Alan Tudge says he doesn’t want students to be taught ‘hatred’ of Australia in fiery Triple J interview
Education minister says Anzac Day should not be presented as ‘contested’ in draft national curriculum
Australia’s education minister has said he doesn’t want students to leave school with “a hatred” of their country, in a ramping up of his rhetoric about the draft national curriculum.
Alan Tudge, who has spent months campaigning against elements of the proposed new curriculum, said if students did not learn about Australia’s “great successes” they were “not going to protect it as a million Australians have through their military service”.
In an at-times combative interview with the ABC’s youth radio station Triple J, the federal education minister indicated he believed Anzac Day should be “presented as the most sacred of all days in Australia” rather than “contested”.
“I want people to come out having learnt about our country with a love of it rather than a hatred of it,” Tudge said, without explaining how the content might encourage students to hate Australia.
He said he was concerned the proposed history curriculum – particularly for years seven to 10 – “paints an overly negative view of Australia”. He cited the way Anzac Day was presented as one of the “things which I don’t like”.
In the proposed new curriculum, a portion of year 9 history dealing with the first world war includes “the commemoration of World War I, including different historical interpretations and contested debates about the nature and significance of the Anzac legend and the war”.
The content may include “debating the difference between commemoration and celebration of war”.
In the interview on the Hack current affairs program on Tuesday evening, Tudge said Anzac Day was “not a contested idea apart from an absolute fringe element in our society”.
“Instead of Anzac Day being presented as the most sacred of all days in Australia, where we stop, we reflect, we commemorate the hundred thousand people who have died for our freedoms … it’s presented as a contested idea,” Tudge said.
The existing version of the year 9 history curriculum already includes a similar form of words about “the commemoration of World War I, including debates about the nature and significance of the Anzac legend”, but without the word “contested”.
Professor Susanne Gannon, an expert in educational research at the Western Sydney University, said the education minister seemed to have “a strange misunderstanding of the purposes of education”.
Gannon said education was a cornerstone of a vigorous and healthy democracy, and young citizens “need to have learned to investigate, explore and contest ideas in rational, honest and open ways”.
“Choosing to present Anzac Day as ‘sacred’ and monolithic reveals an allegiance to simplistic ideas of the past, erasure of the experiences and histories of many in our communities, and a complete misunderstanding of historical consciousness and historical thinking that are foundational to the discipline of history,” Gannon said.
Associate Professor Sue Nichols, of the Centre for Research in Educational and Social Inclusion at the University of South Australia, said: “I would encourage Minister Tudge to spend some time speaking with children and youth to learn what it means to be a globally connected, multilingual citizen of Australia.”
During the interview, Tudge said he accepted the curriculum “should be teaching accuracy”, adding that year 7 to 10 history “doesn’t even mention Captain James Cook – a very significant person in the history of the world and particularly significant for Australia”.
However, the draft curriculum documents do mention Cook earlier – in year 4 – during a section on the “causes for the establishment of the first British colony in Australia”.
Under questioning from Hack presenter Avani Dias, Tudge said there “should be opportunities to reflect from different perspectives, particularly from Indigenous perspectives” but “we’ve just got to get the balance right”.
“You know, this country, Avani, is a magnet for millions of people to want to come to, right? Now why is that? It’s not because we’re this horrible, terrible, racist, sexist country. It’s because we’re one of greatest egalitarian free countries in the world,” Tudge said.
Dias countered that “a lot of people, minister, would probably disagree with some of those things”, including First Nations people who “would argue that perhaps the balance has been in the opposite direction until now – that we’ve been teaching too much about post-1788 as opposed to what happened before that, or the effects of colonisation”.
Asked what he would say to any Indigenous Australians with such concerns, Tudge suggested the interviewer should name names.
“Well, (A) I’d want to know which individuals you’re referring to, but (B) I would ask you: name me a single country in the world at any time in the world’s history which is not as free and as egalitarian as Australia is today,” Tudge said.
The minister acknowledged there had been “some dreadful incidences in our history, absolutely”.
But he argued the balance of the proposed curriculum was “out of whack” and students needed to understand why “almost uniquely in the history of the world Australia is such a wealthy, liberal, free egalitarian society”.
Andrew Giles, a Labor frontbencher who has been pursuing Tudge over the government’s commuter carpark fund, said the minister seemed “very interested in how history is taught in our schools” but “less interested in his own accountability”.
“Instead of getting angry about how we discuss long-ago events, he should come clean about how he’s done his job,” Giles tweeted.
The curriculum review is yet to be completed, with final revisions due to be provided to Tudge and state and territory education ministers for approval by the end of 2021.
Tudge’s current campaign against elements of the proposal is the latest chapter in Australia’s so-called history wars, which included then prime minister John Howard saying in the 1990s that he rejected “the black armband view of Australian history”.
Julia Gillard, announcing the new national curriculum in 2010, said it presented neither a “black armband nor white blindfold” view of history.
In 2014 Tony Abbott’s government launched a curriculum review with a goal of removing “partisan bias”.