Tuesday, May 03, 2005

War hero too blokey?

The Australian Government has set up a body to examine which values should be taught in Australian schools. My first thought was that the "values" promoted would be the familiar liberal ones of tolerance, diversity and respect: values which are really more about "non-interference" rather than a positive ideal of behaviour and character.

I was pleasantly surprised therefore when the list of values finally appeared. Although tolerance, respect and inclusion are three of the values, so are integrity, honesty, trustworthiness and responsibility. The list, in other words, goes a little bit beyond mere "non-interference" and includes some values that are genuinely important to character.

But all is not well. A row has erupted over the design selected to accompany the "values" publications. It is an image of the Australian war hero John Simpson Kirkpatrick. Simpson was a stretcher bearer at Gallipoli and he risked his life many times rescuing wounded soldiers under heavy fire before finally being killed.

Andrew Blair, who represents school principals on the values advisory body, has complained that the image is "very blokey" and he has asked "why would you go in with an image that is grounded in ... heroism in conflict, and not about tolerance, trust - all of the issues that are embedded in the program?"

The liberal orthodoxy bites back! For Andrew Blair it is the old liberal faithfuls of "tolerance" and "trust" which are the "issues" embedded in the programme. Poor old Simpson is just too heroic and too masculine a figure to represent these modern liberal "values".

Conclusions? First, notice how restrictive liberalism really is, despite all its talk about individual choice and personal freedom. It struggles to permit anything beyond the passive value of non-interference, which is re-badged in various ways as tolerance, trust, respect etc. It struggles even to accept the masculinity and heroism of a man who was a humble member of the Field Ambulance and who gave his life to help save his mates. How limiting is this to our ideals of human conduct and human nature! It ends up making us very small.

Second, if Andrew Blair really is representative of secondary school principals, it's highly unlikely that Australian schools will ever attempt to develop a positive masculine character in boys. This is a role, it seems, that fathers are going to have to undertake themselves.

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