ACARA Tells the Australian Mathematical Society to Get Stuffed

The period for submissions to ACARA on their draft mathematics curriculum closed on July 8. Our intention is to wind this up, and get to the backlogged mountains of nonsense, but there are at least a couple more posts that need to be done.

On July 2, The President of the Australian Mathematical Society,* Ole Warnaar, wrote to ACARA’s CEO, David de Carvalho. Ole has subsequently written an open letter to ACARA on what then occurred.

In his July 2 letter, Ole requested an extension of the “consultation period”, so as to enable “a proper process of engagement with the mathematics discipline”. This did and does seem to us to have been a confused and unwise request,** but de Carvalho, by being even more confused and less wise, and foot-shootingly arrogant, made sure that it didn’t matter.

De Carvalho responded to Ole pretty much immediately, noting that there had already been “extensive engagement with teachers, curriculum experts and professional associations”, that July 8 meant July 8, and that was it. In brief: Ole and the mathematicians he represented could get stuffed.

Ever an optimist, Ole arranged for him and VP Geoff Prince to meet with ACARA representatives, which occurred on July 5. This meeting confirmed, according to Ole, that

“mathematical scientists were not involved in any official capacity in the preparation of the revised curriculum”

Other than that, Ole’s description of the meeting, and of AustMS’s current stance, is vague. In brief, it seems that AustMS was told to get stuffed. Again. The exchange of letters and Ole’s summary of the meeting can be read here.

We will make just one point, which we have made before. De Carvalho may be 100% correct in what he wrote, But. It. Doesn’t. Matter. One. Jot.

There is all manner of well-practised ways to game “consultation”, and it would be bridge-buying naive to not suspect ACARA of having done so. But suppose not? Suppose ACARA went out in good faith and consulted widely, and honestly and intelligently and knowledgeably considered the feedback? Doesn’t sound likely, but let’s suppose that’s all true. It doesn’t matter.

What matters is, however it happened, that Australian mathematicians are not remotely on board with the draft curriculum. With the distinguishable exception of Chris Matthews,*** we are unaware of a single Australian Mathematician who has come out publicly with anything remotely like support for the draft. By contrast, many mathematicians, including a number of very prominent mathematicians, have come out strongly, calling for the draft to be delayed or to be withdrawn entirely: in the open letter; in AMSI’s submission; and now in AustMS’s futile pleading for some belated sense.

In the face of such strong opposition from mathematicians, from the “subject matter experts“, for ACARA then to bulldoze on with its review is fingers-in-ears madness. Which is just what one would expect.


*) The professional body for Australian mathematicians. You know, those guys that know maths and stuff.

**) We know Ole pretty well, and have co-taught with him. He is a very strong mathematician and a great guy. Ole made a dumb move here, but he was doing what he thought best in a dumb-dumb-dumb situation.

***) Chris Matthews reportedly advised on the curriculum, seems to us to have made a mess of things, and his contribution requires serious discussion. It is better done elsewhere.

23 Replies to “ACARA Tells the Australian Mathematical Society to Get Stuffed”

  1. I wonder what would happen if every school REFUSED to use the Daft curriculum and continued teaching under the current curriculum. Public schools might find this difficult but private schools should have no problem. Not ideal but better than some alternatives. Maybe the various Principals Associations need to make a strong public statement.

    1. JF, isn’t that more or less what schools with a strong (or at least sensible) mathematics team / leader already do? Do VCAA / ACARA audit schools for their F – 10 curricula?

      Of course, this is no comfort to mathematics teachers at schools where the leadership / admin will just swallow whatever VCAA / ACARA serves up…

    2. John and SRK, I don’t think there’s much chance of school-by-school revolution. In general public schools appear to be under the (perhaps correct) impression that they must dish out whatever swill is supplied by the authorities. Private schools have more license, and take more license, but it still seems pretty constrained.

      What there is significantly more chance of is one or more state curriculum bodies rejecting the draft curriculum, either in its current or final form, or both. Since education is a state responsibility, ACARA has no power to impose a national curriculum, and I have heard of anti-draft rumblings in at least three states. Plus, Alan Tudge, who could potentially manipulate/bribe/blackmail the states, has already fired a shot across ACARA’s bow.

      This is the real issue, and the real indication that De Carvalho has shot ACARA in the foot. If De Carvalho had agreed to AustMS’s extended “consultation”, he could probably have saved the majority of the draft, and backed AustMS into a collaborationist corner. Instead, he may have saved ACARA’s process, for now, and he may finally keep much more of the draft, although this is far from clear. But, even if ACARA saves the draft, they will not have the mathematicians on board, or roped into some real of fake collaborative process, and ACARA will have N education ministers, all with their own agendas, watching it all and, hopefully, being heavily lobbied by seriously pissed off mathematicians.

      1. I’m not talking about revolution, or at least that’s not how I think of it. If the mathematics teachers at a school do not adopt ACARA’s curriculum, what could be done to make them, and how would anyone who cares even know that the new curriculum hasn’t been adopted?

          1. So let’s say the maths teachers are supported by (i) the school’s principal, and (ii) parents of students. I guess my question is: what power do VCAA / ACARA really have to enforce the curriculum at a particular school if that particular school is unified against it?

            1. SRK, I still think your scenario is fantastical and, more importantly, irrelevant (see below). But to answer, ACARA has absolutely no direct power whatsoever, since they are effectively an advisory body and because education is a state responsibility. It is only a question of how much a Federal government might lean upon or bribe states to listen to ACARA.

              As for VCAA, it’s an interesting question and I guess the power ultimately lies in the accreditation of schools. Now, it seems highly unlikely that a school would be disaccredited, but there would probably be threats of such, and whiny, clueless parents would be a very loose cannon. I’d love to watch.

              But, the reason your scenario is irrelevant is that it’s all about secondary school. There is, at least, a vague culture of mathematical skills at the secondary level, even if there is not a culture of mathematics. This means that, at least in the short term, there is a culture to maintain the current (pissweak) standards.

              But what about primary school? There, we have already lost.

              Even if there is some lip service to facts and skills in the current primary curriculum, it doesn’t mean anybody in primary schools gives a shit. And, in the main, they clearly don’t. There is no culture of facts and skills. Except for the occasional weirdo and weirdo school, primary has already bought totally into play-based lunacy. The new draft just gives them clearer license to continue and to amplify the idiocy they’ve been practising for decades.

              So, there will be no passive resistance in primary schools. And then you secondary guys will have to deal with the product. As you already do. But it’ll be way worse.

              The only real hope is for the ACARA Board and/or education ministers to wallop ACARA. I’m a betting man, and I’d say the odds of that happening are somewhere between 0 and 1.

        1. AAS is having a prolonged and very serious episode of Multiple Personality Disorder. I cannot write everything I know, but I will write something soon.

        2. Hmmm, I don’t know. To what extent is he an advisor is not exactly clear from that, at least to me. I did not meet him but quickly looking at his pubs he presented at the same conference as my SO in 2005, I might see if she knows him.

          Unless you know him / have already tried Marty..?

          1. No I don’t know him, except by reading a couple articles and by reputation. But his big thing is Aboriginal maths, or Aboriginal culture within the mathematics curriculum. Ignoring the extent to which these exist or make any pedagogical sense, the draft curriculum is dripping with this stuff. It seems highly likely that Chris had a big role in this, and even if he didn’t it seems highly likely that he’s very happy with it.

            I think there’s a snowflake’s chance in Hell that Chris can see sense here.

            1. That’s similar to what I was thinking, with the following twist: the Aboriginal components of the draft curriculum are tokenistic and all-round awful. Surely, he should be easy to engage on these points? Once he begins to see *something* factual about the draft, perhaps he can be engaged to see the bigger picture as well.

              I mean, at least it would be a greater chance of success than an academic in mathematics education.

              1. Glen, for the life of me I cannot understand why you imagine there is an opening here. Plain desperation?

                1. Desperation certainly. Desperate to have exactly zero people with a PhD in mathematics (from a mathematics department, supervised by someone who also had a PhD in mathematics) speaking out and being quoted in news articles as supporting the draft curriculum.

  2. de Carvalho is starting to remind me of the black knight in the ‘Only a flesh wound’ scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

  3. It will be interesting to see what ACARA does now because ACARA promised that the new curriculum, which includes more than mathematics, starts in 2022.

    1. VCAA, despite all its faults (or perhaps because of them), is not rolling out its new Stupid Design until 2023. And I think I read something somewhere that suggested that a second draft would be made available available for further feedback before then. Worse yet, the ACARA Daft curriculum makes the draft Stupid Design look like a masterpiece. It’s a (very) dark day when VCAA is made to look good. Then again, it’s all relative:

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