Dreamtime Maths

Written by:
21 March 2024
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Originally Appeared In

In this article, Bella d’Arbrera contextualises and disseminates the findings of the IPA’s research into the national curriculum, conducted as part of the IPA’s Foundations of Western Civilisation Program.

The Foundations of Western Civilisation Program was established in 2011 to defend and extend Australians’ understanding of the influential, historical role of the West in establishing many of the liberties enjoyed by members of our society.

How the national curriculum is politicising our kids

Cresta Richardson, the head of the Queensland Teachers’ Union, declared that the 1.3 million children in Australia preparing to sit this year’s Naplan test should be spared the ordeal because it is too stressful for them. It is not surprising Richardson is calling for a boycott of testing, because Naplan testing exposes the complete failure of our education sector to teach people how to read, write and add up.

To his credit, federal Education Minister Jason Clare disagrees, stating he believes Naplan should stay. Since being sworn in as minister in June 2022, Clare has often repeated the mantra that we need to get ‘back to basics’. This is an admirable sentiment, but as long as this country’s education sector is controlled by a cohort of progressives who believe education is a vehicle for politicisation, it will remain nothing more than wishful thinking.

The progressive view of education is of course completely at odds with the expectations of most mainstream parents who still cling to the antiquated notion that, at the very minimum, schooling should be about acquiring basic skills such as numeracy and literacy. Nowhere is this difference more vividly illustrated than in the mathematics learning area of Australia’s national curriculum.

Deeply embedded in the K-10 mathematics syllabus is the ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures’ cross curriculum priority, which ensures ‘students can engage with and value the histories and cultures of Australian First Nations Peoples in relation to mathematics’. The consensus seems to be that children should be taught things like statistics and algebra, not because these will furnish them with necessary life skills such as planning budgets or finding the best prices for products bought and sold, but because it will give them a deeper appreciation of Aboriginal dance, corroborees and dreamtime. Not so long ago, this was called anthropology.

Indeed, Aboriginal dance features heavily in the primary syllabus, especially when it comes to addition and subtraction. In Year 1, teachers attempt to explain to the kiddies why 2 + 2 = 4 through First Nations Australians’ dances. In Year 2, the point is hammered home again, using ‘First Nations Australians’ stories and dances to understand the balance and connection between addition and subtraction’.

For those students who still have not caught on, their teachers will explain through ‘First Nations Australians’ cultural stories and dances about how they care for Country/Place such as turtle-egg gathering using number sentences’. In Year 4, teachers explore ‘First Nations Australians’ stories and dances that show the connection between addition and subtraction, representing this as a number sentence and discussing how this conveys important information about balance in processes on Country/Place’. Just in case you thought this might be the last time children are subjected to the silent snake or cassowary dance, think again. The Year 5s are investigating ‘how mathematical models involving combinations of operations can be used to represent songs, stories and/or dances of First Nations Australians’.

As it turns out, these all-singing, all-dancing classes are a bit of a distraction. Not from learning the times tables or how to do a long division, but from something much more pressing, which is Reconciliation. This highly charged political concept is introduced in a Year 3 ‘Number’ class by ‘comparing, reading and writing numbers involved in the more than 60,000 years of First Peoples of Australia’s presence on the Australian continent through time scales relating to pre-colonisation and post-colonisation’. Two years later, they are busy ‘investigating data relating to Australia’s reconciliation process with First Nations Australians, posing questions, discussing and reporting on findings’.

It is in secondary school, however, that the architects of the mathematics syllabus really get down to business. From Year 7 onwards, students studying statistics are introduced to the notion of reconciliation between ‘First Nations Australians and non-Indigenous Australians’. They are told to look at ‘secondary data from the Reconciliation Barometer to conduct and report on statistical investigations relating to First Nations Australians’. The Reconciliation Barometer was invented back in 2008 by Reconciliation Australia to measure, every two years, just how racist non-Aboriginal Australians really are. This racism is confirmed for students in Year 9 as they go about ‘exploring potential cultural bias relating to First Nations Australians by critically analysing sampling techniques in statistical reports’ as well as observing ‘comparative data presented in reports by National Indigenous Australians Agency in regard to Closing the Gap’.

Every Australian parent should know that their children are being subjected to overt politicisation in maths classes courtesy of the national curriculum. They should also know that the technique being used was developed by Brazilian Marxist, Paolo Freire, who proposed that the only true education is political education and that all teaching is a political act. When Freire talked about literacy, he meant political literacy, rather than actually being able to read and write.

His view was that the teacher’s role is not to educate in the traditional liberal education sense of the word, but to bring about what he termed the ‘conscientisation of the student’ by awakening their consciousness to the real political condition of their lives. Freire claimed that conscientisation could be achieved in the classroom by ensuring children are taught to see structural oppression in all aspects of life.

Thus, a potentially dull statistics lesson on standard deviations, random variation and central tendency is transformed into an entirely different, and much more exciting class in which children develop a critical consciousness of Australian society.

They might discuss the devastating consequences of the invasion of this land and colonisation, past and current systemic racism in Australia, the need for truth-telling, the reconciliation processes, or the need for reconciliation action plans. By the end of the session on statistics, all they will see is structural oppression. And by the end of twelve years of schooling, they will be ready and willing to overthrow the oppressive capitalist power structures and replace them with a utopian socialist society of diversity, equity and inclusion.

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