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Thursday, March 09, 2006

From 'The Australian' 9th March 2006

"THE comparison between the Crusades and the September 11 terrorists in a Victorian textbook was deliberately provocative and designed to spark debate, teachers said yesterday.

The idea that the Crusaders and their fight in a holy war shared similarities and "moral equivalence" with the September 11 terrorists was intended to teach students how to support an argument, educators said.

The book, Humanities Alive 2 developed for Year 8 students, was criticised this week by Melbourne University historian Barry Collett for being historically inaccurate and misleading in its depiction of the Crusades and the church [sic] during the Middle Ages.

Victorian president of the Australian Education Union Mary Bluett said the text relating the Crusades and September 11 was purposely provocative to spark discussion and tease out ideas from students.

"Clearly there's sensitivity around it and teachers as professionals would handle that sort of debate very carefully," she said.

Ms Bluett said the aim of the exercise was not to teach students that there were similarities between the Crusades and September 11, but to teach them the principles of mounting an argument.

"It's really about teaching young people to analyse the words being said, think about their response and justify their response. It's a tool for teaching them how to advance an opinion and back it up," she said.

Director of the teaching resources and textbook research unit at Sydney University Michael Horsley said how the textbook was used by teachers was more important than its content. "It isn't a matter of what's written on paper. Any text can be interpreted in many different ways by children - and that's where the teacher's knowledge and expertise comes in," he said.

He said history in Victoria was taught as part of a combined society and environment syllabus with geography and economics, rather than a stand-alone subject. As a result, textbooks covering all three subjects were necessarily simplified or carried little detail.

"This is not a history course; kids aren't necessarily studying medieval history for a longer period of time," he said."

From the Editorial for the 10th March, 2006:

"Like the Crusaders ... they were told they would go straight to heaven when they died", states the book, referring to bin Laden's henchmen. "Might it be fair to say that Crusaders who attacked the Muslim inhabitants of Jerusalem were also terrorists?"

While bin Laden's statements are certainly valuable texts for anyone studying the geopolitics of modern terrorism, they are not the way to teach high school students medieval history. And though the Crusades have never been particularly popular with the modern educational establishment (except as a bloody cudgel with which to bash the West) they are a critically important piece of world history that clearly still resonate today.

As a brief refresher, Muslim incursions into Byzantine territory went largely unremarked in the West for centuries, but the situation changed with the sacking of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - the historical burial place of Jesus - in 1009 by the Caliph of Cairo. The Western response, in the form of the Crusades, was not an exercise in naked imperialism, but rather an effort to come to the aid of Christian co-religionists who were doing it tough under the Ottoman yoke. (Indeed, even after the Crusades, the Ottoman Empire's Muslim armies would come close to overrunning Europe, and were not decisively stopped until the Siege of Vienna in 1529 and another battle there in 1683.) It is critical to remember that the eastern Mediterranean had previously been held by the Byzantine empire, successor state to the Roman Empire, whose leaders in Constantinople (now Istanbul) spent years begging the Pope and western European kings for help even as they preserved the heritage of antiquity. Once in the East, Europeans rediscovered long-forgotten doctrines of the Greek philosophers (such as Aristotle, Plato and Socrates) and Roman government (articulated by countless thinkers and historians), as well as the new Arab numbering system. All these elements and more found fertile ground in a Europe looking to pick up the pieces from the Dark Ages, and they provided the fuel for the Renaissance of the 12th and 15th centuries and subsequent periods of Enlightenment and democratic revolution.

Not teaching these critical elements of how Western culture - of which Australia is a part - came to be to students is to in a sense cheat them of their heritage. Simply casting the Crusaders as a bunch of ignorant and bloodthirsty Europeans ignores this reality."

I'm particularly fond of the "cheat them of their heritage" bit. I'm dissatisfied with all this passively imposed delinquency - in the truest sense of the word, tracing back to its Latin roots.

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