22 October 2007

The Teaching of Australian History

For three or four years now, I have been hunting for resources to use in teaching Jack about Australia's history. There are some resources in US libraries, of course, but there's not much. I also preferred to find Aussie resources -- after all, I want him to have a sense of himself as an Australian as well and an American. If the books we use to teach him Australian history always view Australia as "them", that's going to skew how he sees things.

I haven't had a lot of luck finding materials. My sister-in-law found a series of books, not unlike the books Time-Life put out when I was a kid, but these books are clearly meant for much older children. I have found no equivalent to the biographies of great Americans for every age and political view that are so easy to find here.

At first, I was puzzled. It simply seemed to me that I was missing something. Not explaining it right...something like that. Then I wondered at a people that didn't tell it's children about their history.

As I have dug deeper and deeper, I have come to think that this tendency not to talk about history is a lot more complex than I could have imagined. It's not so much a lack of interest in teaching kids about the origins of their country -- it is instead a deep confusion about *what* to tell kids about it. Was Captain Cook an intrepid explorer or the scout of an invading fleet? Was Ned Kelly a hero or a rogue? And what of the Botany bay penal colony should small children know about? How do you teach little ones the decidedly un-PC origins of their land when you hope to raise them to be comfortable in a broadminded and multi-cultural world?

Of course, as an American, it doesn't seem all that confusing or difficult to me. Our real origins have their decidedly unglamourous moments, too. Those things can be dealt with later, we just cherry-pick the "child friendly" parts and get the kids started on recognizing names and faces and the broadest outlines on history. But how the Australian school child is to be educated is hardly a place where my opinion would be welcome.

Nonetheless, I am coming to think that I have three choices.

  • I can teach US history without addressing the Australia equivalent.
  • I can ignore both.
  • I can create my own materials to teach the history of the two countries in parallel.

The first choice seems unwise to me. It gives Jack's maternal heritage far more weight than his paternal and might give him the idea that I think the US is more important to know about.

The second choice is simply unacceptable to me. History is important. Very important.

That leaves me with the third option. I am not uncomfortable with the writing, but my complete lack of artistic talent has me feelings pretty much at sea. How can I write a history book for a six year old with no pictures? I guess that I'll just have to steal them where I can find them. Since the books are for Jack's use, I guess it won't be a problem ... But it does leave me pretty much at the mercy of what I can find on the Internet. It also means that Jack's history education won't have a particularly "authentic" Aussie voice -- but I don't see much alternative right now.


Especially because I know so little myself and their a good chance I will make a hash of at least some parts of it. Obviously I can lean on Rod and his family for input, but they mostly seem to think I'm being wierd about this.


  1. Jasmine and Sienna-LeeJanuary 10, 2011 2:07 PM

    Hey Misti, I know you posted this quite a few years ago, but I was wondering.. How is Jack now with Australian History?? :) If he is interested I could find some books and send them over if he would like that?

  2. Hey, Jazzy! I would *love* to have some more books about Australian history for Jack -- including (if it exists) stuff from an Aboriginal point of view -- but also European.

    Thank you so much!!!


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