Anglicans call for engaging ‘the big questions of life’ in curriculum review

Read Anglicans call for engaging ‘the big questions of life’ in curriculum review

The Anglican Education Commission of the Diocese of Sydney has made a detailed submission to the National Curriculum Review, asking for room to consider students’ ‘spiritual nature as human beings’.

The commission argues on behalf of Anglican schools, but its recommendations apply across the educational spectrum saying it ‘welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the review of the Australian Curriculum, given the key directional role it will have in the education of our nation’s most precious asset: its children’.

The document, submitted last week ahead of this Friday’s (14th March) deadline, is one of many submissions being received by the reviewers, Professor Ken Wiltshire and Dr Kevin Donnelly.

One of the criticisms made by the AEC is that the curriculum lacks a clearly articulated purpose.

It is guided by what is know as the ‘Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians’ adopted in 2008 which is meant to set the direction for Australian schooling until 2018.

The declaration says students should be ‘able to make sense of their world and think about how things have become the way they are that enables them to manage their emotional, mental, spiritual and physical well-being’.

The commission says those goals “suggest a clear student-focused purpose in the curriculum, one that includes yet goes beyond material and economic welfare to aesthetic and spiritual components of the ‘good life’ but, it says, those sentiments are not attached to the curriculum in a ‘clear statement of purpose’.

The AEC makes specific recommendations in major subject areas.

Literature

The report says it does not favour a return to the ‘dead, white, male’- authored canon, preferring to see a broad representation of authors, cultures and eras, including the voices of minority and cross-cultural groups in literature studies. 

“Unfortunately much young adult literature, in particular, seems to dwell on the great questions of life with despair rather than the hope that an Anglican school would want to engender. Further, much literature bypasses the rich spiritual nature of people, either portraying it as a perversion or simply eliminating it from the picture.” the report said

Science 

The AEC says Anglican schools would affirm “both material and non-material aspects of life, and appreciate the opportunity to address the more simplistic versions of both naturalism and creationism through an exploration of the worldview context of scientific endeavour”.

“On the other hand, Anglican schools actively confirm the belief that scientific knowledge has a high degree of reliability as it originates in a Creator God who has made a world imbued with meaning as well as the human minds capable of accessing that meaning” the report says. 

“We therefore welcome a return to an emphasis in Science as objective facts, but not facts devoid of transience and contestability. To hold such a balanced view of epistemology in Science removes the need to address superficial and false arguments between Science and Religion as it gives an account of the foundational issues that might generate differing viewpoints on the role of Science.”

In Maths, the report wants the subject put in a larger context rather than being reduced to ‘simply numeracy and computational skills’ which, it argues, might make the subject more attractive and enjoyable for students. 

Worldview and Ethics

A key theme of the report is in the area of worldview development and what it calls ‘the big questions of life’.

Recognising that any curriculum will promote a worldview, based on assumptions and beliefs, it urges that     students ‘need to be exposed increasingly to a broad range of arguments and be taught skills to critique and embrace their own choices as an antidote to 21st Century tribalism’.

 “Anglican schools look to the review to ensure that the range of choice in curriculum content does not limit the capacity for teachers to lead students in both an effective critique of all perspectives and a healthy appreciation of the Judeo-Christian ethos of our schools” the AEC argues.

Further it suggests that the reviewers consider a central, integrating mandatory subject called ‘Worldview and Ethics’. “We put forward this suggestion after careful examination of global practice as well as the stated needs of Anglican schools” it says.

“Anglican schools are comfortable with an examination of disparate stories leaving students to choose either a religious version of meaning or a material one. It is our contention that whatever path is taken by students, they at least deserve a guided tour of the options in order to honour their spiritual nature as human beings.”                 
Student Identity

The final aspect of the report deals with the development of personal meaning and identity in students.

“Both modernism and postmodernism have done their work well in promoting consumption as a meaning-maker and digital technology as identity. Such an approach breeds human autonomy and hubris in science, technology and economics with a subsequent marginalizing of an understanding of virtue and value.”

“Typically, students choose one subject as the prism through which they develop their view of the world. We hold that these subject prisms are insufficient for a satisfactory life and worldview. Whether our students develop a faith commitment or not, Anglican schools are concerned to support their moral and social as well as intellectual development.”

AEC Executive Director Bryan Cowling says the commission appreciates the opportunity to contribute to the review and will eagerly await the reviewers report, due to be handed to the government by mid-year.

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