Home' Policy Magazine : Policy Vol 29 - No 3 Contents 35
POLICY • Vol. 29 No. 3 • Spring 2013
knowledge about a disconnected, even bizarre, set
of places and historical periods. e depth studies
include Polynesian expansion across the Pacifc,
the Khmer Empire, the Mongols, and the Black
Death, and a comparison of a nineteenth century
Australian city with an Asian city.
Australian history is covered in two ways.
It forms the basis of the primary school history
curriculum. At high school, it is only really covered
in the fnal two years of compulsory schooling,
still in tandem with world history. ere is a
substantial concentration in the Australian history
depth studies on World War I and Australia’s
involvement in other twentieth century wars.
Te battle for Indigenous rights, although placed
alongside other civil rights movements, constitutes
another depth study. Te feminist movement,
along with Australian popular culture (Kylie and
AC/DC studies?), is also there along with a study
of the environmental movement. What is missing
is much consideration of Australian political
history, and there is hardly anything on the
economic development of the country.
My major criticism of the National History
Curriculum is not that it is excessively ideological,
although there are issues in that area, but that it
is a dog’s breakfast. And this again raises the
important issue about what the sort of history
being taught to students in a country like Australia
should look like. We inhabit national entities that
are part of a global community.
It is highly laudable that our students should
have an understanding of the way in which human
history has developed over the past few thousand
years. We need to understand and appreciate our
national history. How do we do it?
In one sense, this also goes back to the role
that history is meant to play in the curriculum as
a compulsory area of study. Why is it there? Tis
issue has not really been addressed in Australia.
Of course, good reasons can be given: I think that
they have to do with providing students with the
opportunity to explore human beings and human
behaviour and to think deeply about what it means
to be human. I have made a modest attempt to
suggest a principle that could be used as a guide
to deciding what should go into such a curriculum.
It is what I term the ‘signifcant past,’ which is to
say the past that is important for a particular
country or nation. e point is that we cannot
teach everything. We can only teach that which is
signifcant and which has relevance for students.
Such an approach goes back to the dawn of
historical writing as Herodotus conducted his
inquiries into those matters that helped to explain
the Persian Wars. To me, this means providing
students with an appreciation of the broad set of
factors that have shaped human history, from
climate to economics to warfare to ideas and
beliefs to the role of individuals. It would mean
focusing on those parts of history that enable
students to understand how the nation which they
are part of came to be the way that it is. In the
case of Australia, this means that there would be
little taught, for example, about either Africa or
South America. Europe and East Asia would loom
large and North America would have a place.
Of course, Australian Indigenous history would
have its proper and rightful place.
But, unlike the current curriculum, there
would need to be an emphasis placed on Australia's
European, and specifcally British, heritage. It is
simply foolish to mandate Indigenous history and
the study of Asia and to leave out the European
dimension of Australian history. Tey all have to
be there. Anecdotal evidence suggests that students
in the past have not taken kindly to an excessive
emphasis on Indigenous history, especially when
the same material has been taught at a number of
levels. One thing that the new curriculum does is
to eliminate this sort of repetition.
Students have also tended to fnd Australian
history ‘boring’ in comparison to the history
of other places. After all, the history of non-
Indigenous Australia has largely been the story of
economic development and the peaceful growth
of democratic institutions. It has sometimes been
the complaint that the problem with Australian
history is that it does not have a revolution. Tis
My major criticism of the National History
Curriculum is not that it is excessively
ideological, although there are issues
in that area, but that it is a dog's breakfast.
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