Friday, February 03, 2006

When did baby boomers take over the reins?

Q: Who wrote this, and when?

The teachers have captured the educational church and, forgetting the reason for and the blessings that flow from shared worship, they conduct the services and perform the offices of education for their own gratification and the uplifting of their own hearts. The curriculum, the methods of teaching, the opinions and the mental and physical comfort of the teacher come before the needs of the pupil or the hopes of the community.

A: No, it wasn’t Kevin Donnelly today, yesterday, or the day before (etc, ad nauseum). Okay, no one actually would have thought that it was, simply because of some odd inclusions and exclusions: “teachers” is used as a stand-alone noun, while Donnelly (et al) only ever use it in a specific adjectival sense: “teacher[s’] unions”. Also, the extended church-service metaphor, not to mention the phrase “the hopes of the community” sound jarringly quaint today.

The author was Sir Paul Hasluck, in 1980. (“Sinking into the academic abyss” The Age, 21/10/1980)


I dug up the Hasluck clipping today while re-reading a school assignment I wrote in Year 10 (1980) on the [then-] inadequacy of the Australian education system, particularly at secondary level. While I’ll spare you the full shebang, it probably comes as no surprise that the essay was a self-conscious “searing indictment”. Oh, and I was on Hasluck's side - or at least I thought that he was on my side.

Anyway, 26 years on, plainly very little has changed – except the rest of the world, that is.

Which is the nub of my biggest beef against Donnelly, and every other boomer-Right fuckwit in today’s world: Where were they in 1980? Then, the youngest boomers had finished high school (albeit just), and only a trickle were going into seminaries, wacky cults or other forms of institution – so it can be safely asserted that, by 1980, there was near-universal boomer emancipation. Boomers were not only all adult, but entirely their own intellectual agents – as aided, of course, by free and abundant tertiary education at the time, as well as the existence of a viable alternative: stop-gap jobs for the brightest (e.g. entry-level public service), jobs that no longer exist. (Public service by entry exam results – smartest first – appears to have been phased-out about 1990. Whatever the replacement system purports to be about, “smartest last” appears to have been its practical outcome).

So why are ageing boomer-Righters today belly-aching about potholes that were already visible in 1980, given that, by definition, they were all in a position, more or less, to rectify them then? More to the point, hasn’t their tardiness meant that at least one generation (= mine) has fallen into the said pothole, with consequences into current middle-age that are far more pressing and immediate than what the young’uns will or won’t be learning at school tomorrow?

Oh yeah, silly me – Xers have long ago been written off, as calculated “collateral damage” in the Left-Right culture wars of the 60, 70s, 80s, 90s and today. “The culture wars in part are about what happened in America 40 years ago”# (emphasis is mine) writes Michael Gawenda. Whatever the fuck else the culture wars might be about, it is plain that there has not been a single new piece of weaponry, or appointment as officer, in these "wars" since at least the mid-80s.

Meanwhile, wilful misstatements to the contrary – of boomers saying “Don’t blame me, because I’m just the new-ish kid on the block” abound. Bernard Salt writes:

Look here, generation Y and you too generation X [sic*]. When we boomers assumed corporate and political power in the early 1990s, state and federal governments ran deficit budgets. We boomers spent the best years of our lives paying off that debt . . . You owe us; we don't owe you. (emphasis is mine)

However, when non-boomers with their hearts in the right place, such as Ellen Schrecker of Yeshiva University, try to state the obvious – that boomers have had a very good and very long party, while Xers are left with the hangover and nothing but – they get stomped-on just for calling the beginning of the party five minutes too early:

Because of the job crunch, junior faculty are so insecure that they cannot now openly take political positions as they did in the 1960s
- Ellen Schrecker of Yeshiva University, re David Horowitz's “$10,000 Challenge”

Forget the fact that most junior faculty did not take overtly political positions in the classroom in the 1960s
- generic shrill-Right commentator on Schrecker

While the party proper indeed did not start until c. 1968, uber-boomer and pseudo-academic Luke Slattery, OTOH, is no strict pedant when it comes to the dates of its peak, and then winding-down:

For the better part of two decades now [i.e. just after Slattery himself dropped out of university to become a high-paid journalist] university humanities departments have been dominated [by postmodernism] . . . Theory’s scissor managed to scythe through the English departments of the mid-1980s . . . By the late 1980s [Theory] it had become the orthodoxy within the humanities - the desiderata of all grant applications and PhD theses.

Whatever – and at least Slattery himself has been singing this same song for the better part of two decades, also (same URL). But inexplicably:

the school English curriculum has of late been ceded to Theory’s empire. (emphasis is mine)

No doubt this much-newer hurt must be all GenX teachers’ fault – you know, that loser generation who went to uni in the mid-late 80s, there fell under the evil spell of postmodernism/“Theory” and then . . . waited a whole decade out as teachers before showing their true colours? Yeah, right.

But that postmodernism/“Theory” is a turd with Xers’ name uniquely on it is also insinuated here:

Theory’s political excesses have been reined in at most humanities departments and its follies tempered by time. Intellectual pluralism of a sort has been restored.

Translation: Yes, parents of the just-finished Year 12 at private-school Tristan: it is safe to buy him a full-fee place in Melbourne Uni arts. Since HECS was abruptly introduced on GenX mid-course in 1989, our universities have slowly but surely returned to being our universities.

Slattery’s sense of a pomo high-water mark having been and gone is then underlined thus:

one wishes that philosophical method had been introduced across the new humanities to prevent their lurch in the 1990s towards intellectual bankruptcy. (emphasis is mine)

So something presumably intervened to stop this lurch, c. 2000? Unfortunately, Slattery doesn’t elaborate on what this surely spectacular force might have been.

The real explanation for a 1990s high-water mark is more mundane, of course: by 2000, the last of GenX were going through the academy, which meant that the clock could then finally be safely re-set to 1980, as if nothing had happened in the intervening two decades. Because for boomers, (i) nothing had (ii) to anyone who mattered, anyway.

# “Culture war still raging in America” The Age 26/12/2005

* “Sic” because many of GenX were both taxpayers and HECS-payers in the 1990s (BTW, this is the only mention of GenX in Salt's article, while GenY is repeatedly invoked)

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