I estimate that 80 per cent of children in the last years of school study nothing that links them to their country: no Australian history, no Australian literature, no Australian art, no Australian politics, no Australian geography. An overseas visitor to most of our years 11 and 12 classrooms would not know they were in Australia.
In these years students are left free to choose their subjects except for the compulsion to study English language. Some need to take certain subjects in preparation for tertiary studies. But many choose their subjects not because they relate to the course they want to take at university but because they hope to get a high score in the subject and so improve the chances of getting into the university course they want. So a would-be student of law may take physics or psychology instead of history or politics.In these vital years we have abdicated the responsibility to prepare students to be citizens of this country.
Of course this point has been made many times before. It's also easy to identify the problem than to enunciate a solution. Mr Howard and Ms Bishop seem to have a view of history where certain facts, opinions and dates are set in stone: these are relatively easy to put across to year 10 students and to assess. As a longstanding professional historian of good repute Hirst is to a degree protecting his own patch by asking for more higher level teaching of humanities subjects, but he has a good point. Whether he can persuade other influential people to support him on this will be interesting to see, but I'd like to see it happen, ideally as a result of frank and open debate rather than resorting to the likes of Brian Burke.