Australia’s 1988 Bicentennial: national history and multiculturalism in the primary school curriculum


Sharp, H. L. (2012). Australia’s 1988 Bicentennial: national history and multiculturalism in the primary school curriculum. History of Education, 41(3), 405-421.

As in many countries, such as Germany, Turkey, the United States and Japan the history/culture wars of the past two decades have increased public interest in what is taught in schools. This has resulted in rigorous debates in the general community, encouraged and sustained through regular media coverage. Partly as a response to this, History has been designated as a separate subject in the first wave of planning and implementation of the Australian National Curriculum. Two of the reasons for this include first, to recognise the importance of teaching historical skills as a distinct subject; and second there is an ongoing bipartisan political interest in privileging history disciplinary knowledge and content to ensure that national history narratives are taught to students. To contribute meaningfully towards the development and implementation of a National Curriculum, it is important to understand past curriculum constructions, so that the disciplinary knowledge and content of history remains independent, and not subsumed within current (or future) political trends. Based on examples of national history from the Queensland Social Studies syllabus and government endorsed sourcebooks in the lead-up to the 1988 Bicentennial of British colonisation of the Australian continent, this article examines the influence and role of multiculturalism in History teaching in primary schools. Particular attention is paid to Indigenous representations and British heritages, as an example of two groups that have often been represented as binaries to each other throughout Australian history. An analysis of the curriculum materials illuminates the differences between multiculturalism and history—highlighting how the two are merged at the expense of accurate historical knowledge and concepts, particularly in the area of national history. This study will demonstrate that as a result of the infiltration of multiculturalism into history content within the Social Studies curriculum, historical knowledge becomes silenced in the school curriculum – resulting in vague and sometimes historically inaccurate information being presented to students; and the privileging of certain types of multiculturalism.
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