institutional bias in one area might have shown how silly accusations of bias in another institution are. Conservatives always complain that the ABC is institutionally left wing and that as its more radical and youth-oriented wing, JJJ is particularly so. Well, check out the interview JJJ's current affairs guy did with the head of the Australian Education Union on this story (Stream, podcast). Cannane hit him really hard and made him look like an absolute fool, forcing him to just repeat pr slogans over and over again. After he brought up a specific example of the union advocating an anti-Iraq war position the AEU guy just couldn't mount an effective defence and sounded like an idiot. To cap it off, every single one of the callers at the end of the program said that their teachers were all left wingers, though some of them said it was a good thing and some said it was a bad thing. All in all, the program seemed constructed to confirm Costello's claim.


  • The law of supply and demand may have something to do with academic liberalism. As a student, I chose liberal profs in the social sciences because I liked them better and was more interested in their perspectives. Often they were campus personalities and advocates for programs I believed in, so I felt by enrolling in their classes I was indicating my support.

    Carry this sort of (admitted flawed) decision making across an entire student body and you have an administration seeing greater enrollments for the liberals and having an incentive to hire more of the same. Supply and demand.

    By Blogger Charles Watkins, at 2:20 PM  

  • I read an interesting article on it I would like to share with you...

    By Anonymous Erich Hackney, at 5:46 AM  

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