Today’s article in The Australian entitled ‘Students resent history guilt’ reports:

The History Teachers Association called yesterday for a rethink of the type of Australian history being taught in schools and the way in which it is taught.

History Teachers Association of NSW executive officer Louise Zarmati said her experience teaching in western Sydney was that students were resistant to learning about Australian politics and, in particular, indigenous history.

“This is a somewhat delicate subject but they don’t like the indigenous part of Australian history,” she told a hearing of the Senate inquiry into the academic standards of school education in Sydney yesterday.

But the statements attributed to the History Teachers’ Association of NSW in the above article were in fact the thoughts of an individual executive member in response to a specific question, rather than HTA policy.

Indeed, the article focuses on comments that were not part of HTA’s submission to the Senate Enquiry into academic standards in schools.

HTA represents up to 1200 history teachers in NSW. While it’s to be expected that there will be a diversity of opinion amongst such a group, it needs to be emphasised that HTA has no feedback from members that would support the conclusion: ‘High school students resent being made to feel guilty during their study of Australia’s indigenous past and dislike national history in general.’

Indeed, the junior Australian history syllabus has been only recently revised and early indications suggest that it has received a positive response.

What teachers do at a Year 9 level has a practical focus and is a long way removed from concerns about the history wars and ideological conflict. If there is an overall aim, however, it is to give indigenous history its rightful place in Australia’s story, with the hope that this may assist reconciliation.

Obviously, this is a sensitive area and it is distressing to see it approached with such a provocative headline as ‘students resent history guilt’. Used on the front page of a national newspaper, it is a worrying example of the way in which educational issues are dealt with in much of the media.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey