Class Action To The Rescue Of Captain Cook

Dear Reader,

‘We have to rescue Captain Cook.’

Those were the sentiments expressed by the Director of the IPA’s Foundations of Western Civilisation Program, Dr Bella d’Abrera, at the time that Captain Cook’s statues were being vandalised by Black Lives Matter activists in 2020.

I am delighted to share that the Class Action program has taken a significant step towards this goal with the launch of our latest curriculum unit for Year 9 students: Captain James Cook: Brilliant navigator and intrepid traveller, or destructive coloniser?

What was alarming about the 2020 protests was the general lack of knowledge among the young activists about the life and times of this intrepid adventurer. How little did they know or understand Captain James Cook’s motivations, personality and the political and technological environment of late 18th century during which Captain Cook undertook his three voyages to the Pacific Ocean – voyages that ultimately led to the creation of the very universities and institutions from which these activists sprung.

The IPA looked into why young Australians are so ignorant about this pivotal moment in Australia’s history – the culprit it turns out is our National Curriculum.

A keyword word search for ‘Captain Cook’ in the National Curriculum database renders only one return. Yes, you read that correctly. There exists just one result for ‘Captain Cook’ in the National Curriculum (for Year 4 students) – and it comes after the concept of ‘invasion’ has already been taught to children in Year 3. By contrast, a search for the term ‘invasion’ returns 23 results.

But Class Action exists to fill the knowledge gap in our children’s education, and this Year 9 curriculum unit – Captain James Cook: Brilliant navigator and intrepid traveller, or destructive coloniser – does just that. [Download here]

James Cook Man of Enlightenment

As you will see, the unit provides step-by-step lesson plans, the necessary student worksheets and the visual support materials – such as PowerPoint presentations and a well-produced video – needed to facilitate a well-informed and balanced discussion on this unfairly reviled historical figure.

Here are a few things that this unit provides that are rare to find today, when speaking of the events of late 18th century:

A balanced perspective on the events of the day

Values and attitudes that dominated 18thcentury Europe

A window into why no Treaty was signed with Indigenous Australians

Original entries from the diary of Captain James Cook, so that children get an insight into the Captain Cook’s observations, preoccupations and values as he undertook the journey

For example, students learn that far from being an enthusiastic and ruthless coloniser, Captain Cook wrote:

We introduce among them wants and perhaps diseases which they never before knew, and which serves only to disturb that happy tranquillity they and their forefathers had enjoy’d. If anyone denies the truth of this assertion, let him tell me what the Natives of the whole extent of America have gained by the commerce they have had with Europeans

Armed with this critical and factual information, students are then asked to consider for themselves: Was Captain Cook a destructive coloniser or a brilliant navigator and intrepid traveller?

What’s more, the unit also cites specific ‘National Curriculum markers’ as references for teachers to readily facilitate its implementation in any Australian school.

Putting this curriculum unit together has been challenging, and I am proud of its depth, balance and thoughtful presentation. I started this project by searching for curriculum materials that currently exist on Captain Cook, and found vanishingly few detailed lesson plans that both accommodated the specific mandates of the National Curriculum and enabled teachers to implement a unit without undertaking onerous research and documentation themselves.

In this, the IPA’s work is unique. This curriculum unit is fair, balanced and acknowledges the context of the times – things that woke ideologues loathe to teach young Australians.

I’d like to thank Therese Mount and Robert Lewis for working with me to put together this unit, and also Dr Bella d’Abrera for her support. The IPA is also grateful to The Scobie and Claire Mackinnon Trust for its specific support in making the excellent video on Captain James Cook, presented by Bella, that accompanies this unit. [View here]

Most of all, I’d like to thank all of you – IPA members and Class Action supporters – for remaining committed to Class Action’s mission: highlighting the ideological bias in the National Curriculum and presenting more rigorous and balanced curriculum material as an alternative for Australian teachers and parents.

Please download the unit and share your feedback with me. If you like it, please also share it with the teachers and parents in your life.

IPA curriculum materials are gaining attention

Over the last year, the IPA has launched several excellent curriculum materials on Australian History and Civics and Citizenship. However, creating curriculum material is only one part of the equation. If we are to get them into classrooms, we also have to make sure that teachers have access to them. And this challenge has to be addressed in a more strategic way.

Many teachers have signed up to the Class Action program, and directly access our materials. In addition, the Class Action unit on ‘Magna Carta’ has been approved and is now live on the ‘Scootle’ portal which is the national education database for all schools. More excitingly, our work unit on ‘Captain Cook’ has been approved by the History Teachers Association of Victoria and will be promoted to their subscribers.

Another way we are reaching out to teachers and parents is through the media. I am happy to report, that I was recently invited to The Rita Panahi Show on Sky News Australia to discuss IPA research into the abysmal results of the National Assessment Program for Civics and Citizenship (NAP-CC), which I shared with you in my last Class Action email. [View here]

Australian children forced to support the Voice

Nowhere does education get more progressive than in my home state of Victoria.

In Victoria, the state’s decided to use schools to indoctrinate young Australians in favour of the upcoming Voice to Parliament Referendum. Students are being asked to memorise the Uluru Statement from the Heart, welcome Voice advocates to speak in assemblies and work the Referendum into classroom lessons.

Victoria is not alone. As news articles have pointed out, South Australia’s Education Department is also ‘supportive of the Uluru Statement, the Indigenous voice … and the Referendum’ being taught and discussed by teachers in schools, and the Queensland government is encouraging open discussions with students ahead of this year’s vote. Only in New South Wales, are teachers being asked to stick to current programs. [Read here $]

The problem with schools chiming into the Referendum debate has been neatly encapsulated by the leader of the No campaign, Nyunggai Warren Mundine AO, who said this:

It’s total propaganda. When I went to school, if you spoke about political issues and propaganda, you lost your job. These kids are only getting one side of the story and, frankly, it’s time for heads to roll.

People have told me … their kids are coming home totally indoctrinated by it. If you’re going to teach students about the voice, you have to have representation from both sides. It’s that, or don’t talk about it. [Read here $]

In conclusion…

Before finishing, I’d like to take you back to Class Action’s new curriculum unit on Captain Cook. One of the reasons that this unit was needed was because people don’t know the truth about Captain Cook. If young Australians know the truth about him, they won’t fall for the unfair labels tacked on him.

This quote by Saint Augustine best captures it:

The truth is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself.

Thank you once again for your support and commitment to Class Action.


Colleen Harkin

National Manager, Class Action Program and Research Fellow