tip off

1915 and all that: History in a holding pattern

So, after a lot of sound and fury, a one-day conference, a lot of tut-tutting about hysterical accusations, the development of the new high school history curriculum turned out to be a fix after all. After Professor Tony Taylor, a specialist in history education, presented his draft curriculum developed after a heavily right-slanted one-day conference on the issue, the Government has called in Geoffrey Blainey and Gerard Henderson to rewrite it.

I suspect they were always going to. It seemed clear at the time that Minister Julie Bishop, who had set up the process, hadn’t really understood what was required of it and of her – to deliver a socially conservative curriculum so tight that it would leave a minimum of room for history teachers to raise questions about the interpretation.

Thus, say, Gallipoli would be presented as ‘the making of a nation’ and though some old bearded leftie in Wooropna High might be able to suggest that it was a chaotic imperial adventure that shows you should never trust what governments say about war, there’d be less scope to suggest that the real making of Australia was the Harvester judgement that set our social, political and economic form for a century to come – because it wouldn’t be on the exam.

But Bishop stuffed up – deliberately or otherwise – and Taylor has allegedly delivered a curriculum much like the previous ones, with (according to Greg Melleuish one of the right-wing placemen) a variety of different modules and a focus on the way social movements have shaped the contemporary political environment.

I say allegedly because the Government won’t release the draft before Blainey and Hendo get their hands on it. Clearly, Howard realised that this had all gone pear-shaped, and the intervention was planned at a pretty early stage.

It’s hard to know how much difference this sort of blatant political fixing would really make. Curriculum design turns on a lot more issues than content – it has to be designed so that it keeps students interested, develops their research skills, connects with worlds they know etc. It’s a specialist art and just being a historian (Blainey) or a hack who thinks he’s a historian (Henderson) ain’t enough. You can never really tell which Blainey you’re going to get – the conscientious historian or the shameless booster of books like Windschuttle’s farrago on Tasmania And if Henderson’s contribution is as boring as his columns on Doc Evatt, students will just do what the editor of The Age did.

Most likely the final result will be a dog’s breakfast, unteachable, and have to be thrown out anyway. And it’s deckchairs on the proverbial in any case if Rudd gets in, coz he’d never let stand such a blatantly conservative cultural fix, would he?

Would he … ?

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