What's the point of schooling?

62 Comments

 

Every teacher’s least-favourite question is: ‘When are we going to use this in real life?’

Primary school classroom (Taylor Wilcox/Unsplash)

The reason we hate this question is, of course, that we teach many things in school that do not have a practical purpose for most people. You don’t analyse the themes of Macbeth or learn calculus because you’re necessarily going to use them when you leave school. You learn these things because someone, somewhere, has decided that education has an inherent value, and that learning these things will enrich your life.

Whether they do enrich your life, well, is a different question. (I do quote Shakespeare almost daily, but I acknowledge I’m probably an outlier.)

Recently the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) — who you may know from such hits as NAPLAN and My School — has opened public consultation on the Australian Curriculum. This means, of course, that it’s time for another round in the Australian culture wars!

Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge has already raised concerns about what John Howard would call ‘black armband history’, as well as noting his confusion about changes to the maths curriculum. Tudge is no education expert, and while I trust the advice of educational professionals over a newly-appointed minister, there is no doubt that Tudge has power in this sphere.

The question being asked, however, is one that puts the cart before the horse. The question of ‘What do you want to see in the national curriculum?’ presupposes the answer to another question: What even is the purpose of schooling?

 

'Before we talk about what to teach, we have to take a step back and analyse what we actually want schools to be, and how we structure learning to achieve this.'

 

This is a question that seems simple on the surface, but if you ask half a dozen people you’ll probably get a dozen different answers. Many young adults, for example, complain about how education has not equipped them with life skills such as the ability to do their tax return, apply for a bank loan, or even write a CV. For a long time early years teachers have raised concerns about parents expecting schools to teach truly basic life skills, like toilet training. On the other hand, politicians are constantly bemoaning an alleged over-emphasis on the humanities, especially ‘identity politics‘ and ‘woke-ism‘, demanding a ‘back to basics‘ approach that instead focuses on the Three Rs and marketable STEM knowledge.  

What we see here are points on a spectrum (or, more accurately, a six-dimensional Cartesian plane) of schooling purposes. On one end, we have the belief that school should be the primary place to equip students with practical life skills. On the other, education is a marketable product, where the primary virtue is that it strengthens the economy. Somewhere else in there is the idea that education for education’s sake has inherent value. These need not be diametrically opposed goals, of course, but the current structure of our schooling system does not really facilitate an integrated approach.  

In recent months, discussions of consent in school have also been raised in the wake of Grace Tame’s appointment as Australian of the Year, and Brittney Higgins’ rape allegations against a former coworker in Parliament House (and let’s not even talk about the disastrous Milkshake Video). This adds another point to our tesseract of education policy, where schools are to teach not just legality but morality.  

It’s no secret that the past few decades have seen an intensification of neoliberal rhetoric in education, usually at the expense of the social-democratic purposes of schooling. Whereas education was once primarily viewed as a social equaliser, much of the value of schools now lies — in the eyes of neoliberals — in the fact they produce human resources to pump into the market. When this is the case, critical thinking and morality are actually liabilities, not virtues. After all, it’s very inconvenient if we have citizens who can critically examine politicians, or question the morality of profit-maximising business practices.

Basically, it’s a mess. Schools have to be all things to all people, and subsequently end up disappointing everyone. It’s one of the reasons we are constantly hearing about an ‘overcrowded curriculum’.

So, before we talk about what to teach, we have to take a step back and analyse what we actually want schools to be, and how we structure learning to achieve this. As has been observed by many — such as the late great Sir Ken Robinson — our factory-style model of education is really no longer fit for purpose. Incremental change is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Of course, actual reform would involve a monumental paradigm shift and a ground-up reworking of our education system. And who has time for future-proofing, when our neoliberal imperative focuses on short-term profit over delayed gratification?

That said, it’s not all doom and gloom. Despite what seems like the best efforts of successive governments, we have passionate and capable teachers working within this self-sabotaging system to produce students who are, for the most part, capable of functioning in society. After all, school graduates generally figure out their taxes, how to get jobs, how to apply for university and complete their civic duties. Furthermore, the outlook is hopeful, because despite the neoliberal push in schools, current school leavers still pursue the arts, engage in political movements and demonstrate a social conscience through community engagement.

Rebuilding schools from the ground up will take time, energy, and tremendous political will. In the meantime, we must consider allowing greater flexibility — particularly towards the end of secondary schooling — in allowing students to pursue their passions and interests (even if these do not align with the neoliberal goals of our politicians). Exploration of the arts and humanities must be promoted not just because they contribute to employability, but because they enrich our lives. And, of course, we must consider the fact that schools need strong vocational programs to cater to those for whom university or higher education is not a goal.

So while the kids are alright, our piecemeal approach to education policy is doing them no favours. We need a system that helps children develop into well-rounded adults, but we can’t do that if we cannot agree on what the end-goal of education should even be.

 

 

Tim HuttonTim Hutton is a teacher, masters student and freelance writer based in Brisbane. He writes on politics, education, media, societal issues, and the intersection of all of the above. His writing can be found at www.timhutton.com.au

Main image: Primary school classroom (Taylor Wilcox/Unsplash)

Topic tags: Tim Hutton, education, Alan Tudge

 

 

submit a comment

Existing comments

Classical schooling's purposes were determined by what the State deemed necessary for the good of the polis: in Athens, it prepared its future citizens for their participation in the debates and decisions of the Assembly; in Sparta, future citizens were prepared for the military. In the both poleis, despite the difference in their respective schooling aims, in common was the fact that the State prescribed curriculum. This, to a large extent, still obtains today, even in private schools. Accordingly, following Tim Hutton's philosophical line of inquiry, it seems a further question is: "What does, and should, the State value today?" It's becoming clearer with the latest curriculum revision for Australian schools what the State does not value: traditional content in English and Humanities courses that supports Christianity, especially on topics such as marriage and natural law morality, where traditional understandings and reason itself are increasingly deemed regressive, oppressive and unjust.


John RD | 29 June 2021  

Inspiring to read an Australian educator cite Ken Robinson on the value of educating for the arts and human creativity! The nearest we have to Kenny (who tragically died prematurely last year) in Australia is Pasi Salberg of the UNSW Gonski Education Institute, who raises ire and astonishment in defense of Australian children becoming the harried victims of the conflicting interests of neoliberal politicians from both sides of the ideological divide. Great Thanks, Daniel, for publishing an opinion piece that places professional and ethical responsibility for educating back at the coalface of the classroom, where it truly belongs. The centrepieces of good education are surely teachers who inspire their kids and not others from outside the classroom who make impossible claims on them. I'm interested, Dan, in what the policy implications of this are. As education becomes more globalised, we face a fork in the policy road that forces us to choose between ever greater student-performance comparison and global-ranking on the one hand and, on the other, a move towards curriculums that are not standardised but instead focus on the unique learning needs and preferences of each child. I know which side Kenny and the subsidarist state would be on.


Michael Furtado | 30 June 2021  

Mr Hutton may “trust the advice of educational professionals”, but these professionals have overseen a decline in standards despite ever-increasing billions being injected into the system. In 2017, a UNICEF report ranked Australia 39 out of 41 middle-income countries. Since 2003, Australia has fallen behind in math (10th to 29th); reading (4th to 16th”); and science (6th to 19th). Since the 1960s, humanities subjects have been taught with a narrow world view seen through the prism of class, gender and race. Activists continually push “progressive” ideas like gender fluidity under cover of “Safe Schools”. In the USA activists push Critical Race Theory and blame “systemic racism” which covers up the woeful black/white achievement gaps in “progressive” cities—San Francisco proficiency in math: 70% for whites but 12% for blacks; Washington DC, proficiency in reading: 83% white but 23% for blacks. Yet “conservative” cities like Oklahoma City see blacks with higher graduation rates than whites. In the UK, Katharine Birbalsingh rejected the “educational professionals” and set up her own school, Michaela. She threw out 50 years of “progressive” education, and her students, who were mostly poor, black and disadvantaged, scored 4 times better than the national average.


Ross Howard | 01 July 2021  

Oops; sorry about 'Dan'. I meant 'Tim'.


Michael Furtado | 01 July 2021  

Ross H. What on earth is math? Perhaps our students' poor performances bear some relationship to the importation of incorrect attitudes and language from the USA!!


john frawley | 02 July 2021  

I was amused to read the opening gambit - "Every teacher's least favourite question." Yes, that was my experience for 30 years in conventional classrooms. But when I had the chance to create my own curriculum for the 'broken dolls' who could no longer function in an ordinary school, I turned this question back on the students. I would develop a student's learning program with the question, "What would you like to do?". Some would give a short-term answer, about improving a skill, writing better, learning how to solve equations, and that opened the discussion to practical skills development. If the student actually needed to start with some other basics, that would become apparent. More challenging was the student who said they wanted to leave school and get a trade. Work experience with the relevant tradesman would soon have the student coming back to me with a genuine need learn how to calculate area, volume, and material costings. With a practical goal in mind, the student would apply herself to the task, knowing that there was a real purpose in all the hard work. But what about teaching the student how to think rationally and creatively? That was more challenging. But as a post-grad Dip Ed student, I had argued that the secret of learning motivation is the power that knowledge and skills confer on the learner. But we almost never give the student power as a result of his/her learning. So I would empower my students by getting them to write letters to the editor, carry out surveys that could influence decisions about the need for a skate bowl, and present this to the local council. Every day we dissected a topical issue in the media and examined the ethical and practical implications, for youth, and for society as a whole. The whole business of war, weapons, killing and sacrifice occupied us for a month around ANZAC Day. One of the unexpected outcomes of that exposure was a spontaneous outpouring of poetry. Oh, and by the way, none of these students had made any progress in 'straight' school for several years, and were regarded not so much as 'at risk' and more as 'hopeless cases'.


John Saint-Smith | 02 July 2021  

Critical Race Theory is but one of several perspectives in the Social Studies Curriculum. Ross Howard's and John RD's posts introduce a culture wars perspective that very much misses the essentially Catholic educational philosophy that Tim espouses in contemporary context. As a teacher-educator, I wish I had worked with such a well-rounded colleague. And I know several Catholic schools and colleges, similar to St Aloysius' Milsom Point, currently assailed by culture warriors in these columns because of its support for a transgendering student, whose creative and student-centred pastoral philosophies would resonate closely with Tim's.


Michael Furtado | 02 July 2021  

An excellent and thought-provoking article Tim. If only the people who make decisions about school curricula would read and ponder your words. The problem is that too many people think they are experts on education because they went to school once!


Elizabeth Harrington | 03 July 2021  

In its racial praxis, Critical Theory encourages the attitude that all white people are oppressive supremacists. While deconstructing binary and complementary understandings of male and female, Critical Theory asserts human sexual identity as a matter of subjective choice, demonizing those who so much as question its constructed gender classifications and expanding list of pronoun inventions as perpetrators of "hate speech." Now embedded in the study of English, Critical Theory ensures that students imbibe Marx, Freud, and their postmodern 'cultural' disciples as a condition of interpreting literature by imposing required "lenses" for politically correct reading. Just where is Critical Theory's claimed (MF, 2/7) essential continuity with the tradition of liberal Christian humanism educationally adopted by the Church from the first century of its existence, as evidenced in the writings of teachers such as Ignatius, Justin, Irenaeus, and Clement who affirm the connection between revealed Christian faith and reason, and refute gnostic dismissiveness of the corporal.? Pardon me if I decline to lock step with the party of "cultural warriors" who currently dominate English and Humanities curricula, redefining education exclusively and pragmatically as an instrument of a political ideology closed to philosophical and theological perspectives and critique.


John RD | 03 July 2021  

John F, your observation is pertinent. Because just as in the USA, mathematics is now being attacked as “racist” by some Indigenous academics who are advising the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority. The Oregon Department of Education promotes “A Pathway to Equitable Math Instructions” designed to “dismantle” instances of “white supremacy” culture in mathematics. Indicators of “white supremacy culture in the mathematics classroom” includes a focus on “getting the right answer” and requiring students to “show their work.” And “The concept of mathematics being purely objective is unequivocally false” and “upholding the idea that there are always right and wrong answers perpetuates ‘objectivity’.” Says Public Affairs Director for the National Association of Scholars, Glenn Ricketts: “I have read recently, the problem that math and arithmetic insist on the correct answer is actually a hidden form of ‘white supremacy,’ as everything else is as well.” The ethnic studies curriculum of California’s Education Department is based on the ideas of Marxist theoretician Paolo Freire. Its religious narrative claims that white Christians committed “theocide” against indigenous tribes killing their gods. So teachers are instructed to lead students in the official “ethnic studies community chant” to the Aztec gods.


Ross Howard | 05 July 2021  

Please, Ross Howard, spare us facts - educational progress, as in our enlightenment we now know, requires denial of the real and allegiance to utopian ideology and mythology conceived by our cultural Marxist comrades. For the revolution's sake, we must get with the programme!


John RD | 05 July 2021  

Ross Howard. Thank you for the explanation regarding math. I have known for a long time that the world has gone absolutely bonkers led by the highly uneducated USA. I just wish Australia did not feel the need to follow in their ludicrous footsteps. The modern world needs a new fairy story along the lines of the Emperor 's new Clothes!!


john frawley | 05 July 2021  

Would that JohnRD and Ross Howard had the objectivity and insight to interrogate the question of Critical Race Studies, or any other approach to other 'curriculums' for that matter, with more attention to reflection than polemic. Firstly, no mention of Habermas, whose Critically Reflective Curriculum orientation, widely employed in Praxis Theology and also the contribution of Paulo Freire, especially in the pressing context of George Floyd's deliberately procured asphyxiation, increasingly justifies the precipitant nature of this foundational principle upon with new pedagogies are examined, especially in relation to employing currency and relevance in preparation for justice education. In this dire context, to masquerade under the assumption that their worldview is beyond contestation is to engage in both an act of self-deception as to blindside our audience. For a start my bet is that both of them are White, middle-class and heterosexual, a perspective that would undoubtedly alter were their identities otherwise. The best educators, Catholics teach, speak with a voice that is authenticated by their lived experience, and unless Ross and John have any understanding of the epistemic voice they are simply unqualified to mandate conservative norms in this matter. Teachers, while careful not to impose, must cover all perspectives!


Michael Furtado | 05 July 2021  

All the oldest educational institutions in the English speaking world were founded either by churchmen or rulers who had a vision of a great Christian civilisation which existed in Europe and which they wished to enhance. Our educational system in this country stands on the shoulders of this. The woke generation hate this civilization, but, like vampire bats, exists by sucking its blood. It is very dangerous being an anarchist, because your purpose is to bring down society. When you bring down a society, it needs must be replaced. What replaces it after anarchy, as in Nazi Germany or in Communist Russia, is often far worse. Mathematics first developed in places like Sumer and India for extremely practical reasons, which included calculating when religious festivals should take place: there was nothing 'racist' about it. I note one of our most frequent public commentators on social issues is Jane Caro, a comedian. I am not laughing. The average suburban dweller, quite rightly, eschews the most extreme 'progressive' views and practices.


Edward Fido | 06 July 2021  

Michael Furtado: ‘speak with a voice that is authenticated by their lived experience’ The question is which segment of lived experience is to be lived and which segment is to be turned away from.


roy chen yee | 06 July 2021  

I enjoy reading you, Edward, and delight in what I regard as a friendship with you to the extent that participating here permits. That said, and in light of two essays on this matter by Andy and John Warhurst respectively, I don't regard the use of 'woke' terminologies, common to the likes of JohnRD and our good friend, Roy, and now employed by you, as the most helpful contributions to this discussion.. There are several less abuse-laden and more objective terminological descriptions, offering greater illumination without succumbing to the temptation of more blatant partisanship that come to mind, such as 'left-wing' and 'right-wing'. As it happens I don't interject when John Frawley, a retired medico, comments on the ethical ramifications of his specialist professional work. By the same token, and as already cited by Elizabeth Harrington, those who know precious little about the field of Education Studies, other than by virtue of their own schooling experience, should stray with a high degree of caution into fields in relation to which they have done little reading and have even less experience. Incidentally, Jane Caro is a left-wing feminist and professional commentator and publicist who lobbies against public funding to private schools.


Michael Furtado | 06 July 2021  

I make no mention of Habermas in previous posts simply because he doesn't exert the same influence on current curriculum revision as the neo-Marxists I've identified in a number of earlier ES contributions, and also because he is not as closed and dismissive on the topic of religion as most of the leaders and disciples of the Frankfurt School. This can be seen in his dialogues with Joseph Ratzinger in "The Dialectics of Secularisation" (Ignatius Press, 2005), wherein he welcomes the contribution of religion in public forum debate. Also, Habermas's recognition of the importance of self-knowledge accords with the Socratic ideal of the western philosophical tradition: "Know yourself." And he writes clearly! A s a Catholic , my main point of departure from Habermas's thinking is his positing of intersubjectivity as the basis of societal norms rather than objective values grounded in our God-created nature and moral capacity as humans, as well as his placement of aesthetics in the "Practical" category of his epistemological schema - a classification resonant with Marxist subjection of art exclusively to materialist ideological ends.


John RD | 06 July 2021  

With an eye on a yet uncalled election (December 1984), Susan Ryan, then Federal Minister for Education summoned State Directors General and Spokespersons for the Independent and Catholic sectors to announce a Hawke Government initiative to promote retention to Year 12 for all students, and not just the tertiary bound. And by and large it has happened. The intervening decades have papered over the less than noble motives which urged Susan's colleagues to find the dollars for more classrooms, resources and teachers. Also papered over was the one size fits all implementation which relied in large measure on teacher directed, classroom learning. Down the track, and somewhat ad hoc, TAFEs have joined with schools to provide a better blend of practical and theoretical instruction for students who recoil from textbook learning. But a thorough review of how to best utilise the secondary years – especially the junior secondary segment – awaits attention. And will probably still be waiting a decade hence: for the answers aren't mind blowing, but involve challenging a paddock of comfortably grazing edu sacred cows.


Bill Burke | 06 July 2021  

A welcome post, John RD, and I reach across the impossible divide that often seems to divide us to fete you on Habermas, whose contribution to the field of religious education, constitutes the magnus opus of Terry Lovat, former Passionist priest and retired Head of the Education Deans of Australian Universities. Where I part company with you is in your determination to read all critical studies texts, and especially those emanating from the Frankfurt School, as undiluted iterations of Marx's Dialectical Materialism. Not only is this NOT the case in Habermas' and Judith Butler's instances, but Marx himself, as well as Engels, are to also be read in the context of the extreme anti-clericalism of the Enlightenment, and especially the horrifically violent French Revolution, itself a reaction to the putrefying clericalism of continental Catholic Christianity. There is indeed a continuing dialogue between Christian and Marxist scholars on this vast topic, in case you seek to acquaint yourself with it before returning to these highly contested columns. One of these is a professorial colleague from The University of Newcastle, Roland Boer, who edits the Political Theology Network. You may not agree with everything he writes but he's worth a read: https://politicaltheology.com/author/rboer/


Michael Furtado | 07 July 2021  

John RD, your mention of “the Socratic ideal of the western philosophical tradition: ‘Know yourself’” just happens to coincide with a statement put out by the US National Education Association (NEA), which boasts 2.3 million members. The NEA boasts “an already-created, in-depth study that critiques white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, racism, patriarchy…capitalism…and other forms of power and oppression.” They also “oppose attempts to ban critical race theory and/or the 1619 Project”. The latter Project has been debunked by historians but has been adopted into curriculum teaching children that the US was built for the sole purpose to oppress, also a key tenet of Critical Race Theory. And the union has set up a fighting fund to take on parents who challenge any of this being taught to their kids. The NEA statement continues, “The ancient African proverb says, ‘Know Thyself’.” The origin is of course Greek. Not only does the NEA reveal their Marxist ideology, but also their ignorance.


Ross Howard | 07 July 2021  

Ross, regardless of official ascription or attribution there's surely much truth in the saying, quoted in Ecclesiastes 1:4-11, that 'there's nothing new under the sun'. One of my grandmothers, a simple Indian person, not a scholar, and without the benefit of a formal education, was replete with wisdom of that nature. I'm pretty sure that there are multiple sources in global folklore that predate Socrates on this count. Perchance the real problem is that you are a White Man having to give culturally-misappropriated ground to others at a difficult time in the evolution of our species.


Michael Furtado | 08 July 2021  

Perchance, Michael Furtado, "the real problem" is the the widespread current substitution for metaphysics of a socio-cultural anthropology that emphasises a praxis uprooted from reasoning founded on the classical understanding of "Logos" and its complementarity with divine revelation proclaimed in the Prologue to St John's Gospel - "In the beginning was the Word" - and characteristic of the Catholic theological tradition.


John RD | 09 July 2021  

Not sure to what you allude here, John RD. However, I have no difficulty with your proposition and, more saliently, with that teaching! The real metaphysical challenge for you is that Socrates has been co-opted into a distinctly Eurocentric view of the Logos, which, last time I checked, is a Greek word. If not encapsulating the Greek, why not everything else, unless self-blinkered by a narrow view of culture and history? And don't tell me, as Roy would at this juncture, that its because the Church says so. There's more in Heaven and on Earth that the Church has yet to catch up with than conceivably meets the eye. Don't, for God's sake, place shackles on Her!


Michael Furtado | 10 July 2021  

MF: The "real problem" I allude to (09/07) is the one you raise in the last sentence of your posting of June 8th. "Logos" is, as you observe (10/07) indeed a Greek word, but it translates, as I imagine you know, as "word", or "reason": a universal human reality that, as a power of the soul, reflects the divine in our created nature - at least, according to the Catholic tradition, since its earliest engagement with the Greek world of classical philosophy. It is reason that enables us to recognise our broader shared, social, moral and religious potentials beyond the particularities of the immediate and parochial; and, I'd say, beyond neo-Marxist prescribed, restrictive ideological "lenses" of "race", "gender" and "class" in the analysis and interpretation of texts. The Church in her catholicity is mandated to uphold and advance, in accordance with the truths of faith, the rationality that is a distinctive attribute of human creaturehood, a "divine spark" within us. This same Church provides an authoritative trans-nationalist and trans-epochal forum which encourages and tests consistency with and authenticity to all peoples' desires to pursue the beautiful, the good and the true, and to live in just accord with one another: the point, I submit, of all education. When the Church is true to her mission in knowing, loving and serving Christ - at once the divine "Logos" and our brother - and his Gospel, utilising the resources of faith and reason, the whole world benefits. Charges of "Eurocentricity" and "logocentricity" focus almost exclusively on the West's and the Church's failings to live up to their highest ideals and calling. A fair accounting, I believe, acknowledges also the good generated by these related resources of human endeavour and their contributions by means of education to the unshackling of human potential from the distortions of abominable ideologies.


John RD | 11 July 2021  

It seems to me that in Roland Boer's last book, "In the Vale of Tears", of his series "The Criticism of Heaven and Earth", the author, proceeding methodologically by his own "model of translation", romanticizes the benevolence of Marxism and its cultural Marxist (or neo-Marxist) derivatives. When constructing his intertextual "translation" between Marxism and the Christian faith's revealed teleological and soteriological understanding of creation, the individual, the family, history and eschatology, Boer - intrigued by former seminarian Stalin's employment of New and Old Testament imagery such as "light', "pilgrimage", "promised land", and "guiding star" in the cause of socialist revolution, empties the theological contents of Christian concepts, replacing them with secular significations that effectively substitute ideological orthodoxy for philosophical and theological truth. If "translation" occurs, it is from Christianity into contemporary cultural Marxism; and qua translation it requires a less colonized conversance with standard Christian theological vocabulary and practice. In his translative heuristic approach, Boer also fails to distinguish adequately between the articles of Christian faith and ecclesial practices such as prayer and sacramental life, on the one hand, and Marxist tenets and the praxis they give rise to, on the other: claims to reject "the narrative of secularization", and, at the same time, to reject any claim to the "ontological" priority of a theological world view that would, by definition, claim a divine creation and providential sustaining of the world and history. Moreover, Boer's declaring his "model of translation" to be "part of a constantly moving dialectical process" strongly suggests his affinity with the postmodern Critical Theory linguistics of Jacques Derrida and Judith Butler, the former denying anything but a fluid signification to language and the latter taking the supposed fluidity of language to Prospero or shaman-like heights in its ability for metamorphosis by constructing physical reality, and her notion of gender as a subjectively determined linguistic invention. Moreover Boer's Hegelian discounting of the philosophical principle of non-contradiction permits his collapsing of oppositions in Marxist and Christian thinking in the interests strategically advancing - in the guise of encouraging a dialogical reciprocation between the two - what is in fact a Marxist simulacrum of Christianity. Boer's claim to seeking an even playing field in Marxist-Christian dialogue, an Aquarian experiment of some sixty years ago, is specious: the Marxist secularizing agenda, especially in its cultural forms, is the only winner in this stagey linguistic enterprise. In short, I can't see profound or effective critique of how the advance of corporate capitalism's worst aspects being counteracted or the demands of justice being met by a forced marriage of radically incompatible partners.


John RD | 11 July 2021  

JohnRD, critiquing the Frankfurt School has been done to death in ES. Marxism refers to Marx’s political, economic, and philosophical ideas, while Marxian refers specifically to his economic, historical and eschatological writings, without going into his politico-economic ideas. From a Christian perspective it occurs that the Scriptural prophecy about the meek inheriting the earth would be lost in a mire of ‘other worldliness’ were it not for the stark economic reality that if we didn’t let the meek inherit the earth Marx rightly predicts that they would become tyrants of our own making! This points to the ignorance with which Marx has been condemned, particularly in religious circles. Marx developed methodological clues for identifying and substantiating the economic nature of the social relations that mediate our behaviour, which are of critical relevance today to any engagement with religion, the arts, the welfare state, education, science and politics. Before Marx, political philosophy was an eclectic combination of separate policy theories and essentially esoteric concepts. He was able to transform the field into a coherent economic science with a single systemic approach. Moreover, Marx has arguably influenced external phenomena, such as Catholic Social Teaching, which, before him, was a non-existent conservative and feudal discourse, firmly anchored in Aristotelian and Thomist narratives of justice that seemed perpetually to play catch-up with the global justice project. Breaking away from this, liberation theologians employ praxis theology, amongst the foremost of these, the educationalist Paulo Freire and the sociologist Hannah Arendt. In The Human Condition, Arendt argues that Western philosophy too often has focused on the contemplative life (vita contemplativa) and has neglected the active life (vita activa). For Freire & Arendt, praxis is the highest and most important level of the active life. They argue, without ever referencing Marx, that more philosophers need to engage in everyday political action or praxis, which Arendt sees as the true realization of human freedom. Likewise, the Franciscan theologian, Mathew Fox, shows that our capacity to analyze ideas, wrestle with them, and engage in active praxis is what makes us uniquely human, which is surely indispensable to any study of the Incarnation. Modern Marxian legacy researchers, some of them religious (Roger Garaudy), have changed this narrative and are able to establish causative links between largely human-originating historical events and their religious consequences. Marx's exposure of capitalism’s contradictions is generally misread by Christians as alluding to a deterministic insistence that the struggle for freedom and justice plays no part in human affairs but that these are the fruits of glorious inevitability. The truth is that, like Chesterton, Marx points here to a paradox that makes sense to many Christians and which demonstrates that, while the principle of liberty is fundamental to our human identity, it is also prone to being usurped by those, from all sides of politics, who exercise control over the machinery of the state. In this sense, contemporary Marx scholars critique the human rights record of Stalin and Mao, showing not only that the end does not justify the means, but that the power and control exercised by such absolutists have eventuated in abuses that place a time limit on their influence. Equally, we can see (in an ES article by David James) that corporatism is well served by agencies of monopoly capitalism such as media oligopoly and financial control in the hands of a few. My own interest in Marx's contributions to religion and education and their material impact on the human condition is aimed at reactivating a fundamental critical interrogation of the rules and functioning of global religiosity and especially religious institutions from the point of view of a modern interpretation of Marx's concept of objective processes in the conditions of the current systemic crisis of capitalism. In this regard, my postdoctoral research corroborates an explanatory pathway showing the transition of Church institutions from medieval-type feudalities to pastoral bureaucracies, moving, initially in tension with and opposition to the nation state, towards collaboration with it and, in the twenty-first century, in adaptive and transitional collaborative tension with post-statist global economic forces that promote, in particular through the psychological sciences, extreme forms of individuation that are destructive of the common good. (To be continued).


Michael Furtado | 12 July 2021  

(To continue:) Most post-War Australian Catholics, brought up in an era of Rosary Crusades alongside immigrants escaping from Eastern Europe, cleave to an association with Marxism that is usually characterised as atheistic and hostile. In recent times global Marx scholars have pursued novel lines of research on Lenin's interactions with religion, focusing on the ‘sacred’ economy, which undertakes a wholescale reconstruction of the Bible's ancient economic context. This essentially ‘Calvinist’ project, researched by Boer (‘The Sacred Economy’, 2015). Paramount in stymieing Marxist-Christian dialogue was the BBC's 1978 Reith Lecturer, Edward Norman, whose critical investigations focused entirely on his anti-communist politics rather than on those aspects of the Christian-leftist tradition without which there would be no radical, revolutionary dimension to Christianity. Included in this new research and feeding the Vatican's rapprochement with China are such topics as the sinicisation of Marxism, reform and opening up of the socialist market economy, environmental protection of the Amazon, poverty reduction in Africa, and the role of religion, now moving towards a re-unification of both wings of the Chinese Catholic Church. Marx's own tradition was that of a diasporic Jewish refugee. He had to flee Germany and, later, France because of his radical leanings. In this sense, he was, like his Jewish forbear, Jesus, and notwithstanding their very different contexts, on the margins of society. The particular social context in both their instances can be seen as providing an impetus for both of them to make several important breakthroughs to interrogate the malfunctioning of the systems and times in which they lived. Marx and Engels were able to interpret the appalling condition of the working class, the profound social disruption and other massive changes in England during industrialisation, which gave them food for thought. In Volume III of Das Kapital, Marx describes the financialisation of the market as where money simply produces money, something Marx predicted that can palpably be seen to occur today, when the ‘labour theory of value’ adds so very little to the net accumulation of wealth, especially in the pockets of the rich. This is the corporatist model that the US has been perfecting and exporting, where the wealthiest people don't provide anything except investment for profit, and no infrastructure to advance the conditions of those whose work depends on such provision. With money just producing money and the instruments of state power largely privatised, corporatism has co-opted the state as a collaborator in its oppression of the poor, as well as obliterated a capitalist class of yore which once believed in the virtues of voluntarism and philanthropy. In fact, OECD statistics regularly show that, despite widespread belief in the beneficial ‘trickle-down’ effects of capitalism, evidenced in the popularity of metaphors such as ‘a rising tide lifts all ships’, the world’s poorest people get ever poorer, while the rich get richer. In this regard, the prominent and well-respected economist, Thomas Piketty, proposes a global system of progressive wealth taxes to help alleviate growing inequality and counter the trend towards massive wealth accumulation in the hands of the few. In this he has the support of several Catholic politicians and Church agencies Marx’s privileging of the importance of justice and equality for all is no more evident than in China: China's anti-poverty campaign has lifted 700 million people out of poverty through 40 years of economic reform, the greatest human rights coup of modern times, resulting in more and more countries buying into China's alternative model of development, focused on long term planning and stability. Against the capitalist model of development, which is to unleash the market, my exposure during my Jesuit formation categorically affirmed that no discussion of the relationship between religion and ethics could endure without first ensuring that the poor had sufficient food, housing and clothing, and that life was secure, all of these necessary preconditions for human dignity, which in Marx’s terms would simply otherwise be bourgeois rights, meaninglessly offering pie in the sky to people as rewards in the afterlife. Such parodic religiosity, underpinning systems of slavery, serfdom and exploitation, widely support corporatist constructions of human rights, based largely on ‘freeing up’ market forces and privileging enterprise over equality. Liberation theology (Boff, 1985; Sobrino, 1991) has widely critiqued the framework within which transcendentalism - absolute rather than contingent (as Christ Himself insisted), other-worldly rather than this-worldly and falsely dichotomising the sacred from the secular - has been defined. Against that, transgressive religiosity becomes an embattled term. For reasons associated with the rejection of a praxis theology, transcendence in recent years and especially during the last two papacies, has re-emerged as the battleground within Catholicism, while immanence, stripped off its religious connotations, falsely paraded as the stamping ground of secularism, materialism, history, society and contemporary culture!


Michael Furtado | 12 July 2021  

Endnote: This small-gauge shunting-off of theological discourse towards the dead-end of an atrophied ‘other-worldly’ view of Christianity, often evidenced in the plethora of escapist ‘spiritualities’ on fashionable offer these days, has proven to be a severe setback for the promulgation of the Social Gospels and, especially, Catholic Social Teaching, tragically resulting in typecasting transcendence with its current autocratic impulse and attracting a host of less than desirable epithets associated with it, such as docility, domination, hierarchy, and various forms of institutional exclusion, such as clericalism, sexism, homophobia, racism, ageism and anthropocentrism, so much so that it is currently possible to identity reactionary aspects of both Catholicism and Protestantism that are anti-human and anti-nature. By contrast, the immanent Christ, all but occluded from secularist as well as conservative religious discourse, has become the excluded Other of equality, democracy and liberation and the tragic victim of mutual intolerance and distrust. Hence a much bigger picture than Derida and Butler, John! Transcendence and transgression draw close to one another, bearing with them a distinct sense of the illicit, the unspoken and even the demoniacal. But they also become less mutually exclusive, the law of love and justice that dares to speak its name, and, above all, a sharp challenge to the harsh command that reinforces the status quo. Instead, transcendence begins in this world and, read in its faithed context, seeks also to transgress. It shouldn’t surprise that nearly every movement for human liberation and against oppression, whether theological, pedagogic, gender-embedded, anti-racist or environmental, has a tenuous link with Marx’s extraordinary philosophy.


Michael Furtado | 12 July 2021  

'Charges of "Eurocentricity" and "logocentricity" focus almost exclusively on the West's and the Church's failings to live up to their highest ideals and calling.' In 1989 an interchurch organisation called Logos involved itself in the Queensland State election, running a campaign of surveys and full-page newspaper advertisements promoting the line that candidates' adherence to Christian principles and biblical ethics was more important than the widespread corruption in the Queensland government that had been revealed by the Fitzgerald Inquiry. Published advertisements in the Courier-Mail at the time promoted strongly conservative positions in opposition to pornography, homosexuality and abortion, and a return to the death penalty. Some supporters controversially advocated OT laws and penalties. The death penalty for homosexuals was advocated. The Sydney Morning Herald later described part of this campaign when Logos published, "Homosexuality and censorship should determine your vote, the electorate was told; corruption was not the major concern." The same article quoted its founder from a letter he had written to supporters at the time, "The Greenies, the Gays and the Greedy are marching. Now the Christians, the conservatives and the concerned must march also". An earlier article published in the Herald quoted a Logos spokesman in reference to the call for the death penalty for homosexuals in order to rid Queensland of such people, who stated "the fact a law is on the statutes is the best safeguard for society". Hence my scepticism about use of the Logos logo (no pun intended) to advance a case for Christianity.


Michael Furtado | 13 July 2021  

johnRD, Re. Boer's work, there can be little doubt of his scripture scholarship. He has an Afrikaner OT background that is deeply embedded in Calvinism and therefore an attachment to the Word and the Text that is bereft of our Catholic understanding of tradition and the extent to which it is influenced by the Greco-Roman (or 'Western', as you call it) world view. That said, Boer is also a very good Marxian scholar. (I would not call him a Marxist but instead a specialist in sinicised Marxism and, at that, the cutting-edge syncretisation that Christianity and Chinese marxism has developed (and continues to expand!) in an otherwise rampantly secularised universe in which religion in general and Christianity in particular are on the wane). One might reasonably speculate as to the cause of this aberration. Could it be that, freed of the cultural history of the West, and especially of the West's extreme pursuit of unbridled social libertarianism, the highly ordered and self-disciplined philosophical and political culture of such a large group of people, developing, in a sense, in relative isolation from many aspects of Western libertarianism, has followed a trajectory which, in a mere 40 years, has attained a level of social justice and equality dismally unavailable elsewhere. While these are ethically debatable propositions they resonate with some aspects of Christianity's injunction to 'feed the poor; house the homeless; protect the widow and orphan and comfort the afflicted'. Mine is not an unmitigated admiration but it sure as hell impresses.


Michael Furtado | 13 July 2021  

Michael Furtado, I appreciate the obvious pains you've taken and your dispensing with the caricaturing and dismissive tone that has often regrettably detracted from fruitful past ES exchanges. I have not the time at the moment to respond to the many points you raise on this important educational, philosophical and theological matter in which we are enjoined. However, I will for now address one critical point concerning "logocentricity" and "Eurocentricity", which I see as having bearing on all the points you raise: Marxist ideology, not unlike classical Protestantism that has its roots in Tertullian's railing against pagan philosophy and its alleged dilution and distortion of the Christian faith, requires a radical 'de-Hellenising' of Catholic Christianity's intellectual framework, insofar as this centrally includes the "logos" that forms one end of the bridge between faith and reason characteristic of the Church's doctrinal exposition and development - a process which involves a recognition of the relationship between the transcendent and the immanent, the supernatural and the natural, contemplation and action. Marxist ideology in its original and derivative forms, prioritises the material and the practical, requiring reason and its metaphysical operations to confine themselves, indeed, to become, as Marx makes clear in his thesis on Feuerbach, "praxis". In this subordinating schema, Marx admits only the pragmatic or functionalist value of thought in implementing the socialist revolution of his dreams: not content with interpreting the world, thought must be converted to praxis, reduced to the status of a product of the revolution-oriented will and its exclusively immanentist objective. The metaphysical is subordinated to praxis, the gubernatorial principle of the revolution. Further, Marxism's pre-conditional elimination of God in the pursuit of its definingly and exhaustively this-worldly goal of a socialist 'heaven' on earth demands complete human autonomy from the ethical demands of a theological anthropology grounded in creaturely relationship with God. One implication of this 'liberation' is that humans are accountable only by their praxis according to the goal and methods of the all-prescribing State. Transgression consists in failure to adhere to Party determination of whatever is deemed "counter-revolutionary"; the offender s arraigned only by and before a State tribunal, and dealt with accordingly. Christianity, on the other hand, in recognising human creaturehood and the ontological grounding of its moral nature as being an intrinsic part of being fashioned in the "image and likeness" of its transcendent and eternal Maker, is answerable ultimately to the divine principle or "law" of love inscribed in its very human nature, and, in virtue of this God-conferred ontological dignity, oriented existentially to a future that is a-temporal and eternal. In the Christian schema, transgression, or "sin" consists in failing to live in accord with the law of divine love written into one's own being - the sine qua non of Christian anthropology. Sin thus transgression is not merely of mutable dictates prescribed by an absolutist State according to its exclusively secular ideology, but a violation, in more or less degree, of one's very being and ultimate beatific purpose. By contrast, in eliminating God from the start, Marxist anthropology encourages humanity's deepest self-alienation, bereft of divine forgiveness and the freedom it effects in Christ, the divine Logos enfleshed and accessible in history.


John RD | 14 July 2021  

A note on Freire's pedagogy and the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School: Unlike, say, Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, et al, Freire does not propose as necessary an adoption of the Marxist radical standpoint of rejecting God as a precondition of human freedom. His focus on inquiry and dialogue is quite consistent with the classical Greek Socratic pedagogical method, as is the emancipatory goal of education. Like Socrates, too, he starts with subject matter of common interest to the participants in the learning process. Further, unlike exponents of Critical Theory, Freire does not superimpose and require the engagement with earning's subject matter ( i.e., Critical Theory's "text" to be conducted, as it is increasingly in schooling today, through pre-emptive ideological "lenses" that restrict interpretative possibilities and meanings that the "text" can yield - a restrictiveness incommensurable with Freire's understanding of the emancipatory goal of learning and education.


John RD | 15 July 2021  

I think you split hairs, JohnRD, or else you don't genuinely comprehend what I have written. Whatever the case, your deductions profoundly reduce - to the point of misrepresentation - the work of those whom I have cited in my recent posts. My careful, even tediously long explanations, do not just assert - indeed they show how - contemporary Marxian scholars have moved light years away from Marx's dialectical materialist method. Hence your return to a critique of the Frankfurt School is both irrelevant as well as unjust, stuck in a time warp that even the Frankfurtians acknowledge, and from which you only seek to grant a special dispensation to Freire. And, none of what you write shows any semblance of addressing Boer's extraordinary new scholarship, cited extensively by me, on Christian-Marxist dialogue. I think it may well be time, before we stretch the patience of the editors to print what has been said ad infinitum already, to quote from the Socrates whom you affect so much to admire: 'When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the losers'. I regret to say this, John, for you are nothing if not polite, that your obstinacy betrays your ignorance.


Michael Furtado | 16 July 2021  

MF: If "immanence" has become "the battleground"(12/07) within Catholicism, I suggest it is largely because the term is being radically de-contextualised and divorced from its transcendent origin and eschatology as understood in the Church's tradition. The central mystery of the Incarnation of Christ, the eternal Logos "yesterday, today and forever" (Hebrews: 13:8 and celebrated in the Easter vigil liturgy) encapsulates the meeting of the transcendent and the immanent, and also reveals the connection between our moral and social actions in this life and our eternal future in the next. (Mtt: 25). (And Michael, excuse my scepticism in doubting that a 1989 "interchurch organisation" (13/07), bestowing upon itself the name "Logos" and virtually unheard of outside Queensland, is cause for the Catholic Church abandoning the use of a term of such philosophical and theological provenance, historical traction and significance in seeking understanding of who Christ, the Word made flesh, is.)


John RD | 17 July 2021  

Since you now turn discussion to style, MF, (16/07), it's true to say that what you call "hair splitting" is what I call making necessary distinctions in the pursuit of clarity, especially on matters philosophical and theological. It's also true to say that I find your style at its clearest when you are offering gratuitous editorial advice on what to do with the contributions of those whom, for their views, you consider unfit for publication in this forum, or when you are protesting at their inability to comprehend your views, or at their misrepresentations. Other than such instances, I'm afraid I usually find your views convoluted to a point where I find myself wondering whether you employ obfuscation as a method of deflection or deliberate disruption of discourse in the manner now very fashionable in some academic circles and political forums. It's also cause for wonder that you should bother to expend such energy on the comments of one about whom you now add "ignorant" to your already remarkably extensive catalogue of dismissive labels - after all, you'd be aware that the same the Socrates with whom you are so evidently expertly familiar - despite your distaste for metaphysics and its characteristic indulgence in "hair-spitting" - had advice to offer about the folly of such an exercise.


John RD | 18 July 2021  

If you trace this exchange, JohnRD, you'll note that my objections relate to your repetitious oxymorons about Critical Theory. It reprises the rewrite of history, culture and the arts that constituted the propagandising efforts of the Supreme Soviet and which now typifies the media-control of Chinese Communists. For you to drum up the Logos is to invite the misuse of that term by fundamentalists. By way of illustration, I cite a story by Shostakovich about the inter-war Soviet playwright, Vishnevsky. One play of his (indistinguishable from the rest!) is set onboard a ship during the revolution.Its intention is to portray the world as the authorities pretended it is. A commissar arrives to impose the party line on a crew of sailors and officers. She is met with indifference and scepticism. In the story, such an example of communist vigour and instant justice helps win over the sailors who are moulded into a fighting force.Deployed against the heathen war-mongering Germans they are taken prisoner but rise up against their captors. In the melee the commissar is killed but the sailors emerge as victors. 'Always uphold the Glorious traditions of the revolution!' seems to be your mantra. Your propagandising lets you down.


Michael Furtado | 18 July 2021  

As to my scepticism about Logos, it has caused some of the more orthodox theologians of recent times to claim that it should not be used in theology, while other theologians (like Tillich) claim it is absolutely necessary to a doctrine of God. Furthermore, its attribution in the NT to John, whose contribution to revelation theology flows from the Apocalypse (which the non-fundamentalist churches treat with caution) and we have JohnRD back mounting his hobby-horse of apologetics, which is is an increasingly discredited field in theology. Indeed, the Apostolic Fathers do not touch on the theology of the Logos (a short notice occurs in Ignatius of Antioch). The Apologists, on the contrary, develop it, partly owing to their philosophic training, but more particularly to their desire to state their faith in a way familiar to Greek readers (St. Justin, for example, insists strongly on the theology of the Logos in his 'Apology' meant for heathens, much less so in his 'Dialogue with the Jew Tryphon'). This 'anxiety to adapt' apologetic discussion to the circumstances of your hearers has its dangers, since it is well known that through employing this strategy apologists might land well inside the lines of their adversaries.


Michael Furtado | 18 July 2021  

MF: 'For you to drum up the Logos is to invite the misuse of that term by fundamentalists.' Tendentious argumentation, couched in emotive aspersion ("drum up"). More importantly, though, your latest posting (18/07) underestimates seriously the influence of the "Logos" concept not only in Catholic theology from earliest days, but also its very practical implementation in the history of Christianity; for instance, as a defence against false charges of atheism and persecution (cf Athenagoras: "Plea to the Emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus", 4). Further, regarding your diminishing opinion of the status of the "Logos" in contemporary theology: in an address in Subiaco (1/4, 2005) on Europe's cultural crisis - just before his election as Pope - Joseph Ratzinger had this to say: "Christianity must always remember that it is the religion of the Logos . . . only creative reason, which in the crucified God is manifested as love, can show us the way . . . We Christians must be very careful to remain faithful to this fundamental line: to live a faith that comes from the "Logos", from creative reason, and that because of this, is open to all that is truly rational." I take this summation as more representative and more relevant than the views of unidentified contemporary theologians you claim think otherwise; and who you suggest enjoy more influence.


John RD | 19 July 2021  

It seems that those who would regard apologetics as "an increasingly discredited field in theology" (MF: 18/07) espouse a very truncated view of aggiornamento, since among the "signs of the times" followers of Christ are exhorted to read and respond to in Vatican II's "Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World" is a resurgence of aggressive non-belief in God: a phenomenon that calls for a defence of the faith, especially when its tenets are distorted. Moreover, any discrediting of apologetics, or what Joseph Ratzinger has called -as distinct from an exclusively defensive function - apologetics' proactive "missionary concern to explain the content of the faith" ("The Nature and Mission of Theology", Ignatius Press, 1995, p.19 ) would be tantamount to adopting a "cancel culture" praxis with the effect of eliminating a necessary part of spreading the Good News and failing to provide from the Church's tradition a theological rationale for action as upheld in 1 Peter 3:15.


John RD | 19 July 2021  

Heaven help us: more eschatology from JohnRD, who forgets that we share these posts on a blog written by a practicising teacher of religious education. Here's what I think, John. If you can find me one contemporary Catholic educator in their classroom who teaches the 'Logos' as you appear to insist, I'll swallow my umbrella. The pastoral theology that guides the delivery of today's religious educator wouldn't in any way venture towards a discussion of apologetics, beyond an approach, I know from experience, to answering questions about proofs of God's existence (and this despite the focus on that irrelevance when you and I were last in a Jesuit classroom). Even though the Catechism of the Catholic Church mandates what ought to be taught in such contexts I would challenge Cardinal Pell and any of his cohort to translate such dogma into pedagogic modalities that, far from requiring to be palatable, should at least be digestible. 'Never mind the bitter taste; Its good for ya,' I hear you scream. Well, so what, would be my answer when there's so much else in the curriculum that addresses Christ's example of what it is to be fully human. Ask any seminarian about this!


Michael Furtado | 20 July 2021  

Teaching 'proofs' about the Real Presence invariably end up in the fruitless blind alleyways of the point-scoring, making sceptical atheists of dogma-sodden learners, rather than searchers. Rahner focused on an articulation of the sacraments as symbols: it was a major improvement on questions regarding causality and the traditional metaphysical arguments surrounding 'transubstantiation'. These he transplanted with phenomenology and intentionality rather than ontology and causality. Kung emphasises that personal faith must intermingle with an action, asking: What good is it if the bread is changed and we are not? Do we accept our own participation in God’s divinity? Are we ready to become the food we rise to receive? Are we not the Church, the presence of Christ, not Bette Midler's version of a distant person, but God here and now? For aeons we have used the phrase, ‘the real presence of Christ.’ We ARE the body, the members of Christ: His Presencc in the assembly; His Presence in the Spoken Word; His Witness in every action in the World! We share in His divine nature by virtue of our baptism (1, Peter). The fact that Christ Himself called God ‘Father’ was a scandal to his fellow Jews. In teaching us to say ‘Our Father,’ We share in His Sonship. God became human, so that all humanity can share in God's life. THAT surely is the relevance of the Logos, John!


Michael Furtado | 20 July 2021  

Michael Furtado: Authentic pastoral theology, praxis and Church teaching are all inherently connected, a principle of Catholic doctrine that I think underlies Archbishop Anthony Fisher's recently delivered inaugural Kathleen Burrow Lecture. He says: "We must counteract secularity's immunisation of our children against faith, awakening in them an appetite for God, and helping them find answers to their deepest longing. This may require . . . the conscious reworking of strategies, pedagogy and curriculums." I doubt that such a task would be helped by prematurely introducing Rahner and Kung into the average classroom - both address, often in highly abstract and complex terms, the metaphysical issues of cause and effect that you deprecate as they establish their respective emphases in sacramental theology. Neither Rahner nor Kung can dispense with the ontology of the sacraments themselves, since the sacraments involve "being" and its efficacy as participation in the life of God; so that, as you say, "We share in His Sonship. God became human, so that all humanity can share in God's life." Affirming this sacramental reality, originate in the "Word made flesh", does not exclude, let alone necessitate removal of, "logos" terminology from serious historical, philosophical and theological discourse - quite the opposite: it requires it. In "Hearer of the Word" - perhaps Rahner's most important work in the philosophy of religion - he conceives God as the infinite horizon of being and of human inquiry, and affirms God's knowability as "the remote cause of that which is". Rahner also affirms Christ as the declared "Word" of God in history whose decisive coming as the Creative Logos elicits human response.


John RD | 21 July 2021  

John, Fisher's extirpation of secularism is his 'back-to-basics' undoing. Since this is a conversation about effective teaching I offer, yet again, a distinction between the 'is' and the 'ought', the latter having by common agreement switched off that vitally necessary hearing-aid we all carry and which constitutes the missing link between what you and Roy call the magisterium and how people, young and old, actually learn. I explain by analogy: fiction and fact are different. With fiction the writer (or teacher) does the hard work for us. Fictional characters are easier to 'see', given a competent novelist and a competent teacher. They are placed at a distance, moved this way and that, posed to 'catch the light', turned to reveal 'depth', addressed with irony (that infrared camera for shedding light in darkness, exposing cant when no one's looking). Facts are different: the better you know someone the less you know them. Too much blur; no focus! Our first reading, as with faith, is invariably inadequate: too flattering and naive. So also with catechesis: like couples who fall out of love, the fault often lies with rose-coloured glasses worn by both parties, risking jaundice through an overload of 'if-you-slap-enough-crap-on-the-wall-some-of-it-is-bound-to-stick'. Quelle horreur!


Michael Furtado | 22 July 2021  

In classroom teaching, pedagogy presupposes subject matter - in the case under discussion, matter pertaining to our relationship with God. In Catholic understanding, personally professed faith presupposes relevant knowledge. Methodologies, the 'hows' of learning, may vary, but their aim is common: to equip learners with reliable content complemented by opportunities to see and experience faith in action (which, in a Catholic context, includes sacraments). It is more than helpful if teachers are competent in the knowledge relevant to their courses and love the subjects they teach, inspiring enthusiasm and trust in their students. This applies as much in religious education as it does in secular subjects: the example of colleagues over nearly forty years of teaching enables me to accept this as a datum. Good example is catching, faith can be caught. Apart from its obviously deprecatory tone, I've no idea, Michael, what you mean in saying: "Fisher's extirpation of secularism is his undoing." Do you expect a Catholic bishop, especially one with both Jesuit and Dominican educational background, to turn a blind eye to an increasingly aggressive secularism that allows no place for God in the public forum? And I'd have thought you would have supported the Archbishop's strong endorsement in the same address of the importance of aesthetics in curriculum, and his vision of Catholic schooling as more than merely equipping students for "job readiness."


John RD | 23 July 2021  

John, I was less 'harsh' than 'constrained.' The traditional black robes of Jesuitry offer an explanatory paradox as well as a better cypher than the white robes of Dominicanism when it comes to teaching. Perhaps that's why there aren't so many good Dominican schools. To more seriously elaborate: the weddedness of some (You? Roy? John Frawley? Sundry others in these columns) to Aquinas exposes a lack of appreciation of poetry which, for many like me, constitutes a severe handicap to evangelisation. For me the canonical language of Thomism ('Dominicanism', I call it) constitutes an insuperably awkward vehicle for transmitting what you, more deftly than Roy, privilege as Roy's bleak and blistering magisterium. And despite what Archbishop Fisher's criticism of that awful 'job-readiness' view of education, he needs to try much harder to employ a language of invitation and attraction if others are to listen to him. In fact, his is a 'back to basics' theology that misleads and distracts his flock from the good that he could be doing. Its both pedagogically fraught as well as content-deficient, as was exposed in these columns when Bill Uren easily took him on in Fisher's most peculiar and mangled criticism of the vaccine.


Michael Furtado | 24 July 2021  

Michael Furtado: Are you talking about the same Archbishop Fisher who in his Kathleen Burrow lecture says: "Through art, poetry or music we can experience a sort of transport, shock, or thrill that intimates something greater, deeper, sublime. This sense of more enlarges the soul", and goes on to affirm with Benedict XVI how experiences of beauty in sublime artistic expressions " . . . are true roads to God, the Supreme Beauty, and help us to grow in our relationship with Him in prayer."? This sounds very much like an invitation to me - as do the liturgical hymns of St Thomas Aquinas. Of course, this won't do at all for contemporary cultural Marxists who dismiss aesthetics as bourgeois self-indulgence and religious sensibility as fantasy, evaluating art by its ideological utility. Hence their insistence on interposing "lenses" between the reader and the text, effectively preventing the work under consideration from speaking for itself. And so we get "readings" of text that have nothing to do with authorial intent, but plenty to do with politically superimposed orthodoxy. With this going on, and academic performance in Australia going down, you'll perhaps understand why I support calls for attention to the "the basics" of educational philosophy and curriculum content. Here's part of a recent poem "The Thought-crime of Joseph K" - not sublime, but one, I think, ad rem: "Moving between the Exhibition's/paintings of the Masters/I hum Mussorgsky's first Promenade to myself/transported, dumbstruck/at the forms and colours/dancing in my head,/compelled to contemplation/by their radiant beauty. . ./ at the time, blissfully unaware/that my enchantment was,/according to the wise apparatchiks/of the State/a counter-revolutionary diversion of the kind/that reinforces resignation/to a bourgeois opiate among the masses/as threatening as real religious faith/to the agenda and pretensions/of the secular State . . ."


John RD | 25 July 2021  

Nice to see that Anthony Fisher has an appreciation of aesthetics and the part they play in human growth and development. (Did you craft his speech, John?) A pity he didn't show this in his endorsement of the Coalition Government's treatment of refugees, when he endorsed their off-shore detention policy at the last election: yet another glaring gap in the discourse of this awkward and bumbling man, torn between the gifts of his Dominican calling and his ill-fitting episcopal positioning. In a sense JohnRD's defense of Fisher is perfectly explicable in the context of the immense gaps that John struggles to bridge with his grand jetes between applauding Pope Francis and chiding everybody on site for doing the same. Careful those tights don't split, John, especially after the very long and detailed exchange we've had about Marxism and your sly inference that I support the state-endorsed artistic dross of the Stalinists. Paradoxically it is this version of Catholicism that John endorses, and which is the most obviously identifiable propagandising theme in all his remarks. 'What we need,' he appears to be saying, 'is a more optimistic portrayal of Catholicism', an oxymoron that runs like a thread through all his posts.


Michael Furtado | 26 July 2021  

Michael Furtado: I'll ignore the diversions of your personal references (26/07) to address your misconception that my concern is to promote an "optimistic portrayal of Christianity." My issue here is actually with the current influence of neo-Marxism in educational curriculum and your persistently romantic portrayal of it as basically a benign ideology and ally in the advancement of the Christian faith as articulated in Catholic Social Teaching. In CTS, axiomatically, the conception of human dignity is ontologically secured in humanity's relationship with God and the human person's innate capacity to engage in profound and intimate dialogue with their Creator. This relationship - the innermost sanctum and source of dialogue in Christian anthropology - is categorically denied in Marxism, which, nothing if not consistent with its atheistic premise, relegates the status of human relationship with God to the realm of private fantasy, sidelines its expression from the public forum, and portrays its contribution to history as generically obstructive and oppressive.


John RD | 31 July 2021  

John, my remarks aren't personal; rather they are colourful analogies about how your favourite - and limited - criticisms of Marxism repeatedly come unstuck. Catholic Social Teaching and Liberation Theology, itself enormously advanced by this papacy, share a great deal in common, including the experience of human suffering, struggle, conscientisation and solidarity with the oppressed, which are condemned by those so unnerved by an outdated Marxism as to resurrect its discredited methodology as a means of belittling contemporary critical studies approaches to the study of the curriculum. The additional attitude of superannuants like you to apply Leavisite practices offers outdated apolitical status quo readings that disempower students from engaging with the text . As to the social sciences, while Marxist interpretations have long since been abandoned by those who regard all text as amoral and substantially phenomenological, (as for instance in the view that History has no lessons to teach), both Religious Education and Habermasian praxis reveal close and complementary approaches between the two, especially in regard to promoting education for justice. All your indignation indicates, John, is that your conservative and reactionary ecclesiology, as witnessed in your defense of Archbishop Fisher, is under constant and, I suspect, universal siege.


Michael Furtado | 02 August 2021  
Show Responses

Michael Furtado, the politicised Critical Theory reading of texts - especially in its disregard for authorial intent - merely amplifies the disrespect for the individual which characterises Marxist thinking. At the same time it inhibits the scope of interpretation, a criticism evident in growing dissatisfaction by students and parents with the prejudicial restrictiveness of response it imposes, and the narrowing of reading lists to texts that encourage ideological interpretation as filtered through prescribed "lenses". Moreover, your own employment of terms like "conservative" and "reactionary" in classifying ecclesiology typifies the reductive and misapplied critical lexicon Critical Theory methodology seeks to produce.


John RD | 02 August 2021  

It seems to me, Michael, that while Habermas's acceptance of Christian participatory discourse in the public sphere distinguishes him from Marxists who seek the silencing and even abolition of religion - especially Christianity - his procedure of self-described "methodological atheism" squarely situates the provenance of his thinking in classical Marxism, and, from the start, prejudices Marxist-Christian dialogue against the possibility of the relationship between the divine and the human and its practical implications for the individual and society. Effectively, Christianity will only be acceptable in such "dialogue" if it translates and subordinates its theological claims based on divine revelation to an exclusively secularised conception of humanity and society, and speaks in accord with the State's supposedly democratic determinations on issues at the cost of its distinctive message and identity.


John RD | 05 August 2021  

An interesting concession, John, which typically raises more questions than answers. Not all atheists are marxists, as you should know. Indeed, in a post-marxist, postmodern world the secularists, rendered rudderless by the inadequacies of the literary canon, are mainly nihilists and fantasist technocrats, floating aimlessly in a Sargasso Sea of brilliantly insightful critique but without guidance from either any politics or religion of an identifiable kind, and generally marked by extreme antipathy towards the latter (as evidenced in Julian Barnes' 'Nothing to Be Frightened Of' as well as the work of both Amises.) Additionally, your political axes are a bit passe by now. Since at least the time of Thatcher and Reagan, all our politics and democratic elections in the developed world have been contested by parties of the Right which compete with one another to embrace the economics of deregulation. Therefore to appeal to 'statism' as a threat is not only to misapply the policy sextant, but to invoke an analysis that has long been abandoned and which has moved on - for instance in Jesuit and papal discourse - to embrace a theology that is neither of the so-called Left or Right, but much more ecological and cosmological.


Michael Furtado | 26 August 2021  

"Statism . . . a policy that has long been abandoned."(26/8). Not so in social matters, Michael: so long as self-styled enlightened and liberal states legally support abortion and euthanasia, and re-define traditional marriage, "statism' holds as an apt description.


John RD | 05 September 2021  

And just another thing, MF: it's a curious way of thinking that claims to encourage dialogue while it routinely deploys the bellicose metaphor of "siege" and accuses those it besets of inciting culture wars.


John RD | 03 August 2021  
Show Responses

An interesting point, coming from a former teacher of Religion and English Literature, who takes as his term of reference a book by Alan Bloom ('The Closing o the American Mind') that was written in 1985 and published in 1987, nearly 35 years ago. Since then there has been an outpouring of Eng Lit that bears witness, at least in the Catholic schools that I know and admire as well as several others, to the wisdom of various principals, many of them Jesuits, who would scratch their heads in wonderment at Bloom's literary taxonomy which lived and died in childbirth. Despite the efforts of some to revive it (as for instance at the University of Notre Dame Australia, in response to the offer of a considerable bribe) there is no evidence ANYWHERE ELSE ON GOD"S EARTH (NB. High casing denoting emphasis and not shouting!) of a reputable university, whether Catholic, American or anywhere elsewhere, endorsing your quaint antediluvian views. For anyone to do so in this day and age is to appeal to sentiment verging upon mourning for a lost youth. To persist in doing so, I regret to say, is to betray all the signs of a siege mentality.


Michael Furtado | 28 August 2021  

Classical literature, of its nature, transcends the particularities of its own cultural origin and explores themes recognisable and relevant to all cultures - a reason for its translation all over the world. The late Allan Bloom resisted the notion of literature as merely a platform for ideological deconstruction and a vehicle of imperialist hegemony - a stance, predictably, that incurred the wrath of the new Left, and drew comparable fire from the same quarters for its exposure of the strategic Gramscian capture of language and humanities departments in American universities, an enterprise begun in New York City's Columbia University in the 1930s. Roger Kimball, today editor of "The New Criterion", wrote in "The New York Times" (5/4/1987) on Bloom's "The Closing of the American Mind": ". . . an unparalleled reflection on the whole question of what it means to be a student in today's intellectual and moral climate." Sad to say, it seems only those incapable of appreciating enduringly illuminating and inspiring literature would dismiss its universal value, and regard its admirers and advocates as afflicted by an arrested development "verging on mourning for a lost youth."


John RD | 01 September 2021  

My God! This thread seems to have become a two way exchange between the redoubtable and somewhat verbose Dr Furtardo (Yes, I know I tend that way too, Michael. Pot and kettle? ROFL.) and John RD, that redoubtable defender of all things Traditional and Scholastic. Very rarely at Cambridge, instead of an individual supervision (they call it a tutorial at Oxford) do you get a pair that spark each other off. This is what is happening. Sadly, I think they both tend to become a wee bit too theoretical here. I am reminded of the words of a distinguished Brigade of Gurkhas officer at a 'warfighting' seminar in the US. After hearing all the academic palaver, he began his incisive and insightful talk 'I am just a simple soldier...' William of Wykeham, the founder of Winchester College all those long years ago summed it up in the motto he chose for his new school 'Manners maketh man'. He was not talking about the right fork to use for a fish, or other, dish but about a Christian whole man. Unless we do so now and turn out men and women effected by the Christian ethos (I am not talking of narrow 'Churchianity' here) we are lost.


Edward Fido | 04 August 2021  

Great Thanks, Edward. My concern was to defend and praise all teachers in Catholic schools and not to burden them with the sins of society. That said, 'Blessed are the Peacemakers....' !


Michael Furtado | 05 August 2021  

There is definitely a place for Catholic schools and teachers therein, Michael. Winchester - hard to match because it's so idiocyncratic, it even has its own language - was founded as a Catholic school by a Catholic bishop. I am greatly in favour of schools being co-ed. The Christian Brothers College, St Kilda - excellent place with no Brothers now (I could write a song by that name) - has gone co-ed and taken over the premises of Windsor Convent across Dandenong Road. A normal, middle class Australian place, which turned out both Bob Maguire and Morris West. Catholic schools, at their best, embody a wide Christian Charity which is hard to match. But Anglican schools, such as my alma mater, tend to turn out more independent thinking men. Many are excellent Christians in a very understated Anglo-Australian way. I like that.


Edward Fido | 07 August 2021  
Show Responses

Delighted by your highly personalised posts, Edward. I don't always subscribe to your reflections on the schools that you know so well, and which you have entitlement to reminisce about. Its not that I disregard the histories that made such schools, but that in this day and age we should recognise that some of the values they inscribe have been overtaken by new and contemporary exigencies as, indeed, every era throws up a multitude of its own. A close friend of mine is Jonathan Katz, who is a musicologist of repute as well as a Sanskrit scholar. Jonathan, who is Jewish on his father's side and Anglican on his mother's, was High Master at Winchester, which I know quite well through him. Now a Fellow of All Souls' and Research Fellow at St Anne's, his impact is mediated by the kind of person that he is, always generous and availing, instantly multicultural (he has an Indian spouse) and, as a highly dedicated school-teacher, he is now on global call to teach Ethics (my field) to international students. I think all students, regardless of class and denomination, are not beyond exposure to this, regardless of school. Its the teacher that counts!


Michael Furtado | 16 August 2021  

I would stick to the K.I.S.S. formula, Michael. I am reminded of the communication Sir Winston Churchill, when First Sea Lord, sent Jackie Fisher, then Head of the Navy: 'Please explain, on a sheet of paper, how the Royal Navy is being prepared for the exigencies of modern war.' I rest my case.


Edward Fido | 10 August 2021  

These days I would plump first for Quaker schools, Michael. I think they've got it. Also places like Scotch College, Melbourne, which is a real pace setter. They have staff like Doug Galbraith, who recently retired after 40 years as Director of Boarding. A man of outstanding integrity who gave up a career as an accountant to teach. I knew him from our own schooldays. So many private school educators, like my own saintly Housemaster of Miller House, MGS, the late Noel 'Dogger' Banks, another man of real Christian Faith and absolute personal integrity, have influenced so many for such good. 'Ordinary' Catholic schools, not the Xaviers or Genazzanos, which are Major League, such as the CBC St Kilda, now sans Brothers and co-ed, formulate decent people. Without these decent, often humble, people this country would be a far worse place IMHO. It is a pity when sensible Jesuit Rectors make what seem to me to be sane, normal Christian comments on education and inclusion they are savaged by ignorant ranting ratbags. Thank God the Jesuits are not under the control of the appalling Catholic hierarchy, who seem stuck in the days of Mannix where priests ruled the roost and Catholics were supposed to be cowed and absolutely subservient to the hierarchy in all things, even the way they voted!


Edward Fido | 11 August 2021  

x

Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up