Sunday, January 20, 2008

Australian kids get distorted and inadequate history lessons

By Christopher Bantick

As we begin to think about celebrating Australia Day, the armbands will be dusted off. There will be the black armbands of shame over European colonisation, and the white armbands triumphantly boasting the nation's achievements won from a hostile land. The symbols of armbands illustrate how increasingly divisive Australian history has become, whether this is the protracted battle of the "history wars", where interpretations of indigenous ownership and colonial occupation have been raging, or the "culture wars" between previous prime minister John Howard's view of the past and Labor's.

Now with Labor in power, a new front has opened over how history is to be taught. While Labor has agreed with the Howard view of the need for a national curriculum, the critical question is: What will it contain? Australian history has become so contentious and politicised that it no longer is a subject of content and commonly agreed facts. Instead, it has morphed into an ideological minefield. Those who lose out are the kids.

Am I overstating the case? Consider this. In New South Wales schools, children as young as eight have been taught, from a government-approved textbook and distributed to NSW schools, the Sorry Song. The song. written by Kerry Fletcher in 1998 for Sorry Day festivities, contains the following words: "If we can't say sorry, to the people from this land, sing, sing loud, break through the silence, sing sorry across this land. We cry, we cry, their children were stolen, now no one knows why."

This is one example where a broad and well-rounded representation of the past has been sacrificed for an ideological position or, more bluntly, the indoctrination of eight-year-olds.

An uncomfortable reality is that there are many children in Queensland classrooms who know little history. They would fail the citizenship test on knowledge about Australia's past and society. Why? They have no factual basis. The assumption is otherwise. As then-immigration minister Kevin Andrews said in May last year: "It is the sort of thing you would expect someone who goes through school in Australia would know by the end of secondary school, and probably in some instances by the end of primary school." Wrong!

But it has not taken federal Labor long to take the high ground over history in the classroom. Where Howard wanted all Year 9 and 10 students to undertake a compulsory and factually-driven Australian history course measured out in a series of milestones, federal Labor has other plans, as Education Minister Julia Gillard indicated through a spokeswoman last week. "Australian history is a critical part of the curriculum and should be included in all years of schooling, not just for a few years in secondary school. The government will work co-operatively with the States and territories through Labor's national curriculum board to implemenmt a rigorous content-based national history curriculum for all Australian students from kindergarten to Year 12."

There is a little word missing here: facts. Moreover, there is no mention of another: chronology. The Labor take on the past sounds like the states will write their own content under broad national guidelines. It is conceivable that students will be receiving- at the whim of teachers and schools - content that although fitting a broad sense of a national curriculum has little national coherence.

Moreover research has consistently shown that children learn most successfully when they can see sequential links and associations. The British Inspectorate of Schools charged with monitoring standards, Ofsted, had this to say last year about students studying topics in isolation. "Children do not understand the chronology of what they have studied and cannot make links between important historical events."

The omission of a factual emphasis and stated chronology in the Labor plan, and let's keep in mind facts are different to content, is at odds with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's preferred position. In July last year, the then-leader of the opposition said: "Our young kids just need to be introduced to the facts in our history and facts in our society and then later on as they move through high school they can start rnaking up their own minds about what is right and wrong."

This view would seem at variance with his deputy Gillard's ideas and, curiously, squares with the Howard attempt to ground children in factual knowledge about the past. The moot point is: What will Labor's national history curriculum include? Children should be taught about their past free from ideological positions and political spin - a point Gregory Melleuish, Associate Professor of Politics at the University of Wollongong, noted in August: "In recent times there has been a move to consider history in political rather than professional terms. Many professional historians are more interested in serving political causes than historical ones."

Moreover, evidence shows that children don't want the politics. The History Teachers Association of NSW, in a submission to a Senate inquiry into school standards in July, noted students do not like politics in the classroom, or indigenous history. HTA executive officer Louise Zarmati said: 'This is a somewhat delicate subject but they don't like the indigenous part of Australian history. The feedback I get is that they are not prepared to wear the guilt. I think it sparks a lot of racism."

The fact is that Australian children are effectively being disenfranchised from knowing about their past while governments bicker about the politics of history. It is a sad indictment on the education system that many grandparents know more about Australian hisdtory than their children and certainly their grandchildren. That is something to worry about.

The article above appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on January 20, 2008

Trendy spiritualism 'breeds unhappiness'

No prizes for guessing which way the votes of the groups mentioned below would go

Young people who embrace trendy, self-focused spiritualism are more anxious and depressed than those who believe in God or reject religion altogether, a survey shows. A major Queensland study of 21-year olds suggests that the shift away from traditional religious beliefs to new-age religions is not making young adults happier.

The survey quizzed 3,705 people on their beliefs in God, higher powers other than God, as well as their church-going habits and other behaviours. Young adults with a belief in a spiritual or higher power other than God were at more risk of poorer mental health and deviant social behaviour than those who rejected these beliefs, said study author Dr Rosemary Aird, a population health researcher at the University of Queensland. Young men who held non-traditional religious views were at twice the risk of being more anxious and depressed than those with traditional beliefs.

"This study suggests that new forms of religiosity demand further research attention to understand the extent that religious change is linked to population mental health and social behaviour among younger generations," Dr Aird said.

The research is believed to be the first in Australia to examine young adults' religious and spiritual thoughts, behaviour and feelings. Dr Aird found only eight per cent of young adults attended church once a week, a trend linked to lower rates of antisocial behaviour among young men, but not females. She said individualism was the common thread in the shift away from traditional religious thoughts to non-religious spirituality. "This focus on self fulfillment and improvement over others' wellbeing could undermine a person's mental health with many people feeling more isolated, less healthy and having poorer relationships," Dr Aird said.

She said so-called new spirituality promotes the idea that self-transformation will lead to a positive and constructive change in self and society. "But there is a contradiction," Dr Aird said. "How can one change society if one is focused on oneself?"



I think that this is basically nonsense. Food GLUTS will remain the problem, as they have for many decades. But it's an interesting bit of backlash. Sometimes you need one bit of nonsense to counteract another -- as we have seen with the revival of nuclear power as an "answer" to so-called global warming

A WORSENING global food shortage is a problem far more urgent than climate change, top Australian scientists have warned. The Australian Science Media Centre briefing heard why prices for some staple foods had risen by as much as 60 per cent in the past year, and how dramatic price rises are expected to sweep across all staples in the near future.

Executive director of the Australian Farm Institute Mick Keogh said dairy products, grain and poultry had seen the strongest price rises in recent months. Beef and lamb were forecast to follow, with nationwide livestock shortages taking the average price for a cow from $700 a head 12 months ago to $1400 a head going into autumn.

Key speaker at the national science briefing Professor Julian Cribb said the security of our food supply is "the global scientific challenge of our time". The problem was more urgent even than climate change, said Professor Cribb, from the University of Technology in Sydney, because it will get us first . . . through famine and war. "By 2050 we will have to feed the equivalent of 13 billion people at today's levels of nutrition," he said. "This situation brings with it the very real possibility of regional and global instability. Investment in global food stability is now defence spending and requires proportionate priority."

A "knowledge drought" - the lack of innovation to address farm productivity challenges - had added to the crisis, Professor Cribb said. He called for a massive increase in public investment in agricultural research and development.

Farmers face challenges posed by drought, climate change, rising oil prices, erosion and nutrient loss combined with more demand for food stocks and biofuels. Global grain stocks have fallen to their lowest level since record-keeping began in 1960, while Australia's sheep flock is at its lowest since the mid-1920s, with about 86 million. In September last year 2007 the Australian Bureau of Statistics found consumers were paying 11.9 per cent more for basic food items than they were two years before. That is almost double the Consumer Price Index rise of 5.9 per cent during the period.


Play portrays Mohammed as a homosexual

You don't believe it? You are right. That would be MOST "incorrect" -- maybe even "racist". In Canada, it would probably get you prosecuted for "hate speech". But mocking Christian beliefs is OK of course

A play that depicts Jesus as a gay man who is seduced by Judas and conducts a gay marriage for two apostles has been condemned by religious leaders as it prepares to open in Sydney. The Anglican Bishop of South Sydney, Robert Forsyth, questioned the integrity of Corpus Christi and expressed his outrage at the "unhistorical and untrue" depiction of the son of God and some of his disciples as homosexual. "It is deliberately, not innocently, offensive and they're obviously having a laugh about it," he said. "It's historical nonsense and I wouldn't want to go and see it. Life's too short."

Australian Family Association spokeswoman Angela Conway said the play's creators had committed "a big enough crime" by neglecting to treat Christianity and Christian believers with more sensitivity. "The ideas are offensive and really border on blasphemous. It's just completely fanciful and self-obsessive," she said.

The play's director, Leigh Rowney, is unrepentant. "I would be surprised if people bothered to protest outside the New Theatre . but if they did, bring it on," Rowney said.

The play, which will open at the New Theatre in Newtown on February 7 as part of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, provoked protests and bomb threats in the US. Death threats were sent to playwright Terrence McNally, who draws parallels between the rejection he faced as a young gay man growing up in Texas and Christ's persecution.

Rowney, a Christian, denied the play mocked Christ but said it would upset some Christians. "I think it humanises Him in a way Christians might find difficult because we like to believe God and the son of God are ultimately divine and above all of us. "I wanted this play in the hands of a Christian person like myself to give it dignity but still open it up to answering questions about Christianity as a faith system."


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