Kevin Donnelly: Disturbing repercussions of the use of ‘bad English’

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The way language is used, particularly in education, matters greatly. PHOTO: Freepik

New education document confirms a worrying trend

One of the most disconcerting and worrying aspects of the curriculum guidelines and documents issued by education departments and peak curriculum bodies like the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) is what George Orwell describes as “bad English”.

In his essay titled ‘Politics and the English Language’ the author of 1984 and Animal Farm bemoans the situation where “Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation”.  Orwell goes on to argue such habits “can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble”.

A prime example of “bad English” is the language used to describe the OECD’s Education 2030 Project; a project Australia’s national curriculum body ACARA has subscribed to and listed as an important document when designing the new national curriculum recently released.

Those responsible for the OECD project argue nations around the world are “changing rapidly and profoundly”.  As a result, communities are beset with “a growing array of complex societal problems” and experiencing “disruptive waves of change in every sector”.

Indeed, such is the uncertainty and unpredictability that schools are told they must prepare students “for jobs that have not yet been created, for technologies that have not yet been invented, to solve problems that have not yet been anticipated”.

Such sentiments mirror the advice given by the ex-United States Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld when he stated: “There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know”.

Associated with the OECD future’s perspective are what ACARA describes as the capabilities considered essential if “young Australians are to live and work successfully in the twenty-first century”.

In Australia’s national curriculum seven capabilities are listed including: literacy, numeracy, information and communication technology, critical and creative thinking, personal and social capability, ethical understanding and intercultural understanding.

As expected, the language used to detail the capabilities is bland and imprecise.  For example: “Intercultural understanding is an essential part of living with others in the diverse world of the twenty-first century. It assists young people to become responsible local and global citizens, equipped through their education for living and working together in an interconnected world”.

Using hackneyed expressions like “diverse world of the twenty-first century”, “global citizens” and “interconnected world” does nothing to give classroom teachers a clear, succinct and easy to implement understanding of what they need to do if students are to be properly educated.

Such clichés also ignore the reality that no amount of talk about global citizenship and intercultural understanding can ignore the fact Australia is a Western, liberal democracy that draws heavily on Western civilisation and Judeo-Christianity.

Fuzzy guidelines on ethics clearly reveal a bias

A second example of the deleterious impact the Education 2030 Project has had on the national curriculum is the vacuous description of ethical understanding.  This capability is described as “Ethical understanding involves students building a strong personal and socially oriented ethical outlook that helps them to manage context, conflict and uncertainty, and to develop an awareness of the influence that their values and behaviour have on others”.

As to what is meant by “students building a strong personal and socially orientated ethical outlook” is not explained and, as a result, teachers have little, if any, idea about what they need to do in the classroom.

The situation is made worse by the fact the illustrations offered to detail what is meant by ethical understanding reveal a one-sided, cultural-left bias.  If they are to act ethically, students must “take account of ethical considerations such as human rights and responsibilities, animal rights, environmental issues and global justice”.

Schools are also told teaching ethical values should involve “Interrogating such concepts through authentic cases such as global warming, sustainable living and socioeconomic disparity” and lessons should “involve group and independent inquiry, critical and creative thinking, and cooperative teamwork, and can contribute to personal and social learning”.

As argued by Orwell “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought”.  On reading the OECD curriculum document and the Australian national curriculum it’s clear, beneath the clichés and vacuous expressions is an approach to education based on cultural-left ideology and group think.

Instead of educating students, notwithstanding its flaws and faults, that Australia and Western civilisation are unique and worth defending students are taught to be global activists focused on a myriad of Woke causes including global warming, socioeconomic inequality and sustainable living.

More disturbing, in relation to the ethics capability, there is no mention of the virtues associated with a Christian understanding of the purpose of education.  As argued by David Jones and Stephen Barrie in Thinking Christian Ethos, an education that seeks “the cultivation of the moral and intellectual virtues, for the good of the person and for the common good of society”.

Dr Kevin Donnelly is a senior research fellow at the Australian Catholic University (kevindonnelly.com.au)