The second issue of The Social Educator has now been sent out to all members. It's a great issue. See below for the editor's message.
As we are starting to learn to live with COVID-19, the world continues to experience historically significant events. Queen Elizabeth II passed away aged 96 years having reigned for 70 years and 214 days. In Australia, there were mixed emotions with some people openly grieving, and flags being flown at half-mast. However, others, like me, were perplexed. Never was there a more important time to reflect on Australia’s First Nations’ peoples and the history that was bestowed upon them under British Reign. A one-off day of mourning was declared to pay respects for the Monarch, yet the debates around Australia Day remain unresolved further causing many people to question motives.
Further, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, the rainfall in September was the fifth highest on record for Australia. Recently, we have seen flash flooding in many States causing further damage and chaos to homes, lives and the environment. Both of thesesignificant events highlight the need for children and young people to develop their knowledge and understanding of what is happening in their world but also have the skills to think critically and question. They are the future of our world so it is our responsibility to help them develop the skills that they will need to be successful.
In this issue, Katie Maher in her article The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures cross curriculum priority: Pedagogical questions of Country, colonialism and whose knowledge counts, argues that Version 9 of the Australian Curriculum provides, through the revised Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures cross curriculum priority (CCP), opportunities for students to learn with First Nations Peoples. This, she argues, is important as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples will be able to see themselves in the curriculum from which they learn. She provides insights into pedagogical practices that can support this vision.
Moving the focus to the US, Lauren Grimes in her article Youth Citizenship and Civic Injustices within K-12 U.S. Social Studies Public Education, highlights the importance of including youth citizenship and injustices within civic education. She argues that while the US has had various paradigm shifts that aimed to develop informed and active citizens the way that this is addressed has changed thus calling for groups of catalysts “to alter the foundation and face of civics learning and youth citizenship”.
Ben Wilson and David Spillman in their article, Teaching for Country: Analysing transformative student experiences through Indigenous Ways of Knowing, Being, and Doing, discuss their Teaching for Country Research Project which aimed to explore meaningful enactment of Indigenous Ways of Knowing, Being, and Doing in initial teacher education. The authors talk about a series of “Country-centric (ecocentric) learning experiences” and the range of Indigenous place-based pedagogical frameworks that they employed. This article provides valuable insights for ITE providers and teachers about ways of ‘Indigeniseing’ the curriculum.
We are excited to announce that the next issue of The Social Educator is our 40th anniversary special edition. We have some really insightful articles that reflect on how Civics and Citizenship Education has changed over time and what this means locally and globally both in terms of curriculum and teaching/learning. We look forward to sharing this exciting issue with you.
This is an article by Rachel Krust which is very relevant for Australian CCE teachers.
TLDR: We should be teaching civic participation in practice
All but the most minimalist conceptions of a true democracy envisage citizens voting and participating between elections on an informed and collectively considered basis. The Australian Curriculum adopts this vision insofar as it aspires to develop “active and informed citizens”. Under this model, citizens’ votes are cast on the strength of party policies, on which they have developed an informed and considered judgment, and they don’t rely mostly on heuristics like voting behaviour of family and peers, or simply their own historical voting behaviour. They also participate actively and on an informed basis between elections.
That’s not what Australian democracy looks like right now. While participation in some forms is increasing, we still vote and engage very much on the basis of heuristics and soundbites. The point here is absolutely not that people, especially young people, don’t want to engage more meaningfully; it’s that we’re not creating the right conditions and opportunities for engagement.
Part of the solution is to reimagine and better resource civics education in Australia. We should give the CCE curriculum more time. We should teach students to coherently evaluate and deliberate with their fellow citizens on current policies; evaluate parties and candidates; and perhaps most significantly, participate beyond elections, both formally and informally. We should do this by giving students opportunities to apply these capabilities in practice, talking and doing something about current local, state and national issues that affect them; preaching at students won’t work.
Read more here.
When was the last time you had the opportunity to work with other teachers around student voice and agency? Social Education Victoria’s Student Empowerment program for teacher professional learning is an opportunity for educators to explore research and practice in this area and to share resources, wins and dilemmas.
If you are:
· implementing student voice and agency projects and programs at your school;
· supporting student representatives or student leaders;
· supporting social justice, allies, politics or environment clubs;
· coordinating student action teams or community action projects;
· interested in learning more about student voice and agency;
· a learning specialist for student agency,
then this program is for you!
We are inviting you to participate in professional learning in student voice and agency through our Student Empowerment program. To start with, we are offering a free short course, beginning in Term 4, an online community of practice, newsletter updates and face to face PD. Find out more here. We are really happy to be able to offer this program free of charge due to funding from the Department of Education’s Strategic Partnerships Program.
In 2021, the Australia Talks survey reported that members of the public overwhelmingly acknowledged that racism remains a problem in our communities but stopped short in acknowledging that white supremacy was the force that guarded and enacted racist practice, politics, and discourse (Crabb, 2021). We’ve seen this disconnect at work in schools; in 2021, for instance, year 5 and 6 students in Sydney invoked powerful language and imagery to discuss Black Lives Matter (a potentially fruitful vector for discussing white supremacy), only for the school to go on the defensive in light of criticism from those including the state education department and the state minister for police that such discussion was inappropriate in its challenge of state and white supremacy (Chrysanthos & Baker, 2021). Elsewhere, the Senate voted in favour of rejecting critical race theory from the national curriculum in 2021 as a pre-emptive measure to exclude anti-racist thinking from curricular practice in schools.
Some of this resistance to anti-racism can be explained by way of the successful isolation of racism to interpersonal instantiations of racialized violence and exclusion, a containment no doubt exacerbated by the superficial inclusion work advocated by liberal multiculturalism and the carefully guarded proliferation of what Alana Lentin (2018) calls “not racism” that blunts meaningful anti-racism work. The former – liberal multiculturalism – has long been how schools have comfortably broached discussions of racism, trading in its logics of individual acceptance and good behaviour to the exclusion of less naïve critical work (Banks, 2004; Watkins & Noble, 2019). The effects of this are deeply challenging, given the mitigation of meaningful anti-racist work and the potential reproduction of what Banks (2017) calls “failed citizenship” in the school and broader community. There, remains then, problems with how we discuss racism.
As citizenship scholars and educators, our answer to the problems of racism noted above and their (lack of) consideration in schools likely involves an element of civic work and participation. Frustratingly, however, citizenship often has to contend with school and institutional climates that are resistant to critical work (see earlier Sydney and Senate example) and/or citizenship work has to contend with its own epistemic and conceptual shortcomings that make anti-racist citizenship a challenging prospect (Merry, 2020; Sabzalian, 2019; Smith, 2022). Herein remains a critical problem for citizenship education: the negotiation of school and community contexts that may dull critical citizenship work in favour of more tepid “personally responsible” civic work, the consequence of which is a potential foreclosing on citizenship action as a vector for meaningful anti-racist work (which, as noted above, is already subject to foreclosures). There exists, thus, an echoing of the problem with challenging racism: institutional structures and epistemological limitations that might prefer simpler, reductive and potentially acritical renditions of civic and anti-racist action. Yet, we know that citizenship work is possible, particularly in its critical form, supporting the creation of activist citizens who challenge systemic issues and their regulatory power and influence over lived experiences (Heggart, 2020). Indeed, scholars have highlighted how citizenship educational practice and theory can help to support learners as they work to foster inclusions and resistances to dominant homogenizing narratives (Lash, 2021; Starkey, 2021).
The two preceding paragraphs may read as fatalistic (with some space for optimism). However, the recognition of these challenges opens up a new (required) space for consideration:
How do we successfully marry anti-racist and citizenship work together to bolster more critical explorations that can support the contention of racism and the activism needed for citizenship?
It is this central question that guides this special issue where contributors are asked to speak to the “wicked problem” of racism (Came & Griffith, 2018) and the place of citizenship theory and practice in supporting activist responses to racism.
Potential Themes and Prompts
Final Papers are expected to be between 5,000 – 8,000 words. They will be published in a special issue of The Social Educator.
Banks, J. (2004). Approaches to multicultural curriculum reform. In J. Banks & C. McGee Banks (Eds.), Multicultural education: Issues and perspectives (pp. 242–264). John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Banks, J. (2017). Failed citizenship and transformative civic education. Educational Researcher, 46(7), 366–377.
Busey, C., & Dowie-Chin, T. (2021). The making of global Black anti-citizen/citizenship: Situating BlackCrit in global citizenship research and theory. Theory & Research in Social Education, 49(2), 153–175. https://doi.org/10.1080/00933104.2020.1869632
Came, H., & Griffith, D. (2018). Tackling racism as a “wicked” public health problem: Enabling allies in anti-racism praxis. Social Science & Medicine, 199, 181–188.
Chrysanthos, N., & Baker, J. (2021, April 21). How pictures of BLM posters on a classroom ceiling ignited a media storm. The Sydney Morning Herald. https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/how-pictures-of-blm-posters-on-a-classroom-ceiling-ignited-a-media-storm-20210421-p57l2c.html
Crabb, A. (2021, May 31). Australia Talks shows we agree there’s a lot of racism here, but less than half say white supremacy is ingrained in our society. ABC News. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-05-31/annabel-crabb-analysis-racism-australia-talks/100172288
Heggart, K. (2020). Activist Citizenship Education: A Framework for Creating Justice Citizens. Springer Nature.
Lash, C. (2021). Multicultural citizenship education as resistance: Student political development in an anti-immigrant national climate. Teaching and Teacher Education, 105, 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2021.103405
Lentin, A. (2018). Beyond denial: ‘Not racism’ as racist violence. Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 32(4), 400–414. https://doi.org/10.1080/10304312.2018.1480309
Merry, M. (2020). Can schools teach citizenship? Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 41(1), 124–138.
Sabzalian, L. (2019). The tensions between Indigenous sovereignty and multicultural citizenship education: Toward an anticolonial approach to civic education. Theory & Research in Social Education, 47(3), 311–346.
Smith, B. (2022). Effecting anti-racism in citizenship: Challenges, possibilities, and a necessary re-consideration. The Social Educator, 40(1), 3–15.
Starkey, H. (2021). Classroom counternarratives as transformative multicultural citizenship education. Multicultural Education Review, 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1080/2005615X.2021.1964266
Watkins, M., & Noble, G. (2019). Lazy multiculturalism: Cultural essentialism and the persistence of the Multicultural Day in Australian schools. Ethnography and Education, 14(3), 295–310.
Download as a PDF:
Congratulations to Dr Bryan Smith, JCU, who published this article recently:
Walking the stories of colonial ghosts: A method of/against the geographically mundane
The worlds we inhabit tell stories, stitched into the material and symbolic representations of the past that comes to define the features of our places. These stories are never neutral, anchored as they are in the intentional (re)presentation of a racialized white, masculine, and settler story as “our” story. Indeed, space, as an ostensibly neutral platform for storytelling, is called into service of settler-state anxieties to write itself into every (spatial) corner of our lives. This paper takes up this issue by theorizing how the street naming practices of settler communities write into everyday life a settler collective memory that, as a consequence, both shapes space into (settler) place and powerfully intervenes in individual (student) geographic consciousness. By way of vignettes woven throughout theoretical considerations as examples of everyday encounters, I unpack what it means to think of the language of invaded place with greater critical intention as an example of how walking through space can become a pedagogical method, with a focus on detailing what it might mean to support learner engagement with the names that make their communities coherent and media of normalized colonial memory.
Read more here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15505170.2022.2098208?journalCode=ujcp20
Below is the letter that was emailed to new Minister for Education, Jason Clare. In this letter, SCEAA members raise their concerns regarding the recent v 9.0 of the Australian Curriculum.
The Hon. Jason Clare, MP. Minister for Education
We are writing to congratulate you on your appointment as Minister for Education in the new Federal Government. This is a significant honour, and we warmly wish you all the best with the portfolio. We hope we can engage in discussions with you on a number of important education issues
One of the central goals for Australian schooling, in the Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Declaration, is the development of active and informed citizens and members of the community. Yet, according to the National Assessment Program - Civics and Citizenship (2019), only 53% of Year 6 students met or exceeded the proficient standard. The statistics are worse for Year 10 students, where only 38% of students attained the proficiency standard. We believe that a renewed focus on Civics and Citizenship education is essential in order to achieve the national goals and the engagement of youth in our robust democracy.
The Social and Citizenship Education Association of Australia (SCEAA) is a national organisation that represents teachers, educators in a range of NGOs and academics focused on improving the quality of learning in this field at all levels of education. We publish a well-respected and well-read academic journal, The Social Educator and have regular webinars and conferences attracting national and international engagement
Social and Civics and Citizenship education is at a critical juncture in Australia. Since 1989 when the Senate Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training published Education for Active Citizenship (1989), which raised concerns about a democratic deficit amongst young people, various state and federal governments have attempted to determine what should be taught about democracy in Australia, and the means by which it should be taught.
Different points of view have existed on a continuum between an uncritical valorisation of the history of Australian democracy, and a more critical, purposeful stance that emphasises active citizenship and positions young people as active participants in our democratic communities.
The Senate Committee, report on Nationhood, National Identity and Democracy, led by Kim Carr, was published in February 2021. One of the key
20 June 2022
recommendations was to review the current civics and citizenship subject of the Australian National Curriculum with a view to redesigning it to make it more engaging for students. This report, despite its thorough research and well founded recommendations, did not receive the attention it deserved, and remains largely neglected in public debate.
We are concerned about the latest version of the Australian Curriculum (v 9.0). Despite being active in national consultations, alongside other groups who shared our views, we are increasingly worried that v 9.0 limits the efficacy of young people and essentially casts them as ‘citizens-in-waiting’, rather than active citizens. If nothing else, young people’s advocacy about climate change, marriage equality and their involvement in the most recent federal election (alongside older members of society, too) indicates that young people are anything but ‘citizens-in-waiting’.
We argue that our curriculum should empower young people to be active and informed members of their community - as the Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Declaration calls for. In its current version, it does not do this. SCEAA Member, Peter Brett, has written more about this (Brett, 2022) as has SCEAA Executive member, Libby Tudball (Tudball, 2022). We urge you to examine the new version of the curriculum closely, and would welcome an opportunity to discuss future directions in the Humanities and Social Sciences with you. Our national executive group e would be willing to travel to either Canberra or Sydney at a time convenient and do hope that we can meet with you, either in person or online.
Dr Genevieve Hall,
Dr Keith Heggart
Vice President, SCEAA
Dr Deborah Green
Associate Professor Libby Tubdall
Version 9 of the Australian Curriculum was released in May 2022. ACARA aimed to provide a pared down curriculum to make it more manageable for teachers, and the new version has a 21% reduction in content descriptors overall.
Several changes that are relevant for our context are outlined in the summary of key changes:
Engaging students in contemporary issues provides opportunities for student voice and agency. Using contemporary issues enables students to engage with key political, legal, social and economic issues, and to become active and informed citizens.
However, active citizenship has been passively framed as ‘improving community’, with examples given such as classroom recycling program, community social service programs, student leadership programs, volunteer programs and partnership programs with local councils or groups outside the school. In the new version of the curriculum, students are also asked to consider actions, options and responses in relation to contemporary issues and issues of community concern, and to develop action plans to address these, rather than actually being encouraged to undertake action or create change about issues.
SCEAA is concerned that this latest version of the curriculum limits the efficacy of young people and essentially casts them as ‘citizens-in-waiting’, rather than active citizens, and limits their agency to engage meaningfully with contemporary issues that impact on their lives.
SCEAA member Peter Brett has written a blog for the AARE entitled ‘The insidious way the new curriculum undermines democracy’, which discusses some of the other concerns about the new version of the curriculum which you may like to read.
This is an article by SCEEA's own Libby Tudball. It was originally published on the AARE blog here.
By Libby Tudball
Millennial voters and Australian citizens aged under 45 made up 43 percent of the voters in the 2022 federal election. Analyses show that their vote mattered in swings against the major parties and revealed just how discerning young voters can be.
But clearly, for their votes to count, and to ensure their most preferred candidate is elected, understanding how the preferential voting system works is essential. This requires civics learning, so that young people can be informed citizens, with experience of voting systems.
However, results reported in 2021, from the National Assessment Program – Civics and Citizenship (NAP-CC, 2019), conducted every three years since 2004, showed that the proportion of Australian school students with the skills and knowledge required to be active and informed citizens has not changed since 2016.
At the national level, only 38 per cent of Year 10 students, and 53 per cent of Year 6 students, attained the stated proficiency standards regarding core aspects of Australian democracy, and their roles and responsibilities as citizens. So, there is significant room for improvement in building understanding of civics and citizenship education.
The Australian Curriculum: Civics and citizenship includes developing understanding of the electoral system as part of the focus on exploring how the people, as citizens, choose their governments; how the system safeguards democracy by vesting people with civic rights and responsibilities; how laws and the legal system protect people’s rights; and how individuals and groups can influence civic life. It also aims to develop students’ knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the values, principles, institutions and practices of Australia’s system of democratic government and law, and the role of the citizen in Australian government and society. There is a specific focus on the preferential voting systems.
So, what is the preferential system, and how can students be engaged in effective learning about the processes involved?
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) explains that there are many different types of preferential voting systems in use across Australia and the world.
Some preferential voting systems make it compulsory for voters to mark a preference for all candidates on the ballot paper, whereas others require a defined number of preferences to be indicated. Australian federal elections use a preferential voting system where voters are required to:
· mark a preference for every candidate on the green ballot paper (House of Representatives)
· mark a preference for a designated number of preferences on the white ballot paper (Senate)
The AEC explains that the preferential voting system used for the House of Representatives provides for multiple counts of ballot papers, in order to determine who has acquired an absolute majority of the total votes (more than 50% of formal votes). During the counting process, votes are transferred between candidates according to the preferences marked by voters.
The AEC provides multiple online, plain language resources that schools and community members can access. One document explains that at each polling place, when voting closes, officials sort all ballot papers by first preference votes, which are then counted for each candidate. Informal votes that are incorrectly filled in are identified and removed from the count. All the ‘1’ votes are counted for each candidate in an electorate. If a candidate gets more than an absolute majority – they are immediately elected. Even though they are elected, a full preference count is completed to show how the electorate voted. If no candidate has an absolute majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is excluded from the count. The votes for this candidate are then transferred to the candidate numbered ‘2’ on each of their ballot papers, the voters’ ‘second preference’. This process continues until one candidate has more than half the total formal votes cast and is then declared elected.
The National Electoral Education Centre (NEEC) at Old Parliament House in Canberra provides onsite experiential learning experiences for students visiting the national capital to engage and inform young people about voting and elections. Students meet DemocraBot and are immersed in DemocraCity, a brand new interactive virtual world, to learn about representation, enrolment, and voting and to experience the electoral process in action by running their own election in a dedicated polling place. Students vote, count the votes, and declare the election result, while taking on the roles of voters, ballot box guards, scrutineers and polling officials!
The NEEC also offers online education programs and resources for primary, secondary and adult groups.. One of these programs links learning about voting and the preferential system to Bloom’s Taxonomy of cognitive objectives that describes learning in six levels in the order of: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Students are challenged for example to: examine why sometimes the person with the most first preference votes is not elected in a federal election; debate different systems of voting (full preferential, partial preferential, first past the post); make a flowchart to show how the preferences flowed in a real election at your school, and construct arguments for and against full preferential voting. Understanding the preferential system also requires critical thinking and knowledge about who the candidates are and their policies and standpoints on critical issues.
Voters also need to know what to do when they get to the ballot box, so the AEC provides images of the ballot papers and simple instructions about how to make sure that your ballot paper is completed properly for the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The Get Voting resource provides a step by step guide to running a mock election in a school as a hands-on way of developing understanding of the preferential systems. As the introduction to the Democracy Rules resource says: ‘Teachers play a critical part in shaping young people’s understanding of their role as citizens and future electors. In fact, the work of the teaching profession helps to guide the democratic development of our nation’.
There is no lack of resources available to teachers to ensure that young people can build their knowledge and skills. But since Civics and Citizenship is not often a designated subject in school timetables, the challenge is for schools to ensure that they do plan multiple opportunities for students to experience and learn about voting and elections.
Understanding the preferential system matters, so that students can be active, participatory citizens, capable of thinking about their choices and registering their vote for the candidates that they most and least prefer. But this learning should also be part of whole school approaches to Civics and Citizenship education that empower young people to have voice and agency. They should not be citizens-in-waiting, but have opportunities to be citizens now. This involves learning about and participating in critical debates about issues they are concerned about.
Results from triple j’s What’s Up In Your World survey, conducted in May, 2022, that surveyed more than 1,600 18-29 year olds, show that young Australians are highly politically engaged, but extremely disappointed with leadership from the major parties. Only two percent believe that politicians are working in the best interests of young Australians.
Ariadne Vromen (May 30, The Conversation) pointed out that Prime Minister Albanese wants to change the way we do politics in Australia. With a new government there is an opportunity to re-engage citizens in policy-making and politics; and this includes young people in schools. She reported the OECD’s view that ‘when citizens are more engaged in politics and involved in decision-making, the more likely it is that good policies will result that can address critical, difficult issues. Citizens will be more invested in the outcome when they see their views are heard and acted upon’.
It’s clearly a good time for a renewed focus on civics and citizenship in schools.
Libby Tudball is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education, at Monash University. Her research and publications focus on teacher education and the humanities and social sciences, with a particular focus on civics and citizenship education.
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