At Least He's Not John Howard


Ever since Kevin Rudd challenged and defeated Kim Beazley for the Labor Party leadership, John Howard detractors have been writing and speaking with an optimism that hasn’t existed for over 10 years.

Rudd’s writings relating his faith to politics certainly caught the attention of the religious corner of society yet it is, perhaps, a little surprising that the secular Left seems to be so supportive of Rudd.

There is the obvious reason for this support Kevin Rudd is not John Howard. And not only that, he’s also not Kim Beazley, Peter Costello, Mark (what was his name?), Tony Abbott or, heaven forbid, Alexander Downer. So far, so good.

Yes, he is intelligent and articulate always an added bonus when vying for leadership of a country. Unlike Beazley, he is a new generation member of the ALP. And quite the opposite of Latham, he appears (ahem!) professional and sensible.

But all this still doesn’t explain why Rudd is as popular as the polls suggest, and especially why the secular Left would like Kevin the ‘God-botherer.’

One of the key areas of concern for voters of all persuasions is education. Certainly, much of the secular Left is highly educated and places  signifficant value on education. So, perhaps it is Rudd’s ‘education revolution’ that has got everyone so excited?

Yet, an analysis of the ALP’s latest education policy doesn’t back this up. The policy document, ‘Australia Needs an Education Revolution,’ has no basis in any altruistic, utopian views of the value of education. Rather, it states explicitly that, ‘ In the 21st century, a human capital revolution will drive productivity growth‘ (my emphasis). If that is not specific enough, the paper goes on to report that:

A substantial and growing body of international research shows that investment in human capital in educational programs from early childhood through to mature-age workers offers substantial social and economic returns for economies as well as for individuals.

The bedrock of the ALP’s policy is that education is simply a means to an end. Education, according to Rudd’s ALP, deserves money and attention because it will benefit the economic development of this country. For ideologues on the secular Left, this is a truly repulsive philosophy of education.

Despite his much-vaunted attack on Howard as the leader of a ‘Brutopia’ based on (Hayekian) economic principles, Rudd has produced an education policy based on economic argument. Furthermore, in his November 2006 article for The Monthly, ‘Howard’s Brutopia,‘ Rudd suggests that education is viewed by social democrats as assisting in ‘creating the human, social and environmental capital necessary to make a market economy function effectively‘ (my emphasis).

Thanks to Bill Leak

For those whose primary concern is economic development (as was Adam Smith’s Rudd’s choice to represent the social democratic position on society), Rudd’s position is quite okay. It is a far cry, however, from the philosophy of an educator like Brazilian, Paulo Freire, who argued that the purpose of education should be ‘human liberation so that learners can be subjects and actors in their own lives and in their community.’

If this ‘liberation theology’ of education is a little too strong for some Western Lefties, then John Dewey and Edward de Bono offer similar philosophies of education.

Both Dewey and de Bono believe that students need to learn how to engage with the world and develop as good citizens of the world. The American philosopher and educational reformer, John Dewey, in Democracy and Education, wrote that ‘the purpose of school education is to insure the continuance of education by organizing the powers that insure growth. The inclination to learn from life itself and to make the conditions of life such that all will learn in the process of living is the finest product of schooling.’ Such a view demonstrates a deep appreciation of education and its value for life, not just the market.

Also seeing the link between education and life, Edward de Bono, the leading scholar on creative thinking, wrote that ‘ Educators never seem to realise that the purpose of education is to prepare youngsters for the real world They feel that the purpose of educators is to help youngsters pass the exams set by education. There is no concept of œoperacy  or the skill of doing. There is the notion that knowing is enough.’

It is the power for change and betterment that makes education so important. Indeed, the common statement by schools across all sectors is that they exist to ‘develop the intellectual, social, physical, emotional, aesthetic and spiritual dimensions of each of its members.’ I would be interested to hear from any teachers who entered or remain in the profession for the sake of Australia’s economic development. On the other hand, I am sure there are many who believe their role is to assist students in at least some of the areas listed above.

So, as there is nothing in the ALP’s education policy to suggest that improving the education system helps develop better-equipped global citizens, the results of a recent Newspoll are a little surprising. The poll states that 55 per cent of all voters believe Rudd is the better man for the job of handling education than Howard. Among the more Left-leaning crowd ALP voters the figure jumps to a staggering 82 per cent.

It is amazing that since Rudd released his ‘Education Revolution’ policy on January, it seems to have received little substantial criticism. Surely, there must be many from the secular Left who have read the policy after all, as Howard, Keith Windschuttle and friends have identified, teachers figure highly in the nefarious gang of Leftist elites. Yet, the silence has been deafening.

In light of all this, the most plausible explanation as to why the secular Left seem to like Kevin the ‘God-botherer’ is quite simply that he is not John Howard.

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