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Worlds apart but the same shadow falls
Dr Paul Gardner, Curtin University
A comparative analysis of English in the primary curricula of England and Australia reveals contrasting policy perspectives in terms of the functions and purposes of language, literacy and literature in these two Anglophone countries. Whilst the Australian curriculum incorporates ‘the basics’ with broader sociolinguistic views of language that include: multimodality, critical literacy and genre theory in an attempt to construct breadth and balance, the English curriculum predominantly adheres to a didactic diet of the ‘old basics’, framed by the written word.
At first glance, this comparison seems inconsequential. Why should Australian educators be concerned that their English counterparts appear to be following a curriculum more suited to the 19th Century than the 21st? Is this not a time for Australian educators to celebrate the fact theirs is a curriculum for the future, not the past? With apologies to Eliot, ‘between the idea and the act falls the shadow’. What is espoused in policy may not necessarily be what is implemented in practice.
Although the voices of Halliday, Comber, Freebody and Luke, and Kalantzis and Cope are clearly heard in the discourses of the Australian curriculum, there are powerful discordant voices outside the curriculum that are subverting its epistemological and pedagogical intent. Direct instruction, systematic synthetic phonics, commercial programs premised upon autonomous literacy are in the ascendency. Their advocates are largely found outside the world of literacy education and the body of research and expert knowledge that is the foundation of good practice. Their advocates are lauded as the ‘new experts’ and are given places at the policy making table and their voices are amplified in the media. Their advocates are highly selective in the ‘evidence’ they choose to use to promote their argument and they are ruthless when challenged.
The effect of this discord is to create confusion; to impair confidence and to control education by purporting to support it by offering teachers, parents and students a simple magic formula for success.
Coming from England and having seen how policy and practice in literacy education changed over two decades, I am experiencing the dread of déjà vu. If I can share anything, it is a knowledge of how the literacy abyss begins in the hope that ‘the drop’ can be averted in Australia.