Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Australian curriculum beyond saving

"LANGUAGE," claim the authors of the Australian Curriculum, "enables people to interact effectively." They then proceed to demonstrate in 238,000 laboured words that this is not necessarily the case.

The curriculum is written in the private language of educationalism, which, like Latin in the hands of the medieval clergy, serves to keep the rest of us in our place. The implication is that parents, employers and general citizens don't know what they're talking about. Curriculum development is a job for the experts.

The first task of the government's curriculum review panel should be to translate this doorstop of a document into English, eliminate the verbiage and publish it for public discussion. Forget all the stuff about content descriptions, content elaborations and learning continua.

Don't bother telling us that the English language "provides rich and engaging contexts for developing students' abilities," or that "texts provide the means for communication".  In our own inexpert way, we had sort of gathered that.

Just tell us how you plan to teach literacy and numeracy, and what else you are planning to put into the kiddies' heads.

Then we can let the public decide whether "creating a more ecologically and socially just world through informed action" is a task for public schools.

Do we want educators or evangelists? Do we send children to school to "create texts that inform and persuade others to take action for sustainable futures"? Should a child under 10 be expected to produce "a persuasive audio-visual text to promote action on an environmental issue" or "promote awareness about how people can reduce their impact on the environment"?

By Year 9, they will be encouraged to ponder "Gaia - the interaction of Earth and its biosphere" and to think about the "limits of growth - that unlimited growth is unsustainable".

They will be asked to "interrogate" Rachel Carson's The Silent Spring and 1970 editions of Mother Earth News magazine, before considering the "rights of nature recognition - that humans and their natural environment are closely interrelated".

The words "sustainable" and "sustainability" appear 139 times in the Australian Curriculum; "business" crops up six times, "markets" twice and "free markets" not at all. "Prosperity" features three times and "economic growth" is mentioned just once (and not in a nice way), for history is not the tale of steady improvement but just one shameful act after another.

Year 3 students will be taught significant days and weeks in the Australian calendar: Australia Day, Anzac Day, Harmony Week, National Reconciliation Week, NAIDOC week and National Sorry Day and Mabo day.

Doubtless this is uncontroversial stuff in the sheltered common rooms of public schools, salaried and superannuated from the bottomless pockets of the state. To much of the rest of Australia, however, this romantic, closed-minded view of the world seems eccentric. Non-expert citizens - that is those without a PhD in critical pedagogy - might wonder how a child infused with such a narrow world view, who finishes Year 12 without any appreciation of wealth creation, could possibly emerge equipped for the challenges of the 21st century.

The history curriculum includes the Harvester Judgment, but says nothing about the Sunshine Harvester, Australia's most successful manufactured export, made in the factory where the work conditions test case was struck. In 699 pages, the curriculum mentions capitalism twice, but merely as one of the "competing ideologies" to communism.

At every turn, the curriculum appears intent on taking the most dismal brutal view of every episode in human history. The industrial revolution's contribution to the world is restricted to "the transatlantic slave trade and convict transportation". It led, we are told, to "longer working hours for low pay and the use of children as a cheap source of labour" and is best interpreted through reading the works of Charles Dickens.

The reforming instincts of 19th-century liberals that led to the end of transportation, slavery and child labour are whitewashed from history.

The measurable improvements to diet and health, made possible by agricultural innovation in sheep breeding, frozen meat transportation and broad-acre farming, form no part of the story.

They would have sounded a discordant note in the curriculum's miserablist narrative of Australian history.

Instead, Year 4 students will be taught "historical terms for example 'penal', 'transportation', 'navigation', 'frontier conflict', 'colonisation' ".

In Year 6 they will be introduced to "experiences of citizenship and democracy" with reference to "internment camps during World War II, assimilation policies, anti-discrimination legislation, mandatory detention, pay and working conditions" and "children who were placed in orphanages, homes and other institutions".

After all, the curriculum helpfully reminds us, democracy is an abstract noun expressing an intangible concept.

The leaden imposition of "cross-curriculum priorities" indigenous awareness, engagement with Asia and sustainability contaminate the curriculum writers' thinking.

In English, "the priority of sustainability provides rich and engaging contexts for developing students' abilities".

In geography, "the sustainability priority and concept afford rich and engaging learning opportunities and purposeful contexts".

In history, sustainability "provides content that supports the development of students' world views, particularly in relation to judgments about past social and economic systems, and access to and use of the Earth's resources".

In mathematics, "sustainability provides rich, engaging and authentic contexts for developing students' abilities in number and algebra, measurement and geometry, statistics and probability".

Sustainability in science develops "an appreciation for the interconnectedness of Earth's biosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere".

Christopher Pyne has been condemned as a culture warrior for having the audacity to question this tosh.

The opposition has accused him of attempting to politicise the curriculum, and has labelled his chosen reviewers, Kevin Donnelly and Ken Wiltshire, as ideologues.

If the Education Minister is to be criticised, it is for imagining this irredeemable document can be tidied up and put back on the shelf when the only realistic course of action is to tear the damn thing up.


Game finally up for carboncrats

Tony Abbott's likely repeal of the unpopular carbon tax this year reflects a global trend: the anti-carbon agenda is being subjected to the most intense scrutiny, and is found wanting.

The Kyoto treaty effectively expired a year ago. Prospects for a replacement are virtually zero. Rich nations are rejecting climate compensation for the developing world. Europe is in a coal frenzy. Germany, a former green trend-setter, is slashing unaffordable subsidies to the renewables industry. The European Parliament is losing confidence in the EU emissions trading scheme. No Asian nation has an emission trading scheme in operation. China's and India's net emissions are growing dramatically and governments, most recently Japan's, are abandoning earlier pledges to reduce their nations' carbon footprints. Even US Democrats, notwithstanding President Obama's direct action-style energy plan, won't pass modest carbon-pricing bills in the Congress. Add to this those debunked predictions (remember the vanishing Himalayan glaciers, disappearing North Polar ice cap?), and it is clear that Tim Flannery's moment has come and gone.

Meanwhile, 2013 marked the 15th year of flat-lined global surface temperatures, despite record levels of carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere since 1998. And as the US shale "fracking" revolution shows, the most efficient way to cut emissions is not via command-and-control regulation but by allowing private drillers to expand natural gas production.

Of course, the environmental doomsayers remain apocalyptic. You try going on the ABC's Q&A and raise doubts about global-warming alarmism. You will still see the inner-city studio audience treating you not merely with hostility but with open-mouthed incredulity.

The climate-change Cassandras are increasingly marginalised here and abroad.

When they abuse, intimidate and victimise anyone with the temerity to criticise the fanaticism of their movement, the inclination of ordinary Australians is either to shrug their shoulders with a profound lack of interest or to grimace at this moral grandstanding.

Historians will probably look back at the years 2006-09 as the time when the climate hysteria reached its peak in Australia, when rational debate was at its most restricted and politicians at their most gullible.

These were the days of drought, unseasonal bushfires, An Inconvenient Truth, the Garnaut Report and, of course, Kevin Rudd's "greatest moral challenge".

Crikey, even Rupert Murdoch was "giving the planet the benefit of doubt".

Contrary to media stereotypes, many so-called sceptics - such as Abbott, John Howard, Maurice Newman and this writer - recognised that the rise in carbon dioxide as a result of the burning of fossil fuels led to moderate warming.

But because we questioned the doomsday scenarios and radical, costly government-directed plans to decarbonise the economy, we were denounced as "deniers".

Those days are over.

Thanks to Abbott's forceful critique of Labor's ETS/carbon tax, and the persistent failure of the carboncrats to reach legally binding global agreements, Australians have risen up against this madness.

At last, there is recognition not just that there are at least two sides to every story, but that when sophisticates seek to shut down debate, it amounts to an attack on the public interest.

That is why the anti-carbon zealots have become so defensive. The game is up.

The idea of climate mitigation - carbon taxes, cap and trade, channelling taxpayer subsidies to wind and solar power - destroyed the leaderships not only of Malcolm Turnbull in 2009 and Rudd in 2010, but also of Julia Gillard and Rudd (again) last year.

And although the Coalition's approval ratings have declined since the election, polls also show that opposition to the carbon tax remains high.

Last year's Lowy Institute survey said that only 40 per cent (down from nearly 70 per cent in 2006) think climate change is serious and requires action.

And yet, despite this changing (political) climate, Opposition leader Bill Shorten still opposes the repeal of the carbon tax.

If Labor's divorce from the Greens is genuine, he should support the PM's legislation, lest he meet the same fate as his fellow deniers and become a laughing stock.


Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to personally decide visa cancellations

IMMIGRATION Minister Scott Morrison will personally cancel the visas of undesirable residents from now on, denying them any right of appeal.

The announcement comes after the Administrative Appeals Tribunal stopped the planned deportation of New Zealander Sean Gabriel, who had a hand in the 2008 violent robbery of prominent Melbourne doctor Mukesh Haikerwal and four others.

That decision was made by the department, and Mr Gabriel's appeal to the AAT ended in a ruling he would have difficulty adjusting to life in New Zealand and should stay.

The decision was criticised by Dr Haikerwal, who worried victims' rights were not properly being considered.

Mr Morrison will personally oversee the cancellation of people's visas on character grounds - a decision that is not open to AAT review.

The minister's move came as another case emerged of the AAT allowing a Vietnamese man with a long criminal history to remain in Australia.

Tuan Anh Hoang, 40, successfully appealed against the cancellation of his visa despite a 17-year-long criminal record - driven by a need to fund his continuing heroin addiction - which included robbery, thefts, weapons offices and crimes of dishonesty.

Although there was "a significant possibility that he might reoffend", Mr Hoang's strong family connections in Australia meant he should stay, AAT deputy president Brian Tamberlin found.

"I consider that the degree and duration of Mr Hoang's ties to Australia over a period of 20 years ... outweigh the need for protection of the Australian community in this case," he wrote.

A spokeswoman for Mr Morrison said he was considering advice on both cases.

She said the previous government had delegated visa cancellations on character grounds to a departmental official.

"Had the decision to cancel Mr Gabriel's visa been made by the minister, it would not have been subject to review by the AAT," she said.

"Mr Morrison has asked the department to ensure that consideration of all visa cancellations and refusals based on character grounds are referred to him."


Real punishment for once

NRL player and tattoo billboard Russell Packer seemed a confident chap last week as he fronted court to be sentenced for the bashing of 22-year-old Enoka Time outside a Sydney nightclub.

And who could blame him? Considering the weak record of the NSW judiciary when it comes to assault sentences, the most Packer could have expected was a lecture from the bench and a good behaviour bond.

Little wonder that the former Warriors star reportedly told his father: "I've got two lawyers on it, dad, everything is sweet."

But Packer didn't reckon on the less than sweet attitude of magistrate Greg Grogin, a no-nonsense former NSW cop who evidently shares widespread community distaste both for vicious assaults and tame treatment towards those who commit them.

"Your behaviour on that night was nothing short of disgraceful," Grogin told Packer. "It is deplorable. You should be ashamed. The community is sick and tired of the behaviour you exhibited that night."

And then he sent Packer to prison for two years, to the general delight of NSW and the utter shock of Packer himself, who was variously described as "surprised" and "confused" by the sentence. His lawyer, Murugan Thangaraj, immediately admitted he had "no idea" a jail term was even under consideration, which might explain why his client didn't bother bringing a change of clothes to court.

Just think about all of this for a second. We presently live in a state where those who beat people to the ground for no good reason at all are actually confident that they will avoid justice even after being arrested and appearing before a magistrate.

In a civilised society, it should be reasonable enough to anticipate a jail term if you've bashed someone into unconsciousness and then decided to go on with the job, as Packer did, deploying both fists and feet while your victim is immobile and defenceless. Yet if Packer had fronted any magistrate other than Grogin, his confidence in avoiding jail might well have been completely justified.

Lawyer Thangaraj offered a curious defence of his client's actions, pointing out that Packer's initial swing at his victim was "not a king-hit".

Keep up with the linguistic trends, Mr Lawyer Man. The proper term is now "coward punch". And while it may be that the first punch thrown wasn't entirely unanticipated by Enoka Time - the pair were arguing over cigarettes allegedly taken from Time's female friend - how are we to properly describe Packer's subsequent blows?

After all, if a coward punch is one thrown without warning, what is a punch thrown when your target is unconscious and incapable of knowing that he's even being hit? We need a whole new pugilistic vocabulary to cover this sort of thing. Perhaps we could honour Packer's new NRL team by naming it a "Newcastle nightcap".

Packer mentor and ex-New Zealand rugby league player Davis Lomax blamed in part recent media coverage of violent incidents for Packer's jail term. "It seems a little bit harsh," the former international told Kiwi media. "That's not to condone what happened - but when I was over there, there was a lot of media about some stuff that has been happening around Kings Cross in Sydney, and guys getting knocked over."

Guys "getting knocked over"? That's a delicate way of putting it. On the weekend the family of Daniel Christie made the devastating decision to take the teenager off life support. Christie had been in a coma since he was "knocked over" during an unprovoked New Year's Eve assault in the Cross.

His alleged attacker now faces further charges in addition to his previous list of "knocking over" offences. Let's hope that someone of Greg Grogin's quality is running the show when this reaches court in March.


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