There are many government policies worth changing.

Looking at welfare, industrial relations, the environment, transport, human rights, any politically active Australian might espy policies they’d like to change. Nick Minchin would gleefully, one imagines, abolish Australia’s bicycle helmet laws. Alex Greenwich might usher in same-sex civil unions. And perhaps these changes might make Australia a better place, albeit with a few more concussed cyclists. But few of these changes would not only change policies but change politics, change our polity. If I could change any government policy, I’d want to create a change that would improve the process of law-making and political discussion overall. Thus, I propose that Australia’s national curriculum ought to include classes in emotional intelligence, civics, and rhetoric. Changes to the curriculum would take effect slowly, over generations, yet they would influence every Australian student and thus make possible a change across the whole of our society that couldn’t be repealed at the whim of a fear-mongering demagogue. But why are these particular classes the most important ones? By building emotional intelligence, our system of education could develop students with greater selfregulation, empathy, and communication skills. Greater skill in self-regulation could help to address the growing tide of lifestyle diseases such as obesity, improving Australia’s public health and mitigating burgeoning healthcare costs. Further, emotional intelligence is invaluable in the workplace: Daniel Goleman describes it as the “sine qua non of leadership”. 1 More valuable than intellect or cognitive skills, emotional intelligence enables workers to get along together better, to resolve the issues that can mire teams in failure, and to motivate themselves to achieve great results. Perhaps this – as opposed to attacks on worker and union rights – is the key to improving Australia’s productivity? The abilities to think before acting, to see from another’s point of view, to understand oneself: instilling these, through instruction in emotional intelligence, would benefit Australia’s students and would benefit Australia. Civics education to improve enrolment and the understanding of our electoral system would improve enfranchisement and civic participation. Although Australia has compulsory voting, approximately ten percent of potential electors are de facto conscientious objectors: the Australian Electoral Commission estimates that around 1.5 million otherwise entitled Australians are not enrolled to vote at federal elections – and this is increasing. Of all age groupings, those aged 18-19 are least likely to be enrolled, with almost half no participating.2 When it comes to the electoral roll, our schools have a role to play in making sure students understand their rights and responsibilities as Australian citizens. While there are various options for improving enrolment itself, civics education could achieve this while also increasing turnout. Indeed, basic tuition in Australia’s constitution, the form of our government, our voting system, and the mechanics of voting itself, would presumably help in addition to reduce the proportion of informal votes. If Australia’s national curriculum ensured students had an adequate understanding of our political system, it would help to enfranchise citizens and improve participation, creating a more accountable and representative government. Finally, teaching rhetoric, “the art of persuasion through the systematic use of the figures of speech”3, can help to ensure that success in Australian politics is more linked to substance than to style. Am I too optimistic? In Language Intelligence, Joe Romm catalogues and describes various
1

Goleman, D 2004, ‘What Makes a Leader’, Harvard Business Review, viewed 12 May 2013, <http://hbr.org/2004/01/what-makes-a-leader> 2 AEC Submission to the JSCEM Inquiry into the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012 3 Romm, J 2012, Language Intelligence: Lessons on persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

That change cannot be fleeting or shallow. increasing enrolment and participation rates. our politicians would have to respond by offering more of meaningful policies and less of spin. A curriculum that included rhetoric would help Australians to see through empty rhetoric and compel politicians to produce a great deal more sausage to go with their sizzle. Emotional intelligence underpins this. students schooled in rhetoric would be better able to analyse – and to shrug off . Similarly. In showing how politicians use such devices to influence the public. and increasing also the ability of aware voters to cast informed votes. better known in Australia as dog-whistling. they would outlast any election cycle. Australian politicians would too.politicians’ efforts to manipulate them. then we need to look at policy change that addresses more than just the symptoms.figures of speech. It is possible that every Australian parliament is roughly the same and it’s only our short collective memory that makes it seem otherwise. more rewarding discussion. instruction in rhetoric would enable students to engage more critically with the political discourse. of corruption scandals and leadership spills. resilient individuals. And maybe. While these changes would take a long time to come into effect. It’s also possible that the recent spate of resignations. hopefully. As generations passed graduated and aged. Finally. . and motivated leaders. This is why I propose options for a new national curriculum. and more acute. where politicians can confidently stand up to vested interests to do what the country needs. showing how they are used to improve the persuasive effect of oratory. Instruction in civics can lubricate the engine of our democracy. Training in detecting and using noema and other such tools would grow our ability to keep our cool in the face of politicians’ hot air. Consider the figure of speech known as noema. helping to immunise our population to sugar-coated slogans and to encourage deeper. and plunging voter dissatisfaction with both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott means that it’s a good time for some sort of change. Australia’s population would incrementally become more discerning. “speech that is unclear to one group of listeners but clear to another”4. more engaged. Romm empowers the reader to be more discerning when engaging with political argument. If we want a parliament that plans and acts for the future. 4 Ibid. We already recognise the value of world-class public education to ensure that Australians have the skills they need to prosper themselves and to make this country prosperous. of sex scandals. giving Australia’s students – Australia’s future leaders – the habits and awareness to be effective coworkers.