01 February 2011

Better than Chris Pyne

This is stupid. It's everything a politician could want, an article all about him with his name spelled correctly - but even so, it shows how inadequate Chris Pyne is for a big, important job like Federal Minister for Education.

What are we trying to teach children about our history? What skills are we trying to impart along the way? Are we trying to impart the sort of anecdotes that might fly at an Adelaide dinner party, or is there more to it?

Mr Pyne will today accuse curriculum writers of neglecting the contributions of Britain, Ancient Greece and Rome to Western civilisation because of an undue emphasis on indigenous culture, Asia and sustainability.

The future tense sits oddly with the direct quotes, as though Harrison & Patty can predict words that were yet to form in Pyne's mind at the time of writing.

He is most critical of the proposed history course, which he says he will review should the Coalition be elected to government. He says the draft history curriculum ignores the Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights and the English Civil War between Parliament and the king "rather like an embarrassing relative at Christmas Day lunch".

What's embarrassing is that he doesn't make the case for these facets of history, and why they must be quarantined from indigenous culture, Asia and sustainability.

The whole idea of Opposition policy development is not, as the MSM would have it, to hand a stick to the media with which they beat you in government. The idea of Opposition policy development is to demonstrate the quality of thinking going on in the alternative government. Truckling to old people that the curriculum they were subjected to is Best is poor thinking indeed.

Convincing people that the curriculum of the 1950s will be adequate to students who will be in the workforce a century later is unjustifiable. Harrison & Patty had no excuse not to call Pyne on this: no politician is entitled to have their words taken at face value. They should have called in some experts to ponder the ideas animating history teaching today, and refract those ideas against those (insofar as there are any) in Pyne's offering.

"It's time [Peter Garrett] stopped hiding behind anodyne briefs from his department that appear not to address the key issue - does this curriculum reflect a true history of our society and our country?"

Depends: do you regard the Magna Carta as a historical artefact? Watch a bunch of teenagers grapple with the idea of habeas corpus in the context of asylum seekers, and watch Chris Pyne's head explode.

Pyne has suffered for many years within the Liberal Party, like Phillip Ruddock before him, accusations of being soft when it comes to issues like human rights. Like Ruddock, he dropped all that small-l shit and is overcompensating with a stridency that sounds like braying. Part of him knows that Asian and Aboriginal cultures are as rich, as deep and as dinky-di as Anglo culture as an input to modern Australia - but if he gets to keep his job at the top table of Australian politics by traducing culture, then by God he'll do it. Beware of a politician overcompensating for perceptions of weakness.

All states and territories have agreed to have substantially implemented the national curriculum in maths, science, English and history for the first year of school to year 10 by the end of 2013. In December, education ministers stopped short of giving their final approval to the courses, ordering further development work that they plan to sign off on by October.

By October 2011 there will be three Coalition Education Ministers, and hopefully they won't be so afraid of teaching Aboriginal history (a sub-discipline in its infancy when Chris Pyne and I were in school). Part of the problem we have as a nation in dealing with Aborigines is that we don't understand them. Here is a means of building understanding, Chris. If not this, what? Any ideas?

In response, Mr Garrett said Mr Pyne's speech showed the coalition "had no appetite for education reform to help students" and was "purely driven by outdated ideology".

"This week provides a good opportunity for Mr Pyne to go back to school and get a history lesson of his own, because history shows the Liberal Coalition failed to make any advances in delivering a national curriculum over 11½ years of inaction," Mr Garrett said.

Garrett doesn't make the case that the national curriculum addresses the needs of people in twentyfirst century Australia. Pyne, however, creates the impression that such a perspective is not important to him, to the Coalition, to the country or anyone else.

A spokesman for the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, which is responsible for developing the curriculum, said Mr Pyne's accusations that curriculum writers had neglected the history of Western civilisation were "patently false".

Harrison & Patty, you pair of clowns; that should have been the start of the article, with proof for or against that assertion. Let's have some analysis that isn't just about "lashed out" and "hit back" - this is serious business. Only a fool very experienced journalist would complain that all policy analysis must necessarily be dull, and that "lashed out" and "hit back" horserace journalism is somehow not dull.


  1. I thought this in yesterday's Crikey mailer was telling:


    And in the comments:

    "I heard Pyne on Newsradio this morning, saying that it was important to study these bits of Western history because ‘Australia adopted the Westminster system and we fought the Civil War to establish the rights of Parliament.’

    To which his interviewer replied: 'Australians fought in the English Civil War?’"

  2. As someone who teaches history I can only hope that Christopher Pyne and his cronies are relegated to history very soon. They offer little of substance, clinging to outmoded ideas that contribute little to today's society. Do they wish to indoctrinate the youth of the future with anglosaxon history or provide a wealth of history that truly represents the many who now make up this multicultural society of ours. Are we to revel in our white Australia policy, our degrading treatment of others and service of Mother England? Or do we draw on the rich heritage of all the nations now represented here? History can encourage us all with fine examples and warn us of the dangers if we repeat mistakes.

  3. Pandering to the base will only get you so far, Chrissy boy.

  4. You could almost call Hissy Pyne's version, the 'White Chocolate' interpretation of History.

  5. Seriously, what is most upsetting about all this stuff that the Coalition keep coming out with to the thinking person's dismay, is that they'll keep putting it out into The Australian, and journos like Patty and Harrison will be compelled to report it seriously by Editors like Chris Mitchell who is determined to skew the Nation's heart to black(as the strapline goes, The Australian is 'The Heart of the Nation'). As per the Opposition and the Opposition Organ's modus operandi, it will be followed up by so-called 'experts' in the field, probably in this instance by their go to Education shill, Kevin Donnelly, to reinforce and echo the meme. It will go on like a steady drumbeat, convincing people here and there, who get in the ears of their friends with the zeal of all new converts to a cause. Until it finally gets to the point of accepted wisdom.
    That's how they roll. They don't care what you or I think. They just want the minds of our children.

  6. It's just laziness, Victoria. Pyne doesn't think history teaching is important. His magazine Options created the impression he was some sort of thinker, but this (and the Coalition Education policy going into the last election) puts paid to that.