By Kevin Donnelly The Punch.com
In the lead-up to the 2007 federal election, ALP leader Kevin Rudd staked the middle ground in education by advocating a conservative agenda, embracing a back-to-basics curriculum and a return to traditional subjects.
During her time as Education Minister Julia Gillard also defined herself as an education conservative and described the ALP’s national curriculum as exemplifying a return to academic standards and rigour.
In one speech Gillard described herself as “a passionate believer in the benefits of a rigorous study of traditional disciplines”, and in a second speech she boasted, “What we’re on about is making sure that the absolute basics of knowledge, absolute basics of education are taught right across the country.”
On replacing her as Minister for Education, Peter Garrett maintained the ALP line that education is a major priority and described the national curriculum as “world-class” and “vital to our goal of giving every child a great education”.
Has the ALP government delivered on its promise to develop a national curriculum that embraces the “traditional disciplines” and “the absolute basics of knowledge”? Based on the English, mathematics, history and science documents (dated December 8, 2010) the answer is “No”.
Instead of heralding a return to traditional learning, the proposed national curriculum represents a continuation of the type of substandard, politically correct approach to education that has bedevilled Australian schools over the last 30 to 40 years.
The more traditional approach to the curriculum, while acknowledging the importance of the learner and the fact that disciplines evolve over time, places subjects like history, mathematics, the sciences, the arts, music and languages and literature centre stage.
Matthew Arnold’s view that education should introduce students to the “best which has been thought and said” is often referred to in this context, as is Michael Oakeshott’s metaphor of education involving a conversation that is larger than the individual and that has been going on for hundreds of years.
This liberal view of education, while drawing on a range of cultures and traditions, is closely associated with the rise of Western civilisation and our Judeo-Christian heritage. In the same way that the nation’s legal and political systems and language and literature owe a great debt to and can only be understood in the context of this Western heritage, so to with education.
Instead of respecting and acknowledging this liberal view of education, the national curriculum gives primacy to three politically correct “cross-curriculum priorities” (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and cultures, Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia, and sustainability) and seven “general capabilities” (including intercultural understanding, competence in information and communication technology, and critical and creative thinking).
Every subject in the national curriculum must incorporate the aforementioned perspectives and capabilities. As a result, the disciplines of knowledge are undervalued and distorted to make them conform to the ALP’s and the Left-intelligentsia’s preoccupation with Asia, indigenous Australians, and teaching so-called work-related generic skills.
Instead of Asia and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, why not define the curriculum in terms of Australia’s Western heritage and Judeo-Christian tradition?
In relation to the seven capabilities (most of which are subject-specific and impossible to teach as abstracted skills) the case can also be put that it is more important that students commit themselves to the qualities and dispositions associated with a liberal education, such as civility, morality, objectivity, compassion, kindness, humility, creativity and truth-telling.
The history curriculum provides a clear example of this unwillingness to acknowledge the grand narrative associated with the rise of Western civilisation and the importance of Christianity. In one section the document asks students to act with “moral integrity” and to “work for the common good” but the curriculum writers refuse to acknowledge that such ethical values are culturally specific and can only be understood in Australia in the context of the Western tradition.
In an early draft of the history curriculum, while “Christian” appeared once, there was no mention of Christianity. While the most recent document refers to Christianity a number of times (and once to the Catholic Church) the focus is very much on diversity, difference and cultural relativism. When Christianity is mentioned it is usually in the context of other religions (Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam) and there is no attempt to detail the historical and cultural significance of Christianity.
When studying ancient Rome, for example, students are asked to consider the rise of the Roman empire and the spread of religious beliefs, but there is no mention of Christianity. In the study of Medieval Europe, Christianity is included, but the stated aims, that students should learn about “the dominance of the Catholic Church and the role of significant individuals such as Charlemagne”, “the Church’s power in terms of wealth and labour” and “the nature and power of the Church in this period”, indicate that students will be left with a less than favourable impression.
The decision by the curriculum writers to ignore the terms BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini) in favour of the politically correct alternatives, BCE (Before the Common Era), BP (Before Present) and CE (Common Era) further illustrates the extent to which Christianity is ignored and undervalued.
It should be noted that the most recent history document represents a slight improvement on earlier drafts. While the draft dated March 2010 made no mention of the Magna Carta, the Westminster system of government and concepts like the separation of powers, the most recent edition does when stating that Year 6 children should learn about “the Westminster system”, “constitutional monarchy” and “federalism”.
Unfortunately, though, instead of representing a balanced approach by recognising the debt Australia owes to its Anglo-Celtic heritage, it is clear that the curriculum writers are still committed to a view of history that uncritically promotes diversity and difference (code for multiculturalism) and that presents Australia as a nation of tribes.
The document’s treatment of migration provides a good example of this bias. Even though migration to Australia since the First Fleet has been primarily Anglo-Celtic and European in origin, teachers are told that students must be taught about “the long history of migration to Australia by people from Asia and appreciate the contributions made over time by Asian Australians to the development of Australia’s culture and society”.
Instead of praising the fact that Australia has welcomed so many immigrants from often hostile foreign shores and allowed them to live in peace and prosperity, the history document, when asking students to study migration, refers to “internment camps”, “assimilation policies” and “mandatory detention”.
Another example relates to slavery, where the history document is happy to refer to slavery during the Roman empire and to the European trans-Atlantic slave trade but, no mention is made of slavery under Islam.
It is also no surprise that, when dealing with ideas and movements during the period 1750–1918, Year 9 students are only expected to study “progressive” ideas, with no mention of classical liberal philosophy or the type of conservative ideas associated with Edmund Burke.
Original Article here