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					The meaning of values education

Daniel Mathews

In considering the present-day discussion of, and research into, ―values education‖ in
Australia, one is tempted to draw upon some historical examples. One is reminded of
Marxist quasi-science, such as Lysenko‘s genetics in the Soviet Union.1 One is reminded
of the spurt of research into social engineering in the United States as the country‘s
military sought to ―pacify‖ the Vietnamese – by which was meant, destroy Vietnam (the
south as well as the north) as a viable political entity capable of independent
development, and terrorise the population into submission. The ―re-engineering‖ of the
population was to be regarded as a disinterested, objective, technocratic enterprise,
whether achieved by carpet bombing, forced relocation, or otherwise.2

Of course, these are examples with much larger intellectual scope, with a venerable
history of progress and then shame, and a much greater abuse of the scientific method.
They are not intended as serious comparisons, but as alarming parallels. And the parallels
are clear. A government, with a particular political agenda, through its actions (in the US
case) or doctrines (in the Soviet or Australian case), requires justification for the
unjustifiable. But of course the State by its nature, by definition, is legitimate, and its
propaganda and informational weapons will be deployed to assert and reinforce this
legitimacy. Dissent may be crushed (as in the Soviet case) or marginalised (as in the
American or Australian cases), but in any case remains a sideshow to the main event,
which is the triumph of the State as it charts its new course, and the wreaking of its
consequences upon society and the world. Those consequences may be military crimes,
as in the US case, or intellectual crimes, as in the Soviet and Australian cases. In the
Soviet case the goal was the dominance of political-economic doctrines such as
dialectical materialism in the realm of biology; in the Australian case is the dominance of
the officially sanctioned cultural doctrines in the secondary education system. In each

  For an overview, see e.g. and the references cited there, in
particular Martin Gardner‘s ‗Lysenkoism‘ in Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, Dover Books,
New York (1957).
  See the discussion in Noam Chomsky, ‗Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship‘ in American Power and the
New Mandarins, Pantheon (1969). The examples examined critically there beggar belief, including the
following: William A Nighswonger, Rural Pacification in Vietnam, apparently part of a series of
‗specialized research monographs in U.S. and international economics and politics‘; and Charles Wolf
(senior economist at RAND), United States Policy and the Third World, Ch. 3, which includes such
recommendations as the following: ‗confiscation of chickens, razing of houses, or destruction of villages
have a place in counterinsurgency efforts, but only if they are done for a strong reason: namely, to penalize
those who have assisted the insurgents‘. For further low points in liberal scholarship discussed by
Chomsky, see the August 1967 issue of Asian Survey, a symposium of US liberal scholars on Vietnam,
including the essays by Samuel Huntington, Kenneth Young and Milton Sacks.
case, attracted by the new developments, a group of elite researchers is formed to discuss
various aspects of the new truths. The terms of debate are, of course, the State‘s. In the
democracies, all opinions are formally legitimate but those which stray too far are to be
marginalised and ignored; in a dictatorship, there will only be room for debate within
Party strictures.

In the present case, the Australian government has an agenda, promoting certain ideas for
public consumption and, more insidiously, in the classrooms of our children. A new area
of academic research opens up. The new truths are foisted upon the population. In the
present context of a government often confronted with hostile academia, it is open to take
a relatively recent public relations tactic: it fashions itself as an underdog of the people
against cowardly self-interested elites. The facts of the matter are not particularly
relevant, except what can be used selectively as a rhetorical weapon. In short, these new
truths – though they are not new, nor are they true – can be summarised as: a
whitewashing of history along neo-colonial lines; a paranoia of Islamic terrorism
combined with fear and antipathy towards Islam itself; and the promotion of ―values‖.
These ―values‖, of course, are not intended to mean moral values which already exist and
are generally regarded as benign, such as tolerance, respect, diversity, democracy and
basic civil liberties. There is no need to foist these upon the population! Rather they are
politicised values consistent with its agenda, reactionary, conservative, myopic,
commercial, capitalist, jingoist, Statist; by no means should they be assumed to be moral.
Let us examine some aspects of this process.

Values in history

I am no expert in Australian history, but it is easy enough to make a few general
comments. If this subject is anything to go by, the relevant values are those of ignorance,
smug self-justification and, so it seems, dishonesty. The form of history promoted is that
whitewashed of crimes committed against the indigenous populations; whites are washed
of historical fault, white-washing indeed.3 Regardless of the outcomes of the debates
between historians, the advantages of a history that affirms our status as patriotic
Australians are clear. Instead of dwelling on the negatives, one is to feel better by
focusing on the positives! As in the rest of life, serious consideration of weighty matters
is a little too difficult, a little disagreeable, a little too disturbing, to face serious
contemplation – we should all be happy citizen-consumer-patriots instead! History, then,
is to be judged by its emotional pleasantness; and our responsibilities as citizens arising
from historical iniquities are not so pleasant, if contemplated honestly. So far as I can
ascertain, if one is to take a proper Australian history course, then, apparently, one is to
applaud politely as one learns of the achievements of the Australian State, whether the
peaceful formation of the nation-as-customs-union, the achievement of full suffrage, its
economic development, or, more excitingly, the bravery exhibited by the nation‘s soldiers
as they committed acts of vicious destruction in war. One is to consider the indigenous
populations as cultural examples, but refrain from examining too closely their utter
 The pun is not new: it is at least as old as Robert Manne (ed), Whitewash: On Keith Windschuttle’s
Fabrication of Aboriginal History (2003).
destruction as societies under white occupation, for that is obscured in the fog of
academic war; the upshot of the historians‘ debates is obfuscation and ignorance. One is
to nod sagely at the demographic trends and historical immigration which populated the
country, as if it were not previously populated, while perhaps tutting with the officially
sanctioned degree of scorn at the White Australia policy. And one is to listen excitedly as
one hears of convicts, transportation, gold rushes, bushrangers – stripped of all their class
content and tragic aspect, of course, rather as Boys Own tales – and other suitably non-
threatening adventures. Other topics are to be ignored.

The most important aspect of the State‘s ideological attack, of course, is the white-
washing of history; and it has spawned a whole literature of academic battles.4 Part of the
debate would have happened in any case; the State‘s interference has done nothing to
improve the quality of scholarship, of course. Instead it has introduced into the discourse
an arsenal of propagandistic techniques, it has spawned newspaper columnists posing as
quasi-historians, historian-ideologues referred to as ―cultural warriors‖ – to see oneself as
a warrior, rather than scholar, in search of battle and victory, rather than fact, speaks for
itself – and cheerleaders for the cause regardless of the truth of the matter.

But ignorance and dishonesty are not the professed Values, it appears they are only a
means to an end. One can see precisely the underlying grand truths which are promoted
by this study of history: the virtue of the State and allegiance to it, through celebration of
its ―achievements‖ and minimisation of its crimes – the people being equated with the
State throughout of course, and the ―achievements‖ being those certified by the State.
Thus great destruction by soldiers and the senseless wartime policies of the State can be
applauded, so long as there is a brave medic on a donkey to lend it a saintly glow – even
though he was no saint, and in fact a critic of the war. Indeed one need only recall the
comments by Federal Education Minister Brendan Nelson on 24 August 2005, to see how
central Simpson is to the officially promulgated version of history and national identity:

        I have sent to every school in the country the National Values Framework and the
        nine key values… a whole range of values, and over the top of it I have
        superimposed Simpson and his Donkey as an example of what is at the heart of
        our national sense of emerging identity.5

More on the nine key values later. Suffice it to mention that John Simpson Kirkpatrick,
though undeniably brave, was in fact not Australian; he was English and arrived in
Sydney by jumping ship; he joined the army in order to get back to England. He was a
trade union activist who wrote to his parents that England needed ‗a good revolution‘.
Some might consider working class solidarity a value, but apparently not the State, which
sanitised all such unseemly references from his story, and transformed him into a virtuous
soldier ready to die for king and country. The saintly mythology which grew up around

  See, e.g., Geoffrey Blainey‘s 1993 Sir John Latham lecture; Keith Windschuttle, The Fabrication of
Aboriginal History, Volume One: Van Diemen’s Land (2002); Stuart Macintyre and Anna Clark, The
History Wars (2003); Manne, ibid; Bain Atwood, Telling the Truth About Aboriginal History (2005).
  Doorstop Interview at Art Gallery of New South Wales. Transcript available at
him was propaganda; the State constructed its own hero according to its usual values.6
That the myth is misrepresentative in the extreme is of no consequence to our values,

Fortunately there are truthful tangible achievements which receive official sanction in the
country‘s history, such as the achievement of full suffrage and independence without
violence, though one may argue to what extent this was the result of heroic actions by
individuals, or simply the natural course of events. Other undeniable achievements such
as the implementation of substantial social democratic reforms to civilise free market
consumer capitalism, do not receive official sanction. The opposition party, were it in
power, could sanction them perhaps, but it has long abandoned such principles, which
remain purely a formal commitment. Yet other undeniable achievements such as the rise
of a labour movement to civilize robber baron capitalism, and substantial economic
development performed by a vibrant public sector, which raise the ghastly figure of
socialism – just like John Simpson Kirkpatrick‘s trade union activities – will be ignored
and not enter the realm of thought.

The broad sense of history to be obtained by the individual is one of identification with
an arbitrary political identity – the Australian State, rather than a global community or a
local community – an identity reflexively associated with pride, through symbols such as
the flag. It is not the sort of patriotism of belonging to a community with a shared history,
shared consciousness and shared experiences: for that would be tinged with sorrow, an
aversion to repeating the mistakes of the past, and a true sense of the tragic aspect of
history. Rather, it is the patriotism of a victors‘ history, a history of the invaders,
justifying and excusing their conquest; it is a patriotism that evokes tribal allegiance to
those living on the island, to the exclusion of the global community; it is, in its most pure
form, a patriotism of mindless allegiance to the State. The relevant values at base are
jingoistic patriotism and militaristic Statism.

A full appreciation of history evokes none of the above. To follow the epic ebb and flow
of the history of the world, or any part of it – beyond the mere tales of kings and queens
and political leaders – is to come to a deep rapprochement with the world as it is and has
been, an understanding of the long paths traversed by human ideas and societies, and an
extreme emotional intensity of the epic scale of human tragedy, as well as human
achievement. If you see the sorrows of colonialism, war, empire, economic devastation,
and all the rest of man‘s inhumanity to man, you will not just wear a black armband –
you will be curled up weeping, convulsing on the ground, such are the horrors we have
inflicted upon ourselves! But you will also see incredible struggles by ordinary people,
you will see resistance to oppression, you will see heroic stands taken by people on pure
principle. You will see this everywhere, and it will make you cry, too – with joy at the
achievements of the human spirit under adversity and the heights of human potential.
You will be forced to explain how the human being – and all the actors in history were
people just like you – could rise to such heights and fall to such depths. You will be
forced to come to your own understanding of human nature – and you will then be able to
apply your insights to the present day.
    See Peter Cochrane, Simpson and the Donkey: the Making of a Legend (1992).
In the Australian case, the tragedy of the white takeover of the continent is an extremely
interesting example: how is one to explain the incredible cruelty and viciousness of the
destruction of the indigenous peoples? Given that humans are not moral monsters by
nature, how are we to explain it? How can good people find themselves participating or
acquiescent in such violence? Pure racism? Ignorance of culture? Economic inevitability?
Capital accumulation? Cultural clashes, lack of communication, and miscommunication?
Detached cynicism from elite political decision-makers, under the cloak of ‗reasons of
state‘? The logic of the State itself, ever requiring stability, control and expansion? All of
the above? More? The same questions arise throughout the history of colonialism and
imperialism, of course. And again with World War I: How did so many people sign up so
enthusiastically to a war that made no sense, that had no justification, simply a clash of
imperial powers? In any case, these are the questions that a study of history implores us
to answer: not by ignoring them, not by rewriting the textbooks so the questions do not
arise, but by confronting them, and throwing ourselves headlong into the human tragedies
of times gone past – for the lessons we will learn this way are more valuable than
anything that can possibly be found in an uninformed or purely theoretical debate.

Indeed, one of the lessons one can learn from history is to see the current political
interference by the State in education as the continuation of a historical tendency for the
State to control, to dominate, not only in the political and economic realms, but also in
the realm of thought; for attempts at thought control have not only been practiced by the
dictatorships. The construction of heroes like Simpson is hardly an isolated example.
Moreover, one can read of such embarrassing episodes as McCarthyism, the clashes
between church and state, the battles over evolution in the schools; one can read of the
decline of the independent press (including the labour press) and the rise of the massive-
circulation corporate media which suddenly became ‗objective‘, one can read about the
propaganda strategies used by the democracies in the world wars and after; one can
examine the effects of the rise of consumerism; one can fit the pieces together. But this
appears to be precisely what the State does not want us to do. In practice, history has
been written by the winners; history is written by elites; history has been manufactured
and promulgated by the State; obliterating important parts of our collective memory in
the process. The State has the political, legitimating power to propound an official history
– and we should never permit it to do so. When the State tells us what to believe, we
cannot call our society a democracy. Rather than believing everything the State tells us,
we should critique everything the State tells us to believe, for the State has its own
agendas, its own interests, and dangerous powers of manipulation.

Values in the politics classroom

The above considerations are brought into sharp relief, where the education system is
called upon to educate its students about ‗politics‘. In the universities the government
long ago lost control, increasingly in the schools also; but it still has influence over the
approval of textbooks, and can engage in its usual techniques of propaganda and thought
control. When the classroom steps too far out of line, teachers or textbooks can be
condemned in the media for corrupting the young. Teachers will then hopefully be more
cautious in future, presenting all sides of the argument equally; they will usually present
all sides in any case, but they must treat the official position with sufficient respect, no
matter how ridiculous, unjustifiable, violent or cruel. With any luck they will avoid
discussion of the issue altogether, leaving minds to be made up by attention to the
corporate news media. The television and news reports necessarily privilege the official
view (and perhaps the official opposition view) above all others, do not enter into details
of fact or history, and prey upon fears and anxieties out of the profit motive. With more
luck, the students will regard the whole subject area as boring – either because the deep
and interesting questions are too sensitive to enter the curriculum; or because the deep
and interesting questions are too sensitive to enter electoral politics; or because the
students are disinterested in debates which they do not follow; or because they are
ignorant never having discussed the interesting questions before; or because they are
disillusioned with electoral politics; or because the important questions have been
rendered unthinkable in the environment in which they have been raised; or whatever
other reasons – it‘s nothing to worry their pretty little heads about, and they will pay no
attention to it, allowing the State to go about its usual business unhindered.

Let us not go into the details of too many specific cases, which would take us too far
afield. One can easily find references in major newspapers to the State‘s unhappiness
about videos being shown in classrooms,7 teachers opposing the Iraq war,8 ‗green‘
ideology,9 ‗anti-americanism‘10 or any number of evils contaminating the classroom. It
will suffice to make a few comments.

The sharpest relief comes when the politics classroom enters the realm of the dearest of
all the officially sacred values: the honour and glory of the State, patriotism, and matters
of war and peace. In the present day the wars are those in Iraq and the so-called ‗war on
terrorism‘. The war on terrorism is a strange concept, a war on an abstract noun. The
abstract noun itself is difficult to define, the difficulty being that most definitions which
apply to the desired ‗terrorists‘ – namely, the individuals and non-State groups declared
as the official enemies – will often apply to States, including our allies, perhaps including
us. For if one examines history, one finds extraordinarily vicious acts of war and terror
committed by States against individuals, groups and other States. Terrorism by States –
even of the most conventional kind, say, bombing – is nothing new: one only has to think
of Libya and Lockerbie. Fortunately, Libya is (or perhaps was) an official enemy. But
there are other, rather inconvenient facts, which under most definitions would indict our
allies in terrorism, particularly the US and Israel. The examples abound, but are written
out of the mainstream, and have departed its collective memory.

  E.g. Shane Green, ‗Liberal shocked by classroom ―propaganda‖‘, The Age, February 19, 2005.
  E.g. Kevin Donnelly, ‗The biased truth about our teachers‘, The Age, March 28, 2003; Jonathan Green,
‗Costello rolls out the flag‘, The Age, August 23, 2005.
  E.g. ‗Green bias in state schools: Anderson‘, The Age, January 22, 2004.
   E.g. David Road and Michael Gordon, ‗Teachers angered by anti-US claim‘, The Age, August 23, 2005.
Who knows that one of the worst individual acts of terrorism in the Western Hemisphere
prior to September 2001 was the 1976 bombing of Cubana Flight 455, killing all 73
people on board? Who knows that one of the prime suspects in the bombing, Luis Posada
Carilles, an anti-Castro Cuban exile who escaped from prison in Venezuela, now lives in
the United States, who refuses to extradite him?11 Who knows that the only country
found by the International Court of Justice to have engaged in the unlawful use of force –
in this case, terrorism – is the United States, responsible for attacks on Nicaraguan ports
and oil installations, and the creation of the mercenary contra army?12 These examples
are beyond dispute, but part of an extremely long list of interventions in the affairs of
other sovereign nations by the US and its allies, often involving the use of force, in order
to further their interests.13 Sadly the US and its allies have been supporting terrorist
groups, including right-wing juntas and dictators, sponsoring and sometimes directly
engaging in terrorism, across the world for a long time. The problem of a rational,
academic discussion of terrorism is that our terrorist allies will be implicated along with
our terrorist enemies.

The easiest way to resolve the issue is to ensure that such inconvenient facts are never
mentioned, and therefore never enter the realm of thought. So that when a textbook
mentions the actions of the US in Nicaragua, or Turkey in Kurdistan, or Israel in
Palestine, in a section on terrorism, it elicits an outcry and allegations of bias and support
for enemy terrorists.14 Of course, had the acts mentioned only been terrorist acts by, say,
Kurds or Palestinians there would be no such outcry – bias in the officially sanctioned
direction is not bias at all. Thus we see: even though the factual truth is not in dispute,
where it is not the official truth, it is bias, and convicting too many terrorists is support of

Official Values per se

But this is only history and politics, particular subjects: the other major plank of
government interference in the educational system is independent of any traditional field

   Recent news articles include: ‗Cuban Militant Wants to be U.S. Citizen‘, New York Times, April 27,
2006; ‗U.S. Judge Rules Posada Carilles Won‘t Be Extradited‘, Democracy Now!, September 28, 2005,; ‗Profile: Cuban ―Plane Bomber‖‘, BBC,, May 18, 2005; ‗No deportation for Cuban militant‘,
BBC,, September 28, 2005. The New York Times ran a
series of articles interviewing Carilles, in which he essentially admitted his involvement in terrorist
activities, on July 12 and July 13, 1998. The National Security Archive has collected declassified CIA
documents relating to his activities, available at
See also Noam Chomsky, Failed States, Metropolitan Books, New York (2006), 5—6 and the references
cited therein.
   Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua (Nicragua v. United States), 5
International legal Materials 1023. Judgment on the merits handed down June 27, 1986. Available online at
   For a comprehensive treatment of many U.S. activities, see William Blum, Killing Hope: U.S. Military
and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II, Common Courage, Monroe, Maine (2004).
   Paul Heinrichs, ‗Textbook links US, Israel to ―state terrorism‖‘, The Age, September 10, 2006.
of study, namely the teaching of ―Values‖. And there are many officially-sanctioned
Values in addition to those already discussed. Conservative social and cultural values are
also elevated: in the present day, one is to be minimally tolerant of homosexuality, but
still recoil at it, and certainly not allow them to marry! Of course, anyone who has met a
queer person knows that they are people just like everyone else, that they may form
loving relationships with others just like everyone else, and that they may wish to marry
just like everyone else. The moral Value being espoused here, then, is that of exclusion of
those who are different and reflexively repulsive. The moral Value being espoused is that
of interfering in the private lives of people because they happen to be born with a
different sexual orientation; this morality behoves us to persecute them as a result.

Nor is it only conservative social-cultural values which are important. Capitalist,
commercial and imperial political-economic Values have supposedly already achieved
dominance, but still vestiges of humanitarianism, charity, social justice and other
irrational behaviour remain; the morally misguided are therefore to be corrected. The
secular schools are reprimanded for their ―bias‖, which means, not allowing the State
ideology complete dominance: they may present perspectives critical of government
actions or policies. Instead, so our government wishes, our children are to stand before
the flag every day, their patriotism is to be properly cultivated, until they are inoculated
against criticism of the State: once we identify ourselves with the State, once we have
assimilated ourselves into the State, then attacks on State crimes such as war and
terrorism are attacks on the deepest fabric of our being, to be repulsed by hysterical
rhetoric, argument and facts counting for nothing in such matters of ―values‖.

Of course, with the present political party in power these considerations are sharpened
and seen explicitly every day. But things would not be so different, were the major
opposition party in power either. While the prejudices against homosexuality and
secularity may be toned down in such a scenario, and the jingoist rhetoric might not be
heard so loudly, they would still be there: and especially the most sacred values of
instinctive patriotism and the glory of the State. To the extent such mindless
identification with the state exists, it is dangerous and must be fought. It is, in fact, a
totalitarian idea to equate the State with the general population it governs. One who holds
such beliefs will tend to believe the State uncritically; will tend not to hold it accountable;
will forgive it; will not listen to criticism because it is offensive, an insult to Australia
which is the greatest place on earth. The point, however, is not to call it the greatest; the
point is to improve it, rather than latching upon criticism of State policy as unpatriotic
and therefore morally degenerate. The State is an artificial creation; it is the lives of the
human beings inside it which matter more than any flag or economic or political

The attempts to enlighten the schools with the new Values take several forms. Now it is
the provision of funding conditional on the school having a flagpole;15 now it is criticism
that secular education does not include Values, since it apparently promotes misguided
behaviour of the type suggested above – a renewed variant of the old ―godless
communist‖ hysteria. Now it holds a summit on history education; now a forum on
     E.g. Orietta Guerrera, ‗Schools told to fly flag or lose cash‘, The Age, June 23, 2004.
―values education‖, along with the production of a voluminous research literature. It is
this research – the academic output – which is the formal equivalent of the Marxist
genetics or the American social systems engineering literature. But the distance between
intuitive, largely innate, human moral values and the officially-sanctioned Values being
so vast, and the composition of this pool of academics being largely hostile to
conservative politics, it is difficult for the researchers to follow the State too closely.
Thus the values education literature is more or less accessible to the layperson – it has not
yet fallen so far from common human morality that it has had to invent a technical jargon
of euphemisms for itself.

The federal government‘s Department of Education Science and Training, as a result of
State impetus therefore developed a set of officially promulgated ―Values for Australian
Schooling‖. In consultation with teachers, academics and schools – and therefore forced
to moderate its position towards reality – the State has presented us with Nine
Commandments, available for distribution to schools in the form of a poster. Fortunately
they are, for the most part, eminently obvious and reasonable:

      care and compassion – ―care for self and others‖
      doing your best – ―seek to accomplish something worthy and admirable, try hard,
       pursue excellence‖
      fair go [a uniquely Australian formulation] – ―pursue and protect the common
       good where all people are treated fairly for a just society‖
      honesty and trustworthiness – ―be honest, sincere and seek the truth‖
      integrity – ―act in accordance with principles of moral and ethical conduct, ensure
       consistency between words and deeds‖
      respect – ―treat others with consideration and regard, respect another person‘s
       point of view‖
      responsibility – ―be accountable for one‘s own actions, resolve differences in
       constructive, non-violent and peaceful ways, contribute to society and to civic
       life, take care of the environment‖
      understanding, tolerance and inclusion – ―be aware of others and their cultures,
       accept diversity within a democratic society, being included and including others‖

Needless to say the State routinely violates all of these. But such reflections are
irrelevant; it is not the State which is subject to them, but school students, to whom such
thoughts as the responsibilities of the State have no chance of occurring. More revealing
is the artwork of the poster, which features two pictures. One, predictably, is the
Australian flag. The other, as added by Brendan Nelson pursuant to his comments earlier,
is Simpson with his donkey. Thus the epitome of Values for Australian Schooling is a
military image and a flag; the military being the highest form of devotion to the State and
therefore to goodness; the heroic medic aiding the wounded soldier carefully rendered to
obscure the injuries, and more generally to ignore all the horrors and tragedies of war;
entirely consistent with glorifying the State and its exploits in war. The executive arm of
government has not succeeded in bringing an explicit patriotism or jingoism into the
statement of Values for Australian Schooling, only in symbolism.
Such Values for Australian Schooling are quite acceptable to most teachers and students
and indeed most human beings: in fact, if people adhered to these values, and States also,
the world would be a radically different place; it would be a civilization worth the name.
They would, presumably, imply a real safety net of social security (under ‗care and
compassion‘ and ‗fair go‘), at the very least a reconstruction of the damage successive
governments have done to these systems in recent years. They would immediately imply
equal rights for homosexuals (under all of ‗care and compassion‘, ‗fair go‘, ‗integrity‘,
‗respect‘, and ‗understanding, tolerance and inclusion‘); they would immediately imply
opposition to aggressive war such as the war in Iraq (under ‗responsibility‘, in particular
‗resolve differences in constructive, non-violent and peaceful ways‘); they would
immediately imply a proper approach to Australian history (under ‗honesty and
trustworthiness‘, in particular ‗seek the truth‘, and ‗responsibility‘ and ‗understanding,
tolerance and inclusion‘). And they would seek to redress the currents of intolerance and
criminal inequality which tear the world apart today (under ‗care and compassion‘, ‗fair
go‘ and ‗responsibility‘). The ‗fair go‘ may be an Australian colloquialism, but its
meaning extends far beyond our own borders – and most people in the world, in most
countries of the world, have nothing approximating the notion of the Australian fair go.
Extending the fair go to all people of the world means eliminating unfair trade policies,
and the crippling burden of debt carried by developing nations. The Values for Australian
Schooling imply the end of the present-day international financial system, the WTO and
IMF in their present form in particular – and there would be no reason to mourn their
demise. In short, these Values for Australian Schooling, taken seriously, and taken on the
social scale, are a manifesto for a new and just world order.

Thankfully, the Values for Australian Schooling are not intended to be taken seriously.
Instead, they are left for their primary purpose as platitudes, as Sunday truths. They can
be left behind in the classroom, or in the church or temple, as we go about our daily lives.
Just as most people hold the above values dear to their heart, and yet on the social scale
we habitually violate them, not only with our nation‘s march to war, but also with our
ranks of unemployed, our corporate megalomania and greed, our increasing inequality,
our breakdown of social bonds and our alienation – so too, will these values find their
way to the back of our minds, dark and remote corners of our consciousness, never
occurring to us as we go about our business in the ―real‖ world.

Of course this statement, this poster, presents no serious challenge to the status quo. Once
we leave the Values classroom (if indeed there is such a class) and enter the real-world
commerce or economics classroom, there is another set of considerations of course!
When it comes to business, or commerce, we need to be much more practical. The
economists‘ notion of ―efficiency‖ – a deeply loaded political term which simply equates
to the maximisation of profits – is the dominant value there; unfortunately it is not an
innate human value. But fortunately amongst the Values for Australian Schooling there is
one more not yet mentioned, which will legitimise it and defend it:

      Freedom – Enjoy all the rights and privileges of Australian citizenship free from
       unnecessary interference or control, and stand up for the rights of others.
This sort of language has a venerable history dating back to the Enlightenment, and the
great democratic movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is a clear
commitment to the preservation of civil liberties – although, curiously, only for
Australians. But in the present context, it refers to more than just basic civil liberties.
―Freedom‖ has become an especially loaded and political term, as is evident if one ever
listens to a speech by US politicians. In this sense, the commitment to ―freedom‖ doubles
as a commitment to capitalism. This is an anachronistic piece of cold-war thinking, but
still prevalent, still rhetorically useful, and still the usual method of justification for
capitalism when required.

We don‘t need to justify capitalism of course – greed and profit-seeking are Values too –
but greed and profit-seeking did not make it into the official statement in that form,
probably because they are not generally regarded as positive attributes, even though they
are nurtured and inculcated any time we interact within a capitalist economy. Fortunately,
ideological elites have found an acceptable formulation. The acceptable pronunciation of
―greed‖ or ―profit-seeking‖ is, of course, ―freedom‖. This rather impressive intellectual
feat is a psychological relic of the old argument against communism. How did the
argument against communism go? There were many arguments of course, the Soviet-
style systems were intolerably bad and criminal. But once the Soviet state was
established, we increasingly stopped referring to capitalism by its own name and instead
called it ―free enterprise‖ or a ―free market‖. The idea was that the communist states
restricted ―freedom‖, whereas capitalism was ―free‖. And indeed, if we restrict our
attention to civil liberties, this is essentially the case, though there are a great many
exceptions. But there is more to freedom than civil liberties: there is also the ―freedom
from hunger‖, and ―freedom from unemployment‖, and ―freedom from poverty‖ – in
short, the freedom to live a meaningful life, with guarantees of minimal protections
against poverty. With respect to these freedoms it is not clear at all which side performed
better. But finally – and this is the ideological meaning in the standard argument – by
―freedom‖ is meant ―freedom of enterprise‖, freedom to set up businesses and employ
and operate in a market. That is, it is the freedom to be greedy, the freedom to seek
profits, the freedom to employ and exploit others. It was once a basic tenet in libertarian
and socialist political philosophy that ―freedom‖ in the economic sense referred primarily
to the freedom to have a say how one lives one‘s life, how one works – that one should
have a say over the work he or she does. That is, freedom in the economic context means
freedom – along with others – to manage one‘s own labour. It is economic self-
management; it is the precisely the freedom which is violated by the ideological capitalist
―freedom‖ to employ; and sadly it has been forgotten by many on the left who should
have known better.

In any case, we see that the Values for Australian Schooling leave scope for the
justification of predatory, egoistic and greedy behaviour. One is not forced to, of course!
One just has the freedom to do so. And every time one deigns to discuss ―real-world‖
matters, to discuss economics or business or commerce, such behaviour will be taken as
unspoken assumption.
As long as our values do not intrude into the real world, therefore, they will remain
acceptable; and they will remain irrelevant.

The Alternative: Critical Thinking

The content of the Values for Australian Schooling may be generally reasonable and
desirable, largely acceptable as a minimal statement of ethical and moral principle; and
therefore implying radical and thoroughgoing consequences for society and political and
economic systems at the national and international level. But there is more to an
―education‖ in values than an official statement of principle; there is more to education
than memorising this or that list of values. To say that one has had an education in values,
one surely means not that one can recite a list; rather one means that they have thought
long and hard about values, what they mean, what are the alternatives, and how to apply
them in real life. The Ten commandments of the Old Testament, or the Golden Rule of
the New Testament, any other religious text on morality, the Nine Commandments of the
Australian government, or any other State proclamation, or the categorical imperative of
Kant or any other moral philosopher – any of these is useful as a starting point, an object
for contemplation, a source text. But in the end it is the individual who is living, who is
interacting with others in society, who must decide for themselves what they will do in
life, how they will react to situations, what they will do to make the world a better place.
One does not find the answers by looking up a list; one finds the answer by drawing upon
knowledge, experience and contemplation. And even less does one expect to find answers
by reference to official proclamations handed down from above, from the beloved leader,
from the State. In short: you cannot teach morality, but you can teach people to teach
themselves morality.

No, education about values, just like education about many other subjects, requires long,
hard, critical thinking. But the subject of values, of morality, is not a difficult topic:
human beings have an innate moral sense which can be referred to, which can be
developed by experience and reflection. It is not a foregone conclusion that we will be
paragons of virtue, however: humans can also become moral monsters through some
combination of natural inclination, social environment, prevailing political and economic
climate, ideology and propaganda, and perhaps more – history shows us the depths to
which we can sink. But it appears that with enough critical self-reflection, a human being
has enough innate sense to determine right and wrong, to evaluate the consequences of
his or her actions on others, and to consider the feelings of others. It is not difficult;
sometimes we just need to remember!

One can imagine countless ways to induce such critical reflection: indeed, the entire body
of work of those we refer to as ―moral leaders‖ has not been to lay down moral laws to
us, but to provoke us to think about them for ourselves. There are parables and fables
with moral significance; there are countless stories designed to prod and poke us, or
disturb us, into reflection. We can all think of personal situations with moral content; we
can role-play such situations, real or imagined. We can discuss historical events and
choices on a moral basis; we can try to explain events and in so doing explore the scope
of human morality, immorality and amorality. We can discuss political affairs of past and
present from a moral perspective.

Humans are programmed to engage in criticism: we all know how to attack our enemies.
The point is to engage our critical faculties in a rational, scientific manner, to resolve
questions which are important to us. And a scientific approach rejects all that which is
imperial; for science is the humblest faith. It rejects all claims to dominance; it rejects all
claims to absolute truth, condemning itself to eternal doubt. All hypotheses can
potentially be rejected; all claims can potentially be refuted. This is not to say that moral
philosophy is a science where truth can be established by experiment; there is no reason
why that should be the case, although we can regard ourselves as living moral
experiments. And it is not to say that we should never be firm in our convictions: for we
may well come to conclusions held very deeply, we may well regard opposing
conclusions as undesirable or dangerous, and we may well feel it necessary to oppose
them. But above all, we should never take the statements of others on faith; and least of
all should we take statements of others on faith when they have a political agenda behind
them. Most of us, however, long ago learned not to take politicians and the State at face

Indeed, history provides us with countless examples of the abuse of moral values. History
is important not only as a venue for critical thinking, but for analysing the terrible
consequences of the absence of critical thinking. Of course the morality promulgated by
the dictatorships, for instance, was obviously a morality of obedience, subordination,
hierarchy, docility and control. But huge numbers of people in every State which ever
committed massive crimes – that is, at least almost every State which has ever existed –
gave their support for such crimes. Wars, colonies, expulsions, genocide, ethnic
cleansing, bombings, terrorism, gassing – all of it was supported by large numbers of
people; and people are not naturally moral monsters. How did it happen? How was this
consent manufactured? Through apathy? Mindless obedience? Propaganda? Suppression
of dissent? Censorship? Self-censorship? State lies and half-truths? Manipulation of
information? Exploitation of prejudice? Appeals to fear? Appeals to the Official Values
of jingoist patriotism? Surely all of these, and others, played a part; each historical case is
interesting and tragic to analyse. But the point is clear. History screams at us: Do not
trust the State! And in questions of morality, it screams at us: Do not even listen to the

If we believe in meaningful democracy, then what is needed today most urgently is a
citizenry capable of intellectual self-defence. This includes not only defence against
manipulation by the State, as has been my focus here, but against other powerful sources
also: defence against manipulation by marketing, by advertising, by corporate interests;
defence against the nonsense regularly appearing in the news media; defence and
scepticism against the proclamations of State officials and those in power; in short, a
scientific approach to evaluating information in everyday life and acting on the basis of
it. Critical thinking is necessary, not only for the dissection of the everyday nonsense and
propaganda, but also for the formation of principles to guide our behaviour – not to be
forgotten as a condition of entry into the economic world.

In the end, there was always something ridiculous about proclamations of values from the
State. To those with a little knowledge of history, or unwilling to take power at face
value, any intrusion of the State into questions of morals, or moral education, should be
treated at least with outright scepticism, if not dismissed offhand. The Values it promotes
– not surprisingly, a patriotism of mindless obedience to the State and the affirmation of
conservative cultural and social prejudices – are in effect anti-values. Its approach to
history is, by and large, a glorification of those aspects of history which serve its own
ends – again, not surprisingly. Through contact with reality, the Values for Australian
Schooling established by the federal Department of Education, Science and Training are
generally acceptable, and therefore radical in their consequences at the social level;
however their symbolism exudes jingoistic suggestion, and they provide ample
ideological excuse for greed and profit-seeking at the economic level, as long as the
ideological identification of freedom with capitalism holds. They are no substitute for a
rigorous programme of critical thinking, of scepticism and critique of all powerful
individuals and institutions.

Critical thought is dangerous; critical thought may take us to places we were not meant to
go. Critical thought may find fault with anyone, even the beloved leader, even the State,
even large corporations, even the rich and powerful. Critical thought may be incendiary;
critical thought will ask too many questions. Critical thought will not accept any official
version of history or moral values. As Bertrand Russell once said:

        Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth – more than ruin – more even
        than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible;
        thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits;
        thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried
        wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. It sees
        man, a feeble speck, surrounded by unfathomable depths of silence; yet it bears
        itself proudly, as unmoved as if it were lord of the universe. Thought is great and
        swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.16

(No doubt he intended to ascribed it the chief glory of woman also, and would have made
this explicit had he been writing in the present day!) We hope that critical thinking will
see off this assault on it; and that mindless patriotism and allegiance to the State do not
lead us into further disasters of the sort to which we have become tragically accustomed.

  ‗Education‘, an essay appearing in (at least) Principles of Social Reconstruction, Allen & Unwin, London
(1916); Why Men Fight, The Century Companies, New York (1916); and The Basic Writings of Bertrand
Russell, Routledge, 1961. Quote taken from the latter.

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