Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge said if students do not learn the history of Australia’s Western, liberal culture, they won’t defend the nation as previous generations have.
In a speech to the Centre of Independent Studies on Oct. 22, Tudge discussed the issues with Australia’s falling education standard and the plan to reverse it.
He said he was disappointed at the national draft curriculum published by the Australian Curriculum Authority (ACARA) because it did not lift standards but actually decreased it in some areas.
“The biggest problem, though, was in the draft history curriculum. It gave the impression that nothing bad happened before 1788 and almost nothing good has happened since,” Tudge said.
He said it downplayed our Western heritage and omitted significant figures from the past while introducing “ridiculous concepts,” such as asking Year 2 students whether statues could be considered racist.
“It almost erased Christianity from our past, despite it being the single most important influence on our modern development, according to our greatest living historian Geoffrey Blainey,” Tudge added.
While Western political institutions are not perfect, the minister noted they gave Australians a democratic government, freedom of association and speech, strong human rights, and more.
“If students don’t learn this, they won’t defend it as previous generations did,” Tudge said. “Ultimately, students should leave school with a love of country and a sense of optimism and hope that we live in the greatest country on earth and that the future is bright.”
Tudge said it was a “catastrophe” that in a period where the influence of authoritarianism and communism is growing, nearly half of young Australians believe a non-democratic government may be preferable, or that the government system does not matter.
“There has not been a more important time since the 1940s to teach children the origins, values, and singular greatness of liberal democracy,” he said.
The education minister noted that after calling for a comprehensive rewrite of the draft curriculum, ACARA has since made some improvements.
Year 2 students are no longer asked to assess whether statues are racist. It also acknowledges the democracy is based on Christian and Western origins and references the importance of freedom and patriotism values.
“These are positive changes, but there is still a way to go,” Tudge said.
While many changes have been reverted, Tudge said it was essential to improve the nation’s education standard, not just halting the decline.
“Over the past two decades, despite a 60 percent increase in real per student funding, our school performance has gone backwards in absolute terms and versus other nations,” he said.
But Tudge said he was confident that Australia would successfully be able to return to the top band of education nations because nations like the UK were “remarkable success stories,” showing it was possible.
“I remain very optimistic for our students, our schools, and our nation,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Greens party education spokesman Mehreen Faruqi said Tudge’s “ever-escalating culture war” was offensive and ahistorical.
“It should be challenged by everyone who cares about the integrity of our education system,” she said. “Right-wing politicians the world over are currently waging these wars.”
“The confected outrage over ‘critical race theory’ in the United States is a case in point. It can escalate and infringe on the civil liberties of teachers and school communities.”
Faruqi criticised Tudge for fighting a toxic “history war” while universities continued to shed thousands of jobs.
“Schools are grappling with immense challenges in the pandemic. Education is in crisis, and the minister is missing in action,” she said.