Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christianity not mentioned in proposed national history curriculum

The draft national curriculum for history opened an exciting prospect. Here was a chance, I thought, to defend the honour of Christianity amid the cut and thrust of educational theory, pitting myself against the intricate arguments of those who would deny, or at least downplay, the greatness of the influence of Christianity in the unravelling of the great events of the ages.

Yet the compilers of the draft curriculum have chosen the simplest strategy of all: deliberate, pointed, tendentious and outrageous silence. In its 20 pages, the draft ancient history curriculum mentions religion twice. There is no reference to Christianity anywhere in the document.

The draft modern history curriculum is 30 pages long. Christianity is simply never mentioned, at least not explicitly. The word religion appears twice, the first occurrence in the context of Indian history, the second in the context of Asian and African decolonisation. However the precise phrase in which it is found discloses the agenda of the compilers: "The effect of racism, religion and European cultures." This, surely, is an oblique mention of Christianity and a judgment upon it at the same time.

The English philosopher Roger Scruton took the word oikophobia and gave it a new meaning. Oikophobia literally means fear of one's own home, but Scruton nicely adapted it to mean "the repudiation of inheritance and home", the contemptuous rejection of everything that one's parents and grandparents respected, fed by the vanity of a new and supposedly enlightened way of looking at the world.

The name of Christianity is particularly odious to those oikophobes for whom the hope of a multinational and God-free world stands in the place of the dream of a promised land. For such people Christianity has brought more misery than relief, more gloom than joy, more war than peace, more hatred than love.

And - let us be honest - they can produce evidence to support all those opinions. They can point to the massacres of the Crusades, the use of torture and connivance at capital punishment by the Inquisition, the ruthless eradication of the Albigensians, the Thirty Years War, apparent indifference (in some places) to slavery, the treatment of the Jews throughout European history, the fighting in Northern Ireland, the brutish behaviour of certain clergy towards children.

But against that - if they are honest - they will have to acknowledge that all the evil deeds done by men professing themselves Christian have been counterbalanced by all the good things that have been done in the name of Christ.

The systematic care of the poor, the relief of prisoners, the establishment of hospitals, schools and universities, the self-sacrificing saintliness of many clergy, active resistance to the bullying of civil authorities, the amelioration and ultimately the prohibition of slavery, and the improvement of the lot of women (yes, that too) . . . all these things have emerged within a society that has been predominantly Christian.

Even today, in the shadow land of the post-Christian era, there are many who insist on calling themselves Christians still who have abandoned the faith but maintain a firm commitment to what they rightly regard as the "Christian ethic".

Yet the draft curriculum in history avoids all of this. It is almost completely silent on the whole matter of Christianity. It chooses to ignore a worldwide religious movement that has marched with civilisation for 2000 years, infusing it with a morality that has shaped the thinking of the whole of society, including the minds of those who lost the faith but clung to the moral view. This omission is not just careless, it is staggeringly inept and profoundly dishonest.

What would an honest and inclusive curriculum look like? It would recognise the enormous influence of religion in the world since late antiquity.

Moreover, being an Australian curriculum, intended for students in Australian schools, it would not pretend to the possibly laudable but utterly impossible task of giving all the world's cultures and religions equal coverage, but will acknowledge that, like it or loathe it, Christianity has been the dominant faith and moral mentor for our nation since white settlement began, that many indigenous people have embraced it too, and that the more recent waves of settlers - including Muslims and Hindus - have scarcely been unaffected by it. It would be good to see our society honestly facing up to the implications of its own heritage, and mature enough to recognise the good alongside the bad, and wise enough to see that amid the imperfections of any human organisation there is much to take pride in.

For believers, though, the reality is that the incarnation of Christ was and is the greatest event in human history, and that this greatness is not simply a matter of degree, but it is a kind of an absolute and ultimate truth by which alone the significance of all other events must be judged.

Many unbelievers cannot but be angered by such assurance, and we should not be surprised or disappointed by a savage response to such claims.

Many of those most bitterly opposed to Christianity have perhaps sensed that we are on the ropes, utterly nonplussed by this apathy, and are determined to continue to wage that kind of war of attrition in the hope that we shall simply and finally melt away. My suspicion is that some of the framers of the curriculum are driven by such a plan, perhaps consciously, perhaps by instinct.

Many other people of goodwill, non or anti-Christian in their orientation, are willing enough to face us on the field of debate and controversy. Such people may indeed admire and respect aspects of Christianity, while rejecting all or most of its metaphysical tenets.

In many such men and women I think I can see - excuse the presumption - the characteristics of the unconverted St Augustine: all too often they bark against a faith they have not troubled (or have not been able, through the scandal of our failings and our own poor example) to understand.

Clearly it is the best interest of the Christian religion boldly and confidently to face the challenge of those who would with equal confidence contest the veracity and integrity of our claims.

To take the battle vigorously to the critic's gates, to emerge thus from the slough of indifference that now threatens to swallow us, is our best hope.


Federal government plan to liberate schools

Any decentralization of power should be good. A bit surprising from a Leftist government, though

SCHOOLS will become self-governing under a Labor plan that hands responsibility for budgets and hiring teachers to principals and school councils. The plan would also hold them accountable for student performance.

In a move that would comprehensively reshape the nation's education system, the federal government is proposing a model of school governance based on the way independent schools operate, turning government and Catholic schools into "autonomous" institutions.

In a briefing paper submitted to a meeting of state education ministers at the beginning of the month, the federal government outlined a plan for autonomous schools to become the standard by 2018 in the government and non-government sectors. "The aim of the initiative is to facilitate systemic national reform to establish autonomous school operation as the norm across all Australian education sectors, with schools predominantly being self-governing," it says.

The paper says increasing school autonomy will "improve student performance by providing principals, parents and school communities a greater input into the management of their local school".

The plan goes further than the model outlined by Julia Gillard in the election campaign that proposed "empowering local schools" by giving principals and parents a greater say over selecting and employing teachers, and identifying funding priorities.

The idea of self-governing schools resembles the charter school movement in the US of publicly funded, but privately run, schools open to all students.

The plan is yet to be considered by education ministers. A spokeswoman for School Education Minister Peter Garrett, who is on leave, said the briefing paper was noted at the ministerial council meeting and a working group would be established in the new year, with members from states and territories, which would consult widely. "The government remains committed to delivering greater autonomy to school communities and won't pre-empt the work to be completed by the working party," she said.

But the Australian Education Union, representing public schools, yesterday accused the government of privatising the public education system.

AEU federal president Angelo Gavrielatos said school autonomy was just a slogan and there was no evidence that increasing the control of principals and school boards improved student achievement. "Why is the government hell bent on taking the word public out of education?" he said.

"Make no mistake, this is a privatisation agenda. "When I hear the words 'local autonomy' uttered by governments, I can't help but think that what they are granting principals and teachers is nothing more than the freedom to obey. "They want to give us the autonomy to do the plumbing and fix faulty powerpoints while dictating that when reporting on student achievement, we can only use five letters of the alphabet, A to E."

The brief provided to the ministers outlines a two-phase implementation process, with 1000 schools to participate in an initial rollout in 2012 and 2013, with the selected schools to come from every state and territory and a third from regional areas.

In the second phase of the proposal, the rest of the nation's schools will be "offered the opportunity to increase their level of local independence" as part of a national rollout by 2018.

The proposal envisages a nationally agreed statement of criteria defining the "essential elements of autonomous school operation" and an assessment process by which schools are selected to participate.

A similar approach has been adopted by the West Australian government, which introduced independent public schools, with 34 starting this year and a further 64 to start next year. Boards are established to govern the schools, with principals having control over the hiring of staff and a one-line budget, allowing them to decide how to spend their money. The ACT is moving to a similar system and Victoria has operated a system of self-managed schools since the late 1990s.

Victoria's reforms, introduced by the Kennett Liberal government, were intended to go further and allow self-governing schools, which would have made them the employer - not just the selector - of teachers and responsible for industrial negotiations. But only 50 of about 1600 schools agreed to the proposal and it was dropped by the Bracks Labor government. Former premier Jeff Kennett said yesterday "the unions got to Bracks" and stopped the rollout of his original scheme.

Mr Kennett said he still believed it was the best way to run schools in the public system, by giving principals and school councils full control.


NSW Premier's shocking abuse of power

The face of a Leftist crook

Public servants have been gagged from giving evidence to the parliamentary inquiry into Labor's power privatisation in Premier Kristina Keneally's latest desperate bid to stymie scrutiny of the sale. The move follows her attempts last week to scuttle the hearings by closing Parliament two months early.

Committee chairman Fred Nile accused Ms Keneally of using "brutal force" to shut the inquiry but vowed he would not be stopped from finding the truth about the $5.3 billion sale.

Ms Keneally said yesterday the Auditor-General had started his investigation into the midnight electricity sell-off. But voters won't see that report until after the March election because the Auditor-General's reports must be tabled in Parliament, which Ms Keneally closed early.

And that is where Mr Nile's inquiry could embarrass the Government - it reports back on January 31, possibly giving the Opposition and Greens ammunition leading into the state election.

Ms Keneally yesterday referred to Crown Solicitor's advice - given in 1994 - that witnesses would not be offered parliamentary privilege if they appeared at Mr Nile's inquiry because it had no legal standing. "That would not be a situation in which we would have public servants attending an inquiry," she said.

But despite relying all week on that legal advice, Ms Keneally has now gone back to the Crown Solicitor's office to ask if it was still relevant and correct. Depending on the response, which won't come until after January 10, the inquiry could be ruled legal.

In the meantime, Ms Keneally said the Auditor-General had broad powers to consider whether the "activities of government are being carried out effectively, economically, efficiently and in compliance with all relevant laws. I am quite confident this transaction stands up to that scrutiny," she said.

Mr Nile, who is determined his committee will meet on January 17, asked what Ms Keneally was "afraid of". "If she has nothing to hide or nothing to fear, then why did she prorogue Parliament early and why is she gagging public servants from giving evidence?" he said. "It's like she is using brutal force to try to stop the inquiry."

Mr Nile said he was aware that the eight directors who quit the boards of Delta and Eraring over the sale were "ready and willing" to speak.

Public Servants Association assistant secretary Steve Turner said he was not happy with the sale. "We would welcome an inquiry to look into it and if a proper inquiry occurs then public servants should legally be able to give evidence," he said.


More proof of global cooling

"Unprecedented" floods in Queensland. Warmists say that warming causes drought so ....

The "unprecedented" floods inundating cities and towns in Queensland may not recede for up to 10 days, evacuated residents have been warned. And with hundreds more evacuations to come today, the focus of concern is turning to the central Queensland city of Rockhampton, where a peaking Fitzroy River could threaten 500 homes.

The flooding has also claimed its first victim, with the body of a 50-year-old man found in a swollen creek at Mareeba in north Queensland. Police say he may have drowned on Christmas Day.

Premier Anna Bligh said today 12 communities were currently isolated by flooding and more water is on the way.

Mass evacuations will be carried out today in Emerald, with 80 per cent of the town affected, while floodwaters have split the coastal city of Bundaberg in two, inundating 120 properties and forcing about 400 evacuations.

Ms Bligh said the damage would cost governments and insurance companies billions of dollars, and appealed to Australians to “dig deep” and donate to an emergency relief fund. “It's an enormous disaster,” Ms Bligh told ABC television, noting that the early forecasts had not predicted the scale of the disaster.

“What we've never seen is so many towns, so many communities, so many regions all affected at once. It is a miserable and heart-breaking event.”

Ms Bligh said the disaster was unprecedented. “It's not isolated to one part of the state. We've got communities, both large cities and very small towns, that are now affected,” she told the Seven Network.

Vast amounts of rain have fallen in catchments that feed into the Fitzroy River, which is expected to reach major flood levels above 8.5 metres in coming days. Levels could remain at about eight metres for up to 10 days, the Bureau of Meteorology says.

In Emerald, flood levels in the Nogoa River today exceeded all previous records, rising beyond the 2008 level of 15.36 metres when almost 3000 people were forced from their homes. It's expected to peak beyond all earlier expectations at 16.2 metres tomorrow, and Central Highlands Mayor Peter Maguire said a dire scenario awaited the town. About 200 people spent the night in evacuation centres in Emerald, with hundreds, possibly thousands, more expected to head to the safe havens today, ahead of the flood peak.

In Bundaberg, the Burnett River peaked at 7.9 metres overnight, it's highest level since 1942 when it reached 8.4 metres. “Bundaberg is now split in two,” acting Mayor Tony Ricciardi said. “This is a one-in-100 year event. We won't see this again in our lifetime. Well, I hope.”


1 comment:

Paul said...

Will newly independent schools be allowed to set their own discipline processes though?