Here I am, back on my soap box again…
This article popped up on Facebook today – Australian school curriculum to force acceptance of multiculturalism. And it got me mad, for much the same reasons that the anti-plain packaging campaign made me mad; it’s yet another example of the media trying to manipulate people’s attitudes by playing fast and loose with the truth. And boy oh boy, are they good at it, judging by the reactions of average Australian citizens on Facebook and in the comments section of the article.
Seeing as this is a post on bias and manipulation, I’ll be upfront with my biases. I’m not Australian born. I come from one of those cultures that, according to this article, the evil Australian government is trying to force people to tolerate. I work in an Australian primary school and I have three children being educated by the Victorian state school system, where in many classrooms, the third generation Australian born student is in a minority. This was certainly the case in my son’s class last year, when a show of hands on a visit to the Immigration Museum showed that roughly three quarters of the class were either born outside Australia or had parents who were born outside Australia.
You can probably guess what my opinion is of the Australian Government’s initiative to promote multiculturalism. But I’m not going to try to convince you that it’s a good idea. My aim is to point out why you shouldn’t accept in knee-jerk fashion one Aussie journalist’s sneaky attempts to convince you that it’s a bad one.
So let’s take a look at this article. The manipulation starts at the headline. The writer, Bruce McDougall, asserts that students are being forced to accept multiculturalism. Facebook commentators seized on this one word as if it were the gospel truth. “Forced acceptance is no acceptance at all,” they cry. Well, last I looked, they don’t force anything at school. Teach, yes. Force, no. Imagine if he had written this – “Australian school curriculum to force students to learn English.” How many readers would automatically assume that learning English is a bad idea, just because of that one word? Yet they’re willing to believe that Australian youth are going to be held at gunpoint in classrooms across the country, just because Mr McDougall says so.
The second sentence in the article says –
Young Australians will be trained in “cultural competency” during classes as part of the Gillard Government’s plan to boost support for multiculturalism and outlaw negative attitudes.
Note the placing of the term ‘cultural competency’ in quotation marks to imply that the concept is somehow suspect. Nice work, Bruce. My favourite part of this sentence (and by ‘favourite’, I mean, ‘makes me want to beat my head against the wall in despair’) is the final three words. Outlaw negative attitudes? That, my friend, is an out and out lie. For a start, even if the Gillard Government wanted to make bad thoughts illegal, it is impossible to do so. We simply do not have the technology to accurately read people’s minds. I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I think Mr McDougall has been watching too many science fiction movies. Outlaw negative actions, however… we can, do, and I contend, should already do that. It’s legal to hate your neighbour; it’s not legal to bludgeon him to death and bury his remains in a shallow grave.
Having already planted the seeds of mistrust and dissent, Mr McDougall gets a little subtler in his manipulations. He uses the word ‘spruik’, with its negative connotations of hard selling and manipulation (ironic, isn’t it?). ‘Offensive’ also comes with negative connotations of aggression and force. ‘The Government has decided’ is always good for a giggle in a news article, because it seems to trigger an almost allergic reaction in reactionaries who automatically take the opposite position without even thinking.
In the second half of the article we see some semblance of unbiased reporting, but by then the damage has been done. The reader has already been primed to view the rest of the article unfavourably.
Come on, Australia. Please prove to me that you’re smarter than that.