Home | Opinion | When did human rights become racist? A reflection on relativism in Australian education

When did human rights become racist? A reflection on relativism in Australian education

I am an agnostic left-leaning history academic and a high school teacher committed to the defence of human rights and, in the era of alternative facts, truth and civility. I had always assumed that most humanities teachers in this country, regardless of political leanings, were on the same boat. The first signs that this was not the case, and that something was seriously amiss, came some years ago, when I began lecturing in Australian history. My 17 and 18-year-old students, most of whom were studying to become teachers, were arguing in their essays that Hitler should not be judged, and that we should always uphold a balanced view about history. Judging Hitler (yes, Hitler) was unbalanced. Paper after paper argued that there was no truth, just perspectives, all of which were equally valid or equally questionable. The sheer amount of teenagers upholding this hollow and extreme cultural and moral relativist credo alarmed me. I made it a point to clarify the distinction between historical ‘balance’ and ‘genocidal leaders’, but the same argument kept coming up, essay after essay. I mentioned this to a senior colleague, who shrugged her shoulders and exclaimed ‘it’s what they get taught at school’.

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