Miranda Devine is a Hack

Miranda Devine writes in the SMH today that English teachers have lost the plot, and criticises the English Teachers’ Association for hating books, plays and poems, and language in general really.

Hmmm.  I wonder, what is more likely…

  • That English teachers hate books, OR that they think students need to know how to understand and create spoken and visual language as well?
  • That English teachers hate books, OR that they LOVE books, as well as films, poems, webpages, plays and TV shows?
  • That English teachers hate Australian books, OR that they LOVE Australian books…AND films, poems, webpages, plays and TV shows!?
  • That English teachers don’t want students to read books anymore, OR that they LOVE it when students read books, but don’t want politicians and journalists dictating when and where books are used in their teaching program?

Devine quotes author Sophie Masson, who believes that English teachers have a “subconscious hate and envy of writers” – this is of course why we all hate books, and are hell-bent on destroying LIT-RIT-YOOR for students today.

Masson is also quoted (as speaking on behalf of all English teachers), because some teachers have told her at writing workshops that the HSC is too hard.  Devine describes with horror that “there is a huge burden on [teachers] to comply with curriculum rules and what has to be accomplished in a year.”  Well, yes.  I agree – but this has less to do with having to teach ‘theory’, and more to do with what we are forced to cram into the HSC year because politicians insist on setting the bar so high to protect the reputation of NSW’s ‘world class curriculum’!  If parents want an easier HSC, they need to tell the politicians…they will get my support, but Devine is likely to slam them in the SMH for want to ‘dumb down’ they syllabus…

Speaking of dumbing down, Devine also quotes her mate Big Kev Donnolly, who along with Devine perhaps has a subconscious hate and envy of good English teachers who sees any attempt to teach spoken or visual language as “social activism”.  At what point will the Sydney Morning Herald stop giving air to journos that are so out of touch??

If the English curriculum only covered written language – books, poems and plays – it would be a very disengaging subject indeed, not to mention totally irrelevant in our contemporary world.  Miranda Devine is of the opinion that ‘words are words’ whether in a book or on a screen.  How utterly ignorant. If Miranda Devine is serious about encouraging a love of language (as I truly believe she is, in her own misguided way) she would be better off getting behind English teachers who want to teach MORE language forms, not LESS.

The ETA’s response to the Board of Studies’ proposal to ‘Strengthen Australian Literature’ actually argues the following:

  • ETA members do not believe that there is any need to impose further restrictions on professional choice and judgement than those that are already in English syllabuses.
  • ETA members believe that any definition of ‘Australian’ needs to see Australia in a global context , and to take account of Indigenous and multicultural perspectives.
  • ETA members feel strongly that a definition of literature with a restriction to the print medium is imprudent, reductive, short-sighted and, most importantly, undermines the integrity of current English syllabuses.
  • ETA members believe that the amendments to the K-6 English syllabus do not provide the richness of direction required for non-specialist English teachers particularly in the areas of what could constitute literature and the kinds of creative responses it may inspire. They also think that teacher professionalism needs to be acknowledged by specifying their involvement in the development of recommended text lists.
  • Members are particularly concerned at the narrowing of the definition of literature in the syllabus [to mean only print texts – books, poems and plays] and believe that strengthening the inclusions in the syllabus restricts the capacity of teachers to effectively support weaker students.

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  1. #1 by Julie Wilson on September 20, 2008 - 1:58 pm

    I am just amazed that people ( Ms. Devine and Ms Ferrari in the Oz ) would write such rubbish and get it published. These articles go all over the place but are really just saying English teachers hate books. How ridiculous is that ? I have met a lot of English teachers in my 35 years as one and I have NEVER met one who did not like reading books. We spend a considerable amount of our time trying to think up ingenious ways of encouraging our students to really like books, too.
    What is the point of these articles ? Do they want a witch hunt ? Is this a campaign to sack all the people associated with the ETA ? Pity because most of them are volunteers and give up their spare time to try to promote the love or reading and writing, amongst other things.

  2. #2 by kellimcgraw on September 20, 2008 - 3:17 pm

    That’s right – this is such a slap in the face to teachers who volunteer much of their spare time to promoting the teaching of language and literature. Such a pity that Devine & co. are so stubborn about clinging to their limited views and knowledge of what is being achieved in English classrooms.

    I can’t help but chuckle at the contradictions – she criticises the ETA submission for being based on only 43 responses (even though some of those represent entire faculties, and we know that most teachers are too snowed under to get responses in on time…) when her whole article is only based on the views of one writer/parent.
    We have 43 times more evidence than she does!

  3. #3 by Mary Billing on September 20, 2008 - 5:51 pm

    It is odd that the ETA hates the current English syllabus but were so involved with its construction and it was Donnelly who said the new course was a dumbing down of the study of English, not most English teachers. Why is it so wrong to enjoy watching a well crafted film, engage in internet games and chat, watch TV as well as reading the odd book, or play or poem. I am passionate about literature. I really love Shakespeare and Chaucer and Milton and Wordsworth and I’m blown away by Beckett and Le Grand Roland and Derrida and Kristeva and I also love films and drama and really, why does one have to exclude the other? I also like Ian Rankin and H.E. Bates and Truman Capote and Jasper Fforde, and heaven forgive me, I cut my teeth on Enid Blyton and Richmal Crompton. Is a hatred of books the reason why I have spent half my life teaching them. She is a thoughtless and deeply stupid woman.

  4. #4 by Mary Billing on September 20, 2008 - 5:53 pm

    And I was so cross, I forgot to use question marks, which probably makes me illiterate too.

  5. #5 by Karen Yager on September 21, 2008 - 10:02 am

    I have never been so upset by such a load of vitriolic rubbish! Miranda’s narrow perspective focuses on one aspect of ETA that she is critical of and ignores the valuable contribution that ETA has made and continues to make to subject English and its teachers. I would not know what I know now without ETA and its amazing supporters such as Eva Gold who has given her heart and soul to English!

    How can anyone possibly accuse us of not loving literature! When I am teaching English teachers how to program one of the toughest battles I have is to get them to think about the learning and concepts first as they are so hooked on texts, including Miranda’s archaic view of literature!

  6. #6 by John Reid on September 21, 2008 - 10:21 pm

    (My letter to SMH)…How ironic that Miranda Devine should show her admiration for George Orwell, as she, yet again attacks the NSW English Teachers’ Association. Orwell warned us about how easy it could be to manipulate facts and opinions. Miranda Devine’s article (English Teachers Have Lost the Plot) contains inaccuracies and distortions that reflect a wider, deliberate and sustained attack on the NSW English Teachers’ Association. To say that the Association does not celebrate Australian literature is ludicrous in the context of the ETA’s 2008 HSC student days. These days are organised for students and teachers from non-government and government schools throughout the state. They are attended by thousands of students and teachers. This year, the HSC Paper 1 Day at Sydney University included 8 one-hour sessions on specific texts. Five of these (62.5%) dealt with Australian texts or authors: My Place, Cosi, Skrzynecki, Away and Rabbit-Proof Fence. The Modules Day at UTS Broadway, had 21 one-hour sessions devoted to specific texts or authors. Ten of these (47.6%) explored the work of Australian writers: Lawson, The Club, Dawe, The Shoe-Horn Sonata, Harwood, Raw, SeaChange, The Simple Gift, Frontline, The Fiftieth Gate. Why would the NSW English Teachers’ Association promote these works so strongly if the claims by Miranda Devine and others were true?
    Enough is enough! Any intellectual debate is welcome but defamatory comments are not. Imposing meaning on text is dangerous, especially if any personal agenda is involved.

  7. #7 by Amy Cotton on September 22, 2008 - 11:24 am

    Miranda Devine is a reactionary gossip-columnist.
    Anything Devine writes is certain to be designed to promote her own career through sensationalism.

  8. #8 by Tony Searl on September 22, 2008 - 11:04 pm

    Miranda epitomises the fish wrapper end of the old skool industry she scribbles for. Where her authorship, for some years now, has-been (yes, hyphonated, one word) the low rent Chinese feed of journalism; full of artificial enhancers, hardly sating and often full of questionable content. Job not done, again, deluded whippersnapper.

    What’s that Batman?
    Baseless opinions passed off as researched journalism?
    A sensationalist gutter snipe having a low news day?
    Trolls trolling for bites? and worstest of mostest, an ink dribbler who believes her petite opine actually matters.
    Gee her surname makes me feel anything but.
    Rant over, move along, nothing to see here, resume normal breathing patterns.

  9. #9 by darcymoore on September 24, 2008 - 7:12 am


    I think you have worked out a way to increase traffic and comments at your site. All you need to do is trawl the newspapers for articles by right-wing polemicists and dissect their nonsense. Shouldn’t be hard, in fact, I suggest it will be a full-time job.

  10. #10 by kellimcgraw on September 24, 2008 - 4:02 pm

    tee hee – I did try a blog last year that tracked the stoopid stuff being said about English in the news. A full time job indeed!

    Thanks everyone for the comments. I just wish our side was published more often in the papers. It is heartening to see our views collected here – fighting the ‘vitriolic’, ‘reactionary’ ‘low rent Chinese feed of journalism’ (I can’t say it any better!) can seem a lonely battle at the best of times.

    I am thinking of talking about this stuff at my next school P&C meeting. At the end of the day if the parents are on side, so will be the pollies.

  11. #11 by Eva Gold on September 29, 2008 - 7:50 am

    Go Kelli!
    Yes, the best way to counter this nonsense is through the parents, some of whom may even believe what they read from this cheap sensationalist.
    I’d also be developing a language study on the article for the senior kids- and throw in some extracts from the submission. In my teaching days I did a unit on Demidenko as the affair was unravelling in the newspapers – the kids found it quite interesting to be involved in what was actually occurring in the news. In fact, it this a unit for mETAphor????

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