Creating a false economy starts in the classroom, stupid
Federal education minister Peter Garrett. Photo: Anita Jones
How wonderful to hear that Mr Peter Garrett intends introducing economics as a compulsory school subject for students in year 5 to year 8 (''Dollars, sense a primary concern'', February 18, p9). We were told about this by one of the panel of experts responsible for the recommendation. He is an economist and will be delighted when his subject will take its rightful place among the other creative courses on the curriculum: art, English, history and drama for example, where imagination is more important than fact.
For too long, the school curriculum has been hog-tied by rigid rules and formulae that young children need to learn in order to get the answer in the back of the book. Just because outcomes can be predicted by Newton's laws or the periodic table or Euclidean geometry is no reason to foist them on kids brought up on
ctrl-c for their homework and ctrl-z until they guess the right answer. So, Mr Garrett and ''Australia's ensemble of education ministers'' are to be applauded for this farseeing innovation. By the way, I hope you admired that word ensemble; whatever you might have called Midnight Oil's recommendation for what to do in case of a bedroom fire, I bet you never heard them called an ensemble.
However, this is not the only good news for education this week. In NSW, they are proposing to allow children as young as 12 to shoot in national parks. During the last election in that state, the Shooters and Fishers Party proposed the introduction into the school curriculum of training in the use of guns. It is this kind of forward thinking that has placed Australia in the forefront of the modern ideas revolution. Those countries which have had school shootings in recent years - America, Pakistan, Norway - will look with envy at our schools and will question whether their students would have been safer if they had concentrated more on gun etiquette and less on smelly chemicals. It is a well advertised fact that guns do not kill people; people kill people.
There is no equivalent argument for algebra. There have been unseemly disputes on sports fields when teams from government and non-government schools clash in athletic contests where physique, muscle and tattoos are prized more highly than finesse. Put these same schools in a contest where they have guns and are properly trained in their use and you will have a wonderful afternoon's entertainment. Each school could fire bullets marked with the crest of their school, Latin in the case of the non-government sector.
Australia is fortunate in having vast areas where nothing lives except a few possums, wild pigs, foxes and frogs with funny names. Schools would be able to take over these areas and turn them into shooting galleries, perhaps with targets painted on vegetation or on the huge trees that dot the landscape in wasteful profusion. This would have the effect of turning the young away from violent video games and giving them the opportunity to shoot real bullets instead of virtual ones. The excitement of the activity could be greatly magnified by using appropriate sounds, depending on where the bullet struck the target. The psychological benefit of hitting a target at 100 metres would be immensely greater than moving to a higher level in a video game.
If the suggestion of the Shooters was taken up, it might be an encouragement to revive the cadets that were a feature of schools 40 years ago. That organisation with its pretend officers and NCOs gave the students a feel for life outside the school gates where some people really are more important than others. Students who went to Duntroon in those days were never found guilty of the kinds of misbehaviour we heard about in that place last year because they had been through it all at school.
Of course, when people shoot in national parks, they may occasionally kill some wild pig or fox or other animal and here is where the earlier suggestion for economics in school comes in.
Remember these 12-year olds are studying things like opportunity costs, scarcity, the supply cycle. So they would carefully gather this kill and send it for processing to some place that packages lasagne or meat balls. They would be able to state with some definiteness that the meat had never been injected with growth hormone, had roamed free all its life, was a true organic product.
There might be some difficulty about passing it off as beef of course, but a creative education system should be able to redefine that word as referring to any dead organism. If our schools cannot be creative, what good are they? And if economics helps that to happen, so much the better. Anyway, that's what I think.
Frank O'Shea is a Canberra writer.