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.
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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