Last week The Australian contributed to the national curriculum discussion with a suggestion that Professor Stuart Macintyre’s appointment to oversee the writing of the history framework paper was ill-advised. A headline spoke of a reigniting of the history wars. An editorial concluded that ‘the appointments [of Macintyre (history) and Freebody (English)] reflect poorly on the National Curriculum Board and its chairman, Professor Barry McGaw.’ (10/9) In amongst some of the apocalyptic correspondence that came in on cue, Dr John Hirst provided a voice of reason: ‘The appointment of Stuart Macintyre to draw up the history section of the national curriculum should not re-ignite the history wars. I have seen his first draft and can assure you that the fears expressed in your pages about his appointment are misplaced.’ (12/9)
A few points need to be made:
- Professor Stuart Macintyre has been asked to oversee the drafting of a history framework paper that will then be subject to discussion. HTAA has endorsed this as a necessary and sensible first step in an extensive consultative process.
- HTAA has also welcomed the involvement of a historian of Professor Macintyre’s stature in the earliest stages of the development of national courses. What must be emphasised is that he is working collaboratively. For those for whom the labels are important, the radical Stuart Macintyre is working with the conservative John Hirst. In fact, both are respected historians whose aim is produce feasible courses that will engage school age children. Classroom practitioners and teacher educators are also involved.
- While Australian history is important and, it could be argued, stands to benefit most, the development of national history courses embraces all history. It is not helpful to focus the discussion only on Australian history. Indeed, the so-called history wars may have very limited relevance if we are concerned with developing appropriate courses that will engage the average student across all years, K-12.
- At this point HTAA has not promoted any particular point of view regarding topics, pedagogy or assessment. What we have strenuously called for is a consultative process that aims at the widest possible input and recognises the important role of the classroom practitioners who will be ultimately called upon to engage students with the new national curriculum courses.
- Not every history teacher in Australia is a member of a state HTA. Even if they were, it would be impossible for HTAA to speak with an absolutely clear voice for all teachers, particularly with the different emphases and traditions across the states and territories. Given this reality, HTAA has devoted considerable effort to passing on information about national curriculum development and gathering feedback from history teachers across the country:
- The National Curriculum section of HTAA’s website has attempted to provide an up to date record of developments, updates and commentary. Affiliate associations have duplicated this in various ways.
- In early September NSW HTA, in association with Macquarie University, sponsored a National History Forum. Teacher input from this event will be passed on to the National Curriculum Board.
- In the first week of October Q HTA will host the national conference, where a morning session has been set aside for discussion and input on national curriculum.
- All state and territory HTAs have nominated delegates to attend the National Curriculum Board forum scheduled for mid-October.
History is a critical study and inherently contentious. It follows that the development of history curriculum will also give rise to vigorous debate. Even so, the recent polarisation of the discussion has been disappointing, particularly as it appeared to be in anticipation of outcomes on the basis of misinformation. Inevitably, there will be some torrid times ahead but the hope must be that the discussion can move to a rational and productive middle ground and be conducted with the goodwill that the potential outcome deserves.
In the meantime, HTAA feels that it is important to reassert its endorsement of the way in which the National Curriculum Board is addressing the challenge of developing national curriculum courses.