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Good education and conversion

By Michael Jensen - posted Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Should children in government schools be subjected to ideas and ideologies in such a way as they are persuaded by them?

Certainly, that is the hope of the Feminist Collective at Fitzroy High School in Victoria, who have created a new curriculum called 'Fightback'. As the report in The Age states: "Students taking the course are asked to reflect on their experience of objectification, compare images of famous men and women in the media, deconstruct sexist cartoons, and debunk "hairy armpit" myths about feminists."

The course, which started off as a lunch time group, is now being offered as an elective at Fitzroy High. Teacher Briony O'Keeffe is hoping that the course will be offered now in many more schools, and is seeking to persuade others to take it up.


And why not? In the face of the alarming statistics about domestic violence and rape, and the ongoing inequalities in pay, and many more social disadvantages that women face, it would seem like a good thing to have an optional class in which some students at least can be introduced to a fairly mainstream feminist take on things.

Only: let's not pretend that this is anything but what it is.

It is proselytizing.

If we understand 'to proselytize' as the Oxford English Dictionary does, "To convert or attempt to convert from one opinion, religion, or party, etc., to another", then that is exactly what is going on here. And I wish them every success.

The course is giving an ideological take on a social issue. It is one that is much debated and not universally accepted, even amongst those who might call themselves feminist. It doesn't simply really on statistical or empirical data, but on a way of describing things that is driven by a particular ideology.

My point is not to take issue with the particular ideology being presented by the 'Fightback' course. And I am sure that the course is offered in an educationally responsible way which engages the students in critical thinking and discussion.


But I am also sure that it is a course in which there is a 'right' answer – a view on the way things are that is a given, and that the authors of the course want to persuade others is true. If you disagree before you take the course, the hope is that by the end you will have changed your mind and your behaviour.

And what's wrong with that? I would say: nothing at all. Education without persuasion is an impoverished, hollow thing, a matter of 'just the facts', to quote Dickens' character Mr Gradgrind. We want our children to be exposed to teachers who have opinions, even strong opinions, and even opinions with which we disagree. Respect for disagreement is what is needed, not the illusion of an opinion-less, ideology-free perspective

I would hope that these teachers make their opinions attractive. I would hope that government schools can offer a way in which students can engage with ideological, political, and religious opinions and with people who actually hold them.

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About the Author

Michael Jensen is the rector of St Mark's Anglican Church at Darling Point. He has a doctorate in Moral Theology from Oxford University.

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