Spare a thought for the teachers who are expected to navigate their way through this murky document to work out what they should be teaching. Or, indeed, whether they should be teaching at all, since the verb “to teach” hardly appears in the draft curriculum. Numeracy is not so much to be taught as absorbed by giving students “opportunities to build and refine a robust knowledge and understanding of mathematical concepts”. Children should not be instructed to read but rather encouraged “to engage with, analyse, interpret, evaluate and create spoken, print, visual and multimodal texts”.
Source: Nick Cater, News Corp
How the West was airbrushed from history
The muddled approach to literacy is matched by a downgrading of the English language itself. The first thing foundation students are expected to learn is that “English is one of many languages spoken in Australia” and should be taught alongside the “oral narrative” traditions of Australia’s First Nations peoples and Asian texts.
This pained effort to be inclusive means the curriculum hesitates to prioritise anything at all. Among the dozens of things about language children are supposed to absorb by the end of Year 3, for example, are the power relationships reflected in camera angles in advertisements and film segments. They must understand the phoneme–grapheme relationships that apply to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language words. The requirement to write using “joined-up letters of consistent size” is number 33 on the list.
Given the propensity of the national curriculum advisers to turn everything into mush, it would have been better if they had left civics and history well alone. Instead, they have set about drowning everything that is good about Australia in a sea of relativism.
The familiar black-armband view of Australian history is amplified and exaggerated, beginning with the use of the term “invasion” to characterise European settlement and continuing with repeated references to dispossession, White Australia and the denial of civil rights. While these themes are undeniably part of Australian history and their legacy has yet to be resolved, viewing the entirety of modern Australia through that prism denies the exceptional character of life on this continent, the only one other than Antarctica that has never hosted a civil war.
Every trace of the Judeo-Christian tradition has been expunged. The history curriculum contains eight references to Islam but only five to Christianity, all of them dating back to the Medieval period or before. Christianity is the world’s largest and fastest-growing religion, yet we are asked to assume it had no effect on human history after 1750 and is irrelevant to Australian civic life.
There is a single passing reference to the Enlightenment, but none to its defining contribution to Australian settlement. The concept of liberalism, Australia’s defining principle since 1788, appears not at all.
These glaring omissions explain why the civics curriculum struggles to put Australian values into their proper context or recognise their importance. Year 7 students, for example, are asked to evaluate “the extent to which Australian values, including democracy, freedom, respect, inclusion, civility, responsibility, compassion, equality, justice and a ‘fair go’ are consistent with human rights”. They are not encouraged to be curious about where these admirable values came from or why they are deeply embedded as civic principles without any requirement to codify them in a bill of rights.
Let us assume that the reference to equality is actually a reference to egalitarianism, the principle that every citizen deserves equal respect and deserves every opportunity to thrive. It is the principle that lies behind the fair go and underpins the freedom Robert Menzies held to be the greatest freedom of all, the freedom to do your best and to make your best better. It explains why Australia has the largest number of migrants as a proportion of the population in the developed world. The freedom and opportunity afforded by Australia attracts people here and discourages them from leaving.
The flowering of this principle in the Scottish and English Enlightenments led to the abolition of slavery. It fed the high ambitions of Australian settlement, a place where convicts could earn freedom and British institutions would be recreated and refined. It is inseparable from its Christian origins.
The curriculum’s advisers have fallen for the common misunderstanding of secularism as the absence of religion, rather than the freedom to live by any faith or none. They prefer to believe that the Christian gospel played no part in Australian civil society rather than recognise Jesus Christ’s instruction to love one’s neighbour as one’s self as part of our great civic inheritance. For a more accurate telling of the Australian story, the curriculum advisers might turn to David Kemp’s five-volume history of Australian liberalism, the fourth of which, A Liberal State, covering the period 1926-66 was launched in Sydney last week by Kemp’s former cabinet colleague Brendan Nelson.
Nelson’s speech contained a profound warning about the dangers of being sloppy with our history. His observations reflect the views he developed as head of the Australian War Memorial, a monument to the cost of freedom’s defence.
“When little else in the world makes sense, history is the defining discipline,” Nelson said. “It can demolish prejudice. It is a reminder that there are hard decisions that have to be made, and the importance of making them and not shying away from them.”
The test of the curriculum’s approach to civics education is not in highlighting diversity, but articulating the values we share. How are our shared national values, if you are to concede that we have some, different from those of communist China, for example?
Nelson continued: “As we face unseen, emerging and increasingly threatening horizons, it is most important to be clear about who we are and what it is we believe, truths by which we live, the values that define us, which we believe are worth fighting to defend.”
The draft civics curriculum is beyond redemption. It must be torn up and written again.
Nick Cater is executive director of the Menzies Research Centre. Brendan Nelson’s speech is available as a transcript or podcast at www.menziesrc.org