Schools should teach more oz-lit

This week the focus was Australian literature, and what schools should be doing about it. A Sydney seminar was responding to Rosemary Neill’s article in the Weekend Australian late last year called, ‘Lost for Words’, which argued that university undergraduates were much less interested in studying Australian writing than in the past.

Various theories emerged. Of course schools are the culprit. If they taught more Australian literature more university courses on it would be needed. I once started a series of blog postings called ‘Things schools should do according to one interest group: #3948949392 in a never-ending series’, and this might have been one of them.

Australian literature is important, and in a bit of a crisis currently. Sales are down, publishers are reluctant to publish it, university courses have shrunk and it hasn’t got the excitement and urgency it had in the 1970s when it was all about the new Australian cultural identity.

But schools DO teach Australian lit. I’m currently teaching Philip Hodgins verse novella Dispossessed, and most senior English courses prescribe Australian content. The seminar acknowledged that Australian fantasy writing was read avidly by students. So, perhaps it’s not the schools, but more to do with the state of Australian culture and history now, an era of university cuts, workplace reform and economic rationalism, or maybe even the way universities themselves are teaching this work. Deconstructionalism and theory dominate many English departments at the expense of the author and the work in a culture.

Elizabeth Webby from University of Sydney concludes:

In general discussion, many other issues were raised, including the need to encourage more teaching of Australian literature in primary and secondary schools. I feel that this is definitely the solution though it would require much revision of current curricula and teacher training, as well as greatly increased funding for the provision of support material and in-service courses. It is also important that none of this be driven by a nationalist agenda, an out-dated sense of what it means to be Australian. Much wonderful writing has been written about this country and the experience of living here; much has been written about what it means to live elsewhere, including in entirely imaginary places. What worries me is that so many people, especially younger people, are missing out on the pleasures of reading it.

More at the ABC.

Henry Lawson picture (above) from University of Sydney ‘Images of Henry Lawson

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