OPINION: by Kevin DonnellyNews Weekly
Australia's identity with the Christian West
, February 19, 2011
Last Australia Day, on the ABC website The Drum Unleashed, Dr Kevin Donnelly argued that the new Labor-inspired national history curriculum should recognise and celebrate Australia's Western heritage and Judaeo-Christian tradition.Given the nation's celebration of Australia Day, it's timely to ask the question: what does it mean to be Australian and how are we different to the rest of the world?
One answer, best illustrated by the new ALP-inspired kindergarten-to-year-10 national history curriculum, released last December and to be finalised by October this year, is that we are part of Asia and a multicultural and secular society that is characterised by diversity and difference.
Instead of celebrating Western civilisation, Christianity and Australia's Anglo-Celtic heritage, priority is given to "Asia and Australia's engagement with Asia", along with "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures" and politically-correct issues such as the environment.
In relation to Asia, teachers are asked to make students Asia-literate and teach about the "histories, geographies, cultures, arts, literatures and languages of the diverse countries of our region".
When talking about migration, students are told that they should study "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".
The history-writers are also happy to state "The Australian Curriculum: History values Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures" and to urge that students should be taught about the "principles and virtues that are deeply embedded within these communities". Ignored is the historical role of the British Empire in spreading trade, technology, education, medicine and a commitment to the Westminster system of government throughout the world. Also ignored is the significance of the Commonwealth of nations.
On reading the national history curriculum, one searches in vain for a proper acknowledgement that modern Australia is Anglo-Celtic in origin and that our history can only be fully understood in the context of the nation's Western heritage and Judaeo-Christian beliefs and values.
When Christianity is mentioned it is usually in the context of other religions, such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism, and there is little recognition of the central role of the Catholic church in European history and Western culture.
A clear example of this attempt to airbrush Christianity from history, under the heading "Historical terms and concepts", is to replace BC (before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini, or Year of our Lord) in favour of the more politically correct, secular alternatives, BCE (Before the Common Era), BP (Before Present) and CE (Common Era).
The Australian reality, based on 1999 figures, is that, in terms of ethnicity, approximately 67 per cent of Australians are Anglo-Celtic and only 1.51 are indigenous. Also ignored is that Christianity is the most widely adopted religion in Australia with approximately 64 per cent of Australians describing themselves as Christian.
It's ironic that when many talk of the clash between Islam and the West, and Australia is involved in wars against Islamic extremism in Iraq and Afghanistan, we appear unwilling or incapable of teaching the young generation about the unique nature of Western civilisation and the very values, beliefs and way of life that protect us and offer sanctuary to thousands from overseas.
There is an alternative to the national history curriculum's politically-correct focus on diversity and difference (code for multiculturalism) and the belief that all cultures are of equal value and worth.
While geographically close to Asia, Australia is a Western nation, proven by the fact that our political and legal institutions and much of our language and literature are derived from Britain and Europe. Concepts such as habeas corpus
, the separation of powers and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty are unique to this civilisation.
It is no accident that the preamble of the Australian Constitution contains the words, "humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God" and that the Commonwealth Parliament begins each day's session with the Lord's Prayer.
While it's true that since Federation, and especially in the years after World War II, Australia has become a more culturally diverse nation, the reality is that the overwhelming majority of those living here can trace their ancestry back to the UK, Ireland and Europe.
It's also true that the reason why so many millions of migrants have come to live here is because of the peace, prosperity and tolerance that characterise our way of life - a way of life that that will quickly disappear if we fail to teach future generations about what truly unites us as Australians.Dr Kevin Donnelly is director of Education Standards Institute. The Donnelly family migrated from King's County, Ireland in the 1850s and settled in Wagga Wagga, NSW. His website is at: www.edstandards.com.au