A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Curriculum: A Farce in Two Acts

(With apologies to Stephen Sondheim and Zero Mostel. Wise readers will skip to the content.)

Nothing familiar,
Something peculiar,
Nothing for anyone:
A curriculum tonight!

Something that’s galling,
Something appalling,
Nothing for anyone:
A curriculum tonight!

Nothing with kings, nothing with crowns;
Bring on the grifters, liars and clowns!

New complications,
Nothing portentous or polite;
Tragedy tomorrow,
Curriculum tonight!

Something convulsive,
Something repulsive,
Nothing for anyone:
A curriculum tonight!

Something pathetic,
Something frenetic,
Nothing for anyone:
A curriculum tonight!

Nothing with gods, nothing with fate;
Weighty affairs will just have to wait!

Nothing that’s formal,
Nothing that’s normal,
No recitations to recite;
Open up the curtain:
Curriculum Tonight!

Something erratic,
Something dramatic,
Nothing for anyone:
A curriculum tonight!

Frenzy and frolic,
Strictly symbolic,
Nothing for anyone:
A curriculum tonight!

Nothing familiar,
Something peculiar,
Nothing for anybody:
Curriculum tonight!

Something that’s gaudy,
Something that’s bawdy–
Nothing for anybawdy!
Curriculum tonight!

Something that’s grim.
Nothing that’s Greek.
We’ll kill Archimedes later this week.

Stunning surprises!
Cunning disguises!
Hundreds of actors out of sight!

Pantaloons and tunics!
Courtesans and eunuchs!
Funerals and chases!
Continual disgraces!

A great royal curse,
A great Trojan horse,
And no happy ending of course.

Crassness and badness,
Man in his madness.
This time it won’t turn out all right –
Tragedy tomorrow,
Curriculum tonight!


It really is depressing how few words we had to alter. We didn’t even get to the characters of Pseudolus and Erronius.


Act one was played out last year. The prologue consisted of ACARA working on the draft curriculum with their in-house “experts” and their snake-oilers and their handpicked mates, and without mathematicians, and manipulating a compliant and wilfully ignorant media. The plot then properly got going in April, with the publishing of the draft curriculum. At which point many people, including many people who should have been consulted but were consciously, deliberately, shut out, recognised that the draft mathematics curriculum was garbage. Public declarations to this effect then appeared.

ACARA’s defense in the face of this intense public criticism was to pretend the draft had been misunderstood and to say absolutely nothing for public consumption. Indeed, pretty much everyone said absolutely nothing. Except for two vague and vacuous attempts, there was not a single prominent public argument made in favour of the maths draft. Why this silence? Because ACARA and their supporters were treating this as if it were a one-act play, with they the scripted victors. Reasonable enough, since that is what the script called for.

According to the script and the stage directions, ACARA’s draft curriculum was meant to be approved by the education ministers in September. Sure, there was to be some comic business along the way, in which ACARA “considered” the feedback from “public consultation”. But that was obviously never central to the plot, as evidenced by the fact that ACARA’s (now deleted) promise to report upon that “consultation” remains unfulfilled. Yep, the Grand Finale, and the only plot point that really mattered, was to be the formal acceptance of the draft curriculum in September. It didn’t go according to the script.

In August, Alan Tudge gave ACARA an almighty whack, calling for a rewrite of the mathematics curriculum. ACARA is still recovering.


What happened once September came and went? What had ACARA been up to? Who had they consulted? Had they consulted anyone with a brain? Had ACARA listened? Did they make any meaningful changes? Did their attempts to fix the unfixable create even more damage? Who, if anyone was to provide a final review of any redraft? Who was to approve it, and when?

There was no way for the audience to determine any of this. ACARA didn’t say a word, no one said a word, and the script and stage directions were now irrelevant. The audience was simply left to wait for the second act of a one-act play.


Act 2 began a few weeks ago. Jordan Baker rang the bells for people to return to their seats, and the ministers’ meeting was held. The mathematics draft was not approved, and Minister Robert made it clear that there was work to be done before the ministers were to meet next, in April. That was followed up by a letter from Minister Robert to the Chair of the ACARA Board. The Minister indicated specific (and critical) improvements he was seeking, and he also “asked” ACARA to “consult with a number of experts” in making those improvements. Minister Robert provided a list of suggested “experts”, which he did not make public.

What can we now expect from Act 2? Minister Robert’s letter was strong, and ACARA has been damaged and are in damage control. But, for anyone who is dreaming of a happy ending, the following points should not be forgotten:

  • There is no longer any script. Like bad hippy improv, these guys are now simply making it up as they go along. There is thus no legitimacy to any consultation or any future draft, whatever their form.
  • There is no public review of the draft in its current form, and no announced plans for any public review of any future draft. The last version seen by the public was nine months and thousands of angry words ago. Again, this implies that any draft that emerges, no matter its form or its origins, can claim no legitimacy.
  • The public has not been permitted to see Minister Robert’s list of “experts”, and thus cannot possibly determine whether they are experts or “experts“.
  • Nothing guarantees that ACARA will consult with Robert’s experts.
  • Nothing guarantees that ACARA will source their own proper experts, and it would be absurd to presume that they would.
  • Nothing guarantees that ACARA will listen properly to any proper experts.
  • Even if proper experts are involved, and even if ACARA listens in some manner, it is still ACARA holding the pen, it is still ACARA writing any new version. There is currently no evidence that ACARA can write a coherent shopping list.
  • Even if ACARA were not holding the pen, the draft curriculum is fundamentally unfixable. It’s like trying to fix an Edsel.
  • Even if the draft were somehow fixable, in a “She’ll have to do” manner, it cannot possibly be fixed in a month.
  • Despite all this, the clear vibe, from everyone formally involved, is that the draft, whatever it is, should be approved in April.

It is beyond us how anyone can imagine this will all end other than as it began, as a farce, and then as a tragedy.

5 Replies to “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Curriculum: A Farce in Two Acts”

  1. Very nicely written. I’ve written a lengthy response to your previous post re: Maths Pathway. It requires some fine-tuning and further elaboration before I post it but it is too late @ 2:30am…

  2. Marty. Have faith.

    David Leigh-Lancaster – the Main Man – has left VCAA and has joined ACARA. What can go wrong now that this expert is on the job? He’ll bring the same expertise to ACARA and its draft that he gave VCAA, it’s exams, its Stupid Designs and the questions he was asked in good faith by maths teachers.

    Have faith, Marty. What could go wrong with the Main Man on the job? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpiYnk65ih0

    (For those who are wondering, Superman is fighting for a decent curriculum)

    1. John, please knock it off. Of course I was also less than thrilled to see DLL was at ACARA. However:

      *) It is not clear that DLL is still there.

      **) There was plenty screwy at ACARA well before DLL joined up.

      ***) DLL is/was not by a long shot the main reason ACARA is so inept and the draft is so awful.

      Throughout, I have tried to stick to attacking (hard) the organisation and its mis-work, but to leave individuals out of it, De Carvalho partially excepted for obvious reasons. I could have and can reliably name many individuals responsible, and I could have and can reliably point to specific nonsense from these individuals. I have chosen not to because, although I have plenty of evidence and bad thoughts regarding individual conduct, I consider this to be distracting from the main point.

      The main point is that ACARA is, in whole, a basket case. The individuals are largely irrelevant to this main point, and DLL is very largely irrelevant.

      1. OK. Fair enough.
        Any organisation is either equal to, greater than or less then the sum of its parts, that is, the individuals. Knowing the parts enables an understanding of the organisation. But there is also the Chinese proverb “the fish rots from the head”.

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