Academic denies the dumbing down of the English syllabus

1 JANUARY 2003

Is the English syllabus taught in Australian schools being dumbed down by "rubbish" post modern literature as suggested by the Prime Minister John Howard in Brisbane today.

Is the English syllabus taught in Australian schools being dumbed down by "rubbish" post modern literature as suggested by the Prime Minister John Howard in Brisbane today.
 
The answer is an emphatic “no” according to Dr Beverly Pennell, a previous member of syllabus and HSC examination committees.
 
The criticism has caught the attention of Dr Pennell from the School of Teacher Education at Charles Sturt University (CSU). “I’m very surprised. The selection of texts in NSW is diverse and very interesting, it covers pre-20th century, as well as 20th and 21st century. These books are chosen with the utmost care by people who are very, very committed to showing young people the finest in literature, film, multi-media and workplace texts. So there will be a great deal of upset and angst that there’s criticism of such a painstaking process. Research indicates these are the kinds of books, films and other texts that reflect the world of young people, or help them reflect on how much the contemporary world is different to previous worlds.”
 
Mr Howard is reported to have said, "I share the views of many people about the so-called post modernism ... I just wish that independent education authority didn't succumb on occasions to the political correctness that it appears to succumb to". Dr Pennell denies that political correctness can creep into the choice of texts.
 
“There’s great care that a text does not offend mainstream morality, but there’s no way these texts are not robust reflections of society and that they offer serious social comment, so they are not timid books by any means. Many are prize winning works of course, they are works that are applauded not just by people who are on committees for selecting a text, but they are seen as widely valued texts not only in Australia but across the western world.”
 
Dr Pennell says some people might be surprised by the number of traditional texts currently on the English syllabus. “Shakespeare, Austen, Malouf, Ted Hughes, Orwell’s 1984, Lawson, Ibsen’s The Doll’s House, Emily Bronte”. On the other hand there’s “the film Billy Elliot, Jane Harrison’s play Stolen and the film Rabbit Proof Fence which both deal with the stolen generation. Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, Tom Stoppard, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet, the TV series SeaChange.”
 
Where teachers have a choice, the old and the new are quite balanced. “Jane Harrison’s play Stolen or David William’s The Club, Cloudstreet or Wuthering Heights, so in any area where you’ve got to choose, you get quite a range.”

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