As part of my course in economics, I teach some of the history of the subject and have noticed something of a trend over the past few years in the kinds of background knowledge I can assume they will have. There was a time that I could count on at least some of my students having heard of and known something about Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill. Almost all will have heard of Karl Marx but none will have heard of Thomas Malthus or David Ricardo. John Maynard Keynes lots of them already have heard of but never Mises and Hayek. Thus, when I teach students the economics of the free market, much of it is completely new to them. Very few have much of an idea how our economy works, and many (most?) believe that it is the government that causes economic activity to happen.
John Howard has now entered into the debate over how our history is taught. There is a front page story in The Australian on Howard’s critique of the Australian history high school curriculum. Here is some of what it says in this article:
The former prime minister said last night that ‘our Western heritage appears to be so conspicuously absent from the history curriculum reflects a growing retreat from self-belief in Western civilisation’. In a swingeing critique of the government’s national high school curriculum, which is being introduced at various levels in the states through to 2014, Mr Howard said a lack of proper perspective in history teaching would ‘deny future generations a real understanding of what has made us as a nation’.
‘The curriculum does not properly reflect the undoubted fact that Australia is part of Western civilisation; in the process, it further marginalises the historic influence of the Judeo-Christian ethic in shaping Australian society and virtually purges British history from any meaningful role,’ he said in the inaugural Sir Paul Hasluck lecture at the University of Western Australia. . . .
‘It is a fact that the modern Australia is a product of Western civilisation; the Judeo-Christian influence is a reality and the British inheritance self evident. We cannot properly understand our nation’s history without fully recognising that this is the case,’ Mr Howard said.
‘The laudable goals of enhancing the teaching of indigenous and Asian history could have been fully achieved by the curriculum’s authors without relegating or virtually eliminating the study of influences vital to a proper understanding of who we are as a people and where we came from.
‘That our Western heritage appears to be so conspicuously absent from the history curriculum reflects a growing retreat from self-belief in Western civilisation.
‘It is as if the West must always play the villain simply because it has tended to enjoy more power and economic success than other parts of the world since 1500.
‘Magna Carta; parliamentary democracy, the language we speak – which, need I remind you, is now the lingua franca of Asia; much of the literature we imbibe; a free and irreverent media; our relatively civil system of political discourse; the rule of law; and trial by jury . . . these are all owed in one form or another to the British.’
This is a sorry situation if it’s true. We are one of the most successful societies on earth, a magnet for others from everywhere, but if our students are not taught about that great Western tradition which we are all the beneficiaries of it will not last for very long.