When Alice in Wonderland cried “curiouser and curiouser” she could have been describing what passes for English teaching in the national curriculum and official classroom resources.
As Justine Ferrari reports, (High-school classes go for pop culture, Monday) students are now expected to “create an artwork from trash, play the logo quiz, study car and perfume ads, and watch YouTube videos” in high-school English classes.
The descent into a vacuous model of English, where edu-tainment rules, teachers become facilitators and learning is based on what is immediately relevant, should not surprise.
The ALP-inspired national curriculum embraces a postmodern definition of literature that places multimodel texts – defined as “visual images, soundtrack or spoken word, as in film or computer presentation media” – on the same footing as Shakespeare, Jane Austen and David Malouf. No wonder Peter Carey, at this year’s Byron Bay Writers Festival, said: “I think there’s a tendency today to bring in the movie of the book, to talk about that instead. We are being impoverished by not understanding and treasuring the pleasure of reading difficult things. We are forgetting that reading requires muscles, that you’ve got to go to the gym all the time and be prepared to endure the pain and know that there’s a reward at the end.”
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.
Literature is not the only casualty. According to the national curriculum, there is nothing superior about Standard Australian English as “all languages and dialects are of equal value”. This is based on the mistaken belief that correct forms of English are simply social-cultural constructs imposed by capitalist elites and Eurocentric, binary males, and that the languages children bring to school, however impoverished, must be considered “as valid ways of communicating”.
Despite the rhetoric from bodies such as the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, the national English curriculum undervalues traditional approaches. An early draft of the English curriculum said it would “make explicit the teaching of grammar in all years of schooling” but the final copy omits any such reference.
As those familiar with the parlous state of English teaching appreciate, the problem is systemic. Academics in control of teacher training and subject associations such as the Australian Association for the Teaching of English have abandoned any commitment to rigorous, academic standards.
More egregious examples of enforcing new-age approaches include: deconstructing tissue boxes in terms of gender identity; 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 play of signifiers.
Before the election, the Coalition promised that if elected, it would review the national curriculum to ensure it was as good as “world’s best curricula”. The process cannot begin soon enough.
Kevin Donnelly is director of the Education Standards Institute.
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- Evolution to be taught in primary schools as Government publishes final national curriculum (humanism.org.uk)
- Put Latin on national curriculum, Michael Gove told (schoolsimprovement.net)
- Dropping ‘sexual health’ from national curriculum ‘fails our young people’ (telegraph.co.uk)
- New National Curriculum (maxsonconsulting.wordpress.com)
- Old school or new school? Teach future skills and traditional subjects together (theconversation.com)
- National Curriculum – Useful sites (csteacherintraining.wordpress.com)
- National Curriculum & Textbook Board, Bangladesh (downes.ca)
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