Beazley against history revival

Imre Salusinszky and Dan Box

6th July 2006

KIM Beazley has dismissed the push by federal Education Minister Julie Bishop to reinstate the teaching of traditional Australian history in schools as an "elite preoccupation".

The Opposition Leader insisted that the plan, revealed in The Australian yesterday, was part of a trend by the Government "to talk about anything other than those things which matter most".

"Fundamentally, what we need now from our education ministers is a focus on trades - encouraging young men and women into trades," he said.

However, his views are starkly at odds with those of another Labor heavyweight, former NSW premier Bob Carr, who last night urged the Government to "follow through" on Ms Bishop's comments and ensure that "history is elevated as a discrete, intact discipline and not buried in social studies or cultural studies".

Ms Bishop intends to restore history as a stand-alone, compulsory subject from kindergarten to year 10 and will convene a summit around the issue later thisyear.

The commonwealth will offer to assist the states to develop online teaching materials designed for a traditional, chronological presentation of Australian history, rather than one built around nebulous "themes" or "operators".

But with state education ministers responding angrily to the push by Canberra to influence their curriculums, it appears likely Ms Bishop will need to abandon the carrot for the stick and threaten the states with a loss of funding.

Queensland Education Minister Rob Welford yesterday dismissed the idea of a return to a more narrative approach to history teaching.

"I think we have learnt over the years that the regurgitation of facts and figures is not really 'learning'," he said.

He said Ms Bishop "would do better to chart her own path by collaborating rationally with the state ministers instead of using threats as if she were a Brendan Nelson puppet".

South Australian Education Minister Jane Lomax-Smith said: "We believe the necessary facts in a child's education should be determined by teachers and experts in the field, not politicians."

Tasmanian Education Minister David Bartlett said he was "horrified" by the proposal and added: "If this is a stalking horse for John Howard's personal Australian history being taught inschools then I am not interested."

But confirming the Government's determination to press ahead with the issue yesterday, the Prime Minister denied it would be his own "narrative" shaping the new courses.

"I won't be writing it," he said. "It will be written by historians. I am only an amateur historian.

"What we've got to get away from is studying history as part of an examination of issues, an examination of cultural drifts."


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