Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Thanks Georgie

Just when I couldn't think of anything to post today, along comes Cardinal George Pell (for some great photos look here) with a diatribe against relativism in the classroom.
I'm not the biggest fan of relativist teaching in the classroom. However I think there is a case for at least some relativist influence. Students need some grounding in reality and an understanding of societal norms. However, they also need to learn to question and to realise that those societal norms are a controlling force whose influence should always be questioned.
George Pell, and other conservatives like to argue that there are absolutes in the world. That our morality and decisions are based on some underlying truths. What if these truths were something different from those that they believe in? They like to believe in absolute truths because they think that the dominant social norms are evidence of the existence of absolute truth. At the same time, however, they are worried that relativist teaching could eat away at the "accepted" norms of our society.
Pell worries that Australia is rejecting it's moral principles,

"it was hard only 50 years ago to believe we would abort 100,000 babies a year,
contemplate men marrying men, killing the sick, experimenting on human

it doesn't seem to occur to him that maybe Australia is developing a more refined set of moral principles. He tries to argue that the rejection of his principles as the rejection of all. In reality I think he just fears that his principles will be superseded and that he would prefer classroom teaching to be a tool for reinforcing the dominant social structures (that is Christian teaching and Anglo-American traditions).
Oh yea, "100 000 babies" aborted. The 100 000 figure is extremely disputable, and the use of the term "babies" is completely emotive...
Lets turn his quote on its head:
It was hard only 50 years ago to believe that we would no longer have a white Australia policy, would no longer take Aboriginal children from their families, that women might one-day achieve equality with men on all levels....
Take your pick Georgie boy, there are plenty of examples in history where challenging the dominant societal norms has led to a progression in society. Teaching from a critical, relativist, perspective is an important part of this process. Sometimes your beliefs will be attacked, sometimes they will be reinforced.