Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Teaching Australian Literature in Australian Schools

There's been a good deal of discussion about this in the Australian newspaper and on the ASA website, and I have discussed the issue here before.
Let's face the fact that, as a post-colonial country, Australia is still strongly influenced by the central points of English-language culture. From about 1850, those points have been the United Kingdom and the United States, though Australia remained relatively immune from "American" English-language culture until World War II and after.
Remember, Hollywood didn't even have such a massive impact before then. Much of our earliest cinema was home grown. Oh for such simpler times.
It is sensible that our schools teach using cultural materials emanating from the United Kingdom and the United States. It is also sensible for them to use cultural materials from Australia's Indigneous cultures as well as the many other cultures from which the children in our schools come. This is all representative of where we have come from and what we are, a bit of a mongrel mix.
However, the most unifying and central themes for educating young Australians come directly from Australian culture, that unholy mess that has evolved here since this timeless land has been named "Australia". Our literature exemplifies and demonstrates those themes best because there is more of it than other forms of narrative. Unfortunately, there are simply not enough Australian films and television programs to fill out a curriculum. That's not so for poetry, novels, non-fiction, biography and so on. There's plenty there.
A book like Narrelle M. Harris' The Opposite of Life (Pulp Fiction Press), which I mention in a post below, would be a popular choice for girls in Year 10. The fact that Harris, like Stephanie Meyer, writes about vampires, wouldn't worry me as a teacher. I might also introduce them to the distinguished history of this genre. If my class could devour this book, enjoy it, write their own vampire stories and maybe even consider how Harris has used Melbourne as a setting for a vampire story, I'd be a satisfied teacher.
And I reckon most of the girls would be satisfied readers, too. And some of the boys, but as for the rest, maybe I'd need Garth Nix. Or John Marsden. There's no shortage of choices.
And I could even have my students considering a range of media and narrative options without ever using an American or British resource.

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