Why I fight for my curriculum

Some interesting conversations have converged for (on?) me this week following the release of the draft Australian Curriculum.  Discussions with Roger Pryor and Jan Green through tweets and blog posts about the power of social networks and leadership have challenged me to be more optimistic about what will happen in classrooms after the launch of the National Curriculum.

Roger and Jan are both advocates of leadership models where participative (loose) practices within the school can mediate the directive (tight) policy environment and accountability systems within which we work.  In a post to her blog Jan describes being filled with confidence for the future of students because of the powerful and passionate debate about national curriculum taking place between education professionals through social networks.  On this point I certainly agree.  In this brave new world of federal curriculum control strong leaders and their PLNs will be key in influencing the spread of new ideas and practices.

But optimism about curriculum enactment is not enough for me.

Tonight I have been re-reading a paper by Colin Lankshear that identifies dominant meanings of literacy and related reform proposals, and I would like to quote him here at some length:

The meanings of literacy in educational reform discourse and their associated modes of “doing and being around texts” are both informed by and intended to inform ideals and practices of literacy much more generally.  They are also intended to permeate larger “social ways of doing and being” – such as being workers, citizens, parents, consumers, and members of organisations – that are mediated by texts.

…Hence, investigating meanings of literacy in educational reform proposals also involves asking what (and whose) perspectives, priorities, and world views prevail within them.

…Reform proposals are like scripts, frames, or “cultural models.”  They encode values intended to change people and social practices – and which will change people and practices to a greater or lesser extent depending on how fully they get implemented in practice.

…The key question here is: what kids of “visions” for life, people, and practices more generally, are encoded in these scripts?

Lankshear is discussing literacy here, which for me is apt as it is the English curriculum that is of most concern to me.  But his observations about educational reform apply to all curriculum areas.

Just a few days on from the release of the draft Australian Curriculum for English, my biggest problem with its “vision” for English is the constraint of new literacies.  Even if we were to accept the (100 year old) notion of LanguageLiterature and Literacy being divorced as separate ‘strands’, the lack of reference to explicit spoken and visual ‘skills’ in the Language strand is a gross neglect in this curriculum reform. This is without doubt a reaction to conservative media hype about ‘dumbed down’ curriculum, and a pandering to parent-voters who will feel reassured by a ‘back to basics’, ‘3Rs’ approach to teaching English.

While I too am hopeful that schools will be able to implement this curriculum in meaningful, ‘loose’ ways, it simply isn’t good enough to stand back and let through a script that, as Lankshear insists, will change people and practices, in such a retrograde way.  English teachers have fought long and hard for rich and generative definitions of literacy, and of what it means to understand and create meaning in a wide range of texts.

*sigh*

What are we going to do?

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  1. #1 by darcymoore on March 4, 2010 - 5:41 am

    Kelli,

    I don’t think it is the time for acceptance of the draft documents yet, Kelli. Even if experience tells us that syllabus documents are not always ‘implemented’ in the ways the designers envisaged. Neither Roger or Jan are English teachers and I suspect, have a more pragamatic viewpoint about the NC. The profession has not properly been consulted at any stage and this ‘political’ solution is not all we could have in most educators’ opinions. I think this may be an acccurate reading and warning: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/curriculums-narrow-focus-leaves-students-bereft-of-big-ideas-20100301-pdi2.html

  2. #2 by kmcg2375 on March 4, 2010 - 1:37 pm

    I know I am beginning to talk like this curriculum is a done deal, and I shouldn’t. But the problem as I see it is not that the profession hasn’t been consulted, it’s that the feedback that has been given on behalf of the profession (for English by AATE and state ETAs for example) has been squarely ignored. Which is worse! Can’t help but feel that no matter what we say at this point ACARA is just going to carry on regardless, because that is what they’ve done so far.

    You are right about schools admins being pragmatic, and I appreciate that it is their role to keep morale up, and keep looking forward. I just worry that relying on ‘people power’ to rectify the ills of poor curriculum reform is naive. The lived curriculum is certainly a different kettle of fish to the documented curriculum. But in a crowded curriculum it is hard to justify spending time on digital literacy (for example) when it doesn’t feature in the script.

  3. #3 by Troy on March 4, 2010 - 3:07 pm

    Just an observation: I’ve raised the National Curriculum a few times since first being involved in 2008 and frankly, from the responses I’ve heard, most teachers don’t care. Sadly. There needs to be active teacher engagement- say via faculty groups, across faculty groups- that stands alone from the reactive Federation position. We need to develop an alternative, with parents, with difference groups not selected by governmental agencies. During the forums, there was influence from the employment sector. I remember there was a representative from the Univerisities and the various DET’s and from the employment sector, where were the teachers? Sitting in the audience, generally being ignored. Interesting that you have suggested: ‘But in a crowded curriculum it is hard to justify spending time on digital literacy (for example) when it doesn’t feature in the script.’ I have an advanced prelim class who are struggling with composing an extended response- an essay. Their year ten teacher has gained ‘great results’, yet due the low risk of an essay being prescribed in a school certificate exam, hasn’t focused on that form of writing…I can see the same thing happening…

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