Some News Limited papers have reported that “the Federal Government’s hand-picked panel of history experts” will recommend a new three-year, 200-hour course in history which would be compulsory in all schools for students in years 8 to 10.
The article states that “the Federal Government has signalled it could withdraw $13 billion in education funding unless the states agree to its demands”. I’d be utterly astonished if a major funding withdrawal happened, but there is certainly real potential for the federal government to make life quite difficult for state governments on this issue in a variety of ways if they wished to.
I’m actually a bit torn on this matter. I’m quite keen on giving a greater emphasis to history, but I think it’s very dangerous in principle for any federal government to be dictating to all state and territory governments what should be taught in schools. The Coalition really needs to remember that the continuing centralization of power they’re engaging in might seem like a great idea at the moment while they’re the ones with the power, but one day someone else will have it and are likely to use this precedent to try to impose their own, potentially quite different, views on the whole nation as whole.
In my view, there’s been some extraordinary tosh written by hidebound Conservatives in recent years about how Australia’s history is or isn’t being portrayed in schools and in books, with all sorts of nonsensical boogie men being contrived so they can then be attacked. This appears to be little more than a deliberate attempt by Conservative ideologues to manufacture their preferred mythology about Australia and see if they can impose it – Big Brother style – on our society.
It’s screamingly obvious that the Coalition and some of their supporters in the media have been pushing this notion of the compulsory teaching of history as part of their efforts to win the so-called ‘culture wars’ (in which the ‘history wars’ is a significant battle). See this post on Larvatus Prodeo from last July for a bit of the background.
Given this, it may surprise some people that I’m a keen supporter of putting a greater emphasis on teaching history in our schools – and anywhere that it’s appropriate for that matter. I broadly agree with this statement by Fred Halliday that “In recent decades, large areas of intellectual and academic life – political thought and analysis, economics, philosophy – have jettisoned a concern with history.“
The ability of some political commentators and some federal politcians to ignore or dismiss – or get away with inventing – even quite recent history is quite disconcerting at times. I feel that the more history is taught, the more difficult it will be for ideologues of any variety to manufacture a false mythology about the past, and the harder it will be political and other leaders to get away with just making stuff up.I also do not think it will be possible for a small, narrow group of ideologues to make up the sort of ‘white blindfold’, shallow, nationalistic, flag waving cartoonish version of history that they clearly dream about injecting into every child’s head. Any efforts at narrow myth-making would quickly wilt beneath the broad array of genuine facts and inconvenient truths that would inevitably emerge in any history course.Having said all of the above, I do not accept the premise of the federal government that history is not already being taught in many schools in many states. There is a political agenda, not an educational one, being followed here, which is an extra reason why – however keen I am on putting more educational emphasis on history – the precedent being established by the federal government is one we should all be concerned about.