David de Carvalho Inquires into the Australian Curriculum

One of the notable aspects of the Curriculum farce has been ACARA’s silence in the face of contempt. There has been no serious attempt, by ACARA or anyone, to publicly rebut the many pointed and strong criticisms of their draft curriculum. Evidently, ACARA has seen no need to pretend that “public consultation” has any meaningful role, seemingly comfortable in the knowledge pretence that ACARA is following some formal process, and critics be damned. ACARA seemingly believes they can mule their way into having their awful draft approved. They are probably correct.

There has not been a whole lot to clarify ACARA’s (attempts at) thinking. Prior to the draft’s release there was ACARA’s absurd literature review and their gamed curriculum comparisons. Last year, just before the launching of the Hindenburg Draft Curriculum, ACARA offered their surreptitious assistance to the production of the ridiculous Joint Statement. Around the same time ACARA’s CEO, David de Carvalho, gave a ridiculous talk to teachers. But, there’s not a whole lot more.

We have decided it’s worth paying a little more attention to David De Carvalho. ACARA has a page on their website listing “presentations and articles”, all of which for the last three years have been by De Carvalho. In sum, De Carvalho’s presentations are not great and they’re not of much interest; the presentations tend to be heavy on light philosophy, and light on heavy substance. And, anybody who uses the term “understandings” cannot be taken all that seriously. Still, we’ll glean what we can. We begin here, with excerpts from one presentation, notable because De Carvalho addresses criticism of the (current) Australian Curriculum and subtly flags some of the to-come nonsense of the subsequent Draft.

In November 2020,  De Carvalho gave a lecture to Teach for Australia “associates”. Titled “What do you think you are doing?”, De Carvalho’s lecture was on the philosophy of education, but he took a little time to snap back at critics. What follows are excerpts from those parts of De Carvalho’s lecture (the complete text is here). If we had the energy we’d annotate the excerpts (again), but we’re tired and De Carvalho’s slim and strained argument makes it unworthy of the effort. We’ll leave readers to judge for themselves.

De Carvalho sets up his lecture by arguing for the need for a clear theory of the epistemology of teaching, arguing the limitations of “naive realism” and lamenting the poverty of much debate on education:

Education today can often seem to be a matter of “muddling through”, of chasing after this or that trend in popular culture and technology, of merely responding or reacting, rather than taking the lead, and articulating matters of key concern and importance in education. Educators and administrators can tend to be led by issues of the day as defined by others, such as “discipline”, “standards”, ‘back-to-basics”, “ethics”, “computer literacy”, “social media”, “classroom design”. These concerns may be important issues, but do you, or do we as a profession, have any well-developed overarching framework with which to fully understand, assess and decide on these issues in an integrative, comprehensive and fully satisfying way?

Muddling through often stems from a lack of understanding of what counts as real knowledge and draws on ideology, on mere opinion or simple belief. Often the result, perhaps reflecting certain postmodern tendencies, is a denigration of questions of epistemology, and what counts as “knowledge”, or belief supported by evidence. Issues tend to be “solved” in terms of authority and power, or a catchy Twitter phrase or one-liner or soundbite, or whatever gets you through the day, not larger understandings of what it means to be human, what constitutes community, culture, the movement of history or the human good.

A further result of a retreat to largely biased-based positions [sic] appears as educators tend to become reactionary, instead of constructive and developmental, and instead of having constructive professional conversations, we see debates about education played out on EduTwitter, with some people unfortunately resorting to unedifying personal attacks. 

Mister Wisdom then goes on to argue for a foundation for the philosophy of education, by discussing the ideas on consciousness of the Jesuit philosopher Bernard Lonergan. With this foundation – in brief, we should think about things – De Carvalho then moves to the Australian Curriculum:

First, you would all be aware, I hope, that the Australian Curriculum has three dimensions: the eight Learning Areas, the seven General Capabilities and the three Cross-curriculum Priorities. Now, some critics of the Australian Curriculum argue that the General Capabilities, which include Critical and Creative Thinking, are a distraction from the teaching of factual knowledge. Now when you stop to think about it, this is a rather bizarre claim. Not only because the General Capabilities are best taught through the Learning Areas, as opposed to separate from them, but because the stock of knowledge which we actually have is itself the result of a process of creativity and critical thinking. 

Consider the scientific method. When trying to explain some phenomenon or set of data, scientists don’t automatically arrive at the correct explanation. First they come up with ideas or possible understandings for the phenomenon being studied. These ideas, concepts and propositions are competing candidates for truth. Coming up with these ideas is a process of creative thinking. However, as Lonergan says, bright ideas are a dime a dozen, and if we want to move beyond a collection of possible explanations, to the point where there is confidence that one of these contenders is the best, or at least the most likely of them all to approximate reality, then we have to make a judgment between them. We have to exercise critical thinking. 

De Carvalho follows this with other brief examples, of an artist painting a picture and an engineer designing a bridge, which add nothing of substance. Then, it’s back to the Curriculum:

Now when it comes to the Curriculum review, one of the messages we are wanting to get across very clearly is that the General Capabilities, such as Critical and Creative Thinking, are best taught and learnt in the context of the Learning Areas. This message will be much more easily communicated and intelligible if teachers can see how this relates to their teaching practice. 

For example, consider the task of the teacher of English Literature in helping students come to an understanding about what an author is intending to communicate when she writes a certain passage. The teacher will read the passage with the students and ask them, “Now what do you think the author is trying to say here? What point are they trying to make? What do they want us to feel about this character?”

In doing this, the teacher is asking the students to inquire into the data presented by the text, to ask questions about their own experience, to come at it from different angles, and then to suggest ideas and possible interpretations. A number of ideas will be proposed by the students. This is a creative process. Then the teacher’s role is to ask them to support their interpretation with evidence from the text. Good students will be able to draw on their knowledge of the text and of the author’s broader outlook, to put forward a persuasive argument. They exercise their critical faculties and reason in coming to a judgment. Other students, when faced with the challenge of producing textual evidence for their proposed interpretation, will flounder, and some will fall back on an egoistic assertion, such as “Well that’s just my opinion, and I’m entitled to my opinion”. To which the teacher should reply “You are entitled to an opinion that is supported by the evidence”.

Now scenes like this can be played out in history classes, science classes, art classes, woodwork classes and mathematics classes, with only minor variations according to the nature of the learning area or discipline. 

There’s a bit more, but nothing more. Nothing to support De Carvalho’s characterisation of the considered criticism of the Australian Curriculum as a “bizarre claim”. Pathetic, really.

34 Replies to “David de Carvalho Inquires into the Australian Curriculum”

  1. His attempt at writing student-teacher dialogue shows it’s perhaps been a while since he’s talked to students.

      1. I read a little more of his lecture, and I’m fairly convinced that he has a different idea of the point of school education than I do. He writes a lot about understanding and then says: “the essence of education is nothing other than to foster attentiveness, intelligence and reasonableness. Further we must foster the disposition that allows us to transcend our biases and egos which might be very committed to incorrect explanations why things are the way they are.”

        I think students are naturally and necessarily preoccupied with developing their identities at the age they attend school, figuring out who they are, how they can function in society. The idea of trying to get them to transcend their egos seems premature? He doesn’t say anything about the social or community aspect of schools (other than teachers challenging their students’ opinions and demanding evidence), or of making things, or doing things. Where does music fit into his view of education? And art? And sport? And woodwork? And even mathematics has a certain aspect to it where it’s not about understanding as an intellectual monolith, and more about being able to actually do things. We all have our likes and dislikes, our hobbies and interests. I hope he is open to the idea that education should be open to people with different ones to him. I don’t think we should be trying to include endless arguing and talking in every subject. That would make them all too much the same.

        1. Okay, I read a bit more and he does say stuff about art and making things, doing things. But he claims that they are all dependent on understanding. That “creativity is a by-product of the process of coming to know.” This just doesn’t match my experience. The idea of needing to understand and convince someone like David de Carvalho with evidence before you can begin a creative project seems really tiresome. I prefer Madeleine L’Engle’s: “Most of what is best in writing isn’t done deliberately.”

            1. This is what happens when you get these theoretical ‘cultured’ types. A look at his resume says a lot about what he might be qualified to talk about and what he definitely is not. He is a career administrator, bureaucrat, policy maker.

              1. Flitting like a butterfly from one administrative, bureaucratic, policy making position to the next:


                A career bureaucrat. I’m amazed he’s stayed at ACARA for the past 3 years. I assume it’s because the theoretical social engineering nonsense – aka the National Curriculum – has not gone nearly as smoothly as planned. But he will move on to the next administrative/bureaucratic/policy making position, inevitably once the Daft is rubber-stamped. That’s what these ‘cultured’ types do. FIFO bureaucrats filling bloated CV’s with their vain glorious achievements.

                1. Sorry, looks like the link doesn’t work. But it’s not hard to do the search and find the details. Attached is part of it.

              2. I get the feeling he’s trying to have one big idea as a solution to many problems: a “well-developed overarching framework with which to fully understand, assess and decide on these issues in an integrative, comprehensive and fully satisfying way.” But is this really necessary? It seems to me that it’s the opposite of how education works: we might have one big goal, and that turns out really complicated in practice – with many different solutions and many different ideas and approaches needed. No one can necessarily comprehend them all, but there are many teachers so that’s okay.

                Maybe he’s really good at convincing people he’s found the one big idea they need?

                1. For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong. (H. L. Mencken)

                  (Can’t remember if I came across this in a Marty blog or elsewhere)

                    1. Marty, you’ve addressed a different quote:

                      For every simple problem there’s a simple answer. (J. Friend)

                      (The simple problem is that the Daft Curriculum is crap. Others may beg to differ, but that’s the problem. Plain and simple).

  2. Yeah, contextual based teaching….”so kids what was Napier trying to do when he came up with his table of logarithms? What was the essential problem of his day that he was trying to address?……..anyone?…..no?…..” (sounds of crickets in background)

    Stuart Robert, sack this guy, and his flunkies

    1. De Carvalho is not a flunky of Stuart Robert. That’s the fundamental problem: ACARA is a rogue organisation.

      1. “We are an independent statutory authority. … Our work is set and agreed by all of Australia’s education ministers in the form of the Education Ministers Meeting.”

        You don’t sack them, Simon T. The paraphrased cry should be:

        Stuart Robert, give this guy, and his flunkies NO work. And in the fullness of time make them redundant.

        (And make sure none of them get near educational policy ever again).

    2. “Seeing there is nothing (right well belouded Students in the Mathematickes) that is fo troublefome to Mathematicall practife, nor that doth more moleft and hinder Calculators, than the Multiplcations, Diuitions, fqure and cubical extractions of great numbers, which befides the tedious experience of time, are for the moft part subject to many flippery errors. I began therefore to confider in my minde, by what certaine and ready ART I might remoue thofe hinderances.” John Napier (1614)

      Rice, B., Gonzalez-Velasco, E., & Corrigan, A. (2017). The life and works on John Napier. Springer, p. 483.

      1. I think I know the point you’re trying to make, but to be sure… can you give a one sentence commentary?

        Quotes (especially from 500+ years ago) require a bit more interpretation than those from modern sources.

        Unless that source is VCAA, of course.

      2. I thought you were quoting from de Carvalho’s speech there for a moment – or had a roolly bad cayse of fat fngers, as I oft’ do whn typng

  3. Dear David,

    You claim that knowledge is “evidence supported by belief” and yet casually dismiss criticisms of the General Capabilities as “bizarre”. Is it not the case that criticism of the General Capabilities is a belief and said criticism has been supported by evidence? If so (and I cannot see a logical refutation of this premise) then it is either the beliefs that you find bizarre or the evidence. Which is it?

    Furthermore, your use of inductive reasoning to suggest that because inquiry-based learning can be successful in a single example from an English class means it can be “played out” in Mathematics classes with “only minor variations” may well be your belief, but where is the evidence?

    I’m not holding out for a reply, but if you want “debate” on the question of what is real education, here is my offering.


    Teacher with a degree in Mathematics and Philosophy who is open to proper discussion about any of these matters.

        1. LOL, thanks: I changed ‘Interpolating’ to ‘Fitting’, which is what I meant but clearly didn’t type.

          Please forgive my trespasses as I’m currently working on an ‘assessment task’ (why not call it an effing assignment…) for my recently resurrected Masters of Edunitwittery. Stuff it: I’m going to watch The Queen’s Gambit!

  4. Thanks to everyone who has commented. I would have liked to have annotated De Carvalho’s nonsense, but there just wasn’t the time.

    I just want to highlight one aspect of De Carvalho’s defense of the Curriculum that really irritated me, and which I don’t think anybody properly hammered. De Carvalho claims that it is “bizarre” to object to the slathering on of the General Capabilities, because

    … the stock of knowledge which we actually have is itself the result of a process of creativity and critical thinking.

    Let’s ignore, as does De Carvalho, the fact that “critical and creative thinking” is just one of seven of the General Capabilities. What really got up my nose is that De Carvalho simply presumes that, because some body of knowledge was originally the consequence of creative thinking, it automatically follows that the best way to teach this knowledge is to somehow mimic this creative process.

    This is just so, so, so, so stupid. It is exactly the idiotic Think System at the heart of inquiry learning. It is exactly the kind of stupidity that provides guys like Greg Ashman with PhD topics.

  5. I wish they would stop referring to “critical and creative thinking”. It is not “critical and creative” thinking. It is “critical thinking” and “creative thinking” – because critical thinking and creative thinking are two very different things.

    1. Thanks, tm. It’s a nitpick, but an important nitpick. Worse, I think, is the glorification of both, and the implicit or explicit denigration of attaining the fundamental skills and knowledge that necessarily precede either.

  6. “Consider the scientific method. When trying to explain some phenomenon or set of data, scientists don’t automatically arrive at the correct explanation. First they come up with ideas or possible understandings for the phenomenon being studied. These ideas, concepts and propositions are competing candidates for truth. Coming up with these ideas is a process of creative thinking. […] if we want to move beyond a collection of possible explanations […] we have to make a judgment between them. We have to exercise critical thinking. ”

    This might have seemed enlightened a hundred years or so before Bacon (say 1500).
    But post-Galileo et. al.???

    There was a time when “science” had no other resources than “creative and critical thinking”: that is, *armchair scholasticism*. But until it found *a reliable way to select*, that winnowed out the chaff (i.e. *experiment* designed to test, and perhaps to refute once and for all), it remained stuck in the Dark Ages.

    1. Thanks, Tony. All of De Carvalho’s musings seem to have this wading pool depth. Although, to be fair, perhaps here De Carvalho was thinking of the Aboriginal Scientific Method.

    2. Tony, I have bought all your OUP problem books and find them very useful at school – and I always cite them in the notes I provide to students. Thank you.

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