It’s all just a little bit of history wars repeating…
In February, 2007, then-Prime Minister John Howard lashed out at the “new-age fads” infecting the school system. In 2006, then-Education Minister Julie Bishop had a crack at education bureaucrats distorting curriculums with “Chairman Mao” type ideologies.
The Australian at the time reported: “John Howard has accused public schools of allowing “incomprehensible sludge” to infect the curriculum and declared that the need for a national system was a “no brainer”.”
More than five years later, with a national curriculum on the boil, and he’s no happier, declaring the draft national history curriculum “unbalanced… and in some cases quite bizarre.”
He has quite specific worries about what’s included and what’s not – for example, in Year 10 students are required to an in-depth study of one of three aspects of globalisation from 1945 to today, he writes.
“The options are popular culture, environmental movements of mass migration movements.
“Now I read that several times and I thought: since 1945, what has been the most significant element of globalisation that has really affected the world and Australia? Surely it has to be economic globalisation?”
Maybe it is; maybe he has a point. But the point he seems to be missing when he bemoans that “AC/DC and Kylie Minogue are more important to an understanding of the globalising world since 1945” is that it’s quite a bit easier to get kids interested in pop culture than global economics.
It shouldn’t be the case; in a perfect world a brilliant Dead Poets’ Society-esque teacher would inflame the receptive students’ passion for whichever topic was most worthy. But it’s far from a perfect world.
Teachers need to stoke the fires of their students’ curiosity, to introduce them to the methods of research. We have long moved past the idea of rote learning, of memorisation of facts.
At high school, it is far more important to foster a love of learning itself, of research itself, of the exploration of ideas. University history students can delve into the micros of macroeconomics.
Of course kids need to learn the basic facts, of how Australia and the world came to be what they are today.
And Mr Howard is right that Judaeo-Christian influences are a large part of that.
He may be guilty of some hyperbole when he says our Western heritage is conspicuously absent; but like all good politicians past and present he has tapped into a deeper malaise, a fear that the country is changing fast and the past may be forgotten, rewritten.
But he’s lost touch with reality by listing the specific things that are not on what must be a finite curriculum.
Just because there is not an elective on “a detailed study of free enterprise, including the central role of private-property ownership” doesn’t mean future generations will be denied a proper knowledge of our nation’s history.
It’s clear the curriculum doesn’t – and never would – comply with Mr Howard’s demand for an emphasis on conservatism, on Thatcher, on “the reference to the decisive rejection in the late 1940s of attempts to nationalise Australia’s banking system”.
But I’d suggest that’s more about keeping students’ eyeballs on the texts than some subversive progressive ideology.
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