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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 comments

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

  1. Norman Hanscombe

    Surely, 4ZZZ, there’s more to fear from the phil kysons of the world who are so confident, “It’s an easy issue”?

  2. Jimmy

    Phil – You could also link “1984” into the discussion on fear.

  3. Phil Kyson

    It’s an easy issue to solve. All you need to do is show the usually conservative “rightarded” view of an event as they want and need to record it. Then you compare that to the known facts then explain the huge gap. To do this it current terms pick any issue covered by the Australian or FoxNews then compare this to the know facts. This is also a great time to talk about the human emotion of fear which is mostly driven by ignorance, thus giving your students an excellent education on how to reason and be sceptical about anything they’re shown. This will upset the likes of Pyne and you will be labelled a lefty, again showing a rule and proving the point.

  4. 4ZZZ

    Cheers RHYS. A very enjoyable read and reply by your good self. I am sure that I could reply with a few further thoughts but I live in fear of Norman and his spiny retorts haa haa. It would be easy to discuss this further but in reality I have no issue with anything that you have said. Interpretation of your and mine “facts” in the end are ideas on a complex subject. This is why I find myself uncomfortable with the demands of the Bergs of this world. The average year nine student in Qld has 1 x 3 hour history lessons a week and to just discuss the English Civil War in limited terms of a certain position worries me.

    Cheers for the heads up on further readings. Not read Hill and will seek him out on your recommendation. Interestingly I have just been passed PDF’s on The Reformation In Germany by Dixon and The Reformation World edited by Pettegree and am looking forward to expanding the depth of my knowledge in this area even further.

  5. 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.

  6. Jimmy

    I am not opposing for opposing’s sake (I leave that to Tony Abbott) but when we already have education curriculum centralised by the state, being run by “people who have already turned the state education systems into a political-correctness joke” (your words not mine) then why should a kid in NSW learn Long division in grade 5 but in Victoria they do it in grade 5?
    We are a small country why have 8 different bodies deciding curriculum. I am not saying this curriculum is the best but one consistent national curriculum (and if that is produced “by closed committees of genuine academic experts who specialize in the actual areas of study” that’s fine)with room for the teacher to eleborate and interpret has to be a step forward from the hotch potch we have now

  7. freecountry

    Q.E.D. Jimmy, sometimes I think you just oppose whatever I say on principle, or play devil’s advocate, or defend the Labor government at all costs, or whatever. This is not an ALP thing. The new Commonwealth Ministry of Truth is a bipartisan creation of both the Coalition and the ALP. A new political battleground of the history wars.

    Education is too important for this. Please, please stop and think about this before just knee-jerking against everything the right-wing dissident says. If anything is to be centralized, it should be advisory only; it should be formally independent of politicians; it should not be taking consultations from lobby groups; it should be produced by closed committees of genuine academic experts who specialize in the actual areas of study, working in consultation with those experts in education.

    Does anybody else have any thoughts on this before it turns into just another rambling back-and-forth between me and my arch critic?

  8. 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.

  9. freecountry

    Deciding curriculum by public consultation is like having the Reserve Bank decide interest rates by putting it to public vote. Having education boffins coordinate the reference standard–people who know schools but have only a cursory knowledge of history, science, etc– is like having the Reserve Bank board made up of bank loan managers instead of economists.

  10. Jimmy

    “The ACARA board and executive are made up entirely of education experts and bureaucrats, making it an echo chamber of the same people who have already turned the state education systems into a political-correctness joke.” These are the same state education systems that you would like to leave to “determine their own public school curricula and exams.”

  11. freecountry

    It’s specified in too much detail, it’s not independent of politicians, and it’s more prescriptive than standard-setting. The ACARA board and executive are made up entirely of education experts and bureaucrats, making it an echo chamber of the same people who have already turned the state education systems into a political-correctness joke.

    The public consultation has been a free-for-all pandaemonium, the blind leading the blind. Submissions from community lobby groups and individuals have been given equal weight with submissions from professors of the actual learning areas, which have barely featured in the process anyway.

    Academics of the learning areas–professors of history, science, etc–should have had the biggest role in the committees. Experts in education should have only a complementary role, moderating the process, explaining pedagogical facts of life such as whether year 10 kids should be learning second order differential equations, that sort of thing.

  12. Norman Hanscombe

    I regret to feel the need to say this, but when I look at what has been happening for decades now in what has become the education industry, I doubt that it’s currently possible to do anything worthwhile, which is why so much effort goes into educational smokescreens and novelties.

  13. Jimmy

    Free Country – Maybe the National Education college could be something like the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority

  14. Jimmy

    Free Country – Firstly I would hardly describe myself as a “party apparatchik”. I am not a member of any party and have voted for both major parties.
    Secondly Pyne’s statements regarding the contents of the history curriculum as patently false and designed to play to ultra conservatives who worry that our country is being “de anglosized” for want of a better term.
    Thirdly I have not ever endorsed or denigrated the contents of the curriculum just that having one set of topics rather than 8 is my preferred option.
    Fourth – The fact that curriculum is currently set by state govt’s rather than the federal govt doesn’t preclude political motivation.
    Finally – The govt only says what topics should be taught not how. Therefore if the have to learn about sorry day for example there is nothing to stop the individual school or teacher from presenting a range of opinions regardng it.

  15. freecountry

    Well how about this alternative plan.

    1. Increase the education funding to states to pay higher salaries for teachers.

    2. Leave the states to determine their own public school curricula and exams.

    3. Establish an independent National Education College, made up of academics from university faculties and with professors of education on each committee.

    4. The independent College to set non-binding recommendations on both curriculum and teacher qualifications, for all state and private schools.

    5. The College to participate in triennual conferences, to which all state education departments and private education boards are invited, for the purpose of (a) reviewing the curriculum, (b) enabling compatibility and student mobility, (c) comparing results, and (d) reporting results to the public. Parents could then make an informed choice or lobby their education boards to learn lessons from their peers.

  16. Norman Hanscombe

    When a science curriculum involves students being “taught as a cultural endeavour — with Asian and Aboriginal perspectives such as the Dreamtime”, we are joining intellectual forces with the infamous Dover School Board crew, where creationists wanted the Bible taught as science. Myth is taking over everywhere in ‘education’.

    Sadly oure classrooms (and it’s not restricted to History classes either) have already been turned into an ideological battleground — or more accurately an ideological propaganda project; but without re-introducing a requirement of more rigour into students’ (and teachers’) understanding of how higher level English can and should work, what hope is there for ANY studies involving anything too demanding?

  17. 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.

  18. Norman Hanscombe

    JIMMY, I don’t know if freecountry does think that, but if he does, I find myself agreeing with you. I’m sorry, Jimmy, and will try not to do that again.

  19. Jimmy

    Free Country – You seem to think that defining the topics to be taught defines the quality of the education system. If this was the case there would be no benefit of attending a Private School to do VCE/HSC because you are teaching the same topic and sit the same exam.

  20. 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.

  21. Norman Hanscombe

    Freecountry, the wording of mine that you quote does NOT indicate support for a national curriculum, and is merely saying that leaving it to schools [an experiment which has been tried] would be disastrous.

    Nor do I see Ronin8317’s contribution as being more than a trivialisation of the issue, so refuting him isn’t proving of much value either.

    Teacher pay depends in part upon the size of the pool from which you want to attract applicants. As the standards you deem adequate are lowered, the need to pay more decreases. Another problem unrelated to pay is what teachers think about how well different school systems are run, and the trend of past years where teachers in non-government schools believed they could achieve more in government schools has been reversed. Parents have made similar decisions.

    Governments are not so much (as you said) “using one quick-fix after another” as using one smokescreen after another, and their silent allies, sad as this may be, have been bureaucrats and union leaders.

    In NSW I watched all political Parties, Departmental Bureaucracies, and Union Bosses stand mutely by as a once effective education system was destroyed, often by the actions of well-intentioned ‘do-gooders’, and cleaning up the mess wouldn’t be easy even if those going about the task were braver and brighter than they are. Other States were usually in line with (or sometimes ahead of) the ‘Premier’ State.

  22. Jimmy

    Free Country – I agree that increasing teachers wages would be an enormous benefit although in Victoria at least it is more about strutcure. Here first year teachers earn over $50k which is very good when compared with other tertiary qualified first year positions, the problem is that unless you want to get out of the classroom you can reach the top salary in 5-10 years meaning that for the next 20 years no matter what you do you only get CPI increases.

    I would also point out that Teachers are employed by the states so Gillard has no control over this problem.

    As far as a national curriculum, the idea that individual schools have been setting there own cirriculum is nonsense, we have had state based curriculum for years, and this is not telling teachers how to teach the topics, just which topics need to be taught at what stage. Surely it makes sense that every child in Australia gets taught the same topics in the same years, at the very least it prevents a child who moves states from learning the same thing twice while missing out on something else all together.

  23. 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.

  24. baal

    sorry that the ‘r’ key stuck there. BTW that’s correct use of quotation marks

  25. baal

    @NORMAN HANSCOMBE. You are (still) over-using quotation marks in an attempt to dismiss opinion with which you disagree. So for you latest effort a B minus minus (the extra minus because you have made no new points). Markers will definitely notice you dependence on repetitious excess. Must try harder if you want to pass.

  26. AR

    Has Norm Handcum ever posted anything, on any thread, that did NOT consist of abuse of other participants? Arrogant ignorance or ignorant arrogance?

  27. Norman Hanscombe

    Gary, one thing they have in common is that both have been watered down so that more students can “pass”, even if that concept has lost all meaning, in that the right to fail has been taken away.

    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.

    There was a time when distinct courses were available for varying ability levels which, whether blinkered ‘progressives’ admit it or not, are found with EVERY aspect of human capacities/skills/whatever. A National curriculum won’t make adequate provisions for this, but neither have State Syllabuses for many decades now. Your quaint comments about the ‘difficulty’ of providing a curriculum which is able to cater for both “coastal dwellers” and “inland communities” highlight that you’re both all at sea and lost in the desert — metaphorically, of course.

    I have no doubt, Gary, you’re a 21st Century ‘thinker’, because even by the end of the 20th Century, the word “thinking” had lost most of its connotations linked with analysing, and had surrendered the intellectual battle by being used for little more than believing. That’s a change which helped generate marvellous degrees of self-confidence, and enabled us to fill the bourgeoning ‘university’ quotas, but — ?

  28. Gary

    If history is in any way similar to Science, it still needs a lot of work!
    Re-starting might not be such a terrible thing, the advantage would be it will be ten years before implemented…
    leaving schools alone to do what they do best…develop curriculum appropriate to their students.

    The one size approach, which seems the main motivation, using examples from UK flies in theface of the details of implementation.

    National curriculum sounds like a good idea, but how does on e do such a thing when marine studies is appropriate to coastal dwellers but hopeless for inland communities.

    Science sequencing is completely outside any established pattern that exists in Victoria…a mess of facts to be taught learned and tested…seemingly the main idea of the exercise.

    For 21st century it’s about process not content….many of the 19th century thinkers still don’t get that.

    why would they when the NBN is a mystery as well?
    Perfectly consistent. Small amount of fact to be learned in detail then tested for entrance into privileged univerrsities

    not so much about education as about schooling…and testing.

  29. ronin8317

    To say “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.” is a bit of a stretch. I believe that’s an example of reintrepreting history into a person’s political view. As to Cromwell, to quote from Robert Fisk, he’s “The 17th-century English Taliban”.

    A national curriculum makes standardized testing possibly, which is the purpose of the exercise. The student can learn a lot more by using Google. Personally, I believe the game ‘Civilization’ has the right emphasis on history : it’s a progression of killing your neighbours more effectively.

  30. 4ZZZ

    Sorry Norman but my discussions were, to also quote Cromwell “cruel necessity”

  31. Norman Hanscombe

    Baal, WOW!!! That was you at your best. Now for the less-challenged.

    4ZZZ, I suspect a Crikey website may not be the best venue for discussing reasonably complex differences? I’m not even sure about suggesting that those interested in the struggle for liberty could do worse than read Grayling’s book on the subject, because although I mightn’t agree with all of his interpretations, and philosophy of social science may not be his forte, I believe Grayling provides a brief but far sounder summary of the struggle than most who talk about it.

    Finally, at the risk of being seen as uncharacteristically irritating, there are some who might do well to consider one of Cromwell’s lesser-quoted suggestions when he said:

    “I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.”

  32. 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.

  33. baal

    @NORMAN Well if your bogus erudition is anything to go by I’ll stick to instincts and ignore what it is you are actually trying to say. I can’t imagine it being of any value if it needs to be framed and presented with such risible self delusion. And I can’t take offence (who could when its given so freely by a fool) but I do wonder how you go down the pub where your kind preposterous buffoonery could land you in a bit of biffo. Don’t tell me you save it all for us. Surely not the family? Is there one? I have a feeling that maybe not – unless of course writing to Crikey is the equivalent of lout of their way tooling about in the shed.

  34. Norman Hanscombe

    Niall, it seems you must be merely sub-conscious collateral damage. That IS reassuring.

    Rhys, I fear the time when there was any chance of a meaningful rebellion by teachers may be well past. When I returned to teaching briefly in 72, and ran for the Union State Council on a policy suggesting we were adopting intellectually disastrous policies, despite running against the popular local Union President who’d been our delegate for years, I obtained a higher % of the eligible voters than did ANY candidate in ANY local area in the State. Ordinary classroom teachers supported what I said, but too few teachers were ever ready to become sufficiently involved in the carefully constructed NSWTF structure which ensured activists usually held the reins, even when most teachers didn’t support them.

    Since then, with such ‘progressive’ reforms as the NSWTF suggesting policies which lowered the calibre of students entering teaching, the battle has become even more lopsided.

    It’s not, by the way, that I’m not in favour of an optimistic approach on the part of teachers. It’s just that I believe it would be a major advance if only there were there more genuine reasons for such optimism.

  35. Daniel

    Yes, Children should learn about ECW, but in the end it was a small indy wrestling promotion from Philadelphia. Surely the WWF and WCW are more important? Yet more LABOR mismanagement.

  36. freecountry

    Niall Clugston – I’m with you. There can be no definitive list of what topics children need to encounter in the classroom. The English Civil War is a critical turning point of our own political traditions, and Australia’s system of Responsible Government can’t really be understood without it. But does that mean everyone must learn it during childhood? Democracy benefits from a bit of diversity, a bit of tension between people who see things in different ways. The national curriculum is the first attempt in Australian history to remove this tension at its foundations and to set up a uniform foundation for everybody in the humanities. There can be no ideologically neutral formula for doing this.

  37. rhys

    Michael: Forgive me not mentioning this in the above post.
    I loved your opening post (right up the top for those who have not seen it).
    Dude, spot on.

  38. 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.

  39. Niall Clugston

    For your information, I am neither a product nor an advocate of “modern educational fads”.

    Perhaps you and other participants in this discussion should learn to accept that other people have legitimate differences of opinion. Including on what is historically significant. Hence the difficulty arriving at an agreed-on curriculum.

  40. Norman Hanscombe

    David Jackmanson, read the sort of current (and sadly influential) waffle contained in Niall Clugston’s ‘contribution’ above, and you’ll start to realise how disastrous modern educational fads have become. I’m off now to see someone who fled the humanities [in which she was keenly interested] and switched to maths [in which she’d never been particularly interested] because she could suffer the destruction of subjects she loved. And I’ll have a coffee too, which is far more invigorating than Niall’s efforts.

  41. Norman Hanscombe

    Apologies, baal, for using such big words as contrarian, but it’s not my fault. I had the misfortune to stumble into these bad habits as a youngster, possibly because visitors to my working class home were literate.

    A hint for you. Given your problems [which certainly appear to be different from mine] you may well be advised to continue your policy of “only guessing” until more helpful skills are mastered, and you won’t need to have all your eggs in the “Trusting my instinct” basket, which may have served primaeval man well, but nowadays isn’t always as effective as was once the case.

    I can see you probably had a less experimental approach to the world than I did as a youngster, but even I never saw the need for the experiment you mention, so we have [and you must try to take this bravely, baal] at least one thing in common.

  42. Niall Clugston

    David Jackmanson, I have to disagree with your assertion:

    :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 taught

    I think you’d have trouble get broad agreement on such a list apart from perhaps major 20th-21st century events that directly affect Australia.

    And more to the point, you can only debate what is significant based on what you’re aware of. Most of the opinions about what should be in the curriculum are based on what was in the curriculum in the past (and omissions in past curricula that are obvious because of current events e.g. the rise of China). I would argue, for example, that ancient Greece and Rome are deemed significant to our current society mainly because of the study they have received since the Renaissance. Of course then you can argue that it’s part of our cultural heritage that we need to know about, regardless of whether it’s relevant or even true (like Shakespeare).

    Inevitably there’s going to be a compromise between tradition and new currents of history. But that’s not going to have that much to do with historical significance!

  43. baal

    heaven knows what NORMAN’s ‘contrarian positions’ might be. I can never get past the flowery jabber, which, I suspect might well camouflage not a few ‘contradictory’ positions. Get too tied up in your own diction and you may well be saying something you’ve just disproved. Dunno, I’m only guessing. Trusting my instinct. Like I never thought it necessary to stick my nose in the exhaust pipe of a motor car to have a fairly good idea that what comes out of it is poisonous

  44. freecountry

    Tony Taylor,

    I hope you’ve learned something from the above comments about the English Civil Wars.

    The reason there are bloggers here able to correct your gaping oversight is because people came up in different education systems, both state and private, and some from overseas. I too have learned–and continue to learn–a great deal not only from my elders, but also from my contemporaries and even my juniors who went to different schools than I did.

    Education, like tax policy, is one of those areas that attract all sorts of partisans hoping to imprint the future with their own ideological agenda. And it’s a fact of democracy that any centralization of power gets passed on to the next government. Their biases will be very different to those they replace.

    I myself was processed (I hesitate to say “educated”) by a heavily politicized government authority whose idealistic bureaucrats felt they owed it to the future to steer the next generations in certain political directions. The fact that one central agency in Canberra will now be deciding the curriculum for 70 per cent of the nation’s school children is the most disturbing development in public policy that I have heard of since the black lottery of 1969. You have just given a perfect illustration of why this is so dangerous.

  45. oggy

    Rhys tks for this line. “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?”The rest has been fun,interesting/depressing,but your line sits at the current political divide Libs/Labor on one side and the Greens the other and of course this over simplifies what individuals within the parties really believe.Surely there is room in education for Ethics to be taught progressively at School.

  46. Michael Wong

    I also think it telling that Tony Taylor, who is editing a book on the History Wars, completely failed to grasp the significance of the ECW to our own history.

    That’s like editing a book on soccer without any understanding of the game – it can be done, but that doesn’t make it a great idea.

  47. Norman Hanscombe

    Rhys, I love the optimism of your last sentence.

  48. 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 …

  49. bf

    I remember very seriously trying to impress upon my year 8 students the importance of the Magna Carta (for I do agree it is important) in my first year of teaching.

  50. nerk

    The main point I took out of the article was:

    “the Australian curriculum… is concept-led, not fact-led”

    We could squabble endlessly about which facts ought to be explicitly covered – and Pyne uses this to his political advantage – but it’s missing the point. History is more than factual stamp-collecting. There are countless examples that can be used to illustrate major historical concepts, and you can trivialise or emphasise any one of them if you focus on what colour crayon you’re using rather than what you’re trying to illustrate.

  51. AR

    Abnormal Hasbeen – no doubt someone of your magisterial magnificence knows the phrase “to be insulted by you is to be garlanded with lillies”.
    (For lesser mortals than Norm Neverwas – Aristophanes)

  52. 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.

  53. Norman Hanscombe

    4ZZZ, re-read more carefully what I wrote, and you’ll find no belief whatsoever about what material is/isn’t in the draft. I’m not “staggered” by YOUR jumping to conclusions, however, or your interpretation that it shows alleged, “Opposition for the sake of it.” Clearly I shock less easily than do you. Because I’ve thought long and hard about previous watering down of curricula, going back as far as what happened with the 1943 NSW primary school syllabus changes, I have the ‘disadvantage’ of being aware how much changes can ‘achieve’, so I may be less optimistic than you?

    I also lack baalian idol status, but can live without that, knowing I also don’t share his difficulty understanding straightforward contrarian positions.

    On the other hand, I’m grateful to the baals and ARs of the world, because in the past I was often embarrassed by inexplicable excessive praise from competent observers. I continue to believe it was excessive, but eventually, (after encountering more and more baals and ARs) I at least began to understand why those observers probably said it.

  54. AR

    Baal -unfortunately Normal has a hobby, belabouring (sic!) us with his brilliance.

  55. baal

    Alas, poor @NORMAN, despite his elevated tone and haughty disregard for his intellectual inferiors doesn’t really have the brains or wit to make the cogent case such a posture needs to command respect. Sound and fury, wind and piss. Clearly needs a hobby

  56. AR

    Cromwell foresaw what would happen even when, apparently, triumphant. As always, the trimmers & shysters emerge when they deem it safe and, hey-ho, the Restoration, complete with torture and abuse of the erstwhile victors that make the infelicities of AQbu Ghraib, Bagram & Gitmo seem like love-taps.

  57. 4ZZZ

    Norman your reply means that you have made your mind up on this issue and accept without question that “the draft history curriculum ignores the Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights and the English Civil War between Parliament and the king “rather like an embarrassing relative at Christmas Day lunch” when demonstrably it does not. This is a disappointing dismissal on your part. The student can if they so wish study the Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights and the English Civil War between Parliament and the king etc etc.

    I am staggered by the ease of dismissal of the draft curriculum. Opposition for the sake of it.

  58. Norman Hanscombe

    4ZZZ, having seen curricula destroyed so many times, and observed how the process works, and how unlikely it is that any pre-ordained new approach will be any more mutable than were the laws of the Medes and Persians, I’m unconvinced that much which is worthwhile can be achieved by tokenistic involvement in the ‘discussions’. The intellectually-challenged long ago took over the education madhouse.

    Bilbo, regardless of whether any individual teacher might, “teach to a fairly high standard and push — students to consider primary and secondary sources, weigh up evidence, connect past events to present realities”, when we talk of the quality of a State School system [[which after all is the one which caters for the bulk of our students]] it’s the quality of the bulk of its teachers which matters most, not the small group of top performers who are doing a superb job, often under extremely difficult circumstances.

    History isn’t helped by the abysmally poor literacy standards which mean students are no longer able to handle work at levels history teachers once took for granted — but we’re not supposed to even mention that problem, are we?

  59. 4ZZZ

    Been listening to it since the first day Gavin. First thing that came into my head when I signed up.

  60. Gavin Moodie

    Incidentally, 4ZZZ, why do you take the name of a BrisVenice community radio station?

  61. 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.)

  62. 4ZZZ

    I did leave a reply David and Norman but it seems to have disappeared. FWIW I do no think that the coalition is evil and I have voted them at Federal level several times in my long life but I think that they, and your good selves for that matter, need to read the Australian History Curriculum and what it offers in full. There is a passage “Consulting on draft curriculum areas” that needs to be read. Just perhaps you and others could contribute to what is essentially an organic curriculum.

  63. Norman Hanscombe

    P.S. You’re right, D.J., but we mustn’t encourage higher achievement — unless, of course, it’s something important, like sport, and there we even need to stream teams/players/etc, because, well, because sport is important.

  64. Norman Hanscombe

    I found that with virtually any aspect of history [if the teacher had the relevant abilities] it could be made interesting, and this could be achieved without trivialising the process with ‘interesting’ appeals to heads being lopped off.

    Current problems arise from such things as the lowering of teacher entry standards [which began in NSW Government Schools with a combined Department/Union decision to end scholarships more than four decades ago.]] Then there were the decisions to end the practice of providing different levels of history courses, which used to enable the more competent students to be challenged, while the less competent students could be given courses which while still challenged them, weren’t unreasonably difficult. A third problem is the way courses became the victim of political correctness and the flight from even mediocrity, even if such ‘new’ standards did help make students’ results appear ‘better’ and made their parents happier. Naturally, these outcomes must mean it was a good thing?

  65. David Jackmanson

    4ZZZ, perhaps if we had a more ambitious attitude towards the abilities of 12-16 year olds, they would respond.

    If we assume they are too dumb to understand at least some of that, then they will surely repay us by proving us right.

  66. 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.

  67. 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.

  68. baal

    Ah, Norman, the pedagogue’s pedagogue handing out lines to the terrors of the Remove. When will the fools learn?

  69. Norman Hanscombe

    Pyne may not be all that bright, but many of the commentators have done their unintentional best to make him appear (relatively) brilliant. W.with enemies like them, I’m sure he’d welcome more enemies. Enough enemies like them and we could start to mistake him for Nobel Prize material, which I wouldn’t really want to see happen.

  70. ronin8317

    I believe that the English Civil War is worthy of being taught, however I would not say it is crucial to the understanding of Australian history. Pyne is merely blowing a racial ‘dog whistle’ with his attack on the curriculum.

    What I do find discomforting is the ‘white elephant’ in the room that nobody bothers to mention : religion. It was and continues to be the major cause of conflict between people, and you cannot understand world history without it. However it is always left out in order not to offend religious groups.

  71. The Pav

    Dear Bilbo,

    That’s the rub.

    People like alonePyne want to reduce history to dates, numbers & names then they can have an absolute test of what they regard as learning.

    If you can recite the kings of England 100 per cent in order then you’re “educated” & it can be proved with a test. This appeals to the simple or lazy minded.

    Education is somewhat more complicated.

    Reminds me of a cartoon I saw many years ago where the tag line was the king of Id saying

    ” Stop the education..The people are revolting”

  72. Niall Clugston

    I agree: the comment on the English Civil War was absurd. Especially as Tony Taylor considers it less important than the Magna Carta.

    I think there are two main problems:

    (1) The significance of historical events is fundamentally a matter for historical debate, and therefore there can’t be a universally agreed-on series of events that must be included in the curriculum.

    (2) With regard to the study of history relevant to Australia, there are two opposing approaches. One is treating Australia in isolation, in which case English constitutional history is important. The other is explaining the world in which Australia exists. In this case the history of Asia, including the history of Islam, is important. Frankly, I think world history is more crucial, and I would definitely include the history of the British Empire because it was fundamental in the development of so many modern countries, including Australia!

  73. Bilbo

    Speaking as a History teacher I get a bit frustrated that people place so much emphasis on what is in the curriculum at the expense of how it is taught – that is to say which skills the students are learning that will allow them to understand, analyse and debate the past. It is impossible to teach everything – even when you do a topic like Rome or the English Civil War the nature of the timetable means time is limited and not everything can be done in detail. And one has to be realistic – 14 year olds are not going to understand the broader undertones of a lot of topics. I remember very seriously trying to impress upon my year 8 students the importance of the Magna Carta (for I do agree it is important) in my first year of teaching. But simply standing up and saying something is important will not make it meaningful for students on its own. I now approach it with a lighter hand and it is less of an ordeal for both teacher and students. Unfortunately I think what Pyne really wants from History teaching is that a government approved list of dates and facts is memorised and tested, without curosity, comment or contention (or any of the things that make History fun!)

  74. The Pav

    Yeah, but nobody will tell him as (please pardon the pun) he alone pyne

  75. baal

    You’ve definitely got something there. Trouble is a geezer like Pyne probably doesn’t know other from tother until someone tells him

  76. The Pav

    Dear Baal,

    Maaaate!

    You’ve got it wrong.

    Under Misty Rabbits moral compass if you’re caught telling a lie that’s OK because you’re allowed to because then you can admit lying which shows how honest you are and therefore a good bloke who should be put in government because that’s your right( puff puff)

  77. baal

    Poochy Pyne is following his Master T Abbott and Barnaby Joyce. To get attention tell a lie. If you are caught say you are quoted out of context. If that doesn’t work say you didn’t mean it.

  78. Jackol

    David Jackmanson,

    I think you are drawing too long a bow to ascribe the ’emotional and political appeal of the Tea Party’ as being connected to the English Civil War. I don’t believe for a second that a fraction of the Tea Party’s adherents could describe anything about the English Civil War; they feel aggrieved for a variety of reasons, and the American Revolution is a touchstone for all things that Americans want to justify. That the American Revolution had a political/social basis in the outcome of the English Civil War is entirely irrelevant to the modern Tea Party.

  79. Daniel

    Pyne is just a run of the mill, boring Whig. History is just a onward procession towards liberty and parliament blah blah blah.

  80. Jimmy

    Mook – Ye yet another well worn Libs strategy, a minister spouts off some rubbish but that’s just his opinion not policy.

  81. David Jackmanson

    So, Ronin8317, do you then agree that the principles, causes and events of the English Civil War are important and should be discussed in today’s schools, so that one might understand (for a start) the Irish war against British occupation and the emotional and political appeal of the Tea Party?

  82. David Jackmanson

    Mook Schanker, criticising the Coalition’s plans, if any, for a curriculum is not the same as dismissing all outside criticism (“I read it and dismissed it as someone who doesn’t know much about how education or history works.”) or making clearly absurd statements about the historical importance of the English Civil War.

    FWIW, I reject Pyne’s apparent idea that the destructive nature of European settlement of Australia should be ignored, or that the history of Asia is not important (how many Australians know even the basic history of Indonesia, even the 1965 killings of half a million suspected Communists?)

  83. shepherdmarilyn

    Pyne is a nitwit yapper who drives everyone nuts and is desparate for relevance somewhere, anywhere.

    Strange he should babble about the bill of rights though.

  84. ronin8317

    To say the English Civil War as a fight over the principle of “executive may not tax without parliament” is an oversimplification. It suits the ‘Tea Party’ to paint the event as a tax revolt, however the underlying reason is far more complex and messy. Of course, there is also Cromwell and Ireland, which had nothing to do with tax policy at all..

    In regard to the complaint about the Bill of Rights : we don’t have one in Australia, so where’s the beef? 😛

  85. Daniel

    Lorry, you are a truck! You can’t read!

  86. mook schanker

    David, there’s nothing wrong with criticism as you just had a crack yourself amongst other bloggers. Pyne is quoted stating “I” by the way, not “Coalition policy”….

    People like myself however are waiting for the Coalitions considered and articulated policy on national curriculum….ho hum….

  87. The Pav

    Dear Lorry

    I hope you are not holding Lone Pyne up as an example of the good “old education system” given he clearly lacks the ability to read.

    It really puzzles me why people want the old system. I’m not saying the new one works but I surely know the the old way of beating the three R’s into pupils didn’t

  88. David Jackmanson

    John Ryan, the Coalition based its entire strategy in 1975 on withholding Supply (that is, approval to raise and spend money) to the Whitlam government.

    When Governor-General Kerr dismissed Whitlam as PM, it was based on that exact principle – that the Government could not get Supply.

    The idea that a government that cannot get Supply must resign comes directly from the principle fought over and established in the English Civil War, that no taxes shall be raised or spent without the approval of Parliament.

    The English Civil War continues to deeply affect the political culture of Australia (and other Western democracies) to this day. To ignore it is to fail to understand the basic principles of our polity.

  89. Jimmy

    John Ryan – Yeah, Pyne seems to think that history should just be “the history of white Australia”. Even if we were 100% Anglo Saxon in this country our future lies in Asia and knowing the History of your trading partner/ally/opponent is vital, so even if it was heavily biased towards asia I don’t see it as a major issue.

  90. John Ryan

    Unfortunately its a bit late to be going back to the bits of the map coloured Red are ours and bits not are heathens,which seems to be Liberal Pyne’s view,the English civil war is important for what reason.
    The 1975 crisis was the doing of the Liberal Party and its running dog Murdock,how the English Civil war got involved I dont know

  91. Phil Kyson

    Once again Pyne’s ignorance on display, just as most rightwing conservatives do very time they open their mouths. Especially on the subject of history, it’s very telling why conservatives fear and fight so hard to subvert the subject. How sad it is that the only guide you have on your political existence is a continuously fear of the truth.
    I read this quote posted on Crikey last week it needs repeating again here.
    “The timeless quest of conservatives everywhere – to find a higher justification for selfishness” (JK Galbraith)
    Describes Pyne and his band of kernels in a nutshell, thankyou JK

  92. Jimmy

    Gavin – it is not so much Labor’s political response as New Ltd’s interpretation of that response, if the govt states that the Magna Carta etc will be taught it will probably be reported as a “backdown” or “the govt struggling to sell” or more than likely it will be ignored, Pyne pops up tell’s a few fibs get’s his article then the media go on to the next issue before even listening to the response and the huddled masses down at the pub say “Did you hear they are oly going to teach asian history?”

  93. 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.

  94. Daniel

    Sure, teach the English Civil War. Christopher Hill’s ‘The World Turned Upside Down’ should be the required reading. I’m sure Pyne would be happy with that.

  95. Gavin Moodie

    I find Associate Professor Taylor’s analysis very helpful and it is good that it is on the record.

    However, I regret that Holden Back and Jimmy are correct. Pyne (and many others in the Coalition) distort the government’s position just for the sake of scoring some political point. So the question is, beyond correcting the record as Taylor does, what is Labor’s political response? P’raps Minister Evans should direct Pyne’s attention to the analysis of primary sources, if that is included in the curriculum.

  96. thirdborn314

    Well I had blissfully and totally forgotton about Pyne up to this point in the new year, I wish it could have endured for longer. Dammit.

  97. Jimmy

    This is yet another example of the coalition being happy to mislead the Australian public. They know very few journalists let alone the general public now the specifics of a topic so they make statements that play to people prejudices and fears (the history taught is going to be all about asians and commies and not you or flood victims are going to be forced to pay the flood levy) to get the talk back and news ltd readers phoning/writing in. In this way there lies become a sort of truth and they force the govt to defend issues they shouldn’t and then they just say “but can you trust this govt” (eg “I don’t know if the levy will ever be removed”).

    Good journalists should skewer Pyne with the facts but instead they give him not just the headline but almost the whole article with just a line at the bootm stating that the creators of the cirriculum state that his claims are false.

  98. James Hunter

    Mister Pyne to me is a mistery. I cannot believe that a person with his background can produce such vacuous ,inaccurate statements as he does with such astounding regularity.
    I become embarrased just listening to him. Thank (deity of choice) that he is on the opposition.

  99. Lorry

    What history is written is irrelevent given the fact that the students are not capable of reading it. That alone suggests that Pyne in part is correct – scrap the curriculum and get back to basics – assuming you can read this comment of course.

  100. Holden Back

    You’re making the error of assuming he wants to read the document accurately. Why should he let facts or heaven help us, concepts, get in the way of making 51% of the population think he’s saving them from whale-hugging indigenous lesbians? For the purposes of his exercise it is precisiely the straw man with which he wishes to wrangle.

    And I’m not talking about Guy Fawkes night.

  101. Holden Back

    You’re making teh eror of assuming he wants to read the document accurately. Why should he let facts or heaven help us, concepts get in the way of making 51% of the population think he’s saving them from whale-hugging indigenous lesbians? For the purposes of his exercise it is precisiely the straw man with which he wishes to wrangle.

    And I’m not talking about Guy Fawkes night.

  102. skink

    I heard Pyne on Newsradio this morning, saying that it was important to study these bits of Western history because ‘Australia adopted the Westminster system and we fought the Civil War to establish the rights of Parliament.’

    to which his interviewer replied; “Australians fought in the English Civil War?’

  103. Michael Wong

    “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).”

    Tony! Dude! Better bone up on the relationship between the ECW and Westminster parliamentary democracy before making such a silly statement. Really buddy, you’re smarter than that surely.

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