“Welcome to the New South Wales education system,” said Liberal Legislative Councillor Peter Phelps, “where students can be told ‘it’s OK to fellate your boyfriend three times a week, but because of health requirements you can only have a sausage roll once every semester’.”
These words should make anyone concerned about the state of our political discourse.
Because Phelps is right and his comments should not generate the kind of faux outrage-induced backlash they have.
In recent decades, public health totalitarianism has crept insidiously into our policy discussions. It now permeates into other areas of government including our education policy and how our schools are administered. It throws its weight around using alarmist claims about a childhood obesity ‘epidemic’ when childhood obesity levels have plateaued for more than a decade. It casts aspersions on Aussie parents everywhere, telling them that the state knows best since they are clearly not fit to teach their own children about healthy eating and lifestyle. Outside of education, it drives draconian calls to institute ‘sugar taxes’ which disproportionately hurt the poor.
Phelps’ words echo at a time when the public health orthodoxy of recent decades is being increasingly called into question. For years we were told that fats were the nutritional equivalent of Stalin or Osama – public enemy #1. Now we know these claims to be false or exaggerated. The BMI or Body Mass Index, a statistic so fundamentally flawed that it would place many elite athletes with under 10% body fat in the ‘obese’ or ‘overweight’ category since it ignores basic variables of bone density and muscle mass, continues to be parroted ad nauseam.
Elsewhere, our public health advocates are responsible for keeping life-saving vaping technology – a proven smoking cessation tool which has helped over 6 million Europeans quit carcinogenic tobacco smoking, out of the hands of consumers, citing concerns as vague as the potential for kids to take up the electronic devices because they ‘look cool’. Even this lofty claim has been disproven.
Which brings us back to the classroom.
Our education system has seen better days. We now spend more than most of our OECD trading partners and other developed nations on school funding per student and the government’s Gonski 2.0 is about to throw an additional 18 billion dollars of taxpayer money at the problem without concrete guidelines about where the funding will go or what outcomes it will address. Yet so far, this has had little impact on erasing the abysmal disparity in our students’ performance relative to other countries in important fields such as Mathematics. There are clearly areas where we can raise the bar higher, but there appears to be little courage or initiative taken to make radical change to our curriculum in these important, pragmatic fields. Fields with a direct impact on the future employability of students in high-paying careers within an increasingly internationalised job market.
It seems that our priorities lie elsewhere.
Sex ed continues to liberalise, exposing younger students to more explicit content than in years past and there have even been calls to introduce lessons on crossdressing in early childhood education. There has also been a big-time push for radical gender theory in the form of ‘Safe Schools’, a program that was intended as an anti-bullying measure and remains in Victoria despite a withdrawal of federal funding following a nation-wide backlash from parents. When authorities including the American College of Paediatricians have published statements condemning and cautioning against the teaching of radical gender theory to young and impressionable students who are too young to critically appraise these ideas for themselves, one genuinely wonders whether Science or Politics is a higher priority for the powers in control.
The impact of these agendas is felt outside the classroom. We now hear of children as young as 4 being given the green light for sex change operations, permanently altering their bodies.
But god forbid if students should consume sausage rolls, party pies, mars bars or any other ‘forbidden fruits’. Or if their parents would be so evil as to include a chocolate treat in their lunchbox – something parents of primary schoolers have already been condemned for by school establishments.
Aussie parents have been making responsible decisions about their kids’ dietary habits for years. Treats have been included in lunchboxes for decades, well before childhood obesity became the moral crisis of our times it supposedly is today – a crisis which appears to be largely manufactured as multiple studies delving deeper into the oft-parroted statistics indicate.
In any event, our primary school ‘fatty boombahs’ aren’t bouncing around because they consume a sausage roll once a week. A complex range of factors including levels of physical activity and the holistic quality of their diets apply. Parents and families are best placed to make these choices when they are given a realistic appraisal of what we know, not preached to every time they decide to reward their child with a sweet treat as if the notion of a sweet treat were some new creation of our modern, dark fast food age and not a time-honoured childhood tradition that goes back generations.
Phelps should be commended for his courage and the important point he is making – a point highlighted and emphasised by his deliberate use of a controversial example. Not ‘pulled into line’ as some have called for.
When we value political correctness over common sense in our education and health policy, it is our culture and our children who stand to suffer the most.
Satyajeet Marar is a Research Associate at the Australian Taxpayers' Alliance
[This article first appeared in The Spectator Australia]