"You have to ask yourself what is the function of an English course?"

9 05 2006

You have to ask yourself what is the function of an English course? I would argue it is to teach a good functional grasp of the language not some form of Leftist social engineering to inculcate some academic’s vision of what people should think about issues such as Homosexuality. My children will grow up knowing that some people bat for the other team and that is OK but They will learn that because I believe that to be the case, not because some teacher thinks that they have the right to impose that vision on every child that is in their class.

Because it infuriates me on several levels, I thought I’d give this comment from Iain Hall a thread of its own.

On the idea that teaching kids that “being gay is OK” is the exclusive province of parents, I think Iain’s completely wrong, of course. Schools have a duty of care towards their students–which means students have a right to expect a safe, secure and nurturing learning environment. Schools therefore have not just the right but the responsibility to convey the message that “batting for the other team” is OK, just as they have the responsibility to convey the message that “being female is OK,” “being black or Asian is OK” and “being Jewish/Muslim/Catholic is OK”–especially given the fact that a lot of schoolyard bullying involves persecuting individuals because of their perceived deviation from a norm, and I would say the bulk of male-male bullying incidents involves some degree of homophobia. Educational institutions that don’t institute inclusivist policies to combat bullying, or anything else which detracts from the safe, secure and nurturing environment students deserve, are simply not giving taxpayers or fee-payers their money’s worth.

I also find it interesting that Iain has repeatedly expressed tolerance towards those who “bat for the other team,” and presumably intends to pass on these sentiments to his children–but if they were to hear the same message in a classroom, it would amount to “Leftist social engineering.” When a teacher says it, it’s “Leftist social engineering;” when Iain says it, it’s not. Right.

Finally, I’d like to address the ridiculous dichotomy Iain sets up between “functional English,” on the one hand, and “some form of Leftist social engineering to inculcate some academic’s vision of what people should think about issues such as Homosexuality” on the other. Somehow, if students aren’t learning the one in an English class, they’re learning the other–a sentiment direct from the Op Ed sheets of the Australian which I find perplexing, to say the least. Not to mention–speaking as someone who is training to be an English teacher–a complete misrepresentation.

The question–“What is the function of an English course?”–is a valid one, however. One of its roles, I agree, is to teach functional literacy, but that can’t be the whole story–and if it were, it would make for extremely dry and monotonous lessons. Kevin Donnelly might argue otherwise, but I don’t see much learning happening in such an environment. Critical literacy is just as important–insofar as the ability to attend to the texts and messages we encounter in everyday life with critical distance is a vital skill for anyone to possess in a liberal democracy. And I think a good measure of cultural literacy–including both “high” and “popular” culture–especially given the fact that pop. cult. texts (including, say, advertisements, political speeches, and so forth) as readily quote from “the Canon” as they do from each other. There’s still a place, in other words, for Shakespeare.

Over to you.

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