Po-mo and English teaching revisited

I know Mark Bahnisch has already focused on the RWDBs who’ve been ranting in the opinion columns of The Australian (here and here) about the teaching of English in secondary schools. But I reckon it’s worth another post from me as well. This topic is beginning to look very much like the latest front in the Culture Wars.

Attentive readers will recall that the RWDBs launched a terrorist strike on the teaching of language skills in our primary schools shortly before Christmas, and no doubt succeeded in scaring the bejesus out of bemused parents who didn’t know that the misguided fad for the “whole language” method had mostly withered and died almost a decade ago (although it still plays a role, though not a dominant one, in the armoury of any competent early primary teacher).

Now the Death Beasts are taking aim at secondary English teachers. Some howler monkey named Kevin Donnelly (to misappropriate a favourite RWDB term of abuse) seized on a monumentally stupid editorial by Wayne Sawyer in an obscure journal published by the Australian Association for the Teaching of English, and used it as a basis for claiming that our high schools have been covertly conquered by evil, standards-denying post-modernists with a thinly-disguised Marxist agenda. Brendan Nelson and Howard himself then seized on Donnelly’s article to launch yet another slag on teachers and public schools.

Update (Monday 14 February) – This comment thread (and those on earlier posts by Mark Bahnisch on the Sawyer/Donnelly/English teaching debate) is now closed). Please post all comments on Mark’s post of today titled “The Sawyer Enquiry” (although I’m musing about doing another post vaguely about this topic, which may again serve to confuse things – que sera sera).

Sawyer’s editorial was undeniably silly (despite some determinedly charitable interpretations in the comment thread to Mark’s post), not only ranting about the evils of the Howard government in extreme and exaggerated terms, but extrapolating from those highly contestable propositions to a conclusion that the fact Australians nevertheless voted for Howard meant that high school English teachers had failed to inculcate critical, analytical skills in their students! Not only does Sawyer appear to believe that his own political opinions are so self-evidently omniscient as to be beyond any need for rational argument or justification, but he implicitly denies the possibility that people could still have good reasons for electing the Coalition even if they accepted Sawyer’s jaundiced view of Howard e.g. because they feared Labor under Latham would be even worse. There’s a certain delicious irony in the fact that Sawyer bemoans the lack of “critical literacy” skills in his students while exhibiting an even more spectacular absence thereof himself.

But Sawyer’s self-appointed interlocutor Donnelly displays an equally deficient grasp of logical, critical and analytical skills. Why should we think that the teaching of English in our high schools is widely infected with po-mo Marxism on the strength of a single loopy editorial in an education journal that you can lay money few high school English teachers bother to read? It’s reminiscent of the lefties who regarded the entire RSL as a complete joke just because its Victorian division had that buffoon Bruce Ruxton as its titular head at one stage.

The Oz’s other Cultural Warrior Anne McIllroy is in some ways more interesting than Donnelly (who is just a former political staffer for the appalling Kevin Andrews). McIllroy is the head of the English department at a well regarded Catholic college in Melbourne, so her opinion deserves at least prima facie respect. She says:

For some years now, the English teachers’ professional association, the Australian Association for the Teaching of English, has espoused the ideology of the Left, represented by social-critical literacy, feminist and gender theory, and deconstruction. …

Certainly that sounds like a fair characterisation of Sawyer’s editiorial. But are his views representative of AATE as a whole? McIllroy claims they are, but what evidence does she offer? Only the claim that at “conferences organised by the AATE and in the association’s position papers, teachers are told that as reading is subjective, there can be as many interpretations of a text as there are readers.” But are these the only views presented at AATE conferences and in their publications? Or do they present a variety of views and perspectives, like most conferences?

And even if this sort of crassly simplistic po-mo viewpoint is dominant in AATE circles, how much practical effect does that have on the teaching of English in schools? My own limited experience with my daughter Rebecca’s education (she’s now in Year 12) suggests that the answer is very little. And, although McIllroy’s article is couched in alarmist and hysterical terms, it seems she agrees:

Thankfully, there are many good English teachers who are committed to their craft and who teach in a professional and balanced way. Unfortunately, their good work is undermined by a professional association that is more attuned to the elites than to those at the coalface.

As Mark Bahnisch observes, McIllroy seems to have a particularly rigid, “great books”-oriented view of how English should be taught:

Euripides, Shakespeare and Chekhov are no longer considered privileged, as everything is now defined as a “text”. Worse still, whereas literature was once valued for the beauty of its language or its moral impact, the purpose of reading is now to deconstruct texts in terms of power relationships.

But Shakespeare et al still are taught in our secondary schools. Way back in 1971 my HSC drama texts were Hamlet and The Crucible. This year, Rebecca is studying King Lear and The Crucible. And what’s wrong with regarding them as “texts” to be studied and analysed like any other text? Does Ms McIllroy think teachers should brainwash students with a rigid and unarguable conclusion about the unique value of specific works of literature? Isn’t it better that they be equipped with the critical and analytical skills to make up their own minds?

And what’s wrong with “deconstruct[ing] texts in terms of power relationships“? Political and interpersonal power relationships are quite central to Shakespeare and indeed any great work of literature. Certainly it would be worrying if students were being taught that these aspects are the totality of what literature has to offer. But in my experience students still are taught to look at the beauty and lyrical qualities of a text, the technical aspects of plot, characterisation, dramatic tension, staging and so on, and the great themes and moral messages that great works of literature embody. Surely the fact that they are also taught to “deconstruct” a text and look for tacit value judgments and assumptions that may underlie it is to be applauded.

Unlike Mark, I wouldn’t argue that it’s illegitimate to examine the extent to which po-mo wankery may have infected our secondary schools. While the basic tools of deconstruction are useful and positive, it’s certainly true that post-modernism became a pervasive phenomenon in tertiary academia during the 70s, 80s and early 90s, and eventually degenerated into impenetrable, incoherent, pretentious chaos in many parts of the humanities academy. It would be disturbing but unsurprising if a cretinous, “Foucault for Fuckwits” version of post-modernism had filtered down to secondary teachers, just as po-mo is apparently withering and dying in the tertiary sector (except, it seems, among die-hards like Sawyer). But if we’re going to undertake such an examination, it needs to be careful and scholarly, and it shouldn’t assume a conclusion without bothering to present or analyse the evidence. The hysterical polemic of Donnelly and McIllroy contributes little of value to any such examination. In fact it’s counterproductive, because it simply politicises the whole issue and pushes the audience into partisan trenches where they can lob intellectual hand-grenades at each other and avoid any danger of rational thought.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Rob
Rob
2021 years ago

Ken, I think you are being very generous. Have a look at the ‘critical literacy’ link that Mark provided in his post. The whole process described there is directed to a specific outcome: political activism, which in the Uni of Tas’ construct can only mean left-wing political activism.

And pomo is not dying in the academy. It is being killed off OUTSIDE the academy because no-one other than an academic could take seriously its signature proposition: ‘there is no such thing as objective trugh because truth depends of the direction from which you approach it’. As Orwell says somewhere, there are some propositions so preposterous that only an intellectual could possibly agree with them.

yobbo
2021 years ago

In year 12 english, we studied “Thelma and Louise”.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Yobbo

I don’t know about WA when you went through, but here in the NT there is an acadamic, rigorous, publcly-examined English studies stream, and another non-examinable, continuous assessment stream for those not aspiring to university. In the latter stream, they certainly DO study mostly fairly down-market texts. But I don’t really have a problem with that. It’s not all that different to the Level 3 HSC stream when I went through school. The average non-academically-inclined student is baffled and bored rigid by the classics, so it makes sense to develop their critical and analytical skills on texts they’ll actually bother to read and try to understand.

Rob
Rob
2021 years ago

Also, Ken, I think you are having a bit of a bob each way in excoriating people like Donelly as RWDBs and then going on to agree with a substatial portion of what they say. (If that’s out of line with Troppo etiquette I withdraw it.)

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Rob

Having a bob each way is what sceptical centrism is all about. And I DO partly agree with some of the things Donnelly and McIllroy say, while questioning the extent to which these attitudes actually infest high school English teachers themselves as opposed to the tiny elite group who write for the AATE magazine. McIllroy appears to be over-egging the pudding, and her article says as much about her own prejudices as it does about thee teaching of English in Australian high schools.

Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

“Unlike Mark, I wouldn’t argue that it’s illegitimate to examine the extent to which po-mo wankery may have infected our secondary schools.”

I don’t think I said that Ken – I said that we need to know what actually goes on in schools in the comments thread – and like you, I doubt that Sawyer or the theorists of the AATE have too much relationship with actual classroom practice. That’s the big problem with all this – we lack evidence to form a judgement because we aren’t given the information (or it doesn’t exist) about how English is *actually* taught across the thousands of High Schools in Oz.

Aside from that, I agree with your post wholeheartedly.

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2021 years ago

Ken, great post.

This Sawyer sounds pretentious, but it was just an editorial in an obscure journal. For Donnelly, Nelson et al. to say that this means that students are being brainwashed is, to put it charitably, a leap of logic. Less charitably, they are deliberately being misleading, which is quite ironic coming from Donnelly, whose main beef is the dumbing down of the (largely mythical) rigorous curricula of the past golden years.

Rob: Po Mo’s not my cup of tea either, but if Macbeth isn’t about power relationships, then what is it about?

Yobbo: were you in the top English class in Year 12, or something lower down the ladder?

Rafe
2021 years ago

Congratulations to Ken on the lead-in to this topic.
There appears to be (almost) a consensus that (a) Sawyer’s apparent aim to politicise English teaching in a particular direction is outrageous, (b) the reaction in some quarters has been naive and unhelpful in some respects, (c) the situation is not as bad as some people fear, and (d) nobody knows enough about the state of play across the nation to be sure.
On (c) I will put in a plug for two English teachers at a public school in Sydney who were punctilious beyond the usual call of duty in putting helpful (critical) and encouraging marks on essays.
There is a ground for concern when such a strong position is espoused by a person with any official position and it is worthwhile to recall that very small numbers of people, even as few as one, can do a great deal of damage if they get into the right place, like Syllabus Committees. I gather that the high school science curriculum in New Zealand was practically converted to constructivism by one person a couple of decades ago.
Thanks again to Ken!

Rob
Rob
2021 years ago

Dave,

I think what they are talking about is the Foucauldian concept of power relationships; that is, that discourses distribute and anchor power among social groups by virtue of their internal dynamics. It’s a daring but somewhat dubious proposition, but it’s the mainstay of a lot of po mo thnking. What the U of Tas is trying to do to take that proposition and extrapolate it into the past and even into works of art, which I think is both wrong and ridiculous.

Geoff Robinson
2021 years ago

Apparently ‘post-modern’ is now just a term used as an insult. Greg Sheridan calls the European community (Catholicism meets Weberian bureaucracy) ‘post-modern’. The Sawyer piece is old-fashioned enlightenment left liberalism. From experience those who talk most about the evils of post-modernism/moral relativism are the most radically relativist in practice.

observa
observa
2021 years ago

Well let’s look at what the head of AATE stands for when he opens his big mouth. From its website we have:

“AATE is the national arm of Australian state/territory associations for the teaching of English – all members of these organisations pay an affiliation fee to AATE, and are automatically members of it.

AATE members are part of an international network of teachers with a commitment to teaching and learning in the field of language and literacy. By joining your state English teachers’ association you can have a voice on national issues concerned with teaching and learning in English.

AATE provides the following services to its members:

assisting with the organisation of national conferences and seminars;
publication of the quarterly journal English in Australia;
publication and distribution of quality resources for teacher and student use (in a variety of media);
reviewing and responding to state and national educational initiatives;
giving teachers a national voice;
The state ETAs are each represented by a delegate at meetings of the AATE Council. Officers of AATE are nominated by state ETAs and are elected by the delegates.

AATE is a member of the International Federation for the Teaching of English and the National Education Forum”

Then you open up the STELLA tab to access its Standards for Teachers of English and Literacy in Australia where it nobly quotes A D Hope (1967) with the following lofty ideals:

“The chief mark of a profession is that it is responsible, and is recognised as responsible for itself as the body to which the community entrusts its interests in a particular field.”

While I might agree with Ken that coal face English teachers are not responsible for Sawyer and Co’s statements, anymore than many churchgoers are responsible for the statements of their leadership, why is it I have this overpowering feeling that Mr Sawyer is about to suffer the same fate as Mr Hollingworth. As well I suspect the community is about to extract gilt-edged promises to clean up certain professional, organisational acts.

Mary
2021 years ago

My sister did year 12 in 2003 in NSW at the top level, and the NSW English syllabus apparently does not require Shakespeare study from these students and has a tendency to require things like doing a comparitive study of Austen’s “Emma” and the loose movie adaptation “Clueless”, which is nudging towards the kind of ‘down market texts’ territory that commenters seem worried about.

The syllabus changed to its present form in 2002 or so, by the way. When I did the top level of English in 1998, there was a Shakespeare (Hamlet for me) studied by every student in that course in the state, together with a classics oriented selection of novels, poetry and plays.

It’s NSW Nelson seems to be talking about when he says “99% of students passed”. (Which seems to mean that of the six bands of achievement you can be in, only 1% were in the bottom ‘inadequate achievement’ band. One of the Herald’s correspondents pointed out that the top band of the six was also very sparsely populated :) )

That said, it’s worth keeping in mind that the entire NSW English teaching staff was not suddenly replaced and/or brainwashed in 2002. By the sounds of it, teachers are bringing their old methods and interpretations with them. Where classics or “old favourites” (the NSW HSC has tended to favour Australians where it chooses modern literature) are available among the choices, the teachers continue to teach them, and teach them using old methods, based on either preferences for the works or the desire to reuse their old notes :)

My sister’s teacher apparently was sceptical of the new syllabus and used it to explain to them some of his own concerns with po-mo theory. So there’s some critical thinking going on there, although perhaps not how the Dept. of Education would like it!

My experience with relatives who are teachers is that they’re very very cynical of syllabus fads, and by and large will resist them, for good or ill.

Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

“why is it I have this overpowering feeling that Mr Sawyer is about to suffer the same fate as Mr Hollingworth.”

Do you mean driven from office, observa? The appropriate way to engage with A/Prof. Sawyer surely would be for AATE members to debate with him in his journal, and/or – if they’re of a mind that they need a new editor – contest the position at the AGM. I certainly wouldn’t support any censure against him professionally based on the views of pollies.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2021 years ago

Sawyer is NOT a teacher.
My understanding is that a large proportion of the membership of the AATE are from Private Schools.

Damn dem commies have infltrated the last bastion!!

observa
observa
2021 years ago

I guess Mark I’m saying he probably deserves the same treatment as Hollingworth given their respective status, or are you saying we should just put a ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ around this one?

Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Further, this is one area where observa is correctly reading the signs of the times. The cultural warriors are obviously gearing up for a critique of the institutions, following on from the lead of the Integralist Catholics who sit at Mass taking notes (how devotional and spiritual!) and then write to the Vatican saying:

“Dear Holy Father,

At the vigil mass on the Feast of the Assumption at Saint Sulpicia’s in Campbelltown, I observed Father O’Leary not making a profound bow at the name of Christ”.

Similarly, in the US, there’s an organised network of students and conservative academics who attend “leftist” academics’ lectures so they can denounce any instances of evil po/mo thought or whatever. At QUT last year, we had a Baptist pastor attend a lecture in Sociology of Crime and Deviance, stand in the aisle, and take notes. We had security kick him out. It’s unsurprising that in a course on deviance, we might talk about deviant stuff and I don’t accept that at a university, we should have to trim our sails so that the local happy-clappies are satisfied with our absence of moral turpitude.

The point about Sawyer that arises in this context is that he wrote for a limited, specialised audience. Just as Miranda Devine pounced (ludicrously) on the Sydney Uni Arts Faculty graduate outcomes document for a beatup about po/mo evil leftism in her column, someone took something he wrote and turned it into a political issue. What right of reply does Sawyer have? I think his remarks were pretty dumb but does he deserve to be vilified? Is the Oz going to give him space on the op/ed pages to reply?

Dare I suggest that all this is in part RWDB political correctness running wild? Does everyone writing or speaking in a professional context have to adjust their thoughts in case the Prime Minister denounces them?

Richard
Richard
2021 years ago

Ken,

Re your post – Here in the West, “Whole Word” theory is still going strong in the minds of some teachers at my daughter’s school. It still requires vigilance on behalf of the parents. The kids in my daughter’s class were taught by teachers using “Letter Land”

Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

observa, what he’s doing is expressing his opinion. The comparison with Hollingworth is a poor one because what he did was responded insensitively and legalistically to institutional abuse in a fashion contrary to the professed ideals of the Christian Church.

So you think that Sawyer should be dismissed from his academic post? Who should intervene to sanction him – should the government legislate as to who teachers’ professional associations should have as their journal editors? Think carefully about the implications of your comment!

observa
observa
2021 years ago

Let me rephrase the AATE’s lofty and noble petard onto which its leader is about to be so publicly and rightly hoisted:

“The chief mark of the leader of a profession is that he is responsible, and is recognised as responsible for himself and also the body to which, the community entrusts its interests in his particular field.”

This is no different to the position of responsibility that Hollingworth held whenever he uttered any public statement. You really have to wonder how a man like Sawyer with this demonstrable lack of political nous, rose to such lofty heights as leader of a peak professional body. Presumably the AATE also gets some Fed govt funding and he goes out and bags the govt of the day on such wacky individualistic and tenuous grounds. Still, I suppose he can take some comfort in his conspiracy theories after he’s splattered all over the ground.

Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

A lot of academics lack political nous, observa. You’re judgeing his entire professional career on the basis of one column. Are we in the business of denouncing people’s professional skills and abilities on the basis of their political opinions?

I actually doubt that AATE has any federal funding. None of the academic professional associations to which I belong (TASA, APSA, IRS) get any.

I think the issue of RWDB political correctness you’ve raised warrants discussion separate from the substantive issues about English teaching, so I’ve put up another post/thread to facilitate this.

Yobbo
Yobbo
2021 years ago

Dave and Ken: When I was in high school, there were 3 streams of English you could do in year 12.

1) English Literature, which (obviously) concentrated on books above all else. This was a TEE subject and could be used as part as the list 1 (Humanities) section of your TEE.

2) TEE English, which studied movies, books, short stories, and everything else. This counted towards your TEE score but could not be included in list 1.

3) English for retards. This is the class the kids taking woodwork and metalwork did. You have to complete it to graduate high school.

The way the TEE worked then, you had to include at least one list 1 subject and one list 2 (science/mathematics) subject in your score, and then 2 more of your choice.

I did #2, TEE English rather than English Literature. My list 1 subject was Economics.

English Literature scaled higher than TEE English, meaning that it was the harder of the two, but the majority of Maths/Science oriented students like myself took TEE English and Economics rather than English Literature. Surprisingly – given the superb nature of my prose – English was my weakest subject at school.

Mark wrote:

“I said that we need to know what actually goes on in schools in the comments thread – and like you, I doubt that Sawyer or the theorists of the AATE have too much relationship with actual classroom practice. That’s the big problem with all this – we lack evidence to form a judgement because we aren’t given the information (or it doesn’t exist) about how English is *actually* taught across the thousands of High Schools in Oz.”

I’m fairly familiar with it, given that I’m not so long out of high school and what I learned is still fresh in my mind.

What goes on is endlessly biased opinionating on behalf of teachers – who exist in such an echo chamber of fluffy leftism that they probably don’t even realise what they are doing.

“Social Studies” is the worst culprit, English less so, but anyone who says that there’s no indoctrination going on in schools is either outright lying or an idiot.

Yobbo
Yobbo
2021 years ago

I should also point out that the *curriculum* itself is thoroughly leftist as well.

I escaped most of it in senior high school, given that I studied Physics, Chemistry, Calculus and Trigonometry as 4 of my 6 subjects. It’s quite difficult to work leftist sentiments into those subjects, although Im sure educators have tried.

The other 2 subjects, (English and Economics) were full of it. We studied “Thelma and Louise”, “My Place” by Sally Field and “To Kill a Mockingbird”. It shouldn’t be too hard to work out what “themes” we “critically analysed” while working with those examples.

Economics, despite us learning it in 1993, was primarily devoted to socialism-friendly Keynesian theories, which were largely discredited in the 1970’s. I guess the WA education department hasn’t “gotten around” to updating any of them.

It was an endless source of frustration to my year 12 economics teacher, who may well have been the only non-leftist who ever taught me.

Alex
Alex
2021 years ago

“Are we in the business of denouncing people’s professional skills and abilities on the basis of their political opinions?”

No, but it’s not a question of his politicial opinions, just the little matter of where and how he chose to express them. His political opinions are irrelevant – but in his position, political skills are relevant. He doesn’t seem to have any, so why should he remain in his position?

Rafe
2021 years ago

I dont know if this post belongs here or on the other thread, but I would like to do some research on the quality and orientation of courses both in schools and universities. By the quality I mean the content and by the orientation I mean the spin that is put on the content by the teachers and examiners.
In the late 1980s I checked out the courses and reading lists in Philosophy, Politics and Sociology at the (then) 21 universities. This project was purely a matter of personal interest, it was not funded, supported, written up or indeed noticed by anyone except a handful of my friends and relations. The hypothesis was that the works of Popper and Hayek would not be generously represented and indeed that turned out to be the case. My current hypothesis is that things have not changed much.
Of course this is only a significant finding if my other hypotheses is correct, namely that a broad understanding of the work of P and H should be a part of the intellectual furniture of every educated person, like the work of Darwin, Watson and Crick in biology.
As to high school teaching in economics, in the early 90s the Centre for Independent Studies did a survey of HSC texts in economics and found that they tended to fall short in a number of respects, along the lines hinted by Yobbo. I wonder if things have changed there in the last decade?

Kevin Donnelly
Kevin Donnelly
2021 years ago

As might be expected, I agree with Yobbo that there is a good deal of indoctrination in education. While it is extremely difficult to measure what actually happens in the classroom, if you look at professional associations like the AATE, teacher academics like Sawyer and official curriculum documents there is a distinct left wing bias. One of the chapters in my book entitled the ‘Culture Wars’ provides evidence. A pdf version of the book is available at:
http://www.mrcltd.org.au/content.cfm?PageID=PubsMonographs

Nabakov
Nabakov
2021 years ago

Funny how all this “indoctrination” and “left-wing basis”, whether it’s in education or the media, proves so difficult to measure when it comes to the crunch. It’s the “vibe” right?

Most people commenting here, including Yobbo and Kevin, would have grown up within the Australian educational system since the late seventies (when, as I think we’d all agree, that whole dastardly “if it feels good do it”, “fight the system” and “it’s all relative, man” sixties thing went mainstream) but somehow seemed to have escaped “indoctrination”. As I pointed out on the Sawyer thread, Australia’s never been so capitalist and consumer oriented.

Parentless m’self, but my godkids and friends’ kids (from 10 to 20 years old) don’t seem particularly brainwashed. If anything they seem a bit more confident, knowledgeable, open-minded and willing to roll up their sleeves than my slacker generation.

I’ll have notify PC Central to redouble their efforts. Clearly reading “To Kill A Mockingbird” and watching “Thelma and Louise” isn’t doing the trick.

Rob
Rob
2021 years ago

Fair point, Nabakov. I think part of the answer is that kids are a lot smarter than their teachers often give them credit for. A letter in the Oz this morning makes the point that most kids recognise the ideological indoctrination a mile off and either ditch the subject in question or just play along to get the grade. Kids usually see through things more easily than adults because they don’t have the adult tendency to self-deceit. Me, I radicalised all on my own (without benefit of pedagogy, I mean) in the 70s, and de-radicalised twenty years later by the same means.

I think the real danger of the kind of indoctrination that we’ve been discussing in these threads is not that students will mindlessly follow their left wing teachers, but that their experience of it, especially in English, will put them off reading literature and or pursuing genuine scholarship for the rest of their lives.

Rob
Rob
2021 years ago

…and the other danger is that they will emerge from secondary school without a ‘proper’ education. I think this is happening now. I have a friend who lectures in sociology at Monash U and a while back I asked her about the quality of her first year students. She rolled her eyes and said, ‘You just wouldn’t believe it. They don’t know ANYTHING!’ Reports out of other universities seem to indicate the same thing.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2021 years ago

“…will put them off reading literature, or pursuing genuine scholarship for the rest of their lives.”

I think TV is probably a bigger hurdle when it comes to settling down to discover the joys of a good book.

As to pursuing genuine scholarship or “they don’t know anything”, I’ve never seen, or heard of, a time in human history when we are so awash, glutted even, with specialist knowledge and abstruse scholarship – and lots of it stemming from people under 25.

Frankly, if yer worried about kids not knowing enough, I wouldn’t blame it on ideological-driven teachers but on a market-driven culture of endless and cleverly-designed distractions, driven by a “get it now” ethos and constant exhortations for improved productivity. Not much encouragement there for the thoughtful pursuit of knowledge.

A few teachers discussing colonial power structures in a Peter Carey novel doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this Britney Speared and Donald Trumped world.

Rob
Rob
2021 years ago

All the more reason, I would have thought, for a rigorous, standards-based approach to learning that opens doors for students rather than closes them, and a curriculum that has some real meat in it as opposed to the kind of fluff that Kevin identifies in his book.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2021 years ago

I agree Rob. Then we run up against another issue. Who defines standards and what is “meat”?

After all, one person’s “poisson” is another’s “foul”. Dead White Male canon or books about your world now? OK both, but how do you balance it? And keep their attention?

I remember at high school, doing a book report on “The Naked Lunch” which was most definitely not on the curriculum. The English teacher gave me an A+ and never singled me out to answer a question in class ever again. In fact he’d take pains to avoid running into me outside class. Meanwhile the person next to me had labouredly parsed one of the set texts, “A High Wind In Jamaica”, also got an A+ and the last I heard of her, she married a butcher in New Zealand and became a housebound pill popping breeding machine (unlike me).

I’m struggling to find any kind of correlation here between what you read at school and how yer life turns out.

Rob
Rob
2021 years ago

Fair point, fair point. Over in the other post James was saying Enid Blyton, read young, turned you into a snob. I read Blyton – not a snob; read Uncle Remus – not a racist; read Biggles – not an imperialist. Read Richmal Crompton – not a white nationalist. At least as far as I know.

So why are they all banned (removed from school libraries, anyway), I wonder?

Hoever, I’ve run out of useful things to say on this subject and i can hear me repeating myself.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2021 years ago

“Meanwhile the person next to me had labouredly parsed one of the set texts, “A High Wind In Jamaica”, also got an A+ and the last I heard of her, she married a butcher in New Zealand and became a housebound pill popping breeding machine (unlike me).”

Clearly, you’ve followed her descent into a meat-packed, anti-depressive fuelled, fecund Kiwi hell with more than passing interest Nabs. If there’s a novel here I’d like first crack at deconstruction.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2021 years ago

Well, reading Captain WE Johns made me a firm believer in never helping myself to strange chewing gum in the cockpit (Biggles Flies East) or being wary of giant rotten flesh smelling orchids (Biggles Flies Again).

But I think one of the main reasons such books were pulled from school libraries is more to do with limited shelf space and budgets and the fact teens today would find them boring and irrelevant. I mean the Just Jennings books were bloody funny but they depended for a lot of their humour on a shared body of cultural references that most Australian schoolkids just don’t have any more.

However, Australia does produce more best-selling kids books writers per capita that just about anywhere else so we must be doing something right. And I defy anyone to stop a kid from picking up a book called “The Day My Bum Went Psycho. But one day that’ll be cleared from shelves too to make room or something else.

Things change and Amazons get swallowed. But the books are still there if parents want to give ’em to their kids.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2021 years ago

And the screen options Geoff. That’s the money shot.

“Once Were Readers. Now Breeders.”

Rob
Rob
2021 years ago

Biggles in the Orient was the chewing gum one.

Kevin Donnelly
Kevin Donnelly
2021 years ago

Hi Ken, a couple of days ago you stated:

The Oz’s other Cultural Warrior Anne McIllroy is in some ways more interesting than Donnelly (who is just a former political staffer for the appalling Kevin Andrews).

Just for the record, it’s Donnelly BArts, DipEd, MED and PhD. The thesis offered a critique of English teacing over the last 30 years. Taught for 14 years, appointed to the Victorian Board of Studies and member Panel of Examiners for Year12 English. Past member of the AATE, given papers at conferences and written for the journal. Benchmarked Australian and New Zealand curriculum and the book on education sold out last year. The point? I feel qualified to speak on the topic.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2021 years ago

It’s a nuisance that this conversation isn’t confined to one thread.

My favourite Enid Blyton series was the Five Find-Outers. (I can never even get anyone to believe me that this series existed, but that’s another story). The heroes were, naturally, five upper middle clas kids. An occasional character was P.C. Goon’s nephew, Ern. Ern had a good heart, but like his uncle, was unsophisticated, a bit slow, and had a working class accent that the Five had a hilarious time sending up.

I’m sure I laughed along with the Five and gleefully joined in their scorn. I didn’t turn out too much of a snob in the end (I hope), and I guess in islolation the Five Find-outers series couldn’t make anyone a snob, but surely it all contributes. I can’t believe Rob or anyone else would seriously argue that popular children’s books don’t play an important part in the transmission of values and attitudes.

Which is not to say I want to ban or modify Blyton or anyone else (not that Rob suggesetd I did). My whole point was that, in my idea of a critical literacy education, kids would be encouraged to think about why Ern seemed ridiculous. Probably any half decent English does this anyway.

In any case I was under the impression that Blyton fell out of favour for reasons of literary merit. Against this, there is the argument that anything that gets kids into the reading habit is good. I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other, but whatever the case the Five Find-Outers will definitely make my list if someone on TA takes up Nabakov’s idea.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2021 years ago

Sorry, that should read: ‘…any half decent English TEACHER does this anyway’.

Rob
Rob
2021 years ago

“I can’t believe Rob or anyone else would seriously argue that popular children’s books don’t play an important part in the transmission of values and attitudes.”

I think you just have to let people work it out for themselves, James – just like you and I and I expect also Kevin did, as they have done for the hundreds of years that have steadily witnessed our part of the world getting more easy with itself, including its contradictions, and more tolerant (the Whig view of history, I know). We’re no more sensible than anyone else. There are plenty of types out there that think Harry Potter is quite unsuitable as a role model, being a monoculturalist, privileged, etc., etc. etc. Push off, I say. Leave the readers alone to get on with it. If they reach the wrong conclusions, too bad. No-one is ever going to stop them doing that.