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 Language, Literature 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.
What are we going to do?