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South Australia

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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Michael Wong
Member

“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.

skink
Member

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?’

Holden Back
Member

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.

Holden Back
Member

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.

Lorry
Member

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.

James Hunter
Member

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.

Jimmy
Member
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… Read more »
thirdborn314
Member

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.

Gavin Moodie
Member

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.

Daniel
Member

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.

David Jackmanson
Member
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,… Read more »
Jimmy
Member

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?”

Phil Kyson
Member

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

John Ryan
Member

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

Jimmy
Member

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.

David Jackmanson
Member
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… Read more »
The Pav
Member

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

mook schanker
Member

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….

Daniel
Member

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

ronin8317
Member

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? 😛

shepherdmarilyn
Member

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.

David Jackmanson
Member

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?)

David Jackmanson
Member

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?

Jimmy
Member

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

Daniel
Member

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

Jackol
Member

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.

baal
Member

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.

The Pav
Member

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)

baal
Member

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

The Pav
Member

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

Ben Harris-Roxas
Member
Bilbo
Member
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… Read more »
Niall Clugston
Member
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… Read more »
The Pav
Member

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”

ronin8317
Member

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.

Norman Hanscombe
Member

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.

baal
Member

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

David Jackmanson
Member
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… Read more »
4ZZZ
Member
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… Read more »
David Jackmanson
Member

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.

Norman Hanscombe
Member
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… Read more »
Norman Hanscombe
Member

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.

4ZZZ
Member

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.

Bilbo
Member
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… Read more »
Gavin Moodie
Member

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

4ZZZ
Member

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

Norman Hanscombe
Member
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… Read more »
4ZZZ
Member
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… Read more »
AR
Member

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.

baal
Member

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

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