SCHOOLING: by Kevin DonnellyNews Weekly
Western values sacrificed to political correctness
, April 13, 2013
Most of the debate about Julia Gillard’s national crusade in education centres on school funding and how the government intends to respond to the report chaired by Sydney businessman David Gonski.
The existing model expires at the end of the year and the government is scrambling to decide on an alternative by the April meeting of the Council of Australian Governments.
Just as important as funding is the government’s national curriculum, especially the history syllabus, that is being forced on our schools.
In a speech delivered earlier this year commemorating the life of Paul Hasluck, John Howard criticised the history curriculum for ignoring the fact that “Australia is part of Western civilisation; in the process it further marginalises the historic influence of the Judeo-Christian ethic in shaping Australian society and virtually purges British history from any meaningful role”.
The day after Howard’s speech, the Prime Minister’s appointee to the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority mounted the barricades rejecting the claim of bias. Chairman Barry McGaw argues that the new history curriculum “does not prejudice our Western and Judeo-Christian heritage. Their influences on Australian culture and our legal and political systems are clearly dealt with”.
He is incorrect. On reading the curriculum, it is obvious those responsible are hostile towards the institutions, beliefs and grand narrative associated with Western civilisation that make this nation unique.
While Australia’s culture and society have evolved over the years, our language, way of life and political and legal institutions have been inherited primarily from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
It’s also the case that European migrants constitute a significant influence on the Australian character, and given that the proposed curriculum fails to give students a solid grounding in the art, music, science, culture and history of Europe, they will leave school educationally impoverished.
The fact that the only perspectives through which every subject, including history, must be taught are indigenous, Asian and environmental reveals an ideological slant.
At every year level and with the overwhelming number of topics and areas of study, teachers must incorporate “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures”. The same cannot be said for Australia’s Western, Judeo-Christian heritage and tradition.
Add the fact that students must be taught “intercultural understanding”, with its focus on diversity and difference, and are told to value their own cultures and the cultures, languages and beliefs of others, and it’s clear that the underlying philosophy is cultural relativism.
When uniquely Australian celebrations and events are mentioned, they are treated as simply one among many. Anzac Day appears alongside NAIDOC week, Ramadan and Buddha Day.
At Year 3, important celebrations like Christmas Day and Bastille Day are listed, but again, these uniquely European events are given the same significance as cultural-left favourites such as Harmony Day, National Reconciliation Week and National Sorry Day.
Christianity is mentioned a couple of times but its significance is diminished by treating it as one religion among many, alongside Buddhism, Confucianism and Islam.
After an earlier draft was criticised for not mentioning the Magna Carta, there is now mention of that seminal document as well as the Westminster system of government and concepts such as the separation of powers.
The urge to congratulate those responsible for the addition disappears, though, on reading the suggested topics students are asked to study, including the denial of citizenship to indigenous Australians, the Stolen Generations, discrimination against women, assimilation policies, mandatory detention and abuse of children in “orphanages, homes and other institutions”.
Further evidence of the cultural Left’s stranglehold on the curriculum is at Year 10, under the heading “rights and freedoms since 1918”, where the usual politically-correct favourites are listed, including women’s movements, the civil rights movement in the US and the fight for indigenous rights in Australia.
Absent, notwithstanding the imperative to include an Asian perspective, is any mention of the millions killed under totalitarian communist regimes at the hands of Mao Zedong, Pol Pot and Ho Chi Minh.
In its treatment of political movements, while capitalism, socialism, nationalism, imperialism, Darwinism and Chartism are listed, ignored are classical liberalism and conservatism.
The curriculum’s other major flaw is that much of what should be compulsory is voluntary.
At Year 7, students must choose between studying ancient Egypt, Greece or Rome. At Year 9, students only need to study one of the following: the Ottoman Empire, Renaissance Italy, the Vikings or medieval Europe.
The fact that students can experience 10 years of compulsory schooling without encountering Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, works of art such as the Sistine Chapel or major movements in Renaissance science, medicine and political philosophy will leave them culturally adrift.
The overwhelming sense one is left with is that those responsible champion the worst aspects of what currently passes as an education. Everything must be taught through a PC prism: it’s wrong to discriminate and make judgments of relative worth (except in relation to gender, ethnicity, class, multiculturalism and the environment) and learning must be inquiry-based and centred on the world of the child.
Ignored is that a pluralist society can only survive and prosper if its citizens have been taught those values, concepts, ideas and body of knowledge on which respect for and acceptance of diversity and difference are based.
What the US Declaration of Independence describes as the unalienable rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” do not arise spontaneously, by accident or in a cultural vacuum.
The fundamental tenets of freedom and democracy that we take for granted are grounded in the history of Western civilisation and the debt owed to Judeo-Christian beliefs.
Such should be the basis of any worthwhile history curriculum.
Dr Kevin Donnelly is director of the Melbourne-based Education Standards Institute and author of Educating Your Child: It’s Not Rocket Science! (available from News Weekly Books). This article first appeared in The Australian, March 16, 2013, and is reproduced in News Weekly with the kind permission of the author.