What’s wrong with the way history is taught in our schools?

There has been lots of chatter lately about the need to change the way we teach history. Should we teach according to grand themes or chronological events? At the moment, the syllabus seems to be rather general and at the mercy of the teacher’s pet likes and dislikes. Consequently, if you are taught by a lesbian, whale-watching, PETA-supporting, greeny, then heaven help you if your view is different from hers.

When I went to school I learned about 1066 and all that which took place in England. Who can forget Father Damien and the Lepers, nice guy that he was?

And then somehow we got on to Australian History. There was the period of exploration of the rivers and mountains and I can still visualise my pretty maps of Australia showing the treks by various explorers. There was Hume and his friend Hovell. Then there were Cunningham, Blaxland, Wentworth, Lawson and Flinders whose journeys were depicted by different colours on my pretty maps of Oz.

There was something about the natives being restless and soldiers who rebelled against rum rations.

Suddenly we jumped to the First World War which dealt with the Anzacs and how they “saved” Australia at Gallipoli. After that there was the Second World War and that’s where things ended as far as Modern History went.

So naturally, I decided it was all pretty boring and the mystique of Ancient History beckoned.

It would be a stretch to claim that Modern History was taught in any relevant manner. I did well in it because I had a good memory for dates and I could write well. I’m not sure what the issues were and why governments fell, but I was a whizz at the six wives of Henry VIII.

I did end up as an Ancient History teacher myself and this is largely due to the fact that my Ancient History teacher was excellent. Not only did she encourage us to think about the bigger picture, but she taught us how to do well in exams, how to study a question, how to plan an essay and how to practise writing fast in the three hour-limit of exams. After all, there’s not much point in knowing your stuff if you can’t finish writing an essay in the time allocated.

And then came the big change. It was around the Seventies and Eighties. There was going to be more about Australia since it is where we live. Made perfect sense until the curriculum became so politicised that all white people were invaders while all aborigines were innocent like Rousseau’s noble savage.

The first settlement became known as Invasion Day on which we should be miserable and apologetic.

It had been an about-turn in a most terrible and self-flagellating way.

We, that is, the entire white population of Australia in the Twentieth Century were guilty of imperialism and colonialism. I always protested that I had nothing to do with it. I only came to Australia in 1951. In fact, none of my school friends had taken part in any genocide either. But never mind, white man was bad and black man was good. I wonder how Robert Mugabe would be described?

I was out of teaching by then and so my time was spent bringing up a couple of sons while studying further at several universities.

Then came the Women’s Studies phenomenon. At the time I was studying at post-grad level and my choice of thesis topic was the British author. L.P Hartley. When I went to discuss this topic with the then Associate Professor in charge of this course, she said she had never heard of him and besides, she “never reads little boys.” I have never forgotten those exact words. She also didn’t approve of David Lodge and the Campus novel because he was a man.

I walked out of there and decided that I could not tolerate such prejudice against the male sex. Not much point in studying literature if you have to limit yourself to the female authors, is there? There was very little enlightenment to be had in that department.

By the way, this woman is still at the University of Queensland, no doubt wreaking havoc on Shakespeare and even George Eliot (lol)

This is what’s wrong when education becomes ridiculously politicised. I know that everything is either about money or politics or both, but we need some balance in curricula. Yes, we overdid the British heritage bit in history, but there’s more to Australian history than Gallipoli and aboriginal conditions.

We should study the history of S.E Asia, Japan, China, India and we should learn from the past so that we can live better in the present and future. I would have thought that this is what history is all about. It’s what I did when I taught the history of the Ancient Near East and Greece and Rome. There’s much to be said for a study of the classics as a basis for teaching the here and now.

Knowledge is good but not when it is skewed into propaganda like anti-colonialism or feminism which become causes for their own sake. Not everything is about gender or imperialism. I disapproved of that feminist professor because she was so narrow-minded that she could not credit any male author with being worthy of study. How limiting is that for her unfortunate students!

In all honesty, I am always saddened when I watch the British quizz programme, “Eggheads” and most contestants under the age of thirty haven’t a clue about history. Their excuse is often “That’s before my time.” This has to reflect quite badly on their history teachers who seem no better than our current Australian ones.


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