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.