Textbooks show why curriculum must be scrapped

by Stephanie Forrest on March 18, 2014

Last Friday, the Institute of Public Affairs made a submission to the Federal Department of Education on the national curriculum.

In it, we argued that the national curriculum should be scrapped. We also argued that any cross-curriculum priorities would be inappropriate and pointed to many problems with the history curriculum, pointing to examples from textbooks written for the curriculum as evidence of how it is being interpreted in classrooms.

You can view the IPA’s media release here and the full submission here.

If you have a subscription to The Australian, you can read more about the IPA’s submission in this article, ‘Kids told cavemen had it cracked:’

A HISTORY textbook written for Year 7 students questions whether giving up the hunter-gatherer lifestyle for farming in settled communities was the biggest mistake in history.

The Institute of Public Affairs has cited the textbook as evidence of the national curriculum’s antipathy towards modernism and materialism. In its submission to the national curriculum review, the conservative think tank argues the history curriculum overemphasises social history at the expense of political and economic history, and presents an incoherent and confused view of world events.

The IPA says the curriculum focuses on themes such as the environment, multiculturalism and anti-modernism while downplaying the role of ideas in driving change and the significance of liberalism in democracy. The submission examines history textbooks written for the national curriculum “to gain insight into how the (curriculum’s) ideological assumptions” are being interpreted in the classroom.

It quotes from one Year 7 textbook, which says anthropological studies of the few existing hunter-gatherer societies show they “work far less hard than neighbouring farmers and have a better and more varied diet”.

“Some historians speculate that the shift from the hunter-gatherer way of life to the settled life of farming was one of the worst mistakes humankind ever made,” it says. It then asks students to debate: “Should modern humans return to the hunter-gatherer way of life?”

The IPA submission says the national curriculum is not as blatant but a similar theme recurs that “paints a very dim image of modern society” while the strong focus on class and minority groups “appears to have Marxist undertones”. “The national curriculum is unbalanced, biased and fundamentally hostile to Australia’s Western civilisation legacy,” it says.

The IPA calls for the national curriculum to be scrapped, with schools allowed to choose or develop their own curriculum.

Western Civilisation Symposium 9 May 2014 – Bookings Now Open

by Institute of Public Affairs on February 28, 2014

In Melbourne on Friday 9 May, the world’s greatest conservative philosopher, Roger Scruton, will be the keynote speaker at the IPA’s 2014 Western Civilisation Symposium. Roger will be speaking alongside other eminent guests including former prime minister John Howard, former High Court justice Ian Callinan and The Australian’s Janet Albrechtsen.

The Institute of Public Affairs’ 2014 Western Civilisation Symposium, ‘Liberty and Democracy in Western Civilisation,’ will be the most intellectually engaging event of the year. You can now register to attend here.

The event will run for a whole day on Friday 9 May 2014. Sixteen outstanding speakers will come to talk about Western Civilisation in the twenty-first century. You can now find information about session times and the speakers on the new Symposium website.

If you missed out on the 2011 Symposium, you can view the videos here.

The Speakers

Our keynote speaker will be Roger Scruton, the world’s leading conservative philosopher. He will be visiting Australia in May as a guest of the IPA and Campion College.

In the October edition of Horizons last year we included a profile of Roger. He is the author of 30 books, the best known of which is The Meaning of Conservatism (1980). Here is an interview with Roger on the book’s 25th anniversary.

Roger’s other notable books include I Drink Therefore I Am: A Philosopher’s Guide to Wine (2010), Our Church: A Personal History of the Church of England (2013) and (most recently) The Uses of Pessimism (2014).

He also writes regularly for the American Spectator. Here is a fascinating article on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible and another on national identity of Europeans.

Another important publication of his is A Political Philosophy: Arguments for Conservatism, which he published in 2006 as a defence of the institutions and culture of Western Civilisation.

Roger will be joined by many other outstanding speakers, including the former Prime Minister John Howard, Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson, and many more. Here are some profiles.

Janet Albrechtsen is a columnist with The Australian. Some of her interesting recent work includes this excellent article ($) on the cultural divide in the film industry and this one ($) on how human rights have been misconstrued in recent history. Also not to be missed is this speech she made to the IPA about free speech and its importance in Western Civilisation.

Ian Callinan is a former Justice of the High Court of Australia. Here is a fascinating interview with Ian upon his retirement in 2007 in which he reflects on his career. He is also a fiction author and a playwright. His novels include Betrayals (2011), The Missing Masterpiece (2001), and The Coroner’s Conscience (1999).

Kevin Donnelly is a prominent education commentator and the author of a number of books on the topic – including Dumbing Down and Educating your child… it’s not rocket science! You might be aware that Christopher Pyne appointed Kevin to review the Labor National Curriculum, along with Ken Wiltshire. Here is an article he wrote for The Age explaining why the current Labor curriculum needs to be reviewed.

Other speakers will include renowned economist and Professor Emeritus at the Melbourne Business School Ian Harper, journalist and writer of The Lucky Culture and the Rise of an Australian Ruling Class Nick Cater, former federal minister and political scientist David Kemp, economic historian and sociologist Claudio Véliz, columnist, political analyst and historian of ideas Jennifer Oriel, and Greg Melleuish, associate professor of history and politics at the University of Wollongong. The IPA’s John Roskam, Chris Berg, and Richard Allsop will also be speaking at the Symposium, in what promises to be a very fulfilling day.

For those of you who are interstate and unable to make it to Melbourne for the full symposium, Roger Scruton will also be appearing in Sydney with Quadrant magazine editor Keith Windschuttle on Wednesday 14 May and in Brisbane with Spectator Australia editor Tom Switzer on Thursday 15 May. You can book tickets for these events here.

The Death of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton at UCLA

by Institute of Public Affairs on January 31, 2014

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 PyneDonnelly, and Wiltshire have all said in The Age over the last few weeks. But as I argued earlier this monthit 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’), SteinerMontessori – 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.

Did Rome fall?

by Institute of Public Affairs on December 31, 2013

Did Rome fall?

Some historians think it didn’t.

You may know the story. Roman civilisation collapsed in the fifth century. Afterwards, Western Europe plummeted into centuries of decline, poverty, and obscurity, commonly known as the ‘Dark Ages.’ (In a previous Horizons update, we recommended this book by Chris Wickham as an introduction to this fascinating period).

Since the 1970s, however, ever since historian Peter Brown wrote The World of Late Antiquity, it has been the fashion to believe the fall of Rome was not quite so catastrophic. Rather, it is assumed the period of ‘Late Antiquity’ – roughly from 250 to 650 AD – was a time of gentle cultural transition and even innovation. Roman society did not collapse violently. It ‘transformed’.

Earlier this year Peter Brown published the tenth anniversary edition of The Rise of Western Christendom – a general history of Late Antiquity, which outlines the period of ‘cultural transition’. Here is a review of an earlier edition from Bryn Mawr Classical Review and another from History Today.

So what really happened? Did Roman civilisation collapse or did it simply transform?

Some elements of Roman civilisation like Christianity flourished long after the last Western Roman Emperor abdicated. But at the same time, there is evidence of a sudden and catastrophic economic collapse in the fifth (in the west) and seventh (in the east) centuries.

In the next IPA Review, Chris Berg will review The Roman Market Economy by Peter Temin a fascinating new book which shows just how extensive the Roman market economy was. You can read the review here.

Rome was an extremely wealthy society. It had a complex market economy. People living in Britain could easily purchase products made in Anatolia, and vice-versa. Large cities flourished, and would not be outsized in Europe until Industrial revolution. There is even evidence that Roman pottery factories adopted quality control measures.

This changed after Rome fell. Brian Ward-Perkins published this controversial book in 2005, showing just how catastrophic the fifth and seventh century crises were. Here is an excellent review of it by Canada Free Press. And here is an interview with Ward-Perkins on Historically Speaking.

Based on a range of evidence – including the size of Roman cows, the size of cities, building activity and the dispersion of farms outside Rome – he concluded that there was indeed a catastrophic economic collapse between the fourth and seventh centuries.

On both sides of the Mediterranean, cities declined or were abandoned altogether. Factories disappeared. Domestic animals were smaller due to lack of nourishment. In some regions, quality-controlled, factory-made pottery was replaced with poor-quality hand-moulded pots. Different regions were impacted at different times, and some were more hard-hit than others, but as a general rule economic activity declined everywhere.

Overall, ‘Late Antiquity’ would hardly have been a time of ‘peaceful’ transition for anyone involved.

Reading, watching, listening

Last month in Horizons, we mentioned Daniel Hannan’s great new book How we Invented Freedom & Why It Matters, released last month. Here’s another great review in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) and an interview with Dan on The Blaze.

Another important recent book is Yuval Levin’s The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left, which explores the eighteenth-century origins of the modern political divide. Here is a helpful review of the book in Commentary Magazine and another in the Wall Street Journal. You can also listen to Yuval talk about his new book here.

Rafe Champion has published a series of guides to the works of the great philosopher and economist Karl Popper. They include A Guide to the Poverty of Historicism and A Guide to Open Society and its Enemies. For more on Karl Popper, it is worth having a look at this review of Herbert Keuth’s 2005 book.

In keeping with the Classics theme, any aspiring (or rusty) Latinists out there might be interested to know that John Wiley & Sons has recently published a brand new, source-based beginner’s Latin course, compiled by Robert Maltby and Kenneth Belcher. Here is what History in Review had to say about it. (And for anyone who is considering taking up Latin, it is probably worth pointing out some of the standard textbooks including this, and this.)

Jonathan Neumann has written an excellent review on The Fatal Conceit: Errors of Socialismthe last and one of the least-known works of the great economist Friedrich Hayek. Here is a related article in the Washington Examiner on the ‘fatal conceit’ of Obamacare.

The Pope on free markets, and Paul Keating on history

by Institute of Public Affairs on November 29, 2013

My name is Stephanie Forrest, and I joined the IPA three weeks ago as a Research Scholar with the Foundations of Western Civilisation Program. John Roskam told you a little bit about me in the latest member’s update. I wrote this month’s Horizons.

I hope you enjoy it. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me – my email is sforrest@ipa.org.au.

The Pope and free markets

Yesterday in Hey… What did I miss we told you about Pope Francis’ controversial apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, which includes a critique on the “absolute autonomy of markets.”

I recommend that you read this excellent analysis by Dr Samuel Gregg, research director at the Acton Institute.

As Gregg notes:

“I myself take no offense from Evangelii Gaudium‘s observations about poverty and the economy… His words are also a powerful reminder that Christ’s commandment to love the poor is truly non-negotiable for any serious Christian.

Nevertheless, as Francis himself writes, “Ideas disconnected from realities give rise to ineffectual forms of idealism” (232). And attention to particular realities about economic life is precisely what’s missing from parts of Evangelii Gaudium‘s analysis of wealth and poverty. If we want “the dignity of each human person and the pursuit of the common good” to be more than what the pope calls a “mere addendum” to the pursuit of “true and integral development” (203), then engaging more seriously the economic part of the truth that sets us free would be a good start.”

Samuel Gregg is the author of a new book Tea Party Catholic: The Catholic Case for Limited Government, a Free Economy, and Human Flourishing. Here’s an interview with him from last week with the National Review.

Paul Keating gives his own partial version of History

In Horizons last month we told you about the embarrassing and disrespectful attempt to remove the words “Known unto God” from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and replace them with the words of Paul Keating.

Keating’s speech, given at the Remembrance Day address two weeks ago, has demonstrated how right we were to be concerned.

Paul Keating believes the First World War was “devoid of any virtue … arose from the quagmire of European tribalism,” and Australian soldiers were naïve and helpless “cannon fodder” who were fed “into [the] deadly crevice” by the Allied generals.

As Miranda Devine wrote in her excellent column the following day,

“It is simplistic and insulting to rewrite history to portray these soldiers of the past as somehow fools and ignorant bumpkins enslaved by the British Empire, especially as Australians in those days did feel an affinity to Britain.

Dismissing them as mere “cannon fodder” dehumanises and objectifies them, which is the opposite of what we try to do on Remembrance Day.”

But if you need to be reassured that Australian soldiers in the First World War were not mere “cannon fodder”, here’s Geoffrey Blainey’s brilliant article in the Australian in April 2010, and Gerard Henderson’s response to Paul Keating’s address in the Sydney Morning Herald.

The prominence given to Keating’s ahistorical musings demonstrate why we shouldn’t be leaving our history in the hands of professional politicians. In the Australian Financial Review earlier this month John Roskam wrote that Keating offered nothing more than:

“… the classic leftist interpretation of Australia’s history, which is of our past as the march towards an inevitable social democracy. This interpretation of our history is what the national curriculum now requires to be taught to every school student.

… Significantly, not in his speech in 1993 nor on Monday did Keating once refer to the freedoms at stake in our country’s conflicts. In contrast in 1997 Howard spoke of those who fought to ensure our “freedom to think, to move, to speak, to worship, to have a say in the election of governments … [and] to raise a family and to educate our children”.

The words of neither John Howard nor Paul Keating should appear at the War Memorial.”

How we understand history shapes how we understand the present. Politicians know this. That’s why they should be kept as far away from the curriculum as possible.

Reading, watching, listening

Two brilliant, must-read intellectual takedowns were both published on 21 November.

The first is this magnificent critique of the popular writer Malcolm Gladwell by the British intellectual historian John Gray. Writing in the New Republic, Gray compares Gladwell’s immensely successful series of books to Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People.

The second is this critique in the London Review of Books by James C. Scott of a new book The World until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?

Here’s another strong critique of The World until Yesterday from Ron Bailey in Reason Magazine, asking if savages really were noble.

James C. Scott is the author of one of the most important books in political and economic philosophy in recent decades: Seeing Like A State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition have Failed. Scott details his arguments in this piece at the Cato Institute. And here’s a review of Seeing Like a State from Reason Magazine.

In July this year Horizons featured the great liberal philosopher Isaiah Berlin. For another take on Berlin by the great conservative philosopher Roger Scruton, this piece in the New Criterion from 2009 is very much worth reading.

Roger Scruton is visiting Australia as a guest of the IPA’s Foundations of Western Civilisation Program in May 2014. For more great pieces, or for an introduction to this fascinating thinker, we profiled Roger Scruton in Horizons last month. Further details about the Scruton national tour will be available to IPA members and supporters shortly.

Doris Lessing, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007, died earlier this month. Here’s a very interesting piece from Real Clear Politics on how highly critical she was of the left-wing cultural establishment.

Also of interest may be this excellent address by Daniel Hannan on his fantastic new book on How we Invented Freedom & Why It Matters. This book explores how freedom is a uniquely British invention and the debt which we owe to it in the modern world. Here’s another extract of the book from The Spectatora review by Charles Moore and another review by Adrian Hilton.