The Insidious Box

Part Two

Education or indoctrination?

Some years ago there was a tendency for educational theorists to advocate a value free education for children or at least a fairly liberal bias in the curriculum. Over the last decade or so however there has been a tendency to push certain ideologies into the school curriculum. This has meant that schools are being used to indoctrinate as much as educate young people.

The source material used for this essay relates mainly to the New South Wales Education system but at least some of what is happening in NSW is no doubt happening in other state education systems.

Back in 1973 the NSW Education Department issued a document called the 'Aims of Secondary Education in NSW'. Some of the aims stated in the document included:
  • encouraging growth in 'responsible self-direction and moral autonomy'
  • assisting young people towards 'genuine individuality and effective participation in society'
  • assisting students in 'developing abilities in formulating values and making decisions' which includes encouraging them to 'examine, clarify and formulate their values' and to 'recognise situations when judgements should be withheld pending further evidence'(1).
These might seem like fairly high sounding aims and more than a little difficult to achieve in the bureaucratic or authoritarian situation that exists in most schools. Nevertheless the aims are quite democratic and allow the students freedom to decide their own moral and political ideas.

A few years later the emphasis changed from encouraging pupils to develop their own ideas to having ideas prescribed for them.

In 1987 the Education Department produced a document called 'NSW Public School System - The Values We Teach'.

The document claims to be concerned with preparing students for a society which it says is democratic, multicultural, and respectful of the rights of the individual. It also says that schools should promote attitudes and behaviours that reflect the core values of the community in New South Wales. A number of these values are listed and include:
    "accepting the importance of learning and knowledge, being punctual and fulfilling commitments, rejecting racism, sexism and other forms of prejudice, being committed to the importance of and value of work, actively pursuing the peaceful resolution of conflict"(2).
There is an incredible level of hypocrisy and inconsistency in this document. How did the Department decide that these values were the core values of the community? If our society is multicultural, would this not mean that there was a diversity of value systems due to the diversity of cultural backgrounds in the community, and would there not be some conflict between these various value systems?

Furthermore if this is a democratic society should not young people have the right to work out for themselves their own ideas on race, gender and conflict? The values are not ideologically neutral and teaching them would appear to verge on political indoctrination.

The document also emphasises the importance of learning, knowledge and the value of work. This is another area of contention if anecdotal evidence is correct. It appears that many teachers have a woeful lack of knowledge of the topics and subjects that they are supposed to be teaching. A few examples include:
  • the History teacher who told her pupils that movie film had not been invented until after World War 1
  • another who thought that Eric Maria Remarque (author of 'All Quiet on the Western Front') was a Frenchman
  • the Geography teacher who did not know what a tributary to a river was
  • the genius who could not tell the kids what the CSIRO stood for
The tendency for indoctrination to get the better of education is seen even more explicitly in the syllabus documents. This pernicious tendency has affected many subjects but perhaps the worst affected is the History syllabus.

For instance in the mandatory section of the History Syllabus for Years 7 to 10 there is an emphasis on the ways Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people have responded to each other. The language used seems deliberately intended to give a negative portrayal of our early settlers.

The British settlement 1788 is referred to as an invasion and dispossession. Attacks on settlers by Aborigines are described as resistance but retaliation by settlers is called genocide. What children are given is a largely sanitised or romanticised view of Aboriginal society to the point where it almost qualifies as a reinvented culture. The negative aspects of white settlement are given excessive attention while the positive aspects are largely ignored(3).

To add to the bias the impression is given that all the problems and inadequacies of the present day Aboriginals are the direct or indirect fault of our pioneering forefathers.

This racial bias in the syllabus is carried on in the text books. A typical text for the course will describe the Myall Creek Massacre (where settlers killed Aborigines) but will not mention the Hornet Bank or Cullen-la-Ringo Massacres (where Aborigines killed white settlers).

This tendency towards a 'politically correct' racial bias is not restricted to topics dealing with Aborigines. For instance students will be taught about the deportation of Kanaka labourers from Australia but not about the deportation of ethnic Germans after World War 1. They will be given a negative view of the development of the White Australia Policy but no corresponding study of restrictive immigration in Asian countries(4).

To cap all this nonsense and hypocrisy the Education Department has introduced a so-called Anti-Racist Policy. Considering that much in the curriculum contains what could hardly be called anything but patronising racism towards Aborigines and, at the same time vilification of our white pioneers, the Anti-Racism Policy seems the height of hypocrisy if not outright stupidity.


Apart from the deliberate teaching of attitudes and beliefs the environment within the schools will have an important impact on the way young people think.

Although corporal punishment has largely disappeared from schools they still maintain their authoritarian and hierarchical structure. Students are regimented and disciplined by verbal bullying, bureaucratic controls and various punishments.

The emphasis in schools is still more on obedience and conformity than on initiative and independent thinking. Pupils have rules to conform to and people in authority to answer to. Such a situation is more likely to demolish the student's motivation rather than encourage critical thinking about what is being taught. The tendency will be toward dependency, minimal effort and avoidance of controversy.

After a number of years in the repressive school environment young people tend to accept hierarchical bureaucratic authoritarianism as normal. Such an environment becomes preferable to a more independent and democratic existence.


The education of young Australians leaves a lot to be desired. While there has been some concern with standards in mathematics and the physical sciences, the serious concerns should be with the teaching of the humanities, history and the social sciences. While it might be expected that teachers will have difficulty with the more esoteric topics in physics and chemistry, it is a pretty hopeless situation when the soft subjects like history are taught by people who lack knowledge of the most basic facts in these subjects.

Now that educational authorities have taken it upon themselves to use the school system for what is basically political indoctrination the situation has gone from bad to worse. The whole thing is undemocratic and an affront to the students, their parents and the society which through its taxes pays for the system.

The ideal in a democratic society would be an educational curriculum which gave the student a thorough understanding of the democratic system and its development. Each child's ability for clear, original and critical thinking should be developed rather than repressed. They should be allowed to examine and express a variety of ideas and points of view. Autonomous thinking rather than mindless conformity should be encouraged.

Finally the teaching service needs a good shake-up. There are far to many mediocre teachers waffling on to bored and disinterested students. Competent and motivated teachers with a keen interest in their subject should be able to motivate children without threats, punishments or other forms of coercion.

Unfortunately the teacher's unions have been able to exert enough pressure to ensure that quantity rather than quality characterise the teaching service.

What is needed is a democratically biased curriculum which respects the individuality of the student, and a teaching service made up of intelligent, motivated and committed teachers. The first step is to ensure that the schools give up indoctrination and revert to serious education.


1. NSW Department of School Education, Aims of Secondary Education in NSW, 1973

2. NSW Department of Education, NSW Public School System - The Values We Teach, 1987

3. NSW Board of Studies, Syllabus Years 7 - 10, History, 1992, p. 24

4. See for example R. Darlington and J. Hospodaryk, Understanding Australian History - An Enquiry Based Approach, Port Melbourne, Rigby Heinemann, 1993


Aims of Secondary Education in New South Wales, NSW Department of Education, 1973

NSW Public School System - The Values We Teach, NSW Department of Education, 1987

Syllabus Years 7 - 10, History, NSW Board of Studies, North Sydney, 1992

The Insidious Box