English in Australia
by Brenton Doecke
We have deliberately caught your eye, and we hope that you're wondering what a fly and kiss lips could possibly have to do with a serious professional journal like English in Australia.
AATE has a history, not unconnected with flies (see A Book to Write Poems By, by Rory Harris and Peter McFarlane). And yet while, as the new editor of English in Australia, I'm happy to signal continuities with the past, I'm also keen to point in new directions. English teachers in Australia are currently faced with some very challenging circumstances, perhaps unique in the postwar period. We're dutifully talking the language of 'outcomes', we're grappling with the convergence between general education and vocational education and training, we're now gearing up for a round of standardised testing that will supposedly address 'declining literacy standards' - perhaps the fly signifies the impending demoralisation of the English teaching profession, as we collapse under the weight of the ignorance of the popular media and Federal and state education ministers who blithely discount what we've learnt about language and literacy, relentlessly beating a 'back to the basics' drum ...
But the kiss lips? What could they signify? Surely this is a more positive image. Perhaps English teachers need to be loved. Perhaps those red lips signify hope. Perhaps they're a sign of our resilience. We know that some of the best thinking about English teaching to emerge this century has been in response to circumstances that were hardly congenial to language and learning. The lesson which Douglas Barnes describes in the opening chapter to From Communication to Curriculum was a dull, plodding affair, a wooden discourse that taught kids their place. And yet in the face of such bleak circumstances, Barnes was able to articulate an alternative vision of language and schooling.
And let's think of those teachers who embraced Barnes's version of what ought to be. None of us seriously believes that during the last twenty years English classrooms have all been turned around, or that every class is functioning along radically different lines to those classes which Barnes originally encountered in the 1960s. We know that despite all the 'revolutions' that have supposedly occurred in Australian classrooms during the post war period - 'growth', 'whole language', 'process writing', 'genre' - many teachers and classrooms remain locked into traditional practices, as the sales of Sadler, Hayllar and Powell attest. But those reflective practitioners amongst us struggle on... we snatch those victories that are available to us. And we wait for those big red lips to swoop down from the sky, when ....
And now for something completely different ...
This issue of English in Australia has multiple purposes. Several articles derive from presentations at the national conference in October, and so what follows can be read as the 1996 AATE conference issue - this was Bill Corcoran's original idea, when he invited VATE to produce this joint issue with AATE.
However, with my appointment as editor of English in Australia, I have decided to use this issue to signal new directions, introducing a new format and featuring several writers who have never contributed to this journal before.
What will you find in this issue?
Christos Tsiolkas, 'Hyphenation: Language and Identity in Multicultural Australia'.
This is based on a talk which Christos gave at one of the writers' forums at the national conference. It is presented as an 'open letter' from someone outside English teaching who nevertheless has something pertinent to say to English teachers. I hope that such 'open letters' will become an occasional feature of English in Australia, and that you will be inspired to suggest other likely contributors. Christos' 'letter' also foreshadows a significant question which I would like to explore in future issues of English in Australia, namely the relationship between language, culture and identity. If you would like to contribute to a special issue on this topic, please contact me.
Michael McNamara, 'Down in the Swamp: The value of classroom-based research into literacy'.
This derives from Michael's Ph.D. thesis, and touches on questions he raised at the AATE Research Breakfast in October. Again, this contribution signals an important aim of future issues of English in Australia, which is to provide a vehicle for the publication of recent research into language and literacy, including research by teachers, students and academics. In his article, Michael describes some significant action research, recounting the work of a science teacher as he explored the language of secondary school students engaged in group work.
Barbara Kamler, Karen Cousins, Tammi Jonas, Bronwyn Lawson, and David Linden, 'Developing a critical writing pedagogy: a discontinuous narrative'.
Elise Batchelor, 'Top Floor Please: Beginning Secondary English Teaching'
Louise Bourke,'Changing Priorities: Teaching in the Western Suburbs'
In their article, Barbara and her former students explore the possibilities of critical literacy, reflecting on their experiences when they tried to implement a critical literacy pedagogy. By publishing their 'discontinuous narrative', this issue of English in Australia presents the voices of a new generation of teachers - an impression which is enhanced with the inclusion of Louise Bourke's and Elise Batchelor's contrasting accounts of their first year of teaching. As Louise points out, many teachers have forgotten what it is like to have beginning teachers on their staff. Both Louise's and Elise's narratives remind us of the complexities of our first year of teaching.
David McRae, 'During the Revolution'.
This paper is based on a talk which David gave at the Social Justice Forum at the October Conference. David engages in some provocative reflections about the apparent withdrawal of support by state and federal governments for the principle of a free, secular education for all. He concludes by focussing on the challenges faced by English teachers in the current climate. His article foreshadows some of the concerns to be raised in the next issue of English in Australia, when we will be examining the agenda outlined by David Kemp in his paper, 'Schools and the Democratic Challenge'.
Wayne Sawyer and Ken Watson, 'Writing Curriculum History: No Single Method', on Teaching the English Subjects, edited by Catherine Beavis and Bill Green
Douglas McClenaghan, 'Dirty Realism', on Margaret Clark's Back on Track: Diary of a Street Kid and care factor zero.
I hope that both these essays will set valuable precedents for reviewing in English in Australia. My aim is to publish review essays reflecting the kind of sustained engagement in the text that we find in Wayne and Ken's essay. Again, you are most welcome to contribute a review essay on any recent (or not so recent) book that you feel is of significance to English teachers.
Would you like to write on adolescent fiction or other classroom resources? If so, it would be useful to explore how you have used these materials in classroom settings, in much the same way that Douglas reflects on the way his students have reacted to the Margaret Clark titles. Publishers who are willing to have their books 'trialled' in this way are most welcome to contact me to discuss the possibilities.
A New AATE
AATE has recently taken some significant steps to review its operations, trialling a new structure (see the list of office bearers and delegates in this issue) and reconceptualising its role as a professional association. This edition of English in Australia reflects those changes.
A recurring emphasis in debates at recent AATE Council meetings has been on the need for AATE's office bearers to work closely together, drawing on each other's energies to create a dynamic organisation that represents the interests of English teachers across Australia. Crucial to this kind of collaboration is a lively and engaging national journal, which - as well as playing its traditional role as a forum for literacy educators across Australia to debate issues of importance - should reflect other areas of AATE's activities, especially research which AATE members are currently conducting into the teaching of English. To this end, Denise Kirkpatrick, AATE's Research and Projects Coordinator, has written an account of initiatives which she has recently taken in this area. You might like to take up her invitation to apply for AATE funding for your research.
A refereed journal?
To attract the best research, English in Australia must be recognised as a refereed journal, and to that end I have set up a new editorial board, consisting of people with a range of expertise. The following people have agreed to join the board:
Chris Cook, Bill Corcoran, Margaret Gill, Bill Green, David Howes, Denise Kirkpatrick (Research and Projects Officer), Jo-Anne Reid, Chris Reynolds (Commissioning Editor), Paul Richardson, Ernie Tucker, Claire Woods.
I am very mindful of the inward-looking nature of many refereed journals which nobody reads, except for a select coterie of scholars (as Bob Connell has remarked, the average readership of an article in a refereed journal article is about four people, including the author). Even 'radical' journals which claim to provide a critical perspective on academic discourse often seem curiously incapable of subjecting their own discourse to critical scrutiny.
My aim is to produce a journal which combines intellectual rigour with a capacity to reach out to a wider audience. In this connection, I am sceptical of the notion of a divide between academic 'experts' or 'authorities' and busy classroom teachers who have no time for either theory or research, and I am keen to receive material from teachers combining theoretical perspectives with concrete detail about actual classroom settings.
I am committed to producing a lively journal that speaks to teachers at the chalkface. My rough rule of thumb when reading contributions is that the issues raised must be relevant to English teachers. It is also desirable that they should be in readable prose. In my view, these criteria do not conflict with my aim to reaffirm the status of English in Australia as a refereed journal.
I intend to combine a diverse range of materials in each issue, including traditional academic essays and other types of writing, without necessarily differentiating between hard 'theory' and classroom 'resources'. Many of the contributions to this particular issue of English in Australia evince a pleasing narrative quality, and I am keen to affirm the value of narrative as a way of understanding the complexities of teaching and learning. I also want to affirm the heterogeneous quality of some of the writing in this issue - writing which assumes the form neither of a scholarly article nor an anecdotal account of life at the chalkface, but comes to us as both.
Within the next twelve months, I am proposing to publish a series of issues of English in Australia which focus on particular questions.
The next issue of English in Australia will be a 'Literacy' issue. This will examine the agenda recently announced by David Kemp in a series of policy statements and addresses, exploring various aspects of literacy education with a view to interrogating some of his generalisations (including his disturbing claim, in 'Schools and the Democratic Challenge', that the high rate of unemployment among young people can somehow be equated with their level of literacy). If you would like to contribute to this special issue, please contact me.
Later this year I will be co-editing with Ian Falk a special issue on the question of convergence between general education and vocational education and training. This issue has been in the pipeline for some time, but it is not too late for you to contribute, if you have been doing some research or teaching that relates to this question.
In addition to the Editorial Board, I am setting up an Editorial Committee, consisting of nominated representatives from each ETA. At the July AATE Council Meeting I shall be requesting each ETA to nominate two representatives to join this Committee. I shall be expecting members of the Committee to correspond with each other, and to keep their ETAs informed about new directions in English in Australia (projected topics, possible texts for review, and so on). The Committee will help to ensure that English in Australia avoids the pitfalls associated with its status as a refereed journal and that it remains in touch with the needs and concerns of AATE's membership.
English in Australia on the Internet
In addition to the hard copy version of English in Australia, this issue will be published on the Internet, including material not available in the printed edition. Mark Dobbins has designed AATE's website, and with this joint AATE/VATE issue of English in Australia, we announce the availability of this new resource at http://www.AATE.org.au
The best way to explore the implications of the new technologies for English teaching is to use that technology to propose questions and initiate debates, publishing material in the form of hypertext documents and articles. These documents will be peppered with hypertext links that will open up useful further reading and practical resources for those interested in learning more about ways in which technology can be used effectively in English classrooms.
This inaugural hybrid edition of English in Australia (hardcopy/online) presents an article by Mark Dobbins on the need for appropriate pre-service and ongoing in-service strategies to enable teachers to use computer and telecommunications technologies effectively in their classrooms.
And those kiss lips?
With this issue of English in Australia, AATE announces the publication of a new anthology of short stories, the girl who married a fly and other stories, edited by Michael Hyde. Chris Wheat, a teacher at Sunshine Secondary College in Melbourne, has written the title story. Other contributors include Jenny Pausacker, Nadia Wheatley, Frank Wilmott, and Elizabeth Hutchins, whose story ('Inmates') is included in this issue.
We expect that your ETA will promote this anthology, and that you will make it your business to discover the delights of these stories with your students. We are also planning to produce a teachers' book, to be published on the Internet and in hard copy. We are expecting that this anthology will surpass the sales of AATE's first anthology of short stories, The Bad Deeds Gang, and that its success will herald the resilience of the English teaching profession in Australia, signalling its enduring capacity to articulate new perspectives on language and leaning.
By purchasing a copy of this anthology you will be putting your professional association in a much stronger position to represent your interests. Funds generated through the sale of the girl who married a fly will be channelled back to you in the form of research grants and other support. But our primary reason for promoting this anthology is that it consists of some excellent stories which you and your students will enjoy. An order form is included in this issue.
Bad New Things
Bertolt Brecht remarks somewhere that we shouldn't start from the good old things but the bad new ones. As the newly appointed editor of English in Australia, I have naturally been keen to announce my plans and vision for the future. During his time as editor of English in Australia, Bill Corcoran has made a significant contribution to rethinking the English curriculum - I am thinking especially of the way he has encouraged contributors to explore the significance of poststructuralist understandings for classoom teachers. I look forward to providing space for discussion of this question in future issues of English in Australia. Bill has joined the editorial board of English in Australia, and I hope that he won't be slow in bringing down a Monty Python foot on anything which seems excessively gauche or 'bad' in future issues.