More pieces on the perturbing Pyne Probe

1. Well, that is diplomatic of them.

ACARA welcomes review of the Australian Curriculum

The Chair of the Board of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), Professor Barry McGaw, said today that he welcomed the review of the Australian Curriculum that Minister Pyne has initiated.

He said that he believed the Authority had used a rigorous, national process and had produced a high quality curriculum. Each learning area was developed over a 2-3 year period by subject matter experts across the country. The process included input and review by state and territory education bodies, along with teacher and industry professional associations. He said that an independent review of the process and the products could provide a helpful, additional perspective…

I suspect they will get rather more than that. Think Climate Commission. Or am I too pessimistic/suspicious?

2. Jim Belshaw’s cool head

The announcement by Australian Education Minister Pyne that Professor Ken Wiltshire AO and Dr Kevin Donnelly had been appointed to review the Australian national curricula and the associated curricula setting processes has been greeted with a degree of outrage. This is one example of reporting. here a second, while my old blogging friend Neil Whitfield provides a blog example. As an aside, isn’t it interesting how the Guardian in Australia has become the voice of the Australian left? It seems that we don’t have a local newspaper to fulfil that role.

Putting aside my general reservations about national curriculum, I have no especial problem with the Minister’s announcement….

But see the comment thread.

3. The terms of reference:

  • The reviewers will consider the robustness, independence and balance of the Australian Curriculum, including:
    • the process of curriculum shaping, development, monitoring, evaluation and review.
    • the curriculum content from Foundation to Year 12 for subjects developed to date, with a particular focus on the curriculum for English, mathematics, science, history and geography.
  • The reviewers will provide recommendations to the Commonwealth Minister for Education regarding:
    1. the curriculum shaping process followed by Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) to ensure that the curriculum is balanced and offers students an appropriate degree of choice and diversity;
    2. the process of curriculum development to be followed by the ACARA for the development and revision of all future curriculum content;
    3. the content in learning areas, cross curriculum priorities and general capabilities of the Australian Curriculum;
    4. the ongoing monitoring, evaluation and review of curriculum content used by ACARA to ensure independence, rigour and balance in curriculum development; and
  • The reviewers will provide a preliminary report to the Commonwealth Minister for Education by 31 March 2014. The Panel will provide its final report to the Commonwealth Minister for Education by the 31 July 2014.

Curriculum robustum is a new species it seems, but I think it is merely code for “minus leftie bullshit”.  Anyone who has ever read anything by Dr Donnelly, or has wandered into the cultic ambience of Quadrant, or browsed any Oz conservative sites cannot but conclude that “independence and balance” are similarly code words. 

From my Facebook last night:

  • A preliminary report to the Minister by 31/3/14. That will be deep.

  • Neil James Whitfield Not if you already know what it will say!

4. “Darcy’s blog on Pyne’s Review of the Australian Curriculum is excellent for it’s brevity and focus. He highlights several important issues such as Interdisciplinarity, the SAMR model, and moving beyond HSC style pen and paper assessment. Such matter are way beyond the horizon in the partisan ‘dog whistling’ inherent in the review’s announcement and associated Ministerial comment.” See Darcy Moore’s post when, hopefully, it is back online!

It is!

The major issue most educators will have with the Minister’s announcement is that is an intellectually indefensible position to cry “partisan bias’ and then appoint cultural warriors like Mr Donnelly, the Chief of Staff for Kevin Andrews during the Howard Government and Mr Wiltshire  (“On all counts, Coalition deserves independents”). By all means include these two passionate educators but surely the impression of balance could be struck with some other appointments who hold different POVs, especially considering the kind of language the minister is employing about bias. This all points to the strategic reignition of ‘culture wars’ rather than a genuine concern for the learning outcomes of our children…

This is not the way most (any?) educators wish to commence the year. The Australian Curriculum has been debated ad nauseum for years and is about to be implemented. The notion that Mr Pyne can have a report this year and make changes for 2015 would seem unrealistic, by any standard, based on the consultative processes that usually take place between the states and sectors etc.. There are so many better ideas for the federal minister to encourage and support than this grenade-lobbying exercise and politicking.

What should we be doing?

Working out how to de-balkanise the curriculum using intelligent cross-curricular models like Big History, as envisaged by Professor Christian and funded by Bill Gates, would be a good area to explore or working out how to update our pedagogy, using the SAMR model in preparation for BYOD makes sense. I’d much rather be debating how we reform the HSC pen & paper exams, semester reporting and formal assessment systems than any other educational topic. That is complex, much needed work that requires all our collaborative efforts on behalf of our students…

5. Today’s SMH editorial strives to be reasonable. However, it also nails what the ideology at work is – not  too hard to do of course as even Blind Freddie could work it out.

While the Herald welcomes any scrutiny of teaching and schools that might improve standards, how are former teacher-cum-columnist Kevin Donnelly and Queensland University academic Ken Wiltshire equipped to decide what our children should learn? It depends on whether you accept a purely conservative world view. Why are they more expert than, say, the hundreds of teachers, curriculum experts and parents who contributed to the existing curriculum?

The answer depends in part on whether you lean towards being, in simplified terms, religious or humanist; inward looking or world focused; Anglo-centric or multicultural; and supportive of so-called ”traditional” values or the reality of modern families. Of course, most people have a mixture of world views.

The danger is that the government wants Australians to choose only one world view, that it expects the nation to believe the curriculum is left biased and any replacement would be balanced. Parents will have to be trusting indeed to believe that, especially in light of Dr Donnelly’s Liberal links and his stated critique of, among other things, multiculturalism and ”feminist, postmodern, deconstruction, post-colonial, and gay and queer theory”.

The Herald does not question Dr Donnelly and Professor Wiltshire’s ability to approach their task in an impartial and professional manner. But voters are entitled to be sceptical about the government’s intention, given its extremely poor record with the Gonski equity reforms.…

In choosing Dr Donnelly and Professor Wiltshire, the government is exposed to criticism that it is looking backwards and swinging the pendulum too far. This is the 21st century. Australia must be willing to embrace an environmentally sustainable, Asia-based multicultural future while accepting the accomplishments and mistakes of the colonial past.

Reflecting that, the curriculum has among its core capabilities ”intercultural understanding”. The curriculum authority says the concept is relatively new to the national curriculum. Its origins are in ”cultural studies, language, multicultural education and more broadly in sociology, linguistics and anthropology” and its ”nature and place … are by no means settled”.

Such vagueness is easy prey for those who see history and English in particular in black and white terms, rejecting a postmodernist view that stresses, as the curriculum does, ”the development of a critical awareness of the processes of socialisation and representation that shape and maintain cultural differences”.

For Dr Donnelly, the curriculum is tainted by an intercultural focus, underplays Western values and is full of ”impenetrable jargon”. He and Professor Wiltshire will no doubt target its references to ”diverse”, ”empathy”, ”taking responsibility”, ”challenge stereotypes and prejudices” and ”values Australia’s indigenous cultures”.

Perhaps the most confronting reference will be the curriculum’s insistence that students learn ”the importance of respecting and valuing a wide range of world views”. For many parents, such sentiments are not ”edu-speak” but ideals for a modern Australia.

The Herald trusts Dr Donnelly and Professor Wiltshire intend to focus on what is best for children. While scrutiny of education is a good thing, Australians should be on the alert for any sign that this review is imposing a world view no longer appropriate for our children.

6. And there is more:


E J Pace, Christian cartoonist 1922

I see too that my own rant – admittedly now dated in some respects – about Kevin Donnelly’s 2004 diatribe has been getting quite a few visitors lately. Can’t guarantee all the links still work; nor do they open in new windows.

I did Dip Ed at Sydney University way back in 1965. So I have been around education for a very long time. Kevin Donnelly’s Why our schools are failing (sic) is probably the worst, the most stupid, book on education that I have read in all that time. To call it reactionary would be to flatter it. Even Malcolm Turnbull is so embarrassed that he is constrained to say in his foreword: “Dr Donnelly’s views are his own and not those of the Menzies Research Centre.” Malcolm Turnbull may be many things, but stupid is not one of them.

What you have in this book is a cherry-picking exercise that would disgrace an undergraduate. Armed with a stock of cliches and prejudices, and with quite a few windmills to tilt at, Donnelly lays about the past forty years with an acute lack of discrimination, quite often plainly not understanding what he is criticising.

Want to know the right way to learn History? Simple, learn off a few dates… I do not jest. Everything since about 1960 seems to have been a left-wing plot or galloping political correctness. Objectivity is not Donnelly’s long suit, nor is analysis, or fair treatment of the evidence.

Typically Donnelly is his quoting Richard Tarnas on postmodernism (evil.) Now I happen to rather like Tarnas’s The Passion of the Western Mind: very readable and often challenging. Donnelly cherry-picks the part that suits him, but since he regards environmental education (along with just about everything else that has happened since 1960) as deplorable political correctness, he neglects to cherry-pick such things as this:

Scott London: You point out that a widespread sense of urgency is tangible on many levels today, as if one historical era is coming to an end and another is about to begin.

Richard Tarnas: Yes, there is a real awareness that things have to change. People are becoming increasingly conscious of the fact that the ecological situation is critical and that we cannot continue to live according to the same assumptions with which we have lived blithely for the past several hundred years. There are also social, economic, and political dimensions to the crisis. There is the unprecedented plurality of perspectives and worldviews and religious and philosophical and political perspectives that are in the air. And, when it comes down to it, there is a spiritual crisis that pervades our world.

I think it affects everybody, but the more informed and thoughtful a person is, the more aware they are of the reality of the spiritual crisis. We live in a world in which mainstream, conventional modern science has essentially voided the cosmos of all intrinsic meaning and purpose. There is no spiritual dimension to it from its point of view. The intellectual power of mainstream modern science has effectively defined what kind of cosmos we live in. And yet human beings aspire for spiritual significance in the life that they lead and in the world that they live in. It is only, I think, though going through a profound inner transformation, and also an intellectual transformation, that one can see beyond that crisis and come into a world of a different kind.

The fact that Tarnas is “Director of the graduate program in Philosophy, Cosmology and Consciousness at the California Institute of Integral Studies” seems to pass Donnelly by, who is, whatever he means by this, a stickler for the old “disciplines”. But Tarnas lives in the 21st century, after all.

7. Tangential but relevant

January 6, 2014 — You could tell the story of literary study in the US as one long process of expansion. For hundreds of years only the Classics were considered worthy of serious academic attention, and strenuous objections followed the introduction of modern literature courses in the 19th century. While Latin and Greek “inculcate a certain manly and just taste,” wrote Alexander Kinmont in 1834, “modern fine writing … breaks down and womanizes the soul.” Those who sought to limit academic reading lists lost that battle, however, and they kept on losing. Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, and Pope became frequent objects of study after 1850; courses on the novel began to take off around 1900. American literature fought for academic recognition after World War I, and with the 1960s came calls to open up the canon to women, African American, and postcolonial writers, among others…