Victorian English teachers mobilised for the ‘Voice’ and critical race theory
Currently, political correctness is a force with enormous momentum and no brakes.
We are now in the politically correct era. The ‘long march’ of the politically correct Left, or cultural Marxists, or what we also call the ‘woke’, through the institutions has been won. Many of the opponents of Western civilisation are currently running the institutions it depends on for its viability. Some of these people, swept up in the intoxicating romanticism of revolutionary rhetoric, are mischievously and recklessly bent on destruction, but the majority of these elites believe they are good people doing the right thing, improving society while signalling their virtue in the process.
What we now call the ‘culture wars’ is really resistance in the face of defeat. The few of us maintaining the struggle try to hold on to what we have left by pointing out the glaring faults in political correctness and postmodernism and the irrational and destructive policies this ideology produces, which often undermines the institutions and practices that make Western civilisation viable and frequently threatens to harm those sections of society the politically correct claim to be helping. Those few individuals who offer resistance, by putting up counter-arguments, live and work in the knowledge that a merciless cancel-culture could destroy their reputation and career and strike at any moment.
Political correctness and postmodernism have politicised everything. What is most concerning is that this ideology has fostered a dangerous mindset where everything is reduced to oppressors and victims, and anything that is a distraction from left-wing theory is accused of perpetuating what they characterise as the unequal and unjust status quo, so therefore it is rendered ‘problematic’ or ‘controversial’, or it is vilified and condemned with the implication that it must be purged and replaced by something that accords to the tenets of political correctness. In the prevailing zeitgeist of the politically correct era, this toxic mindset is easy to acquire. It potentially has almost everything in its sights. The model citizen in this era is not the hardworking, law-abiding suburbanite, but the perpetually-angry left-wing political activist. Nothing is safe. Nothing is beyond attack, including the institutions of liberal-democracy.
The ‘Voice’, the so-called Aboriginal Voice to parliament is an extremely bad idea, soon to be put as a referendum to change the Australian Constitution. Keep in mind that while the current liberal-democratic system continues to serve us well, neither of the houses of parliament operate according to the ideals behind their founding. In regards to the members of the House of Representatives, ‘representing’ their electorates is only one dimension of their role, and some neglect this almost entirely. To be viable as a legislative body, party discipline necessitates that lower house members vote as a block. On many of these occasions, representing one’s electorate is the casualty of a pragmatic trade off. The Senate was established as the states’ house but it never has been. It is a political party’s house or, put more bluntly, a minor party’s house, a chamber where they have leverage. Regardless of the issue, senators from the same state and different parties vote differently, while senators from different states but of the same party vote together.
The Aboriginal Voice supposedly adds a third race-based house to serve as an advisory house to the parliament. But in practice it will probably be something different. At this unfortunate time when so much Aboriginal politics is dominated by the extreme Left, which treats Australia and its intuitions as illegitimate, the Voice has the potential to be a permanent thorn in the side of any popularly elected government, especially a Coalition government. Even if the Labor Party is defeated at the polls, the Voice will be there to intimidate and undermine a Coalition government and subvert the popular will of most voters, inducing Aboriginal voters who do not support the extreme Left. This thorn in the side could even undermine a Labor government that is attempting to be pragmatic, attacking it from the extreme Left. Although intended to deal only with issues that affect Aborigines, this potentially includes everything, since Aboriginal people are citizens who are affected by issues that affect all of us, including foreign affairs and defence. The process of government, which serves us all, could potentially become tied up with High Court challenges that slow important procedures or grind them to a halt. The major parties will have to respond by putting up tickets of rival candidates to the Voice to try to control the numbers. Parties will inevitably feel pressured to resort to pork-barrelling, as if we don’t have enough of that in our system already. Besides, most of the greatest collective achievements of Aborigines have been the result of political activism, so rather than having been deprived of a voice, which the advocates of the referendum erroneously claim, they have provided a model from which other far less successful groups can learn. The Voice is not needed for Aboriginal people to be heard.
The education system was one of the first institutions to fall under the spell of political correctness and postmodernism. At the annual conference of Victorian English teachers held on 24−25 November 2022, organised by the Victorian Association for the Teaching of English (VATE), the politically partisan theme of the conference, ‘It’s our time’, deliberately paraphrased the ‘It’s time’ slogan of the campaign that carried the Gough Whitlam-led Labor party into office in December 1972. The conference openly and reverentially celebrated the election of the Whitlam Labor government. There was not the slightest semblance of political neutrality. And don’t expect next year’s conference to celebrate the election of the Howard Coalition government in March 1996, in the name of balance. There is no political balance in the education system, not the slightest hint of it, and the educational authorities who organised this conference have long ago given up the charade of pretending it was otherwise.
The real agenda of the conference was to mobilise English teachers to act as agents of left-wing social change to shape the minds of their students who, in turn, influence their parents’ voting patterns at the forthcoming referendum to change the Constitution to include the Voice. A complimentary aim was to produce indoctrinated young people who, upon turning eighteen, will vote to support the Voice and other left-wing causes. This political agenda was blatantly evident in the choice of the two keynote speakers.
The first was Thomas Mayo, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, a self-proclaimed ‘wharfie’ and career trade union official and political activist who is a professional campaigner devoted to building a people’s movement to support the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the Aboriginal Voice to parliament. His purposes had nothing to do with English as a school subject, confessing that he was a ‘bit of a ratbag’ at school and did not do well. His purpose was political. He was interested in the audience, in ‘the power you have as teachers of students’. He argued that although students might not currently be old enough to vote, they can vote next year, and this will ‘change the country for the better’. He urged teachers to ‘organise committees in your school’ to promote the Voice.
When he took questions, a teacher in the audience raised the issue of potential resistance to pushing politics in schools. He responded by saying that ‘I don’t think we should be afraid’, and he resolutely added that the Voice is backed by ‘truth’ and by the ‘government’. He told the teachers that there will be a Yes Alliance launched in February next year and he urged teachers to sign up their schools. Conscious that he was advocating the blatant politicisation of English teaching, he sometimes exhibited a coy awareness that some subterfuge may be required. ‘I encourage all of you to be smart’, he added, in regards to getting around potential concerns in the community about politicisation. He also saw the Voice as building a power structure that can, in turn, serve as a step towards a treaty.
This is the activist mentality in action, which many liberals and conservatives who appease activists do not understand. Activism is an identity. Activists are never satisfied. A victory does not stop them, it just spurs them on to the next campaign, and the next, and the next, and so on. Agreeing to the Voice, or to changing Australia Day, or to removing the monarch’s image from the five dollar note, does not put the issue to bed, it just becomes another milestone passed on the journey to the restructuring of Australia according to the ideology of political correctness and postmodernism. The activist mentality, once established in an individual or group, is insatiable.
Interestingly, he had concerns about ‘reconciliation’ since what he wanted was much more than people from different races getting along; he wanted a shift in power to Aborigines. (So much for the Voice being an advisory body.) He was also dismissive of contrary Aboriginal voices, like Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, whom he labelled dismissively as backed by the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) and the Country Liberal Party. It seems that hers is not the kind of Aboriginal voice he is after, which is an inadvertent admission that the Voice is for Aborigines who are like-minded with him, and will be a voice for the extreme Left.
After he recited from memory the Uluru Statement from the Heart, he received a standing ovation by many in the lecture hall. And the convenor, when she thanked the speaker, did so with a beaming smile, as if she felt it was – mission accomplished. She then urged the English teachers to use ‘First Nations texts’ (the novels, plays, films, etc. on the English text list intended to be studied as literature) in their classrooms, as if she was inadvertently confessing that the inclusion of texts by Aboriginal authors in the English curriculum (all of which are left-wing) is not because of their literary value but because of their potential for political influence.
The broader theoretical dimensions of this politicisation of the curriculum involved the second keynote speaker Dr Michael Mohammed Ahmad, who seemed to have been invited to promote the incorporation of critical race theory into schools.
Critical race theory is a concern. Critical race theory is a dimension of postmodernism that emerged in the 1970s in the United States and was initially applied to the study of law as it relates to race. For example, it was argued that laws that were supposed to be racially neutral were racist in practice. Critical race theory then spread to other disciplines and to left-wing political activism and, with the assistance of those avenues, influenced many dimensions of society. The word ‘critical’ in critical race theory implies that this paradigm is part of a radical tradition originating in Marxism that is hostile to (or critical of) capitalism and Western civilisation. It is about facilitating radical left-wing change. Critical race theory is about how institutions and culture in white societies adversely affect minorities, especially racial minorities, and especially blacks.
Critical race theory argues that ‘race’ is a social construct created by white people to maintain white privilege and white supremacy. Critical race theory also argues that despite major liberal reforms intended to remove racism from the statutes and to discourage racist attitudes in favour of colour-neutral attitudes, intuitional and systemic racism remains a significant problem, even if it is less overt and less clearly discernible. Critical race theory questions the effectiveness of the reform of the existing liberal-democratic order because it sees fundamental fault in the liberal-democratic order itself, a system that many supporters of critical race theory want to destroy.
Critical race theory puts the view that the institutions and systems created by whites that operate in white societies work to discriminate against non-white racial minorities. Racism is therefore to be seen as systemic. Corresponding to this, critical race theory also puts the view that the dominant discourses in white societies contain implicit biases and underlying racist assumptions and attitudes, which are often built into the language.
According to critical race theory, despite decades of incremental anti-racist reform, racism and discrimination have not decreased much at all. Practitioners of critical race theory see evidence of ongoing racism almost everywhere.
Critical race theory is heavily invested in identity politics and standpoint theory, which holds that one’s identity and position in society influence how one perceives society and acquires knowledge, as well as influence how others perceive you. In this regard, groups (collectivities) are more important than individuals. For example, a black woman would perceive society and come to knowledge differently to a white woman. She would also be perceived differently by whites, to be seen as a black woman.
In this context, critical race theory holds that the experience of racism is normal for a black person in a white society, not aberrational. Racism is everywhere, just waiting to reveal itself. In addition, a distinctive voice of colour exists in members of a non-white racial minority that presumes their competence to speak with authority about race and racism. Only people of colour can talk with authority about race and racism and white people need to listen.
In addition, a key concept in critical race theory is intersectionality. It argues that, for example, a black woman is more oppressed than a black man, since she is the victim of patriarchy as well as racism. The concept of intersectionality creates hierarchies of grievance or victimhood, based on race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual preference, transsexuality, indigenous status, migration or refugee status, body shape, mental health, disability, and so on.
Critical race theory should never be confused with the liberal view that people should be judged by the content of their character rather than their race, and that a meritocracy should prevail over prejudice. Furthermore, critical race theory promotes a perspective on society and history that overrides an appreciation of empirical facts and reason, and produces distortions of thinking that foster bitter divisions and irreconcilable hatreds. It encourages people to see racism in places where there is none, and orients people to accuse others of being racist when they are not, with all the irreparable damage this can bring to reputations and careers. It tells one section of society they are irredeemably tainted and other sections that they are victims rather than responsible for their own lives and how well they live them. It is not an ideology of reform, but rather an ideology bent on bringing down Western civilisation, which it regards as racist, imperialist, capitalist, patriarchal, heteronormative and as deserving of contempt.
The keynote speaker opened by saying he was a devotee of the African-American postmodernist, radical feminist and critical race theorist known as bell hooks (she chose not to use capital letters in spelling her name). Following that, he enthralled the audience of teachers by running through the gamut of claims made by critical race theory, such as that there was an underlying bias towards white supremacy in society and how racism was built into the written and visual language.
He concluded by saying that in our classrooms we have potential Picassos and bell hookses and Malcolm Xs and ‘we need to empower them to come to voice’. This demand was met with loud applause. (No mention of finding the next Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill, John Locke, or Pope John Paul the II.)
Although he admitted that he is a ‘fan of Shakespeare’ and that ‘I like the literary canon’, he demanded more ‘diversity’ in literature taught in schools (‘diversity’ is code for non-white authors). He advocated that one hundred per cent of the texts studied in schools be by non-white authors and he enthusiastically urged the teachers present to commit themselves to ‘one hundred per cent diversity’. As fellow English teachers, he argued, ‘language is our tool to change the world’. Again, he was met with loud applause.
Straight after his speech and after he left the lecture hall, one of the deputy-chief examiners of English came on to give a practical lecture about forthcoming changes to the curriculum. But she had been so intimidated by what she referred to as ‘that inspiring speech’, she frequently apologised for using classic texts (written by whites) in her PowerPoint slide projections to illustrate her lecture points. ‘Sorry, I picked classics, dead white males’, she said apologetically, to which she later added: ‘I’m not endorsing the canon’. After mentioning Charlotte Brontȅ’s Jane Eyre, she apologised yet again and declared that she is ‘going to use different contemporary texts next time’ (That’s code for texts written by non-whites). She was visibly ashamed of her appreciation of literature written by white people. This woman is not just a teacher, but someone in authority. She can make policy.
With the rise of political correctness and postmodernism, we live in an era when many leaders on the Left are passionately committed to beliefs that don’t work and cause harm. Many voters for the left-wing parties dominated by these leaders do not fully appreciate the consequences of what voting for people who hold these radical beliefs means. If they did understand, they would probably think twice. But they are unlikely to be assisted by politicians on the centre-right in this regard. Many in the Coalition do not appreciate the consequences of vacating the field and allowing political correctness and postmodernism to run rampant. With no adverse consequences for those politicising the education system, why should they stop?
Teaching students about the Voice is educational, provided it is done in a balanced way, but promoting the Voice in schools and using the school system to influence how people vote is wrong. Learning about critical race theory and what it stands for is educational, just as we study other extreme ideologies like Nazism and Stalinism, but promoting critical race theory in schools is wrong.
The keynote speakers and the teachers who were present are not bad people; they are simply caught up in a craziness that characterises our time in history, captured by an ideology that is particularly enticing to those who want to seem virtuous.
Dr Mark Lopez is the author of School Sucks: A Report on the State of Education in the Politically Correct Era, Connor Court, 2020.
1 December 2022
© Mark Lopez 2022
Published as: ‘Victoria mobilises teachers to advocate the Voice’, Quadrant, January-February 2023, pp. 48-51.
The published version differed from what I originally wrote. This is the authentic version.