Sunday, September 5, 2010
Allan Peachey: Protecting Democracy through Education
Perhaps I had better pause for a moment and talk about economics. For several years I taught economic studies to junior students and economics to examination classes. You have only to look at the standard of political debate in this country to realise how poorly economics is understood, particularly in a market context. The British Labour Party as late as the mid-1990s still had the “socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange” as one of its fundamental principles. And I am convinced the New Zealand Parliament retains its share of adherents to that failed dogma. And the standard of financial literacy in this country remains poor. So what can we do about it?
Well, I know where I would start and that would be to get rid of the current social studies curriculum being taught in schools. What New Zealand youngsters need is not lessons in sociology and political correctness. What they need, and what they are more interested in, is lessons in the history, geography, civics and economics of the country in which they live along with a bit of world context. I would like to see every New Zealand youngster, by the time they finish Year 10 at school (age 15) and move into national examinations having a sound understanding of what it means to be a New Zealander. What they are taught should be accurate and factual, not loaded with personal opinion or bias. One of the best books that I can ever remember reading on New Zealand’s system of government was called “Our Country”. It was a factual description of how we are governed. Full of facts and interesting things. And when did I read that book? As a child. It was one of my father’s old school text books from the late 1930s when he was at the end of primary school. Those incidentally, were the days when you had to buy your own text books.
That is why I love some of the things that the new British Minister for Schools, Nick Gibb, is saying. In fact I could have written some of it myself. Try this for size:
Knowledge is a basic building block for a successful life and children need a grasp of the facts to master subjects such as science, maths, English and history … Instead, the education system is downplaying knowledge and concentrating on teaching “skills”.
As an aside, but relevant to an earlier article, this is what Gibb has to say about science:
Getting to grips with the basics – of elements, of metals, of halogens, of acids, of what happens when hydrogen and oxygen come together, of photosynthesis, of cells – is difficult. But once learned, you have the ability to comprehend some of the great advances in genetics, physics and other scientific fields that are revolutionising our lives.
Anyway, back to what I originally set out to write about, the importance of history. To quote Gibb again, “the facts and dates and narrative of our history in fact join us all together”.
Teaching history, or more accurately teaching knowledge in history, is one of the few ways that we have of saving democracy from politicians. So much of politics and government today is about managing the media and spin. Knowledge of history counters spin. The only way a country will get better government is when its citizens know enough and are confident enough to counter and reject spin. Just as important is to counter the demagogues, with which history is littered. Knowledge of history teaches us to recognise the demagogues, those who use mob oratory and/or untruths and/or fraudulent reasoning to advance their view of the world.
Well informed citizens with the critical reasoning skills that come from being taught the knowledge of subjects like history (and science) are the greatest protection that democracy has.
at 9:48 AM