The first issue of The Social Educator for 2022 is now available to SCEAA members.
This is a very exciting issue, as it brings together a diversity of viewpoints about civics and citizenship education at a time when we head to Federal election. Never before have Civics and Citizenship education been more pivotal. The diversity of ideas and approaches to social and citizenship education presented in this issue were foundational to the highly successful SCEAA 2021 conference, which was held online for the first time in November. It was a powerful experience, with school educators, university researchers and youth sharing their work, ideas and challenges in developing active and informed members of the community. It was also great to have so many community groups attending, especially those from the cultural circles. We are proud to announce that a couple of youth presenters at the conference have reached out to publish in the Social Educator; one of which is published in this issue. All articles in this issue of The Social Educator speak directly to some of the concerns that were raised during the conference, and are representative of the diverse attendees.
Bryan Smith considers the relationship between anti-racism and anti-racism education in civics and citizenship education in the first article. This is a powerful piece that argues that civics and citizenship education needs to consider the critical challenges that come with addressing racism; something that remains a serious global issue.
Lucas Walsh, Catherine Waite, Beatriz Gallo Cordoba, Masha Mikola and Blake Cutler then present a series of provocations for educators, based on their work researching young people during the pandemic. Questions of hope and change – in constantly changing times – are canvassed, with the voices of young people being given prominence throughout the paper.
The next article comes from Susan Bye, from the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. It examines the way that museums and galleries play a role in introducing new ideas and how we see the world and our place within it. In order to explicate these ideas, it draws on the work that ACMI has done to place First Peoples at the centre of the work that they do as a cultural institution.
The final article is, in many ways, the most important. Jasmine Xu is a school student from Victoria with a passion for engaging her peers about civics. Along with some fellow students, Jasmine reported on her work to identify young people’s concerns about their political lives, and as such addresses issues that they faced in terms of gaining understanding. Her paper here documents her findings and recommendations for the future and is hopefully the first of many youth-led papers.
The insidious way the new curriculum undermines democracy
By Peter Brett
The public’s mind is focused upon politics in the final week of a bruising election campaign. The language of politics is drilled into for nuance and gaffes. But there are some keywords and concepts that are not mentioned in the main body of the Civics and Citizenship curriculum issued by ACARA this week and signed off by Federal and State education ministers.
This formal document conveys the official view of how young people are to be prepared by schools and teachers for participation as Australian citizens and the following words are all missing: social justice, human rights, care, empathy, truth, political literacy, discrimination, racism, mutual understanding, social change, climate change and advocacy.
The words ‘compassion’ and ‘civility’ are in the current curriculum but are now excised.
Year 9 students will no longer explore ‘How citizens’ political choices are shaped at election time, including the influence of the media (ACHCK076)’.
This will surely limit young people’s understanding of democratic debate? When reviewing a curriculum we need to look for sins of omission not sins of commission. But here there are plenty of examples of sins of commission too.
Citizenship education globally has been criticised for being more likely to focus unhealthily upon national contexts, but Australia as a nation has a proud history of demonstrating outward-looking and generous global involvement. Now, the Civics and Citizenship curriculum rationale states that ‘the curriculum strongly focuses on the Australian context’. It follows through on this statement by effectively omitting global education from primary schools. The Year 6 statement that students explore “The obligations citizens may consider they have beyond their own national borders as active and informed global citizens (ACHASSK148)”, which was also an important element of that age group’s achievement standard, is excised. Also removed from the Year 6 curriculum is the invitation to find out more about ‘The world’s cultural diversity, including that of its indigenous peoples (ACHASSK140)’.
Also missing? he Year 9 content descriptor ‘How ideas about and experiences of Australian identity are influenced by global connectedness and mobility (ACHCK081)’. True citizenship education can contribute to building bridges between different groups of people around the world and create educational spaces to develop young people’s capacity to contribute to positive global social change .
The revisions to the Australian Curriculum signal that this is no longer a priority.
The new curriculum valorises knowledge over skills, values and dispositions. For example, the curriculum rationale states that ‘a deep understanding of Australia’s federal system of government and the liberal democratic values that underpin it is essential’; ‘Emphasis is placed on the federal system of government, derived from the Westminster and Washington systems’. The curriculum aims to foster ‘responsible participation in Australia’s democracy’. The curriculum language leans towards viewing young people as passive recipients of knowledge more than active learners. In a self-congratulatory spirit, students are to imbibe how ‘the system safeguards democracy’ and ‘how laws and the legal system protect people’s rights’. Student responsibilities are referenced three times in the curriculum rationale. Ten year olds are potentially stuffed with knowledge that they will not be putting into practice for another eight years including within elaborations which reference the secret ballot, compulsory voting, preferential voting and the role of the Australian Electoral Commission as key features of Australia’s democracy.
Some fundamental skills and concepts fall by the wayside.
‘The importance of making decisions democratically (ACHASSK070)’. Why? – seven and eight year olds can start to understand why fairness matters.
The political influence in this area is stark.
Scott Morrison observed in parliament of students attending Strike4ClimateChange rallies in Australia that, ‘We do not support our schools being turned into parliaments…..What we want is more learning in schools and less activism in schools’ (AAP, 2018).
And acting federal Education Minister Stuart Robert insisted on the omission of a brief reference in an optional curriculum elaboration to the youth environmentalist Greta Thunberg (Baker & Carey, 2022).
The progressive notion of educating young people for active and informed citizenship is qualified – rather schools and teachers are ‘building their capacity to be active and informed citizens’. The message to young people is clear – you are citizens in waiting not citizens yet. We expect you to be compliant and to keep your opinions to yourself,
It may be possible for committed and confident teachers to re-form policy through active interpretation as opposed to narrowly conforming to the letter of curriculum content descriptors (Jerome, 2018; Sim, 2008). The rationale for the Year 7-10 Civics and Citizenship curriculum still includes the claim that through:
‘The study of Civics and Citizenship, students develop inquiry skills, values and dispositions that enable them to be active and informed citizens who question, understand and contribute to the world they live in. The curriculum offers opportunities for students to develop a wide range of skills by investigating contemporary civics and citizenship issues and fostering civic participation and engagement.’
Unfortunately, revised content descriptors (which will be what most teachers look to first in their curriculum design) do not generally align with this vision. Values, skills and dispositions tend to go missing. Moreover, previously highlighted links (via the use of icons) to General Capabilities such as ‘Personal and Social competence’, ‘Intercultural understanding’ and ‘Ethical understanding’ also no longer exist.
ACARA’s interpretation of what was represented as a decluttering administrative exercise might be seen as another person’s neutering and application of an ideological lens. It just became a whole lot harder for teachers to nurture a fuller achievement of democratic citizenship and human rights nationally and globally and more difficult not to promote a conservative political interpretation of civics and citizenship education in what is already a ‘Cinderella’ learning area lacking presence and status in many schools.
Peter Brett is an experienced History and Civics and Citizenship teacher educator and was involved in a variety of ways with the launch of citizenship education in England from 2002. He is a recent President of the Social and Citizenship Education Association of Australia [SCEAA] and a co-editor of Teaching Humanities and Social Sciences (Cengage, 2020). He is a senior lecturer in Humanities and Social Sciences education in the Faculty of Education at the University of Tasmania.
Image of Greta Thunberg in header: CC-BY-4.0: © European Union 2020 – Source: EP