I follow the English Teachers Association on Facebook. Aside from the increasingly frequent posts from people trying to sell their skills, I have loved the interaction between people from all educational contexts. The discussion or suggestions for the study of texts has been so…mundane.
When someone offers up a suggestion for the study of a play or poet, the replies are the same plays and poets that I studied in high school and most have been staples in classrooms for three decades. Hasn’t someone, somewhere written something that is as good as The Club, or Away or The Removalist? The old white males (not so dead…) still dominate. Surely there are playwrights from all backgrounds and all cultures that can be ‘used’ in the classroom?
It is two pronged dilemma:
1. Where is our David Williamson or Judith Wright? The cultural policy of the major political parties has been basically invisible since the fall of the Keating led government in 1996. Support for the Arts, it seems, doesn’t fit the socially conservative governments. This does have a flow on effect to production of Australian cultural heritage. After the 2012 London games calls for reviews into the sporting funding came faster than some of the swimmers. I didn’t see any calls when no Australian made it to the long list for the Booker Prize.
2. The selection of texts: In my experience this is still a process dominated by the bottom line. We all know it is the bottom line that dictates the texts in English classroom. Why buy new texts that no one has resources for? The texts already there have worked, why change? It could be said some still think in hard copy, some still think in the 20th century. If that thinking is dominate, the economics crush any innovation.
In the Facebook thread for the suggestion for Australian poets to study, was one ‘new’ suggestion, but aside from that, the same recycling of poets the teachers posting studied in classrooms in their teens. I am not naïve to think just because something is new, that it is better, but there must be a debate about the type and range of ‘texts’ that the teacher selects for a classroom. Firstly, I know it is revolutionary, but how about a democratic process: ask the students.
Some will say, what is being taught in University courses? It has never been more important to have stand alone, distinctive secondary English courses in Education degrees. The same should be said for all courses. The days of all Education students being thrown together are over.
Are English teachers still reading poetry and seeing productions of drama? If the answer is no, the same suggestions for the plays and poets that have been consumed by thousands in the last three decades will continue. The recurring nightmare will continue.
A confrontation I liked to make to fellow new and beginning teachers: why reproduce the classroom of your own education? Every other subject area has evolved. While bread boxes are still made in ‘Woodwork’, take any Design and Technology course, the embrace of new materials and processes allow for those teachers to evolve with their students. Imagine design and tech not embracing the influence of plastic in the construction of, well, everything.
I hate a term that I came across in my first years teaching: ‘don’t reinvent the wheel.’ It is not only a conservative but also a lazy notion.
What if we don’t need wheels anymore?