Wednesday, March 02, 2005

'the right' (way) and the teaching of english?

The other day a friend sent me a book proposal he has put together and asked me for a contribution. The book is an attempt to recapture some of the space around the frenzied debate now going on in Australia and many other parts of the world with regard to conservative politics, schooling, education and teachers' professionalism ('the culture wars'). In many of these 'debates' English teachers are being attacked and mauled by people who generally have little idea about what it is they are talking or writing about (although to most people they sound strangly convincing).

The most current example in Australia was sparked recently when Prof. Wayne Sawyer from the Uni of Western Sydney wrote an interesting editorial in the journal English In Australia - the journal of the Australian Association for the Teaching of English (AATE). The editorial is not online anymore, but it was 'picked up' by some journos at The Australian and then by Kevin Donnelly who recently published a book called 'Why Our Schools Are Failing' available online at the Menzies Research Centre. Donnelly is a known neo-con who is a regular teacher basher and all round nice bloke. Here is his response to the editorial that really was a comment on the role of English teachers now and into the future - well despite Donnelly's misrepresentation you can also make out what Sawyer was trying to say. Here is a fragment:

"We knew the truth about Iraq before the election — did our former students just not care? We knew before the election that 'children overboard' was a crock, but as it was yesterday's news, did they not care about that either?

"Has English failed not only to create critical generations, but also failed to create humane ones? What does it mean for us and our ability to create a questioning, critical generation that those who brought us balaclava'd security guards, alsatians and Patricks Stevedoring could declare themselves the representatives of the workers and be supported by the electorate?"

The interesting thing is that Sawyer was then trashed in FEDERAL PARLIAMENT by the Honourable Dr. Brendon Nelson, the Federal Minister for Education, who called for him to be sacked (for writing an editorial in a journal of his peers that pissed on Nelson's boss John Howard!) He said of Sawyer,

"Professor Sawyer's colleages and his employers should seriously consider his positon in any position of leadership."

His peers should "review his capacity to serve on behalf of any professional teacher organisation in Australia."

"A minority of teachers use the classroom to impose their political views,"

and, "There's no place for political cheereleading in a classroom!"

Never one to miss an opportunity for free speech Prime Minister Howard also got into the fray, and of course, there has been other responses to and fro since. Paul Sommer's is noteworthy.

Despite whatever you might think about Sawyer's comments, I have taken much away from this situation. In the very least it is that some people actually take note of what English Teachers say and do! This alone is a wonderful thing - even if you may be trashed in federal parliament. Not too bad when you think about it! Can't get much higher (and lower) than that.

But that brings me to the book proposal I mentioned above (remember?) It was heartening to read that someone is going to do something. These folks (your Donnelly's, Nelson's and Howard's) to often get away with just about anything. Bout time someone said, "Hey you silly buggers, enough!

So I'm thinking about the kind of contribution I could make ...

For my part, now that I'm not presently teaching fulltime in a school, I'm a little concerned about 'loosing touch' with some of my school-based experiences - certainly in the way that I am now trying (having) to fill my head full of other stuff. This is the challenge inherent in this whole move to the academy thing and it's proving tough to handle. I'd like to pursue the dialogic stuff that I've written about in the W=L book chapter - in relation to student conversation and authority and knowledge etc. and various other examples of attempting this kind of 'classroom' 'extratextual' work. But I'm also wondering if perhaps something about the difficulty, challenge, and then huge reward of, sustaining teacher relationships in the climate and policy that the book is critiquing - managerialism, narrow outcomes ideology, performabilty rhetoric, visible and measurable progress, traditional and simplistic notions of language and learning etc. - might also offer a valuable perspective on what is might mean to teach english in this environment? For me it's difficult to separate learning relationships with students, from collegiate relationships and work conditions (conditions that either assist, but most often constrain, the kinds of relationships that can be enacted and even conceived by teachers and students in schools and classrooms). So I'm not sure what kind of contribution I could make or that would best sit within this kind of book.

Any thoughts (you too cath)?


At 12:29 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi..I would think and feel that emotional honesty should be taught in schools as most parents are blind to their own, its not their fault of coarse, its just that their parents never taught them.
What i have learnt is that unless you feel love/honesty/truth, you cannot possibly be human!

At 4:22 pm, Blogger Unknown said...

There are many willing and very able English tutors in the Melbournesuburbs through ATS (Advance Tutoring School), who are very knowledgeable and who comply with government legislation regarding contact with children. They are right for your children. Read more here: English Tutor Melbourne.


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