#Goodesgate – It’s All About Ethics in Booing

For those who don’t follow AFL, the booing of Adam Goodes at every away game must be confusing. He is, outside the ground, a well known helper in the community who is gentle, kind, loves his mum and is good bloke. Such a good bloke that he was made Australian of the Year. But with Goodes, there is something about him that has switched him from being a sporting champion to being someone with booing.

Racism is at the heart of it.  Maybe not everyone who boos Goodes is a racist, but they are contributing to a phenomenon that started with racist attitudes towards an Indigenous man who decided that enough was enough. The #goodesgate campaign is akin to what we have seen online with #gamergate – with people joining into something because it’s now considered cool.

Not that you’ll see that admitted to online all that often. That’s because what has happened is similar in some ways to the Gamer Gate phenomenon in the US, where people who attack others on the net in relation to the issues deny that they are sexists, instead that they insist that the issue is about “ethics in gaming journalism”. These mostly white men on the internet are now continually howling that it’s about Ethics in Booing. (sidenote – thanks to Aden Crocker – @glavencrocker for this whole idea of connecting the two).

I remember the game where it turned for Goodes. It was the time when a 13 year old Collingwood supporter screamed that Goodes was an “ape”. Goodes, unlike most Indigenous footballers who would have heard such insults hurled from the sidelines, decided that such behaviour was unacceptable. Ever since that moment, however, the boos started. I remember that to start with, the loudness and persistence with booing wasn’t consistent across the league. I distinctly remember an Essendon game, a later Collingwood game and, of course, the 2014 Grand Final with Hawthorn. They weren’t around before the “ape” moment, but suddenly, there they were. And this year, it’s grown and is more persistent than ever.

From my sport Twitter account (@cappertowers), it’s been a curious phenomenon watching how the booing has been explained, excused and justified from a variety of sources – the development of Goodesgaters, claiming that this is all about ethics in booing and that it’s fine to do it. It appears that amongst mostly white male sport fans from Victoria and the other Southern States that a consensus has been built about Goodes and what he “should” have done plus what he is like as a person. This consensus view seems to have been built, on social media at least, on Twitter and through forums on the Big Footy forum, which is to this movement what 4Chan was for the Gamer Gate movement.

This consensus view that has been built states that his calling out of the 13 year old girl was Goodes’ “mistake”. He should have “kept quiet” about it and not “drawn attention to his colour”. This continues to the idea that “Others get booed and they get on with things, so why not him”. It’s the response people provide to the bullied when they speak out. “You’re just drawing attention to your skin, Adam, stop it”.   In other words, racism exists amongst sporting crowds and always will – why make it worse by trying to make a stand against it? One of the main problems with this is that I’m not sure that people who don’t experience lifelong, persistent racist insults and institutionalised racism can really tell someone who does how to act. White privilege is an actual thing, but it is not recognised by most who attack Goodes for how he is reacting to the situation. Worse still is the accusation of “reverse racism” and that Goodes hates white people. Pretty sure the entire Swans football team, most of whom aren’t Indigenous, would disagree with that one.

Then, a couple of months down the track, there were other Ethics in Booing excuses emerging about why people booed. “He’s a stager for free kicks” was one. “Umpire’s pet” was another. My favourite justfication – “he’s an arrogant flog” became a standard response – for them, it’s like “just because”. There’s no need to go any further with their justification for that belief. These excuses were convenient, especially for those who refused to concede that a consensus predicated on racism had emerged.   The problem is that Goodes rarely stages for free kicks – no more than Joel Selwood of Geelong, for example, who is rarely booed. As for “umpire’s pet”, Giants fans can tell you that there’s plenty of those around (*cough* Gary Ablett *cough*) and they are rarely booed every single time they touch the ball.

There’s also various false equivalence arguments about booing that have been raised. One is the case of Essendon captain Jobe Watson’s treatment at the hands of West Coast supporters in the height of the ASADA drug situation – which was also poor, but not as sustained and sprung from a perceived piece of sustained cheating. Goodes isn’t the captain of a team accused of performance related cheating.   There was also raised the case of Stephen Milne of St. Kilda, who was booed in the wake of rape charges. Again, not really a good comparison as rape is a bit different from asking racists to stop calling you an ape.

Another element of the problem with this “Goodes is a Flog” argument is that Goodes, outside the football field, is one of the friendliest, most gentlemanly people in football. Rarely does one hear in Sydney of anything he does that is less than dignified.   Not a “flog”. Just a player who wants to play football well.

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The consensus view of Goodes as an uppity Indigenous man who should have Kept Quiet was made even more entrenched when Goodes decided to unleash a post goal celebration learnt from an Under 18s team. Then the Melbourne football media and the forums had a field week saying how he shouldn’t be so “hostile” and inflaming what was already a poor situation. He should have left it alone…! Those of us in the SCG crowd, however, watching on saw a pretty cool celebration along the same lines of Greg Inglis’ post try celebrations in the NRL, which elicits a different kind of response.

So, this issue will bubble along as the white men – the Goodesgaters of Big Footy will continually cry that it’s about Ethics in Booing. People boo for whatever reason. Allow them to boo. They aren’t racists, they are just people booing because they believe Goodes is a… (fill in whatever convenient excuse). These people will even ignore the likes of Mark Robinson, Jonathan Brown (yes, the large boofy bloke on Fox Footy), Gerard Whateley (though he’s a lefty, isn’t he?) and the like – mainstream men who don’t generally aren’t known for their “lefty views”. These Goodesgaters will also embrace their new champion, Andrew Bolt, who I just can’t imagine ever going to an AFL game, let alone known much about it. This has conveniently fell into his lap to help feed his weird pseudo-eugenicist argument about people “choosing their race” and therefore making a unfairly successful life for themselves by identifying themselves as such.

Problem is for Bolt and the other Goodesgaters, Adam Goodes was already successful and will continue to be despite whatever the Goodesgaters have Decided about him. He will continue to play until the end of the year, retire and be considered an utter champion of the game in Sydney. Fans of football in Sydney (both of red and orange persuasion) will be lucky to have him around to help in Indigenous communities and generally in society. If others in the nation want to invent problems about him, then that’s their delusion. And will continue to be either racists or the enablers of racists. Because even if you aren’t racist outside the arena of football, if you are booing Adam Goodes, you are telling the racists who started this that it’s ok to boo.

And it’s not.

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Building a Brand on New Media – A Few Tips for New Players

It’s been 5 years since I started to build the Preston Towers brand.  A “brand”?  Actually, no, it isn’t – the username was a joke name for a start.  That’s a ridiculous expression that infers some kind of plan.   No, there’s been no plan.  Just tweets and words from whatever came into my head at the time.  But in saying that, I have been able to see how exactly someone could build their “brand” – I have seen many built over these 5 years – people trading their wares to the right people on social media and landed themselves jobs as opinion contributors on anything that takes their fancy. So, here’s some tips.

1. Have a Unique Take on Things

There’s a variety of angles people have on issues. Mine seemed to be from the aspect of Western Sydney, as there didn’t seem to be all that many people tweeting about politics from the region. So, I tweeted about things that had not been reported in a time when there wasn’t a whole lot of accurate, detailed, specific information being communicated across various platforms. This wasn’t a brand building exercise – it came from genuine annoyance at the quality of coverage.  But it became part of my “brand” as I noted that I was getting posts read and retweeted more when I did write about the region. I had become the Western Suburbs Guy. And continue that way for most. Personally, I’d rather be the anything that takes my interest guy – classical music, sport, literature, teaching, whatever. But I had little choice in people’s perceptions of me, as it turned out.  It’s nearly impossible to shift perceptions that become fixed very quickly.

2. Use Twitter during the Working Day

One of the things about Twitter as a social networking tool is that the bigger traffic is in the evening, for a number of obvious reasons.  Vast arrays of people tweeting about TV shows, especially Q & A.  A significant chunk of my followers started to do so after episodes of Q and A if I managed to crack a half decent joke / popular comment or two.  That, however, doesn’t gain you as much traction brand wise (or is that “cut through”) as when people tweet during the working day.  If you really want to get into the inner circle, get your brand well known to the core media employers and influencers (yes, they actually exist, even if they express disdain for the word), tweet during the working day. Whenever I am on school holidays, I could see how many people spend the hours from 9 to 5 charming each other and from those conversations have come various writing and editing jobs.   So, get yourself a job where you can throw bon mots and epigrams at people during downtimes.  That will build your brand to the right people very quickly.

3. Write one killer post that gets you Known

There is, in most people who blog, a killer post that really gains a person a reputation and, more importantly, traction in terms of audiences.  The one post that really gets people talking and sharing – even getting mass Facebook coverage.  It’s often also the one post that gets a person’s brand embedded (yes, embedded – I use this term deliberately, not ironically – I have seen this happen in many cases) into particular media outlets.  That means, it doesn’t matter how mediocre your other work can be – people will remember that killer post and forgive the lesser ones. For a while, anyway.

4. Don’t Use a Pseudonym

If I was serious about getting work through social media connections, I would have ceased being a pseudonym some time ago. It seems that pseudonyms are for a past era – these days, the brand needs to have a real, identifiable person behind the profile.  That way, people can build a relationship with the person, rather than only the ideas.  That way, things like beer choices, attitudes towards TV shows and photos of friendship groups become a crucial part of the way a persona’s output is appreciated and read.  It’s understandable in an era that upholds interest in the personal as being on the same – or even superior – level as the political.

5. Don’t Take Things So Seriously

One of the most important things for a social media brand builder is that you must pick and choose the issues about which you can be serious.  It’s quick to see how a critical mass on Twitter will consider your objection or views are deemed to be “too serious” or “too earnest”.  They will respond to you sarcastically, storify your work and the rest.  Pile-ons are ugly and it’s rare to get support from others.  It’s safer to wait to see when key players on social media have chosen to be serious about an issue before you can join in.  Unless, of course, you have succeeded in becoming a key player. Then you will have learnt when to be serious in the correct way.

Same goes for how you respond to people who follow you purely to criticise you.  I had a fair few of them over the years, who generally said I was too earnest / serious / wrong and would not respond to me at any other time. My mistake was to respond to them with various levels of anger, frustration, confusion all borne of anxiety.  I should have been cooler and either ignored them or learnt to do “fully sick burns” in response. That’s a key skill if you decide to speak out individually or continue to hold unpopular opinions.

6. Know the Cliques and Circles of Friends

It’s one of the important areas of making your way in social media – know who else is who and, more importantly, what circles of friends exist. If you want to build your brand, you need to gain the assent of some and maybe even the disdain of others in order to gain acceptance and opportunities. Just as crucially, if you disagree with particular people, you need to consider carefully whether you express that opinion on social media or decide to just keep the view to yourself.  Having made the mistake of disagreeing with various people over the years, I would advise that it doesn’t help your brand to take them on and get the criticism raining down on your head.   On that, it’s very easy to bring opprobrium on one’s head – anywhere between 1 and 15 minutes, depending on what you tweet and whose opinion piece about which you express an opinion. So, it’s important to really think of what the consequences would be.

7. Be Yourself In Real Life Meetings – Or at least, a constructed version

If you really want to make it as a person who makes money and connections through social media, you will need to meet people in real life.  The tweetup is a vital part of that process.  I’m fortunate in having met a number of great people and when I meet people, I’m not overly concerned about making a good impression on people I don’t really like all that much. That’s because I have a good life away from the keyboard and don’t need to make money or impress people I don’t like or respect.  The brand builder, however, needs to be more cautious than that and be strategic on exactly what kind of persona they are projecting.  And be ready to join in when absent people with Twitter profiles are being criticised / slammed.  There is no quicker way to be accepted by the right people.

This is not to say everyone on Twitter is like this, a Brand Builder. Far from it. But it’s been clear to see who has been following each of these points and have been a success at doing it.  Good luck to them – they enjoy their lives and have made some good connections. For me, though, it’s sometimes difficult to enjoy social interactions on the platform when you know there is this level of manipulation, control and game playing occurring behind the computer screens of others. For someone who suffers considerable levels of anxiety, it’s sometimes crippling.   This is why, when it comes to it, I’m grateful for using a pseudonym. That way, it’s become easy to escape that world and not have to second think your opinions about life, politics and the wider world.  In addition, it’s also great to know people in real life who are able to tell you to get off that high horse and be happier for it.

And if you want to be an actual person and not a brand, that’s the best advice that can be provided.

 

The Leaving of Preston Towers

Last Wednesday, my flat in Preston St, Jamisontown is passed into the hands of another owner.

With the end comes a beginning – with the beginning there was an end. Six years ago I bought a flat. It was a terrifying and horrible time for me. I had no idea about financial things – I was a first home purchaser at the age of 37 and I really hated the world of loans, solicitors and real estate agents. They all scared me. They were the people who used to look disdainfully at people like me – renters / tenants / near bottom of the food chain. Worst were the property managers who were tough on tenants about the cleanliness of a home – a bit of grease on an oven was my greatest sin in my previous life.

There I was, though, with a flat. I owned something. Morelike, the bank owned something and I was to spend 30 years paying them back for it. It wasn’t much of a place. Two bedrooms, anonymous, 30 years old. But it was a forced saving I had to make while in my life I was wanting to make wild decisions. In that sense, the little flat was to be one of my saving points, something keeping me from walking away from everything. It was to be a new beginning.

It was a new beginning in terms of how I saw the world around me. Having grown up in a comfortable middle class place, to be here amongst those on welfare and working class people determined to work their way up the ladder, it was an eye opener. One of my fondest memories were the conversations I had were with fellow residents of the building. Living above me was a milk factory worker – one of the other owners, who had an immense degree of pride in his flat and made it as pleasant as possible. Then there was the couple who owned a landscaping business who were determined to improve the garden around the apartment block. Then there was the neighbour who lived in the flat next to me who was there as a part of the Cumberland scheme – public housing spread amongst the flats of Penrith. She was there because poor health had interfered with her ability to work.

I wished while I was there that I would have appreciated the place more. When I was there, I saw it as small, as dingy, as a cave. Anything but a home to be filled with happiness and security. When I left it, though, to live in the Mountains once more, I was left with the choice of selling it or having it rented. I decided to not sell it because I couldn’t be bothered with selling it and paying a real estate agent a commission. This was no sound financial decision – it was laziness.

It turned out to be very financially advantageous, especially as prices even in Penrith have shot up. But it has also become something else – it’s become a home for a family these past four years. A family of Indian background who have filled it with love and joy, forced to downsize after the birth of their first child. As it turns out, the purchaser isn’t a first home owner – it’s been purchased with boomer investment cash, so the tenants can continue to live on in the flat and have their lives as I move on.

I didn’t sell the flat because I was necessarily after cash. I have needed to move on emotionally from my Penrith days, my connection to a place where I never felt at home as a teenager, and never did as a resident.  I have now purchased a more modern, flashy freestanding medium density house in Casey, one of the new suburbs of Canberra. Canberra’s a place that contains more positive memories for me – I always enjoy going there and it strikes me that a new house that isn’t all that far from the city centre might be popular after the suburb becomes fully established.

The question is, though, what of Preston Towers? After all, I built an entire social media account and presence around the name of the street on which its built, which in some way was just as much not me as the flat was. There was always a sense of rhetorical flourish in naming something after a place that vaguely revolted me at the time. In the same way, I became a Westie Warrior whilst not being entirely westie at all.  My daughter has suggested that I should walk away from the name. Maybe she’s right.

As I move on from the purchase, however, I realise that living in Preston Towers was a significant part of my life and maybe it wasn’t all that bad after all. Or maybe I’ve matured a bit and stopped being revolted by those days.  I have moved on emotionally and socially from those days, but they are a part of me, for better or worse. So I may as well keep the name as a memory of what has been and a way to continue to campaign for those people in the outer suburbs with small voices in a large chamber.

Ausopinion Reblogged – Hold the Phonics, Roast the Robustness – Donnelly the Columnist Responds to his Critics

This was the follow-up to my piece on education and Kevin Donnelly. Not quite as strong, like all my follow-ups to the big, popular posts.  There is, however, a postscript that highlights a curious side to the personality of Dr. Donnelly. 
Posted by prestontowers on January 14, 2014

The response to the appointment of Kevin Donnelly and Ken Wiltshire to a review panel for the National Curriculum has been energetic as it has been enlightening.  One of the more telling factors has been that in Donnelly’s case, his responses reveal that he is more a commentator with a populist media sensibility and less a curriculum expert.  But first the responses from curriculum and education professionals.  There has been:– An open letter by a range of academics and current teachers in school systems, pointing out in detail that the original drafting of the National Curriculum was without partisan involvement and was undertaken by experienced professionals and academics from a range of backgrounds; that the timing of the review is unworkable and placing a question around the people involved. It also features the word “robust” (whenever I hear that word – and it’s a lot recently, I think of this…)

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– Bafflement amongst experts in Victoria (though, as we already know, “everyone” is an expert in education.  This article also includes key statements by the head of ACARA, Barry McGaw, who is hardly a partisan figure to anyone who has read his work or heard him speak at conferences (I remember vividly his speech about quantitative analysis at my Dip Ed graduation)

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority’s board chairman, Barry McGaw, said he welcomed the review. But he also said the authority had used a ”rigorous, national process” that had produced a high-quality curriculum.

”The Australian curriculum is setting higher standards across the country, perhaps most notably in mathematics and science at the primary school level,” he said.

Professor McGaw said the ACT began introducing the curriculum’s first subjects in 2011. Five other jurisdictions followed, including Victoria in 2013. He said each learning area was developed by experts over two to three years.

This is McGaw’s way of responding to the suggestion that the original curriculum is biased, “left wing”, not rigorous, and not “robust”.

– This comment piece that reveals a bit about Donnelly’s comments in the media, as well as not holding back in the author’s opinion of the motives behind the appointment.

– This fiery piece by Jenna Price that includes this choice quote about Donnelly from the former Director of the NSW Education Department Ken Boston:

”He doesn’t engage with reasoned argument or evidence … [his] publications are regarded as specious nonsense.”

– This excellent and concise piece showing that this review is part of a continuing battle over the teaching of history.

– I was also pointed towards this weightier read about the push by conservatives to have a particular history taught in schools.

Donnelly’s responses, though, have revealed that his instincts are more as a columnist / commentator.  It is for this reason that, on his interview on the ABC, where he advocated, amongst other things, that more religious history should be taught in the compulsory years of schooling. For someone charged with making the National Curriculum “stronger” and “more robust”, it seems odd to be talking about teaching about religions, which has little to nothing to do with either concept.  It does, though, make sense when you realise that he is a senior research fellow for the Australian Catholic University. He has religion on his mind – though, as he was at pains to point out in the interview, also religions other than Christianity.

“I’m not saying we should preach to everyone, but I would argue that the great religions of the world – whether it’s Islam, whether it’s Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism – they should be taught over the compulsory years of school,” he said.

“When you look at Parliaments around Australia – they all begin with the Lord’s prayer. If you look at our constitution, the preamble is about God.

“You can’t airbrush that from history – it has to be recognised.”

In one breath, mentioning the “great religions”, but then focusing on one religion – the one that has ensured that the Lord’s Prayer in read in parliament – a strange thing to mention, especially considering many things are said parliaments that school students don’t study.  The other startling quote from this is the one that claims that religion is being “airbrushed” from history.  It’s not only extraordinary, but wrong.   It’s not even “airbrushed” from the National Curriculum, as you can see with a simple search of the document.  The use of the term “airbrush” suggests that Dr. Donnelly has been working with the conservative commentariat for a long time – they are very used to using populist phrases like “airbrushed”, “politically correct” and “nanny state”.

A further question in this regard is, however, where would students be educated about religions and in what way?  Almost every non-government school teach a compulsory religion subject which reflects the doctrine of the school. For example, Catholic schools in Victoria and NSW have a Catholic Studies course centred around a set of textbooks – “To Know, Worship and Love”, Christian schools have self developed, non Board of Studies courses called usually “Christian Studies” or “Bible Studies”.   Is he suggesting adding more to history? Creating a new religions course for government schools?  In either case, it would be vastly unpopular and making a mockery of the idea that this review is about a “stronger” and “more robust” curriculum.

Dr. Donnelly had decided also to experiment further with social media – searching for mentions of his name and responding to them.

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The latter comment points to another trait conservative commentators for newspapers use for populist purposes – find an extreme example of something you think will create a negative connotation in the readers’ minds.  After you have done that, refuse to comment further.  That’s why he didn’t respond to many of the tweets thrown in his direction this past weekend.  He has, however, composed another opinion piece – in Fairfax this time.  Unsurprisingly, it is entitled “Coalition’s call to review school curriculum based on sound reasons”

The Commonwealth government, while being a key stakeholder in school education in terms of money, resources and programs, does not employ any classroom teachers or manage any schools.

As a result – and as signalled by Education Minister Christopher Pyne when announcing the review of the national curriculum – the review will be a consultative one involving schools, parents, professional associations, academics, and state and territory education authorities.

While critics argue that the review’s outcomes are predetermined, it’s also the case that nothing has been decided, and the fact that public submissions are being called for suggests that the process will be open and transparent.

We have again a reassurance of this “open and transparent” process. and that nothing is “predetermined” and that submissions will be asked for. Exactly the same way submissions were asked for during the actual National Curriculum consultative phase.  The questions are many – such as:

– Are they going to read the same submissions that were made before?

–  What weight will be given to various submissions from experts and professionals in the field, as opposed to submissions about the history curriculum like this from the BA graduate and PhD (in economics) student Chris Berg, who, like Donnelly, is associated with the IPA?

–  What is this “transparency” that will be used?

But let’s go on…

The reasons for establishing a review are manifold.

The Coalition’s election policy promised, if elected, that an Abbott-led government would review the national curriculum to ensure its robustness, that it represented international best-practice and that it was free of bias.

The need to benchmark the national curriculum against the curriculum of more successful, stronger-performing countries as measured by mathematics, science and literacy tests – such as Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, and Program for International Student Assessment – should be beyond debate.

“Robustness” – not sure that’s a word that is used out of newspaper columnist land and “International best practice” is not something that can be ensured by 2 men doing a 4 – 6 month review.  And “free of bias” infers that it Curriculum has bias.   In other words, Donnelly is already revealing his bias by simply repeating a political party’s dogma as justification for a review.   In addition, how does one “benchmark” a curriculum against those of other nations with different educational contexts and backgrounds?   It will be fascinating to discover how that is achieved.  The tables will be staggering in their complexity.

While Australian students perform reasonably well in international mathematics and science tests, there are always a handful of countries, mostly in the Asian region, that do better.

As noted by the Australian Industry Group, a significant number of employers are complaining about the inadequate literacy and numeracy standards of employees.

While there are no magic solutions, there is much that we can learn in Australia by analysing and evaluating successful overseas curriculums in terms of content, design, styles of teaching, classroom interaction and theories of knowledge.

If, for example, so-called best-practice curriculums are succinct, teacher-friendly, academically rigorous and involve a range of teaching styles, from teacher-directed to learner-centred, then why not evaluate the extent to which our national curriculum compares?

More comment that Asian nations do better in some subjects, in international tests that are being held as sacrosanct in terms of what they measure.  This is shown in every newspaper article written about education, where these tests are never criticised or even analysed in terms of educational relevance or worth.  Here though, because Donnelly has the mind of a columnist, nor an curriculum specialist, he is showing that these tests should be the measure of the success of a curriculum. A questionable assumption.

One of the criticisms made by primary teachers is that the curriculum they are being asked to teach covers too much territory, is overly prescriptive and that it is stifling flexibility and choice at the local level. It’s also important to analyse our approach to the curriculum in light of what the research suggests is most effective in raising standards and strengthening learning outcomes.

We finally get a reference to research. And “one of the criticisms” is that the curriculum “covers too much territory” – yet one of the first things Donnelly claimed was that not enough religion is covered. Seems to be a touch contradictory in that idea.

Countries around the world, including South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Britain and the US are continually evaluating what works and what does not in the classroom, and ensuring the training and professional development of teachers are evidence-based.

Increasingly, across the English-speaking world for example, the consensus is that phonics and phonemic awareness are a critical part of teaching young children how to read. The research also suggests, especially in the early years, that automaticity, involving memorisation and rote learning, are important elements in allowing children to go on to higher order, more creative learning.

Ethnographic research examining Asian classrooms also suggests that lessons need to be highly structured, where students have a clear understanding of what is expected, and what constitutes success or failure, and there is adequate time for interaction and feedback.

Teachers in countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong also have the time and resources to mentor one another, to work collaboratively, and are highly respected by parents and students.

And here we have a regular hobby horse of conservative education columnists – phonics and rote learning.  That what our children need is phonics and rote learning.  Miranda Devine, holder of a degree in Mathematics, is particularly fond of it (I could link to many more pieces by Devine about phonics, but they aren’t hard to find).  Donnelly even goes so far as to say there is a “consensus” on phonics.  Quite a large statement, really.

Problem is for Dr. Donnelly is that the National Curriculum doesn’t reach into the areas of phonics and rote learning. It’s a curriculum document. It mandates what is taught in content and skills – but not how it is taught.  There isn’t a pedagogical approach being pushed nationally – that would be a near impossible task.  Therefore, it can’t tell teachers “you must teach this concept by rote, it’s the only way to communicate content” no matter how much people like Donnelly would like it to.   The other problem for newspaper columnists Donnelly and Devine is that phonics instruction is already a part of a range of teaching strategies used in primary schools.  A range.  It’s more than likely already in the teaching programs designed in incorporate the National Curriculum’s outcomes.  If Dr. Donnelly had stepped into any number of classrooms recently, he would already find teachers providing the kind structure he mentions, as well as deep and meaningful feedback that is endorsed by oft quoted researchers such as John Hattie (and when I mean oft quoted – I mean someone whose research is mentioned frequently at teacher conferences and inservices).

Donnelly also making reference to other systems, where teachers are given time and resources to mentor each other. That is true and a great thing. It is – like his comments on pedagogical approaches – irrelevant to the scope of this curriculum review.  It is not, however, irrelevant to the other fact that is evident from this column – that he is a newspaper columnist wanting to make sweeping and expensive changes to education through the power of Imagen This.   It’s an instinct he can’t resist.  This column, though, goes back to justifying his review with relevant references to a review process.

It is also important to evaluate whether Australia’s national curriculum is balanced and objective.

As suggested by Pyne, the fact that the national curriculum stipulates that every subject must be interpreted through a prism involving indigenous, Asian and sustainability perspectives needs to be revisited.

While there is no doubt that Australia is geographically a part of Asia, that sustainability is a significant and continuing issue, and that giving the curriculum an indigenous perspective is important, there are other equally important things to consider.

Australia is a liberal, democratic nation, and our political and legal institutions, and way of life owe much to Western civilisation. As such, it is important that students have a sound understanding and appreciation of the values, beliefs and institutions that enable Australia to be such a peaceful, tolerant and open society.

The National Curriculum was written by people outside Government who had not been just two men, one of whom was the Chief of Staff for a minister and the other a columnist who told independent politicians to side with the Liberal Party.  Yet here Donnelly is inferring that the existing National Curriculum might be biased, but that he and Wiltshire will make it objective. It’s a frankly bizarre suggestion.

The comment that “Australia is geographically a part of Asia” tends to suggest that we aren’t connected in any other way and that we should think of ourselves as outsiders in this geographic region – a notion that goes back to our Anglocentric past, rather than to the modern day.  Donnelly also suggests that there needs to be other focuses in the curriculum- which suggests that the future curriculum would be loaded up with more content, not less, or that great chunks of material about our Indigenous heritage and sustainability will be excised. In 4 -6 months, for implementation in 2015.  Without bias.  But what is “equally important”?  Western Civilisation, which is already in the National Curriculum for History.

Note at this point that Dr. Donnelly makes little reference to English and Mathematics and none to science in this piece. They must not be terribly important – it’s history that seems to be the main battlefield here. That’s because it is.  That is what you get when you employ a newspaper columnist and not a experienced curriculum expert to undertake your “review” of something.  It will be intriguing to see what comes about after this exercise in robustness.

Postscript

It turns out that Kevin Donnelly still likes to muscle in on people who talk about him on social media, as we can see from this post by my uni peer, Corinne Campbell.  Note his comments here, especially the snarky tone and the use of the hackneyed phrase “group think”.

 

 

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AusOpinion Reblogged – “Everyone’s an Expert on Education” – Pyne’s Education Revolution of Two Men

This is probably my best blog post, thinking about it. It was certainly the most exhaustive examination of an issue I had undertaken and featured deconstruction based on my own knowledge of education.  It was also my most widely read piece of all on Ausvotes / Ausopinion. Sad thing is that the “findings” of this farrago of a committee still haunts the teaching profession with a whole lot of feelpinions flooding from the out of touch Donnelly to this day.

There’s going to be a bit of talk about Christopher Pyne’s attempt to redirect the shape of the Australian Curriculum and the way it is taught.  There’s also going to be a fair amount of talk about Kevin Donnelly, the next in a line of columnists for The Australian who have provided with a position to help shape the ideological direction of the decisions to be made by this new government, following on from Henry Ergas and Tim Wilson.  On that note, I wonder if we will see Chris Kenny involved in a review of the ABC on some level.

There are also going to be a fair amount of the public who will wonder who Kevin Donnelly is.  The Australian isn’t widely read and in my experience, most teachers outside Victoria have never heard of Mr. Donnelly and his “Education Standards Institute”.  Nor would they know about his employment by cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris in order to promote something called “I’ve Got the Power” – an anti-smoking program that had fairly significant inclusions and exclusions.  (edit – there’s more here about the program, with thanks to @abissicus) Something that is left off many biographies for Dr. Donnelly is that he was the Chief of Staff for Kevin Andrews during the Howard Government. It is, for example, omitted from his Punch biography, which incidentally names him as “one of Australia’s leading education commentators” – an unverifiable assertion.  That fact, however, is on his biography on The Drum, which also handily provides a link to all of his views about education and teaching.  There is plenty to chew on there in terms of views contrary to Donnelly’s – such as here and here – and I think there will be a number of teachers who would be preparing fact based, peer reviewed material in rebuttal to Dr. Donnelly’s opinions over the next few weeks.  That is not the focus of this post.  The focus is on the way the announcement was handled. It was fairly telling in terms of how the Minister and the current Government thinks how education is done.

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CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

Good morning everyone, and thank you for coming to the circulating library here at the State Library, this beautiful setting.

Today I’m announcing that the Federal Government is appointing Professor Ken Wiltshire and Dr Kevin Donnelly to review the National Curriculum.

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that the Government is concerned about the results for our students over a long period of time. For 10 years, whether it’s OECD statements, PISA reports, the NAPLAN data, TIMSS documents, and all the international and domestic studies of our students’ results indicate that we’ve been going backwards for a good decade.

A good decade – so that includes the last few years of the Howard government, I’m assuming. Plus, in regards testing – PISA reports and OECD statements haven’t told us that education results have been going backwards for an entire decade.  Nor do NAPLAN results, which are nowhere near 10 years old.  But anyway…

Students are our first priority for this Government. And therefore, during the election campaign, we talked about four pillars that would form the centrepiece of our approach to school education. It was teacher quality, parental engagement, school autonomy, and the National Curriculum.

Note there are no students mentioned in the four pillars – and it will be interesting to see how they deal with the other three “pillars”.

We said we wanted to have a robust curriculum that was going to serve our students well. And today we are keeping that election promise by addressing that pillar of our approach to school education by announcing a national review of the National Curriculum.

“Robust”. It’s one these deadly buzzwords so beloved of all Governments. Robust in what sense? In being able to be defended?

Of course, the states and territories own and operate all the schools. So we’ll be working very closely with our state and territory ministerial counterparts to ensure that, whatever the national review comes up with, the recommendations of that review are implemented by the states and territories in concert with the Commonwealth.

So this is a cooperative approach to school education. I want to make sure that our students are put first, and I’m sure every state and territory education minister would accept and agree with that priority.

This appears to be a signal to the states that they had better co-operate with this new review of the National Curriculum, plus an acknowledgement of their power in this arrangement, which was more than appeared to have happened with Pyne’s double somersault on the Gonski funding announcement.  Glad to see the Minister is “sure” that everyone will agree – plus will always attempt to use “for the students” as a way of asserting his point of view.

I’m not going to pre-judge the outcome of the National Curriculum. But suffice to say there has been criticism of the National Curriculum over a lengthy period of time.

The criticisms have ranged from it being overcrowded and heavily prescriptive and rigid through to the necessity to have themes that form the National Curriculum at the moment.

If Pyne isn’t “pre-judging the outcome”, why does it need a view – it is clear from this that he is actually pre-judging it.

The current three themes are Australia’s place in Asia, Indigenous Australia and sustainability.

Now there’s some question about whether those themes fit with maths and science for example. So these are some of the things that I am going to ask the national review of the curriculum to look at and I’m sure they will do an excellent job.

Interestingly, it might be very difficult to sell an attack on the first two themes as they are issues the Government has suggested they support in principle – even if our place in Asia seems to be clouded currently with the desire to Stop the Boats.  But let’s meet the reviewers.

Kevin Donnelly and Ken Wiltshire are both highly intelligent and well considered very experienced educators—over a long period of time and in broadly similar, but also different fields.

So while Kevin Donnelly has been a teacher for 18 years and since that time become an academic, a researcher a commentator, a writer about education and curriculum. He brings that particular perspective to a review of the National Curriculum.

Ken Wiltshire is a professor at the University of Queensland. He has been a longstanding academic involved in the development of curriculum in Queensland and internationally, and both men will bring a real perspective to this review that I think will make a difference for our students in achieving a better curriculum—a curriculum that is robust and worthwhile and sets up our students for the 21st Century.

Note that the employment of Dr. Donnelly by Kevin Andrews is not mentioned. Nor, obviously, his work for Philip Morris.  Nor is Ken Wiltshire’s partisan beliefs mentioned – for example, he stated in a 2010 Australian column that the independents should have supported the Coalition – using language such as this:

It might also be reasonably conjectured that the citizens of these three country electorates would be further alienated from Labor now that Julia Gillard has entered her Faustian pact with the Greens.

In this interpretation, the Greens must be Mephistopheles.  Hardly a non-partisan commentator.  The problem here is that these two people seem to have been employed not due to any long standing position in education, more as outsiders who have written columns that either support the Liberal Party or believe that education administrators have some kind of “leftist” bias.  And now we have Kevin’s contribution.

So I might ask Kevin to make a few comments and then I’m happy to take any questions.

KEVIN DONNELLY:

Thank you very much Minister. Welcome to all of you here today. It’s a great honour and privilege to be involved in this review.

My background as some of you might know, I was a teacher for 18 years as the Minister has said. I suppose I’m a “curriculum nerd” if you like, I actually wake up in the morning and my wife gets a bit distressed (laughs) I always sort of read the papers and see what’s happening with education.

He reads what newspapers say about education. Note that contemporary research and conferences aren’t mentioned.

While I was a teacher I did postgraduate work in curriculum and I’ve actually been involved in three significant benchmarking projects over the last 20 years or so—one in Victoria when Phil Gude was the Minister, one federally, when Brendan Nelson was the Minister, and also one in New Zealand for the Business Roundtable.

Most teachers do some kind of postgraduate work in curriculum, so nothing remarkable there.  But his involvement in “benchmarking projects” is an interesting phrase that would need some follow up in the future.

And one of the things that fascinates me and I think is critical as the Minister has suggested, is to try and look at those better performing systems—those education systems overseas. Now whether it’s in Europe, most of them are in Asia–Pacific actually, so Singapore, Japan, Korea, but also Finland.

To look at those education systems and to try and learn as much as possible that we can in Australia, at the state and territory level what can be done, to improve, strengthen the curriculum.

So, Dr. Donnelly is about to review how other nations do education, in order to “strengthen” – that very loaded word – in entirely different social, economic and funding contexts. Finland, for example, have a GST of 24%, few private schools, as well as recent PISA results that are not vastly different from Australia’s.  One could extrapolate from that sudden fall for Finland is it less about the success of their system and more about the vagaries of blunt, common tests like PISA – but that’s for another day.  Donnelly might be disappointed when he lands in Helsinki as a part of the review.  Let’s go back.

Now, it will be consultative. I was on the Board of Studies in Victoria for a couple of years. I know the states and territories have ownership, if you like, they employ the teachers, they manage the schools. So it will be consultative. Many of the people who I will be talking to are friends who I’ve known for many years. Australia is quite a small education community in some ways.

“Consultative” – so it appears from this language that this panel will consult with a range of people. This seems to be a signal that he wants some kind of opened doors across Australia – his “couple of years” at the Victorian Board of Studies being enough in order to understand how every education administrator operates.  It’s also telling that he will be “talking to… friends” – that’s possibly a narrow scope for a serious, wide ranging review. You would hope that there would be a few more people consulted than that.

So, as I said I’m very eager to get involved, I’m very happy to be involved, it’s a great privilege, and it’s something that is critically important for young Australians, and for teachers.

I mean, my daughter’s a teacher, my wife was a teacher, I was a teacher. We need to look at a curriculum that is teacher-friendly. We need to look at a curriculum that is world’s-best to use that cliché, and we need to look at what will be, frankly, cost-effective, because a great deal of money goes into education, a great deal of innovation has occurred, and sometimes I wonder what the outcomes are in terms of, has it actually worked or not. So it’s a good time to be doing this, and thank you very much.

This sounds a bit like “Hi, I’m Kevin, I’m from Victoria and I’m happy to help”.  And having relatives as teachers is a help too, it appears.  Not sure that this comment will improve his credibility with many of the educators he has to deal with.  What would have provided more credibility is mention of “research”, “evidence based inquiry” instead of “I know a lot of teachers”.

Then the key phrase comes – “teacher friendly”. Donnelly and those in education circles like him is known to have long criticised the student-centric method of teaching, wanting instead a return to the sage on the stage, “teacher friendly” methods of old. For most, the disengaging, ineffective teaching method of old.  There’s a weight of evidence based research that has shown this.

So, we have gathered from Dr. Donnelly’s answers that it’s going to a wide ranging review, consultative, studying systems of many other nations in an exhaustive manner. However, also “cost effective”.  Sounds like a lot of work for a group of dedicated professionals helping them.  So, let’s look at the Minister’s answers.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

Thank you Kevin…any questions?

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] …it won’t produce obviously a curriculum as such can you run us through what happens next up until to the point where we actually get a new curriculum?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

Well I wouldn’t say we’re going to get a new curriculum.

What we’ve got at the moment is a National Curriculum in English, science, maths and history, and a proposed curriculum in another four or five subjects which have been completed by the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority but hasn’t yet been adopted by all the states and territories as an extension of the National Curriculum.

This process of writing and adopting the National Curriculum in schools started with the adoption of the Melbourne Charter in 2007, onto the creation of ACARA in 2009 and countless hours of teachers writing new programs incorporating the new outcomes, ready for teaching all Year 7 and 9 students in English, Science, Maths and History across Australia in a month from now, Year 8 and 10 students in 2015.  The adoption is well and truly underway.  Five years from the creation of ACARA to implementation.  Next is Pyne’s timeline for change:

But what I’m hoping this review will do is look at all of those subjects, ensure that they are robust and useful and worthwhile, that they’re likely to achieve good results for our students. That will report to me, I’m hoping in May, possibly June, and then we’ll have six months to look at the recommendations of this review, being done by Ken and Kevin, and then I’ll work with the states and territories through the ministerial council process to ask them how they view the recommendations of the review of the curriculum, with a view to implementing changes in 2015.

So yes, I would like to see improvements to the curriculum in 2015. I’d like to see an extension of the National Curriculum into those four, five extra subjects down the track. But each of those new subjects, and the ones we’ve already accepted, need to be as good as possible and I’m hoping that in 2015 we’ll be able to implement changes that this review suggests should the state and territory ministers agree with me that we need to make those changes.

An extraordinary timeline. First of all – the review by Donnelly and Wiltshire is supposed to take 4 months. 4 months to consult educators, administrators and legislators in every state and territory, analyse the education system of other countries. That sounds like they’ll only have time for “talking to a few friends”, rather than broadly consulting.  Next, that the changes recommended will be implemented in 2015.  How Pyne suggests schools will be able to get time for teachers to rewrite programs is not mentioned, nor is how the review from Donnelly and Wiltshire will be converted to outcomes that could be easily integrated.  Programs for 2015 in Years 8 and 10 will start to be written in Term 1 this year – many schools would have already finished them. It’s been one of the largely program rewrites in the past decades of teaching and Pyne wants schools to change the programs within six months?  I would suggest school systems – not just public ones – may have a problem with this.  A point a journalist raises:

JOURNALIST: Is that pretty ambitious given you’ve got to get it past the state and territories [inaudible]…

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

Well I’m very hopeful the states and territories will want to work with us to have the best curriculum possible. And this is a very objective process. We have a national review, it’s for people that are outside the current system, and I think having fresh eyes is always a good approach.

I’ll be very surprised if state and territory ministers didn’t want to work to have the best curriculum possible. And I’m very willing to work with them and I’m sure they’ll be willing to work with me. 2015 is ambitious but we have to put our students first, and it is ambitious to want to have the best curriculum possible for our students but it’s too important to delay, so we don’t want any political bickering over this issue because that will slow down the process of getting the best curriculum possible for our students.

“Ambitious” is one of the the understatement of the week – it’s impossible – especially if it’s to be “national”. Then there’s the word “objective”, which is undermined by the partisan past of the two reviewers. Note that the “put the students first” line is there again, as I would suggest will be at every one of these conferences – even if the entire focus is on curriculum reform, not the actual teaching of the curriculum.

On the issue of “ambitious”, though – a proper review of anything should take a considerable amount of time and undertaken by a range of professionals working with the two chief reviewers. This is how Governments usually work.  A relatively expensive operation.  It is at this point we discover how this ambitious job is to be done.

JOURNALIST: How much is that going to cost and where is that money coming from?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

Well the review won’t cost very much at all, because there’s just Ken and Kevin. The whole process won’t cost a great deal and that money will be found within the current budget of the Department of Education federally. The Australian Government will pay for the entire process but this won’t run into large amounts of money at all.

Just Ken and Kevin. No-one else.  The absurdity of that idea – that a serious, wide ranging review of a curriculum the size and scope of the National Curriculum can be undertaken in 4 months by two men – is not questioned, not examined by the journalists present. It’s the cost that grips them.

JOURNALIST: So we’re not going to see any cuts…

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

No, no, this is administrative support for Professor Wiltshire and Dr Donnelly. That won’t cost very much, that’s within the Department of Education and Dr Donnelly and Professor Wiltshire are being paid according to the remuneration that’s appropriate according to the department, and that is not exactly a king’s ransom, but it’s a little bit of money.

So, not only are the two reviewers it, there will be people within the Department to help them with the review, taking staff away from important work they would be otherwise doing.   However, as we will see, this point is left untested as well – with the money STILL being discussed.  Forget the actual policy implications of Pyne’s answers – that such a crucial thing as the future of the way students will be taught will be decided by two men and a few staff in 4-5 months.  It shows that the room of journalists don’t seem to know all that much about education or education policy – or were unable to research it before going to this press conference. But let’s go on.

JOURNALIST: But as far as any changes that they make, to get to the point where kids are learning what you want them to learn, are we talking about, like, how much money are we talking about there, and where’s that funding coming from?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

Should there be changes to the curriculum arising out of this review that will be managed by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. They already have a budget, and of course they have an ongoing process, of making sure the curriculum is not a static document, and any costs about changing the curriculum will be met within the current budgets of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority.

Changes that are made by the states and territories will be met within the states’ and territories’ budgets, if they roll out changes to the National Curriculum, but they each would already have in their budgets for education a line item for the curriculum because they fully expect that there will be new subjects coming on stream on a regular basis over the coming years.

On the issue of budgets – the changing of the curriculum is to be undertaken by ACARA – a body whose budget was reduced by $20 million in the MYEFO statement.  In addition, it appears that Pyne expects the states to stump up implementation costs – again, an interesting assumption. These points, about ACARA’s budget cut and the state implementation cost, is now left for others to ponder as the conference goes to the ideology of the panellists.

JOURNALIST: Minister. I’d like to ask you about the appointment of Kevin and the decision behind that. It’s no secret that Mr Donnelly’s opinions and critiques of the education system, things like Australia party Anglo sphere, equal funding for Catholic and independent schools, class envy, the cultural left likes to bang on about equity in education socialist utopia, the bible deserves a place etc. Are you getting people to objectively review the system or just tell you what you want to hear?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

I’m getting people to objectively review the National Curriculum to ensure that it is robust, and to ensure that it puts students’ results first, that the priority is on outcomes and everyone in education, well everyone has been to school, everyone is an expert on education in one way or another, almost 40 per cent of many of the populations in capital cities have been to school, have been to universities, and they’re also experts on university education.

Everyone is an expert on education in one way or another.  Pyne is redefining the word “expert”. Under this definition the businessman, the politician, the journalist, is an expert in education because they went to school.  If we are to apply this new definition to other fields, that means that anyone who has been to a hospital in an expert on health care, anyone who has had interaction with the police and the law is an expert on the law, anyone who experiences climate is an expert on climate change.  I suspect many educators may feel very insulted that their expertise and experience in education has the same worth and “expert” status as anyone who has been in their classrooms.  That all students understand exactly how classes of 20 – 30 students are all taught with an approach that is concurrently collaborative and individualised.  This statement shows scant respect for teachers – hardly “teacher friendly”.

In addition, Pyne ignores the question as to Donnelly’s past comments and actions and asserts that it’s an “objective” review.  That appears part of a pattern for the Government – just ignore a question and hope a journalist will drop it.  Which they did.  But onwards with Pyne –

So, it’s not possible to appoint anybody to review the National Curriculum who doesn’t have a view on education. The important point is to appoint people who are going to bring an intelligent, considered approach to the review. And both Kevin and Ken have a long history, and experience in education. Not everyone will agree with my views about education, or anybody that I would have appointed. I am very confident that Ken and Kevin will bring a considered approach.

Yes, people have a view on education. Listen to or read any of the “Your Say” sections of newspapers or radio shows (I’ve started to call them “Yoru Say” in honour of the Cricket Australia Twitter account, which has such a fondness to ask for Your Say – that they sometimes mistype it as “Yoru Say”). They have views on education. It doesn’t mean that they are informed by research, contemporary practice or contextual understanding of results.  As for the “intelligent, considered” approach – it’s hard to see that a four – five month review by two partisan reviews will produce anything but a set of prejudices supported by cherry picked evidence. And speaking of that…

One of the criticisms of course, of the curriculum, has been that it has not sold or talked about the benefits of western civilisation in our society so I would be surprised if there weren’t people who disagreed with the need to have the benefits of western civilisation as part of our curriculum. I’m sure they will criticise people who share the other view.

But we’re part of a robust democracy. I’m quite prepared to have people put their opinions one way or the other about this review. But I’m very confident that its outcome will be objective and fair.

Western Civilisation IS on the National Curriculum, especially in history, which appears to be the chief concern of Pyne. It’s all over it (note, I have set the filters on Years 7 – 10 – these can be changed). Let’s go onto the real concern for Pyne in all this – the way history is taught.

JOURNALIST: Is it your opinion that the curriculum is currently too left leaning?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

I don’t think it’s worthwhile getting into the particular views about whether the curriculum is one kind of curriculum or another. What I want the curriculum to be is a robust and worthwhile document that embraces knowledge and doesn’t try and be all things to all people, that isn’t too rigid, that doesn’t try and be prescriptive about every aspect of maths, science, history and English.

I also want the curriculum to celebrate Australia, and for students, when they have finished school, to know where we’ve come from as a nation. Because unless we know why we are the kind of nation we are today, we can’t possibly know where we want to go in the future.

There are two aspects to Australia’s history that are paramount. The first, of course, is our Indigenous history, because for thousands of years Indigenous Australians have lived on this continent. The second aspect of our history is our beginnings as a colony and, therefore, our Western civilisation, which is why we are the kind of country we are today.

It’s very important the curriculum is balanced in its approach to that. It’s very important the truth be told in our history. So, yes, the truth of the way we’ve treated Indigenous Australians should be told in our curriculum. But also the truth about the benefits of Western civilisation should be taught in our curriculum. And I think that there is some fair criticism that the curriculum is balanced one way rather than the other.

The National Curriculum already largely does this.  What Pyne seemingly wants is that the word “happy” is put into the syllabus. That we people are taught the “benefits” of Western Civilisation – and then students will leave every history class, thinking of the greatness of the Menzies era and singing this:

But it’s hard to see where the curriculum documents actually say that Western Civilisation has been a disaster – rather, it outlines that there are facts of our history and they have made our nation what it is today.  The document also shows that we study the civilisation of other nations, which is a crucial part of what we should be doing. Otherwise, we would start resembling the United States, with their narrow focus on their own history.  But back to the interview, where the next question is a good one.

JOURNALIST: You’ve said that you want to take politics out of the curriculum. But just going on from a previous question do you think you could have appointed people to take part in this review that come from more varied sides of things and opinions if you’re looking to take politics out of education?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

Well I don’t believe you gain a great deal by appointing a committee, which will often come up with, if it’s a large committee, will tend to be harder to manage and come up with a report that tries to please everyone.

That isn’t the objective of this review. The objective of this review is to turn out a robust curriculum, a good curriculum that improves the results of our students. It’s not a political exercise so everybody ends up having a piece of the curriculum.

That’s not the purpose of the curriculum. Therefore, I’m quite unabashed that I’ve appointed people that I think would do a good job at creating a robust curriculum. I haven’t appointed a committee that tries to please everybody and therefore does not produce a robust result.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that here a “Robust result” actually refers to the one you want by appointing people who support your ideology.

JOURNALIST: Do you think you gave the Gillard Government’s changes enough time to take effect?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

Well the Gillard Government hasn’t made any changes to the National Curriculum. The Howard Government initiated the National Curriculum. Then the Gillard Government and Rudd Government got elected and they implemented the National Curriculum that the Howard Government had begun.

If Gillard and Rudd made no changes, then why review it?  Is Pyne here is saying that the current documents weren’t changed by the Labor Government, is he saying that the fault that needs to be corrected made by the  teachers, academics and administrators who worked on it?  A startling accusation. This is where Pyne is attempting vainly to walk away from the idea of this being a Liberal Party partisan activity.

That started in 2010. There have been no changes to the National Curriculum since it started being introduced into schools and I think it’s timely to review it.

I don’t think the National Curriculum is a static document. I think it should always be being tested and questioned and argued about because that is the nature of education and a good curriculum. Maths is often changing. Science is changing. The way we view history and English changes, the emphasis changes on what we think students might need.

So, the document should always be a living, exciting document. So it’s because the National Curriculum was introduced by a particular Government doesn’t mean it then stays that way forever. It is not a political document. It should be a document that is designed to bring about the best outcomes for our students.

Again, to be achieved in 4 – 5 months. If this wasn’t a partisan document, why such a rush?

JOURNALIST: How do you think teachers will respond to this review? Do you think that they will be welcoming of it? Are they unhappy with the way things currently are?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

I think teachers like certainty. And I think that they have embraced the National Curriculum. In many states and territories, the National Curriculum is better than the offerings that were in place before. And I think that a lot of the teachers have invested their own personal time and money into embracing these, for subjects and doing them well, and I welcome that. And I think that they will also welcome improvements to it to make it a better curriculum.

We’re not suggesting that the curriculum be thrown out and started again. So teachers won’t have to re-learn a whole new way of teaching, or a whole new curriculum. We’re talking about improving a good document. And I think teachers will embrace that.

Yes, a lot of teachers HAVE invested a lot of personal time and money into creating material for the National Curriculum implementation.  As for the “teachers like certainty” line, by announcing this change near the start of the school year, Pyne has introduced the opposite of certainty. Instead of confidently implementing the curriculum and writing new programs for 2015, teachers and school systems will be waiting to see what the expert panel of two have to say about it and what changes need to be made.

Despite the fact there are so many good questions to be asked, so much left unanswered, the gathered journalists showed their lack of interest in education policy and asked the usual dreck about ephemeral issues that they consider exciting and sexy.

JOURNALIST: Speaking about education, do you believe that the Australian public deserves to be better educated about border security?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

(Laughs) I’ll leave answers to questions about Operation Sovereign Borders to the Minister for Immigration, and Tony Abbott.

JOURNALIST: And what about Cory Bernardi’s comments, do you agree with what’s been said in the media, from him?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

Well, Senator Bernardi’s entitled to his own opinions, and to be able to write about his views. And similarly I think he’s probably best to respond to questions about his own opinions.

JOURNALIST: But does he represent the Liberal Party?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

Well, the great thing about the Liberal Party is that we are a very broad church. It’s a hackneyed term, but it’s true. We don’t take a Stalinist approach to the views of our members. We represent the whole cross section, the broad spectrum of Australian thinking.

In many respects, the Liberal Party is the only true national party, because we don’t represent a section or interest. That’s been our history since 1944. So you would expect there to be a broad spectrum of views in the Liberal Party. Cory represents his view, and I represent my own, and I don’t seek to try and lecture anybody in the Liberal Party that they should change their views.

JOURNALIST: Do you share any of his views?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

On some things, I’m sure I do. Yes.

JOURNALIST: And what are those?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

(Laughs) Look, today is about a positive announcement about the National Curriculum, I’m not going to let it be railroaded by a minor debate about something that is many days old.

And that’s the end. There would be some that would point out that the gathered journalists were not of the Canberra Press Gallery, but were instead from Adelaide, where the announcement was made. What is fairly astonishing, though, is that the journalists gathered didn’t do a bit more research about education policy before the interview, instead asking questions about “how much will it cost” and “what do you think of Cory Bernardi”. Maybe not so astonishing.  But then again, I am no expert on journalism, despite Pyne’s new definition of the term “expert”.