Friday, August 18, 2006

Stinking up history with excreta

Here’s some of what the Prime Minister has to say about the Government’s agenda in re teaching Australian history:

The Government’s purpose... is that we do want to bring about a renaissance of both interest in and understanding of Australian history and that must involve a greater focus on the disciplined teaching and understanding of history in Australian schools. My assessment is that it varies enormously around the country. Some parts of Australia, the school curriculum has a welcome emphasis, in other parts I don’t believe it does. I want to make it very clear that we are not seeking some kind of official version of Australian history. We’re not seeking some kind of nostalgic return to a particular version of Australian history, although I do not believe, and the Government does not believe, that you can have any sensible understanding, and therefore any sensible debate, about different opinions of Australian history unless you have some narrative and method in the comprehension and understanding of history.

He continues:

I don’t think you can have a proper teaching and comprehension of Australian history, of course, without having a proper understanding of indigenous history and the contribution of the indigenous experience to Australia’s development and the Australian story. Equally I don’t believe that you can have a proper understanding of Australian history without some understanding of those movements and attitudes and values and traditions of other countries that had an influence on the formation of Australia. And obviously we need an understanding of those institutions we inherited from the British and the other European influences on Australia. We need to understand the influence of religion in the formation of attitudes and development in Australia. We obviously have to see Australia as heavily influenced by the western intellectual position, the Enlightenment and all that’s associated with it. And I think we also have to appreciate the impact on Australia of the various economic developments and the changes in economic history, the influence of the industrial revolution and various broad economic theories that have shaped the modern Australia.

Now I don’t think that amounts for a moment to any kind of authorised version of Australian history. I think it amounts to, in the Government’s view, a commonsense belief that we do need to understand all of those things to have a proper understanding of what did occur and what influences have shaped the modern day Australia.

He goes on to explain why:

But I don’t know how we can intelligently argue our different points of view about what the modern Australia is or what the future Australia should be without having a proper, orthodox understanding. Orthodox in the sense of properly instructed and according to some kind of coherent narrative. Unless we have that, I don’t think we can have a proper understanding of our present.

A pretty well rounded and inclusive history, IMHO. But then why am I posting this? Why is the title of the post about excrement? Well I came across the PM’s speech via this impressive analysis by Anonymous Lefty:

Alright, students, in history class today we'll be learning about the Gold Rush and Federation...

There was a gold rush in the 1850s. Many people from around the world emigrated to Australia to places like Ballarat and Bendigo to dig for gold. There was an incident called the Eureka Rebellion in 1854. Some miners rebelled against the government, and they were caught and charged.

Why did they rebel?

Sorry, that's an "issue" or a "mood" and is irrelevant to the study of history.

Moving on, nothing much then happened until 1st January 1901 (WRITE THAT DATE DOWN), when all the Australian colonies joined together to form a federal Commonwealth. The first Prime Minister was Edmund Barton (WRITE THAT NAME DOWN).

Why did it take 113 years to form a single nation? What were the issues which pushed them to finally get around to it?

Look, stop trying to be smart. You know perfectly well that those are also "issues" and "moods". Stop asking irrelevant questions. I promise you they won't be on the test. Do you want to go to recess or have me talk more about federation?

...Next class we'll be talking about the first World War (we fought Germany and were heroic), the second World War (we fought Germany and Japan and were heroic), the Vietnam War (we fought communists and were heroic), and Donald Bradman (he played cricket against England and was heroic).

Here's a list of dates and names for you to memorise in the meantime. But don't let me catch you thinking about them. You know what that leads to.

Godless communism and watching the ABC, sir?

Exactly. Class dismissed.

The post title should now be apparent. This “argument” is so far beyond a Strawman that it needs another name. I propose Steaming Nard.*

Maybe I’m being overly harsh? Perhaps Mr Lefty is just trying to be funny? Satirical even? Ha, ha, ha, ha... how witty.

Update: Apparently I've strawmanned Mr Lefty by not including this part of the PM's speech:

How we can just teach issues and study moods and fashions in history rather than comprehend and teach the narrative, have a narrative, has always escaped me.

Because this is what Mr Lefty is responding to…

Surely putting this in (which Mr Lefty has based his post on - apparently this one sentence will be the basis of a national history curriculum) adds to my point?

* Note that "nard" is slang particular to my locale - I'll let the reader deduce the meaning.