The allegation that maths is racist and therefore needs to be ‘decolonised’ is not unique to ANU.

The deliberate, dishonest catastrophisation of climate change and environmental issues in our school curricula is causing significant harm to young people’s mental health. This abuse of educational institutions must be systematically addressed to promote learning over political activism.

Thanks to the National Curriculum mandate of cross-curriculum priorities, the topic of ‘sustainability’ has infiltrated every subject, at every year level, in every classroom. Students are presented, on a daily basis, with a one-sided, omnipresent doomsday narrative, one that fails to acknowledge contested analyses and diverse perspectives, or to recognise the social, economic, and political dimensions of the topic.

On the surface, it could be beneficial for children to explore sustainability as a means of learning how to responsibly care for our natural world. However, in practice, sustainability in the curriculum acts as a gateway for children to encounter various ideologies that are not tied to practical environmental stewardship, and instead exposes them to a radical Green agenda and alleged links between championing environmental causes and solving all the inequities and woes of the world. Further, the curriculum explicitly informs students that it is their personal obligation to redress these global problems. An impossible task for anyone, let alone impressionable children.

‘Climate change’ as a discrete topic may have a place, presented to age-appropriate students, in the context of a rigorous science curriculum. It is not unreasonable to suggest that any exposure to the topic should involve facts and projections based on reputable sources and scientific research. It is too important and complex a subject to be left in the hands of the poorly educated ideologues who are currently trying to indoctrinate our young. And any discussion of the problems must also include an investigation of their possible solutions including, dare I say it, nuclear energy, which does not rate a mention once in the National Curriculum.

Whether the topic of ‘climate change’ should even form part of the curriculum at all is debatable. However, embedding ‘sustainability’ within every subject and every year level means core subject matter integrity is lost, and content becomes opaque and subjective rather than vehicles to identify objective fact and impart learning skills.

Tellingly, students are quite deliberately discouraged from developing critical thinking skills and forming independent opinions.

While educationally bankrupt, this activism in the curriculum has also led to high levels of anxiety, even despair, among our young. Their constant exposure to catastrophic depictions of climate change has led to the recently coined descriptor ‘eco-anxiety’ among young people. Characterised by persistent worry and fear about environmental issues, a large number of students report sleep disturbances, irritability, and a sense of hopelessness.

In 2021, The Lancet surveyed 10,000 young people (aged 16–25 years) in ten countries including Australia, about their attitudes to climate change. The results are alarming. 75 per cent said they think the future is frightening. More than 45 per cent said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning. More than 50 per cent reported each of the following emotions: sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty.

Scientists, economists and politicians disagree about the extent of the problem of ‘climate change’ – if indeed the problem exists at all – and they disagree about the means and cost of addressing that problem. To present to students, a single, simple, utopian, guilt-ridden renewables ‘solution’ and to rest the weight of the globe’s problems on their young, developing shoulders is an abuse of a privileged position of power.

The cross-curriculum priorities of the National Curriculum are a particularly pernicious part of our politicised education regimen and should be removed entirely. Only then might we turn around the steady decline in the academic outcomes of our children which currently sees one in three students across Australia failing to meet minimum numeracy and literacy expectations.

Young Australians will be ill-equipped to address whatever the future issues of their times will be when their core academic skills are not adequate, and their mental health is undermined.

We must urgently re-evaluate our approach to education and arm students with the tools that empower them to become informed, inquiring, resilient, and proactive stewards of their own future.

That process should start with the removal of the indoctrination at the heart of the National Curriculum.

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Colleen Harkin

National Manager, Class Action Program and Research Fellow