Identity politics, critical race theory and the newly revised curriculum

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As happens every few years—at great cost to the public—a newly revised Australian curriculum appears on the scene. It ought to have the concern of the church with its Christian school because parents promised to nurture their children in accordance with God’s Word “and have them instructed therein to the utmost of their power”, and the whole church is to help them therein.[i] So it’s important to check each revised curriculum to see whether we are being pushed into a direction antithetical to Scripture and our Confession.

Well, do we have reason for concern? In one sense that’s always going to be the case simply because the Australian curriculum is mandatory and because it is a secular document that is not based on Scripture. It leaves God out of the picture, pretends He doesn’t exist, even though the whole universe is before us as a most beautiful book pointing to God the Creator, Preserver and Governor of it all.[ii] So of course we are wary of it. Up till now, by the grace of God, our Christian schools have been able to work with the government’s curriculum. But how is it with this ‘new’ curriculum, particularly since we see society increasingly departing from Christian principles and embracing unscriptural values?

One thing that strikes one immediately when browsing through the history (HASS) Year 7-9 section of the new curriculum is the huge number of references to ‘First Nations Peoples of Australia’.[iii] Given that one of the key groups influencing the new curriculum is the ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education advisory group’ this is perhaps not surprising, but one needs to ask, first, what’s taken out of the previous curriculum to make place for all this additional focus on indigenous culture and history, and second, given the heavy focus lately on such ‘woke’ notions as ‘identity politics’ and ‘critical race theory’, where is this heading?

Identity politics

So what do we mean by ‘identity politics’? As you know, we are living in a time when the worship of God has been replaced by the worship of the self, and particularly the self as identifying with a group fighting for its own cause. This is called “identity politics” and it has a lot to do with presenting yourself as a group victim of a more powerful group. As part of the ‘victimised’ group you feel you have been disempowered and therefore fight for empowerment and a better deal.

I expect you know how it works: a person (school child or adult) is asked about which group they identify with. Some possibilities are: a particular immigrant group, indigenous (aboriginal) people, a religious minority group (Hindu, Muslim, Bahai), LGBT+ group, climate change advocates, etc. You then consider possible ways in which you are being victimised, disadvantaged or oppressed. Any criticism of the ‘victimised’ group and what it does or how such people live is seen as evidence of the way in which they are hurt and is itself seen as a form of disempowerment. No longer is God and His Word the guide to a solution but the focus is on self, on promoting self-esteem and self-interests, and on abusing and attacking those who are in some way seen as ‘oppressors’.

In a way this is similar to Marxism. Marxism of course was mainly concerned with the economic well-being of the disadvantaged, whereby those who are less well-off rise up against those who are well-off so that everyone has the same. (To see how that worked in Russia, read George Orwell’s satirical novel Animal Farm.) Identity politics applies this to any area in which a group feels victimised. It’s sort of post-Marxist radicalism which:

constructs new revolutionary ideologies by replacing Marx’s concern for the oppressed working class with other oppressed groups (blacks, women, gays). Status and moral legitimacy come from being ‘excluded from power’. The victim has the favoured role… Even affluent university professors cast themselves in the role of the victim of oppressive power. Scholarly papers quiver with outrage, self-pity, and ‘theoretical extremity’. To be black, female or gay is to enjoy a sort of secular sainthood.[iv]

So, when a curriculum starts focussing heavily on one group of people in a society in contradistinction from others, it’s worth considering what’s behind it and where this might be heading.

Critical Race Theory

The other thing to watch out for is critical race theory, a branch of identity politics. Like identity politics it is Marxist and strives, not for equal opportunity but for equality of outcome. Whilst it originated in the USA, where African Americans saw themselves as the victims of the white majority, it is spreading across the globe. Really it promotes a ‘them versus us’ mentality and is based on the idea, not that everyone is a sinner needing redemption but that we are all the product of our environment. Those engaged in it are critical of everyone who is white, part of western civilisation (particularly its Christian influence), part of a capitalist/private enterprise system that they see as being responsible for the troubles they believe they’re experiencing. It’s always the other’s fault; never their own. The whites, simply by virtue of being white, are considered to be racist. It’s all part of the politically correct brigade that is fueled by feelings of resentment and rebellion rather than by the awareness of the need to turn in humble submission to the Gospel, which gives true freedom and joy and contentment.

The New Curriculum

What has this to do with the new curriculum? As I said earlier, there’s now a very heavy focus on indigenous culture and history. It’s part of the government’s ‘reconciliation’ programme. That term reconciliation suggests that the relations between indigenous and non-indigenous people are, at best, not friendly. Why else would people need to be reconciled to one another? What we all need, of course, is to be reconciled with God through Christ (2 Cor. 5:18, 19). The heavy focus on reconciliation with First Australians tends to accent the differences which can foster an unscriptural (Gal. 3:28) ‘them versus us’ view on the basis of race, particularly by using terminology critical of the whites, as done in the curriculum. This is reinforced when all history is presented as a matter of perspective – the perspective of the white colonists, First Australians, capitalists, socialists, etc. Whilst there is always an element of truth in it, it implies there is no objective truth; all history is seen as a matter of perspective shaped by the group to which one belongs. 

The heavy emphasis in the new curriculum on ‘First Australians’ has been picked up by others. For example, Kevin Donnelly, a Roman Catholic educationist, wrote:

In line with the international movement to decolonise the curriculum by removing or ignoring the debt owed to Western civilisation, the curriculum further entrenches a focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait ­Islander history, culture and spirituality.

In the humanities and social sciences curriculum covering the years to Year 10, there are four references to Christianity but 13 to Indigenous history and culture. In the Eng­lish document, instead of introducing students to the evolving literary canon associated with Western culture, there are 45-plus references to Indigenous oral tradition, languages and texts.

Even mathematics and science are not immune, with schools told to teach Aboriginal ‘algebraic thinking’ and ‘to learn that First Nations peoples of Australia have longstanding scientific knowledge traditions’.” [v]

To be sure, that in itself is not proof of Critical Race Theory, but its heavy emphasis on Aboriginal life and history at the cost of the value of Christianity and Western culture sets the groundwork for it.

Rebecca Urban writes,

While overall curriculum content is being scaled back by about 20 per cent, the elevation of indigenous history, culture and perspectives across the humanities has come at a cost of topics dealing with ancient history and western civilisation. More books by First Nations authors are to be incorporated into the English curriculum from the foundation level upwards.”[vi]

Particularly critical of the new curriculum is Nick Cater:

Teachers are no longer trained in practical skills, they are immersed in postmodern sludge for four years and indoctrinated with theory. Post-colonial theory, queer theory, gender theory and critical race theory have found fertile ground in pedagogy, framing the classroom not as a place where kids are taught but a frontline in the universal battle between the oppressors and the oppressed.

This dismal worldview permeates almost every paragraph of the revised national curriculum, which prioritises the cause of social justice over competent teaching…

The curriculum’s lack of attention to the history and meaning of modern Australia is not mere carelessness on the authors’ part, but a deliberate attempt to hide it from children lest they be drawn into thinking there is anything virtuous in our liberal heritage. The previously essential virtues of courage, responsibility and duty have been brushed aside in favour of a philistine morality of diversity, inclusion and sustainability.

The Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, which costs us $36m a year, has downgraded the profession of teaching and handed more power to subversive educational theoreticians than they ever would have dreamed. Its curriculum has become a super spreader of infected thought that has been fomenting in the darker corners of our universities.”[vii]

Lastly, Rebecca Urban speaks of a growing concern among parents “that a proposed new national curriculum will embed critical race theory into Australian schooling”. She refers to the Institute of Public Affairs which “highlighted the growing influence of critical race theory on the draft curriculum, including dozens of history and civics and citizenship topics preoccupied with the oppression, discrimination and struggles of Indigenous Australians…” She adds,

“Born out of the US, critical race theory is an academic framework for analysing the intersection of race and power that has coined terms such as ‘systemic racism’ and ‘white privilege’.

IPA director Bella d’Abrera said there were signs that critical race theory were already creeping into schools, such as the recent case of Victoria’s Parkdale Secondary College where a visiting social worker labelled boys who were white and Christian as ‘oppressors’, however the draft curriculum threatened to ‘brainwash children … to hate Australia’.

‘Australians are rightly saying no to critical race theory – they are egalitarian and do not support divisive ideologies in the classroom,’ said Dr d’Abrera. ‘Unfortunately, however, critical race theory and identity politics are very much present in the radical new national curriculum.

‘The study of Indigenous history is important, but the radical curriculum not only embeds it across every learning area, but it also teaches [a] discredited … version of Indigenous history into Australian classrooms.’

Released last month, the draft history curriculum presents the arrival of the First Fleet as an ‘invasion’ for the first time and replaces references to ‘Aboriginal’ and ‘Indigenous’ with ‘First Nations Australians’ or ‘Australian First Nations Peoples’.

Suggested activities for secondary school history include studying ‘the impact of invasion, colonisation and dispossession of lands by Europeans on the First Nations Peoples of Australia, such as frontier warfare, genocide, removal from land’ as well as analysing ‘different historical interpretations and debates about the colonial and settler societies, such as contested terms, including ‘colonisation’, ‘settlement’ and ‘invasion’.

‘This is reversing the 1967 referendum which brought Australians together,’ she said. ‘It is embedding racial divisions and sowing resentment in society.’[viii]

As can be seen, there are reasons for concern.

What can we do about it?

  1. Pray that the Lord may cause ACARA, the people responsible, to heed the objections and concerns which, it is to be hoped and expected, will land on its table.
  2. Email ACARA expressing concern (before coming Thursday 8th July).[ix]
  3. Be alert to the dangers. Test the spirits. Shed Scriptural light on the subjects. The Lord Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth and the light. No one comes to the Father except by Me” (John 14:6). As we know: only in Him is there joy and light and salvation for all who believe and repent, irrespective of skin colour, race, culture, economic position, or whatever. It is this glorious Gospel which, by the grace of God and notwithstanding the many evils committed by both whites and non-whites, was brought to this land and was, again by God’s grace, embraced by many indigenous people.

 

[i] Heidelberg Catechism LD 21 and Church Order of the FRCA article 53

[ii] Belgic Confession article 2

[iii] See, for example, hass_history_comparative_information_7-10.pdf (australiancurriculum.edu.au).

[iv] Gene Edward Veith, Jr., Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture, Crossway, Wheaton, 1994, p. 161.

[v] Kevin Donnelly, “National syllabus fails the key test”, The Australian (digital version), 30-4-2021.

[vi] Rebecca Urban, “Australian school curriculum ‘now totally politicised’”, The Australian (digital), 30-4-2021.

[vii] Nick Cater, “National Curriculum: The more we spend, the less our kids learn”, The Australian (digital), 10-5-2021.

[viii] Rebecca Urban, “Curriculum pushes radical racial theory”, The Australian (digital), 22-5-2021.

[ix] https://www.acara.edu.au/curriculum