The next generation of Australians will be unwilling to defend their country in a military crisis, because schools are feeding students a negative view of its history and undermining confidence in liberal democracy, the Education Minister claims. Alan Tudge is pushing for more far-reaching changes to the draft national curriculum, including its treatment of history, which he warns could entrench ideological misgivings, such as referring to “our most sacred day, Anzac Day, as a contested idea”. While Mr Tudge says a revised version of the draft curriculum includes a stronger focus on phonics and the introduction of multiplication timetables in year three rather than year four, he has expressed deep concern that children are still fed “negative views of our country, our history and our people”.

“With education standards in decline in Australia over the last 20 years, we cannot have our curriculum stand still. It must aim higher. It must lift standards so we are on a path to where we used to be two decades ago,” he says. He also warns that the draft curriculum has “weakened Christianity, despite it being the single most important influence on our modern development.” Mr Tudge says Western liberal culture should be just as fiercely defended in schools as Indigenous culture and heritage. “These are matters core to who we are as a nation. We should expect our young people leaving school to have an understanding of our liberal democracy and how it is that we are one of the wealthiest, most free, most tolerant and most egalitarian countries in all of human history, which millions have immigrated to,” he says.

“If they don’t learn this, they won’t defend it as previous generations did.” Mr Tudge says it is fundamental that school-leavers have an understanding of “how extraordinarily lucky” they are given the rise of authoritarianism, communism and Islamic fundamentalism across the globe as well as the emergence of more assertive China on the international stage. “There has not been a more important time to teach children the origins, values and singular greatness of liberal democracy since the 1940s,” he says.Geoffrey Blainey, described by Mr Tudge as the nation’s “greatest living historian”, said the “fashion” of most schools over the preceding three decades had been to teach a history curriculum that “denigrates Australia and its history and present way of life”.

“In my view, the condemnation of this country has gone too far. There is plenty to criticise here, as in every country on earth. But Australia on the whole is a success,” Professor Blainey said. “It is one of the world’s conspicuous success stories in modern times. That’s why so many millions want to come and live here in a normal year.” John Howard also threw his weight behind a more robust teaching of liberal democracy. The former prime minister said that improving students’ understanding of the history and philosophy behind Australia’s system of government was fundamental to preserving “freedoms that we enjoy”. “Any curriculum which does not emphasise such things is highly deficient,” Mr Howard said.

Speaking in parliament, Mr Tudge said: “I am not satisfied with the current draft curriculum which has been presented because some of those core things which underpin our democracy are not there.” Mr Tudge says there are forces “across the Western world” who are trying to downplay Western civilisation and the benefits it has brought. Mr Tudge demanded last August that the board of the nation’s schooling authority substantially rewrite its draft national curriculum, after accusations it put “ideology over evidence” and would ultimately harm student outcomes. Among the most scathing criticism was from the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, which called for any ongoing review of the curriculum to be halted, saying the draft had children learning open-ended maths problems before the basics.

Mr Tudge has come under intense criticism in recent months from teachers and progressives for his objection to making slavery, imperialism and colonisation large aspects of the draft history curriculum, and for saying children should not learn Anzac Day is a “contested idea”. Critics of the Education Minister have said his insistence that children are taught a more positive view of western civilisation is contradictory with his campaign to broaden protections for freedom of speech at universities. Mr Tudge cites Lowy Institute polling showing that 40% of 18 to 29-year-olds believe that non-democratic government may be preferable or that it does not matter what kind of government system is in place. “That is a catastrophe,” he says.

“Ultimately, students should leave school with a love of country and a sense of optimism and hope that we live in the greatest country on earth and that the future is bright. “Our Western political institutions are not always perfect but think of what they have given us: ‘one-person one-vote’ democratic government, equality before the law, freedom of association and speech, universal education, strong human rights, incredible wealth. These are very precious, and very rare institutions – rare still in the world today and particularly rare throughout human history. We cannot take that for granted.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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