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Why our greatest story is just not being told

By Kevin Donnelly - posted Monday, 30 January 2006

Is Prime Minister Howard correct? Has history teaching fallen victim to a politically correct, new-age approach to curriculum and are students receiving a fragmented understanding of the past? The evidence suggests “yes”.

Since the 70s and 80s, as outlined in Why Our Schools are Failing, left-wing academics, education bureaucracies and professional associations have embarked on the long march through the institutions to overthrow more conservative approaches to education.

The so-called traditional academic curriculum, with its emphasis on initiating students into established disciplines like history and literature, and the belief that education can be impartial have been attacked as misguided, Euro-centric and socially unjust.


One of the first examples of the new history was the Keating Government inspired national Studies of Society and Environment (SOSE) course outline published in 1993. History as a discrete subject disappeared and early drafts of the document were described as “a subject for satire” and “a case of political correctness gone wild”.

European settlement is described as an invasion, Australia’s Anglo-Celtic heritage is either marginalised or ignored, Indigenous culture is portrayed as beyond reproach and teachers are told they must give priority to gender, multicultural, global, futures and Indigenous perspectives.

The 1999 Queensland SOSE curriculum is also decidedly new age and one-sided. The values associated with the subject mirror the usual PC suspects, such as social justice, peace and ecological sustainability.

In line with postmodernism, students are also taught that “knowledge is always tentative”, that they should “deconstruct dominant views of society”, “critique the socially constructed element of text” and “how privilege and marginalisation are created and sustained in society”.

Forget the ideal of seeking truth and developing a disinterested understanding of the world, students are now told that everything is tentative and shifting and the purpose of education is to criticise mainstream society in terms of gender, ethnicity and class.

As a result of adopting an outcomes based education model, all Australian history documents adopt a constructivist view of learning. The student is placed centre stage and learning important dates, events and the significance of great historical figures gives way to studying the local community or the life of such worthies as Princess Di.


As noted in Stuart Macintyre’s The History Wars, in the chapter detailing how history is taught in schools: “The traditional discipline came under increasing criticism from curriculum reformers for being old, stale and simply unrelated to students’ needs. ‘Relevance’ became an educational ethos”.

Current approaches to history ask students to uncritically celebrate multiculturalism and cultural diversity without recognising that much of Australia’s economic, political and legal stability relies on a Eurocentric tradition steeped in the Judeo/Christian ethic.

A commitment to human rights, the rule of law and tolerance does not arise by accident. The reality is that Australian society has proven to be such a successful social experiment because of those very values grounded in Western civilisation that can be traced back thousands of years via England and Europe to early Rome, Greece and biblical Israel.

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First published in The Australian on January 28, 2006.

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About the Author

Dr Kevin Donnelly is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University and he recently co-chaired the review of the Australian national curriculum. He can be contacted at He is author of Australia’s Education Revolution: How Kevin Rudd Won and Lost the Education Wars available to purchase at

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