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Business thinking is death to the humanities

  • 16 April 2019


Here's a suggestion. In order to halt the seemingly inexorable destruction of the humanities in our secondary schools, we should immediately sack any senior Education Department bureaucrat who has a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Or perhaps they can be forced to reapply, unsuccessfully, for their old jobs. They like that kind of thing.

A little explanation. This writer recently made the foolish mistake of thinking he could change from being a journalist to a teacher. Partly believing the hot air issuing from government that older teachers, who have other life experiences, are valued — in reality there is as much ageism and suspicion of higher qualifications as elsewhere in the work force — I set about getting the necessary qualification.

The first shock was being told that, despite having a PhD in literature, I was not 'qualified' to do a Diploma of Education (my undergraduate subject mix was deemed inappropriate, while my honours year and post-graduate qualifications did not count). So much for any commitment to raising the educational accomplishment of teachers.

I did, however, find one university, on the border of Victoria and New South Wales, that would take me, whereupon an even nastier surprise lay in wait. I had, for over two decades, written on management for BRW, then the national business magazine. Part of my reason for wanting to teach was to get away from all that (although at least I had had the opportunity to satirise the barbarisms of management language). Instead, I aspired to immerse myself in drawing students' attention to the wonders of the traditions of English literature.

It was thus somewhat jarring to realise that much of what passed for educational training had been deeply influenced by management theory. I not only recognised the arguments, I had interviewed a number of the people who had concocted them. These management theories are, with a few exceptions, intellectual dross. That they are taken seriously in university departments that teach teachers is deeply troubling.

I then talked to a few experienced teachers, who all complained about the increasing amount of paperwork in their job and a loss of autonomy: both unmistakeable signs of the application of bad management theories, especially the pernicious Quality Assurance. Unfortunately, the teachers do not know why it is happening to them. I also witnessed a principal of a secondary school talk about how to eliminate 'variance' in educational inputs for the students. He may as