Dr Kevin Donnelly: Teach students history in all its richness

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Students in schools need to be able to know history, not to be taught ideological interpretations which claim to be history, writes Dr Kevin Donnelly. PHOTO: Meg Jerrard/Unsplash

The recent release of the revised Australian national history and civics syllabuses, once again, has ignited the debate surrounding the place of Western civilisation and Judeo-Christianity in the school curriculum.

An outdated curriculum

On one hand there are those arguing it’s right to prioritise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, culture and spirituality as the existing curriculum is too Eurocentric.
The academic heading ACARA’s Indigenous advisory committee, Mark Rose, argues the existing curriculum is “outdated and did not reflect Australia’s First Nation people’s calls for truth-telling”.

The aboriginal activist Teela Reid is also critical of the existing curriculum when arguing “For far too long, the education system has whitewashed First Nations perspectives from the history books”.

Reid also argues schools “have a duty to ensure the perspectives of Australia’s First Nations are core to the curriculum, not a side note in history or an elective option”.In opposition, there are those arguing the revised curriculum documents fail to properly acknowledge the significance and on-going debt owed to Western civilisation and Judeo-Christianity. The historian, Geoffrey Blainey, argues while Aboriginal history must be included an undue emphasis ignores the central importance of Western civilisation traced back to Greece and Rome as “the mainsprings of the civilisation most Australians inherit”.

Blainey also argues the revised curriculum devalues Christianity while presenting a romanticised version of Aboriginal life pre-European settlement.

Removing all references to Christianity

Bella d’Abrera from the Institute of Public Affairs is also critical of the new curriculum arguing “These radical proposals have completely removed all references to Christianity, Ancient Greece and the freedoms given to us through the values and institutions of Western Civilisation”.

“For far too long, the education system has whitewashed First Nations perspectives from the history books”.

The first thing to note, contrary to what is claimed, is that the existing national curriculum already emphasises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture.
As a result of being one of the three cross curricula perspectives schools must teach from Foundation to Year 10 there are literally hundreds of references.

Examples already in the curriculum include the impact of European settlement, the struggle for Indigenous voting and land rights, the freedom rides of the 1960s, the Mabo decision plus the Bringing them Home Report (the Stolen Generation). It’s also the case the revised curriculum, in addition to further emphasising Indigenous studies and mistakenly describing Australian society as multicultural and multifaith, ignores it is Western civilisation, especially Judeo-Christianity, that informs and underpins Australia’s history and evolution as a nation.

In the history Years 7-10 curriculum while there are 12 references to Indigenous culture and history there are only four to Christianity.

Two references involve Christianity and the Vikings, one to the Spanish conquistadores and the other to Christianity and Islam.

At the Year 7 level while studying the history of the First Nations People is compulsory students only need to study one of the following: Egypt, Greece, Rome, India, China.
As a result, Egypt, Greece and Rome can be ignored; even though such societies are central to the history and evolution of Western civilisation.

One of the central justifications for prioritising Indigenous history and culture is the argument the curriculum must embrace “truth-telling”. Unfortunately, those responsible for writing the new courses fail in this regard.

The impact of European settlement is always negative and destructive with no acknowledgment of the positives. When examining the arrival of European students are told to analyse the “impact of invasion, colonisation and dispossession of lands by Europeans on the First Nations Peoples of Australia such as frontier warfare, genocide, removal from land, relocation to ‘protectorates’, reserves and missions”.

Those responsible for writing the new curriculum also present a sanitised and what the Aboriginal activist Jacinta Price terms a “romanticised” version of Aboriginal life before the arrival of the First Fleet.

Nowhere is there any mention of tribal warfare or the harsh treatment women received in what was a patriarchal society.

Describing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander “social organisation systems, protocols, kinship structures, economies and enterprises” as “sophisticated” is also open to contestation as is equating Indigenous science and mathematics with that responsible for splitting the atom, putting a man on the moon and open-heart surgery.

Throughout the revised national curriculum, the argument is put that students across Foundation to Year 10 in all subjects must learn about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, history and spirituality.

Indeed, in the document ‘What has changed and why’ the statement is made “Connections to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures cross- curriculum priority have been strengthened”.

Those responsible for writing the new curriculum also present a sanitised and what the Aboriginal activist Jacinta Price terms a “romanticised” version of Aboriginal life before the arrival of the First Fleet.

As a result the new curriculum prioritises Indigenous culture and history to the detriment of providing students across Australia, in government and non-government schools, with an appreciation and awareness of Western civilisation and Judeo-Christianity.
Both of which underpin and inform our way of life and that make Australia unique in a region characterised by instability and lack of liberty and freedom.

The revised national curriculum review is open for comment until 8 July.

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