A National Curriculum or Cultural Propaganda?

At a recent function in Naracoorte (in the south east of South Australia) I was asked by a guest to share my thoughts on a national curriculum.

Little did I know that just 24 hours later it was to become the topic of so much political verbiage. According to the media the teachers’ union are opposed to it, the school principals’ association are supportive, Labor is proposing it and the Coalition has some concerns.

Personally, I am supportive of a standardised basic curriculum that incorporates the important skills that are traditionally taught in schools – reading, writing and arithmetic. For too long, these basic skills have been neglected in pursuit of all sorts of fanciful new age learning theories. Unfortunately for many students (and the rest of us), too often these theories never passed the practical common sense test.

When I was a publican, I was astounded when one of my casual employees (a year twelve graduate) was unable to calculate the correct change from a five dollar note without the aid of a cash register.

Surely this is the most basic of skills that children should have mastered by the time they finish year three – not year twelve!

Similarly, you don’t have to look far to see a decline in the standard of handwriting or spelling among our teens. Of course, some of this is due to the ‘computer generation’ but the neglect of these basic skills risks creating a generation of the functioning illiterate.

It astounds me that students can continue to progress through their studies unable to reach an appropriate standard of competency in basic learning areas. Something is clearly not working within our school system and I suspect it is a result of political correctness gone mad.

Too often homework is no longer considered appropriate or, where it is required, it often goes unmarked. In some schools, as long as you are smarter than the most limited of students you are rated above average – even if you might be seriously under-performing against a broader peer group.

These are some of the areas that a national curriculum and standardised testing might help to resolve. Of course, empowering teachers to discipline children appropriately wouldn’t hurt either.

That said, there are some concerns with what the government is proposing. To equate ‘Sorry Day’ with ANZAC Day is offensive to millions of Australians whose relatives served our nation. By focusing history lessons on the displacement of Aborigines and the white Australia policy, whilst virtually ignoring our European heritage, will be considered by many as teaching the ‘black armband’ view of Australia.

And therein lies the risk associated with the national curriculum. It provides a wonderful opportunity for a government to effectively indoctrinate our youth with facts (and fictions) that the government wants them to accept.

To me, this is a significant risk. If you don’t believe that, imagine if some previous governments sought to impose their own ideological belief systems through our school system. We’d have generations committed to all sorts of doomed philosophies or deconstructed realities.

Frankly, our children deserve better than that. They need to develop the basic skills and critical thought they will need to make the best of their own lives and the greatest possible contribution to their community. Not simply for their sake, but for ours too.

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