July 15th 2000

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Articles from this issue:

Cover Story: Human Genome mapping milestone?

Editorial: Managing Australia’s interests in S.E. Asia

Canberra Observed: Defence: opportunity beckons for Howard Government

Families: The hollowing of the middle class continues

New South Wales: Follow Swedish model: drug forum told

Trade: Canberra capitulates without firing a salvo

Doctors suspended over 32 week abortion

Straws in the wind

Education: New Queensland syllabus attacked

Economics: UN to look at the Tobin Tax

Media: GST ads unchained media bias

Development: Amartya Sen: the return of humane economics

Comment: The politics of suicide

Law: Death penalty debate resurfaces in USA

United States: Rising tide leaves poor floundeirng

Books promotion page

Education: New Queensland syllabus attacked

by Geoffrey Partington

News Weekly, July 15, 2000
Studies of Society and the Environment (SOSE) is being trialled in some Queensland schools. Teachers and educational experts have raised worries about the new curriculum and the difficulty they have had in gaining an overall view of it.

Dr Geoffrey Partington from Flinders University was not impressed with what he saw.

Studies of Society and Environment is a highly derivative version of a debased notion of Social Studies which has had some currency in several western societies for the last decade or so. There is nothing original in this version, but it is worse than most of the others I have seen.

It constantly returns to the wonders of Aboriginal cultures, and to a much lesser extent to those of other indigenous peoples, to alleged racism in post-1788 Australia, starting with its “invasion” and featuring the Myall Creek Massacre. No studies of massacres of colonists or sailors by Aborigines are suggested.

However, some aspects of post-1788 Australia are clearly considered worthy of study, such as the Eureka Stockade, Gold Rushes, the Eight Hour Day Movement, and Federation.

Great Britain and Ireland gain some mention through Magna Carta, the Irish potato famine and a few other scattered events.

School students will not learn from pursuing this syllabus that the language, laws and customs of Australia are almost all derived from Great Britain and Ireland. However, most students do come to understand these truths from their out-of-school experiences.

This is the case for children of non-British ethnic families, almost all of whom are now in Australia because their parents or grandparents valued the freedom and prosperity this country was able to offer them after nearly two centuries of “British Australia”.

World events are included in this syllabus on an undisclosed basis, but “continuity” and any other forms of rational connection are hard to discern. We frequently encounter haphazard lists of possible events or movements for study as with “periods of rapid chance”, in which the proffered list consists of “Crusades, European Renaissance, agricultural revolution, Meji restoration, pre and post war or conflict (sic), development of city states, imperialism, invasion, cultural imperialism, technology explosion, colonisation, establishment/removal of public service in a rural community”.

Once students are enabled to identify “neo-colonialism, e.g. American/British/Western influence on cultures”, they may respond more favourably, it is no doubt hoped, to the liberating anti-colonising cultures of Indonesia, China and the rest of the non-Anglo world.

Relevance is thought to coincide with immediacy in time and/or continuity in space, so that East Timor appears frequently in the syllabus.

Unfortunately nothing dates so much as yesterday’s headlines and this mishmash is no substitute for serious historical studies.

“Deep Green” issues abound, with global warming, biodiversity, rainforests, uranium mining, nuclear arms proliferation. Community Aid Abroad and Greenpeace ever at hand, but far better would be a systematic grounding in physical and regional geography.

Students will experience few weeks in which “the roles of women” and “the social construction of gender” are not once more brought to their notice, although gender inequalities will be found by students to be more benign in indigenous societies or Islam than in highly sexist societies such as our own.

Many boys in Queensland will no doubt be delighted to learn that they possess “enhanced social status, political and economic power as a result of social norms, e.g. the typical Australian as male from white European descent”. All this is in the name of combating “stereotyping”!

The sociology and economics in this syllabus are spurious and few students following in diligently would ever come to learn why in 1788 social structures among Australian Aborigines had scarcely changed over fifty thousand years and few improvements in life effected.

Nor will they understand why, for instance, in 2000 Iceland is more wealthy than Columbia, or Singapore than New Guinea, even though the second in each pair has far greater mineral resources than the first.

Most importantly perhaps, students dependent on this syllabus would leave school with no understanding of how it is that the productive forces in Australia are able to sustain a mighty burden of social costs.

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