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Jan 31, 2011

Memo to Pyne: you're reading the wrong history curriculum

When it comes to Christopher Pyne, lawyer, republican and politician, a couple of things. First, as a lawyer, it is always important to read documents carefully, writes Tony Taylor co-editor of the upcoming History Wars and the Classroom: Global Perspectives.

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Yesterday I sent off to a US publisher the final draft of a book — History Wars and the Classroom. The final sentence of one of my chapters, in dealing with history curriculum in Australia, reads as follows: “Of course, if a Labor federal government is replaced by a conservative administration, we start all over again.”

Little did I know that Coalition education spokesman Christopher Pyne would be on the case quite so quickly.

This morning, I’m reading The Age and there it is, the muesli-choking story. “Coalition would scrap curriculum” blared the headline, the story going on to say that if the Coalition gets into power it’s all change. This will especially be the case when it comes to history, Pyne added, criticising all that Asian and Aboriginal stuff and insisting, amongst other things, that classical civilisations Magna Carta, Christianity and (irony of ironies) the Bill of Rights/English Civil War should be highlighted and/or inserted.

The comments were taken from a speech to be delivered at the Institute of Public Affairs this morning (after I finish this piece) at the launch of an IPA review of the national curriculum with contributions by Chris Berg and Greg Melleuish. Berg wrote an op-ed article on this very subject for The Sunday Age a few weeks ago. I read it and dismissed it as someone who doesn’t know much about how education or history works.

As for Melleuish, a historian, it was he who was selected by the Howard government to design a national curriculum at the 2006 Australian history summit (remember that?) which was killed off by the summiteers within a couple of hours of its being tabled. And I do remember seeing Melleuish at two recent national curriculum forums where he was in a position to speak up loudly for the Magna Carta, etc.

As I remember it he remained silent throughout. When it comes to Pyne — lawyer, republican and politician — a couple of things. First, as a lawyer, it is always important to read documents carefully. My impression, from the reporting of his remarks, is that he must have been reading a different curriculum document from the one that I possess.

Classical civilizations (Egyptians, Greeks Romans) are dealt with in some detail in Year 7, together with some of that Asian stuff — mainly the ancient societies of China and India. As for that baron-benefiting beano to curb arbitrary rule of one (the king), the Magna Carta, it’s covered in Year 8 under the Feudalism overview and political features of medieval life in Europe.

Not that it’s explicitly mentioned but, as a teacher, you’d be daft not to spend some time on Runnymede, investigating a pioneering constitutional event, short-term dud that it was, but a long-term and major pan-European and pan-colonial accomplishment. Christianity is covered in Year 8 under “the spread of Christianity”, medieval Europe under the Crusades (not so good, that bit), the medieval dominance of the Catholic church and the Spanish conquest of the Americas (another not-so-good bit).

As for the Bill of Rights and the English Civil War, the former is covered in Year 10 under the optional “egalitarianism” and the latter is arguably just a series of confused and confusing localised squabbles that may have a special significance for UK history, but not for anybody else (unless they like dressing up in period costume).

By the way, in the current UK national curriculum Key Stage 3 program of study, where you’d expect to find Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights and the Civil War — they’re not mentioned.

It doesn’t mean they’re not studied because, as with the Australian curriculum, the UK design is concept-led, not fact-led. Note to Pyne: if we had a curriculum that was fact-led, we’d have a very, very, very, very long chronicle, not a history. Second, and final point, and it’s yet another irony.

Pyne mourns the alleged absence of the Magna Carta and is quoted as saying: “I am happy to go back to the drawing board and start again. Until I am satisfied the curriculum is an improvement on what we have now, I won’t be going ahead with it.” What was that again about the Magna Carta and arbitrary rule of one, Christopher?

*Tony Taylor teaches and researches at Monash University. He has just finished co-editing History Wars and the Classroom: Global Perspectives. The book contains chapters on Argentina, Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Africa, UK and USA.

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104 thoughts on “Memo to Pyne: you’re reading the wrong history curriculum

  1. rhys

    Dear 4zzz,
    I would have liked to respond earlier to your comments but life got in the way. That’s life, I guess. That said, thanks for your comments – English history of this period can be alot of fun.
    1. “There is a school of thought that says parliament did not win the Civil War”.
    I’m sure there is although they would have a bit of trouble explaining why Charles 2 had to accept the primacy of parliament in levying taxes, for example. Additionally, what Charles thought about absolutism or the Divine Right of Kings on a personal level is of markedly less significance than the fact that he accepted the necessity, insisted upon by Parliament, of abandoning them in practice. His brother James had other ideas; this is where my expression of parliament mopping things up comes in. And yes, this involved Parliament inviting William and his army to invade and to make sure that James escaped to France. I see no “suffering”, as you suggest; Parliament made the call, were in control of the situation and avoided making the decision that Pym had made in 1642 (calling on the assistance of the un-enfranchised).

    2. “Charles lost his head because of his absolute belief in the Divine Right of Kings…” Agreed; I think we’re on the same page here. It was his adherence to these beliefs that blinded him to seeing the writing on the wall re obstructing the economic activities of merchants etc and the propertied who wished to use their land to expand agricultural production for existing and new markets.
    3. I disagree with you re Cromwell. Your contention that he was a religious autocrat and banned maypoles etc paints a picture of him as religiously intolerant, a 1650’s version of one of Orwell’s prigs. This is incorrect on several grounds. Firstly, it is not a good idea to judge his tolerance (or lack of) on today’s standards. He needs to be judged according to the standards of his time. By those standards he was very tolerant. Strict religious censorship, with severe consequences for dissenters, characterized pre revolutionary England. This, along with his total support of Charles, contributed to the Anglican Archbishop Laud losing his head in 1645. A somewhat scaled down version of religious censorship and suppression of dissent was reintroduced under Charles 2nd, not Cromwell. Secondly, being a religious autocrat was par for the times. These days autocracy has clear negative anti democratic connotations. Back then it had positive anti democratic connotations. The idea of democracy as we understand it was anathema to nearly all. Even the most powerful of the dissenting groups, the Levellers, were antagonistic to the idea of extending the franchise beyond those who held property. Democracy was the many headed monster.
    4. I do not mean to suggest that The New Model Army was a paragon of democratic virtue. Again, we need to judge things by the standards of the time. It was certainly more accessible, open and, yes, democratic, than parliament elected by less than 5% of the population. That the Putney debates occurred at all, was extraordinary. You are correct to point out that with the restoration a mistrust in organised armies predominated but I disagree with your inference that Puritan intolerance lay at the base of this. As you suggest, the NMA had many men in it who were puritans or puritan influenced, but Puritanism from the mid 15th C through to the mid/late 16th C was a progressive and at times revolutionary force. Its association with insufferable priggishness comes later and was in no small part due to the consequences of the restoration (which in a religious sense meant the restoration of Anglican dictatorship, albeit in a softer form than under Laud’s leadership).
    Given your interest for the period and that of the Tudors may I suggest a couple of reads by the late Christopher Hill: “Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England” and “Reformation to Industrial Revolution.” His “Puritanism and Revolution” is pretty good too. I got all of them over the past few years through Amazon or Alibris.

  2. Jimmy

    Here is ACARA’s chair bio:
    Chair, ACARA
    Professor Barry McGaw AO, PhD
    Professor Barry McGaw is a Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne and Chair of the Board of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority.

    Prior to returning to Australia at the end of 2005, he was Director for Education at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). He had earlier been Executive Director of the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) and Professor of Education at Murdoch University. He was originally a science teacher in Queensland secondary schools. He holds BSc, DipEd and BEd(Hons) degrees from the University of Queensland and EdM and PhD from the University of Illinois.

    Professor McGaw is a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, the Australian Psychological Society, the Australian College of Educators and the International Academy of Education. He is currently President of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia. He received an Australian Centenary Medal in 2001 and was appointed an Officer in the Order of Australia in 2004. He was the 2005–2006 recipient of University of Illinois International Alumni Award for Exceptional Achievement.

    So he knows a little more than just schools. But that aside whether it is these boffins making the curriculum at state level or at federal level it is the same boffins. My point is that there should be one set of boffins for the whole country, yes the curriculum will change periodically, yes the current one being proposed may not be perfect but let’s at least have one imperfect one rather than 8 that are imperfect for different reasons.

    This is becoming increasingly important as more and more students are going to interstate university’s, how do uni’s set their curriculum if they don’t know what should be assumed knowledge.

  3. freecountry

    Jimmy, it’s sufficiently political, especially in the history area, for Christopher Pyne to say he’ll scrap it and start over if and when he wins government.
    [If elected at the next federal election, it would be my intention to initiate a review of at least the history discipline in the national curriculum to ensure that it achieves the all important goal of filling young minds with the knowledge of why Australia is like it is today.]
    As Chris Berg wrote last year:
    [The science curriculum’s insistence that science should be taught as a cultural endeavour — with Asian and Aboriginal perspectives such as the Dreamtime — seems more like cultural studies. Worthy in their own right perhaps, but teaching myths in science class is a bit odd. Its emphasis on ”the human responsibility to contribute to sustainability” seems just a touch ideologically loaded.
    .
    The history curriculum in year 10 investigates ”struggles for freedom and rights”, which is great. But it starts its investigation with the United Nations, as if the concept of human rights just popped up in 1945.
    .
    Perhaps having kids learn about ”Sorry Day” is laudable. But it seems a bit much for the apology — which is a distinctly political achievement of the Rudd government — to be given curriculum status so soon.]
    What you party apparatchiks–on both sides–never seem to understand is that your government is only ever temporary. All the powers that you grab from the states will be inherited and used by your opponents in ways you did not intend. As Pyne and Berg both point out, the Coalition started this process, not you, and if they win government in 2013 they will rewrite history for the schoolroom just as the ALP has done.

    The history classroom could then become an ideological battleground for years to come as one government follows another, with our children caught in the middle.

  4. freecountry

    Jimmy: “Surely it makes sense …”

    What if moving away from an unsatisfactory education system is one of the reasons parents make that move interstate? You’re talking about taking that choice away from them.

    Diversity and competition always comes at a price of some inconvenience. Is that enough reason to ensure all voters read the same daily newspaper? That would avoid a lot of confusion at election time, make sure everyone is on the same page of the national policy debate–wouldn’t it?

    Well, the designers of our National Competition Policy disagreed with this principle, when it comes to private sector services such as news media. Education and news media have a lot in common, because they can both be abused to control the minds of the population. The founders of Australia’s education revolution from the 1870s to WW1, and of the federal constitution in the 1890s, disagreed with this principle. They felt that a combination of healthy interstate competition and harmonization would produce better results than a single central control, and that’s why education was very deliberately left in state hands.

    Those reasons are just as valid today as they were then. They also believed that paying for a high standard of teachers was a vital investment in the future. This has been forgotten in recent years, causing competition and harmonization to be ineffective. So we are addressing the problems of forgetting one lesson, by forgetting all the others. This is a big mistake.

  5. freecountry

    Norman:
    [Your suggestion, “leaving schools alone to do what they do best” is an excellent ideal, BUT developing curricula isn’t one of their strengths, especially in light of the lowered intellectual standards of so many teachers.]
    Ronin8317:
    [A national curriculum makes standardized testing possibly, which is the purpose of the exercise.]
    If these are the main drivers for the national curriculum, they are not worth it for the price we will pay in loss of diversity and loss of competition between state education systems. Education already suffers from teaching students just to pass exams; the last thing we need is to rearrange the whole sector around exams.

    Governments are using one quick-fix after another to avoid the real issue that teachers are not paid enough. The demand for people willing to teach exceeds supply, so they are paid peanuts and treated like kitchenhands, and education gets dominated by underdog types with minimal education and a chip on their shoulder.

    Labor is responding to this underperformance with league tables, penalties for underperformance, taking away their responsibility for developing curriculum–anything except paying them properly and raising the professional standard.

    Does anyone–especially Labor supporters–think that is the way to get more performance out of a workforce? Is Gillard going prove this time that you can squeeze blood from a stone? We’ve tried that with police, and it doesn’t work. We’ve tried an alternative way, offering higher pay and setting higher entry standards, and it works.

    You don’t need to be a brain surgeon to see this. The solution to bad education is not more centralized control. The solution to bad education is raising the bar and raising salaries for teachers.

  6. 4ZZZ

    RHYS. Just a couple of points “The revolutionary decades unhinged the foundations of English society and saw the victory of Parliament over the feudal monarchy and aristocracy.” This is debatable. There is a school of thought that the parliament did not “win” the Civil War. Just on that some are inclined to call it The War Of The Three Kingdoms also. The consequences if the Irish war are felt to this day.

    “Charles 1 lost his head because he failed to understand that if the king stood in the way of economic (capitalist) development then he’d have to go.”
    Not sure about that one? Do you have a suggested source for further reading? I would simplistically suggest that Charles I lost his head in the end because of his absolute belief in the Divine Right Of Kings and his failure to remove himself from that thinking. The parliament at the time of his death was Puritan dominated due to Prides Purge and brooked no dissent.

    “His son was invited back because he did understand and he made an accomodation to Parliament and the new men of property that his father didn’t.”
    His son was invited back because the previous years under Cromwell had been hell for the population at large. Cromwell was a religious autocrat and had for example banned Christmas and Maypoles. It has been suggested that there was a nostalgia for the past but even then his restoration was at the behest Monck. As to parliament on his restoration in July 1960 acts were passed that all previous legislation was to revert back to 1641 except for those on private transactions. hardly progressive.

    “The constitutional ambiguities that remained were mopped up in 1688 in the “Glorious” Revolution (so named I suspect because it didn’t involve those with no property or insufficient property to have the franchise – about 95% of the population I think although I could be wrong here)” There was a lot of angst in England at the time because a legitimate monarch was deposed because of his religion but the term “glorious” in fact used by protestants as to them it was better to suffer a foreigner, William Of Orange, as monarch as it would have been less than “glorious” to suffer James Stuart who was a Catholic. To this day no one other than those of the Anglican faith can be head of state in the United Kingdom so by extension also Australia.

    “the English Revolution of 1640-60 did involve the people and in ways which were unprecedented. 1642 saw John Pym a leader in the Long Parliament go over the heads of all and appeal to the people to assist parliament in its struggle with the king. He probably had little choice as parliament was stuck – it had no confidence in the king’s ability to adapt but no constitutional authority to control him. Because of this parliament was in no position to alienate potential friends. This particular set of circumstances ushered in a period of liberty for ‘the meaner sort’ which was unique. Church and state censorship collapsed and the common folk found a voice. A post above has made reference to Hill’s The World Turned Upside Down which draws upon the extraordinary range of publications which chronicled people’s thoughts, desires and activities. The Civil War itself was probably won because of Cromwell’s New Model Army where men elected their officers and discussed and debated the burning issues of the day. (Period costume anyone?) We may regret that their struggle for freedom of speech and the extension of the franchise was lost (Pym’s move was about winning the struggle for the new men of property, not out of love for the proverbial common man and when that struggle was won and bedded down the now business friendly regime crushed dissent just as effectively as the old, sclerotic feudal one) but the role and aspirations of the people, their efforts, deserve much more than Taylor’s airy dismissal.”

    I have found this part of the post a bit garbled so maybe I am misunderstanding you but as an example I think you make New Model Army to be some form of democracy. The Putney debates hardly included the regular men. NMO was initiated by Parliament after a letter by Waller to Parliament and the vast majority of recruits were puritans and became difficult to control due to pay disputes for example. After the restoration of Charles II there was a general distrust of organised armies as the NMO was dominated by those with little care for others of differing beliefs.

    I do agree with you that Taylor is far too quick to dismiss the civil war. In reply to your historical musings I am not trying to outdo you but this is an area that to me personally is the most interesting time in English history though the entire Stuart period is fascinating in truth. I genuinely would love to join Sealed Knot LOL. Be that as it may I have no issue with it being included as a subject within the proposed curriculum but it is a very deep subject and I suspect that the vast majority of students would lose interest rapidly if forced to discuss the myriad of conflicting ideas about the subject. See my previous post on Carltons summation on all points of view. And yes I agree the Marxists talk rot. FWIW I am in agreement with Morrill. If interested may I recommend Gods Fury England’s Fire and for the restoration A Gambling Man. Both very good reads indeed.

  7. rhys

    Norman: We should have an optimistic attitude to our children. If we do not we should not be teaching. I have two adolescent children so I understand (I hope) the challenges involved in getting kids interested in ostensibly dry, old fart, subject matter; and history is so easy to strangle by both conservative types and post modernist types. What is required is not the ‘correct line’ or the dominant or most recent fad, but a genuine love of the material and some attitudinal spunk. This may otherwise be described as a rebellious spirit. A teacher I had in fourth form (as it was then) had it and it blew me and a number of others away. Winstanley and the English revolutionaries had it. More is the pity that many of our education heavies appear not to have it. But, confronted by this, is it not right to rebel?

    Oggy: Yes, I think that that is a dividing line although unlike you I would not put the greens on the other side of it. We may well have a differnce of opinion about the greens – I see them as providing the beleagured electorate with a third, and possibly more conservative option than the dominant moderate right wing ‘alternatives’ on offer. But that one is perhaps best left for another time. That being said, we are certainly in agreement that the question of democracy for whom and over what, is central to our inherited political system; and further, that this matter burst onto the political arena in a particularly sharp and clear way during the English Revolution. Which is why the events, currents and lessons of that revolution remain relevent to us today. To be frank there is unfinished business which succeeding generations will confront whether or not we teach them about it or deny them that opportunity.

  8. rhys

    I’m not in a good position to comment much about the ins and outs of curriculum – I am not a teacher and have not read the national curriculum for history. From what I’ve read above the curriculum sounds crowded and I don’t envy teachers their task of figuring how to teach important areas in next to no time.
    The issue I’d like to comment on is whether the English Revolution (of which the Civil War was a part) is of such significance, including significance to Australia, as to warrant more than a cursory glance in our children’s secondary school education.
    Unlike Tony Taylor I do not think the Civil War is just a curio for a few boffins or period dress types. I don’t know if he wrote the above on a bad hair day but dimissing the English Revolution thus shows appaling ignorance. The revolutionary decades unhinged the foundations of English society and saw the victory of Parliament over the feudal monarchy and aristocracy. Charles 1 lost his head because he failed to understand that if the king stood in the way of economic (capitalist) development then he’d have to go. His son was invited back because he did understand and he made an accomodation to Parliament and the new men of property that his father didn’t. The constitutional ambiguities that remained were mopped up in 1688 in the “Glorious” Revolution (so named I suspect because it didn’t involve those with no property or insufficient property to have the franchise – about 95% of the population I think although I could be wrong here).
    The English Revolution of 1640-60 did involve the people and in ways which were unprecedented. 1642 saw John Pym a leader in the Long Parliament go over the heads of all and appeal to the people to assist parliament in its struggle with the king. He probably had little choice as parliament was stuck – it had no confidence in the king’s ability to adapt but no constitutional authority to control him. Because of this parliament was in no position to alienate potential friends. This particular set of circumstances ushered in a period of liberty for ‘the meaner sort’ which was unique. Church and state censorship collapsed and the common folk found a voice. A post above has made reference to Hill’s The World Turned Upside Down which draws upon the extraordinary range of publications which chronicled people’s thoughts, desires and activities. The Civil War itself was probably won because of Cromwell’s New Model Army where men elected their officers and discussed and debated the burning issues of the day. (Period costume anyone?)
    We may regret that their struggle for freedom of speech and the extension of the franchise was lost (Pym’s move was about winning the struggle for the new men of property, not out of love for the proverbial common man and when that struggle was won and bedded down the now business friendly regime crushed dissent just as effectively as the old, sclerotic feudal one) but the role and aspirations of the people, their efforts, deserve much more than Taylor’s airy dismissal.
    Democracy for the new property was established and remains a foundation stone of English (and Australian) institutions. Democracy for the people – universal suffrage etc etc – forget it. Those striving for the ‘many headed monster’ were defeated and it would be more than 300 years before the men of property were forced to give ground. This contradiction between liberty for the men of property and liberty for the rest of us, has been a central feature of our world since exists at the very heart of our society. And this is not worth teaching?
    I’ll leave the last word to a man who continues to speak to us 360 odd years after these words were penned:
    “Freedom is the man who turns the world upside down and he therefore maketh many enemies”. (Gerrard Winstanley). Now if that idea can’t be utilized to stir up interest in a bunch of bored, hormonal adolescents …

  9. atticusdash

    Just a quick note – can’t quite let that one go either – the English Civil War as a ‘series of confused and confusing localised squabbles’. That particular war is worth the look not only because, as the woefully uncomplicated Pyne suggested, it confirmed the power of parliament, or established a basis of representative taxation. It is worth a look because it is a study in power, and in the part religious fervour tries to play in exerting power.

    The Protectorate failed in the end because it transferred the power of the King to Cromwell. With the end of Cromwell came the Return of the King. The mistakes Cromwell made – especially in Ireland, and again religiously inspired – would haunt the nation for centuries to come.

    The War changed England and the world, but not nearly so much as the Restoration, which ushered in the Royal Society and the great Enlightenment. A King as figurehead would prove to be more worthwhile than a Protector guided by the voice of his god.

    It is worth exploring because it examines what happens when we tell ourselves that power resides with the people through parliament, whilst allowing the executive to exercise power unrestrained. It is a cautionary tale, but whether it is useful in lower high school history classes, with the ramifications a little too complicated for the linear nature of school history, is open to debate.

    Still, a passing acquaintance with this period of history is all we’re going to get. History is long, and school is short. What I have trouble with is the suggestion that the English Civil War is MORE important in teaching these lessons of power exercised with ideology than that of our own nation. Is it that the final result may be a compassionate response to First Australians when these students reach adulthood? Or is it simply that anything other than glorious representation of our past is anathema to the aims of the conservatives – which, by definition, is to make sure nothing changes.
    Do they really feel so strongly that any suggestion that mistakes have been made will mean they can’t be elected? Or that we won’t pull together as Australians in time of crisis? What do they imagine patriotism is?
    What do they imagine history is? Are they such shallow men as to imagine that a lack of complexity in our national dialogue will keep us happier and more productive? And if we’re happier, of course, and more productive, and therefore wealthier, we’ll vote conservative to protect it.

    Do the left believe that if we can find ways to denigrate England we manage to elevate Australia, thereby ensuring a progressive vote?
    Only one thing is certain: none of them read enough history to enrich their thinking, and help make this country a better place.

    Personally, I think school students should be encouraged to approach history through historical novels as a way in, provided they are then discussed in class with attention given to what is verifiable fact, what is reasonable conjecture, and what is convenient or even prurient confection. ‘Wolf Hall’ will give them more feeling for the detail of life under a powerful King and the nature of power and how it is conferred or exercised, than a list of wives or executions (not that any book dealing with the Tudors will come up shy of executions). History is all about interpretation of the effect of events, and the meaning of their sequence. It is, though the politicians would not wish it so, mutable.

  10. Bilbo

    Re: David and Norman – I like to think I teach to a fairly high standard and push my students to consider primary and secondary sources, weigh up evidence, connect past events to present realities (such as understanding Islam and the Crusades in the context of contemporary events) and do so from a young age (12 years onwards.) Sometimes it clicks, sometimes it doesn’t. But for those of you outside the school system be aware that the humanities in general have a very low timetabling status – David I envy you your full year of English and European history! Prior to VCE History (I can only speak of Victoria) you would be very lucky, even in private schools which traditionally have maintained stronger discipline departments, to study more than a semester of History in a given year. Normally humanities/SOSE would be allocated between 3-4 45 minute periods a week at junior levels (years 7-10). So for example I try to squeeze into half a year in year 8 the fall of Rome, Vikings, Battle of Hastings, Medieval England (including the ol’ Magna Carta), the Crusades and the Black Death. Trust me it is a lot to do well. And for those who pontificate on the beauties of the Magna Carta – please tell me why this is more inherently important to know than the Black Death, which effected the feudal system, changed agriculture (enclosures anyone?), challenged people’s beliefs in the Church and resulted in some haunting artworks (all of which we study in about 2 weeks.)

  11. 4ZZZ

    To quote from Going to the Wars: The Experience of the British Civil Wars, 1638-1651 by Charles Charlton (highly recommended reading I might add)

    “Over the years much has been written about the wars to which Lovelace went, because historians as distinguished as G.M. Trevelyan have argued that the cataclysm which engulfed the British Isles in the middle of the seventeenth century was the most important happening in our history. At the time Edward Hyde, the Earl of Clarendon, described it as the Great Rebellion in which a few extremists duped the mass of decent moderate men. While this view prevailed during the eighteenth century, in the first half of the nineteenth Thomas Babington Macaulay challenged it by arguing that the civil wars were essentially a Herculean struggle between liberty and despotism, which the former won, thus making possible the glories of Victorian England. Towards the end of the century S.R. Gardiner portrayed the turmoil as a Puritan Revolution, in which Godly Protestants resisted the counter reformation of pseudo-catholic royalists. In more recent times Karl Marx and his followers have interpreted the crisis of mid-seventeenth-century England as the first great Bourgeois Revolution. During this period the gentry supposedly rose “or at least the mere gentry came to the top” as the aristocracy experienced a crisis. Others have turned this thesis on its head by arguing that the aristocracy was behind the revolution all the time. Recently revisionist historians have stressed the short-term, even accidental nature of events, in which the acts of individuals played a more important role than the seemingly inevitable and impersonal forces that the reformation set in motion a century before. John Morrill, for instance, has suggested that the civil wars were essentially Wars of Religion.”

    All well and good but we are talking about a curriculum for 12 to 16 year olds. Bilbo is right about “making it fun” Churn that by Charlton out to the average student and they will lose interest. Tell them about Henry VIII getting married 6 times and having a couple of wives heads chopped off and invariably they find it exciting.

  12. David Jackmanson

    I agree with Norman Hanscombe. I count 19 comments so far that are little more than smug assertions that Pyne and the Coalition are dumb/evil.

    What will you do when the Coalition gets anywhere near power again and implements its “white blindfold” view of Australian history? Judging by the debate here, the majority of opponents will sit in the pub whingeing about how stupid the Libs are, and do nothing to stop them over-running history teaching for another 11 years.

    Niall Clugston, surely there are *some* things that must be taught, as absolute basics so that by Year 10 or so students are ready to take part in that debate 0ver what is significant and what isn’t? I also think Australian history should be taught, not in isolation but in *connection* with the great currents of world history.

    Bilbo, is it possible there are ways you have not tried yet that can make students realise the significance of historical events? I admit I’m not much use here; I had a taste for history very early at school so I have no idea what it’s like to not be interested in it.

    Jackol, I don’t think the English Civil War is entirely irrelevant to the Tea Party, although there are of course other more important factors. The idea of “English liberties” which drove the American Revolution was hugely driven by the English Civil War, which proved a King could be killed and that he must rule according to Parliament, not according to his own whims.

    Ronin8317, I can only speak for my school education, but I spent a total of a year studying English and European history from the 1300s to the late 1600s, including the rise of Lollardy, the struggle for Bibles to be printed in English, the Reformation including Luther, the formation of the Church of England and the Puritan/Anglican/Catholic struggles of the 1600s. So I certainly got a big dose of understanding of how religion affects politics – and this at a religious school.

  13. David Jackmanson

    The arrogant, dismissive tone of this article is almost as appalling as the ridiculous statement that the English Civil War is “arguably just a series of confused and confusing localised squabbles that may have a special significance for UK history, but not for anybody else (unless they like dressing up in period costume)”.

    Understanding the English Civil War is crucial to understanding the principles of modern parliamentary democracy in Australia. It was that war that set in stone the idea that the Executive may not tax without the approval of Parliament. Without understanding that principle, one cannot understand, for instance, the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis. Parliamentary control of taxation and budgets, and the right of Parliament to act as an electoral college to choose the Government, all ultimately come from the Parliamentary victory in that war.

    It’s fascinating that the author could construe Mr Pyne’s threat to change the curriculum if he is part of a Government elected by the Australian people as the “arbitrary rule of one”. There is much to criticise about the Coalition’s approach to history, especially their unwillingness to admit that great death, and destruction of Aboriginal culture, accompanied the European settlement of this country. However, would the author truly say that an elected government has no right at all to attempt to set a curriculum it approves of? If so, what process does the author propose to ensure that such a curriculum would be accountable to the people of Australia?

    If the author represents the sort of person who draws up our curriculum – if those people are as unwilling to accept any sort of outside criticism as the author is, and if they dismiss any criticism as non-expert and therefore by definition wrong – then our democracy is in great trouble. This article reads like that of a technocrat who is angered by the idea that his work may be disrupted by the foolish masses. Funnily enough, that’s just what King Charles I thought in his struggles with Parliament leading up to that English Civil War whose influence the author rubbishes.

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