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Friday, November 23, 2012

Australia Remains Firmly in the Anglosphere

Asian countries have a keen sense of their own culture, identity and place in the world, writes Kevin Donnelly. Australia should have the same.

From Education News

According to prime minister Julia Gillard’s white paper, countries like China, Singapore, India and Hong Kong hold the key to Australia’s future, and all of us, especially schools and educators, are being called on to embrace the Asian century.

A central plank of the Gillard Government’s National Plan for School Improvement, as outlined in its Draft Australian Education Bill 2012 soon to be tabled in Parliament, is to force schools and students to “engage with Asia” or be denied funding.

After working in the Asia-Pacific region on and off over the past 20 years and only recently returning from two weeks in Vietnam, I beg to differ. While we are closer geographically to Asia than to Europe, the UK or the USA, Australia is nevertheless part of the Anglosphere and no amount of rhetoric will change the fact that we are a Western, liberal nation.

Australia’s culture and identity, for example, is an egalitarian, individualistic one that is very different to the collective mentality and group identity of many Asian nations. Our culture, language and history also mean that we have more in common with the UK, the USA and New Zealand than those countries to the north.

Countries like Vietnam have one-party systems where the liberties and freedoms we take for granted are non-existent. Supposedly a socialist state where the people are in control, the country is ruled by oligarchies and it shouldn’t surprise that Vietnam is ranked 172 out of 179 countries in terms of freedom of the media.

Unlike Australia, where foreign entities and individuals are allowed to invest and buy property, it is also the case that the only way to buy land in Vietnam is to partner with a local and ensure that he or she has the rights to what is being acquired.

And Vietnam is not alone. China, North Korea, Burma, Cambodia and Laos are all controlled by ruling elites where any opposition is crushed, people’s rights go unprotected, and graft and corruption when doing business is commonplace.

Many Western nations like Australia are committed to protecting the natural world and ensuring that increased productivity and economic development are not at the expense of the environment. Travel the road from Hanoi to Halong Bay and it’s clear that Vietnam has the opposite approach.

Inefficient and environmentally destructive fossil-fuelled power stations dot the landscape and the highways are lined with factories, filled with poorly paid workers devoid of the industrial rights we take for granted.

The recent election of the new Chinese president Xi Jinping best illustrates why, as a nation, we must value the fact that our legal and political systems are Western in origin. Concepts like representative democracy, free and open elections, one person-one vote, and the separation of powers are foreign to most Asian countries like China.

According to the Human Rights Watch organisation, China “continues to be an authoritarian one-party state that imposes sharp curbs on freedom of expression, association, and religion; openly rejects judicial independence and press freedom; and arbitrarily restricts and suppresses human rights defenders and organisations, often through extra-judicial measures”.

So much for the Asian century. Instead of extolling the virtues of Asia, forcing students to learn an Asian language, and making schools teach every subject from an Asian perspective, money and resources would be better spent teaching Australia’s Western heritage and Judeo-Christian tradition.

Surveys show that many young people know little about our legal and political systems, and even more upsetting is the fact that many fail to understand or appreciate why democratic forms of government are preferable to the alternative.

Students should also be taught to celebrate and be proud of what we have achieved as a nation in terms of protecting human rights and freedoms that many living in Asia can only dream of and are still struggling to achieve.

Our narrative is a unique one that incorporates the rise of Western civilisation and profound historical events like the renaissance, reformation and the enlightenment.

While the numbers are diminishing, it’s also true that ours is predominantly a Christian nation where our state and Commonwealth parliaments begin with the Lord’s Prayer and much of our literature, art and music have been inspired by the Bible.

The language we speak, listen to and read is English and before children are made to learn an Asian language it might be a good idea, firstly, to ensure that they have mastered their native tongue.

To argue the case that Australia is part of the Anglosphere does not mean that there is nothing to be learned from Asian cultures. Countries like Japan, China and Singapore have a keen sense of their own culture, identity and place in the world. Maybe that is something worthwhile copying instead of adopting an Asian-centric cringe. 

Dr. Kevin Donnelly is Director of Melbourne-based Education Standards Institute and author of ‘Educating your child: it’s not rocket science’. View his full profile here.

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