A year or so ago I was pretty worried that the Howard Government was
using its fourth term to effect an enormous right-wing cultural
revolution across the country. But I’ve calmed down now, as it’s clear
– witness Jonestown, Brendan Donkey-Boy Nelson, etc – that they don’t
have a clue how to go about it.

Take the history teaching brouhaha, for example. As I understand it
from Julie Bishop’s recent statements, the right’s argument is that the
left has used thematic teaching as a way of subverting proper narrative
teaching of our civilisation’s glories, and thus push forward “Marxist,
feminist and green interpretations”.

This is so confused it’s difficult to know where to start. First off,
the form of historical teaching – narrative versus theme – is neutral
with regard to politics. A Marxist/feminist/green narrative history of
Australia would tell the story of an empire that needed a dumping
ground for its poor which turned into a pastoral aristocracy which
wrecked the land with high-intensity farming, and a misogynist mateship
culture which began in the Rum Corps, and brought us TV executives
talking about boning their female employees.

By contrast, a conservative thematic history might look at historical
sequence, focusing on selected examples how civilising institutions
such as churches, universities, public schools, and mutual aid
associations were developed out of said dumping ground and became a
progressive society. Such a history might compare, say, the founding of
the University of WA with the creation of the Melbourne museum and
library, with the rise and influence of Sydney Anglicanism in the
1880s. All thematic, all conservative.

So, go the blues is all I can say. More narrative history, less narrow
vocational teaching is what leftist educationists have been fighting for,
for decades.

Peter Fray

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