Opinion: Syllabus critics sabotage teachers

Misleading commentary on the Australian Curriculum by self-styled education experts dismisses the professional voice of teachers and undermines community faith in education, writes Professional Officer Pat Devery.

The usual suspects have rounded on the recently released draft syllabus with the conservative Institute of Public Affairs declaring it an assault on Western civilisation that “cancels the teaching of freedoms that underpin Australian democracy, including freedom of speech, association, and religion”.

Elsewhere, shock jocks and other commentators variously described it as a threat to students’ education, a threat to the future of the nation and a “woke agenda” intent on teaching children to hate Australia.

The Federal Minister for Education and Youth, Alan Tudge, decribed the syllabus as “not positive enough”. Mr Tudge believes history should “teach children to love their country”, echoing the ultra-positive “Three Cheers” notion of history espoused under former prime minister John Howard.

But any fair-minded and professionally informed reading of the K-10 history syllabus would conclude these claims are false.

Primary syllabus

The K-6 areas of the syllabus still explore the traditional historical inquiry topics of family, local community, contributions of individual and groups, recognition of significant events including Australia Day and Christmas and investigating the origins of Australia’s various flags and coats of arms.

Primary students still learn about Captain Cook and Joseph Banks. The First Fleet is still on the list, as is the colony’s first Christian Chaplain, the Reverend Richard Johnson. Where is the cancel culture?

Settlement in the 1800s, the gold rushes, the impact of European Law, Federation, democractic systems of government with specific reference to the Magna Carta, the Snowy Mountains Scheme, and even the ‘Ten Pound Poms’ all get a run. Where is the hate?

Secondary syllabus

Western culture is no less present in the secondary syllabus, the traditional battleground of the culture warriors. The growth of Christianity, the Crusades, the Black Death, Trial by Ordeal, the Renaissance are named, along with exploring Australia’s belief in social and political equality, including the right to vote, the eight-hour day, and universal education.

The familiar topics of Federation, the White Australia Policy, the Anzac tradition with specific reference to Gallipoli, the arrival of television and American culture, are all there.

Unfair impact

If all this content, representing classical and western civilisation, is still listed in the syllabus, what is it that so alarms the critics and, more importantly, why are they so misleading when discussing the document?

When politicians and public figures deride the work of teachers, casting doubt on their professional judgement and integrity, they effectively diminish the teaching profession in the eyes of the community. This also serves to undermine community faith in a cornerstone of our democracy, public education.

We are already witnessing the dangerous consequences of undermining community confidence in science and health experts, the media, and law-enforcement officers by ill-informed populists. If we allow this ignorant and deliberate trashing to extend to public education, we are being set on a trajectory with a bitter end.

A nation’s trust in its institutions is the essence of a free, liberal democracy. If “experts” are to criticise this syllabus, they should at least do it honestly.