Education reform based on myths

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 31 October 2014

The following letter was submitted to The Australian for possible inclusion in the edition for Thursday 30 October 2014 but it was not selected for publication.

Education reform based on myths

Leading education academic Professor Stephen Dinham makes a really important point in observing that significant educational reforms in Australia are often based on myths (“Education reforms ‘based on myths’”, 28/10).

After the Queensland Minister for Education, John-Paul Langbroek, had spoken at a function about 18 months ago, I asked him what evidence there was that the program of independent public schools on which the state had embarked would lead to a net improvement in education.

In reply, he stated that the program sat well with his party’s values and beliefs and that it would be modelled on the one being implemented in Western Australia. He didn’t mention anything that could be considered evidence. His non-answer was very like the one he had given to a similar question in a Radio National interview a few weeks earlier.

It is ironic that teachers are regularly told that their classroom methods must be “evidence based” but politicians conveniently ignore this criterion when they are focused on putting ideology into practice.

Garry Collins

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More on the curriculum review

Posted by Garry Collins, AATE President on 23 October 2014

An edited version of the letter below was published in The Australian of Thursday 23 October 2014. The underlined words were deleted and the bracketed ones inserted. The letter was the second of two under the heading "Hardly fascism".

Barry Spurr and the Australian Curriculum

Some people are suggesting (suggest) that Professor Barry Spurr’s input to the review of the English component of the Australian Curriculum should be disregarded because of the racist and sexist language used in a series of emails.

Irrespective of whatever other import they may have, those emails are (That is) not the main issue in relation to the curriculum review. Most of his input should be disregarded because many of his comments go beyond the reach of his expertise. Being a literary scholar with particular knowledge of Donne, Milton and T.S. Eliot doesn't (does not) automatically make him an expert on teaching English in primary and secondary schools. Some of his views on poetry would be relevant for Years 10-12 but beyond that they have no special significance.

Spurr is of course perfectly entitled to his personal views on the school level teaching of English but they should not be elevated by an inappropriate claim of expert status.

Taken as a whole, Spurr’s report seems to be based on the erroneous assumption that the whole purpose of school-level English teaching from Year 1 on is to produce the sort of undergraduates he would like in his university literature classes.

It needs to be asked why Spurr and Dr Fiona Mueller were selected out of the hundreds of similarly and better qualified people to be considered as two “subject specialists” by review panellists Kenneth Wiltshire and Kevin Donnelly.

Perhaps the process was similar to that by which Donnelly was appointed by Education Minister Christopher Pyne.

As far as I can see, Dr Mueller has significantly less relevant experience than I do.

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

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Subject specialists and the review of the Australian Curriculum

Posted by Garry Collins, AATE President on 21 October 2014

AATE Media Release

Statement re Professor Barry Spurr and the review of the Australian Curriculum

There has been some recent publicity about Professor Barry Spurr from the University of Sydney in relation to racist and sexist language used in a series of emails.

AATE deplores the language reported to have been used in these emails but welcomes the fact that the media coverage has directed attention to an important aspect of the review of the Australian Curriculum conducted by Professor Kenneth Wiltshire and Dr Kevin Donnelly. Professor Spurr was selected as one of two “subject specialists” for this review in the area of English teaching.

AATE has serious concerns about the influence on the final report by invited contributions from selected individuals deemed by Wiltshire and Donnelly to be “subject specialists”.

The report contains no detail about the selection criteria or the process by which two individuals were chosen out of all those in the country who could legitimately be considered to be experts on the content and teaching of school subject English.

In addition, views about school subjects and how they should be taught can be expected to vary, even amongst those who can genuinely be considered to have expert status.

As far as AATE can see, there is no evidence to indicate that the views of Professor Spurr and Dr Fiona Mueller can be regarded as generally representative of the views of the many others in the country who have a similar degree of expertise.

Professor Spurr is apparently a recognised authority on early modern English poetry (including Donne and Milton) and on modernist poets, especially T.S. Eliot. This highly specialised scholarly knowledge is not equivalent to expertise in teaching subject English at primary and secondary school level.

The vast majority of experts in the field of English education in Australia understand that our national curriculum has an ethical obligation to meets the needs of all Australian children. This requires English teachers having both literary knowledge and a culturally and linguistically inclusive curriculum in which to teach it.

AATE considers that, without further supporting evidence, the personal views of Professor Spurr and Dr Mueller should be given little weight when the relevant authorities at state and federal level decide how they will respond to the recommendations related to English in the report arising from the review of the Australian Curriculum.

Garry Collins

President
Australian Association for the Teaching of English (AATE)
Sunday, 19 October 2014
President’s contact details: email – gazco48@bigpond.net.au ; phone – 0404 422 019

The Australian Association for the Teaching of English (AATE) is the national umbrella organisation unifying autonomous state and territory professional associations for teachers of school subject English. Established in 1964, it is a not-for-profit professional association run mainly by unpaid volunteers to promote and support secondary school English teaching.
 

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Eroding the meaning of 'reticent'

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 17 October 2014

The following letter was submitted to The Australian for possible inclusion in the edition for Friday 17 October 2014 but it was not selected for publication. The paper seldom publishes criticism of its journalists.

Literary editor's vocabulary confusion

In his front page story on Richard Flanagan’s winning of the Man Booker Prize, literary editor Stephen Romei writes that the author “had been reticent to talk about his father’s influence on the book” (“In dad’s memory: hard labour wins Booker”, 16/10).

The online Macquarie Dictionary warns that the word reticent should not be confused with reluctant. Surely this is what Romei had done here.

This increasingly common misuse erodes the meaning of the very useful word reticent. It is disappointing that someone who is paid to write about literature should add to this widespread confusion.

Garry Collins

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Reading and the review of the Australian Curriculum

Posted by Garry Collins, AATE President on 16 October 2014

The following letter was submitted for possible inclusion in The Australian of Thursday 16 October 2014 but it was not selected for publication. It was responding to part of an opinion piece by Paul Kelly (the journalist, not the singer/songwriter).

Emphasis on content needed to improve reading?

Paul Kelly’s interpretation of part of the review of the national curriculum seems to be that a greater emphasis on content rather than competencies is needed to improve the performance of Australian students in international tests of reading (“Curriculum report will be a test for Pyne’s political skill”, 15/4).

This is puzzling since most people would consider reading to be a set of competencies or skills. If Kelly has not misread the report, it would be useful for the reviewers to advise the sets of facts, the content, that needs to be learnt, perhaps  by rote memorisation, for students to be able to read with comprehension at all levels of the school system.

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

Posted in: Curriculum matters   0 Comments

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