There may be hope for Western Civilisation yet

by Institute of Public Affairs on October 1, 2014

At some point in the 1970s, Australia lost touch with its heritage.

The educational establishment severed ties with the British Empire and embraced an ideology of ‘cultural-relativism’. Education academics swung from understanding Australia’s British origins to being extremely anti-British and anti-Western Civilisation in general. It became fashionable for some academics to dismiss anyone who encourages the study of Australia’s Western roots and the origins of democracy as ‘nationalist’ or ‘anti-multiculturalist’. As a result, many school-age students now cannot see the value in our system of government.

That was what Kevin Donnelly argued in The Sydney Morning Herald last week.

Along with Kenneth Wiltshire, Kevin Donnelly was appointed to review the National Curriculum by Education Minister Christopher Pyne in January this year.

We will have to wait to hear the results of the review, but this education update from last month gives some promising signs. The review is expected to recommend a cut back on abstract learning objectives – perhaps including the notorious cross-curriculum priorities, ‘sustainability’, ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures’, and ‘Asia and Australia’s Engagement with Asia’.

Instead, the focus will be on the traditional objectives of education: literacy and numeracy.

As I argued on pages 5 and 6 of the IPA’s submission to the Department of Education on the National Curriculum, a focus on the basics and a move away from abstract learning objectives can only be a good thing.

On the same topic, Chris Ashton wrote an excellent article on On Line Opinion last month critiquing the National Curriculum’s ‘cross-curriculum priorities’.

Reading, Watching and Listening

Steven Johnson’s latest book – How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World demonstrates just how important technology has been throughout the history of Western society. You can read a preview of the book here and a review on Newsday.

A somewhat more scholarly introduction to the topic of innovation in history is David Edgerton’s bookThe Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900. It was reviewed by Chris Berg in the Summer 2007 issue of Policy Magazine.

The August edition of Horizons explored the lack of medieval history in Australia’s universities. It highlighted the fact that none of our universities offer subjects specifically on medieval England, despite its importance to Australia’s political heritage. This means that if you are especially keen to study Magna Carta and Plantagenet England at an undergraduate level, you would be lucky to find a subject that covers either.

Unfortunately, it isn’t just medieval history that has vanished. In the last edition of the IPA Review, I wrote about the rapid disappearance of British history from university history degrees. The article can be viewed online here.

In the same edition, Richard Allsop wrote a fascinating review of Catherine Hall’s new book Macaulay and Son: Architects of Imperial Britain.

Last month saw the passing of the 2,494th anniversary of the Battle of Salamis and the failure of the Persian invasion of Greece. Here is an interesting piece in the Toronto Sun on what we owe to the ancient Greeks.

Also on the topic of historical debate, here is a fascinating post by Daniel Hannan on the Nazi-Soviet pact and why it is often disregarded in accounts of the Second World War.

A Californian school has earned media attention after banning Christian books from its library stating that it does not allow ‘sectarian materials on our state-authorized lending shelves’. Aside from everything else that could be said about this, it does not do justice to the importance of the legacy of Christianity to Western Civilisation – which Chris Berg highlighted in this article on the end of slavery.

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