Broadly speaking, there are two views about what postmodernism is. On
one, the “post” involves going beyond – accepting the lessons of
modernism, but also transcending them. On the other, “post” implies
more like “anti” – regarding modernism as somehow fundamentally
misguided and reacting against it.

Opponents of postmodernism usually adopt the second interpretation,
painting themselves as defenders of enlightenment values against a tide
or irrationality. That’s certainly the line being taken by The
Australian
in recent weeks in its crusade against postmodernism in
education. The theme is that wicked postmodernists have taken over our
schools, abandoning the concern for truth, facts and narrative in
favour of left-wing indoctrination or “outcomes-based” education (which
somehow seems to mean the same thing).

There are a lot of different things going on with this campaign, but
the anger against postmodernism is pretty much a constant. So it was a
surprise yesterday to see the Prime Minister letting slip a somewhat
different message. Interviewed on radio 6PR in Perth,
Howard was asked about the controversial new Western Australian school
syllabus and expressed the view that “there is too much modernist junk
in education around Australia”.

Not postmodernist; modernist. Evidently, Derrida and
Foucault aren’t the only problem. At heart, maybe Howard and his allies
really agree with many postmodernists in thinking that postmodernism
represents the completion of the modernist project, and that its
enemies are the ones who want to turn the clock back.

Or maybe the whole act of getting angry over educational
philosophies is just cover, and the real agenda is about power. That
certainly seemed to be the view of WA education minister Ljiljanna
Ravlich, who said
it was the Federal Government that had insisted on outcomes-based
education back in 1999, and that Howard was “attacking the education
systems of the states and territories because his Federal Minister has
a national agenda”.

Peter Fray

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