Monday, March 1, 2010

Time to put on the Dunce Cap, Christopher

Today Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard announced the draft National Curriculum. To see the curriculum you have to log on (they want feed back), but it is a very impressive document – covering Maths, Science, English and History from Kindergarten to Year 10.

The release of the curriculum was prefaced by a report on Saturday by Justin Ferrari of The Australian that will no doubt go towards her entry in the competition to be the most rabidly anti-Government journalist (a very competitive field that one):

Curriculum puts Dreamtime first

SCHOOL students will learn about Aboriginal Dreamtime stories, Chinese medicine and natural therapies but not meet the periodic table of elements until Year 10 under the new national science curriculum.

The curriculum, obtained by The Weekend Australian, directs that students from primary school through to Year 10 be taught the scientific knowledge of different cultures, primarily indigenous culture, including sustainable land use and traditional technologies.

Talk about your nods to the right wing talk-back radio shows. Yes dear concerned parents, your children won’t be learning science, they’ll be learning mumbo jumbo. They won’t learn the table of elements until Year 10?? How horrendous, I mean back when I learnt it in 1986 I was in..err… oh.. yeah, Year 10. In fact Year 10 is when most students learn it, and have always learned it.

But what’s this about Chinese medicine and Dreamtime stories?? Here is the part from the Science curriculum for Year 7:

    Science and culture

    • identifying health issues, including cultural lifestyle diseases, in a range of communities and how traditional cultural and scientific knowledge can help address these

    • researching how some traditional practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples related to sustainable hunting or harvesting are the result of observational evidence gathered over long periods of time and are related to current knowledge of the details of some plant or animal life cycles

    • researching seasonal calendars of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, investigating and identifying regularly occurring features of the local environment and weather and comparing Indigenous seasonal calendars with Western notions of seasons in Australia

    • researching Aboriginal X-ray art to investigate Aboriginal knowledge of the internal biology and physiological processes of animals

    • researching traditional Chinese knowledge of the structure and function of human body systems

    Not much new there – I can remember learning about the hunting and gathering practises - but damn!! That’s all they’re going to teach our kids in science in Year 7?? Err well, not quite. Here’s the rest of the curriculum for that year:

      Nature of science

      • evaluating media and product claims about nutrition and exercise in terms of knowledge about the structure and function of relevant body systems

      • explaining how knowledge of the details of the life cycle of a particular plant or animal may influence choices we make about human interference in habitats or ecosystems, such as draining of wetlands

      • comparing the advantages and disadvantages of energy resources such as wind, solar, tidal, geothermal and hydroelectric (eg using wind turbines to generate electricity)

      • debating the use of non-renewable energy resources including coal, oil, gas and uranium

      • critiquing claims made in a range of media about issues relating to use of energy resources

      • reflecting on use of knowledge about renewable and non-renewable energy sources to choose the most appropriate energy services for homes and schools

      • investigating the quality of recycled water and comparing it to untreated dam water to evaluate claims about water quality

      • determining the biodegradability of a range of packaging from different fast food chains and researching how the use of plastics in packaging has changed as a result of increased awareness of the problems with disposal of plastics

        Influence of science

      • explaining how public health recommendations such as hand washing, dental hygiene, nutrition and exercise are based on an understanding of body systems

      • identifying how some regulations regarding animal and human health care are based on knowledge of animal growth and reproduction, eg the timing of ‘de-sexing’ in the life cycle of a pet

      • explaining how rules about the importation of some foodstuffs into Australia are related to knowledge of the life cycles of organisms which may cause disease in Australian plants and animals

      • researching the basis of published energy efficiency ratings for household appliances that are used to guide purchases

      • investigating recycling guidelines by comparing the properties of plastics that can be recycled with those that cannot

      • identifying how scientific understanding of human body systems informs society's response to public health issues such as flu pandemics and child obesity

          Science careers

          • identifying careers that involve application of the science of the human body (eg medical practitioner, nutritionist, fitness trainer, physiotherapist)

          • explaining how knowledge of the life cycle of a particular plant or animal may influence the practices of an agriculturalist

          • identifying careers that involve applications of the science of the atmosphere and hydrosphere (eg meteorologist, marine geologist, oceanographers)

          • identifying how engineers use knowledge of heat transfer to design more efficient power stations

          • researching different ways oil spills are cleaned up by environmental authorities

              Contribution of scientists

              • recognising the importance of Australian scientists in medical research and intervention and in developing medical equipment (eg in developing and applying our understanding of human body systems)

              • identifying the way in which scientists from Australia and elsewhere continue to make major contributions to scientific knowledge about the El Nino Effect and how it influences local weather patterns

              • researching the work of Australian scientists and engineers working in the field of renewable energy, eg at the National Solar Energy Centre

              • describing the work of Professor Graeme Clark and his team of Australian scientists involved in the invention of effective ‘bionic ear’

              • researching the work of Aboriginal Australian David Unaipon and his contribution to agriculture

              I know it was a long read, and I understand if you skipped some of it, but I put it there just to show that focussing on one aspect is a very, very silly way to examine this curriculum. Take a look at Year 3 Science: again Aboriginal practices gets a mention:

              Science and culture
              • researching or interviewing to understand Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peoples’ knowledge of the local natural environment (eg knowledge of the characteristics and life cycles of local plants and animals)

              • researching contemporary and historical examples of different cultures’ knowledge about astronomy (eg the ancient Egyptians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples)

              • exploring the art of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to identify recorded changes in living things over time (eg images of thylacines found in Aboriginal art sites on mainland Australia)

              • researching the use of fire by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to promote new plant growth

              • researching features of the day and night sky as described in the stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

              It’s an absolutely fascinating way to introduce science to kids – in no way does it try to say that the Dreamtime is “scientific”, but rather it shows that by looking at images and artefacts from the past we can discover scientific things – like when certain animals died out or migrated to certain places. It’s actually a very sophisticated way of learning.

              And again it is not all the Grade 3s will be learning in science:

              Influence of science
              • researching the work of a scientist who has contributed to the way we live today (eg Otto Wichterle and the development of the contact lens)

              • researching a famous astronomer (eg Copernicus or Galileo) and the way their work changed our understanding of astronomy

              Nature of science
              • investigating how fossil evidence allows predictions to be made about the past (eg about the appearance and behaviour of ancient plants and animals)

              • researching and describing what particular scientists might research and problems they might solve (eg botanists, zoologists)

              • comparing how students' own investigations could resemble the work of a scientist (eg “being a botanist” when investigating the parts of plants and how they grow)

              Science in the community
              • investigating how people can use scientific knowledge to act responsibly (eg to care for living things and their local environment)

              • interviewing a member of the local community about their work and identifying aspects which involve science (eg cook, gardener, veterinarian, doctor, jeweller)

              Once again you see that what we have here is an incredibly sophisticated way of learning.

              The response to the curriculum from the loony right was led off by former LNP Queensland candidate, Scott Driscoll, now National Executive Director of the The Retailers Association. He put out a media release even before the curriculum was released – displaying an amazing ability to believe everything he reads in the newspapers, a complete inability to think for himself, and a belief that you can draw conclusions without seeing the full evidence (a rather odd position on education policy one would think). His media release stated:

              Reports out about the proposed national curriculum have indicated that students will now be instructed to learn about Aboriginal Dreamtime stories, Chinese medicine and natural therapies, but not even be shown the periodic table of elements until Grade 10 when it comes to science education.

              Scott Driscoll, National Executive Director of The Retailers Association has said that the new national curriculum is “one of the most absurd and politically correct pieces of public policy in living memory” and exists at the expense of real and sustainable outcomes for better education. Mr Driscoll has called on all Australian parents to join with him is seeking immediate amendments for the sake of students and their future employment prospects.

              Perhaps parents might prefer Scott Driscoll stop being a Liberal Party shill and care a bit more about the working conditions and wages of the school kids working for his members…

              However, just when you thought that would be the dumbest response of the day, out came Chris Pyne:

              "The national curriculum appears quite unbalanced as it stands at the moment,'' he told reporters in Adelaide today. "We have a seemingly over-emphasis on indigenous culture and history and almost an entire blotting out of our British traditions and British heritage. I am deeply concerned that Australian students will be taught a particular black armband view of our history without any counterbalancing.”

              "I know that the Government will immediately demand that the Opposition retract from its views that indigenous culture has been over-emphasised and there will be an attempt to snub a debate ... there will be false claims of racism by the Government in order to shut down debate.''

              "The national curriculum is unbalanced, the national curriculum won't give young Australians confidence about their future because it doesn't teach them the ... balanced truth about their past. What the Government has announced I think is an accident waiting to happen. Mr Pyne said the draft curriculum had 118 references to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture but none of the Westminster parliamentary system or the Magna Carta, on which Australia's laws were based.

              You get that – Pyne has counted up the number of time Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander culture is mentioned, and based his assessment on that. What a complete dill. Perhaps there is a more stupid way to evaluate a document, but it escapes me at the moment… of course I did get past Year 10, I’ll be kind and assume Pyne did, though I suspect he must have been one of those students who slips between the cracks and gets right the way through his education without actually learning anything. 

              OK, Chris, let’s have a look at the History part of the curriculum – quickly now:

              Year 3:

              Knowledge and Understanding

              1. Our community

              The ways of life, beliefs and practices of traditional owners of country

              2. Our community

              Key changes and continuities in the local community, region or state: who lived there in the past; how they made their livings; how they explored and settled; how they developed communities; how transport changed; how schools changed; how parks and gardens were developed; and how entertainment, lifestyle, religion and beliefs evolved

              3. Our community

              The significance of an important heritage site or a site of cultural or spiritual significance in the local community, region or state, such as a place (land/sea), war memorial, town hall, church or museum

              4. We remember

              The significance of selected celebrations, commemorations, symbols and emblems that are important to communities, cultures or groups, states and territories

              5. We remember

              Reasons for particular days and weeks being marked as celebrations, or as commemorations of events of national significance, including Australia Day, Anzac Day, Sorry Day

              6. We remember

              The meaning and significance of emblems and symbols of the nation including the national flag, the Aboriginal flag, the Torres Strait Islander flag and the Australian national anthem

              Yes learning about war memorials, symbols, events of national significance including Australia Day, Anzac Day, Sorry Day (bloody hell! 33% of those are about Aborigines!!) is just horribly “politically correct”.

              What about later on? Try Year 4:

              1. First Australians

              The diversity of cultures, beliefs, languages and social organisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the past

              2. First Australians

              The significance of the Dreaming and the perspectives and meaning in Dreaming stories

              3. First Australians

              The contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to the Australian nation

              4. Early contacts

              Early European and Asian contact with Australia

              5. Early contacts

              Navigators and explorers charting the Australian continent and other parts of the world up to the early nineteenth century

              6. Early contacts

              The story of the journey and arrival of the First Fleet

              7. Early contacts

              The early contact experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and Europeans, including impacts on environment and livelihood

              8. Early contacts

              Aspects of the daily life of a person or group from the period such as a child in early Sydney, male and female convicts, Aboriginal peoples at Sydney Cove, as reflected in sources such as buildings, stories, songs, diaries, official documents, paintings and artefacts

              So hang on, there’s three sections on Aboriginals and Torres Straight islanders, and five about European settlement and exploration??? Well hell Chris, no wonder you’re so annoyed!

              Oh look let’s go to Year 5, things must get really Aboriginal focussed by then:

              1. Colonial lives

              An overview of continuity and change in the development of colonial Australia

              2. Colonial lives

              The founding, character and activities of a convict or colonial settlement in Australia, including aspects of daily life

              3. Colonial lives

              Stories of significant individuals or groups that played an important role in the development of a colony

              4. Colonial lives

              A key event that demonstrates a milestone in Australia’s colonial history

              5. Stories of nationhood

              The stories of Australia’s federation

              6. Stories of nationhood

              Australia’s form of government and how representative it was at the time

              7. Stories of nationhood

              An overview of how Australia’s form of government compared with other nations and the different stories of their path to nationhood

              Hang on!!!! What the hell? Where’s all the Aboriginal stuff? And what’s this rot about Australia’s form of government and federation??? Chris Pyne told me there was none of that in the curriculum, and it’s not like he would be so obtuse as to miss a phrase like “Australia’s form of government and how representative it was at the time”. But I guess in Pyne’s brain, unless it actually mentions the phrase “Westminster” then obviously it won’t teach it when teaching about “Australia’s form of Government”.

              Last one – Year 6, surely the political correctness goes mad there:

              1. Australia, the British Empire and Asia

              The character of the British Empire, Australia’s place in it, links to Empire and the significance of Australia’s British heritage

              2. Australia, the British Empire and Asia

              Australia’s links with the Asia-Pacific region

              3. Australia, the British Empire and Asia

              Other countries’ perceptions of Australia in the early twentieth century

              4. New Australians

              The development of a culturally diverse society through journeys to Australia over time (eg gold seekers and refugees from wars)

              5. New Australians

              Stories of groups of people who journeyed to Australia during the twentieth century and the reasons for their journeys, such as World War II and Australian migration programs

              6. New Australians

              Contributions of migrants to Australian life in areas such as the arts, medicine, science, hospitality, inventions and education

              7. New Australians

              A particular migrant narrative

              What the hell????????

              The character of the British Empire, Australia’s place in it, links to Empire and the significance of Australia’s British heritage

              Did Pyne even read the damn thing before he commented on it?? Because that doesn’t quite square with his comment that:

              "We have a seemingly over-emphasis on indigenous culture and history and almost an entire blotting out of our British traditions and British heritage.”

              Bart_Simpson_Blackboard Look I’m sorry I’ve copied out such large slabs, but the thing is you can’t just judge this curriculum on news reports (or blogs). You really should go read it – at least give it a skim – it is a big policy document, it is an important document, and anyone who knows anything about education policy knows that a hell of a lot of thought and care has gone into it. To come out like Chris Pyne has and throw out  mind numbingly meaningless and ignorant statistics about how many times a certain phrase is used is nothing more than a dog whistle to the right-wing talk back radio hosts.

              It is dishonest and gutter politics, and it also displays by Pyne a complete lack of ability to intelligently debate education policy. Not only should he wear the dunce cap, he should also be forced to write out 100 times: “I should not talk about things I don’t understand” (but then I doubt we’d ever hear from him again…)


              DJ Maths said...

              Great article, Grogs - History teaching is of particular interest to me, and I always found the emphasis on Australian Colonial History strange. It looks like the new curriculum will firmly centre this in a World view, which won't make it any more exciting, but at least will emphasise the themes that link it into more interesting things.

              LH said...

              I hope there's something in there that'll let them dredge up that old pile of "black arm-band view of history" malarky one more time, because that's one debate this country really needs to have again.

              Also, you've left out the most interesting question: what does Gerard Henderson think about this?? I for one can't wait to find out.

              C@tmomma said...

              Look, admit it, Christopher Pyne has always been a tool. Now he's a fool as well.
              Jesus, can you imagine what a History curriculum would look like if he was our Education Minister?
              Lots of tugging forelocks and drooling over the Monarchy, and Judeo-Christian philosophy. And, a combination of the two, 'King Tony Roolz, OK!'

              Red Star Cycles said...

              so this new curricullum appears to directly attack some of our most cherished and universal beliefs in an effort to teach some Aboriginal point of view. I'm especially concerned that we will be teaching kids, Australian kids, that the Aborigines had diffenent seasons to Europe. Taken to its logical conclusion this kind of nonsense will see kids in Darwin taught about the various wet and dry seasons that Aboriginal people believe in and will directly challenge the concept that the ground is snow-covered on 25 December.

              Anonymous said...

              The most important lesson one learns in history studies is how to understand and interpret sources. The truth is *never* known, what is known is what was recorded, and there is *always* bias--you can't help it even if you try. Things like ethnicity, class, education, religion, personal morality, prejudices and political persuasion of the recorder will always colour his/her view. Teaching children the indigenous POV and the colonial POV of the same piece of history is extremely important to illustrate this, and I really hope this is what is actually being done. In school, the closest I got to viewing the world from an indigenous POV was 'The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith'--in English, not History.

              jonowee said...

              What's this?! The right concerned about science, wow... I'm gobsmacked.
              I can't remember having science classes in Year 7 (WA 1999), and to have the draft National Curriculum offer Year 3 kids an introduction to different aspects of scientific evidence; by all means don't let the Coalition, FFP or CDP get in the way.

              And again what's this yacking from the right who now seem so concerned about science; make it seem like the periodic table will kept in secret under lock and key, redacted from textbooks and be unspoken of. I guess those posters at the back of the classrooms in the science block with those squares will have to be burnt now for the new Nat. Curri..

              Balance... one of the most cringeworthy words to me. Whether it be in modern day journalism or certain UN investigation reports; why does it have to be balanced. If the new curriculum has the Tasmanian Black Line, does it have to be balanced with Jesus came down on a horse to tell them to not kill all of them and to never call it ethnic cleansing.