Finding the philosophical assumptions that underpin a curriculum is careful work. It involves looking less at what’s included than what’s absent.
So it was refreshing to see an article in Crikey on Monday by Tony Taylor, which confirmed everything we discovered in The National Curriculum: A Critique. Taylor simply and forthrightly spells out the curriculum’s ideology in a stark few hundred words.
Of course, that’s not his intention. Taylor drafted a previous iteration of the history curriculum, and claims to be a consultant on this one. He intends to defend the curriculum, but he accidentally condemns it.
Take Taylor’s apparent rebuttal of David Daintree’s claim in our book that the curriculum largely ignores and consistently denigrates the role of Christianity in Western civilisation:
Christianity is covered in Year 8 under “the spread of Christianity”, medieval Europe under the Crusades (not so good, that bit), the medieval dominance of the Catholic Church and the Spanish conquest of the Americas (another not-so-good bit).
Could there be any more concise summary of the curriculum’s hostility? Certainly, as Daintree points out, Christianity, and religion in general, is responsible for much historical wrongs. But religion is responsible for much good too.
But weighing up the pros and cons of religion is, contra Taylor, not the point. It’s an undeniable historical truth that Christianity is one of the keys to understanding the development of Western civilisation. Europe’s advances in law, philosophy, and even science have been conceived of in largely Christian terms, by largely Christian people. To imagine that Christianity’s importance can be neatly summarised by a) the Crusades and b) the conquest of the Americas is not only unhistorical, it’s dishonestly antagonistic.
Taylor would be welcome to hold that view in a polemic. But such polemics should not be imposed on a curriculum that will be imposed on every Australian school student.
A much less typical view of Taylor’s is in response to the shadow education minister Christopher Pyne’s view that the curriculum unjustly underplays the English Civil War:
As for the Bill of Rights and the English Civil War, the former is covered in Year 10 under the optional “egalitarianism” and the latter is arguably just a series of confused and confusing localised squabbles that may have a special significance for UK history, but not for anybody else (unless they like dressing up in period costume).
“Just a series of confused and confusing localised squabbles” is a strange way to describe the revolt of parliament over the monarchy, the trial and execution of the King of England (an extraordinary break with the past) the declaration of a republic, and its disintegration into dictatorship.
The English civil war echoed through the intervening centuries. It was just as important as the French Revolution. If not more: the principles that were developed after the civil war have become the principles on which liberal democracy has been implemented around the world.
There is a direct line from the Rump Parliament to the Declaration of Independence, to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, and, even, to self-government in Australia.
This is a strange thing to have to remind one of the designers of the national curriculum.
If the intention of the national history curriculum is — or should be — for Australian students to understand how their world became, then Taylor’s bizarrely dismissive attitude about one of the foundation events of that world is astonishing.
And if we needed confirmation that the national curriculum is motivated by an ideological antagonism to the history of Western civilisation, Taylor’s short column is it.