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Activist women, schooling and the rise of grassroots Christian conservatism

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This paper argues for the need to better understand the role of mothers and schooling in shaping modern conservative cultural politics. Arguing that 1970s–1980s was a critical period for anti-progressive politics surrounding schooling, the paper examines the activism of Australian Christian morals campaigner Rona Joyner. Joyner’s successful provocation of a 1978 governmental ban on social science curriculum materials was a signal event in an international Anglophone reaction against what she and others theorised as dangerously permissive forces in public culture. Pitting ‘Christian’ parental authority against ‘humanist’ state overreach in relation to the upbringing of children, Joyner created a detailed vision of the cultural-moral corruption of schools and other social institutions. This paper demonstrates how Joyner represented her labour as a project of both public motherhood and grassroots community activism, and how activist women like Joyner were foundational to the growth of a new contemporary grassroots conservatism expressed as a popular politics of ‘the people’ against the state.

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  • 10 August 2021

    In the published article title, “the” before “grassroots” is removed. The correct article title is “Activist women, schooling and the rise of grassroots Christian conservatism.


  1. Stop Press, 1975, Vol 4, No 1, p 1.

  2. In early 1978 the Queensland state government banned two social studies curriculum packages, MACOS (Man, A Course of Study, an internationally distributed set of teaching materials written by a team led by the US psychologist Jerome Bruner) and SEMP (Social Education Materials Project, developed by the Australian federal government’s Curriculum Development Centre) (January 17 and February 21, respectively).

  3. In this paper we draw particularly from: (1) the extensive collection of Joyner’s newsletter Stop Press, related correspondence and papers at the State Library of Queensland (SLQ); (2) the ephemera and papers related to Joyner at the Fryer Library, Brisbane, Queensland; and 3) the website devoted to Rona Joyner that appears to have been published by her son:

  4. The Ahern Committee (1978–1980) was charged with reporting on schooling assessment, social education, literacy and numeracy, human relationships education, distance education and post-secondary education (Scott, 1984). Scott suggests that the Committee was established largely in order to address the political conflict that surrounded schooling at the time, which centred on debates on the morality of curriculum in large part influenced by Joyner’s prominent activism.

  5. We would like to thank Remy Low for his help with understanding Joyner’s interest in Marcuse.

  6. In this same interview she recounts her later pathway into Catholicism following the death of her husband in the early 2000s, as well as her early rejection of religion as a young mother due to her awareness of fossils whilst completing a Geology course (Kieza, 2011).

  7. As far as we know, there are no extant mailing or membership lists.


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This work was supported by the Australian Research Council [DP200102378].

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Correspondence to Jessica Gerrard.

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Gerrard, J., Proctor, H. Activist women, schooling and the rise of grassroots Christian conservatism. Aust. Educ. Res. 49, 879–895 (2022).

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