Julie Bishop’s reference group may be a joke…

26 Jun

… but so is NSW Minister for Education John Della Bosca’s response to it. See Expert barred from history panel.

A NSW bureaucrat has been barred from helping recommend what year 9 and 10 school students should be taught about Australian history.

Jennifer Lawless, a Board of Studies inspector who has taught history for 20 years, was named by the federal Minister for Education, Julie Bishop, yesterday as one of several experts who would help overhaul the history curriculum.

The group also includes the historians Geoffrey Blainey, of the University of Melbourne, and Nicholas Brown, of the Australian National University, and the political commentator Gerard Henderson, from the Sydney Institute.

The NSW Minister for Education, John Della Bosca, said the history reference group was a political stunt and he would not let Ms Lawless take part.

Of course that is a stacked deck, as representative of Australian historians as a gathering of card-carrying Liberal Party supporters would be of the Australian people as a whole. You will note for starters that aside from the predominance of conservative voices there are conspicuous absences in the group. In the original History Summit, for example, you at least had Jackie Huggins on board, but not in this group. Perhaps she is unavailable, but perhaps too she was never asked. So no Indigenous voice, for a start.

Where Jennifer Lawless stands was made clear last year:

…John Howard declared the “phoney and divisive” debate over national identity was finished but argued for “root and branch renewal of the teaching of Australian history in schools”.

“Too often, Australian history has fallen victim in an ever more crowded curriculum to subjects deemed more relevant to today,” Mr Howard said in a speech on the eve of Australia Day.

“Too often it is taught without any sense of structured narrative, replaced by a fragmented stew of themes and issues. And too often history, along with other subjects in the humanities, has succumbed to a postmodern culture of relativism where any objective record of achievement is questioned or repudiated.”

Mr Howard said he would prefer history was taught with a strong emphasis on pivotal dates and events such as the Battle of Hastings and the European discovery of Australia. More students needed to study history, Mr Howard said, to help prepare them to become informed and active citizens.

The NSW Board of Studies’ history inspector, Jennifer Lawless, said the Prime Minister’s criticisms did not apply to the NSW history syllabus, which was “very rigorous and content-driven as opposed to theme-driven”.

She described the ability to memorise dates as “a fairly lower order skill that students acquire early on. We move on from that and teach more sophisticated historical skills, like using historical sources appropriately, questioning those sources, analysing and interpreting, looking at perspectives and interpretations.”

NSW is the only state where history is taught as a separate, mandatory subject from years 7 to 10. All year 9 and year 10 students must learn the history of Australia from Federation to the 1990s.

If I were John Della Bosca I would much rather have had Ms Lawless on the inside than on the outside, even if the balance of the group is outrageously weighted to favour one side in the debate on Australian history.

Readers may also like to examine Australian History, Geography, Civics and Citizenship Test Scope Statement and Test Specifications from 2006 from the NSW Board of Studies.

Meanwhile, in relation to the armed intervention in the Northern Territory, Jim Belshaw’s posts continue to be as careful an examination of the issues as any you will find, strengthened too by the fact he has attracted some first-rate comments.

I have put my own lament in the form of a supplement to my Indigenous Australia Page: see Some thoughts on the events of June 2007.

Comic relief

I think The Cinephile should have been called on by Julie Bishop. Why? See the videos…

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5 responses to “Julie Bishop’s reference group may be a joke…

  1. Kevin

    June 26, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    Ninglun, whatever your beliefs, DO NOT TURN OFF COMMENTS when they get hard to handle. There is little doubt that we agree on almost nothing, but if you keep turning off comments, we never will learn to agree. A better question would be, do you WANT to come to a consensus? Or would you rather just state your view unchallenged?

    I understand that you view me as some evil corporate supporting conservative from America (I am all of these things), and to be fair, I view you as an older (since I’ve seen your pic, but BARELY older) misguided hippie, sure that the enemy is the corporations themselves.

    We’re no doubt incapable of solving the hippie vs. normal person debate, but I bet we could come to an understanding. If you didn’t turn off comments..

    Hey, did you notice how I contrasted hippie vs. normal? Pretty evil, huh? 🙂 I’m like that. Ah, who am I kidding. Come over to the dark side, Ninglun! 72 Virgins? What hogwash. We’ll give you 73!

  2. ninglun

    June 26, 2007 at 2:28 pm

    Kevin, I turned the comments off there because I had already said I would, if you look: I’ll leave it open a bit longer just in case someone gets back to the original point. Since no-one actually did get back to talking about Salman Rushdie’s knighthood, I turned it off.

    There’s a guest book too which is always open.

    Never was a hippie. Sorry. Did have an Indian shirt once though.

    As for my attitude to corporations, I confess to no love for them, as my links page alone would show, but share that with almost everyone I know, even those who work for them. I think deep down most Australians — well maybe not Rupert Murdoch, but then he’s no longer an Australian — have a similar attitude. I have been a trade unionist for forty years as well, and remain one.

    I despair that you and I will ever come to a consensus on this and many other matters, but that doesn’t stop me rather liking you.

    Aftercomers: would you please comment on the post while this comment thread remains open, not on these two comments? Thanks.

  3. kanani

    June 26, 2007 at 2:43 pm

    I’m not sure if I’m nailing this, but we have the same issues here, how much native american history to put in, from whose point of view, how and why the choices were made.

    For instance, we teach California mission history here, and how they came over from Spain and organized the native americans around them. But then there’s the darker side of the whole thing, of political expansion, money for the crown, and the subjugation as well as the eventual annhilation of them, along with their customs. And in a sense, this is touched upon, but because the people are mainly heard of as “unseen workers” or “indians,” the result is (unlike the midwest), most Californians have a hard time coming up with even tribe. Yurok, Miwok, Yokuts, Inyo… these are all foreign to most.

    Anyway, I can’t imagine not having Aboriginal representation on that history board. Seems odd not to include it.

    Perhaps “Rabbit Proof Fence” did more to inform me (an American) about the history of Aborigines in Australia, much like “Dances with Wolves” did for Americans with the Lakota.

    Phew! And now I’m leaving on holiday!

  4. Kevin

    June 27, 2007 at 11:26 am

    Nin, you’ll always be an Aussie hippie to me! 🙂 Still, I don’t think I can return here. Shutting down voices, even in the way you half-did it is un-American, and hopefully un-Australian. I hope we can part as friends though who disagree on everything.

    I, for example LOVE corporations and attribute most of America’s success to them (I mean, we’re 2-300 million people. Why else do we dominate a 7 billion person planet?) But anyway, I hope you have a great life! I wish for you a quick ending to the suffering caused by your recent loss.

    Goodbye, my liberal internet friend. Look into conservatism! (heh, just kidding 🙂 )

  5. ninglun

    June 27, 2007 at 11:45 am

    Good luck to you too, Kevin. Go out and buy Nation or Harper’s, fine US magazines both… 😉 Funny thing is, to many Aussie leftists I must appear conservative on quite a number of issues…

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