Conservative educational delusions

Leading up to the federal election, I welcomed the ALP’s policy calling for a national curriculum based, as it was, on a conservative agenda very much like the Howard government’s approach to reshaping the teaching of history and English.

The fear was that the devil would be in the detail… [italics added]

Education commentator Kevin Donnelly in today’s Australian, complaining about the appointment of left-wing historian Stuart Macintyre to the National Curriculum Board.

The great conservative educational delusion of the last five years has been – I hesitate, unfortunately, to use ‘was’ – the idea of a national curriculum. Behind this was the assumption that conservative educators could control one national curriculum more easily than six state-based curriculum systems. A momentary glance at electoral history should have shown that assumption to be nonsense, as today’s report confirms.

While I sympathise with Donnelly’s long-running critique of ‘progressive’ education, I think he has been much weaker on institutional issues. His comment today that the ‘devil is in the detail’ is symptomatic of this.

The devil isn’t in the detail of curriculum board appointments. The devil is in the design of curriculum structures. Any system that allows a change of government to drive curriculum, rather than parental choices via a competitive school system, is a bad one, even if it temporarily leads to good appointments under some governments.