The teaching of English in Australia

An article in The Australian (our national paper) of 19/9/2013 seeks a review of the English language curriculum. Kevin Donnelly, director of the Education Standards Institute, wrote as shown below. This is a timely follow-up to my post yesterday on changing educational objectives.

‘The national curriculum embraces a post-modern definition of literature that places multimodel texts – defined as “visual images, sound track or spoken word, as in film or computer presentation media” – on the same footing as Shakespeare, Jane Austen and David Malouf …’

He quotes Peter Cary, an award-winning local writer thus: ‘ … we are being impoverished by not understanding and treasuring the pleasure of reading difficult things. We are forgetting that reading requires muscles …’

Donnelly continues: ‘Even when the literary classics are included, their moral and aesthetic value is undermined by forcing students to deconstruct texts using politically correct perspectives including race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and class.’ He writes further: ‘ … egregious examples of enforcing new-age approaches include … refusing to teach Romeo and Juliet because the play privileges heterosexual love; arguing that texts have no agreed meaning as the author is dead; and that language has no referential meaning as it is a ploy of signifiers.’

As Alice said, ‘Curiouser and curiouser.’ Is this why universities, reportedly, have to provide remedial classes in English to some of their new entrants? Such students apparently include those from expensive private schools.

2 thoughts on “The teaching of English in Australia

  1. Pingback: English teaching in Australia fails the test | Craig Hill

  2. I’m a high school English teacher. We teach Romeo and Juliet, we teach 20th C and 19th C classics (Pride and Prejudice, 1984, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Crucible, Romantic era poetry, etc.Some of my favourite units of work to teach.). We teach parts of speech and spelling and reading comprehension. We also teach film studies and blogging and theatre/TV/film scripts and song lyrics and poetry. Our classics are vital, but we need students to understand a variety of texts for them to function in the world we live in and also understand how classic and “new age” texts can interact and overlap. I love deconstructing speeches from R&J traditionally- line by line to understanding metaphor, allusion, metre- and then discussing how Romeo is a spoilt “emo” and he and Mercutio had such a bromance. The old and the new can exist comfortably side by side and enhance understanding and enjoyment.

    I don’t think the National Curriculum is lowering standards, in fact, I think a lot of schools are really trying hard to cover everything the curriculum demands as well as their own schools’ priorities. I honestly think the National Curriculum needs to be left alone for a few years so students can benefit from it. It’s not perfect, but no curriculum will ever be, especially when the decisions about education are left in the hands of politicians instead of education experts.

    I was going to mention private schools but you beat me to it! I’ve heard anecdotal evidence from lecturers about the readiness of some students from private schools who get perhaps too much support in senior school such as over-scaffolding assignments and not being made to “do it again” or being told “this isn’t good enough”. These students have a lot of difficulty when a tutor refuses to mark a draft (which isn’t standard practice anyway) or refuses to help them sort out group work problems.Pushing students into courses they cannot handle because that is the reputation or expectations of the school or giving them too many chances to pass when really they should fail is not just an issue for private schools, but it is an issue.

    Most of my kids love me, but they know (from a young age) that I will mark ONE draft for them and then hold a lesson on self-editing work which focuses on editing BEFORE handing drafts to teachers so you get the most from feedback, that I will tell them to “go away and try it, maybe it will work, maybe it won’t” (they actually really hate that one!) or something similar. They hate it when I recommend a book that is too hard for them but I know they’ll love it if they try.

    Sorry about my passionate rant (not aimed at you, but rather the politicians who create this hype), but I love my (public school) kids and my colleagues and I push our kids to do some astounding work. I would hate to see the National Curriculum turn into something from the 1950s, because our kids deserve knowledge AND critical thinking skills.

    This fear about the National Curriculum is nothing but political spin.

    PS- I am loving reading your blog.
    PPS- Sorry again for the long comment.

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