The Decline of English Teaching
Sir: I taught English and Literature in Melbourne schools for over thirty years. I have a box of letters and cards I cannot toss out, from students, parents, even colleagues, thanking me for inspiring a love of literature, of reading and language.
In my classes, alongside studying Orwell, Shakespeare, the poetry of the First World War, Steinbeck, Harper Lee, Golding, Austen, Euripides, Voltaire, I had every student writing poetry. Often, we began by taking scissors to their prose childhood recollections, and “found” the poetry inside. I watched fourteen-year-olds create poems which rival half of the claptrap winning poetry competitions these days churned out by grant-supported agenda-pushers.
My drama students staged Beckett, Williamson, Shakespeare and Miller. Parents were stunned that their sixteen-year-olds were capable of such sophistication and passion. Too easily we can lose touch with how capable young minds are.
But around 2010, it was all starting to change. In English department meetings I was suddenly compelled to speak out and challenge young women with a handful of years teaching, decrying the need to “expose students” to more cultural variety, different voices, Aboriginal culture. I argued that the single most important role for teachers was to expose young minds to the best and the finest of the English language—in essence, to show them what literature could be. To give them a yardstick for life, against which they could judge anything they read. Great literature lifts us beyond ourselves and our daily lives. Yeats said that when we read great poetry “we have added to our being, not our knowledge”. The last generation of teachers who feel this in their bones is retiring or giving up.
Imagine, in a typical year-long curriculum, as a teacher you most probably get to teach one novel, one play, one collection of stories or poetry and one film (not hard to guess why films became a staple in the English curriculum). Now I had these ideologues demanding we replace To Kill a Mockingbird with Sally Morgan’s My Place. As a middle-aged white male my experience and opinions were barely tolerated.
I’ve left teaching. I’m working online supporting homeschooling parents around the world. The pushback, accelerated by the Covid lockdowns, is growing into a significant cultural shift as anti-woke parents around the Western world realise they have to reclaim control over their children’s education. In Australia, between 2012 and 2019, the number of parents registering as homeschoolers increased by 105 per cent. Those figures will have accelerated given the collapse of school education since 2019. I’m hearing from disenchanted parents every day.
Let us hope a revolution is building. Could there be anything more important than feeding the hungry adolescent mind? I think not and, clearly, millions of parents agree.
Muslims in Australia
Sir: If distinctions between moderate and extreme Islam have no validity as Brian Wimborne contends (November 2023), Muslim extremists are simply Muslims who announce and act on what all Muslims believe. For Muslims to speak out against the “extremists” is no remedy, as it amounts merely to saying, “I agree with your objective, the rule of Islam in every country, but be quiet, it is inexpedient to talk about it now.”
Mr Wimborne suggests “assimilation” as a remedy, but by that I understand him to mean either a revolution in Islam that removes from it all that non-Muslims object to, so that Muslims may continue to believe in a harmless religion, or the renunciation of an unchanged Islam by every Muslim in Australia.
As neither of those is likely, the only solutions that would meet his concerns are (1) prohibition of immigration of Muslims to Australia, (2) removal of residency rights and deportation of all Muslim immigrants already here, and (3) removal of citizenship and deportation of all Muslim citizens, whether immigrants or native-born.
Is that the agenda proposed?
Poetry and the Ineffable
Sir: In response to Barry Spurr (October 2023), I would say as a sometime poet, we would like to describe the ineffable, and in contemplation of Deity, would like to understand the transcendent. But when it boils down to the meaning of words, both of these hopes are impossible really. The ineffable is just that, and the transcendent doubly so. Closeness would be the best to hope for, and acceptance. I would always hope to accept a little inspiration however, the breath of creation, even if I do not fully understand it; the understanding might be in the words so read, the heard as opposed to the meant, as Tom Leonard put it.
And yes, the academies are seeming to deny even the meant.
The Key to Overcoming Disadvantage
Sir: We have seen the people of Australia reject the proposed constitutional amendment as a means of addressing the challenges faced by Aboriginal people. Nevertheless, all right-thinking Australians, I believe, are appalled by the incarceration rates, domestic violence, alcohol abuse and homelessness among our Aboriginal citizens. In fact on almost every level of quality of life, Aboriginal Australians fare worse than other Australians. The figures are undeniable. For example, an Aboriginal Australian is thirty-five times for a female, and twenty-two times for a male, more likely to be hospitalised due to family violence, than other Australians. There are also grave disparities in incarceration rates, substance abuse, unemployment and education between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.
The regrettable news is, though, that if you, Editor, or you, Reader, or me, your correspondent, have a problem with issues like substance abuse, violence, criminality, imprisonment, or lack of education, there is basically only one person who can deal with that issue. That person is oneself.
I believe that any government program to “close the gap”, and that neglects the fundamental point of individual responsibility, is bound to fail. Aboriginal people do not need more committees, panels, inquiries, royal commissions, advisory boards or taxpayer-funded handouts. The Australian people have also said that they don’t need a Voice to Parliament either. The “Yes” campaigners were correct when they said that all previous initiatives had failed, and there is indeed a legacy of failed and quite expensive programs that have had lofty ideals, but have delivered dismal results.
Aboriginal Australians, and non-Aboriginal Australians also, need to be educated in the lesson that asking or expecting others to manage your future quality of life is a dry gully. The main determinant of your future is yourself. By all means seek help for issues like alcohol abuse, petrol sniffing, anger management, poor health and poor education. In most cases it will be generously given, via counselling, vocational training, health education and so on, but the person in the driver’s seat, is definitely yourself. That concept of individual accountability has been conspicuously missing from many programs aimed at improving the quality of life for Aboriginal Australians, and that has been to the serious disadvantage of this proud and ancient race.
Any government aid or assistance program, and I believe there is a place for these, must have individual key performance indicators applied, be subject to performance review, and be independently auditable.