February 18th 2006

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: AWB biggest scandal to hit the Howard Government

EDITORIAL: Tide turns on global capitalism

SCHOOLS: Why our children don't know history

ECONOMICS: Sky's the limit with CEO pay increases

EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Engineer shortage hurting economy

RURAL CRISIS: Black Friday for Canadian farmers

MEDICAL: Abortion pill a bonanza for lawyers

STRAWS IN THE WIND: The humbug revolution / Iran / Bush, oil addiction and the environment

AUSTRALIAN SOCIETY: Is pornography just harmless fun?

ENTERTAINMENT: American awards honour traditional values

EAST TIMOR: Will Indonesian military be let off the hook?

WAR ON TERROR: Tackling a home-grown security threat

OPINION: 'Human rights' charter a backward step

OBITUARY: Colin Pike, champion of the underdog

Religious persecution during the Spanish Civil War (letter)

B.A. Santamaria on Toynbee's 'creative minorities' (letter)

BOOKS: MANHOOD: An action plan for changing men's lives, by Steve Biddulph

BOOKS: HEAD OF STATE: The Governor-General, the Monarchy, the Republic and the Dismissal, by Sir David Smith

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Why our children don't know history

by Kevin Donnelly

News Weekly, February 18, 2006
Left-wing ideologues and postmodernists have hijacked the teaching of history, writes Kevin Donnelly.

Was John Howard correct last month? Has the teaching of history fallen victim to a politically correct, New Age approach to curriculum, and are students receiving a fragmented understanding of the past? The evidence suggests "yes".

Since the 1970s and '80s, as outlined in Why Our Schools Are Failing, left-wing academics, education bureaucracies and professional associations have embarked on the long march through the institutions to overthrow more conservative approaches to education.

The so-called traditional academic curriculum, with its emphasis on initiating students into established disciplines such as history and literature, and the belief that education can be impartial, have been attacked as misguided, Eurocentric and socially unjust.

Political correctness

One of the first examples of the new history was the Keating government-inspired national Studies of Society and Environment (SOSE) course outline published in 1993. History as a discrete subject disappeared and early drafts of the document were described as "a subject for satire" and "a case of political correctness gone wild".

European settlement is described as an invasion, Australia's Anglo-Celtic heritage is either marginalised or ignored, indigenous culture is portrayed as beyond reproach and teachers are told they must give priority to perspectives of gender, multiculturalism and global future.

In line with postmodernism, students are also taught that "knowledge is always tentative", that they should "deconstruct dominant views of society", "critique the socially constructed element of text" and examine "how privilege and marginalisation are created and sustained in society".

Forget the ideal of seeking truth and developing a disinterested understanding of the world. Students are now told that everything is tentative and shifting and the purpose of education is to criticise mainstream society in terms of gender, ethnicity and class.

As a result of adopting an outcomes-based education model, all Australian history education documents adopt a constructivist view of learning. The student is placed centre-stage while the learning of important dates, events and the significance of great historical figures gives way to studying the local community or the life of such worthies as Princess Di.

As noted in Stuart Macintyre's The History Wars, detailing how history is taught in schools: "The traditional discipline came under increasing criticism from curriculum reformers for being old, stale and simply unrelated to students' needs. 'Relevance' became an educational ethos."

Current approaches to history ask students to uncritically celebrate multiculturalism and cultural diversity without recognising that much of Australia's economic, political and legal stability relies on a Eurocentric tradition steeped in the Judeo/Christian ethic. A commitment to human rights, the rule of law and tolerance does not arise by accident.

The reality is that Australian society has proven to be such a successful social experiment because of those very values grounded in Western civilisation that can be traced back thousands of years via England and Europe to early Rome, Greece and biblical Israel.

Australian teachers are also told that how one interprets history is subjective and relative to one's culture and place. As argued by the History Teachers' Association of Victoria in the early '90s:

"One of the great developments in history teaching has been the emphasis on the nature of representations, or versions, of history ...

"History is a version of the past which varies according to the person and the times ... So not only is there no single version of history, but each generation re-interprets the past in the light of its own values and attitudes."

Taken to its logical conclusion, such a view allows Japanese textbooks to ignore the rape of Nanking and for British author David Irving to deny that millions were killed in the Holocaust.

The belief that different versions of the past are of equal value and that each generation has the right to re-interpret history in terms of current values also allows revisionist historians to judge past actions in terms of what is now considered politically correct.

As a result, today's historians describe the First Fleet as an invasion, even though the British Admiralty had given Governor Phillip express orders to co-exist with the indigenous population and Phillip, after being speared, did not punish those responsible.

As noted by the Monash University historian Mark Peel, of greater concern is that generations of students no longer understand or appreciate the grand narrative associated with the rise of Western civilisation and Australia's development as a nation.

Peel states: "Students seem anxious about the absence of a story by which to comprehend change, or to understand how the nation and world they are about to inherit came to be. Indeed, their sense of the world's history is often based upon intense moments and fragments that have no real momentum or connection."

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