8. How ‘Back to Drastics’ Happened

Remember Back to Basics,  Spelling,  Tables,  M:ACOS,  SEMP,  Public Exams,  Black Papers,  Messageways,  Study of Society,  Sex Education and the Male report,  Multicultural Education,  Religious Education,  Rona Joyner & STOP-CARE,  “Satan’s Bid for Your Child”,  Colin Lamont & ‘sharpening pencils’,  Ahern Committee,  Bassett Committee & ‘insufficient evidence to suggest need for change [of structure]’  etc.  etc.  from 1976 onwards?  Very interesting times.

During his term as Director of Primary Education, 1975-88 with the Queensland State Department of education, Phil Cullen lasted through some exciting times. He managed to keep newspaper cuttings, Hansard clippings, cartoons, articles and letters that applied to most of the heady issues of the time. Gathering the important aspects as part of his personal memoirs, he then wrote the history that surrounded them for his personal satisfaction.

In retirement he was able to visit the Freedom of Information section of the Premiers Department to examine the surprisingly voluminous file [132 folios with access to 100, partial access to 9 and 23 unavailable]. The visit provided some information that had previously been hidden from view.

He re-shaped his writings and changed titles a number of times; first, 1976 and All That then Pressure Groups and Educational Decision-Making. He handed out copies to friends and one of them passed a copy now called Back to Drastics to Professor Frank Crowther of the University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba.  Professor Crowther felt that it represented a short history of a turbulent period that educators ought to know about; and he arranged to have it printed as the first in a series of monographs.  It was checked by members of the Education faculty, Barry Fields and Jon Austin, as well as by legal folk; and then prepared for publication by Joanne Ryan. Permission to repeat significant letters and cartoons [by McCrea, Moir and Hinchliffe] was sought and kindly granted.

The story should have some appeal for those who have memories of the time and for those who are interested in political influence and control as well as in curriculum design and application. During the period from 1976 onwards, Phil was lucky to ‘last’. Moral campaigners and one particular short-term politician went after him. They believed that they had special rights to judge ‘goodness’ and ‘badness’ in curriculum matters and, importantly, the right to punish those responsible for perceived naughtiness. They ‘dobbed’ him to the Premier and members of Parliament whenever they got the chance and his position was regularly threatened.

A firm believer that an education authority’s structure ought to be based on a school model that caters essentially for children who are forced to go to school, he unsuccessfully opposed the business structure that came into existence circa 1990. The welfare of compulsory school-attenders ought to be a major part of government business; so the monograph also deals with the drastic alterations to the State Department that got rid of school divisions, school  inspectors and the rigorous appointment to higher positions by merit. He believed that the re-structure would go down in history as a monumental muck-up.

The monograph was launched on 15 June, 2008 by the Australian Council for Educational Leadership [Q’ld.], at a time just prior to the departure of Professor Frank Crowther from his position at USQ. His contribution to the progress of educational thought around Australia has been outstanding. Phil Cullen is proud to have shared the interest of such a distinguished educator and is extremely grateful to ACEL [Q’ld] for its remarkable generosity and support.

[Extract from Brochure]