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
New article from Deb Green. You can access it here (open access).
With both federal and state elections looming, this year is going to be huge for democratic education in Victoria. A raft of issues relevant to young people are being debated. How can young people be supported to be active and informed citizens in this space?
On Thursday 7 April, SEV will be hosting a panel discussion – Democratic education in an election year – featuring educators, students and experts in democratic education, who will be discussing issues and strategies for teaching and learning about contemporary society in an election year.
Date: Thursday 7 April 2022
Time: 7.30pm to 8.30pm
Cost: free for members / $20 for non-members
If you're not a member of SEV, pre-service teachers get free membership.
More info here: https://www.sev.asn.au/events/calendar/panel-discussion-democratic-education-in-an-election-year?fbclid=IwAR3hc6MeYdxpz1mL3dTNnYj5yPiui45mocYfhED4DCve0qh1MsDYGnF0XqQ
Ministerial veto of Australian Research Council funding for research on Student Climate Action and Democratic Renewal damages research and innovation, young people and democracy.
By Philippa Collin, Michelle Catanzaro, Stewart Jackson, Judith Bessant
Vibrant democracies need ongoing generational renewal . The mass and sustained mobilisation of school students for climate justice reveals that many young Australians want a more participatory and inclusive form of democracy. Since 2019 our team of Australian-based researchers has investigated student motivations, forms of organising and participation in climate activism in order to better understand their expectations of democracy. This research can help inform educators about the civic norms and practices of the new political generation, particularly as they teach contemporary civics.
However, on Christmas Eve 2021, our research team learned, via Twitter, that our proposal for Australian Research Council funds to carry this research forward had been ‘Recommended to but not funded by the Minister’. The only justification provided is that the project was either ‘not value for money’ or ‘not in the national interest’.
We have written in more detail about this government interference and rejection of our research here. This continuing pattern of Ministerial vetoes (there have been 32 since 2005 by Coalition governments) should concern all Australians because they are censorial, unjust, a blight on academic freedom and limit discovery and innovation. Political interference of this kind damages research integrity, healthy research cultures and our international reputation, collaboration, funding and ultimately our ability to foster a healthy and just society and planet. This was fiercely argued by most of the submissions to the recent Senate Inquiry on a Bill currently before Parliament to remove the veto power.
The veto on our research also sends a powerful message to young people that research on their concerns and their political participation is not important. It tells them that it is ‘not in the national interest’ to understand their concerns or how they are seeking to tackle policy problems. It communicates that young people are not important to the renewal of democratic cultures, institutions and processes as citizens now and into the future.
Yet research and educational practice show that youth participation in policy-making, service design and civics education is not only desirable, but essential if we are to foster democratic cultures, communities and active citizens who feel recognised and respected. In both civics and climate change education, co-designing the curriculum and syllabuses would significantly address the learning needs of children and young people - those who teach them and create policy that impacts them. At a time when top-down governance and policy responses have become a problematic norm, our aim was to do research with young people in ways that can directly inform the civics curriculum through ensuring young people see themselves - and their civic and political actions - in the content they study. This could also support professional development for politicians and their staff about ‘youthful politics’ and contemporary civic and political practices
Our experience is just one case demonstrating why all Australians, and not just academics, need to be free from arbitrary, unjust and politicised interventions by politicians who have forgotten why they are in power: namely to serve the people and uphold due process. Restoring the integrity of Australian universities’ ability to undertake research unfettered by political censorship in all its guises is in the national interest. We need full transparency – and legislation that ends such capricious Ministerial veto. And, in the case of our research, to respect the democratic rights of young people.
This year, Asia Education Foundation at Asialink, The University of Melbourne will host a youth forum designed exclusively for Victorian high school students - The Global Youth Forum.
The Victorian Young Leaders: Global Youth Forum is a new blended learning program for Year 9 students, designed to deepen their understanding of what it means to be a global citizen.
As part of this immersive learning experience, students will research and discuss themes of global citizenship, identity, and purpose to propose innovative solutions to achieve positive change for education. With an aim to inspire young Australians to take an active role to reimagine global education for the 21st Century, this forum will provide a platform for students to think about and share their ideas to solve a global challenge that will most affect them in the future and their role in leading the change.
Throughout the day, students will engage in a series of online and offline activities and have the opportunity to hear from and interact with expert speakers to build their knowledge and understanding. Identifying key issues, students will collaborate in groups to create a short video of their solution to enhance global education. In a final marketplace, these solutions will be discussed and debated, along with some of the key challenges facing the international education community and the role of youth in addressing them. Students will also be encouraged to make recommendations to the government on how Australia and young Australians specifically, can help implement change.
The importance of the Museum of Australian Democracy: Reflections from Dr Stephanie Smith on Recent Events
By: Dr Stephanie Smith, Learning Manager, Museum of Australian Democracy
Walking down the corridors of the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House always evokes a sense of pride and opportunity. With the 100th birthday of the building’s opening fast approaching, there are so many political and social stories the building has to tell from its time as our provisional parliament.
Even upon returning to the building after a period of absence with each breath the smell of warm wooden finishes and leather upholstery are ever present. Working in a building which in itself is an object, a symbol of democracy, our decision-making process and many historic moments is something special. A significant place visited by many young people from across the country as they connect and explore the significant role they have in our democracy.
Dr Stephanie Smith opening the front doors to welcome school groups Image: MoAD
In the days before the fire, whilst working from home, I would drive the half hour from my house to Old Parliament House just to check the building was ok. I’ve always been incredibly proud of the work I do, and the greater Learning Team does to support teachers and young people. In this moment of concern over the behaviour of protests, I realised this building becomes a part of you. On the day of the fire, I drove past for my regular check in only to witness the many fire trucks occupying the carpark. The billowing smoke and blackened, burnt out entrance was all I could see. As I kept driving past, my heart broke. What had begun as a peaceful protest, a democratic right of all Australians, had ended in a deliberate fire being lit and causing extensive damage. Peaceful protest has long been a method of communicating issues to the those in power alongside voting, petitions, letter writing, wearing badges and t-shirts. All valid, civil means of communicating frustrations with government.
Following the event, I shared across social media a video clip of me beaming as I opened the front doors to welcome visitors to Old Parliament House. A moment now so special as I believed the doors had been completely lost to the fire. In the initial clean-up of the portico and entrance a photograph was shared of our Heritage Team hard at work sifting through the debris and there standing strong were the front doors. My heart skipped a beat, they were still there. Worse for wear, a little charred and the outer layer gone but still standing. There was hope. The doors are currently in Sydney with conservation experts being restored.
The blackened jarrah and charred bronze of the front doors of Old Parliament House. Image: Alex Ellinghausen
Since this time, our purpose as a Learning team has become even clearer. Whilst the building has remained closed to the public since the fire in late December for significant restoration from water and smoke damage, we have remained open to school groups. The Learning team has continued to deliver onsite programs, digital excursions and create online resources. It’s not just about continuing to engage and inquire with students onsite about how they can contribute to creating a better world but extending this to all students across the country. We are working to empower young people to be informed citizens who have a voice and understand the many ways to actively participate in our democracy. The significant work we are doing will help build future generations who look to support those around them, care about community and work to create a better world for all.
School groups return to onsite. Image: Timothy Pidkins
Friend of SCEAA, L-FRESH the LION, is facilitating a training program to help young people challenge fake news, An organisation called All Together Now has developed a training program called Agent C which provides young people the skills and tools to identify conspiracy theories and fake news. This program ran last year in partnership with Headspace and received great feedback from the participants and Headspace about the value of this program.
See more here (scroll through).
Please email Keith Heggart (email@example.com) if you want more information.
Applications are open for the Meg 2022 Global Citizenship Ambassador Program.
This is a national program, Years 5/6 upwards, where participating schools nominate two student Global Citizenship Ambassadors to take part in the free one-year program.
Student Ambassadors will work alongside students from other schools across Australia on a personalised Global Citizenship project relevant and co-created by their school community. Students will be asked to liaise with their own student populations as school representatives and, in doing so, build their leadership skills. This program also builds both their own and their school community’s understanding of what Global Citizenship is, why it is important and how it can be developed.
Program Learning Objectives:
· Develop an understanding of Global Citizenship and why it’s important
· Explore concepts linked to Global Citizenship such as DEJI, Intercultural Understanding and the Sustainable Development Goals
· Expand their understandings of different approaches to leadership
· Show an understanding of how to take action on a topic of interest
Meetings with the program facilitators are twice a term via video conferencing. Both students and school educators have access to supportive resources throughout the project.
It’s a great opportunity, with limited free places. Early applicants are given priority.
Find out more and sign up here.
From the editors:
Debates about the purpose of civics and citizenship education and the social sciences more generally continue to be front and centre in the news. Stimulated by the recent comments by Federal Education Minister, Alan Tudge, there is ongoing discussion - that has become heated at times - about how we should teach and learn about our history (or histories!) and what it means to be a member of the Australian community.
Tudge identified several areas in the current draft version of the Australian Curriculum that he argued were unacceptable. Relevant to readers of The Social Educator were his comments about Citizenship and History. He suggested that the curriculum was too negative, and focused on the history of slavery, imperialism, and colonisation. Furthermore, he was critical of the way that Anzac Day was presented as a contested idea, rather than ‘the most sacred of all days’; something that is concerning as we strive to educate critical thinkers.
Read more in Issue 39(3)
No Minister. Examining recent commentary on the draft Australian History and Civics and Citizenship curriculum
Peter Brett, Keith Heggart and Sophie Fenton
Naturally enough? Children, climate anxiety and the importance of hope
John Buchanan, Kimberley Pressick-Kilborn and Jennifer Fergusson.
Auto-ethnographic reflections upon “Lived Citizenship” as a Curriculum Space in the context of the Australian Curriculum
Lisa Cary and Marc Pruyn
Parliament of Victoria are hosting a 1.5 hour interactive workshop, where teachers will participate in learning activities and discussions that will support their capacity to engage with civics and citizenship education. Themes include: three levels of government, laws and rules and representation. Drawing on relevant examples, activities and experiences, the workshop will provide teachers with concepts and resources that are aligned to the Victorian Curriculum Civics and Citizenship learning levels 3-6.
This professional learning session is suited to primary school, casual relief and preservice teachers.
Registration is essential and places are limited. For session details and registration other enquiries please contact firstname.lastname@example.org