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Classic literature and the national English Curriculum

Posted by Garry Collins, AATE President on 6 November 2014

An edited version of the letter below was published in The Australian of Wenesday 5 November 2014. The underlined words were deleted and the bracketed ones inserted. The heading shown is the one provided by the newspaper.

Let teachers choose the texts that expose children to ethics

In her comments on the Foundation to Year 10 section of the national English curriculum, Institute of Public Affairs researcher Stephanie Forrest argues that more (says) classic English literature texts should be mandated (“Great writers forge minds”, 4/11).

The Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority’s curriculum document does not prescribe any particular texts at all, believing that such decisions are best made at the school and system level. This is surely in line with the currently widespread belief (view) that there should be greater school autonomy. Most English teachers appreciate the professional freedom to select the texts, literary and otherwise, that they believe will work best with their own students.

Strangely, Ms Forrest suggests that the national curriculum’s 'General Capability' of ethical understanding has little place in (the) subject English. I can’t think of a single literary classic which does not involve an ethical dimension. Vicarious engagement with ethical questions is one of the reasons that literature is so important in the school curriculum.

It is perhaps worth noting that Ms Forrest’s bachelor’s degree is in classics and history and that she has never been a school teacher.

Garry Collins
President, Australian Association for the Teaching of English (AATE)

Author: Garry Collins, AATE President
About: Garry Collins is the Immediate Past President of ETAQ and began a 2 year term as AATE President on 1 January 2014. A retired high school English teacher, he now works in the School of Education at the University of Queensland as a sessional tutor in English curriculum courses.
Tags: Curriculum matters

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