Senator Pauline Hanson has sparked a flurry of furious fake news with a speech to Parliament about education. And as usual, the histrionics in the headlines obscure the facts and obstruct a constructive conversation.
Let’s start with some context. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has ranked 41 high and middle income countries in achieving quality education. It measured the performance of 15 year old children in reading, maths and science. Finland has the best results for its kids, followed by Malta and South Korea. Australia came 39th. Out of a large field of 41 comparably or less wealthy nations, our education standards are the third worst. Only Romania and Turkey do worse than us. 
The legislation being debated currently is the Education Funding Bill, referred to as Gonski 2.0. In brief, the shared belief between the major leftist parties (Greens, Labor and Liberal) is that by spending more money indiscriminately we’ll get a higher result for a children. That’s right. It’s a money problem, and nothing to do with curriculum, class rooms or culture.
Enter the popularly pilloried Pauline Hanson. The Senator gave a speech in the normal manner to which we’re accustomed to hearing from her. Putting it kindly, she lacks a certain polish and sophistication we’re used to hearing from more professional politicians, and she employs sometimes regrettable turns of phrase and words.
Senator Hanson began by explaining that parents and teachers have been telling her often that classroom time is being taken up by children who have a disability or who are autistic. She immediately confirmed that those kids have an equal right to education. She then suggested that they should be given special attention in separate classes where there were sufficient numbers to justify it. Her point was that the rest of the class was being unfairly deprived of their teacher’s attention. She again empathised that she wasn’t suggesting that disabled and autistic children should be deprived of quality attention either, but despaired “at the loss of our other kids.”
Senator Hanson clumsily observed that Australia has seen dramatic increases in the numbers of children with autism and yet we have not kept up in adequately catering for them. She underlined that we need to take this into consideration, and to not make feelings the most important achievement of our education system – in not so many words.
“But we have to be realistic at times and consider the impact that it’s having on other children in that classroom. We can’t afford to hold our kids back.”
Senator Hanson made reference to our terrible and sliding standards in global education outcomes and the need to focus on our education standard. She predicted that skilled jobs will increasingly go to better educated immigrants if we couldn’t do better at training the next generation of workers.
It was admittedly terribly articulated when she concluded with the words,
“We need to get rid of these people because you want everyone to feel good about themselves. Let’s get some common sense back into our classrooms and what we do.“
According to the Courier Mail, her office later clarified that “those people” referred to “do-gooders” demanding autistic children remain in mainstream classrooms.  If I was on her staff I’d insist she read speeches verbatim, because of the disingenuousness of the media and her discomfort ad libbing.
But I don’t think it takes an intellectual giant to grant her a little bit of the benefit of the doubt and understand what she was trying to say, but that doesn’t serve sensational headlines, does it?
The headline from the Courier Mail read, “Pauline’s Plan To Get Rid Of Autistic Kids”. How ridiculous. That wasn’t the point of her speech. I don’t care whether any politician succeeds or fails, but we all care how our nation goes, and misleading headlines like that don’t help. She doesn’t want to “get rid” of kids with special needs. She wants to meet their special needs without failing to meet the needs of the rest of the children in the nation – which is clearly happening!
I don’t pretend to know enough to say whether I think her plan is good or not, or if it’s even a plan and not just a thought bubble, but I do know that the conversation is helpful and necessary. I know that getting hurt and pouty prevents objective analysis of proposed ideas. I know that dismissing someone before they even start talking is not open-minded. I know that simply throwing more money at schools is a terrible idea on many levels – popular, but ill-conceived. A race to see who can spend the most is intellectually bankrupt, and will have the same effect on us economically.
But how can we even have a conversation about good ideas and bad ideas if you’re not even really listening to what a Senator is trying to say, however badly she might be saying it? Listen to each other, people! And if someone mangles their words a bit and it comes out rather unfortunately, eat the fish and spit out the bones. Give them the benefit of the doubt and see what you might agree with as well as what doesn’t sound so reasonable. It might lead to a better conversation instead of useless emotionalism from elected representatives.
Take this ridiculous display of emotional manipulation from Labor MP, Emma Husar, and described as “perfect” by Labor Leader Bill Shorten MP. She offers zero engagement with the argument and evidence. All she has is simplistic and opportunistic focus on feelings, the highest standard of debate from the left and apparently the desired outcome for our children. She doesn’t want a conversation about improved outcomes for all kids. She just wants an apology.
“I have come out here today because I am angry and I’m upset, but most of all I am disappointed. I am disappointed that in 2017 we’ve got people like Senator Hanson sitting over there in the Senate making ill-informed comments about kids that are autistic that they don’t belong in a mainstream class and calling for them to be segregated. Kids like my son Mitch, who’s 10 and autistic… I was told that he would never speak, that I should never expect that Mitch could play in a sports team with his age-matched peers or that he could be included in a mainstream class — but he is and he does very, very well.“
She waffled on and on, and you can watch it above if you have the time or could be bothered to hear absolutely no arguments at all that addressed the issue Senator Hanson raised. She dog-whistled to everybody looking for another chance to be offended and indignant that Senator Hanson wasn’t sensitive to their feelings. All the Left can do is mount character attacks – ironically.
Well the facts don’t care about our feelings, yet media and political elites like this Labor whiner continue to ignore the real issues about the students really being neglected in favour of an opportunity to grab the spotlight and cry. There are facts which are supported by evidence which Senator Hanson alluded to and which I quoted above. These are facts which the lovely lady calling Senator Hanson ill-informed conveniently ignores.
The parents and teachers complaining to Senator Hanson are not less important than Emma Husar. What if they are angry and upset? Has debate in Australia reduced to a contest of emotional distress in the victim olympics?
Emma Husar plays parents for fools, advocating for autistic kids’ inclusion as if it’s the last battle for civil rights. Meanwhile in the real world, the issue raised is the question of their current level of inclusion distracting teachers from the rest of the student population. What we can take away from her little speech is she wants everyone else’s children to get less attention, and finds our education standards completely unremarkable – obviously as she gave it no remarks.
Come on! Can’t we have a single conversation in this country without somebody getting offended and needing headlines and hugs before we can get back to fixing the problems?! 38 out of 41 countries have better education outcomes than us, and we’re the 12th largest economy in the world. Money isn’t the problem.
The outrage industry is in overdrive and it’s hurting our nation. We are becoming dumber and dumberer by making emotions more important than evidence. It’s time media consumers and voters wised up and rejected offense as an option.
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