Observation about English in the National Curriculum

I have posted a few times already about the draft Australian National Curriculum and have promised more. This is just a note, but an important one.

I had thought conservatives and progressives were wetting themselves about the grammar strand somewhat prematurely, even if for rather different reasons. My awareness of the approaches to literacy developed in recent years, in which Peter Freebody has been an important player, led me to say a few days back “Anyone who thinks that means we’ll be doing parsing and analysis again is dreaming.”

Anna Patty rather confirms this in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

The leading adviser for the new national English curriculum has dismissed assumptions that the back-to-basics approach to grammar is a return to a so-called golden era of education.

Peter Freebody, who wrote the English curriculum ”shape” paper, on which the draft national curriculum was based, said literacy standards were poorer two generations ago, when grammar was taught more intensively in schools. He said the back-to-basics approach to grammar was not about returning to ”a golden age where everyone was literate”.

”What evidence there is indicates that Australians are more literate now than they were when grammar was taught intensively, but in isolation from language use and literary studies,” he said. ”This notion of the basics has to be separated from longing for an age that never existed. We are more literate now than we have ever been.”

But what had not improved over the years was the literacy levels of disadvantaged groups…

Professor Freebody and Professor Anthony Welch examined evidence of literacy levels in Australia 17 years ago, including media reports from 1915, 1917 and 1930, and curriculum documents from the 1940s and 1950s. One Sydney study in the mid-1970s by a Macquarie University researcher concluded that to find substantial levels of low literacy performance in Australian society, you needed to turn to the over-60 age group.

”Twenty-five years ago, Graeme Little drew the available evidence together from all Australian literacy surveys and concluded that the surveys show either improvement or no significant change," Professor Freebody said.

”The lower overall standard of two generations ago was not the fault so much of the teaching of grammar but rather of lower school retention rates and the less pervasive and complex use of literacy in society at large.”…

I concur with Professor Freebody’s remarks.

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