Saturday, 28 February 2009

What is literary truth?

The Australian continues its war against teachers of English. Justine Ferrari can scarcely hide her indignation in a front page piece today (28/2/09) this is followed up by editorial comment which suggests that professional teachers of English have (once again) got it wrong. We are of course entitled to our opinions, though Ferrari's article purports (and I use that word advisedly!) to an objectivity which is tainted with snide comment and emphatic utterance which hardly renders it impartial.
The thrust?
In discussing the national curriculum English teachers want us to recognise that the teaching of literature is inherently a political act. This Marxist view has undoubtedlyt an element of truth.
When you think back to what you were required to read at school, at the very least we should all recognise that we were being given a world-view which was the political correctness of the time.
Not all of this is bad?
But what I think the English teachers are suggesting is that kids read cultural values outside the bounds of literature. Indeed kids don't read anything approaching 'literature'. They do web-surf, they do watch music videos, anime, youtube and so on.
If they were to leave school not being able to evaluate this populist material they are far more vulnerable than if they have never read Great Expectations or even watched youtube about it!!
TheAustralian also takes opportunity to whine about the teaching of grammar ( I have blogged before)
I have mixed feeling about this, but I am most concerned about the fact that the constant demand to "teach grammar" is not about addressing understanding but about doing something manageable. It is not an exercise in education, it is an exercise in control (pretty Marxist sort of stuff ehhh?).
I am not convinced that understanding what an adverbial clause is necessarily contributes to understanding.
I do think that spelling is important, though meaning is more important.
It is important to be able to read critically and to be able to address issues...this is not about parsing sentences and so much of what passes for grammar.
We need to recognise that grammar is the servant of language and not the end.

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