The National Curriculum, the cane, and Kevin Donnley

Professor Barry Spurr’s downfall was not considered incidental but the result of a political conspiracy against the then freshly released National curriculum review. Spurr and a few other supporters believed that New Maltida had targeted at them in order to attack the government.  Spurr, as one of the 15 experts appointed by the Education Minister’s two men review panel, reviewed the English curriculum.  His view on the newly minted national curriculum English is surprisingly similar to Dr Kevin Donneley’s, a full professor of education at Australia Catholic University who is the chair of an one-men not for profit educational consultancy and on the two-men review panel that led the review.

Spurr’s report in this regard may conjure up allegations of academic cronyism as his conclusion echoes neatly with Donneley’s early advocacy that the Australia curriculum has sidelined the Western, Judio-Crhistrian tradition for being too pro-Asian and -aboriginal. He even stressed a lack of biblical references in the new curriculum. Many would see their view as criticism against multiculturalism but few would question their passion for continuing the so-called universal value imbued in the western civilization, even though their insistence on the biblical references is seemingly ridiculous.

However, under the context of anti-immigration campaigns in Australia and several European countries such as Germany and France, such an insistence is not surprising. The New-Nazi xenophobia is disguised in the veil of so-called Judeo-Christian value system and any other ethnic purification campaigns. At its extreme would be purge of the aliens or any exotic, assimilation/integration-resistant living beings.  Strangely, compassion and acquiescence towards such purge-prone sentiment are often pervasive in that their view is staunchly conservative, speaking to the traditions, truths, and classics, as has been captured by the bleak movie trilogy The Purge.  Conservatives seen in this haze is an honorable term that has no connotations for the left or the right wing but a symbol for acting on principles.

Being conservative is nevertheless equivalent to being careful with, and or nostalgic of, values, beliefs and principles. However, without delimiting its scope with certain conditions, it has little or no credibility in offering credible interpretations or can stand fast as a principle. In fact, it can be discredited quickly in their followers’/advocates’ own practices. Dr Donnelly, for instance, has made himself headlines again lately while claiming the benefit of reintroducing the cane to school, one of the many tools for conducting corporeal punishment. It is not surprising that as a school principal himself in the 70s and 80s, he was candid in equating disciplining to (the pathway to) education. With regard to his advocacy for the Judo-Christian value in education, the cane unmistakably embodies power to domesticate its participants, for conformist good manners regardless of their group or individual identifications. Again, Donnelly is not a lone wolf. Similar zombie ideas, proposals, and policies have resurrected and started to remerge lately in education, politics, and many other pockets of our contemporary society. Some UK schools, for instance, have boasted about plans for recruiting former militants to discipline their pupils to ensure effective education delivery.

The cane is neither dead, repackaged as a preservation-worthy tradition, nor will it depart as an embodiment of power. The Nazis are never buried to vanish their returns in the name of preserving traditions, heritage, characters, and strengths. The conservatives will never give in when they send missionaries to preach traditional values: nostalgic, displaced, but romanticized. The argument both Spurr and Donneley have tried to market resonates with their conservative stance and the so-called tradition, value, and ideologies without the white being ostentatiously flagged as the referent. In many ways, they deflect criticisms as a safe haven for the Donneleys and Spurrs to continue their amusement at others’ bewilderment. The problem is: when the cane is conveniently and systemically manipulated by the state to abuse its non-mainstream/conformist citizens, be it discursive, symbolic, or physical, the abused may resort to various possible means including violence or barbarian actions to avenge. Terror is the last and easiest means for the repressed to feel empowered at all cost. Even worse, it can be inevitably manipulated by those who are thirsty for power and control, as history has repeatedly been producing instances, from Lenin, Starlin, Hitler, to Mao Zedong. The recent tragedy at Paris in which twelve people at a satirical magazine was murdered by a three armed ISIS terrorists may serve a footnote. However admirable the 44 world leaders are when joining the post-massacre protest, the problem persists, as was captured aphoristically in Foucault’s argument:

“…the State is no longer an instrument that one race uses against another: the State is, and must be, the protector of the integrity, the superiority, and the purity of the race…racism is born at the point when the theme of racial purity replaces that of race struggle, and when counterhistory begins to be converted into biological racism” (Foucault, 2003, p. 81).

The terror will continue globally as long as the cane of the Judeo-Christian continues in operation.

Pride and prejudice as hidden racism

In the academic circle, Barry Spurr was known as Australia’s first chair professor of poetry serving at the University of Sydney and was well regarded internationally as an established T.S. Eliot scholar before his dramatic suspension. Professor Spurr’s misfortune spiraled on 18 October 2014 when the editor of Newmatilda (www.newmatilda.com), an independent online media, published an email transcript allegedly hacked through Spurr’s university email box.  In those emails, the professor “whimsically” though invariably, played with derogatory, racist terms such as abs and chiken-poohs. He also defamed the indigenous household in his suburb as “tips of rubbish iceberg” and blamed female rape victims for their own irresponsible dress and behaviors.  Newmaltida’s release of some of the emails, sparked swift and intense anger from the public and he was suspended immediately by the University for a thorough investigation.

While looking over the email transcript, I was struck, however, is not by that he is a racist under cover–any one including myself can succumb to some shades of racism at some point of time, wittingly or unwittingly, in a matter of a slip of tongue, mind, or judgment.  Upon reflections on the incident, I became deeply uncomfortable with this accomplished scholar’s pride, of being a member of the white, of being part of the Western civilization, and of being a gatekeeper of the standard to decide on the inclusion and exclusion of people. Without a doubt, he is a sensible person with a sense of social responsibility that is obsessive with a sense of reversed white guilt– a guilt in which white people as his kind must shoulder greater social responsibilities. A super hero complex inbuilt in his sense of whiteness is naturally manifested. It is his responsibility to provide solutions to other inferior people (including white bogans) in the dire of various social problems and to offer rescue.

Identified as a non-white, I am deeply concerned about the literary professor’s deplorable contempt on/ignorance of fundamentals of science and the obliviousness of time and space in his thinking. He is not intentionally anti-intellect but the pride, to a large extent, has led him to such a fate of defeat. He himself is a victim of the whiteness virus by birth or through education and career pursuit and has become a carrier of this virus.  What chilled me even more is that he is not a lone wolf. He has a pack considering his academic ranking and that he is a member of the review panel of Australia’s National Curriculum English. He is the chosen one!

Interestingly on this note is Spurr’s attitude towards the Australian bogan culture.  What at play here elucidates that indeed is not race  or ethnicity that infiltrates Spurr’s conscience but rather than his privilege to be a superior or in other words, to be the powerful, materially or symbolically, a dangerous savior positioning held fast by many members of today’s ivory tower.