SCHOOLS: by Kevin DonnellyNews Weekly
Gillard's dumbed-down, PC approach to geography
, August 7, 2010
The draft national curriculum geography paper adopts a "cultural/social constructivist approach" to learning and argues that maps are "social constructions" that "portray the world in distorted and selected ways" and it's wrong to teach geography from within a "Western capitalist tradition". Dr Kevin Donnelly reports.Prime Minister Julia Gillard, in her former role as education minister, described herself as an education traditionalist and as someone committed to bringing "clarity and rigour" to subjects such as mathematics, English, history and science.
Judged by the recently released paper, Draft Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Geography
, she has failed to deliver.
The proposed geography paper, prepared during Gillard's time as the minister responsible for forcing schools to adopt a national curriculum, is new-age, dumbed-down and politically correct.
Education has, for some years now, been blighted by the plague of postmodernism and deconstruction - theories that argue there is no such thing as objective knowledge and that each individual, and different cultures, create their own sense of truth.
The geography paper adopts what it terms a "cultural/social constructivist approach", one in which it is impossible to argue that some ways of dealing with and understanding the physical environment are closer to the truth than others.
Instead of the subject being based on an agreed body of knowledge that students need to learn, the focus is on developing "an awareness of different ways of knowing, and an understanding of the contestability of knowledge".
The idea that subjects like geography should be taught in a rational way and that it is important to teach students to weigh evidence against the facts is simply a Western cultural construct on the same footing as indigenous knowledge of the land.
"By understanding indigenous conceptions of their inter-relationship with nature, all students can learn that there are other ways of thinking about and interacting with the environment and its resources than those informed by a Western capitalist tradition," the paper says.
Planning a road trip from Brisbane to Port Douglas? Forget the GPS navigator or a road map because, according to the geography paper, "maps are social constructions that can portray the world in distorted and selected ways".
As with much of what currently passes as education, the paper stresses the here and now, and places the student centre stage. When detailing the subject's aims, the writers state: "It should provide opportunities for teachers to connect with young people's present and future lives, to use their experiences to make them active agents in their own learning."
Ignored is that basing learning on a child's experience generally leads to a superficial and narrow understanding and that describing children as "active learners" cannot disguise the fact that it is the teacher's responsibility to teach essential content.
Geography is not the only national curriculum subject suffering from a dumbed-down, PC approach. The English syllabus ignores the importance of classic literature by arguing that students should study "tween mags, avators, social networking sites and manga".
In the kindergarten to Year 10 history course, the significance of Australia's Western heritage is ignored as schools are made to teach from indigenous, Asian and environmental perspectives, and Christianity is mentioned once and only in the context of studying other religions.Dr Kevin Donnelly is director of the Education Standards Institute. This article first appeared in Brisbane's Courier-Mail. News Weekly readers can examine and comment on the Government's proposed new curriculum at: www.australiancurriculum.edu.au