Australian students supposedly to learn "Balanced" history

A story on the ABC saying that the Government is unveiling a new history curriculumthat’s supposed to be more “balanced” but appears to me (at least initially) to have quite a bit of focus on Aboriginal culture and history.

That in itself is not a bad thing (they were here first, after all) but practically speaking (especially knowing the current Government) it sounds like Australian kids are going to get ten years of “The Aborigines were great and your ancestors* were horrible people for coming here and taking their country!” and that does concern me, since history is a lot more complicated than that and your average Australian kid finds school boring anyway and isn’t going to take much more than that away from their history lessons.

I suppose the debate here is “Should the Government be shifting the focus of History (which students already don’t learn enough about) to a group which really doesn’t have much to do with the Australian culture the students live in?”

*Most Australians are of European descent, but obviously this doesn’t apply to those from other ethnicities

I wonder how they decide to teach history at all, given there may be vietnamese, greek, ethiopian, and anglo background kids all in the same class now.

So I wouldnt think its a very useful measurement to try and focus on ‘the history they can relate to’, because if you do that you might as well stick to the last 50 years or so at most. Which has its own problems.

I would focus on the history that had a significant impact on the countries identity and rely on presenting the material well to make it interesting.


Why do you think that that’s what it sounds like? According to the article you linked, the curriculum designers were specifically trying to avoid any simplistic “The European colonists were horrible people!” overgeneralizations, which they seem to refer to as “black armband” historiography:

I’m not really seeing the cause for concern here. Am I wrong in thinking that the “balanced view of Australian history” described in your link as part of the new curriculum is simply a change to the way students are taught about the history of Australia in particular? That is, they’re changing the “balance” of history lessons specifically about Australia, but they’re not teaching Australian history in place of, say, world history?

Because if so, then frankly, I can’t see how it would have much impact on students’ understanding of history as a whole. To be perfectly candid, in terms of demographic and historical global importance, Australia is pretty much just a pimple on the world’s butt, right? (Oooooh, I’m glad I’m safely half a planet away from you at the moment. :smiley: )

Seriously, ISTM that if Australian students don’t know enough about history in general, then teaching them more about Australian history, no matter what way you “balance” it, isn’t going to do much to change that. Australian history is pretty much a footnote in the global narrative compared to, say, the history of China or Italy or Egypt or Britain.

Basically because politicians are full of shit and my experiences with the current Government lead me to believe that whilst the new curriculum might avoid some of the “European colonists were horrible people” accusation aspects, there’s still going to be a lot of “Yay Aborigines! They were having a great time until Whitey showed up and nicked their country” in there too.

Well, it’s not that I think you’re necessarily wrong about that, I just don’t know how to evaluate the validity of that claim.

The only evidence we’ve seen so far about this new curriculum quotes administration members explicitly disclaiming any intention of fostering bias in favor of the Aborigines or against the colonists.

Your response to that seems to be “Yeah but they’re full of shit and personally I think that’s what they’re going to be doing anyway, whether they deny it or not.”

Okay, but how are we supposed to debate that? “Resolved: If the Australian government is doing a bad thing that Martini Enfield believes they’re doing even though they explicitly deny doing it, then is that what they ought to be doing?”

Well gosh, if that’s the point at issue here, I’ll boldly step forth to proclaim my views with a courageous and categorical “No!”

There, that was easy. Thanks for the debate, love, it was fast but fun. :wink:

Thanks! I like it when people agree with me. Doesn’t happen often enough. :stuck_out_tongue:

Also, BTW, in this part of the world, “Resolved” means “This matter has already been discussed and a course of action decided upon or or decision reached”. :wink:

It’s great to see a national curriculum; I never understood the point of having different curriculums in different states & territories. There simply isn’t enough difference to warrant a distinction.

Onto the topic of History.

I think they should spend less time on the all and sundry of the tiny slice of history Australia has and focus on the key events that shaped this country and the modern world.

When I was at school there was a fair slice of Australian History and the general theme that I remember is that a lot of explorers trudged off into the bush to die, and the British dominating the Aboriginal population. There really isn’t much to cover, and when they draw it out they put in lots of filler about stagecoach routes, small settlements, and frankly, stuff that doesn’t matter.

Perhaps I’m a History snob but I believe that just because something happened in the past, it doesn’t automatically make it History. The term History implies events that either directly or as part of a series, shaped our world. A lot past events really aren’t that important at all.

Having said all of that, I’ll be interested to see what they actually put into the curriculum.

What I find really annoying is the way it is being presented. We have the PM and vice PM on the radio stating how it would be taught (This is not the history part) but saying such insightful things as “the littlies will be taught how to say “cat”…”. Oh, for crying out loud- that is the teachers job- I don’t need a blow by blow description of the mechanics. I want to know the vehicle for it’s delivery, the content, and the funding but I don’t need to know the politicians take on a field that is not their expertise.

Meceanas, I agree with your take on History.

Well, there’s at least one former prime minister who’d agree with you there :wink:

Anyway, back to the topic at hand.

As I understand it, changing the amount of “Aboriginality” in the history curriculum wasn’t actually the point of the exercise, right? They’re trying to create a national curriculum for the first time, and deciding exactly what should be in it. I can’t even tell from the link whether there’s actually more Aboriginal stuff in the new curriculum than in some/all/many of the old ones - it’s just politicians denying rumours that it’s lots of hand-wringing about the evils of settlement.

(personally I’d say “the less Australian history the better.” Lets do Greek, Vietnamese and Etheopian instead. That sounds FAR more interesting. Apart from the Eureka Stockade. That was cool :))

Depends on what you mean. Australia isn’t a superpower, but it is a regional power and has been for some time. Additionally, as one of the few democracies in the southern hemisphere and the only “true” democracy Australia (including the 8th state across the Tasman) has had at least a moderately significant effects on global politics and history.
So you’re right in the sense that it probably wouldn’t matter if Australia disappeared. But you’re wrong in the sense that it would sure make a difference if the landmass were occupied by something else.

I disagree about Vietnameses and Ethiopian history as an alternative. It might sound interesting because it’s new to us, but it’s equally as pointless as Australian History in terms of shaping the world.

Vietnamese history has had no impact in terms of shaping the world?

When did all that stuff (causes, consequences and aftermath) in the last century get white-outted from your history books?

Bingo. You have to understand the media/political background.

The standard cliche in Australia is that changes to the history curriculum either make history teaching “more black armband”, or “more white Australia”.

You could totally re-write the whole history curriculum from dinosoars to JFK but the only talking points in Australia will be what the curriculum says about Aboriginal Australians, and the only acceptable “nuance” will be either that the new curriculum whitewashes colonial history (the boilerplate liberal complaint) or demonises colonial history (the boilerplate conservative complaint). If a left government changes the curriculum the right’s knee will jerk and the latter complaint will be vomited out by reflex. And vice versa.

The automated nature of this process is so ingrained that it is not even necessary to have evidence of the new curriculum for this process to occur (see Enfield, Martini) viz:

SatireWire covered that possibility back in 2002

There’s another story here from one of the academics involved defending the new curriculum, but I thought I’d single out this paragraph as an example of the sort of thing I’m concerned about:

That, to me, sounds like “Whitey nicked the Aboriginal lands and we should all feel terrible about it” and not a “balanced” discussion of how Australia went from being an undeveloped desert continent to a modern nation.

FTR, I was born and went to primary and high school in New Zealand- not Australia.

And as for Ethiopia

(from the link)

“…the Ethiopian dynasty traces its roots to the 10th century BC. Besides being an ancient country, Ethiopia is one of the oldest sites of human existence known to scientists today”

Read the whole article. I think it’s fascinating.

ETA: This was supposed to come after penultima thule’s post btw.

Also, comparing and contrasting Australian Aboriginal vs Maori vs Native American vs, say, Indian or South African experiences of colonialism actually is a really good way to teach the subject, because it encourages students to think about what happens when one civilization encounters another and why. Why is it that the Maoris did much better than the Aborigines when colonized by the exact same set of Europeans, and the Indians did better than either? Why are the various indigenous South American cultures still important in their respective countries while North American ones are (mostly) not. These sorts of questions are interesting - “how Australia went from being an undeveloped desert continent to a modern nation” is really not, because an enourmous amount of Australian society actually didn’t develop here - it developed in England (/Scotland/Ireland/Greece/wherever) and came over by boat

I agree that aspect of it is interesting, but I just don’t believe it’s going to get taught in a “balanced” (ie, non-Colonialist bashing) way because unfortunately modern Australian society isn’t that sort of place anymore in the major cities.

Once again, old/happened in past does not automatically equal influential or relevant. Did Ethiopians invent Democracy? Mathematics? Astronomy? The Scientific Method? Did they circumnavigate the globe? Develop an empire and subjugate half the European or Asian continents? Did they change the social fabric and/or geopolitical history of the world?

Also, Vietnam. Just because they beat the USA in a war doesn’t automatically rank them up their with Alexandar the Great, Ghengis Khan, Rome, The British Empire, Persian Empire, et. al.

I’m not saying that Ethiopia or Vietnam wouldn’t make interesting reading for History buffs; I’m saying that the national curriculum is for all Australian children in the short span of time they spend at school, those 2 countries don’t even come close to being on the shortlist.

It’s entirely possible that they may have invented Homo Sapiens :wink: