|CPDS Home Contact||A Case for Restoring Universities Moving Australia Beyond Traditional Multiculturalism Christian Foundations of Liberal Western Institutions Where to Start Changing Philosophy|
This document presents a CPDS submission in relation to the proposed National History Curriculum. This suggests that the proposed curriculum, while providing a great deal of information about the diverse traditions that impact on Australia, would not ensure that students gain the understanding of that history needed for success in their emerging environment.
Also attached are documents illustrating the difficulty of judging which information should be presented, including:
Given these difficulties it would seem highly desirable to encourage diversity (rather than uniformity) in school curricula.
In 2015 it seemed that the vacuous nature of Australia's national history curriculum was becoming widely apparent (see Callick R., Sweep of time lost as history focus narrows to sex and movies, The Australian, 18/7/15)
|Information without Understanding +||
Australia's Proposed National History Curriculum:
Information without Understanding?
I should like to express reservations about the proposed national history curriculum.
The basis of my concern is that, while the proposed curriculum would provide students with a huge amount of historical information about the diverse traditions that impact on Australia, it would not provide them with the understanding of that history (especially in terms of how a society's culture and ideas affects history) that they will need to succeed in their emerging environment. These concerns are outlined in more detail below.
By way of background I note that, while I have no involvement as an educator and am by no means a qualified historian, for about 25 years I have attempted to study the relationship between culture and the development of societies (with an initial focus on the relationship between Western and East Asian societies, later extended by passing attention to the Muslim world and aboriginal societies). An overview of some of this is in Competing Civilizations on my web-site.
Outline of Concerns about the Limited Understanding Conveyed by the Proposed National History Curriculum
One of my concerns is that culture is treated as a consequence, rather than a cause, of history. For example, the proposed Year 1 Content Item H1KU4 refers to considering: 'How the roles of individuals and groups have evolved over time to meet changing human needs". The problem is that the curriculum does not seem at any stage to require considering how "roles of individuals and groups" (ie how people behave individually or corporately, as a consequence of their cultural assumptions) can affect history. For example, the ability of societies to change (socially, politically and economically) is a function of the "roles of individuals and groups" within the society, and an ability to change is in turn a major determinant a society's success or failure in terms of technological / economic advancement and influence relative to other societies (eg see Competing Civilizations). And the weak "role of individuals and groups" in dealing with change has apparently created major challenges that still need to be faced by Australians with indigenous ancestry (see The Challenge of Aboriginal Advancement).
A closely related concern is that the curriculum would not provide any depth of understanding of the way in which ideas have influenced history. The curriculum would certainly introduce various historical ideas - specifically those of: (a) Egypt or Greece or Rome (H7KU16); (b) China or India or Australasia (H7KU22); (c) Medieval Europe (H8KU13); (d) the Renaissance (H8KU19); and (e) radicals (H10KU4). However this would not lead to a coherent understanding of:
Professor Stuart Macintyre, who spoke about the history component of the proposed curriculum in ACARA's Video Transcript ('Development and Consultation Overview: K–10 Draft Curriculum’, March 2010) emphasised: engaging those with diverse backgrounds; increasing understanding of Australia's regional context and of others; and promoting sustainability.
However there is a sense in which the proposed curriculum's worthy goal of encouraging acceptance of others as they are, conflicts with the need to understand what works and what doesn't work, and perhaps even the distinction between good and evil.
Moreover functionally-useful understanding of Australia's place in a region in which dominant societies lack the commitment to the abstract ideas and universal values that Western societies derived from the West's classical Greek heritage requires far more than brief references to Asia's history. Without much deeper understanding, cultural differences that are 'invisible' to those with 'Western' world views could put Australia's liberal and democratic traditions at risk (eg see Babes in the Asian Woods).
A reasonable case can be made that many of the dysfunctions and conflicts that plague human societies are the unintended outcome of the failure of intellectuals to critically evaluate the consequences of differences in cultural assumptions (see Competing Civilizations) . It would not be constructive at this time to reflect this weakness in Australia's national school history curriculum.
|Faith in Science and Reason: How Much is Right?||
Attachment A: Faith in Science and Reason: How Much is Right? (Email sent 7/6/10)
Re: 'Subject beyond belief', Courier Mail, 4/6/10
As I interpreted it, your article (which is outlined below) suggested that 'creationism' should not be included in the national history curriculum under the heading of ancient controversies (as is reportedly proposed). Rather you suggested that it should be mentioned only in modern history (ie as a theory that was discredited by the victory of science over belief in the Age of Enlightenment).
However, while some of the proposed curriculum seems to be included indiscriminately and could mislead students, your insistence that only one creation theory should be seriously studied seems unreasonable.
In some respects the proposed national history curriculum seems to reflect a dangerous level of 'open-mindedness' - as it includes information about diverse societies and cultures without ensuring that students come to understand what makes their own society work (eg their classical Greek and Judeo-Christian heritage; and the scientific revolution that was facilitated by the Renaissance). However your articles' insistence that 'evolution theory' is so solidly proven scientifically that it should be included in the curriculum without seriously considering alternatives seems like an example of a 'closed mindedness' - as that theory is not as secure as you suggested.
My reasons for these observations are outlined in more detail below.
Outline of Article and Detailed Argument
Insufficient Faith in Science and Reason
There is no doubt, as the above article argued, that children should be taught what we know; and that things that are known to be false should not be taught.
However there appears to be an emerging crisis in education (especially in the humanities) related to a post-modern unwillingness to discriminate between what can reasonably described as 'truth' (ie a realistic description of how the world works) and ideas that have little basis other than being what people believe to be true. The unfortunately-complex issues involved were:
This problem appears to bedevil the proposed national history curriculum - as the latter would provide students with a huge amount of historical information about the diverse traditions that impact on Australia, but will not necessarily lead them to an understandings of how a society's culture and ideas affect its prospects (see Proposed National History Curriculum: Information without Understanding? March 2010).
Western societies, for example, have succeeded as a result of particular characteristics derived from their history (eg from: their classical Greek and Judeo-Christian heritage, Roman Law, the Renaissance / Reformation / Enlightenment; the scientific revolution; the development of democracy and capitalism; etc) - see Cultural Foundations of Western Strengths (in Competing Civilizations, 2001). Yet the proposed national history curriculum does not seem to make this clear to students, and thus would probably impede Australia's ability to adapt appropriately to its emerging environment. Those who do not understand the foundations of their society can easily neglect some of those foundations, and find that things unexpectedly fall apart around them. The Decay of Australian Public Administration (2002) arguably illustrates this risk.
Thus the proposed national history curriculum may in some respects reflect a potentially-risky level of 'open mindedness'.
Excessive Faith in Science and Reason
By contrast the theory of creation that was endorsed in the above article may reflect a prematurely closed mind. That article suggested that the 'evolution theory' of creation is based on observations of the natural world and can be tested scientifically. Unfortunately the creation theory that was favoured is not as solidly based as the article implied.
In the first place, despite the article's suggestion that intelligent design has been completely discredited, the problem of irreducible complexity (ie how anything as complex as a single cell could emerge from random variations) has currently "put the ball back in the court" of those who advocate purely materialistic theories of creation. There does not yet seem to have been an adequate rebuttal of this objection.
However there are far more fundamental problems.
In the first place, the faith in the reliability of human knowledge that the above article expressed is unrealistic. For example, Is 'science, reason and critical thinking' solid? notes that:
Within their limitations reason and science, like postmodernism, are useful techniques, but those limitations need to be kept in mind.
In particular, science needs to be recognised as a technique for gaining understanding how the universe works (ie what relationships exist) through experimentation. However, for reasons suggested below, science probably can't really help in showing how those relationships came to exist (eg how the universe or anything within it came to be as it is at any point in time, or how it is likely to change / evolve in future).
Science seeks to express relationships in the natural or social world as 'laws' which show how the future state of a system can be predicted from its initial state. Such 'laws' do not, on their own, either explain or appear to permit the changes in relationships that are implicit in the emergence of new order (eg as implied by evolution). Theories of creation through a purely-materialistic process of evolution, envisage change starting with random variations within some system which: (a) make it better adapted to its environment; and (b) are thus preferentially reproduced. However the deterministic laws of physics conserve information, and thus do not permit randomness (ie a loss of information about the system). Thus something more than the 'laws' which science seeks to discover seems necessary to explain changes within any system. Such change appears always to depend on information from outside a given system, and this would render any internal materialistic theory of change inadequate (see Did God design a better argument? and Problems in an Internally Deterministic Worldview).
It is naive to suggest that the truth about human origins was effectively settled by debates in the 19th or early 20th centuries so that educators should now authoritatively teach only one particular creation theory. Until early in the 20th century science had generally taken the view that the universe was unchanging, but the probability that there had actually been a creation event was then recognised when observations showed that the universe was expanding. Progress in science during the 20th century discredited the purely mechanistic understanding of the natural world that had dominated in the 19th century and which out-of-date analysts rely upon in arguing against the possibility of events that can't be explained mechanistically. The limitations on science and human rationality have been increasingly recognised by philosophers. It was only in the 1980s that problem of reconciling changes in the information state of any system with the time-reversible deterministic physical laws (eg the loss of information implicit in the Second Law of Thermodynamics) was recognised,
A much more open minded approach to creation is appropriate than is revealed by the above article.
|Bringing Balanced Understandings about Islam into Australian Schools||
Attachment B: Bringing Balanced Understandings about
Islam into Australian Schools
My attention was drawn to your teacher resource booklet jointly published with the National Centre for Excellence in Islamic Education, through an article in Brisbane's Sunday Mail
Might I respectfully suggest that considerable care is needed in developing any such document to ensure that a balanced perspective is provided, as there seems to be dysfunctional 'baggage' associated with Islam that wouldn't be revealed by Islamic idealism any more than it would be obvious by simply considering radical Islamism. The nature of that 'baggage' (ie politically and economically damaging practical consequences of the world views that have been elaborated around Islam) is speculated in Thoughts on Hizb-ut-Tahrir in Australia.
It is not constructive to simply provide indiscriminate information to teachers without helping them to understand what works and what doesn't work (as argued more generally in relation to Proposed National History Curriculum: Information without Understanding?). More than a 'beginners' approach is necessary in relation to understanding the Muslim world, just as it is in relation to East Asia where a 'beginners' approach seems to be considered sufficient (see Babes in the Asian Woods). Even in meeting the needs of Muslim students, teachers must be aware of more than the ideals of Islam. People are more important than ideology.
I would be interested to learn what steps your Association has taken to ensure a balanced perspective in this document, ie one which takes account of the practical political and economic consequences of Islamic assumptions.
|Australia's National History Curriculum: Making Education Futile and Highlighting the Importance of Christianity?||
Attachment C: Australia's National History Curriculum: Making Education Futile and Highlighting the Importance of Christianity? (email sent 29/12/10)
Re: ‘Christianity has role in learning’, The Australian, 29/12/10
Your article noted the role of Christianity in Australia’s heritage and society, and objected to the fact that it is not mentioned in the proposed National History Curriculum. I should like to suggest that your argument, while valid, does not go anywhere near far enough.
Education is a waste of time unless knowledge can be used effectively in problem solving. In many social and political systems abstract knowledge (and thus education as understood in Australia) is of little value, because for very complex problems rationality doesn’t work well for individuals (as citizens, managers or politicians). The economic and political advantages that Western societies have enjoyed in recent centuries have depended mainly on their ability to create artificially simplified social environments in which individuals can use rationality (and thus their acquired abstract knowledge) for effective problem solving. And creating such simplified problem spaces for individuals has, in turn, depended on widespread Christian adherence in the community, complemented by various social innovations (eg a rule of law).
My reasons for suggesting this are outlined in more detail below.
I submit also that the draft Curriculum may be very useful in achieving your apparent goals. Though clearly not its authors’ intention, the biggest contribution of the proposed Curriculum may ultimately be that its very weakness forces public debate and recognition related to the role of Christianity in Australia’s heritage.
Outline of Article and Detailed Comments
The advantages that Western societies have gained from their unique ability to create artificially simplified environments for rational / responsible decision making is argued in Cultural Foundations of Western Strengths (in Competing Civilizations, 2001). The key point is that the Judeo-Christian tradition places responsibility for the morality of behaviour in individual consciences responsible to God, and thereby allows: (a) the creation of legal and governance systems that presume individual liberty; (b) individuals to confront an economic environment in which rationaliy can work fairly well (though some social innovations are also required to facilitate this) ; and (c) governments to operate on relatively uncomplicated problems (because they are not required to determine the nature of, and enforce, moral behaviour).
Analysts in Western societies have trouble perceiving this advantage, because it is so pervasive in their environment – just as fish presumably have trouble perceiving water as anything special. Thus numerous other factors are seen to explain the success that Western societies have enjoyed in recent centuries. However when one looks at non-Western societies there is an expectation that social elites / communal pressures will enforce moral behaviour. This creates systemic obstacles to rationality (and thus to the practical application of abstract knowledge), and makes the West’s advantages that derive from its Judeo-Christian heritage quite apparent. Under East Asian traditions (for example) the role that Confucian social elites have in determining the nature of, and enforcing, morality makes rationality ineffectual, and entirely different (and authoritarian) systems of socio-political-economy have emerged (see East Asia). While those alternatives have strengths, they also have serious weaknesses (see see Ending the West's Global Predominance?). In Muslim dominated societies, the expectation that communal coercion, rather than individual consciences, will ensure morality seems to be the foundation of chronic authoritarianism and economic backwardness (see Islamic Societies).
The social and economic benefits of education are vastly different depending on whether societies create social environments in which rationality (and thus abstract knowledge) can be useful in individual problem solving. Within the traditional social and political context of some societies (eg tribal societies, Islamic societies) education will produce limited benefits, because there is little to be gained by individuals using abstract knowledge for rational problem solving. In an East Asian context, education is of great value as part of a process of individual or community transformation, but not as a basis for individual rationality.
In Australia, the advent of an officially ‘post-Christian’ environment (as illustrated by the failure of proposed National History Curriculum to mention Australia’s Christian heritage that you drew attention to) has significant practical implications. Numerous social symptoms of declining individual morality are emerging, and diverse groups and individuals are claiming to be the new source of moral authority to combat those evils. They are thus inadvertently putting at risk: (a) the separation between church and state; (b) individual liberty; and (c) the economic and political advantages of that liberty (see Moral Foundations of Individual Liberty).
In relation to various matters mentioned in your article it is further noted that:
|Attachment D: A Big Picture View of Problems in Maths Curriculum||
A Big Picture View of Problems in Maths Curriculum - email sent 18/7/12
Professor Norman Wildberger
Re: Ferrari J.,New maths course inadequate, The Australian, 18/7/12
I should like to suggest for your consideration that the problems that you have identified in the proposed new national curriculum for Year 11 and 12 maths are likely to have a systemic cause which implies a need for a different curriculum development process. While this will not be immediately obvious, the cause of the problem is likely to be the biases that limit the effectiveness of ‘rational’ centralised decision making.
Your reported criticism was that "The draft national curriculum replaces core material such as algebra, geometry, and applications of calculus with a lot of advanced statistics and, for the higher strand, tertiary-level topics”. As an engineer who has done a lot of work related to the social sciences, it seems to me that the proposed national curriculum is biased towards to needs of (say) social science and medical research in which statistics play a major role, at the expense of the algebra / geometry / calculus needs of the applied sciences and engineering.
It can be noted that the national history curriculum contains a similar dysfunctional bias (see Proposed National History Curriculum: Information without Understanding?, 2010). And, as with the proposed national maths curriculum, this bias reflects a lack of concern for practical issues.
In both these cases the problem is arguably that reform proposals have been developed (and in one case already implemented) on the basis of a particular point of view, and this has not taken account of other considerations that are outside the expertise and experience of the persons involved. In relation to this, it is further noted that:
A better approach to developing curriculum (as with the other concerns above) would involve a shift away from centralised attempts to make ‘decisions’ towards centralised efforts to identify the issues requiring change while encouraging proposed responses to emerge from existing practitioners. This would ensure that new curriculum would build on existing strengths while taking into account new requirements, rather than being biased towards the central decision maker’s perception of the new requirements while potentially eliminating existing strengths that are not centrally understood.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations.
|Attachment E: Big History||
Big History - email sent 7/11/12
Professor David Christian
RE: Big History: why we need to teach the modern origin story, The Conversation, 7/11/12
I noted with interest your outline of the moves towards teaching Big History. However I suggest caution because of
I should like to submit for your consideration that (if authority in relation to explaining how ‘everything came to be’ is expected to emerge from modern science) there is a very real risk of teaching an inadequate ‘creation myth and origin story’. There are problems at the heart of modern science which limit its ability to provide useful information about how things came to be, even though it is very useful in discovering how things are (see How solid are 'science, reason and critical thinking'?).
Another point that is worth considering is the incompatibility between the notion of a ‘universal origin story’ through Big History and the intellectual traditions that underpin the East Asian societies that are presumed to be the core of the so-called Asian Century – as the latter are based on rejection of the abstract concepts and ‘universals’ that have been the foundation of Western societies (eg see Epistemology: The Core Issue abd Competing Thought Cultures).
My 2010 speculations about what might need to be emphasised in teaching history in Australia based on the sorts of issues outlined above are in Proposed National History Curriculum: Information without Understanding?
I would be interested in your response to my speculations.
|F: Ending 'Politically Correct' Education||
Ending 'Politically Correct' Education - email sent 15/1/14
Re: Crowe D., Pyne tackles ‘bias’ in classrooms, The Australian, 10/1/14
You were quoted as suggesting that there is a ‘cultural Left’ bias in Australia’s national school’s curriculum, and that there is a need to restore a more orthodox curriculum.
However, while there are undoubtedly seriously dysfunctional biases in the current national school’s curriculum, the solution is not to formulate yet another national curriculum (which would inevitably be seen to reflect a different set of biases). Rather the possibility of bias should be eliminated altogether by: (a) ensuring that there is no official / enforceable ‘national’ curriculum; and (b) encouraging the emergence of a diversity of competing curricula supported by research bodies that approach curriculum issues from various viewpoints.
There is no doubt that the new national curriculum suffers serious deficiencies. For example, it fails to ensure that students would appreciate how and why Australia’s fairly successful liberal institutions emerged (eg see Proposed National History Curriculum: Information without Understanding?, 2010+). And by doing so the national curriculum ignorantly risks undermining the very purposes of education as it has been understood in Australia (see What Should be the Core of the Curriculum?). In Western societies the purpose of education is to enable students to understand as a basis for rational decision making as citizens / employees / employers / administrators / politicians. This is by no means the traditional purpose of education everywhere (eg see Education in ‘Asia’ and About Arabic Thought and Islamic Science). Moreover ‘understanding’ is only likely to lead to practical benefits in the liberal social, economic and political institutional settings that resulted from the historical influences that actually determined the way Australia’s institutions work – noting the limits on rationality / understanding that are widely seen to exist in complex situations.
Centralization of control is a major source of the increasingly obvious problems that governments in Australia have been experiencing – because of: (a) the limits to rationality; and (b) the reduced scope for decentralized / collaborative rational initiative based on individual understanding that has been the strength of Western societies (see Centralization is Part of the Problem: Not the Solution). This problem is just as severe in school curricula as it is in other government functions. Irrespective of whether a ‘national curriculum’ is based on the biases of the ‘cultural Left’ or seeks vainly to be ‘free of partisan bias’, the rigidity of a ‘politically correct’ way of teaching complex topics that need to be viewed differently for different purposes and are likely to change constantly (ie the rigidity of a ‘national curriculum’) is a major obstacle to an effective education system.
The desirability of avoiding a ‘politically correct’ way of teaching can be illustrated by specific issues mentioned in the article outlined above, ie:
|G: Contributions to Western Civilization||
Contributions to Western Civilization. - email sent 18/1/14
Dr Meredith Doig
Re: Should we teach more religion in schools?, Online Opinion, 17/1/14
I was interested in your suggestion about the need to carefully consider whether (say) the Judeo-Christian tradition and / or the Enlightenment had made the greatest contribution to Western civilisation. However I suggest that the issue is more complex than your (very brief) comments suggested.
As you pointed out the moral principles embodied in Christianity are by no means unique.
However what is unique to the Judeo-Christian tradition, and critically important in achieving liberté, egalité , fraternité in ways that the French Revolution did not, is that compliance with those moral principles is left to individual consciences responsible to God (eg see Luke 6:37) – rather than being enforced by human authorities or communal coercion (see Christian Foundations of Liberal Western Institutions, 2010). The notion of a ‘secular’ state (ie one that deals with everything but religion) follows from Jesus’ teaching (eg see Keeping Religion out of Australian Politics, 2009 and Comment’s on Church’s Mission) and does not seem to exist outside the sphere of ‘Christendom’.
Liberté, egalité , fraternité were no means a feature of (say) Confucianism despite its endorsement of a form of the Golden Rule. Mao’s Cultural Revolution was apparently primarily intended to purge Confucianism from China because it was seen to have oppressed Chinese people (eg see Communism Versus Confucianism: The Continuing Contest in China, 2011). Rome had a system of law that was backed by force (and at times the claims to moral authority by ‘divine’ emperors) which was unable to withstand the spread of Jesus’ teachings. The contributions of ancient Greek philosophers led in many different directions. For example:
And while the Enlightenment was indeed an important feature of Western history it can be noted that a reasonable case for a Christian origin of universal education has recently been made by an Indian writer (see Mangalwadi V., The Book that Made Your World). And the Enlightenment world-view or the power of rationality and science is in some need of reconsideration (see How solid are 'science, reason and critical thinking'?).
I should also like to draw your attention to: (a) some observations about the proposed review of the National Curriculum are in Ending 'Politically Correct' Education; and to (b) suggestions about issues involved in religious education in Religious Education: The Need for a Bigger Picture View.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations.