Teaching childrenabout great discoveries and conquests

When, from about the 16th century, European traders, accompanied by soldiers and priests, were outfoxing one another in coloured seas, seeking to secure their respective spheres of influence, they were also teaching the ‘natives’ they had conquered how to govern themselves (so their children were taught in their own schools). The perambulating priests sought to burn and otherwise destroy all symbols of foreign faiths (which were obviously in error), and saved as many heathen souls for Christ as they could. Then, in the 18th and 19th centuries, some scholars set out to prove that the white ‘race’ is genetically superior to all the coloured races. (A study of the brains of these scholars would have been fascinating!)

Other scholars also argued (for obvious reasons) that the white race could not possibly have learnt anything from the ‘black peoples’ of Egypt, Sumer, Persia, India, and countries further east, such as China. It seems to me that the white race’s cultural ancestors are the Greeks (who were relatively recent arrivals in the philosophical stakes). Who were this white race’s religious ancestors? And how did this superior white race acquire the Old Testament, written surely by tanned Semitic scholars (again, fairly recently)?

As a school boy, I was made aware by my elders about the longevity, durability, and philosophical complexity of our civilisational heritage. My elders were not uneducated. They were aware of the literary and trading achievements of the Tamil people before being temporarily over-run by Europeans. So, while we subsequently sought to be modernised in a Western way, we did not lose sight of where we had come from and, thus, who we are. Most importantly, as I grew up, I was not aware of any Asians claiming that their civilisation was superior to that of anyone else. The emphasis by my elders on our heritage was to ensure that we were not snow-blinded by the white race.

In Australia, my children were exposed to the ridiculous claim that some European explorer had discovered something that was clearly known to the locals. Could my children trust their text books, especially after showing that Marco Polo could not have discovered the Silk Route to China, or that Lt. Cook had found a land that no one knew where it is. But then, some of my colleagues learnt somewhat painfully at university that there are times when it paid to regurgitate what was presented. I instance the Domino Theory about the whole of South-East Asia falling, like dominoes, to communism, although no one in that region (especially my extended family) was aware of such a threat.

While a debate about the method of teaching continues, do we now have to worry about the content of teaching?