Chadwick backs down on syllabus

Issue 

By Rose McCann

SYDNEY — NSW education minister Virginia Chadwick has backed away from changes to the years 7-10 geography syllabus after an unrepresentative elite of private school principals rammed through a number of amendments. The course had already been approved by the appropriate syllabus committee and the Board of Studies.

The principals objected that the syllabus was "dominated" by Aboriginal, multicultural, gender and class perspectives. In a letter on behalf of the group, the principal of the exclusive North Shore Knox Grammar accused the syllabus committee (made up of representatives from the board, teacher unions and parent and citizens' associations) of trying to "change our Judaeo-Christian mind-set and way of looking at the world" and of "rejecting our students' pre-existing values." He said the content of the syllabus reflected "post-war French Marxist deconstructionism".

The letter complained that the syllabus as it stood "requires us to think like an Aboriginal. How do we do that? Why should we do that?"

The new course was designed to expand students' knowledge and understanding by encouraging them to study the physical and natural environment through the perspectives of different groups, including Aborigines, women, migrants and various social classes.

The course was formally approved by the board in May but, under pressure, the board's president requested the committee to reconsider the private school principals' objections. When the committee refused (the principals' ethnocentric and sexist views having already been voted down), the amendments were put directly to the board's members and were narrowly passed. The board is dominated by heads of government departments and other ministerial appointees.

Seven hundred delegates at the NSW Teachers' Federation annual decision-making conference last week unanimously condemned the changes and directed union members to call school-based meetings in support of the committee's original syllabus.

The union also rejected "any attempts by the minister and the Board of Studies to bypass the representative and consultative structures and procedures of syllabus committees". The Independent Teachers' Association, the Parent and Citizens' Association and Aboriginal and migrant organisations also supported the syllabus committee.