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Right-wing media backs Alan Tudge on 'leftist' history curriculum

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Andrew Bolt interviewed Minister Alan Tudge on Sky News regarding the Australian history curriculum (Screenshot via YouTube)

Sky News commentator Andrew Bolt has supported the opinion of Education Minister Alan Tudge that the Australian history curriculum is 'hateful', writes A L Jones.

“NEO-MARXIST RUBBISH”, says a NSW Cabinet minister of the new draft national curriculum. And the Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge agrees with Andrew Bolt that the history section is biased against our Western heritage and should include, for example, “what bad things Aborigines did to Aborigines”.

Mr Tudge said in a Sky News interview with Bolt:

“I do get concerned that students don't have a firm understanding of how we did become this rich, egalitarian, free, Western-liberal democracy... If you don't understand that, then you're less likely to value it and defend it.”

Alan Tudge’s talking head is all over Sky News at present. Why? No doubt, he just wants to have his say in the review currently underway into the national curriculum. As could the rest of us.

Why does he want a say? All you need to know is that he’s helping his nation to stave off the guillotining for another 200 years. This is why he’s particularly interested in the history curriculum.

He may also be warming us up to “defend” “this rich, egalitarian, free, Western-liberal democracy that we are today”. I can’t get into that right now.

A little background: The national curriculum is reviewed every six years by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). After public feedback, which closes on 8 July, the final draft goes to the education ministers for approval.

How, exactly, is Mr Tudge having his say? In the interview on Sky News, the Minister commiserated with interviewer Andrew Bolt about the sad and sorry state of history teaching in Australia.

As an aside, if you thought the so-called “history wars” were history, I’m here to disappoint. First, the present outpouring of mutual grief on Sky is just a rerun of the 2014 rehash of the 2000s’ replay of the 1990s’ war against the 1960s’ invention of “new history”.

New history included people who were not White or male or landowners or all good or all bad. Understandably, neoliberalism took exception to it. This is why today’s conservatives look to the 1950s for inspiration.

Second, ever since the so-called Marxist incursion into higher education in the 1960s, the history wars have mainly comprised conservative attacks on said Marxists and their doomy-gloomy talk of imperialist oppression and the like. Always looking backwards.

The slogans of the 2020s’ wars might be new, but not so the threadbare claims about the national history curriculum: There are too few White Western heroes; too many references to too many apologies to too many non-White people; too many negative terms (“massacre”, “genocide”, “slavery” and so forth); and too few happy accounts of First-Nations’ mission inmates.

As Liberal Prime Minister John Howard said during his own 1990s war:

“This black armband view of our...history since 1788 has been little more than a disgraceful story of imperialism, exploitation, racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination. I take a very different view. I believe that the balance sheet of our history is one of heroic achievement and that we have achieved much more as a nation of which we can be proud than of which we can be ashamed.”

For the powers that be, the draft history curriculum is bad for two associated reasons. First, it sets aside the “heroic achievements” of our European forebears.

Second, it keeps mum on the great things European colonisation has done to turn a God-forsaken, empty piece of dirt into “this rich, egalitarian, free, Western-liberal democracy that we are today”.

Back at the Sky interview, unmasking the draft’s reticence, Mr Tudge (who’s channelling Mr Howard) and Mr Bolt (who’s being himself) are agreeing that the draft history curriculum is scary, anti-Western, un-Australian, hate-filled, leftist rubbish.

Bolt asks:

“Doesn’t that scare you that people in charge...have such a hateful view of this country?”

To which Tudge replies:

I am concerned that there are many people [who] only see Australia through a negative lens since European settlement. I think there are many things our forebears didn’t do as well as they could have done and the treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was not great earlier on. [But] it was a very enlightened European settlement... It was a country which was settled with enlightenment principles at mind. We have such prosperity and freedom.

Bolt interjects:

“Yeah, but you’d never know why.”

Tudge agrees:

“You wouldn’t if you listened to some academics and activists on the Left.”

Enlightenment principles, prosperity and freedom. Yes, no doubt Mr Tudge partakes of those. As could the rest of us.

Bolt says:

“Surely this new draft curriculum cannot stand.”

To which Tudge replies:

“I would agree with that. I am deeply concerned about the [year 7-10] history curriculum. There’s almost nothing positive said about Australia... You’d have quite a negative view on Australia and you wouldn’t develop that deep understanding of how we did become that rich, egalitarian, free, liberal democracy that we are today.”

How well do the Howard-Tudge gripes about the national history curriculum stack up?

First, “There's almost nothing positive said about Australia” is like your four-year-old saying, “You never do anything for me”. You know that opening your mouth can only make things worse.

More seriously and very briefly, history is a scientific enquiry, not a ledger of “good” and “bad” entries to be balanced.

Second, “I do get concerned that students don't have a firm understanding of how we did become...”

No easy answer to this one. Bravely, I faced down the proposed new – even more Marxist – curriculum for Year 7-10 history and compared it with the old version.

Here are some verbatim samples.

Year 8 overview of the topic ‘From the ancient world to the modern world’.

Old entry: Students learn about ‘the transformation of the Roman world and the spread of Christianity and Islam’.

Proposed new entry: Students learn about the significant events from the ancient world to the modern world including the transformation of the Roman world and the spread of Christianity and Islam.

Another:

Old entry: Students learn about ‘the emergence of ideas about the world and the place of people in it by the end of the period (such as the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment)’.

Proposed new entry: Students learn about the emergence of ideas about the world such as the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, and the place of significant individuals and people in it that caused change.

Another proposed section says students learn about ‘evaluating the significance of key events that have shaped modern day life, such as religious holidays and political systems (for example, the expansion of the Ottoman Empire, the Magna Carta and the Westminster system)’.

No, clearly nothing there about our Western heritage.

Next, I tackled the proposed Year 9 and 10 curricula: Year 9 students will study WW1 in depth; Year 10s will study World War II (1939–1945) and Rights and freedoms (1945–the present) in depth.

Nope, still nothing.

Finally, the real can of worms — within the hearts and minds of the gatekeepers:

“I’m all in favour of truth-telling,” says Bolt:

“In your opinion, should school children also be taught... what bad things Aborigines did to Aborigines, the tribal massacres of the past, the very high levels of warfare...”

“I think that’s right,” replies Tudge. “I think we should have an accurate assessment.”

“Aboriginal societies,” says Bolt, “like Thomas Malthus (sic) used to say, ‘nasty, brutish and short’, those were not pretty lives, which explains why so few people want to live like that today.”

I’ll set aside the ample research indicating that, on average, ancient hunter-gatherer-gardeners (who survived infancy) lived longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives than did their peasant cousins, let alone the lower-class inhabitants of early city-states.

As a psychologist, I’m more interested in what drives this cold, eye-for-an-eye mentality of the gatekeepers. I could make a few informed guesses. As could the rest of us.

A L Jones is a psychologist and author of several published books and numerous articles on gender politics. 

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