C'est nous qui brisons les barreaux des prisons, pour nos frères, La haine à nos trousses, et la faim qui nous pousse, la misère. Il y a des pays où les gens aux creux des lits font des rêves, Ici, nous, vois-tu, nous on marche et nous on tue nous on crève.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

The Bias Police

The Australian Senate has just completed its report on allegations of radical leftist bias in universities:

The committee heard from the Liberal Students' organisation Make Australia
Fair a description of the link between the radical philosophies and teaching practices
in vogue in university education faculties and schools of education, and the likely
application of those ideas in the classroom. Make Australia Fair tabled a 'dossier'
listing academics in education faculties who, it was claimed, share a commitment to
radical activism and who view politics and education to be' different perspectives of
the same reality'. They quoted from another submission to this inquiry to describe
activist methods of teaching as a:

… radical orthodoxy is composed to an almost slavish adherence to various
theories and political commitments associated with neo-Marxism,
postmodernism, deconstructionism, the theories of Michel Foucault, poststructuralism,
discourse theory, feminism, neo-Rousseauianism, radical
environmentalism, anti-Americanism, anti-Christianity, and related

3.29 Make Australia Fair argued that where ideological activism is entrenched in
the academia of education faculties, there is crossover into school teaching. 'After all,
universities provide the theoretical underpinning for school curricula and teaching and
training of future school teachers.'

3.30 The committee has no way of assessing the veracity of this claim, particularly
in regard to what is taught to B.Ed and other trainee teachers, but it suspects that it is
wildly exaggerated. Such content would be beyond the comprehension of many
students for whom it would have no practical use. Such comments as these neither
enlighten the committee nor persuade it of a case to be made. Indeed, the committee
believes that the case That Make Australia Fair makes for the existence of a leftist
conspiracy in education faculties and schools borders on the farcical.

Farcical indeed. Having spent many years - too many, if truth be told - in tertiary institutions, I've seen little evidence of systematic political bias. Academics, like everybody else, do fall victim to fashionable trends, but these trends are not necessarily political, and, if political, are not necessarily related to the 'activist' left.

Indeed, academia is inherently conservative, for most academics are busily defending the status quo that constitutes their little theoretical patch. When students come armed with new approaches that challenge dominant paradigms, they face a far greater burden of proof than those students who merely repeat accepted disciplinary truisms. Throwing down the gauntlet to a large body of work within a paradigm, or challenging academic consensus on a particular topic is always much more difficult than simply taking the line of least resistance, and conservatively endorsing the opinions of one's lecturers.

Now, when will the bias police be called off the ABC?