On 27 November 2010, Australian Skeptics named the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority (ACARA) as the recipient of the 2010 Bent Spoon for its draft science curriculum. [Those wishing to review the award, and a supplementary statement of 20 March 2010 should go to this page.]
At the time, some bloggers and commentators criticised the Skeptics for this decision, citing the draft nature of the curriculum. Others responded with approval of the Skeptics’ stance.
Nonetheless, the criticism which the award had attracted moved us to revisit the award. We approached a number of experts in education and critical thinking to review the decision. This formal review was in addition to unsolicited comments offered at the time of the award.
The central issues were whether the draft science curriculum was faulty and, if so, whether that fault was enough to warrant the Bent Spoon.
Our reviewers (who have requested anonymity) revealed both in their appraisals and in the curriculum content that there is some confusion between a ‘syllabus’ and a ‘curriculum’. The draft document is a curriculum that has the role of delineating topics to cover and basic premises inherent in those topics. As such, the draft fails on several fronts.
For example, evolution is mentioned for the first time in courses for Year 10, which is the final year covered by the curriculum. We consider that this fundamental concept is intrinsic to studies in prior years, and therefore should have been raised much earlier. There are many missed opportunities to explain how science works and address scientific method. Frequent imprecision increases the risk of the teaching of science being contaminated with pseudoscience.
These were key areas of concern to our reviewers. Some reviewers suggested that awarding the Bent Spoon to ACARA was controversial, at least as far as the draft nature of the curriculum was concerned. We acknowledge this observation, but point out that a draft curriculum is an important position statement on course development and content, and even at that stage is presumably not without considered and considerable input.
Overall, the reviews substantiated our own assessment that the draft curriculum was weak. A curriculum should set minimum standards, but this draft created too many openings for less able teachers to make errors or to introduce pseudoscientific concepts as proven; there were too many missed opportunities to establish correct methodology; and there were not enough mentions of important tenets of science, including scientific method and evolution.
After detailed expert review, we have concluded that the 2010 Bent Spoon award to ACARA was justified and should stand.