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The Not So Hidden Agenda in Pyne's Attack on the National Curriculum

Updated: May 26, 2020

With metronomic monotony Christopher Pyne has begun 2014 with yet another ill advised attack on the teaching profession.

Is it Groundhog Day?

Or is this a calculated move aimed at destabilising a profession Mr Pyne is meant to represent?

Or is he hell bent on disturbing the richly deserved summer holidays that teachers throughout the country are enjoying.

Or were enjoying.

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) has been beavering away for five years receiving submissions from as many as 4,000 education professionals in an effort to create a homogenous national education curriculum. It’s a bit like trying to get all the country’s train lines on the same gauge. It’s a huge task. Trying to get the states to agree on anything is a challenge to say the least. To get them to agree on a national curriculum when each fiefdom has their own bureaucrats, unions, politicians and interest groups to serve is monumental. Which is why it has taken five years to date.

Christopher Pyne is clearly out of his depth in his role as Minister for Education.

“Everyone’s been to school; everyone’s an expert in education one way or another, “he said.

This is arrant nonsense. The only people who can call themselves “experts” are people who are involved in education at the coalface at a professional level. Amongst them are the 4,000 odd who have made submissions to ACARA.

Christopher Pyne has elected to overlook the work of these teachers, academics and parents and appoint two men to oversee the implementation of the national curriclum.

Kevin Donnelly and Ken Wiltshire may have contributions to make to the discussion and they may be valid ones. But the idea that the thousands of other “experts” submissions should be dismissed is ludicrous.

There is an agenda here.

It is to do with turning back the educational clock.

The history curriculum is the most obvious one to come under scrutiny with Pyne’s stated belief that “the legacy of western civilisation” needs to be given “prominence”. Anzac Day, Gallipoli, Captain Cook, Burke and Wills will be given “prominence” at the expense of perhaps the dispossession of Aboriginal land, the stolen generation, the White Australia Policy, refugees and maybe even Kokoda.

There will similarly be a push to return the english curriculum to the “good old days” when “traditional” grammar was taught even though it has been universally agreed that traditional methods of teaching grammar are of almost no relevance to students in C21st. It is unlikely today’s students will embrace their Latin roots either. That’s not to suggest that grammar should not be taught. It’s how it is taught that is at issue. And what is taught.

Language is constantly changing. The study of language and grammar needs to be forward looking rather than retrospective. It is incumbent on educators to provide students with the tools to live in the future. This is why the grammar of texting is as relevant as the grammar of Jane Austen.

The sleeper, the subjects most under threat in all this, are the arts subjects. Arts subjects are not only under threat in terms of content their very existence is under threat. Subjects such as drama, music, dance and even art are seen as surplus to requirements in a curriculum that focuses on “traditional” learning.

Already in Victoria, NSW and Queensland the relevant bureaucracies are cutting back on spending for arts subjects.

This is despite the fact that these subjects not only enrich our culture and offer thousands of students a variety of means of self expression they are also rigorously examined.

Teaching students to write and perform their own plays, for instance, not only provides a platform for their being able to tell their own stories it also enhances literacy, learning and language.

Why is Christopher Pyne so determined to antagonise everyone involved in secondary education in this country?

What was the motivation behind his disastrous attempt to scupper Gonski?

Why has Abbott government appointed a man so clearly at odds with nearly every leading educationalist in this country to the vital role of Minister for Education?

Let’s for the moment give them the benefit of the doubt and imagine none of this is ideological payback. Lets’ be generous and go with the notion that Christopher Pyne just doesn’t understand the complexities of education in our schools. Let’s suggest that, as well as listening to his chosen appointees, he take the time to seriously examine the thoughts of the 4,000 educationalists who have been working on the national curriculum for five years.

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