Australian paper says Howard's history plan doesn't add up

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IN AUGUST 2006, the Prime Minister's history summit agreed on six principles, the first that any core version of Australian history had to be teachable. What this meant was that teachers and students should feel engaged by the course — otherwise the whole initiative would be a disaster. Fourteen months later, John Howard has announced a final version of his guide to the history program. The good news is that the guide is fair and balanced, not at all the ideological sermon some feared. The bad news is that the course, if implemented as it stands, is scarcely teachable and will almost certainly alienate large numbers of both teachers and students, killing off any long-term interest in the subject.

To understand why this is the case, we need to move quickly from history to some elementary mathematics. In the first instance, the PM's guide has a decent foundation in the principles of teaching and learning, but it just doesn't add up when it comes to the content. This is because the number of "milestones" (key events to be studied in detail) has tripled since the August summit and has more than doubled since the draft guide in April. There are now 75 milestones and more than 100 biographies to choose from.

Each milestone is meant to represent a significant event in Australian history and so needs to be given a context. The PM's course lasts 150 hours in years 9 and 10 (with some possibly covered in year 8), which seems a lot of time for one subject. In this case, not so. Divide the hours by the milestones and you get about a double lesson for each significant event, with no stops for individual research, visits to museums or heritage sites or classroom discussion. Imagine a properly contextualised version of the 1975 Dismissal taught in a double lesson?...

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