Tuesday, May 11, 2010

ANZAC Day indoctrination

This is the worksheet that all of Ben's school did on ANZAC Day. For context, this is for 5-8 year olds. Poor child got quite the lecture when he got home (not directed at him, directed at the makers of the sheet).

What are your favourite bits?

I am rather fond of how "proud" we are to take part in ANZAC Day. *shudder*

I also like the implication that Gallipoli had something to do with "defend"-ing... well anybody really. It's a pretty impressive argument that can conclude that we took part in the invasion of Turkey in order to defend Australia.

I'm also amused that for some reason "Australian and New Zealand Army Corps" was just too hard for these kids. Or something.

But really, how can you go past "a big fight between countries who disagree over some things"? That's.... jaw dropping. In the context of 5-8 year olds, I can see these kids thinking that war is somewhere between a screaming match over who had it first and an all-in brawl with a spot of punching and kicking. Of course, wars do often start out as a screaming match over who had it first, but they aren't discussing the causes.

I realise it's tricky, and I think there is a reasonable argument to ignore ANZAC Day altogether in infants school, but if you're going to go there, you can't do it disingenuously. Surely "a big fight between countries in which lots of people die" would be closer, without getting into particularly nasty detail?

I think I'd be much happier if they just left it alone until at least primary school. This pro-ANZAC Day propaganda campaign in schools is very disturbing. When I went to school, ANZAC Day was presented as a day to mark all that is stupid, awful and pointless about war, with a side helping of the value of friendship, ingenuity and disobeying orders. We were taught that Gallipoli was a monumental management cock up, that ANZAC soldiers were treated by the lofty British as disposable cannon fodder, and that above all, this kind of thing should never be allowed to happen again. We were taught that following stupid orders is not brave and loyal, it's stupid and fatal.

Not that I think what we were taught ticked all the boxes. There was still a glorification of the ANZAC soldiers - the whole "ANZAC soldiers were better/smarter/more effective", which smacks of nationalism, although it probably has a grain of truth. More importantly, we weren't taught the wider implications of the invasion of Turkey nor any of the horrors visited upon the "bad guys" by the "good guys". Nor did anyone ever mention the Armenian genocide that was taking place on the very same day. I notice that in all the "Aussies and Turks are mates now" stuff that goes on in Gallipoli itself, the Armenians don't get a mention either.

I think perhaps it is time for parents and P&Cs to take a long hard look at the materials being given to schools for ANZAC Day, and ask what we want our kids to be taught.

ETA: Credit where it's due - apparently Ben's teacher expressed concern with the use of the word "proud".


  1. Our school has an assembly, manages to get what look like veterans to attend and is boring according to Phillip. I doubt he has any understand of what ANZAC Day is, apart from what I've told him.

    Last year he thought dead soldiers were going to turn up and he was terrified.

    I honestly don't remember being taught anything about it except what ANZACs were and that they fought in wars. Although I must have as I know a bit more than that.

    I agree that they could forget infants in ANZAC day stuff.

  2. I went to the ANZAC assembly this year, it actually wasn't too bad and pretty much covered all the stuff you mention being covered back in the day. We have the whole school, infants and primary, in the one assembly. There's still a little too much of the war is exciting and ANZACs were universally admirable for my tastes though.

    What I want to know about that worksheet is why it's Daddy that knows all about why they're marching.

  3. HA! I was so blown away by the content, I hadn't even read the title! There really isn't even the tiniest bit that avoids the fail.

    @Toni: Dead soldiers? - well that would probably put an end to the glorification of war. :)

  4. I've been increasingly uneasy about Anzac Day and the way it is celebrated, and the way it is pushed in schools. It's rather too close to glorifying war for my comfort. Somehow all the rhetoric about "sacrifice" sounds uncomfortably close to "sacrament" for my comfort; to me it feels as though it's a cult of the dead, or a cult of the soldier.

  5. I agree completely.

    It also implies that our national identity is all tied up with war (and by extension, owned by men). The (government) war memorial website says "ANZAC Day... is probably Australia's most important national occasion." That, right there, is one of my biggest concerns.

  6. Yes, I feel the same way. Cult of the dead, cult of the soldier, cult of the masculine - and a particular type of masculinity at that.

    I have been meaning to write a post about that for a while (in particular, about the surfeit of war memorials we have in Australia - does anywhere else do it quite like we do?).

  7. It's great the school and your kids have parents like you to set them straight.