The Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald has written an outstanding piece for City Journal about the future of the humanities. At the ‘world class’ University of California at Los Angeles, students can now graduate with an English major without having read a word of Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton.
This paints a grim picture for the future of Western Civilisation in the United States, as Mac Donald argues:
“…the only true justification for the humanities is that they provide the thing that Faust sold his soul for: knowledge. It is knowledge of a particular kind, concerning what men have done and created over the ages. The American Founders drew on an astonishingly wide range of historical sources and an appropriately jaundiced view of human nature to craft the world’s most stable and free republic. They invoked lessons learned from the Greek city-states, the Carolingian Dynasty, and the Ottoman Empire in the Constitution’s defense. And they assumed that the new nation’s citizens would themselves be versed in history and political philosophy… Ignorance of the intellectual trajectory that led to the rule of law and the West’s astounding prosperity puts those achievements at risk.”
You can also view a video of her original lecture here at the Manhattan Institute’s website. Her article reflects what is happening throughout the Western world – not only in universities but also in schools. This is why the national curriculum debate is so important.
On 10 January, Christopher Pyne announced a review of the National Curriculum. This follows a pledge he made in this important speech to the Institute of Public Affairs back in January 2011, upon the release of the IPA’s monograph The National Curriculum: A Critique.
Pyne is right: Labor’s National Curriculum is fundamentally biased, ignores the legacy due to Western Civilisation, and needs to be reviewed, just as Chris Berg argued in 2011 and as Pyne, Donnelly, and Wiltshire have all said in The Age over the last few weeks. But as I argued earlier this month, it is not the place of the Federal government to decide what all school students should learn.
Most of the debate so far has been centred around what type of curriculum we should have, and not whether we should have one at all. But here are some IPA articles from over the years which have opposed the concept of a national curriculum.
Back in October 2006, John Roskam wrote this opinion piecein The Age, warning that a single curriculum will not solve the problems in Australia’s schools. In September 2011, Byron Hodkinson wrote this piece for the IPA Review, suggesting that the National Curriculum is unconstitutional, and Chris Berg argued it would be easy for ideologues to hijack a single National Curriculum.
Earlier this month, Chris wrote in the Drum:
“At the very least, the curriculum should be handed back to the states. It is not a project worth pursuing.
But better yet would be a system of multiple, competing curriculums which schools and parents can choose from, according to their own values, tastes, preferences, and philosophies of education. This is not as far-fetched as it seems. Australian schools already offer the International Baccalaureate, Montessori, and Steiner curriculums.
When a population’s values conflict, we should look for solutions in political economy.
Don’t want Christopher Pyne deciding what your children are taught? Perhaps a curriculum imposed by the Commonwealth Department of Education is not for you.”
There should not be a single school curriculum – and certainly not a single curriculum devised by the Federal government or its appointees. Ideally it wouldn’t be devised by the State governments and their appointees either.
A more viable option would be to make the National Curriculum non-compulsory and to introduce an ‘alternative curricula’ model, in which individual schools are free to adopt or adapt a variety of curricula. These curricula might be devised by private organisations, universities, or overseas bodies. In fact, three alternative curricula – the International Baccalaureate (‘IB’), Steiner, Montessori – are already recognised here.
These alternative curricula are already working and are growing in popularity. As this recent article shows, there are now 91 Australian schools that offer parts of the IB primary program. Some schools – like Wesley College in Melbourne – even offer the IB program from prep to year twelve.
The success of the IB shows that an alternative curricula model could work. Parents and students should be able to choose schools on the basis of the curriculum offered. Similarly, individual schools and teachers should be able to alter their curriculum depending on the interests and needs of their students.
Reading, watching, listening
On 4 January, the IPA’s Richard Allsop wrote this article forThe Spectator on a missing milestone in Australian history: the crossing of the Blue Mountains by Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth, which allowed the establishment of the first Australian inland settlement – the town of Bathurst. Many of us didn’t realise, but last year marked two centuries since this turning-point.
As it turns out, the United Kingdom has some of the same problems with its National Curriculum as we do with ours. The Conservative Government has just completed a further revision of the history curriculum, amid great controversy. On 7 January, for example, this piece on “Michael Gove’s history wars” appeared in The Guardian, written by the acclaimed Cambridge historian and writer of the Third Reich Trilogy Richard J. Evans.
Early this month, Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove wrote this excellent reply for The Daily Mail, asking why the Left insists on belittling true British heroes. And Richard Evans replied again in The Guardian five days later, attacking Michael Gove’s “ignorance of history.” Much of the debate may seem stunningly familiar.
You can listen also to Michael Gove talking to the BBC about the English ‘history wars’ in December last year here.
Not to be missed is Christina Odone’s fascinating opinion piece in the New Statesman on 14 January 2014. It tells of the new intolerance towards Christianity, which she argues makes it difficult for believers to freely express their views.
Here is another interesting article on newly declassified documents that trace the collapse of the Berlin Wall. And hereis a review by Andrew Roberts of Stephen Harding’s fascinating new history The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe.