Minister wants to steer school curriculum away from the truth about Aboriginal history

Before the new curriculum has even been taught, Extreme right wing Minister Christopher Pyne, raises questions over teaching of Aboriginal history and wants a strong slant on the benefits of white colonisation.

Brooke Boney NITV News 11 January, 2013

Minister Christopher Pyne criticised the existing curriculum saying it was too "left-leaning", and more practical information should be taught to our children.

"The truth should be told about what we did to Indigenous people, but also the truth about the benefit of civilisation," Mr Pyne said.

The move is being viewed as one that could re-ignite the history wars between black and white accounts of Australia's past.

The federal opposition is accusing the Abbott government of taking their ideological views into Australian schools.

"We should stop taking politics into the classroom and assuming that just because you're an Abbott government minister you're smarter than every teacher in Australia," opposition leader Bill Shorten said.

Christopher Pyne has appointed Ken Wiltshire and Kevin Donnelly to carry out the review, which is due back in time to be implemented for the start of school next year.

But that move has also attracted criticism, and Mr Pyne has been accused of being biased.

"He's got to get over this paranoia that his view isn't being taught in schools and get on with the things that matter," acting leader of the Australian Greens Party, Richard Di Natale, said.

One of the areas for review that Mr Pyne has asked the two men to focus on is the way Indigenous Australia is taught in schools.

"The first part of our story is the Indigenous part, but then there's the other part and that needs to be told as well. That's why we need a balanced view," Mr Pyne said.

But former Independent MP Rob Oakshott says the balance is already too far skewed.

"This is not being taught well in schools. I'm surprised it's being attacked as being over-taught instead of under-taught," Mr Oakshott said.

Before the curriculum is adopted in schools it will need to be approved by state and territory governments.

The question over how Aboriginal history will be taught in Australian schools still remains.

Meanwhile, Cindy Berwick, the President of the New South Wales Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, says she's surprised by the Government's plan to again review the national curriculum.

Watch: Natalie Ahmat interviews Cindy Berwick of the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group NITV (SBS)

Cindy Berwick is the President of the New South Wales (NSW) Aboriginal Education Consultative Group Inc (AECG). This is a non for profit Aboriginal organisation that provides advice on all matters relevant to education and training with the mandate that this advice represents the Aboriginal community viewpoint.
History wars: the men behind the national school curriculum review

Christopher Pyne has announced a review of the school curriculum; but what do we know about Kevin Donnelly and Ken Wiltshire, the two men he has appointed to run the process?

Bridie Jabour 10 Friday January 2014

Kevin Donnelly
Kevin Donnelly (left) with former prime minister John Howard in 2007, at the launch of Donnelly's book Dumbing Down, which argues Australian students are culturally illiterate.

Photograph: Alan Porritt/AAP Image

Kevin Donnelly heads the Education Standards Institute which is owned by the K Donnelly Family Trust, according to a search of the institute’s ABN. He has written on education for the Drum, the Australian and the Conversation, among others, and has argued the current curriculum is taught through an "Indigenous, Asian and environmental" perspective.

He has also railed against what he sees as the promotion to students of "alternative sexuality and gender lifestyles". In a piece for the now-defunct the Punch in 2010, he warned about the impact of voting Green in the Victorian state election.

"Government and other faith-based schools will also be made to teach a curriculum that positively discriminates in favour of gays, lesbians, transgender and intersex persons," he said.

Donnelly was chief of staff for Kevin Andrews when he was shadow education minister and in the 1990s worked for tobacco company Philip Morris on developing an educational program for school children (also mentioned in this research paper) with the company’s backing.

The program was called "I’ve Got the Power" and taught children about making responsible decisions by themselves. Choices about cigarette smoking were included in the pack as part of things they should say no to, but the health dangers of tobacco were not mentioned. The pack was not labelled as being produced by a tobacco company.

Donnelly defended the program, saying it was only financed by Philip Morris and that the company had no control over what went into the packs.

"Philip Morris is genuinely interested in putting a quality program into schools to empower people, but they have been criticised. In reality, they are damned if they do and damned if they don't when they should be congratulated," he told the New Zealand Herald in 1999.

Donnelly wants to bring a more "Judeo-Christian" approach to history teaching and has previously written that at every year level teachers must incorporate Australian indigenous histories and cultures into an "overwhelming" number of topics.

"Add the fact that students must be taught ‘intercultural understanding’, with its focus on diversity and difference, and are told to value their own cultures and the cultures, languages and beliefs of others, and it's clear that the underlying philosophy is cultural relativism," he wrote in the Australian earlier this year.

Donnelly also believes studies of ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, the Ottoman empire, Renaissance Italy, the Vikings and medieval Europe should be compulsory.

When he was asked by a Crikey journalist on Friday if he was a member of the Liberal party, Donnelly replied that the question was not relevant.

Ken Wiltshire
Ken Wiltshire oversaw a review of Queensland's education curriculum in the 1990s.

Photograph: UQ business school

Ken Wiltshire is a Queensland-based academic who has also written for the Australian and used a column in the newspaper earlier this year to label the implementation of the Gonski funding model by the Gillard government "a national disgrace".

Wiltshire oversaw a review of Queensland’s education curriculum in the 1990s under the Labor premier Wayne Goss who agreed to implement 95% of the recommendations, though Wiltshire accuses former prime minister and Goss chief of staff at the time, Kevin Rudd, of sabotaging the plan.

"It is unfortunate that Kevin Rudd has little credibility when it comes to education," he wrote.

"When the Goss government commissioned the review of the Queensland school curriculum and agreed to more than 95% of its recommendations, Rudd took no interest in the implementation and allowed many of the initiatives to be sabotaged."

He added: "Indeed his own gargantuan Office of Cabinet tried to sink many of the recommendations from the beginning, based on personal biases and ideology."

Wiltshire is a supporter of the Gonski blueprint of funding and in the same piece before the election wrote that he hoped Tony Abbott would implement it if he won government.

In 2010 he argued for the independents to side with Abbott in creating a minority government, saying it would be the wish of the majority of people in their individual electorates and if the Greens aligned with Labor it would create backdoor deals.

"Through this back door Labor would be able to introduce the Greens' priorities on gay marriage, softer border protection, and heftier mining taxes and so on," he said.

He ended the piece: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Wiltshire is the JD Story professor of public administration at the University of Queensland business school.

The Gonski Report was commissioned by the Government in 2010 and chaired by businessman David Gonski, the review panel received more than 7,000 submissions, visited 39 schools, and consulted 71 education groups across Australia. It presented its findings to the Government in November 2011, and the Government released that report, along with its initial response, in February 2012. Since then some of the recommendations were targeted to be introduced in 2014, including some of the long overdue curriculum corrections and inclusions. Many of these recommendations were improve access and more inclusion for First Nations young people across the continent, different recommendations for the various situations. But all of time and money spent has gone by the wayside when the extreme right wing politicians got into power. They have chosen to change the curriculum and dish out more money to the richer schools thus further hurting the poor.