The decline of literature

by Institute of Public Affairs on November 28, 2014

This is what the editorial of The Australian had to say about Australia’s English curriculum earlier this month:

As well as ensuring young children are taught to read and write properly, classic literature — prose and poetry — must be dusted off and taught to students at the appropriate ages. This sounds like straightforward common sense to middle-aged Australians who grew up with JM Barrie, Norman Lindsay and Rudyard Kipling, then discovered Victorian novels, the war poets, Shakespeare and TS Eliot. But it will involve a profound shift in education values and teaching.

Institute of Public Affairs research scholar Stephanie Forrest summed up the problem yesterday when she said the national English curriculum, like most state-based curriculums in recent years, was geared to shaping students’ attitudes and ethics. Overtly political content deserves no place in a sound English curriculum. English class is not the place, as an optional “content elaboration” in the Year 9 curriculum suggests, for “debating the reliability of the coverage in a range of news media of a contentious issue such as commercial logging of old-growth forests”. Such politicisation detracts from the foundational elements of English: reading, writing, spelling and grammar. It also deprives children of the opportunity to study classic literature at school… When deprived of classic literature at school, children who are not encouraged to read at home and whose families have few books miss out the most.

The editorial followed the release of the IPA’s major report on the National Curriculum for English — Australia’s English Curriculum: A Critique.

The report highlighted two big problems with Australia’s current English curriculum. First, it ignores the importance of classic literature — great writing that has stood the test of time.

The curriculum is silent on greats such as Jane Austen, Dickens, Milton, and Orwell. Even Shakespeare — probably the most important writer of the English language — is mentioned only in the glossary.

Second, the curriculum includes a lot of overtly political material that is not strictly related to English — including one content elaboration in Year 5 which suggests that students investigate ‘the qualities of contemporary protest songs’.

You can view the full report here and the IPA’s media releasehere. The main arguments are also summarised in my articlefrom The Australian on 4 November and in this piece in the latest edition of the IPA Review.

The IPA’s Hannah Pandel appeared on the Alan Jones Breakfast Show and Ben Fordham’s Sydney Live show to talk about classic literature. You can listen to the full interviews here and here.

200 years since Waterloo

2015 will be a year of important historical anniversaries. First, Anzac Day next year will mark exactly 100 years since the landing at Gallipoli. The First World War featured in theNovember edition of Horizons last year, and here is a piece that IPA executive director John Roskam wrote about the significance of Anzac Day and Gallipoli from 2007.

Second, according to tradition, 15 June next year will mark exactly 800 years since King John of England set his seal to Magna Carta – a document that later became foundational to the rule of law and parliamentary democracy. This was the feature of the August edition of Horizons.

And third, 18 June next year will mark exactly 200 years since the Waterloo – the decisive and bloody battle which ended the Napoleonic Wars and opened up Europe to almost a century of relative peace.

In the November edition of Standpoint Magazine, historian Andrew Roberts speculated that Waterloo is probably ‘the world’s most famous battle’ and revises two of the best books that have been recently published to commemorate the anniversary.

Andrew Roberts was the keynote speaker at the IPA’s 2011 Foundations of Western Civilisation Symposium. You can view the keynote address here.

The first book in his review is Waterloo: Myth and Reality by historian of the Napoleonic Wars Gareth Glover, which is available on Amazon here. It reassesses various myths that have evolved about the battle over the last two centuries.

The second is The Longest Afternoon: The 400 Men Who Decided the Battle of Waterloo by Cambridge historian Brendan Simms, who specialises in international relations. This book, which is available here, is about La Haye Saint – a farmhouse that was at the centre of the battle.

For more on Waterloo, here is a timeline of the events that led up to Waterloo, and here is a page that lists some of the preparations that are being made to celebrate the bicentenary in Europe.

Reading, Watching, Listening

In an excellent article in The Telegraph earlier this week, Dan Hannan wrote of English philosopher Roger Scruton:

Roger will be read and remembered when many of the prominent literary figures of our day are footnotes – partly for the keenness of his intelligence and partly for the consistency of his vision, but mainly for the grandeur of his prose. He can ennoble almost any subject – economics, cooking, telephone boxes – by his gentle logic and his courteous insistence on treating readers as his intellectual equals.

In the article, as well as suggesting that Scruton ‘has as good claim as any to be the cleverest living Englishman’, Hannan outlines the central contentions of Scruton’s latest book, How to be a Conservativewhich was published by Bloomsbury last month.

Roger Scruton, of course, was the keynote speaker at the 2014 Foundations of Western Civilisation symposium. You can view the keynote address here and a panel discussion with Roger Scruton, Andrew Bolt, and John Roskam here.

In the November edition of The New Criterion, American English professor Mark Bauerlein wrote this very insightful piece on how identity politics is destroying the humanities.

And on 29 October in The TelegraphAdam D’Souza explained why the next generation should be educated in ‘history, classics and languages’.

Earlier this week, Kevin Donnelly wrote a piece in The Conversation about a UK study on classroom methods in Shanghai. The study was intended to demonstrate why Chinese students are so successful in school compared to their UK counterparts. Unsurprisingly, it suggested that it might have something to do with the fact that the UK – like Australia – has been abandoning traditional teaching methods.

On 21 November, Heather Pringle of National Geographic wrote an interesting article about the familial intrigue that surrounded Alexander the Great and the archaeological investigations of the mysterious ‘Amphipolis tomb’ in what is now northern Greece.

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