English at school..

The usual stoush over education guarantees the usual old left wing/right wing divide, arguments about po-mo, deconstruction, etc. I’d like to bring the matter back to a more realistic level–the level of schools themselves.
I have contact with schools all over Australia, on a few levels. First of all, as a parent of now-teenage children, including a son in Year 12 this year who is doing Extension English I and II for the HSC. Second, because I visit schools frequently in my capacity as a writer, give workshops on creative writing to kids from a variety of backgrounds–from one-teacher country schools to vast city schools, from private girls’ only schools to rough-end-of-town schools, from Muslim schools in Auburn to Aboriginal students’ special extension classes. I’ve done this over a number of years. And here are my own personal thoughts on the matter of the presentation of literature in English, in schools.

First of all, I think that teachers in general do the very best they can, with an often abominably-conceived, theoretical but banalised English curriculum. Most of them absolutely hate the new HSC and its heavy emphasis on theory, themes and so on, rather than character, story, and response. They simply do not understand the (heavily-diluted) po-mo, deconstructionist, structuralist etc theories that lie behind it. They are just as much at sea as the kids. But they are bound to do it. There is a huge burden on them to comply with curriculum rules and what you have to accomplish in a year.
I have found many wonderful teachers, in all kinds of situations, in nearly all the schools I’ve visited. Those who have the capacity to do so, rebel against the spirit if not the letter of the ridiculous stuff they have to do, and present all kinds of extra stuff to their kids, and encourage them to think laterally. But those who have less that capacity struggle against the tedious nonsense about ‘values’ and ‘deconstruction’ but without the ability to get beyond it. The HSC English curriculum to my mind is the most patronising yet dry, one-size-fits-all Mickey Mousisation of the French theorists’ ideas, filtered through any number of second-raters, that one could imagine. Some of the things kids have to do just beggars belief–for instance, last year in English my son had to take The Crucible(which he loves, and thoroughly responded to) and had to compare it to an ad for some weight-lifting gym. If it wasn’t horrible, it would be hilarious, and in fact it’s both. As a writer as much as a reader I was outraged by this stupid, insulting and utterly irrelevant attempt to equate these two things. Never mind saying Shakespeare is the same as neighbours, this was of a level of magnitude of idiocy–and of, I believe, subsconscious hate and envy of writers themselves–that is simply mind-boggling. I have no objection to people looking at ads as part of English–though I think this is considered of much more ‘subversive’ world-shattering importance to the middle-aged people who construct the curriculum, than to young people for whom such things are ho-hum and that they perfectly deconstruct all on their own thank you very much. But to compare the Crucible with an ad–what possible use does this serve, if not to say that they are the same, as they can be compared?
The constant harping on ‘values’–by which is meant values of patriarchy, or what have you–dulls and blunts kids’ reactions to literature. Why in the name of God do they need to browbeat kids about what to think, and how to interpret a work of art? I’ve listened to my kids and their friends discuss books they’ve loved, with great fervour, intelligence and understanding. They simply detest all this corralling of creativity into ‘values’–it’s so damned Victorian, despite the fact the people who construct these things obviously think they are so daring and subversive. Damn it, don’t they think it’s them who are ‘the dominant paradigm’? In my experience, the really bright kids who love literature simply mouth the stuff they have to in order to pass exams, and rebelliously, in their own minds, cleave to their own ideas. And they avoid English at university like the plague. Those who will go along with any orthodoxy–and that’s been so at any age and time–because literature is simply a way to getting good marks and going to uni, will do just what is required of them and reproduce the Mickey Mouse cut-rate Derrida and Foucault and McLuhan without a care in the world. And the kids to whom literature might speak–if character and story were emphasised and not values–the kids who are not academically inclined or gifted necessarily but who might well respond to books if they were presented in an interesting way, the kids who more and more are staying on in Year 12–well, those kids are all at sea. They find English both boring and hard. They do not understand theory and they don’t give a damn about it. And so an opportunity is lost.
What’s more all this focus on values and themes is not only uncreative but it is limiting. You can study less ‘texts’ because of it. You get to read less. You are exposed to less. Why do kids need more exposure to TV shows? Why can’t they be challenged? In my workshops and talks, I challenge kids with things they may never have seen or heard of before–and they respond very well. They know when they are being patronised. And they don’t like it.
There are good things in English too, of course. The Extension 2 aspect–the creative one, when you can write say a short story, script or whatever–is an excellent opportunity to do some real creative writing. I would have loved it as a kid. But even that is hedged around with silliness. It’s not good enough to write something brilliant, you have to ‘explain’ it in the terms some dumb-cluck theorist might understand, ie, rabbit on in your proposal and outline about ‘values’ and what have you.
Looking at a related subject–Drama–you can see where English has gone haywire in recent years. Xavier is doing Drama too for the HSC, and the difference isstaggering. They actually read and do in drama, they don’t just theorise–they are looking at the Greek plays, at Shakespeare, at revenge tragedy, at Australian drama too, like Summer of the Seventeenth Doll–they are entering the world of the play, and of the playwright, both in reading and performance. No-one is hanging albatrosses around the necks of the writers or of the responders. The freedom is irresistible, and the pleasure, and the kids work twice as hard in this area, and seem much more stimulated, than in English.
So basically, when I read Wayne Sawyer’s piece, it didn’t surprise me at all. The banality, pomposity and wilful blindness displayed in it–the sickening superficiality of his observations–the way in which English, in which literature was reduced to some crude propagandistic tool for him–is symptomatic. It is what plagues English. It is what plagues many teachers. It is what plagues kids. And it is what plagues writers and all lovers of literature. It’s certainly not going to make literature attractive. And that’s a great shame.
So bring on the enquiries, I say! Don’t replace one dusty theory with another–don’t swap orthodoxy for orthodoxy–but for God’s sake, admit there is a problem!

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Kevin Donnelly
Kevin Donnelly
2022 years ago

Sophie,

What can I say, accept I agree with you. Congratulations on a very deeply felt and balanced response and great to hear from somebody, unlike me, who actually deals with schools on a regular basis.

In response to theory, some years ago S.L.Goldberg at Melbourne Uni wrote:””people are more likely than not to go on being interested in people – as much as they are in abstract theories and ideologies, or impersonal forces, or structural systems, or historical information, or even the play of signifiers. So it is more likely than not, I’d say, that people will go on valuing those writings that they judge best help them to realize what the world is and what people are, and to live with both as realistically and as fully as they can”

Joel Parsons
2022 years ago

I finished VCE at a good (government) school two years ago, so I can understand what you are talking about, although it sounds like whatever state you are in has a slightly worse English curricullum than Victoria.

We got one unit of creative writing as part of our English course, and I really enjoyed it, loved it in fact. Now I am studying commerce and law and blogging though, and realising how much I love writing. And I realise now how practically undeveloped my writing skills are.

We did months upon months of literary analysis at school, but the literature I remember best isn’t the post modern analysis I did in VCE, it is the Year 9 studies of Romeo & Juliet and T.H. White’s “Once and Future King” when I lived overseas. And who needs to do literary analysis later on in life? Really?

What I wish someone had taught me were more of the practical technicalities of writing. I would have loved to have been given more than a month of creative writing in Year 12, and to have been able to write an assessment longer than 1000 words, with the real input and feedback you can receive in a secondary environment. And I would love to have been taught how to edit. Now at University I constantly finding myself looking at the writing of myself and others, and wishing I knew how to improve it, and make it better.

Joel Parsons
2022 years ago

I also wish I had done more texts in the depth that I did Romeo & Juliet & T.H. White. As part of Romeo & Juliet, we each memorised a sequence from the play, I memorised the prologue and the Prince’s speech at the end. I learnt to love Romeo & Juliet. Yet there are so many great authors I was never taught in school: Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Mark Twain, and those are only the ones I am aware of. I have tried to read these people by myself, but somethings are much harder to appreciate on your own, without the guidance and instruction of a teacher.

English should not be about values. Teach a seperate subject called “values” to deal with that. It should be about two things, the written and spoken word, and it should teach us to both appreciate and be proficient in each area. In thirteen years at school, we never studied oratory once, yet in the business world of presentation upon presentation, wouldn’t it be valuable not just to do “oral reports” but to actually be taught oratory? Instead, I didn’t learn this until I took a year off after school to do youth work, and even then, it was by the necessity of having to capture the attention of a room full of 70 excited twelve and thirteen year olds.

My two cents worth.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Sophie

Although I’ve defended at least one aspect of post-structuralism on another thread, I share your concerns. You’ve expressed them better than I could, and your “hands on” experience of English teaching in schools is certainly much wider than mine. Nevertheless, as I said in an earlier post, we really need to investigate the teaching of English in schools in a more systematic, less anecdotal/impressionistic way than any one of is able to achieve from our own personal knowledge and observation. Hence, I welcome the enquiry foreshadowed by Brendon Nelson (while being deeply suspicious about hidden agendas and the potential for mischief inherent in drafting terms of reference and selecting enquiry team members).

Incidentally, for readers interested in looking at what the NSW HSC curriculum actually requires, see http://www.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/syllabus_hsc/pdf_doc/eng_stg6_prescrpt_0406.doc . One aspect of the Advanced curriculum that instantly leaps out, after reading your observation about your son being asked to compare The Crucible with an ad for a weight-lifting gym, is the section titled “Module A: Comparative Study of Texts and Context”. Students are asked to analyse pairs of texts. One example of such a pair is Jane Austen’s Emma and the movie Clueless. Now, one can see why the two might be grouped: – one’s old chick lit, the other’s a new-ish chick flick, and their broad themes are not totally dissimilar. As a teacher one could use such a comparison to draw out the far greater subtlety, nuance, and development of character and situation in Austen compared with Clueless. Although most of the kids would no doubt initially vastly prefer Clueless, by the end of the analysis a really good teacher could convey to them at least some understanding of why Emma is a more profound work (not that it’s Austen’s best IMO).

But when you look at the curriculum explanatory notes for this section, it appears that this isn’t the sort of comparative analysis the Board of Studies has in mind at all. It reads as follows:

“Elective 1: Transformations

Transformations of texts have occurred for centuries, as stories have been adapted to contemporary situations. The inspiration of the known reflects upon the new, while the new resonates with the known. This process provides the basis for study in this elective.

Students choose a pair of texts and consider the ways in which transformations generate reflections on the texts, contexts and the ways in which texts can be transformed.”

It’s intensely irritating, confusing, needlessly obscure post-modern theory gobbledygook, and it may well confuse many teachers as to how they should properly approach the subject. Certainly, the way in which great works of literature are able to transcend time, place and historical context and speak to contemporary/universal human problems and situations is one of the more important aspects of enjoying them. Only pedantic antiquarians would bother to study old works of literature if they didn’t speak to us in that timeless way. Is that what the curriculum people mean by “transformations”? Buggered if I know. Can any of the experts on po-mo theory and jargon tell us? Do the teachers themselves know?

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

PS If the NSW curriculum document really DOES mean what I infer in using the term “transformations”, and if this is typical of the jargon-generated confusion, then maybe the solution to the whole mess is as simple as translating all the obscure po-mo jargon into plain English, and reassuring teachers that they actually ARE permitted (and expected) to teach plot, character, language and imagery etc in a way that unlocks the magic, mystery, inspiration and transformative (in a non-jargon sense) potential of literature.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Thanks for a magnificent, marvellous post, Sophie. Some of us have been circling around some of the same kinds of ideas about po-mo’s denial of the real import of art but could never have articulated them with such energy and emotion. Fantastic stuff. Thank you again.

Rafe
2022 years ago

There is a vital need to rethink where we are going in teaching the humanities and social sciences at school and at uni. However I anticipate that the outcome of any inquiry will be a mix of good, bad and bloody awful.
Teaching and learning need to be revitalised and re-regulated not by top-down means but by a bottom-up process of critical and imaginative thinking, drawing upon the best that old and new scholarship and learning have to offer. This could be a difficult process for the progressive left but if there is enough good will and good humour about then maybe we can all learn to enjoy it.
This comment has no X rating.

observa
observa
2022 years ago

Well said Sophie. Being married to a teacher I am fairly well acquainted with the yo-yos, hula hoops and marbles fads in educational theory that are promulgated from on high, often by poor classroom teachers who couldn’t wait to get of the classroom and tell the good ones how it’s to be done. Passing fads are largely paid lip-service by the vast majority of the professionals, who carry on as usual, with sound principles, fashioned among experienced and professional peers. The real problem arises when a fad becomes Groupthink, mainstream and endemic, as many now believe it has. It is time for a rethink, when the head of a peak, professional teacher body such as Sawyer, sees no problem whatsoever in publishing his statements.

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

Ken, you’re quite right. It’s gobbeldygook and I would question whether anyone–including the framers of the curriculum ‘explanatory’ notes themselves–would actually be able to explain what it means. A year ago, I was one of the speakers at a special HSC curriculum-explanation day run by Lateral learning, which specialises in sending writers into schools, and the whole idea was to help teachers understand one of the ‘themes’ in HSC English: Journeys. Anna Maria dell’Oso, Peter Skzynercki(oops I think I’ve mispelt his name) and myself were the speakers. (Peter’s poetry–which is very good, and not in the least bit theoretical– is actually set for the HSC). Now what interested me was that what the teachers really wanted from us were abstract frameworks, things they could fit over this onerous curriculum they had been given to teach; they needed ‘tools’, and as creative writers, all we could give them was inspiration–and a great deal of scepticism as to the wisdom of categorising work in the abstract way they were forced to do.
As I said, I am not against such things as comparing Shakespeare with Neighbours–or Emma with Clueless–you can see similarities of an obvious kind, such as popular audience, stories built around common human emotions–jealousy, love, hate, etc–but not only can one not just equate them and ignore the huge differences in quality and durability, but also, it’s all done in such a theoretical fashion that it quite negates any ‘fun’ aspect such a thing could have. But comparing an ad with The crucible–that’s an act of hatred, and of envy of creativity, and it makes me sick!
Kevin and Joel, I’m very glad for your comments, too. I absolutely agree that English should not be about ‘values’ but about loving, appreciating and understanding literature, about something that might introduce you to things you’d never have come to of your own accord–that was certainly the case for me–and to something you keep doing all your life. It’s also about intellectual freedom, and independence of thought; about thinking clearly. And yes, yes, Joel, I agree, oratory should be taught. And not only for the presentation of reports–though that is important too–but so people learn to love language again. Bring back the memorising and declaiming of poetry, I say! Learning to love poetry has to do with the oral as much as the literary–people often talk as if this were a visual culture but it’s not, it’s an abstract one, far too abstract. The oral needs to come back as much as the literary be reinforced. Loving language–the sound and feel of words–is also a great part of loving literature. And not only that, poetry might make a big comeback–and poets be invited into schools!
Thinking about that difference between drama and English too, I think perhaps one ofthe big differences is that most drama teachers–and drama teacher academics–have also been involved in a practical way in drama itself, often as actors. They understand better than most English teachers perhaps the actual hands-on thing. Not that there isn’t a lot of turgid and boring theory in Drama at university level–but the level of participation in actual performance is quite high in drama–and music–teachers. Unlike English, where the vast majority of classroom teachers–and I’d say 100 percent of teacher-academics–have had no experience as creative writers, on a public level, at all.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

‘The banality, pomposity and wilful blindness displayed in it–the sickening superficiality of his observations–the way in which English, in which literature was reduced to some crude propagandistic tool for him–‘

I appreciate your passion, Sophie, but I don’t think a single one of these criticisms is accurate. Sawyer’s crime was to imply that people would agree with his political opinions if only they had been trained to be more critical. I suspect that most well-educated people with strong opinions, whatever their persuasion, have this kind of thought from time to time. Who knows, if One Nation had been elected in a landslide, we would all be saying it. But you don’t go around saying it in an editorial for a profesional journal.

The aim of teaching kids to think critically, not take the written word at face value, look for context, and not be ‘done over’ as he puts it, is surely something any liberal person would go along with. So stated, as I said in my argument with Rob, it implies nothing about pushing a leftist agenda, adopting a post modernist framework and vocabulary, bypassing the joy of Shakepeare, or giving kids odious tasks. Kevin conceded this somewhere.

Maybe Sawyer does advocate all these things, but nothing in that short article implies it.

I there humbly submit that the following issues be henceforth decoupled, or detriangulated: (1) the improptiety of Sawyer’s remarks; (2) the correctness of a range of criticisms taht have been directed at the Howard Government; (3) the abomination of the new English curriculum.

I think that Sophie and others have allowed their rage about (2) and (3) to spill over to the minor issue of (1).

Robert Merkel
2022 years ago

Ken, as I recall correctly the connection between Emma and Clueless was much closer than you make it out to be. Clueless was not only broadly similarly-themed, it was deliberately based on the earlier work. In fact, more than a few commentators gave the 1996 Hollywood adaptation of Emma (Clueless was released in 1995) the tongue-in-cheek tag of the “remake of Clueless”. So, essentially, we’re comparing the “original” (that was doubtless inspired by other works) with a modern take on the same tale.
I don’t know where you went to school, but trying to convince a bunch of year 12’s whose plans range from Schoolies to O Week of the literary merits of Emma, in isolation, is probably a hiding to nothing. Sure, they’ll study enough to get a reasonable mark, but actually learn anything? I doubt it. With an approach like this (once you strip out the frippery and get to the core of what the BOS is on about) they might have some chance of seeing the relevance of the original work. And seeing how the same stories are told in different ways over time is surely of merit in itself?

cs
cs
2022 years ago

I’m not so sure the inheritance here is po-mo Ken. Looks more like something Donald Rumsfeld might write to me … err, hold that thought on po-mo …

Actually, this reminds me that the biggest influence on curriculum language is not po-mo, but business jargon. Does the curriculum also specify “key result areas, measured against key performance indicators that align teaching capabilities and requirements with core education and strategic learning goal matrixes, er, going forward”, btw?

Presumably, “transformations” means contemporary versions of old stories keep being written, just as old stories keep being reinterpreted in light of contemporary preoccupations, and approaching the subject in this light can generate insights.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

By the way, Sophie, it’s great to hear about your visits to high schools. That’s a wonderful thing to do.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

You’re missing the essence, James. Art must speak to us with its own voice, and we must respond to it. The theories and practices Sophie is criticising are a kind of wilful aesthetic blindness, deafness and numbness.

There are all kinds of stupid po-mo theories about art, but they disappear, I can tell you, when you actually stand in front of Michelangelo’s Pieta and marvel at the extraordinary humility and humanity that has made the sculpture breathe for hundreds of years as though its subjects were real.

And art is particularly plagued by dopey theories about partiarchy and contemporary social values and how ‘masterpeices’ are simply the outcomes of conservative political conversations about the meaning of art. I’ve walked around the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and some of the paintings leave you cold, others cry out to you to stop. These latter are always the greats that po-mo’s complain are ‘constructed’ by the ‘discourse of art’: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Steen. They’re great not because someone has said they are, but because they REALLY are. The judgement of time was correct. You feel it at a visceral level as you contemplate them in the flesh.

Literature is the same. What help is ‘theory’ in ‘understanding’ King Lear? Lear is an incantation, a reflection of the ancient truth (far, far older than Foucault) that language is power; not in his sense, but in a real, physical sense, the sense of spells or prayers. Language can kill and curse. Shakespeare creates a language in which words have that kind of actual physical force in the world of the real, even four centuries distant – that is the marvel of his art, not some fucking theory about patriarchy. (Excuse the Fench.)

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

cs (and Robert)

I had it vaguely in the dim recesses of my mind somewhere that Clueless was based on Emma, but I wasn’t sure so I didn’t discuss it. That does throw a bit more light on the use of the term “transformations” in the curriculum document, but it doesn’t affect the force of my observations (or Sophie’s). If you look at almost any part of the curriculum document, you’ll see how its jargon tends to dessicate the study of English and strip it of any joy in creativity and imagination.

As for your point about business jargon, its certainly true of the NT’s primary schools teaching framework documents, but it doesn’t seem to be true of the NSW HSC English curriculum. Have a look for yourself. That’s why I gave the URL in my previous comment. I can see lots of half-baked po-mo jargon, but can’t readily identify any business management-speak.

In any event, whether the jargon emanates from po-mo or business management theory doesn’t really affect my concerns. It’s a stupid and counterproductive accretion on the subject of teaching kids to appreciate, study and analyse English literature. Ironically again (and something I didn’t realise until recently), deconstruction as originally conceived (by Heidegger) didn’t involve the search for/imposition of hidden meanings, agndas, values etc in texts. Rtaher it involved something akin to what i think now needs to eb done to the high school English curriculum: strip the crap out of it:

“The popular epithet “deconstruction” comes from hermeneutics. “Dekonstruction”, as originated by Heidegger, did not, contrary to its current popular usage, mean “destructive criticism”. The term was popularized by Derrida, but in a context where it was accompanied by destructive criticism. Heidegger was very interested in reading philosophy in the original Greek, and noticed that translators tended to add their own interpretations as they translate. These interpretations accumulate as “constructions”, and a doctrine, whether translated or reinterpreted in some other manner (for example, a law reinterpreted by a judge), accumulates these constructions over time, becoming a new doctrine. Heidegger, desiring to unearth the original Greek thinkers, set about to remove such constructions.
Deconstruction in its “postmodern” construction is usually applied to ferret out a bias one wants to remove, and has tended to get mixed up in the literature alongside criticism of those biases. So guess what, deconstruction has acquired an new interpretation, a new construction, “destructive criticism”. But deconstruction in its original sense is not a criticism at all, it is simply a theory about how traditions evolve, namely via the accumulation of constructions, along with a methodology for ferreting out constructions that have for some other reason been deemed to be undesired. ”

(from an article by Nick Szabo at http://szabo.best.vwh.net/hermeneutics.html)

Incidentally, a bit more Googling uncovered the provenance of the jargon “transformations” in an essay by Richard E. Palmer on hermeneutics at http://www.mac.edu/faculty/richardpalmer/relevance.html . It derives from the writings of Hans-Georg Gadamer (initially a disciple of Heidegger and, with him, one of the formative influences on the emergence of post-structuralism) concerning “relevance” in interpretation:

“The third dimension of relevance is that of transformation. A thing or text we encounter may be relevant if it redefines what we are doing, such that we understand it and ourselves in a new light, a new way. We begin to place different requirements on what we do. We do things differently. We see the value and goals of our work differently. It may smash our present horizon and force us to form a new one, to become more aware of ourselves. In this case, relevance is not just the relevance of critique. It offers an alternative possibility for seeing and doing. It may change our self-understanding, and the self-understanding we have as interpreters. This is the transformative dimension.

These last three–current meaningfulness, critique, and transformation–are dimensions that I have in mind in relation to defining the meaning of “relevance” in my title,”The Relevance of Hermeneutics,” for to study hermeneutics, I believe, is ;look for what is meaningful now, not yesterday; it is not antiquarian. It puts our present approaches in question by its critique of our present horizon. And it transforms the basic way we see things. It is not just something that supports a given point of view-not that kind of relevance at all-but that changes it. One could call this the therapeutic dimension. It does not just criticize, it offers an alternative to the present perspective. I call this the transformative dimension of the relevance of hermeneutics. “

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

I’m broadly in sympathy too, Sophie, but I wonder what an enquiry could usefully achieve – the one that Nelson has mooted refers to teacher training in general rather than English teaching in particular.

Chris is right as well about the influence of business jargon and vocationalism generally on education. Kids in grade 4 in Queensland, I was told by a parent, are required to assign the IP in their work to the State of Queensland. They also learn how to do marketing plans in primary school. What crap is this?

ab
ab
2022 years ago

“Lear is an incantation, a reflection of the ancient truth (far, far older than Foucault) that language is power; not in his sense, but in a real, physical sense, the sense of spells or prayers.”

Rob,

I can’t tell whether your post is a denunciation the po-mo style (in form, at least) or a parody of it. Can you clarify that?

Cheers
ab

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Denunciation, ab! If it seems like po-mo, I creep away. I can’t do any better than that.

ab
ab
2022 years ago

Fair enough. The mistake reflects more on my abilities than on yours, I’m sure!

Cheers
ab

Joel Parsons
2022 years ago

Good point on IP and education Mark.

I remember back in the day when I was doing VCE I once forgot to sign the IP release on one of the regular “enrolment checks” the school does, I think someone from the school office sent it back to my teacher so I could sign it, because the Education Department requires students to sign these things. Which is interesting, because I thought that the signature of a minor assigning IP wouldn’t be binding without parental approval anyway.

ab
ab
2022 years ago

Joel,

I’m pretty sure that capacity to contract is a purely common law issue in Queensland.

Generally, contracts for the supply ‘necessaries’ such as food and clothing are enforceable against a minor. Contracts of service that are benficial to the minor are also generally enforceable (the classic example is an apprenticeship).

Sometimes, a contract to which a minor is a party is merely ‘voidable’ in the sense that the the parties are bound by it until that minor resiles from it (ie. ‘voids’ it). These are typically ongoing contracts like shareholdings and mortgages.

Having said all that, there may be some wacky Queensland statute that applies to minors’ IP or allows the Education Department to enforce such assignments. Any Queensland IP lawyers out there?

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

I just think the whole assumption behind it is so askew. If kids do creative work, why the hell should the Queensland Government feel it should own the IP? What sort of lunatic thinking inspires even considering this in the first place?

Nicholas Gruen
2022 years ago

Good on you Sophie.

This is only tangentially on point. But I recall my (what was then) 6th form science class (perhaps it was 5th form). In it the teacher went through a lot of the (Newtonian) things we’d learned one by one and said “remember that one?” Well it was wrong too.

The idea I guess was that one had to have learnt a certain amount before learning a bit about relativity and quantum mechanics actually had any meaning. Construction comes before deconstruction.

I don’t much like the way most of the people in this post speak in a derogatory way about ‘po-mo’. Without going into ‘po-mo’ too heavily (apart from which I’d be out of my depth!) I actually found many of the central themes of ‘po-mo’ fascinating. Reading texts against the grain, debating hidden content. The idea that some important aspect of a piece might be hidden even from its author was exhilarating. At ANU there was a quite conservative history teacher – Bill Craven. His ‘Ren and Ref’ lectures were about what other historians had said about the Renaissance. When the eventual challenge came, “When are you going to tell us what happenned and not what others said happenned” Bill just shrugged his shoulders and let people figure it out for themselves.

But that was toward the end of an undergraduate history degree. One might give exercises in po-mo themes and one could do it in English. One might hint and get people interested in them. But to orient the whole English curriculum around them – even at uni is absurd. At high school AAAAGGGHHH!!

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Nicholas, not all methods of examining the internal meanings of texts are by definition postmodernism. Far from it. I remember Wilson Knight’s ‘The Wheel of Fire’ on Shakespeare. Fabulous stuff – it illuminated the text and allowed one (well, one high schoold student) to better appreciate just why Shakespeare’s matchless language resonated so deeply in the imagination.

I commented above that great art can be recognised by its ability to literally stop you in its tracks as you wander past it. I recall attending the exhibition of Turner’s works at the National Gallery of Victoria as a truly great experience.

But art can be illuminated by great teachers and writers. Ernst Gombrich’s ‘The Story of Art’ made a huge impression on me. He loved art so much, communicated his passion, and wasted no time on piffling theories.

Don Wigan
Don Wigan
2022 years ago

An excellent post and some fine comments.

I was lucky enough to do my English major before they started this business of separating English from Literature. While Literature is the ‘Art’ branch of language, it still involves the most creative and brilliant uses of language, from which most other usages derive.

I gather from this thread that Dickens is now off the curriculum in most English courses. More’s the pity. It’s hard to think of any more profound influences than Chaucer, Shakespeare and Dickens, or how any course on English attempting to be comprehensive can be, without use of some of their works.

Some on this thread have deplored the the use of values in English. I suppose it depends on what you mean by values. If you’re referring to social, cultural, political or religious values, I’d be inclined to agree.

If, however, you’re referring to humanitarian and spiritual values, I’d have to disagree. The best writers very clearly have values and passions which show through. And they have quite a bit to say on the condition of humanity.

“…the biggest influence on curriculum language is not po-mo, but business jargon.” – CS

I’d certainly be very worried if that were the case, Chris. (And I fear it is getting close.) It’ll be time to man the barricades and/or head for the hills when they start talking about Mission Statements.

Nicholas Gruen
2022 years ago

Yes Rob. I agree. I was actually referring to some pre-po-mo stuff which ‘deconstructed’ various things, but that was before the term was even invented. Po Mo is a bit over my head I have to say :) I prefer that interpretation to the idea that its all complete drivel, though of course po-mo of the lesser lights is often truly drivel as Sophie has so eloquently shown us.

Georgia
Georgia
2022 years ago

I just completed the HSC last year, and I have to say – I agree with every damn word you say. I loved English before then, I still love to read and to write, but that syllabus took every good thing out of reading and writing and replaced it with hideous farces where we were repeatedly asked to do the ridiculous, and for no true valuable purpose. We were asked to do the same things again and again in slightly altered formats, with slightly different examples, and it was demanded that we have a “fresh, original” approach each time. English became a trial, hideous beyond belief, where nonsensical values and requirements were thrust upon us, which we were told we had to embrace in order to succeed. It was, in short, a nightmare. The only times when I ever enjoyed it was when I shucked the ridiculousness we were expected to embrace and read the novel for itself, took on my own theories and used original thought to dissect them. I had to follow their ridiculous doctrine for exams, but cursed if I’d let their narrowminded idiot approach be the only thing I took away from my senior years of English.

And as for your comments on Extension II English – been there, done that. The further problem there is that it’s all the same teachers who teach the boring advanced and standard syllabus who mark them, and while some are undoubtedly talented, others have no clue. I achieved quite a high mark in the class, not as high as I’d hoped, and on my telling this to a family friend who was also a teacher, his automatic assumption was that my writing had gone over the heads of the people marking. These people give our senior students what is for many their last taste of literature in education. I find that terrifying.

Georgia
Georgia
2022 years ago

I just completed the HSC last year, and I have to say – I agree with every damn word you say. I loved English before then, I still love to read and to write, but that syllabus took every good thing out of reading and writing and replaced it with hideous farces where we were repeatedly asked to do the ridiculous, and for no true valuable purpose. We were asked to do the same things again and again in slightly altered formats, with slightly different examples, and it was demanded that we have a “fresh, original” approach each time. English became a trial, hideous beyond belief, where nonsensical values and requirements were thrust upon us, which we were told we had to embrace in order to succeed. It was, in short, a nightmare. The only times when I ever enjoyed it was when I shucked the ridiculousness we were expected to embrace and read the novel for itself, took on my own theories and used original thought to dissect them. I had to follow their ridiculous doctrine for exams, but cursed if I’d let their narrowminded idiot approach be the only thing I took away from my senior years of English.

And as for your comments on Extension II English – been there, done that. The further problem there is that it’s all the same teachers who teach the boring advanced and standard syllabus who mark them, and while some are undoubtedly talented, others have no clue. I achieved quite a high mark in the class, not as high as I’d hoped, and on my telling this to a family friend who was also a teacher, his automatic assumption was that my writing had gone over the heads of the people marking. These people give our senior students what is for many their last taste of literature in education. I find that terrifying.

Amelia
Amelia
2022 years ago

This is at onlineopinion as well, but there’s a different audience here :)

Hi Sophie + others,

I’m currently studying HSC English at Extension 2 level, and basically, you’ve taken the words right out of my mouth. And many of my peers’ mouths. I must say that the problem lies more in the 2-unit course than in either of the extensions, and here’s why.

Our last HSC-level assessment task based on the topic area of ‘Imaginative Journeys’ (which was an angle taken on a couple of the poems of S.T. Coleridge), we had to design a pamphlet for Year 11 students who are studying the same course next year. The purpose of this task was to make sure that we knew how to manipulate text into a specific text type and at the same time write about the ‘techniques’ used by the composers of various texts.

I wouldn’t mind this kind of task, but this is the kind of thing we are constantly fed. Let me explain.

Firstly, I have not written an essay in about a year. It has not been asked of me.

Secondly, ‘techniques’ such as simile, metaphor, irony, parody, juxtaposition as well as film techniques (lighting, costuming), visual techniques (shadow, composition) and poetic techniques (rhythm and metre) are the only thing that we write about. “The way the composer shapes meaning”, apparently. We no longer write or learn about plot, character or the beauty of stories; rarely about the culture of production and almost never about the author themselves. We are awarded points for how many techniques we can mention in a paragraph, and frankly, a lot of us want to write about the meaning of things as opposed to how the meaning is conveyed. The idea behind it all is that once we learn how to do it, we can not only understand texts better but also create them. Sadly, when half of Advanced English has little grasp on spelling, punctuation or grammar, the ideal fails dismally. Not to mention the fact that we have no idea what to write about, seeing as we rarely study this aspect of texts.

Caught up in a sea of jargon presented to us by the BOS (“organise, develop and express ideas in the speaking mode using language appropriate to audience, purpose and form”) that attributes specific and lengthly new definitions to common verbs like ‘discuss’, many students find themselves unable to understand what is expected of them on their notifications.

The emphasis on theory assumes the basic knowledge and understanding of literature, which many students lack. Though instead of drawing on this knowledge, the syllabus shuns it and allows a new sense of ‘equality’ in teaching english, where no student has an advantage over another from previous education. Basically, there’s enough bullshit to confuse even the smartest of kids, and you could probably put an adult in the class and they’d be no better off.

I fear that we’re being primed to work in the advertising industry as we constantly analyse the ways in which a composer can affect a responder subliminally. What is missing from our course is what someone once described to me as “falling in love with a book”; students no longer are taught that texts are valuable because they stir emotion or are profound – texts are now valuable in a strictly po-mo sense of the word. They are valuable in that they use techniques to convey meaning, which is why your son studied an ad. We are recommended to watch The Simpsons and analyse women’s magazine covers.

Sometimes I wonder – if everything is a text, what isn’t a text? I can take a photo of anything I like – a street scene, my bathroom, my bookcase – and will be able to tell you the visual techniques used to create a message about .. well, about whatever the hell I decide my stupid random photo is now commenting on. And in my logic, if everything is valuable, then suddenly nothing is valuable. Watch out for my photos in the next paper.

Thankyou for writing this article. Although we as students can’t change the system, at least we now have the motivation to keep on bullshitting with the secret knowledge that someone understands.

-Amelia

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Amelia

I’m not too sure how you’ll do in your HSC, because the system seems to run by mental masturbators of the worst type. But let me assure you that it’s obvious from your comment that you already know how to think, write and analyse. Once you get out from under these wankers, your future is bright. Nil illegitimi carborundum (which is pig Latin for don’t let the pricks get you down).

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2022 years ago

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Sophie Masson has posted an interesting contribution to the education discussion at Troppo, which describes her experience as a writer visiting schools. It set me thinking about my own experience of high school English classes, long before the inventio…

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2022 years ago

a moment

I was browsing the archives of Janus Head and I came across the work of Mathew Ziff: Mathew Ziff, Square…