Thursday, July 26, 2012

A History of Misinformation: Pyne Spreads Curriculum Myths

by Dr Louise Zarmati, Higher Degree by Research student, School of History, Heritage and Society. at Deakin University, The Conversation:

On the ABC’s Q&A program on Monday night, Shadow Minister for Education Christopher Pyne was asked what the Liberal Party would do about the national (history) curriculum if they came to power.

Many of Pyne’s statements about the National Curriculum were incorrect. ABC Q&A
Pyne’s response simply served to reinforce my long-held view that two parallel worlds exist in the universe of history education in Australia.

One is the ideological world of politicians and journalists whose chief concerns are which history should be taught in schools and whether the agenda to construct the curriculum has been set by the radical-socialist left or the ultra-conservative right.

The other is the world of professional curriculum developers and practising classroom teachers who are faced with the everyday challenges of how to teach history in an engaging way to Australian school children in the compulsory years of schooling.

While those in the “first world” are busy arguing ideology and wrangling for media bites, those in the parallel world of curriculum development are quietly going about the business of carefully selecting topics and pedagogies that best suit the interests and needs of Australian students aged five- to sixteen-years who come from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds and have varying levels of literacy, cognition and behavioural capabilities.

As a member of the “second world” and a writer of the kindergarten to Year 10 History and the senior Ancient History courses, I wish to correct the factual errors that Christopher Pyne and a number of journalists have been making for a number of years in the media on the subject of history in the Australian curriculum.

Error 1: the Australian history curriculum was written by one person

Pyne’s statement that the history curriculum “was certainly written by an ex-communist” implies that it was written by one person: the truth is it was written by hundreds.

In the best spirit of Australian democracy and federalism, the opinions of a range of educational stakeholders - teachers, principals, governments, state and territory education authorities, professional education associations, community groups and the general public have all been actively sought by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).

The first writing team, of which I was a member, was comprised of practising teachers (primary and secondary) and curriculum professionals from NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT.

Feedback on successive drafts was provided by an advisory panel of over twenty experts in the field of history education and other interested groups, such as museums. The first draft was posted to the ACARA website and the public was invited to comment.

The comments were considered by the advisory panel and incorporated into the document if and when they were deemed appropriate. It is important to understand that curriculum development is an iterative process and that there has been a number of writing teams and versions of the document since writing began in 2009.

Error 2: the Australian History curriculum has a deliberate ideological bias

Pyne’s political perspective is that the history curriculum is the product of left-wing ideology. The derogatory epithet “ex-communist” echoes the opinions on the website of conservative education commentator, Kevin Donnelly and is clearly directed at Professor Stuart Macintyre, architect of the initial “Shaping Paper” for history.

However, the openly-democratic, consultative approach to curriculum development described above ensured that partisan politics and politicians were excluded. Because the curriculum was largely the work of curriculum designers and practising educators, no single political ideology was allowed to dominate the substantive knowledge base of the subject.

Writers and advisors were more concerned with pedagogy rather than ideology. Differences of opinion centred on such issues as at what age children are cognitively capable of understanding chronological constructs of time, such as “BC” and “AD”.

To read further, and about the other two errors, go to:

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