A particularly whiney opinion piece in today's paper from John Roskam on the History Summit, that pretty much sums up the Conservative standpoint and confirms my suspicions from the previous post.
First of all, John Roskam is not an academic, he is not a teacher. He is the Executive Director of the Institute of Public Affairs, Australia's self-proclaimed "Leading Free Market Think Tank". His biography on the site reads as follows:
"Before joining the IPA, he was the Executive Director of The Menzies Research Centre in Canberra. He has also held positions as Chief of Staff to Dr David Kemp, the Federal Minister for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs, as Senior Advisor to Don Hayward, Victorian Minister for Education in the first Kennett Government, and as Manager of Government and Corporate Affairs for Rio Tinto. His policy analysis includes reports such as Australia's Education Choices (with Professor Brian Caldwell) and The Protocol: Managing Relations with NGOs (with Gary Johns)."
With this in mind, consider his comments this morning:
"Part of the explanation for the decline of history, both in schools and universities, is that the point of learning history has been lost. Theory has replaced content. While history can lend itself to the application of various theories, and while there can be arguments as to what "really happened" the subject shouldn't be dominated by these issues.
The study of history, like the study of English literature, has fallen prey to academics who use these disciplines as vehicles to push various Marxist, and postmodern theories about class, gender, and race. In some of the humanities, it is almost as if students are positively discouraged from experiencing enthusiasm for the subject they are studying."
What a load of crap.
This is the crux of the Conservative line and I would argue that it is almost entirely without foundation.
The Kevin Donnely's, Andrew Bolt's and John Roskam's of the world would have us believe that children are not taught about history, but rather that facts don't exist, that nothing can be confirmed, that everything is transient. I would like to know the last time any of them went anywhere near an actual history class either at a school or University.
There was an investigative report in the Sunday Age on the weekend looking into the way history is actually taught (that's not actually the right article - I can't find it online). The reporter visited three or four schools in different parts of the city, at both primary and secondary level and sat in on history classes to see what took place.
While each class was being taught in a slightly different style, there was no mention of specific historical theory - certainly not Marxist theory (for fuck's sake). In each case, the students were being taught about a specific period or person: Australians in the First World War; a VC winner in New Guinea; the founding of Australian democracy. Though the techniques differed, the reporter observed that in each class the students were engaged and actively involved. The students were looking things up on the internet and in texts, they were discussing the events and the people and they were generally aware of the period and the context.
There was no postmodern theory. There was no questioning of whether these things actually took place or not. Roskam's comment that "theory has replaced content" is simply not true.
In my studies in history from primary, to secondary, through tertiary and even Honours, I only ever had a single class dedicated to that type of theory. It was an advanced third year tertiary subject required for those intending to apply for Honours and was called, strangely enough, "Historical Theory and Research". In it, the major themes of various historical theories were covered. There was maybe a single lecture and seminar covering the postmodern concept that nothing is certain.
Conservative crusaders would like everyone to believe that our schools have been taken over by Bolshy Leftists intent on turning history into some sort of postmodern nothingness, when in practice this is simply not true. It's just astoundingly ironic that the same people who argue against the postmodern tendency to question and deconstruct are themselves creating a false version of what is actually happening.
At worst, it could be argued that the style of teaching is fractured and that the topics covered are not consistent, but to try and argue that "the point of learning history has been lost" because of a Conservative fantasy about some sort of Marxist uprising in our school system is just contemptible.
People like Roskam should stop slinging shit around and either stay out of it or just admit that they are trying to push through their own agenda.