August 18th 2012

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Articles from this issue:

DEFENCE OF MARRIAGE: Marriage, religious liberty and the 'grand bargain'

TASMANIA: Labor/Greens push for same-sex marriage

EDITORIAL: Olympic Games: end the hype and chauvinism

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Prime Minister Gillard seeks to make her mark on history

GLOBAL WARMING: Climate alarmism is alive and well

BANKING: Playing with someone else's money

EDUCATION: School learning dumped in favour of Google-and-tell

OPINION: Syria: Why are we encouraging chaos?

SECURITY AND INTELLIGENCE: Media shrugs while Russian espionage flourishes

FOREIGN AID: When aid money means killing money

OBITUARY: A humble man with a large vision: Mark Posa (1927-2012)


CINEMA: 3D super-hero takes to the big screen

BOOK REVIEW An admirable spur to further thought

BOOK REVIEW The divorce that shook Europe

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School learning dumped in favour of Google-and-tell

by Tempe Harvey

News Weekly, August 18, 2012

You do not know your school is defective until it’s too late to change your mind about having your child enrolled there. Even then, most parents stay content if they keep hearing the magic words “discipline, research skills, personal laptops, uni entrance scores” and “study of the Ottoman Empire”. In return their child will be sprinkled with mind-numbing fairy-dust — assorted items sifted through the internet filter and onto their child’s head.

Most schools are not about learning anymore or actually remembering the things that made the West great. Children go to school to sift through and regurgitate electronic data in oral form and to sprinkle it on their classmates’ heads.

Outcomes-based education (OBE), the most brilliant system ever devised for not teaching our children, is moving from Google-it to its logical conclusion, Google-and-tell.

Why bother teaching lessons when all the great teaching material a child needs is only a mouse-click away? Two to five years is about how long it takes for schools to achieve near total dumbing-down of academic excellence by substituting random Google searches for knowledge-imparting teachers.

Google-and-tell, a prominent feature of Ms Gillard’s national curriculum, will take our deteriorating education system to the bottom rung. Wrapped in the reassuring words, “public speaking and oral skills”, Google-and-tell involves children teaching each other via oral presentations.

Oral skills through such things as debating are invaluable. However, the new misguided teaching method sees clueless children using mostly random Google sources (and a token book here and there) to “teach” their classmates nonsense in two-to-four minute speeches, instead of actually learning something from a well-informed teacher or authoritative textbook.

Take, for example, the study of ancient civilisations, where, in a great-sounding outcome of the national Curriculum, Year 8 children are given a range of random events (from a random ancient civilisation chosen by their school) for their in-depth “research”. If the Ottoman Empire is chosen, your child may come home with an impressive-sounding task such as “Explain the fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD”.

Most children will surf and dump this project without too much effort. The more discerning ones will search for the truth, spending hours trawling incomplete and inaccurate Google sites including travel sites and blogs. Extra marks may even be awarded for children who stick with sites that have the suffix “dot org” or “dot gov”, which, of course, may be every bit as unreliable, or worse, politically correct.

The resulting haul is dumped onto an electronic page and rearranged to answer the limited teaching material provided by the school — in many cases charging hefty fees — the key questions. These require the student to identify the main events, the main figures, for the period in question.

Assessment is based increasingly on the oral presentation itself. This means that children have to address their classes and then endure 30 similar talks by their classmates, many on the same topic.

If proof were needed of the pointlessness of this exercise, contradictions between talks on the same topic are rarely corrected, as teachers often lack in-depth knowledge of the myriad of topics covered.

But don’t children love teaching themselves? Anna Clark, a researcher, went into Australia’s history classrooms to find out. She had an unshakable assumption that learning facts was inherently dull. Instead, children such as Colin, a Year 12 student in Perth, told her, “I like textbooks because the information’s there and you just learn it.” (The National Curriculum: A Critique, edited by Chris Berg, Melbourne: Institute of Public Affairs, 2010).

One of Britain’s leading historians David Starkey has argued that far too much emphasis has been placed on the process of discovery than about the events themselves. As he put it “Teachers use the discovery method to teach when the Norman Conquest was. We know when it was. What’s the point in having a teacher if not to tell the students what the facts are?” (The National Curriculum: A Critique, p.15).

Most schools are unlikely to teach history properly any time soon, so you may want to bone up on history and teach your children yourself. Accessible best-selling books include David Starkey’s riveting Crown and Country: A History of England Through the Monarchy and Professor Geoffrey Blainey’s short histories of Australia and the world.

As one writer put it, “The legacy of Western civilisation is rich, complex and essential — the foundations on which Australia’s society and political system, our culture, and our history have been built. So why are the basics of Western Civilisation absent from the national curriculum?” (The National Curriculum: A Critique, p.14).

Schools can only deliver academic excellence if they give our children a knowledge and appreciation of their cultural inheritance and of our Western civilisation.

Our generation does have something worthwhile to transmit to the next generation, but not via Google-and-tell. By far the best yet devised method is chalk-and-talk. Inspirational whole-of-class teaching from whiteboards, with students taking notes in their own handwriting and facing periodic tests, is the surest way to retain what is taught.

Mrs Tempe Harvey is a mother of four and a research officer for the Australian Family Association (Queensland branch). This article is reproduced from the Queensland DLP education committee’s publication, Education Uptake, Vol. 2, Edition 2, July 2012. 

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