History under Review

A spirit of dictatorial censorship dominates our education bureaucracy

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The Australian Curriculum, Reporting and Assessment Authority (ACARA) issued a Consultation Curriculum for History Years 7-10 early this year. The 84-page document is described as “consultation material only” – which is to say that it has not yet been endorsed by the various state and federal education ministers. Nevertheless, the thrust of the document is clearly unsympathetic to the many formative “Western” strands in our history and culture, and prevailing trends suggest that we are unlikely to see much moderation.

To quantify this, the words Christian or Christianity occur just seven times in the whole document. No fewer than three of those references are in relation to the history of the Vikings, two couple Christianity with Islam (as if there were not 600 years between the establishment of the two faiths), one links Christianity with the ambitions of the Conquistadors, and the last reports the tolerance of the Ottomans towards Christians. One passage discusses the “triggers of declining Viking power” such as “changing climate and/or the spread of Christianity.” It is almost a relief to find that the Crusades are only mentioned twice, and without apparent prejudice.

By contrast the document mentions the First Nations 97 times.

Now it is not the business of this short essay to demean Australia’s native peoples. It is entirely right that their story be told.  But we are said to be a multicultural and inclusive society, which ought to mean, if it means anything at all, that every constituent and contributing cultural group has its own story to tell, and that these stories are all part of the mosaic of modern Australia. Is it unreasonable to say that a ratio of 97:7 suggests a certain imbalance in covering the history of our country?

A curriculum such as this effectively overlooks the connectedness of historical events. Put simply, it is impossible to understand the British and the French without some knowledge of the Greeks and Romans; and it is impossible to understand the situation of indigenous culture without some knowledge of the English, Scots and Irish who played, for better or for worse, a major role in bringing about that fusion that is modern Australia. One example might suffice: the recording and preservation of aboriginal languages, some of which are now sadly extinct, is almost entirely the work of scholars writing in English and using Roman script.

Those who insist that the events of January 26, 1788 — the arrival and settlement of the British — constitute an invasion, and nothing more, are entitled to their opinion. But if they cannot love the British, they should at least follow the advice of Sun Tzu: “know your enemy!” To condemn school children to a narrow and, I would say, mean-spirited and inward-looking curriculum, is to betray them and to betray our country. They need to know the “enemy” if they are to understand themselves. We all need to know where we came from if we are to have the slightest grasp of where we’re heading. And who knows, if you know your enemy, you might acquire respect and some affection as well.

Nearly ten years ago I wrote on this same topic in The National Curriculum: A Critique. Little has changed since then. The prevailing impetus is still towards suppressing the study of European history and culture. In fact, the situation has worsened since then, due to a growing intolerance towards non-PC thinking, and a readiness to close down debate and to silence unpopular speech.

A few years ago, people in western countries such as ours who warned of the danger of our democracies being subverted by a growing spirit of dictatorial censorship would have been written off as alarmists. That has changed. There is now a growing awareness among thinking people on both the left and the right that our freedoms, including the freedom to learn, are in real danger and must be actively defended.

Li Cunxin (in Mao’s Last Dancer) wrote of Chinese teachers forced, under Mao, to follow the national curriculum, or else: “they had to bury their integrity and their love for Western ballet. If they didn’t, they would risk being labelled counter-revolutionaries, and be sent to jail or the pig farms.”

 

David Daintree was President of Campion College (Australia’s only Catholic liberal arts college) from 2008 to 2012. In 2013 he founded and is now Director of the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies, under the patronage of the Archbishop of Hobart.

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