Skip to content

Teaching History

July 26, 2011


I was honoured on the weekend with the Renee Erdos Award of the History Teachers’ Association for an outstanding contribution to history teaching. Very honoured – because I took a lot of time and effort to see that History was protected in NSW schools and not watered down as social studies or something else.

I learnt at the dinner that currently there are 35 000 students doing Ancient History in year 11 and year 12 in NSW. That compares with a mere 2000 doing Ancient History at the comparable level in the United Kingdom. I was also told that the History Extension course I was proud to introduce has no equivalent anywhere else in the world for the rigour of its historiography. A curriculum expert told me, “It is world’s best practice.”

We did three things:

  • make compulsory two years of Australian History during years 9 and 10 in high school.
  • keep History as History when in every other state in Australia it had been dumbed down into Social Studies or Human Beings and their Environment or something else.
  • enable it to be studied at the most rigorous and interesting standards (that is as History Extension) in the last two years of High School.

The history teachers were also generous enough to acknowledge the awards for overseas travel that I initiated with the $50 000 Fulbright Fellowship. That was enough to send five history teachers to America. Since then the scholarship has expanded to $2 million from private donors and supports over 125 teachers getting to travel abroad and return with new knowledge and skills.

  1. July 26, 2011 2:04 pm

    Mr Carr, there are many things about which I disagree with you, but I do owe you a great debt of gratitude for the changes to the NSW History curriculum that you championed. I was fortunate enough to be in the first year of the New HSC, and was able to take Ancient History, Modern History and History Extension.

    The courses were great, because they provided a fantastic grounding in historiography. I was able not just to learn about the past, but to learn about how to learn about the past. Understanding the way history could be framed for different reasons helped me better engage with the media and the world around me. Learning about evidence helped me learn to make better decisions. But best of all, my interest and passion for learning about the past was nurtured and fostered by the only courses I took in the HSC that seemed genuinely committed to their discipline.

    After that, I was able to do my BArts (Hons) at UNSW’s fantastic School of History with relative ease. It was a natural extension to what I’d learnt before, rather than a whole new world with a whole new set of skills. I have finished my MA with a strong history component, and, hopefully, will start my PhD in American history next year.

    So from this lifelong history buff, and now (sort-of) career historian, thank you. There are not many parts of the HSC process that I enjoy fondly, but the History curriculum is certainly among them.

  2. July 26, 2011 7:18 pm

    Erin I am jealous, I did science in High School but not higher level history, once at ANU canberra I was shocked at how bad the Physics course was and changed to Chinese History!! a slight detour, with ancient or Han Dynasty being my particular interest. The hard thing is to cope with the language difficulties and Classical Chinese is quite demanding, but immensely rewarding. Unfortunately I had to pursue a career in finance funds mgt etc, but maintained a passion for history. I also managed to do a sub major in Medieval Studies which of course combines both literature and history.

    My passion remained for history and of course politics. I even knew the dastardly Michael Yabsley briefly! I am sometimes amused by BoF’s remarks about the bias at ANU’s history dept. If you do pursue a doctorate what would your topic be? I recently bought a book on Glenn Beck called common nonsense. which is fascinating. This morning I watched Fox News Bill O’Reilly launch a deranged attack on the liberal media for saying the Norwegian murder was a right wing Christian extremist. He turned it around as an attack saying the guy couldn’t be a Christian etc, ignoring 1,000 years of history.

    I am sure Bob can recommend some great reading and topics. I had the privilege of atttending a Polsby lecture 30 years ago at ANU. I wonder wht he would make of the latest race.


    • Peter Pando permalink
      July 29, 2011 7:26 am

      Tony, There are many different definitions around of what a ‘Christian’ is, all based on different events in Western history. For example, from a non-western islamic extremist perpective every Westerner is a Christian because it is a synonym for ‘infidel’. Any martial activity conducted by countless unsung ‘Christian’ missionary organisations seems to have slipped past historians – but good people care nothing for the praise or recognition of historians. To identify the Norwegian as Christian extremist is certainly provocative and worthy of challenge as there’s more to history than the actions of violent religious extremists of any ilk.

      • July 29, 2011 8:42 pm

        Peter, the debate continued on Bill O reilley’s programme and was followed as always by John Stewart excellent analysis on the Daily Show which takes an amusing look at the US news coverage. He also shows that by examining the published manifesto the guy called on images of the past including seemingly to support figures in history who had defended Chistendom. Does this make him a “christian”? or someone using people of like mind? I am not sure but to reject the label seems to miss the point. Bill O’Reileey invited a “liberal” to debate him and made the point that Mussolini claimed to be a “christian” did he adhere to his religion’s tenets? I doubt it but many have either claimed to use their religion as a shield.

        The problem is that commentators like O’Reilley fail to see the collorary with islam and want to label all muslims as potential terrorists. The Taiping rebellion which was amazingly destructive was caused by a guy who thought he was a “christian” but with Chinese characteristics! I agree , however, that in news reports it is more convenient to attach a label. Reporters have limited space and what to capture a flavour of what his thoughts and motivations were. A proper opinion piece can delve deeper. The guys in the US are very sensitive to these claims because they quite rightly feel vulnerable and as John Stewart pointed out they doesn’t play into their picture.

        Of great interest to me is reports that Herman Cain has agreed to met with Muslims leaders in an attempt to understand their viewpoints etc. He had made some alarming statements about not emplying musilms in his administration etc.

        Locally of course we have seen Barry deal with Fred Nile and other memebers of the Upper House on their agenda on ethics classes etc.

  3. Peter Harley permalink
    July 28, 2011 11:02 am

    Having been involved with NSW education policy for the past 30 years, I am of the opinion that one of the outstanding hallmarks of your premiership has been your championing of history ( both ancient and modern). Finding the wherewithal to enable history teachers to have a sabbatical from their classrooms was a masterstroke. It appears to have had an enduring impact on the way history is taught in NSW and for that you must take great credit.

    Sadly the model has yet to be applied to other teaching disciplines.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: